Terrain or Feet on the Land

Like the weather, every day offered something different, new and unexpected. The only constant was the lack of trail. Since we were the first trekkers to depart from Lake Hazen and follow out the Lewis River –Air Force loop that summer, we didn’t even see another human foot print until a day before the Parks Canada base at Tanquary Fiord. What we did experience was a wide variety of terrain underfoot: hummocks, frost boils, sand, slate shards, boulder hoping, scree slopes, mud, water and ice.

As far as I’m concerned, hummocks are the bain of arctic hiking. Unstable, wobbling, spongy balls, they threaten to topple me over or give me a twisted ankle. Deceivingly innocent, here they are innocently decorated with yellow arctic avens. I’m carefully watching every step on this gentle downhill slope…and when carrying a back pack, it makes for tiring travel as every step requires concentration, balancing from one hummock top to the next.

In contrast, these hard packed muck mounds make for wonderful walking. I wondered if they were frozen on the inside. Dotted with pink saxifrage and embedded rock fragments, this was at the base of Glacier Pass. Maybe they are the precursor of the wetter grassy hummocks found in the valley below? I called them frost boils but I really don’t know if that is the correct term.

Ok, it wasn’t exactly conducive for sunbathing  (note how we are bundled against the chill wind) but the sand was just as fine as any Caribbean beach. Taken late in the day  where the Henrietta Nesmith river joins Lake Hazen. More extensive sand is found in the Lewis River valley.

Tinkle tinkle tinkle, each step across this red shale slope sounded like breaking porcelain, fine and delicate, almost musical. The mauve colour was outstanding as well, the deep hues showing off their best under the overcast sky. 


It was rare to walk on anything like a good stable Canadian shield bedrock. But these flat topped closely spaced rocks just before the Airforce Glacier provided easy walking, settled solidly in the ground, no wobbles or tipping. Happy me, I can now look around while walking and not think so much about each step.

The terrain could be treacherous, unstable and sliding underfoot, especially when mixed with slope, again requiring concentration. At the end of the day, I was sometimes more tired from the effort of watching every step than the heavy load! Happily, these stretches were generally short, being around bends or at the base of rock falls. I just took my time and with baby steps, put one foot in front of the other.

Linking the flat valleys were the ups and downs. Personally, I’d rather ascend, not minding the labour of sweat (rare in with those temperatures), a pounding heart and some hard breathing. Once at the top, there is the reward of a view and the satisfaction of a job well done. Here the twin elements of pitch and slippery mud make for a difficult climb (one of two deep gulches along Ekblaw Lake).

Going up, I feel in control, moving slowing, taking my time. Going down hill, gravity challenges me and it’s a battle between us. Going either straight down or zig zagging, my knees ache and quads burn, braking each and every step. Hiking poles provide welcome assistance, taking some of the stress with their springs and elastic corded shocks. Boot heels catch at small stones, feet threaten to slide, and land me on my butt. It’s always a relief to be at the bottom in one piece.

Sometimes, just at the very end of the day, when looking for the ‘anything will do’ campsite, the big challenge of the day comes up. Not just steep down and then steep up but also over slippery muck with the bonus of a river crossing. Not just a wet puddle or bog or hummock field but a sizable creek that can’t be jumped and rock hopping is not an option. Thus its boots off, sandals on, cross the river, sandals off, boots on. Tired and extra and cranky now, I steam up the slope, scanning the horizon.

But when the sky is blue, the scenery spectacular like on this side excursion into the Roll Rock Valley, who cares what’s under foot? It’s a picture perfect day to be savoured.

Still high from the days adrenaline rush, with only day packs we walked deep into this side valley late afternoon. Lower angles of the declining sun brought out the painted desert like colours. It was a quick one hour, 5 km walk on firm footing on the valley bottom and on this gentle sloping shoulder before reaching a look out point where we turned and retraced out steps out the way we came.

(along Lake Hazen, going towards Henrietta Nesmith glacier – early in a long grueling 20km day)