Day 30 (August 4)

Sometime yesterday while we were away on our hike, a grizzly bear came close to camp….he left a huge dump about 50m away from the tents but didn’t disturb anything. How unlike polar bears which after observing no movement would have approached camp and at least pawed the nylon tents.

The arctic loons were noisy last night, yodeling and squawking their odd calls. The nearby tundra pond attracts wadding migrants, ducks, loons, even a pair of swans. With the calm conditions, sound carries over vast distance. Alfred and I heard bones being crunched last night. This morning I startled a fox while getting coffee water from the river below and Alfred’s siksik skull is now missing…

Today is departure day. We make the sat phone calls to North Wright Air re pick up times. As usual, nothing is firm and it’s hurry up and wait, call back later. They have a big backlog of flights due to bad weather in Inuvik and are scrambling to meet their obligations. It’ll be two trips on the Cessna 206, Ron first, us to follow. The low overcast weather has us slightly concerned about sea fog. We have enough fuel, food odds and ends few more days but mentally are ready to leave.

With humid still conditions, the air is heavy. Walking up stream along the Old Horton river bed, a grizzly bear is moving towards us, digging as he goes. We watch from a respectful distance, not wanting to disturb his natural behaviour. The earth flies from his claws, how easy he moves large rocks! Six or seven caribou browse the greener slopes, not bothered by us. Two ptarmigan pretend to be rocks. As we keep still, another drama unfolds …a jaeger dive bombs a flying short eared owl, forcing it to drop a lemming from its claws. A golden plover sings its clear sweet notes. Fluffy cotton grass heads mark past wet spots.

Although it appears to be a paradise today, hard times for most months are more typical. “Frank Wolki died Feb. 1920”.

A final call to North Wright Air confirms the 5:30pm pick up is on schedule. The sea fog, at bay throughout the day at the Horton mouth, seems to be building. Happily, young Nathan lands easily and departs with Ron aboard. Our take out is scheduled for 10pm, weather dependent. With minimal grub, gear left, we make some tea and soup. It’s a melancholy last stroll along the tundra, each lost in our thoughts. Short eared owls and ptarmigan scatter in front of us, grasses bending in the wind. Change is in the air, I can  smell it, almost taste it, see it.

With heavy hearts, we make our way to the rendezvous point on the river. Suddenly the distant buzz of aircraft is audible, we quicken our pace so not to keep him waiting and tempt weather any further. The shining head light of the plane, the only point of light on this overcast day. A beacon of things to come. Ever efficient, Nathan ties canoe on to the ponton, we take off with little delay. As we taxi down river, a dark immature golden eagle parallels our progress, following along the bank. Even more amazing, just as the plane turns into the wind for take off, a large racked stag majestically looks down on us as if to say ‘ho! the land belongs to us, the eternal residents, good bye weekenders! nice you came for a visit and to see!’ …we all grab for cameras but he’s gone just as quickly.

image 2

One circle over the Horton delta and a look at the fog bank has Nathan quickly turning inland, running for clear air. Just by the first big white slope inland, he noses the plane up and we clear the thickening fog. Its now drifting 40 km inland, we made it out just in time. Below, the tundra polygons are clearly visible as well as thousands of lakes, hills and streams. Shrubs start to appear – the Anderson River is very green, bushy and sluggish looking below. Trees get larger and thicker. The sun sets behind a low cloud bank but beams above, reflecting off the plane’s wing tip. Waterways glow gold then orange. Far away the Beaufort Sea, Tuk peninsula begin to take shape.

By 1am, Inuvik is approaching…we dock, unload, Mark shuttles us to Arctic Chalet where Ron is waiting with a cold beer. I feel so discombobulated, can only take a few sips before thinking about sleep. We stink of the land, a good rich smell - I unroll my sleeping bag on top of the bed, and mostly clothed, face plant  right on top. Inside the cabin, it’s dark. I drift into sleep knowing we are well, together again and had a fabulous summer in the cradle of the Horton River.