The day started nice and early to prepare the boat for our journey onwards, as soon as the wind turns again. The children had slept over at Len and Pam’s and came back happy and spoilt after a pancake breakfast. The weather was beautiful, so we decided to explore the local area a little by going for a hike. Just as we were getting ready to leave, Helen, an Inuit elder came to the dock and decided to join our little excursion.
The mountain we walked up with Len is called Mount Pelly, or Ovayok as the locals call it. There is a whole legend surrounding the three mountains, we Swiss would probably call them hills, in this area. They are said to be three giants that died here and started the cycle of life and death. They had been walking for ages from the north of Kiilliniq (Victoria Island) and were starving because the land was so barren. There were only little caribou, too small for giants to eat. The first to collapse was Lady Pelly (Amatok), the first mountain. The child Uvajuruhiq, Baby Pelly, struggled on but didn’t make it much further. Father Pelly, Ovayok, was the last to fall, his ribs are still visible on the flank of the mountain but they have all been covered by soil and plants since. Geologically these three mountains used to form a long ridge created over 9’000 years ago by the last ice age. Over time erosion has worn down the bridge connecting the three mountains. The mountains have been a way for local Inuits to orientate themselves for hundreds of years, to find good hunting and fishing grounds.
We were sitting in the sun on the summit, it was 19 degrees. It’s hard to imagine that it gets -70 here in winter. The area here is classified as a desert, so it barely rains or snows. Most of the snow gets blown here by the strong winds. The sea starts to freeze over by early October.
Len started telling us how things around here have been changing. This is the warmest summer they’ve had in a long time. He says just a few years ago you would see black spots all over the valley, these were groups of musk oxen. We can’t see any. They have moved further north due to the warmer temperatures. The mountain is surrounded by hundreds of small lakes, they are drying out more and more due to increased temperatures causing evaporation, he explains.
A new addition to the island animals is the grizzly. The earlier Springs further south, have been causing them to come out of hibernation earlier. This means that they can follow the caribou across the ice to the island. However, after they are stranded as they can’t swim back. So now there are grizzlies on the island too. In this vein, the new research Centre, which is being built at this very moment, studying the changing climate and focusing especially on ice.
On the way home from Mount Pelly, we saw many geese, snow and Canada geese plus a loon and a parasitic jaeger. We stopped at a site with stone circles that the local Copper Indians had made. They were made to hold down the skin tents for storing food at large gatherings they held in summers on the land around here.
Then we went to see the wreck of the Maud, Amundsen’s boat, which is currently being re-floated by a group of Norwegians, who plan to tow this 500 ton ship, back to Norway via the Northeast Passage. This boat was launched in 1917 and named after the queen of Norway. He sailed her through the Northeast and parts of the Northwest passage before she was bought up by the Hudson Bay Co., froze in in 1926 and then sank here in Cambridge Bay in 1930.
It’s incredible to think how connected the Inuit here were to their land. They really got everything from it. They were so connected to nature around them. Just take boots for example, waterproof boots. We are fully dependent on oil to make the plastic for them. Here they didn’t need oil, they had the knowledge of what they could use in the environment around them. Even today with the knowledge dwindling, most people still prefer homemade cloths. “They look like orphans otherwise, you know if they are wearing store bought cloths”, says Pam.
Salina and Andri’s brief comment:
“We are in Cambridge Bay and we got lots of good friends. It is nice that we have so many good friends now. We went to a mountain, Andri collected many tiny crystals.”
Today, thanks to Pam and Helen we got to do all our laundry done, because of you two we have wonderfully clean cloths again. Sabine and Christina did our last food provisioning, while the rest of the adults got the boat ready. Dario focused on trying to fix the boat’s electronics . A big ice breaker Ernest Shackleton had anchored up beside us, they are going to be escorting the first cruise ship through the Northwest Passage. Dario gave them a call, on the VHF and they instantly came on board to help. Thank you so much for trying to help! We really appreciate it. We wish you a good passage, maybe we’ll meet again.
While we were busy on the boat a sudden storm built and we were stuck on the boat. With up to 37 knots blowing from the shore there was no way we could paddle against it to shore. The wind is supposed to die down around midnight, which would allow us to leave late morning.
Unfortunately, we still have no solution for replacing our outdated autopilot, which with weather forecasts like the news from Victor below is a more and more pressing issue. We are desperately trying to find a solution and soon.
News we received from Victor, who send us ice and weather updates: “Only yesterday Lancaster Sound got a hurricane with winds of more than 65kt. The weather this year is crazy. Nearly lost Matt Rutherford in North Baffin today who was doing research there for NOAA with all adult crew. He hit Hurricane 70+, lost all anchors, had to call MAYDAY and is under tow by Danish Navy. All mess. Make sure your basic rudder is intact and ready for spare tiller operation. Its a very difficult task as I have experienced once in Atlantic crossing. Turning rudder in high waves requires muscle of two men that can work just for an hour and no more. Be prepared.
There are now 3 big LOWS about North Pole that influence the rest of the weather of Arctic now. They move & merge constantly as there were no tomorrow. So, your windows may only last a day or two. So, the Arctic is not only the ice and never be.”
Tomorrow, we have two presentations in the elementary and high school and then we will head on, winds permitting. It feels like we should get going. We see more and more geese flocking and today Helen asked how long we plan to stop in Gjoa Haven, if we do. We answered we didn’t really know and asked why. Her reply was: ” Because the geese are gathering earlier this year and the snow is coming soon, we can feel it.”