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angelica

Seal Meat

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Famed anthropologist and adventurer, Knud Rasmussen once said, ‚ÄúYou need to experience the seal meat to enjoy the orange.‚ÄĚ His meaning,¬†of course, was that arduous experiences cause you to better appreciate those moments of sublimity. With this in mind, let me say that we have been eating one¬†hell of a lot of seal meat. To recount, harrowing landing at Ft. Conger; back-breaking sled haul across Lady Franklin bay; three days together in a tent¬†riding out hurricane class winds; and yesterday.

We arose early and, noticing the drop in the wind, got on the water and began to paddle under grey cloudy¬†skies and frigid conditions. They grew worse as the day progressed with gallons of sea water slipping into our spray skirts. At¬†6pm, we found a break in the¬†ice foot and we were able to find an inhospitable place to stop ‚Äď it was an ice bench covered in meltwater and debris from the hillside. No place to camp nor¬†freshwater. But we were stuck. Bryce whipped up grilled cheese sandwiches and Dianna made soup, and then we huddled together on a tarp in our bags and¬†hoped for conditions to improve. I’m not sure if I have ever been so tired and exhausted as at that moment.¬†Five hours later, the wind abated and the tide¬†grew favorable and we resumed paddling. After an additional three hours on the water, we located a nice place to camp, shared a¬†4am¬†dinner and fell asleep¬†exhausted. It’s on days like this that I invoke the spirit of Knud and say, ‚ÄúPlease, man, send us an orange!‚ÄĚ

Each time my suit has kept me completely dry. THANK YOU!!!!

-Mike

p.s. A personal shout out to our friends at Kokatat. I’ve fallen neck deep into Arctic waters on four occasions so far (I like to keep track of these things).

The Storm

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We have been waylaid by a hurricane-strength Arctic storm the past 3 days. Passed in a mixture of treacherous conditions, we have avoided outside contact out of a combination of fear of worrying others and of jinxing our safety. Now that the worst may be through, here is the story of our terrifying weekend.

On Saturday the 8th, we awoke and found open water ahead, which we used to turn past Cape Baird. Finding our way blocked by ice at the Pavy river, we turned back and beached our kayaks on the North of its great desolate and windswept alluvial fan, where we prepared grilled cheeses and lolled around in calm 50 degree temperatures. We all reacted with confusion when an alternating warm and cold southerly wind blew our loose bags across the beach. Half an hour later, the sustained wind speeds were 30 mph with gusts up to 50 mph, and so we scoured the Martian landscape for places to camp. We have since named this godforsaken place Exposure Beach. Not a single ridge or ravine gave protection from the winds. Absent any other option, we tied the kayaks to a gravel-filled duffel bag and found a shallow ditch just a foot high in which we took our sleeping bags and little else. Laying as flat as possible and packed in like sardines, the wind buffeted us, and we hoped the storm would pass us by.

At 4 am on Sunday the decision was made to leave our wretched bunker. Wind speeds were sustained above 60 mph and gusts were above 100 mph, enough to break the readout of our anemometer. Our ditch offered no protection, and we were scoured by a mist of sleet and dust, turning us into technicolor caricatures of Dorothea Lange photos. In a hurried, stumbling manner, blown over repeatedly, our group moved North, carrying our bags and tent with us. We found no ledge or bench on which to lie safely, and the decision was made to erect our geodesic tent where the wind was at least reduced somewhat and pray that it would weather the storm. The erection of said tent has been captured on video, and is a story in its own right, at the very least a monument to careful teamwork. Once erected, with Bryce and I holding on for dear life to the outside and Mike and Diana weighing it down from the inside, Steve went to work Jerry-rigging two dozen guy wires to hold the windward side of our tent together in the storm. That we are alive is a testament to his quick thinking and engineering skills.

With the tent up, we turned to preventing its flight. For this we can thank the Dillons, who spent much of the subsequent two days seated on the windward side¬†of the tent as it bounced violently. In this ‚Äúsafer‚ÄĚ location, wind speeds were sustained over 70 mph, frequently gusting over the the 100 mph maximum¬†of our anemometer. By the kayaks, the torrential speeds were indescribable, and crawling became the only option to reach them on the few trips anyone made.¬†Even at a half ton each and tied off to a ton of gravel, these kayaks strained at their leashes.

The next two days were spent huddled, awaiting any abatement in the storm, hearing the brutal wind howling through and over the tent, nervously looking around during particularly fierce gusts, leaving only to pee, braced against the wind and mostly over ourselves, and hoping against all hope that we had done enough to keep the tent intact. Through myriad anxious moments, we survived, and sit now in the comfort of 30 mph winds that we have celebrated by cooking and leaving our refuge to brush our teeth.

This afternoon, after a challenging hike to the top of Cape Baird, we found the sea ice that had formerly stopped our progress blew North to Cape Distant and clear East to Greenland. To the South there is nothing but ocean ahead. With luck this will become a kayak trip after all

-Chris

So Much For Kayaking

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This is supposed to be a kayak trip, but so far we have covered maybe only two miles, actually using¬†paddles. Yesterday we woke to calm sunny skies, and to an ocean clogged with sea ice halfway to Greenland. It¬†seemed like we would have to wait there for days, but then, when the tide started to ebb, the ice moved away from the shore and we¬†got to paddle! We didn’t make it far, but it was beautiful, ice floes everywhere, super calm water, and then, just too much ice to continue.¬†So we headed to shore for what we thought would be a short break, but it’s turned into one which might last quite a few days.¬†The wind has picked up. We are hunkered down. It is cozy, but we can’t make grilled cheese in the tent.

Grilled cheese! It is so much tastier than the same ingredients raw. Bryce has become master sandwich maker, and¬†whenever it isn’t too windy, and we have the time, that is our preferred lunch. Today though, it is too windy. After seven days, we are beginning to¬†miss things like tacos, fresh veggies, clean socks, and being clean. In this wind, everything has become covered in grit, aided by our copious butter intake.

-Diana

A Birthday Miracle

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Don’t let any of the team sugarcoat it. Yesterday was brutal with a capital ‚ÄúB‚ÄĚ. Last night I expected more of the same, as a jumble of¬†ice blocks some more than 2 meters high blocked today’s route. I went to sleep feeling thrashed and a bit despondent.

We awoke this morning to a unique sounds – squeaking, blowing, deep guttural groans. Bryce, who turns 21 today, exclaimed: ‚ÄúDad, it’s a birthday miracle!‚ÄĚ And¬†it is. Overnight the sea ice has blown a large distance from shore which means open water kayaking. Yeah!!!!

-Mike

Wonders of the Arctic

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Last night we put on sunscreen before we went to sleep, so as not to get sunburned as we slept.¬†It looked like a nice night, and where we landed wasn’t the most ideal place to set up a tent. Up here the sun keeps circling us, never setting.¬†It was a beautiful ‚Äėnight,’ sunny and warm.

Our crossing of Lady Franklin Bay was grueling. Fun too! And so beautiful. We had to haul our kayaks across 18 kilometers of ice. That is a long way! Twice we found leads Рnarrow cracks in the sea ice where we led our kayaks like dogs on a leash Рbut the rest of the time we just worked ourselves like we were pack animals. Half way across we saw a few Ivory Gulls. They are whiter than the ice. There are only a few thousand of them on this planet, so that was an amazing sight.

This morning we woke, and all of the rumble jumble of sea ice that had packed up against the solid ice we had been walking across has drifted away. That means that today, for the first time, we are going to be able to actually kayak, get in the boats and use the paddles. It also means that, had we waited a day on the far side of this Bay, we could have kayaked across it too. Conditions change fast here.

As a side note, a narwhal just swam into our Bay!!!

Cheers, Diana

Nonstop

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We are tired humans. Today we hauled kayaks over 22 km of ridged, ponded, and rubbled ice. 12 hours of nonstop exertion.

We have sympathy for Nansen’s poor men.

-Chris

Who Knew the World Was So Warm?

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Yesterday our little group pushed, pulled, and floated our kayaks over 10 km of thin sea ice densely populated with melt ponds. In the best moments we were gondoliers, effortlessly punting our kayaks through bright blue canals on the ice, the resemblance broken only by our attire (peculiarly aesthetic dry suits) and our voices (mine being only a bit shy of pitch perfect baritone). In the worst moments, which were most of them, we were a team of snapping pack animals dragging a ton of food, equipment, and clothing each. We were rewarded in our efforts by 50 degree temperatures and a quiet, soft place to sleep instead of the ice of the night before.

Today we wake at Distant Cape on the north side of Lady Franklin Bay, at the base of a sizeable alluvial fan that spreads out from an old coal seam once mined by the original Greely expedition that gave it its name. We may be the only humans to set foot here in 150 years, and subsequently the only to be spoiled by an indescribable view of snow capped Mount Campbell across the Bay, with Nares Strait and the gargantuan Peterman glacier lying in the distance, on which the sun see, to perpetually shine. One would be forgiven for thinking we were in the fjords of Norway if not for the unending broken expanse of sea ice spreading out in every direction. Tomorrow we push onwards across the bay, and expect to camp on the ice again. We will be skirting the line of sea ice that divides the land fast sea ice of the bay from the mobile, broken ice of the Strait itself.

2 days more of hauling await, wish us luck!

-Chris

Grounded

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Day 1 of Enduring Ice begins with a bang. Rather than our bags falling to ground at Fort Conger, it was instead the sound of a thin door slamming, followed by the padding of Steve and Diana down the South Camp Inn hallway. We won’t be flying today.

Some few hundred miles northeast of our location in Resolute Bay sits a slow-moving low-pressure system. This weather system is not precipitating, but it is also insecure, compensating for its poor moisture content with a proliferation of low clouds and fog. In this business, landing strips are simple cleared regions of tundra, and Twin Otters must have them in sight before landing. For today, our cowardly barometic friend has won.

For myself and the crew of Enduring Ice, this meant another day of the relative luxury of Resolute Bay: lukewarm showers, warm meals, and pre-made slices of cheesecake. So many of those.

But as quickly as we reacted to the news by stuffing our faces with last-night’s-dinner-turned-brunch, new news. We’ll be taking a Twin to Tanquery Fjord and overnighting with it in the hopes that we will see clearer skies tomorrow. The journey begins anew!

-Chris

The Journey Begins (really!)

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Happy birthday, Canada. You are wearing your 150 years extremely well.

We celebrated today watching a parade of a dozen vehicles festooned with Canada flags driving through the hamlet of Resolute. Much of the rest of the day was spent assembling our kayaks and packing (and repackaging) our food and gear to minimize weight and space for tomorrow’s flight to Fort Conger. One pair of underwear for 35 days? Are you kidding me?!

Fingers crossed the weather holds!

Cheers, Diana