Today belongs to Kugaaruk

We woke last night to a bitter, bitter cold — the windchill, a degree or two shy of -40C, best guess. So, it was a little chilly you might say, when we all woke up this morning, still nicely cocooned in our sleeping bags. I don’t think any one of us wanted to get up to make 6am crew-call. But there’s nothing for it, first things first, as usual.

I normally jump out of my sleeping bag to get the two stoves on and get the hot water going for breakfast and then fill up the thermoses that are to last us the whole day on the trail. If any melted water is left over from all of that, we’ll use it to get supper going later on.  

Other than the cold, it was a great day!  Definitely, ‘shades of 1854.’ While travelling along so diligently today, we met at least 15-20 Inuit from Kugaaruk, out in small groups to check on their fishing nets set under the ice. We found out the nets are checked often; some, every single day. One fellow had what looked to be at least 20 or more fresh Arctic Char lying (and looking quite delicious) in his qamutik. He was anxious to get home, I think, to cook them up for supper. 

Everyone we met was in a good mood, as we were, possibly because it was a bright, and sunny, albeit chilly day out here on the river. Virtually everyone that saw us skiing along, stopped by to say hello; curious as to who we were, where we’d come from and where we were going. One group that did pass us by though, had an entire fishing cabin set atop their qamutik. Of course, we were sure to give them a wide berth, for safety’s sake.

During our encounters, there was a lot of friendly chatter and sharing in an easy-going back and forth flow that included conversations on general weather and snow conditions and if anyone had sighted any wildlife or animal tracks in the area, Each of these enjoyable interludes from our travel seemed to give the moment a nostalgic aura, conjuring a colourful mental tableau, very much akin I imagined, to what the social exchanges between Rae and the Inuit he met on his journey, must have been like 165 years ago. 

Certainly, for us, despite the fact that it was all a bit difficult to fully explain who we were, what we were doing and why we were doing it, these very social breaks in our relentless grind forward were appreciated by the team. It was great fun, very enjoyable indeed, to have some general conversation with other human beings for a change. [sorry guys]. These would last a while, until one of our visitors would say, ‘oh, better be off to check our nets,’ and that would be it. Off they would tear into the distance on their snowmobiles and the Arctic silence would return —until the next group came along. 

It was all of the friendly Kugaarukmiut, who stopped to say hello on this cold, but very fine and sunny Sunday, that set the tone for the entire day. Though we’re near to their community we unfortunately won’t be visiting there this trip. Nevertheless, today very much belonged to Kugaaruk, and its people. The Arctic Return team wishes to thank all those we met today for their friendship, curiosity and interest. 

Gear check The cold continues to be both boon and bane. When it is cold and sunny progress on skis is more efficient, less energy draining on us. The hard snow provides both good purchase, but also gives an easy glide and rhythm to our forward momentum, which makes pulling our sled less of a hardship. We also rely on our solar panel and the sun to charge the essential batteries that keep our Sat phone and InReach devices going strong, to name but two. The trouble is that our devices are a lot less effective in extreme cold. They just don’t work as well and batteries become harder to keep warm so they better maintain their charges.

Tomorrow is another day It is still very cold at the moment and it will continue to be so for a while yet. We travelled a main river, within approximately 10 kilometres of the East side of Pelly Bay. There is not a cloud in the sky right now, so we are expecting another night of -25C to -30C; frigid temperatures sure to be sharpened even more by whatever the wind decides to do. Hard to say too, how much terrain we will cover tomorrow.

 But yes, tomorrow is another day. We’re hoping to hit the sea-ice and  make the relatively short crossing at the geographical bottom of Pelly Bay, where we will  make land and camp for the evening. Gaining that ground will mark another chapter in this journey.

As you can see, all is well – mixed as it is.  The good news is that the weather is slated to warm ‘fractionally’ over the next two days. That would be nice. We’re duly taking care of our digits. It’s really just a case of a bit of repair to toes and fingers, some of which are frozen, but that’s ok.  I’ll get the feeling back again sometime, I know. 

David Reid, reporting in for the rest of the happy team of Arctic Return wanderers: Richard Smith and Frank Wolf

[A THUMBS UP TO ADVENTURE CANADA. Readers of this blog who are interested in the Rae story, should note that Adventure Canada, is conducting an international travel tour called, Scotland Slowly. Part of their tour itinerary includes a visit to Orkney, a stop in Kirkwall and a visit to the, Hall of Clestrain, the birthplace of John Rae. Both stops serve as natural tie-ins to the Arctic Return expedition. On behalf of the entire team… we’re sending out a big, big thank you, to Adventure Canada, for the huge support they have given Arctic Return, right from the very start.]