Paddling the Baillie in the Barren-Grounds of Canada
Gail E Ferris
I was to join Erwin Streisinger to paddle the Baillie River to the Back River, which is in central Northwest Territories, Canada and runs along the western border of the Thelon Game Sanctuary. This area of the Barren-Grounds is well known for the great herds of Caribou and other animals, which live in this area.
Our departure on June 24th. 1990, from Edmonton, Alberta was heralded by two rainbows, which I captured on my camcorder as our jet gained altitude. I did not know if it was possible to see rainbows when flying and I was not sure if my camcorder would capture the image, but it did.
The view of Great Slave Lake form the air was awe inspiring because the lake is immense to say the least and very blue. Areas to the south of the lake are flat with extensive quantities of water in innumerable ponds and small lakes interconnected occasionally by the most tortuous meandering channels imaginable which I would not wish to have to follow by boat as their lengths must have been about as extreme as it is possible to be within the area they traversed. I enjoyed looking at them from the air.
My first view of our last point of civilization was of Yellowknife, which currently serves as the capital of Northwest Territories, Canada was from the air as we flew across Great Slave Lake. This area is not Arctic but boreal, which must be quite strange for the Inuit to experience when they visit Yellowknife to participate in legislative decisions for their local communities. My previous visit to Northwest Territories involved landing at lqaluit, which was Arctic and hence had no trees.
The airport for jets and other land-based aircraft at Yellowknife was not as large as Bradley Field in Connecticut but similar in character. There were just a few airlines, which flew large jets into this airport and as expected there were many smaller sized turboprop and propeller driven aircraft on the field. I especially enjoyed seeing some DC-3's not only on the ground but flying in low over Yellowknife, once we got into town.
The DC-3 with its extraordinary contributions it has made to aviation history has a special place in many peoples' minds especially those who have flown them, but now one rarely sees a DC-3 in my area. Naturally as expected there were many De Havilland Otters and Beavers, the workhorses of the North on the field.
How delightful it was to see the airplanes in the air, especially right overhead coming in for a landing. Airplanes I remember from my childhood in the 40’s and 50’s but rarely seen now in Connecticut.
I gloried in seeing these rugged working planes, knowing that we would also be using one for our journey to the head of the Baillie River. I was electrified to participate in this special experience.
The terminal had been just built and was warmly inviting pleasant modern architecture designed to accommodate people not machines that gave it a relaxed atmosphere.
From the airport at Yellowknife we got a ride into town. This involved a surprisingly long drive of about twenty to thirty minutes, which immediately suggested to me that Yellowknife must be rather civilized. I gathered that people did not want airplanes landing quite so closely to their homes, much less accidentally in their back yards. This would the one less possible excitement to anticipate. On the eastern coast, of Baffin the towns bugged the landward side of the gravel airfields but. Large jets and any aircraft, only landed a few times a week and the passengers were most often immediate relatives.
Taking off from Edmonton for Yellowknife one did not get the cozy homey feeling that all but a few passengers knew or were related to one another as did one immediately notice on the Ottawa to lqaluit flight.
Just as soon as the lqaluit flight, was at altitude people began getting up and going around talking excitedly with each other about, how things had gone since they had last seen one another and what they were looking forward to for the next. season. Many old relationships were renewed and new ideas were exchanged which made going North very exciting and gave neophytes such as myself the feeling that the North was one great family to which one became immediately adopted with no credentials necessary, other than just one’s presence as the requirement.
As we bounced over the paved, unpaved and under construction sections of the road I stared glumly at. The tree covered boreal landscape, which offered craggy outcrops of grey rock, lovely ponds and the usual assortment of Black and White spruce. Papier birch, Quaking aspen. Red-osier dogwood, and Balsam poplar. The sighting of a moose would have a likely event but not caribou. I was all too happy that we would be leaving tomorrow and none too soon for the Baillie in High Arctic.
The reality of Yellowknife the capital of Northwest Territories came to inevitable fruition as we found ourselves on "Main Street" with not. Only paved streets and genuine cement, sidewalks but. Even parking meters and multiple story complex buildings which had shopping malls in their lower floors. This did not. appeal to my idea of the North and I was most concerned as to how things would go when our baggage was transferred from the back of the van to those lovely polished brass baggage carts which were being used in the Yellowknife Inn where we supposedly had reservations.
Yellowknife had much warmer than I had expected, indeed it was hot and our hotel room was too warm. The sun was at this time just. a few days after the summer solstice shinning all night. The residents were partying all night as well. The Ravens were busy gathering items of interest to adorn their latest, roosting place in addition to generally carrying on their usual conversations back and forth with each other and themselves. I always enjoy the antics of these comical garish creatures as they constantly look for new sorbs of entertainment either by finding newly discarded colorful objects or by watching people. It is sort of a reciprocal relationship between ravens and people even though people might not wish to admit this.
The reality of Yellowknife the capital of Northwest Territories came to inevitable fruition as we found ourselves on "Main Street" with not only paved streets and genuine cement sidewalks but even parking meters and multiple story complex buildings, which had shopping malls in their lower floors. This did not appeal to my idea of the North and I was most concerned as to how things would go when our baggage was transferred from the back of the van to those lovely polished brass baggage carts, which were being used in the Yellowknife Inn where we supposedly had reservations.
I so fondly remembered the rather awkward moment when I arrived in 1989 in Ottawa on route to Pond Inlet with complete camping equipment and a shotgun in its awkwardly long case, which could not be let out of sight. First trying to look like all that baggage weighted a mere nothing and could be expected to take up hardly any space in the trunk of the cab. Naturally the load did not quite fit into the cab trunk and I very zealously and speedily helped the hack load the cab hoping that he would not balk or charge extra for this weighty and bulky load.
Having been a hack myself for a year I knew just what it feels like to have to deal with this sort of customer, you hope you don't have to pick up very many customers of this sort in a day. Worse that that are the very short numerous trips for grocery shoppers who have to use cabs because they do not have a car.
Then quickly trying to unload the cab and find a hotel cart for the baggage, hoping that the cab driver does not become too angry and that the hotel manager does not notice your awesome baggage further complications inevitably develop. The baggage arrives on the sidewalk and you hope that you have all of it and that nobody walking by is especially dishonest.
Then the unexpected problem arises as you discover that the hotel doors are specifically designed only for guests carrying single small suitcases. The doors have the habit of closing forcefully and quickly sort of propelling you into the lobby or squashing in the door jams any baggage, which requires any physical dexterity to manipulate. Hence the gun case, the large duffle bag and some other bag become caught in the door, as you delicately try to negotiate your arrival into the hotel lobby without drawing undue attention to your arrival.
Next you, with an air of apparent confidence, sashay up to the desk and drop the big question "Do you have reservations for a party of———?" Well in Ottawa there was no problem as yes indeed they did have our reservation. It was just the elevators, which once again liked to squash to helplessness the passengers along with their baggage such that one could almost but just barely reach the buttons. And when trying to get off the elevator, as the doors insistently try to close every time you pass through them with the gravely and precariously overloaded baggage cart, without being kidnapped to some other floor with part of your luggage was a distinct possibility.
At the Yellowknife Inn after having passed successfully through the doors with Kleppers in their bags and four weeks complete field supplies, the reception was markedly different at the desk. Upon expectantly asking the question "Do you have reservations for the party of — - — ?" the desk manager revealed the blankest expression possible to imagine. Numerous irrelevant excuses were offered not resolving the sudden crisis of having no room reservations for our party. My blood pressure rose as I had no initial desire to sleep indoors to the tune of $130.00 a night and would have preferred to camp outside of town anyway. A room was found and we unloaded ourselves into its stifling confines.
The majority local people were Indians, the next largest population was Canadians from the south and just occasionally one would catch a glimpse of some Inuit. I imagined that for the Inuit a visit to Yellowknife must be similar as a visit by a rural person to New York must be, in terms of cultural compatibility. Yellowknife has a good public library with a large collection of interesting and diverse periodicals that I spent some time reading when I had spare time after our trip was over. Yellowknife also has an excellent museum, which covers the animals, the history and the ethnology of the North in a very informative way. I learned several valuable things when I looked at their exhibit. I was sorry that I had not taken my camcorder to record things of particular interest. At this time they do not have any publications.
The next day, June 25th, 1990 our first day of our trip. We were to fly from Yellowknife to the beginning of the Baillie River at sixty-four degrees fifteen minutes north and one hundred five degrees twenty minutes west where we landed at the end of an Arctic lake from which the Baillie River began. It was to be my first experience in the Barren-grounds low Arctic area and my first experience on a river expedition. We were to run the entire length of the Baillie to it's confluence with the Back River and proceed to an easily accessible pickup point about twenty miles east on the Back River.
The floatplane would pick us up on July 13th. at a point where the Back divides to flow around an island, which was sizeable and had an elevation one hundred foot range showing on the topographic map. We assumed teat it would not have washed away by the time we got there but one can never be sure when it comes to the river course. Streisinger had made this exact same trip sixteen years earlier in mid-July which required time of the year much of the snow runoff feeding the watershed for this river had long since made it's way down the river. We had this time from Erwin's previous experience and some sage advice from a knowledgeable source the Canada Department of Energy, Mines and Resources guide 'written for canoeing and began our run of the river on the last week of June. I knew my encounter with the Baillie would be a surprise but how much of a surprise I wondered. I admired the serenity of my partner as I grew steadily more apprehensive. This was only my second experience paddling in the Arctic and I tend to assume the worst at times.
Our morning in Yellowknife was quite ambiguous seeing as the sun never really did anything with exception of skirting the horizon and there was no period of darkness. How does one look for shooting stars under these conditions? We made final preparations at Ptarmigan Airlines after having sauntered slowly down to their lakeside office reaching it just as they opened for the day. All was well and weather conditions were excellent. The sun was warm and the wind was moderate. Our airplane, a Beaver, sat at dockside while we finalized our plans to fly out early in the afternoon. Our gear, most of which had been shipped to Yellowknife by truck, was all there, much to our great relief. We transferred the gear from shipping boxes to field bags and purchased some benzene for the stoves.
Takeoff time came soon enough and I took some video shots of the lake and what interested me greatly which was the design of the floatplane. I had never seen a floatplane close enough to be able to look at the floats and rudder structures before. I did not know that there were rudders, which could be raised and lowered as well as steered like the tail rudder from the cockpit. The cable assembly and pulley system was fascinating. The floats were designed not only to be used on water but also to be of as low an air resistance as possible for flying efficiency. There was much I was yet to learn about floatplanes.
I captured the takeoff of another floatplane, which was unfortunately in the last moments of the takeoff obscured by as island. The video recording was quite amusing because the airplane is seen racing by and suddenly disappearing behind an island. It leaves you with the feeling of "what happened to that airplane, it was just there a moment ago." In the final edited copy of the videotape I was able to overcome this nonsensical moment by switching to the takeoff scene in our cockpit just as we were taking off.
Once we had loaded the plane and we were situated in the cockpit for takeoff, I prepared my video camera to record our moments of takeoff. I had become quite adept at doing this on commercial airliners even though passengers are supposed to have everything stowed away at takeoff. I found that some of the most exciting footage I have taken is during these moments. I shouldn't admit this, but I just happened to capture video footage while driving alone at the normal speed over not. only the Jamestown Bridge but also the Newport Bridge while quite by accident playing some music on the radio which synchronized in character and timing perfectly with the action as I was pointing the camera in a general direction hopefully out the window with one hand and steering with the other. Some shooting I tell you!
My favorite video imagery, complete with perfect sound I shot, was of The Picquataqua Bridge recorded while I was driving at 65 rnph. This was too wild though. I also have some prize footage of going over the Jamestown and Newport bridges with just the right music playing in the background on the car radio.
From my seat in the rear of the cockpit I took pictures of an overall view of the instrument panel, which later had added significance as I watched pilot adjust the throttle to accelerate for takeoff. Being able to record sound as well as images in a situation such as this gives a fuller dimension to what is happening. I checked for good visual vantage points and found that one of the best was behind my seat through the rear window. As the plane accelerated I increased the shutter speed of the camcorder to 4000. The propeller wash and wake from the floats was very exciting to see and record. It made the moment of takeoff even more exciting for me, a boater, this was a new aspect of the dynamics of water and aircraft interaction.
The scenery raced by at reckless speed as we sped madly across the rippled lake and very quickly left the surface for the air with our heavily loaded plane, in just moments we were aloft leaving Yellowknife behind and looking at the islands, which were now below.
We were headed for the end of the east arm of Great Slave Lake where we could refuel before the long flight to the Baillie. This refueling stop was supplied as were other places on this lake by barge. The cost of purchasing supplies in Yellowknife was much more reasonable than those settlements only supplied by air, because most of the supplies could be brought in by barge. This was something I had not imagined possible at Yellowknife because I did not know that there was a navigable water access to Yellowknife. This type of access affected the character of Yellowknife greatly.
It was a long flight to the east arm of Great Slave Lake with some air turbulence but the views of the forested rocky terrain with it's endless lakes located in the peninsulas. There were some dramatic cliffs and some enticingly beautiful rivers with white water rushing through exciting rapids. Here and there we spanned the various arms of Great Slave Lake, some of which were surprisingly wide but I should have not been surprised had I been looking at a map. In some of these areas the ice had not gone out yet. This was the last week of June, which was the best time for running rivers in this area because the water shed of snow run-off would become quickly dissipated within the next few weeks.
Now at last we were spiraling down from the altitudes in a tight circle to come in for a landing in the east arm for refueling. As we swung downward the effects of centrifugal force could be felt as our seat belts tugged against our waists and shoulders.
I took some interesting video footage, which I knew would most likely be our last low-level view of the boreal.
Our next landing was to be in the Arctic. I gazed at a fishing camp and wondered what it must be like to live on the edge of Great Slave Lake in the winter.
Just before our plane dropped below the ridge we felt some of the stronger low-level gusts of wind that were generated by the topography and air temperature differences attendant with a weather change.
Then we were down low enough to begin the final decent for the touch down. When landing on the water a touch down has to be done with great care because the floats will only bare just so much weight especially just at the moment of landing. Too hard a landing results in disastrous consequences.
We were still in the boreal zone. There were mostly Black spruce and Quaking aspen in this dry gravel and bare grey metamorphic rock area. The spruce were twenty and thirty feet high, but not heavily branched. Over the dry rocky ground there were many grey and light green crustose lichens but among them there were surprisingly numerous Bear Berry plants with the dried but still edible remains of the dark blue almost black Bear Berries from last season. I sampled them and found them sweet and not too dry to enjoy eating. I wondered if we would find these further north on the Baillie. They would be nice to add to our menu.
Our pilot brought us down with a nicely controlled seemingly effort less landing, which I knew it takes practice and great skill to execute with such precision. He taxied to shore, reversed the variable pitch propeller and backed the plane. Just as he got into the shallows he shipped the rudders on the floats and backed the plane up onto the shore so that the stern of the floats were just on dry land. Leaving the engine going to keep the plane against the shore he jumped out of the cockpit with a line and moored the plane. It was obvious that a pilot in the north must be very resourceful and completely self-reliant. I found it slightly disconcerting to witness the pilot disappearing from the cockpit while the engine was still going and the prop still turning. In my experience one does not do that, but I reminded myself that this was not Connecticut.
Once the plane was moored the engine was turned off and the refueling began. The fifty-five gallon drums of Jet B fuel were rolled down to the plane, tapped and pumped into the fuel tanks of plane with a portable electric pump through the transparent housings of the filtration system to remove any contaminants. The transparent housings were a valuable visual reference for inspecting the quality of the fuel as a large slug of rust or bubbles of an immiscible liquid would indicate water, something highly undesirable. Once the fuel was in the tanks we climbed aboard ready for takeoff. The plane engine turned over and fired off with perfection as it was well designed and maintained in perfect condition. These De Havilland airplanes are noted as being tough, reliable and versatile.
Just as I thought we should begin to taxi the pilot slipped out of the cockpit and ran back to release and bring aboard the mooring line. It was a good idea. I still remember the moment of suddenly noticing that the pilot wasn't there and capturing this once again disconcerting sequence of the disappearing pilot on video. The video shots really do capture the feel of the moment, which I laugh about now when I view the video.
We taxied down wind to a good vantage point for takeoff into the wind. The plane engine roared to, life and we raced across the rippled water.
In moments we lifted off but before us was a ridge we had to clear coming up distressingly rapidly. Seemingly too close we rose up and over to clear the ridge just as we were to become bombarded with some strong gusty updrafts that were not pleasant for one's stomach.
Gradually we gained altitude above most of this turbulence and were on our way at about 12,000 feet. The topography such as large escarpments was exciting to study from the air. The trees began to thin and become smaller as the muskeg began to give way to tundra. More and more frequently there occurred shallow dark watered peaty ponds and fewer and fewer streams with moving water because this area was becoming flatter as was typical of this area of the tundra.
The low relief of this area resulted in there being very few rivers. I realized that it would be relatively easy to spot the Baillie River because it was unlike the other bodies of water in it's area. All other bodies of water in the Baillie River area were either lakes or ponds. Once in a while a highly meandering interconnecting brook could be seen between two ponds. An especially unusual topographic feature easily spotted from the air was Moraine Lake, which was a lake located in a long narrow crevasse. We did not happen to fly over it but I would have liked to have seen it. Also glacial eskers and river rapids are marked on aeronautical charts because they are easy to recognize.
After a couple hours of flying over the seemingly endless still frozen but occasionally open ponds and lakes we at long last came upon the Baillie at sixty four degrees fifteen minutes north and one hundred five degrees twenty minutes west which too was still frozen in the wide calm area we had planned to land on. Seeing so many countless frozen bodies of water made me feel apprehensive as to whether our goal, the Baillie would be open yet. Although I had seen some open running water it. was far to the south of us now and I wondered how different the temperatures might be from one area to another. I had not studied the meteorology in this area of the Arctic enough to understand the temperature distributions.
As Erwin Streisinger and the pilot at long last recognized from the air that we were approaching the long lake, which we were to land on that was to be the commencement of our Baillie trip we saw that indeed this lake like • the other lakes in the area was still iced in. Erwin also pragmatically evaluated a mile long stretch of rapids below the lake and decided to avoid this rock garden because he had had to portage around it on the previous trip and did not want to risk having problems running these particularly complex rapids. I thought he had made a wise decision. I was not in a hurry to become a hero.
We were in luck, the next section of the river that had rapids was open and there was plenty of water. Along the banks was a wide margin of submerged grasses and shrubs, which were now submerged under three feet of water. We looped down to look for submerged rocks in our tentative landing place and found that there was enough clear distance for a landing.
To our left was a high dry bank suitable for our camp. I video recorded our go around and come down for a landing which later I was glad I had done because it gave perspective to this fleeting moment. We came in for the touch down and the landing had no problems. The taxi to the shore proceeded without our grounding on any shallow rocks. The pilot pulled the floats up onto the dry land and we were able to land all our gear without getting our feet wet. The clear water was moving quickly and was just above freezing.
We landed on a wide quiet stretch on the south shore that had few rocks and little current. I got to see just what a good floatplane, the De Havilland Beaver and an excellent pilot can do. It amazed me what can be done with the power of the propeller to drive the floats of the airplane up onto dry land so that the expedition members do not get wet feet. Had I known that this might be our treatment, I should have brought my mink, dinner gown and dangling ear rings; instead I brought my tough jacket and pants, slogging boots and long underwear. We bid farewell to the pilot and finally at long last were alone, all alone, on the tundra with the bright sun, the puffy cumulus clouds and the wind, a soft wind of about fifteen knots, just enough to make you feel that you were on the tundra with it's endless wide open spaces. The heavily glaciated area had rendered the hills softly rolling only about two hundred feet high which required a long walk to the top of them.
I was most glad to once again be in the Arctic. I gazed at my long lost friends the plants surrounding me that grow nowhere else but the Arctic. The first plant I spotted was covered with innumerable berries from last year on the Bear Berry plants and I immediately sampled them. They were delicious. We were in an acid bog area replete with a very important herb called Ledum, which makes a wonderful tea reminiscent of pine combined with eucalyptus.
At long last there I was, once again, in the Arctic. The typical bog plants many of them ericaceous shrubs and the grasses were at my feet. To my delight there were the same Bear Berries I had seen two hundred miles south of here and they were perfectly edible. I hoped that these delectable berries from last year would grace us throughout our trip. The only way of knowing was to start our trip on the river tomorrow.
We set to erecting the tents and distributing the rest of the equipment. It was late afternoon almost early evening and dinnertime was approaching, but we were so preoccupied with assembling our Kleppers that we neglected to soak our dehydrated dinner. Our dehydrated food needed an hour of soaking to facilitate hydration an<a cooking. This was my first experience eating a diet of dehydrated food in deference to freeze-dried food
The Kleppers had survived the rigors of shipping with no pieces damaged. Once my Klepper was assembled, I felt relieved because paddling was the primary reason why I was on this trip. I had acquired as much white water paddling skill as I could in the previous spring and I was excitedly looking forward to the challenge of white water day after day. I planned to use every means I could imagine to avoid having to portage and that was a great inspiration to become as skillful a paddler as possible. I concentrated on slalom paddling, which turned out to be a new interest for me.
The sun began to wane but we knew we would be treated to one on those Arctic long days in which the light just fades a bit as the sun just dips momentarily behind the horizon only to come right back up again a very short time later. The longest day of the year had been eight days earlier on June 17th, 1990. The Arctic Circle is at sixty-six and one half degrees north where the sun does not set on the summer solstice and we were just about one hundred sixty five statute miles or one hundred thirty five nautical miles south of the Arctic Circle.
Day 2, the next day June 26th. dawned with a clear blue sky and without much wind, which was a nice introduction to this Arctic trip. On my previous visit to the Arctic we were visited by an intensely cold windy storm, which made even walking difficult.
We launched and that moment of apprehension which one feels when doing something unfamiliar came over me as we approached our first rapids with our laden Kleppers. I was glad I had accustomed myself to the Northwest Designs "Wenatchee" paddle which has a stout, eight foot shaft with large fairly rectangular symmetrical paddle blades. I decided that a substantial paddle was a wise choice for these conditions. I previously routinely used the Werner Furrer paddles for punching through and prying along through the winter ice for many years and had never experienced a failure.
To my relief the rapids had no hidden rocks among the standing waves and there was sufficient space for maneuvering. The shallows were well defined and the swift current did not have any particularly strong eddies to grab the bow and spin the kayak around in. We shot the rapid easily. The river was about fifty feet wide at these narrows.
I had stowed the cameras in a dry bag below deck where I could retrieve them when needed. Into the next flat stretch I noted the melting snow banks and recorded their white crystalline dimpled surface, the jewel like prisms of dripping water as the countless drops of water dripped from the leading edge into the river. The sun caught the glimmer of yellows in the grasses submerged just beneath the surface as the drops from the snow bank danced and made music on the surface of the river.
At the next bend a dike of blood and scarlet red rocks projected into the river. The color was difficult for the camera to capture but the deepness of the red in the feldspar and dark brown hornblende in the granulite gneiss was not something I had really experienced before, what was of interest to me was the absence of any light colored quarts among these minerals, I took a small sample to reassure myself of what I was seeing.
On the opposite shore were some small flocks of Canada geese, which were fleeing by running and hiding rather than by flying because they were involved in a complete body molt. Non-breeding Canada geese come to the banks of the Baillie, which is one of the areas where they go to molt annually. The geese usually would seek to hide by running up and over a nearby ridge, which they would disappear behind.
As we made our way down the river the river bent sharply to the north from the west in a right angle. On the outside of the turn another smaller river fed into the Baillie. I recognized an excellent opportunity to videotape this white water confluence because the river feeding in was very shallow, was about forty feet wide with a bifurcation in the middle and was racing madly down the bank into the Baillie. As I looked at it I just couldn’t resist coming about in the eddy and making a pass through the white water, which had waves of only one-foot height. I wanted to enjoy the exhilarating moment when the bow becomes engaged in the swift current and to feel its effects on the kayak. I did one go by and instantly recognized that this was a perfect moment to further utilize all the white water training I had acquired the previous spring. I decided to risk making a go by with not my paddle in hand but instead with my video camera over the side, in order to capture the actual image of white water splashing up at below boat deck level. I knew that I could get away with doing this trick with the model video camera the Sony CCD-SP7 I had because it was housed and sealed to be splash resistant.
I had at another time lashed my camcorder to the deck of my kayak during a windy, open salt water crossing and successfully without damaging the camera recorded the crossing. The resulting image was absolutely sickening to watch because the horizon tossed up and down with every wave. The camera was merely recording what it saw but it did not record the morphology of the passing waves as I had hoped. I did learn from this experiment that the paddler does much to compensate for motion subconsciously when taking video pictures from a tossing kayak.
Much of balancing a kayak is a subconscious activity, which is acquired by repeated neural physical training of the muscles. One of the more interesting ways to explore this trained response is, to go paddling in waves on open water when it is dark and to have them as a following sea. With minimal visual cues you find it interesting to notice how your body responds.
On my second pass by with camcorder in hand over the side the images of splashing waves taking the entire field of view was amusing for later viewing. I did not have the courage to do this in the rapids of the Baillie where the waves were three and four feet high. I feared that I would lose the camera and go for a swim.
I came upon a Canada goose, which instead of racing from the water to shore and running for shelter was swimming as fast as it could as it was trying to flee. The goose could swim much faster than I thought possible. To increase its speed the goose stretched itself as flat as possible to the water and paddled furiously with it's webbed feet. The goose did not bear much of a resemblance to the customary image of the stately Canada goose one usually sees, but this was my first experience seeing what a melting Canada goose has to do to survive predators. I had to paddle hard to try and overtake the goose so that I could take some close pictures. When I became too close the goose dove for safety. The goose surfaced about fifty or more feet away in the same direction as it had been swimming on the surface. This particular behavior was interesting to observe because I had noticed that Common loons are much better at swimming longer distances and performing more complex escape tactics such as coming up often behind the pursuer leaving the pursuer rather confused, only to in just a moment dive for another extended period to resurface elsewhere.
We pulled over to stop for lunch in the alder forest, which was the last thicket of alder we would see. This forest was our last opportunity to see this type of tree and to see a forest of trees at this height until we happened to come to a very unusual area, a glacial refugium.
The usual routine of scrounging up this day's food bag from below decks of someone's kayak had set in motion. The portions for each day's meal had been allocated in separate labeled bags and this forethought made food planning much easier. It also made the problem of not liking what was being served a simple one, because if you didn't like it you could look forward to going hungry. For me, eating something I don't like is much easier than going hungry and eventually I learn to like most things.
We launched once again and were on our way. The rapids here and there were not too threatening.
To my surprise I watched a pair of Herring gulls fly toward us, passing overhead and continuing up the river. This indicated that there must be some food available in this area for them. Later in the trip I was to find that gulls as can be expected are scavengers of carcasses, particularly recent kills. They and Ravens are quick to feed upon any carcasses.
Day 2, June 26th, on the river came to a close with the bright sun warming us through and through. We had covered about fifteen miles. We pulled up on the right bank among small boulders in a flat dry area. The bank had some curious cobbled zones of mixed rounded stones, which were light grey and tan colored.
This was my first experience in a cobbled area such as this. We erected our tents and took a nap. I took a sponge bath and because the conditions were so warm and dry that I could have easily taken a sunbath, something I was not expecting conditions to be this warm.
I went exploring to the east up the low ridges, which went on and on for a good mile before I reached what might have been the summit I had seen from our riverside campsite. As I have experienced before in the visually deceptive clarity of the Arctic air hills, which appear to just be a short distance away, are often miles away and they often closely resemble one another. The visual aberration, of magnification of objects on the surface or looming, is caused by bending of the sunlight as it passes at a shallow angle through the atmosphere and colder surface temperatures. (Jacobs & Richards Arctic Life Challenge to Survive 1983.))
As I climbed the hills I noticed that I spent much more time than I had expected by circumventing bogs until finally I tired of trying to keep my feet dry. I just simply slogged straight through to make some better progress at the small price of some wet feet. I had decided that somewhere I would probably get my feet wet anyway, so why procrastinate.
I stopped and closely inspected the pink felspathic granite covered with lime green, black, grey and most exciting brilliant orange crustose lichens. The Arctic is an area which hosts an extensive variety of lichens, in anticipation of this I prepared a small photocopied guide specific for this area from American Arctic Lichens by John W. Thompson so that I could identify some of these lichens.
In the dry rocky areas lichens grew in discrete areas, which were hair or antler shaped intensely black Bryoria sparse clusters, greenish black hair like Alectonia grey with occasional red fruiting bodies staghorn in large amounts and Cetraria, a most fascinating very white dense clusters resembling cauliflower. I found it interesting that lichens of this particular morphology but of different species should happen to occur on this substrate. This similarity in morphology suggested to me that this was the optimal morphology for survival in this type of exposure. As I was jumping from high hollow to low bunch the relentless aquifer was ever present as I gained altitude.
As I encountered large boulders and deeply crevassed outcrops I carefully skirted with judicious distance these large rock formations, which might happen to harbor a Barren-ground Grizzly in consideration of my poor unfortunate life-insurance company whom I did not want to cause loss of a good customer to.
Oh well, I didn't see any bears after all, but I did have some excitement in coming upon a Lesser Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica, which was alerting all who were with-in hearing distance of my ominous presence with it's bell-like very loud insistent calls. The Golden Plover has a very elegant body shape typical of the plover family. Just to my right I spied a male Rock Ptarmigan Lagopus mutus who could not quite decide if indeed I was a possible threat at that moment or not. He was in white plumage just beginning to show some brown summer coloration on his neck.
I vainly attempted to take his picture with my large yellow camcorder just as he took flight. To my delight I captured his grouse-like flight, which was typified by a rapid vertical climb, some flight, a period of gliding and a sudden vertical drop into the protection of some willows and boulders on his stubby but powerful and distinctly pointed wings. He appeared to drop in an instant like a stone from the sky, which I realized was excellent hiding strategy for such a heavy bodied bird.
The next morning our tent was visited by a small flock of these creatures in the early hours. Those hours which are too early for rousting. These Ptarmigan, which came by proceeded to minutely inspect our campsite and voice loudly in their own special language their opinion of our layout, so to speak.
They gave the aural impression of being a group of Victorian old maids who had nothing better to do than to demonstratively criticize everything they happened to encounter as if they were self appointed authorities on everything imaginable. I could imagine them saying repeatedly "Awful, simply awful! don't you think so —--!" as they called to one another. Just as soon as I made the slightest noise while stirring they disappeared having flown back to safer quarters among to ridges behind us, so I never did capture them at close range in camp on film.
I had the most unusual fortune while descending the hills back to camp of just happening to have a pair of White-fronted Geese fly over my head from behind headed for the river. When the geese saw our brightly colored tents they became confused and reversed direction flying back toward me, during which time I had been able to prepare to take video pictures of them. Just as they turned to fly toward me I started to capture their elegant image and I was able to follow them with the camcorder as they flew directly in front of me at close distance. The geese then turned and flew away from me down over the river.
The video camera, Sony CCD-SP7, did an especially good job of capturing not only the flight, but also the calls of these geese.
White-fronted Geese Ancer albifrons usually are in pairs having a uniquely soft melodic call as they fly by which gives away, which type of goose they are. I later sat a group of eight flew up the river in a line not a “V” formation. They seem to fly side by side at a definite distance.
After supper I watched three White Crowned Sparrows Zonotrichis leucophryus romping among the three-foot high willow thickets in early phases of mating going through the rituals specific to their species. The weather on the Baillie has been on the first two days warm and sunny with a cerulean blue almost cloudless sky and winds from the east moving to the south and with a wind speed of ten to fifteen knots bringing in scattered clouds, which were a combination of cirrus and alto cumulus. It was ideal flying weather for long distance visibility but we did feel some strong updrafts when we flew up from Yellowknife and the curls on the stratocirrus were probably indicators of these updrafts.
Day 3, June 27th. the sky had grey large cumulus clouds and lenticular clouds, which indicated that a storm with wind was threatening which finally materialized as light rain quite early in the day. This was our third day on our adventure and our second day on the river that by the end of the day we had paddled about fifteen miles again which amounted to thirty miles total distance covered. This was my first day and first experience in not only being the leader for the trip but my first experience lead paddling on a river in a kayak. I was just slightly worried as to how all would work out as I lead. It is one thing to make an error when it only involves myself but it is quite another story when others are involved. I accepted the role with some reservation and suggested that if I appeared to be headed for disaster either imminent or delayed they should not follow me to doom. My followers were more experienced at river reading than I having many more years of experience than I and I thought I should remind them of my disparity in white water experience. I would have been most at home on the open ocean had this been the circumstances, as I have paddled for many years on the open water.
We disembarked to what I thought was never, never land, or so I felt. Such confidence others have, I thought to myself. We headed into our first rapids just a short ways down the river. I had decided to stow my camcorder in its dry bag and just keep on the upper deck atop the spray skirt a waterproof 33 mm “Aqua snappy” camera for slides. I thought that as the day leader that I should be a leader and not become involved and distracted by taking pictures.
As I was to realize later, I should always have my photographic and video equipment readily available at any moment.
As I approached the rapids I scouted for the largest standing waves and deepest water. Something was suspicious about the rapids. There was no definite indication of deeper water anywhere. The only immediate choice I could find was to stay toward the outside of the gentle curve and try to find any groups of standing waves which might suggest that the water was deeper in that area among the randomly scattered boulders.
The rapids reminded me of paddling on the Tariffville section of the Farmington River. I had a moment of feeling that same sort of helplessness.
Mustering my skills I had acquired from lessons with Bart Hauthaway and whitewater slalom racing practice with the ACA slalom clinic, I just charged through having at times to resort to some desperate mad braces to miss the rocks.
The rocks seemed to be moving. Of course they were moving because I simply couldn't have been heading directly into those rocks. Those rocks just moved right into my way as I was making my way down the river. I could see their barely disguised smirks as I furiously back paddled and braced both high and low to avoid their machinations.
These naughty rocks had devised special challenges for my first expedition leading experience in my fully loaded Klepper.
Rocks have nasty ideas, they like either to stop you by getting in your way from in front or from below. I had a selection of both in this area. I made my way through this rock garden and my followers did as well without any mishaps. We had a good laugh at the bottom it was fun and I was glad I had practiced slalom paddling in my Klepper before this trip so that I was familiar with what to expect in tight paddling circumstances from this kayak. The Klepper handles like a trailer truck by comparison to a slalom kayak.
Our next series of rapids were much better defined and the flat water was easy to paddle. I found it rather strange not to have to work very hard to paddle but I had forgotten that I was not on open water, rather that this was water with a good current to carry the kayak along on. I missed the challenge of the waves and weather changes, which can generate winds. Now the challenges were not where and when I could reach land under intimidating conditions or how far I could travel before conditions changed, but how well I could read the rapids. Reading a rapids required a constant checking and rechecking as things are changing rapidly of the relative position of currents, rocks and depth just in moments and then planning long and short distance strategy all in the same moment.
When we stopped here and there along the way, I noticed to my surprise that there was red feldspar in granite gneiss in circles and streaks in rocks but no white quarts and in this area there were no sedimentary rocks. I thought that this was interesting. I enjoyed the intensity of the red and black colors of the minerals.
As we were rounding a gentle bend in a long flat stretch there at the top of the river's bank was the unmistakable profile of a Bald Eagle Haliaetus leucocephalus sitting there most likely fishing which took to flight as we approached and we saw another five miles further down the Baillie which too was probably fishing too.
The visual difference between an Eagle and other raptors is not just its size and stature but most especially it's massive shoulders, which distinguish this bird. I was sorry that although the distance was too great for my video that I did not attempt to capture this memory on tape but Eagles in this area are quite weary and the sight of kayak moving paddles often scares off animals, especially birds.
On another flat stretch were a pair of Common Mergansers Mergus merganser had black heads which I could easily see because as they always do they flew first away down the river for a short distance and they circled black flying directly overhead up river when approached too closely.
I saw one pair of Red-throated Loons Gavia stellata and a lone Loon, they were the first of these I had ever seen and they were graceful and lovely with their delicately shaped soft grey with the distinctive coloration of their heads and throats. Unfortunately because they were quite weary, without a sound in just a moment they dove and hid from our sight. I also saw two pair of Common Loons Gavia immer, which did not give the alarm call of laughing when fleeing but instead dove and hid rather than diving and resurfacing behind our kayaks and emitting their distinctive laughter.
High in the sky flew a Peregrine Falcon Falcon peregrinus with a distinctive silhouette of a long squared-off tail and pointed wings as it circled lower over us.
The Falcon is such an inspiring sight to watch fly with its special command of the air. The uniquely specialized aerodynamics of the falcon's wing and body structure make watching this raptor fly especially fascinating.
With high emotion I watched the all too rapid flight over my head of six or eight in pairs Long-tailed Jaegers Stercorarius longicaudus with exquisitely distinctive long tails and two Parasitic Jaegers Stercorarius parasiticus with shorter tails and equally beautiful flight to watch flying rivaling the mastership of the Arctic tern. The Jaeger has evolved its rapid decisively controlled flight for the specific purpose of harassing and preying upon other young birds. I find the Jaeger most exhilarating to watch.
The Jaegers had a specific period during the day when they would tour the river for prey, which was during the early and late part of the day. Unfortunately their passage was so quick that I was never able to capture their image. In the marine environment where Terns were nesting at Pond Inlet the Jaegers were seen more frequently and were easier to photograph as they harassed the Terns.
On the high banks the snowdrifts had compressed near the bottom of the drifts into a transparent aqua blue two-inch thick ice strata with various gradations of transparency and thicknesses in the strata above. This was an interesting example of the physics of compression on snow deposits. The alteration of light refraction by compressed snow causes the intense blue visible color.
The campsite was especially interesting. We disembarked on a shallow gravel bend, which was flanked by a steep banked bluff. Positioning the boats high enough above the possible flood zone was a chore on such level terrain requiring carrying the boats forty feet back from the river's edge.
Several chunks of ice had become stranded during the ice break out which were more than one foot thick composed entirely of snow which had been laterally compressed. The snow had made a transition from snow to clear ice interpacked tapered columns in vertical orientation only. This is called candle, columnar or congulation ice. This ice is similar to glaciers and icebergs which are also composed of compacted snow the foot thick pieces transmitted the same brilliant light blue spectrum of sunlight also. The refracted blue light appears to be more intense than the sunlight striking these ice chunks that always intrigues me. The underside of the ice resembled a rippled aqua pearl blue ceiling with a heavenly inner glow.
In the rain the boulders and rocks on the gravel bar were at their best for finding ones with interesting colors. I found a brown and white rock the colors, which were new to me because the brown was an unusual light color of gneiss and the white was the typical of white of feldspar. There were numerous red hematite and white feldspathic stones and many were oolitic.
I also found some mineral forms of iron as red hematite with brilliant veins of yellow limonite.
Wandering around in my dry suit. and getting muddy was no problem because when I was finished observing my surroundings to my satisfaction craving around and under things I just dunked myself in the river and washed all the mud off the outside while I remained dry and comfortably warm on the inside. It's nice to be able to float without getting wet.
After some scouting and debate we positioned our tents on top of the bluff in a slightly dry brushy hummocky ridge where we choose the best option we could find. Camping on cobbles was the other option. Campsites are not always easily found sometimes because the land although it is essentially topographically flat in the smaller dimension the flat surface you need to sleep on is not always readily available.
Day 4, June 28th. the distance we covered was twenty miles.
The geology at about thirty miles I saw some brown gneiss and white granular quartzite in quartzofeldspathic gneiss. Some metamorphic red striped black rocks, which were an iron rich feldspar and hornblende and granite with pink feldspar.
At forty miles distance there were very black hornblende magmatite, bright yellow limonite rich soil and pink hematite rich soil in eskers. Sandstone is pale yellow metamorphosed occasionally with brown streaks, some mudstone and also some limestone. Quartzite with biotite boulders occasionally white with pyroxene green-black stripes, brown and white as well.
At about fifty miles, small stones now showing white quartz with red, brown and black very fine mineralized veins. The gneiss deposits are now starting to quarts and is giving way to sedimentary rocks which are just starting to show periodically but the majority of rock is hornblende with blood red feldspar in granite and the most common color of the rock beginning to appear was black hornblende and biotite with some entirely visible strata showing this black. Much of the grey rock color was pink and grey felspathic gneiss covered with lichens. (James 1965 Canadian Geological Survey)
Among the plants I saw on the first four days were many lichens as this area is very heavily interspersed with lichens such that anywhere a plant was growing so were the lichens, as well as growing on the rocks and other areas where specialized lichens could only survive.
The lichen Stereocalon rivulorum, which has the blue-green Nostoc sp. as its photobiont, appears to be a solid white cluster with a fascinating resemblance to cauliflower in a rock crevasse and among mosses but it actually has dense tops on a thin stem but appears to be a solid pale white mass until it has been separated into individual plants.
The following lichens have various species of the Chlorophyte Trebouxia as their algal symbiont or photobiont, which at this time has numerous other names. (Ahmadjian 1990)
Umbilicara proboscidea, a lichen commonly called Rock Tripe had a size range in diameter from half to one inch, which is not as large as Umbilicara mammulata, which grows to be six inches in diameter in New England. Umbilicara grows on acidic rock such as granite, which was dominated it this area. It too is edible when cooked although it is not poisonous when eaten raw it does cause digestive problems. I have often gathered this lichen to eat and find it's taste similar to Tree Ears and Puff Balls but there are always a few pieces of rock which manage to find their way into the pot with these seemingly not tasty looking grey tinged green with Treboxia its algal symbiont.
Peltigera aphthosa also grew on the granite boulders in large flat sheets pale green with brown spore cases in the middle.
The lichen, Physconia muscigena, flat powdery with brilliant white edges blending into brown and finally into green which is due to the increasing density of the algal symbiont in the middle with a grey to black bottom grew in among mosses on caribou trails with a large two inches diameter which seemed to be the largest lichen in this area and it was quite common. These reminded me of Umbilarica or Rock-tripe in form but they prefer the very moist conditions of grassy Birch moors associated with Polytrichum and Dactylina.
Because large areas have this plant assemblage dominated by Birch the challenge of stepping over and around the three foot high birches rooted in these soft mosses and lichens caused the most capable hiker to lurch and stagger unpredictably suggesting that the hiker might suffering from the vapors.
Another lichen Dactylina arctica has large hollow yellow-white fingers coming out of moss clumps such as Polytrichum commune both of there plants prefer a constant water supply. They look quite strange because they have large, thick hollow stems with thin walls that are about two inches tall and are commonly called Dead Man's Fingers, because they certainly resemble this image. To me they were very interesting to see because there is nothing similar in size and appearance in New England, which I have seen or in the boreal. The Arctic hosts lichens, which are large and oppositely plants and trees that are small which is quite a contrast.
In the areas where there were lichens the Cetraria were growing numerous varieties of these as well as the Staghorn lichens known as Cladonia. Cetraria cucullata, which had the typical structure of Cetraria, which was channeled coarsely branching stems with pale yellow-green color.
The lichens with a thin wiry appearance are Bryoria nadvornikiana are blackish green growing on the sparse rock faces and Alectoria nigricans are black hair-like growing in patches on gravel. Both of these lichens are highly adapted to very dry conditions of specific nutrient type and availability.
From the kayak came my first sighting of Caribou Rangifer taradus groenlandicus, which are called Barren-ground Caribou and belong to the Beverly herd. They were in groups of eight to ten light grey colored, frequently moving, walking along the top of a ridge creating an unmistakable silhouette, which was quite a different experience from sighting White-tailed Deer in a New England meadow. This is a most memorable sight that is especially characteristic of this area. Later when hiking along the river there were so many Caribou trails seen often running parallel the river that I could walk with dry feet across the marshy tundra by hopping from trail to trail for half-mile wide area along the river as though the land was corrugated. These trails were in grassy and low shrub area which were willow and birch.
I spotted on the top of the bank along the river a Ground Squirrel Spermophilus undulates called by the Inuit a "sik-sik." who was looking at me and chattering away, probably wondering "what is that?" These rodents do not occur north of seventy-one degrees because they require dry burrows ideally of the soil found in glacial moraines and are often dug up by Grizzly that there was evidence of in places.
The Least Weasel Mustela nivalis I noticed were not as common as in Pond Inlet, where I had several humorous experiences with these curious creatures. These Weasels do not hibernate and despite their relatively short body fur are able to maintain their body temperature. (Sage 1985) These identifications were made by Streisinger and confirmed in The Arctic & Its Wildlife by Bryan Sage.
Musk ox in a band of six were quietly feeding on the low ridge near the river just after we had rounded a bend where we saw a small group of them on top of the ridge.
They are very unusual looking massive humped backed creatures, which are distant relatives of the goat. Although I knew we would be likely to see the Musk ox in this area I was not expecting them. I think of Musk ox as a rare and weary animal. As I watched them I moved as little as possible so as not to alarm them. They were feeding and moving along quickly which is one of the survival tactics of this large ruminating herbivore. I usually associate rumination with passive slow moving animals with the exception of Goats. Like Goats, the Musk ox will upon the given opportunity eat such large amounts of Willow that the Willows will be damaged beyond recovery. Knowing this we were not surprised to not be able to find a large Willow thicket, which Streisinger had found fourteen years earlier.
Day 5, June 29th, I was the lead kayak again and I had some narrow escapes from the margins of standing waves and eddy lines. Occasionally I would lose it and either wind up in an eddy shooting back up stream or committed to the standing waves having to ride them out at the bottom of the chute. At times I would start out on one side of the chute and cross to the other side which had become the outside of the curve where I decided that there was more water rather than risk stranding on some gravel or running up on some rocks.
The weather was clearing with some overcast areas of alto and nimbocumulus clouds with the wind constant from the west at fifteen knots. There were still visible rainstorms to the south and the east scattered in small areas. Wind was still showing in the alto layer by the presence of lenticular clouds. Finally after going for a walk there was clear blue sky and a warm drying sun although I could still see some small rainstorms to the southeast. The weather systems originate in the southwest in this area.
As evening came storms were still passing to the south and there was a slightly cloudy blue-sky overhead. The half moon is visible to my surprise. I would have thought that it would not be quite dark enough at this latitude to see the moon just over two weeks from the longest day, which was June 17th. 1990. There is a slight darkening at sunset but the sun only dips below the horizon for a couple hours at this time.
We came around a corner to find a glacial refugium of Black Spruce, which I had been on the look out for from information John Lentz had given me. It was truly an amazing sight and we were able to take a sample from the same stump John had cut his. The growth rings were nearly microscopic. These trees had some how survived being above where they normally survive for unknown reason however I did notice that they are in a protected area. They have branches where the snow blown by the wind has not cut them off.
Because of such atmospheric clarity and seemingly endless horizons the weather can be easily seen long before it arrives. Being able to recognize what is the direct line of the storm path is important to know when a large front is passing by. A low pressure system revolves in a counter clockwise movement so the weather doesn't actually come from the southwest if it is to the south but instead from the southeast but a large low pressure system or a stalled front will continually feed rain storms into the area in a circular motion until it is replaced by a high pressure system.
We camped near an esker, which had a cluster of boulders at its summit. This esker was a sterile long mound of pink and yellow sandy gravel evenly sized in zones, which is typical of eskers. Here and there plants were making attempts to colonize where there was any shelter and moisture but most of the surface area was barren.
There were substantial grasses a mixture of the Poa and Grammaceae species in the bogs below which were one foot high but were still dormant from last season. Among the grasses were robustly growing Lycopodium brilliantly yellow green having just immerged from winter dormancy with six inch high stems. Also the Wooly Lousewort Pedicularis lanata in full bloom with magenta flowers in contrast to the grey green hairy leaves of the plant and stalk. All species of the Lousewort have strikingly beautiful, well articulated but delicate blooms often of surprising size in comparison to their surrounding plants.
Among the grasses and abundant Willows and Rhododendron it was easy to find the nests of Lapland longspurs and other small birds.
Male Ptarmagan were frequently among the sedges and if one didn't make any movements or noises one could easily enjoy the curious calls and antics of these Ptarmagan before the bird decided to flee to safety. Encountering a nesting female Ptarmagan was always a last minute surprise. Although the male will still retain at this time most of its winter white feathers and be quite vocal as well the nesting female has completely melted to the brown and black coloration which makes it impossible to see the female Ptarmagan until one nearly steps on the bird. At the very last possible moment the female will fly out from almost just beneath your foot to safety, which is quite startling when hiking.
At the base of a southeast facing rock face down within a group of granite stones, which were at most one foot in diameter, were hidden several fern plants which were Dryopteris fragrans. Although ferns grow in the Arctic they seem to require more protection than most plants. The leaves were one foot long which gave them much more surface area than any other plant in the area.
In a distance from our campsite was a pingo located on a bend in the river. The pingo was higher than other topographic features in the area to say the least. Its typical shape made it stand out on the horizon. The pingo is a frost feature, which is hard to believe.
I have no idea what its height was but it had to be a hundred feet high and it looked like a mountain ridge all alone on a flat plain of pinkish gradated sand and gravel.
We had stopped early and set up camp in light rain while clusters of grey clouds were coming and going, but only the groups of grey clouds on the northeast are actually approaching us with the weather conditions we would expect to receive. This is an area where the weather comes in from the southwest and the prevailing winds are from the southwest. In Pond Inlet the prevailing winds are from the east because it is located at latitude seventy-two degrees north.
Just at the approach of dinnertime we were blessed with the appearance of the sun that had reached a declining angle, which was below the cloud cover. The sun's long golden rays, which were dominant in the visible spectrum when the sun is at that particular angle turned all our surroundings a brilliant gold. It was an exciting moment when being outdoors is truly majestic.
Day 6, June 30th, this was a sunny day, the total distance covered to date is eighty miles. I saw caribou very frequently in large numbers being in groups of one hundred animals each.
We saw, from our kayaks without disturbing them, some Musk ox which were in a group of fifteen resting, probably ruminating. Because they are such dark brown it is hard to spot them unless you come upon them when they are on the top of a ridge. They, like caribou, are quiet creatures.
As I was paddling through a quiet stretch of the river I heard and then spotted three Raven and two Parasitic Jaegers, which were chasing after and diving onto a Peregrine Falcon for an unknown reason. I thought that this was unusual. This was my only sighting of any Common Ravens Corvus corax and following was another Peregrine Falcon soaring as well as one soaring Bald Eagle. I did not understand what was taking place under these circumstances.
Day 7, July 1st, the day began with a rainbow then the clouds thickened obliterating the patchy blue sky with altocumulus and altostratus clouds. Then the nimbus clouds closed in with low mist in the east.
The winds blew from the east at twenty knots and more. Bearings were very hard to keep track of without the sun and compass.
In this area the westerly compass deviation is thirty degrees but there are also some iron ore deposits, which cause some magnetic anomalies. When we were flying I did not notice this but our altitude above possible sources may have negated these effects. None of us brought compasses and I have read from others experiences that a sun compass is to be depended upon in these areas and more critically areas closer to the magnetic pole.
The Inuit I observed do not go long distances by boat on overcast days in the Pond Inlet area. The river level had dropped about two inches overnight as the snowmelt was decreasing.
Day 8 and 9, July 2nd. and 3rd. were grey rainy days, which had consistent paddling demands that required the same judgment skills as the previous days. The greatest challenge was avoiding washing out onto the gravel shallows.
As we were making our way down the Baillie from out of the mist and fog of the stormy day we came upon some especially high banks of last winter's snow. They were about twelve feet high of snow, which had packed in on these bends. There may have been steep banks beneath the snow to allow for such high drifts. In the immediate area behind these snow banks were a combination of hills and glacial eskers.
These topographic features had an effect on the surface winds, as a snow fence has, by creating a vacuum in the immediate area where the snow had formed large drifts.
We pulled over after a few hours on the water for a casual break in paddling. I strode up the bank to scan the horizon. The low plain was edged with large boulders.
Just as I looked to my left at the line of boulders a half a mile away I spotted a white Arctic Wolf which was trotting along probably hunting for small game. The Wolf looked like a large German Shepherd, well furred especially on the legs but with the typical shorter round face of a Wolf. As we stood watching the Wolf saw us and trotted downwind to scent us. Then unfortunately the Wolf fled.
After a few more hours of rock and gravel bar dodging, we pulled into an area to camp just below a rapids and on the inside of a bend where the water formed an eddy.
We were happy to quit paddling and get out of the rain. I was dry in my dry suit but I feared that my hairpins were getting rusty.
Next to our campsite was a ravine where there grew Dwarf or Ground Birch Betula glandulosa and a type of Willow with very pointed leaves and fine stems, which may be the Willow Salix arbusculoides grew on the edge of the ravine.
A profusion of flowers also grew along the brook in the protected ravine. There were a large number of Wormwood Artemesia Tilesii that had wide deeply divided grey leaves densely covered with very fine white hairs. There was what appeared to be an Everlasting Antennaria isolepsis, which was about two feet tall thin plant, with very hairy whitish leaves, but the flower stalk was just above the leaves. Yellow Mountain Saxifrage Saxifragia aizoides with numerous underground shoots on the plant that had yellow flowers in the ravine.
On top in a more exposed dryer are grew a copse of three foot high trees with dry rounded leaves a type of Willow Salix scouleriana.
I thought that I was seeing quantities of Bistort Polygonium viviparum until I pulled it up, out of compelling curiosity, only to find that it was a multiple stemmed plant the Mountain Avens Dryas integrifolia without flowers.
I noticed what I thought was a surprisingly large number of Lupines Lupinus arcticus, which had large buds. I especially like the flowers of Lupines. I noticed that with every passing day the Lupines were increasing in size dramatically. This is typical of Arctic plants because this is one of their adaptions to the very short growing season and long days.
The Wintergreen Pyrola grandiflora had large round very green leaved plants among the birch thicket in moist conditions, which had lovely white flower on a spike that was very distinctive and lovely.
Bistort Polygonium viviparum with large four inch long leaves and a flower stalk that was nine inches tall and segmented with joints similar to what is seen on grasses and is common to the other members of the Knotweed family.
Once we had prepared our camp, which involved unloading the boats as usual, setting up the tent and setting up the cook shelter with the vacillations of the wind in mind, I decided that it was time to try fishing again.
The murky grey rainy sky was beginning to recede and my curiosity was goading me once again to see what fish if any I could catch. The fish either could be caught within five casts or they just weren't biting.
Indeed the storm had subsided.
A couple spin casts with a spinner lure proved fruitless but the surface activity suggested that fish were about.
I switched to the reputedly reliable red and white spoon. In moments I had a customer. It was one of the loveliest fish I could imagine seeing, it was an Arctic Grayling Thymallus thymallus. I had never seen one before, but this was also my first trip on Arctic freshwater.
The Arctic Greyling has a very large dorsal fin equally as large as its other fins and iridescent grey coloration, making it an elegant fish.
To my delight I caught two Arctic Graylings and then they stopped biting.
These were sufficient for our dinner.
The back eddy where I had been fishing now had numerous insects trapped in the surface storm froth on which the Arctic Grayling were now feeding. With great excitement I watched the Arctic Grayling generate swirls as they fed on the surface showing their dorsal fins and their tails when they dove below. And in another moment all stopped and the fish once again pursued other quarry in the depths. They feed not only on terrestrial and aquatic insects but also on other fish.
This time of year it was likely that they had just finished spawning. Spawning is temperature dependent. Now these grayling were once again returning from their spawning streams.
After the weather calmed and started to clear a Baird's Sandpiper Calidris bairdii and a Lapland Longspur busied them selves looking foraging along the edge of the river. They were so preoccupied with dining on the insects, which had become trapped on the water and were now coming to shore that they never noticed how close I was to them. I was able to capture on video their antics as they ran up and down the shore gobbling Nymphs and Stone Flies trying to metamorphose, which became trapped in the foam on the water.
Occasionally a Herring Gull would fly up the Baillie and there was a brief sighting of a Snowy Owl Nyctea scandiaca with a mottled brown and white back and large rounded wings.
The Caribou were grazing across the ravine about a half a mile down river from the campsite. Some groups of them crossed the river.
I watched them and it amazed me how they could swim the racing current of the river with absolute ease. But I noticed that they were careful to choose open flat-water areas to cross and I saw them instinctively avoid negotiating rapids when it was apparent to them that they could not complete a crossing without becoming involved in a rapids. The Caribou would although they are driven by intense hording instincts reverse direction when any of them recognized that they were being swept into a rapid although they had to sacrifice keeping up with the rest of the herd. These animals would return swimming to the side they had started from and enter the water further up the river where there were usually other Caribou also making the crossing. The capability of the Caribou to recognize and give precedence to the ensnaring danger of a rapid interested me. I have seen similar behavior toward water by horses.
Day 9, during the morning on July 3rd. we went on a walk. Next to the ravine just over the waist high Willows there was a hatch of small moths and midges. I could see that summer was here and the insects were proliferating after the long winter. The typical darting flight of the little swarm of midges and the laboriously awkward flight of the moths showed me that these insects even in the Arctic still fly the same way they do in temperate zones.
As we strode across the bog we came upon some small pools of water surrounded with raised banks. I could only surmise that the likely reason the banks of these holes were elevated was frost action in association with possible springs. These kettle holes are a feature unique to the Arctic.
In the bottom of the holes were mats of red filamentous algae, which may have been green the previous season. The bog was acidic peat and the rocks in the higher ground were pink granite with streaks of pink felspathic pegmatites heavily colonized by pale green and black crustose lichens. Among the dry granite outcrops were frequent evidence of burrows of animals such as Sic-Sic and Fox and we often found Bear berries and Crow berries.
We had been trailing the remainder of the Caribou herd during our ascent but they disappeared as we began to make our way to the top of the knoll. We found some scattered remnants of their primordial passages by occasionally finding bones scattered here and there; but surprisingly there were few bones considering the density of the Caribou population, which passes through this area. Rodents rapidly consume these bones and antlers for their calcium content.
Day 10, July 4th. during the idle hours of the morning I walked around the area looking for plants and animals that might be unique to observe. I peered into rock crevasses out of curiosity and at I found some evidence of a Fox den, some other dens of possibly Weasel or Sic-Sic, but even more exciting was to find in a deep crevasse in a large granite boulder well protected at about four feet below the surface another group of ferns the Dryas integrifolia. I was most elated because when I had seen them previously I neglected to take a picture of them.
Although the Mosquitoes were officially and undeniably out and having just the most wonderful time thoroughly enjoying our presence they weren't that annoying. I wore my mosquito-netting hat, which also reduced the burning effects of the sun.
At the top of the long ridge, which gave way to a series of short Granite escarpments to the North we paused to rest and more importantly to unobtrusively observe wildlife. Just in front of us came a Horned Lark, which was just as busy eyeing us as we were eyeing him.
I succinctly prepared my video camera and recorded our observer.
Then we decided to continue exploration and on our right at less that fifty feet away from me there appeared a male Ptarmigan in apparent distress. As I walked twenty feet farther from seemingly beneath my feet arose in immediate upward flight typical of a flushed Ptarmigan flew a female most likely directly off her nest. We didn't tarry because we wanted her to return quickly to breeding.
As I descended toward camp I noticed some large cumulus clouds to the south suggesting that another low was developing.
While we were out perusing our surroundings on foot our camp area had been passed through by a small herd of Caribou. Slightly worried I checked to see if any had stepped in our boats or on other equipment as an ordinary heifer probably would have. The Caribou had merely passed by, avoiding anything, which was unusual looking or smelling. This was an odd sensation for me as it was my first experience with caribou coming right through our camp on their age-old migration.
I tried fishing again in a place where the current passed over a rock dike and eddied behind it. I got a solid bite just in the depths behind the rocks, which turned out to be a Lake Trout. Unfortunately because I did not immediately land the fish I lost it. The technique was that once a fish is hooked it has to be brought it immediately and dispatched, otherwise it will throw the hook.
There was an interesting intrusive geologic dike of a felspathic greenish white grey-banded mineral, which I think was Sillimanite that crossed the river at a right angle. It had the typical rectangular two to three inch block mineral well-defined geometry and hardness of a felspathic mineral.
We had a quiet uneventful evening, however in the early hours of July 5th. a caribou herd of about five hundred animals crossed directly in front of the campsite starting at about 2:00 am with all ages represented, especially newly born calves, which swam the river immediately behind their mothers.
I awoke at about 3:00 am with the feeling that I was not alone. In fact I was being surrounded by many snorting, grunting creatures busily engaged in shaking off the water having just swam the river and were now rushing up the bank catching up with the rest of the herd. For a moment I stared bleary-eyed in disbelief out of the tent wondering whose idea this was, why wasn't I told about this move and shouldn't I join in. Then I realized that I'm not a Caribou and then again their activity didn't look too much different than rush hour in Grand Central without the antlers. At least the Caribou didn't step into our kayaks and trample the tents but I don't know how things would have survived had the Caribou been people. I felt momentarily annoyed because I was supposed to be on vacation not in rush hour traffic expecting a traffic jam or some other sort of delay at any moment. Then I remembered as I noticed the seemingly incongruous antlers that I was in the Arctic.
Day 11, July 5th. the sun at last came through and all was well as we paddled another twenty miles down the river. At the campsite near a large inlet as the map indicated where the river bends sharply north I caught after only five casts two Lake Trout each weighing about two and a half pounds. I followed Erwin Streisinger's advice on landing trout once a fish is hooked and brought close to shore you just run up the bank with it quickly rather than risk losing the fish as I did twice on July 4th. If you have no landing net, of course a strong line such as twelve-pound test monofilament is needed.
The fish were fried in butter and we thoroughly enjoyed them.
Near the campsite I bathed up in a brook in shallow ravine where I found surprisingly warm water. The water had had time to be warmed in a shallow pond and bog area by the sun. In the brook I found a spot just conveniently deep enough to immerse myself in.
While bathing and gazing into the water enjoying the minnows and water bugs am immature Barren-ground Grizzly Ursus arctos was sighted just three hundred feet from the campsite and I was lucky it did not catch me unawares in the ravine as they often travel in ravines. I think we would have been mutually surprised and we would have quietly gone our ways without much ceremony.
In the ravine next to our tent site there were a series of plants I did not see anywhere else during the trip and I think that their presence was greatly influenced by the environment particular to the ravine. I found the Common Horsetail Equisetum avense one of the favorite foods of the Ground Squirrel was plentiful and there were Ground Squirrel burrows in the area as well.
Also there were False Asphodel Tofeldia pusilla, some stout Willows Salix glauca var. glauca, and some Mountain Sorrel Oxyria digyna.
Mountain Sorrel has distinctive round dark green fleshy leaves lovely for eating and a red central spike, which looks slightly like Rumex ssp. because they are both in the same plant family. The acidic lush leaves, which are high in Vitamin A as well as Vitamin C were a welcome delicacy.
A plant, which grows low to the ground the Sandwort Minuartia Rossi has tiny pink flowers. Chickweed Stellaria humifusa was very tiny with white flowers. The Anemone Anemone paviflora and some assorted Drabias all were most beautiful and spectacular.
There were in this profusion of flowers, the Tufted Saxifrage Saxfraga caespiosa ssp. caspiosa, and some distinctive Cinquefoils Potentilla sp. most likely the Potentilla palustris.
In the Ericaceae Family the most minimal sized leaved plant which had moss-like leaves on prostrate stems about one inch long terminated with a disproportionately large brilliant white with rose red center bell shaped flower, Cassiope hypnoides. The bell shaped flower immediately identified this tiny plant as being a member of the Ericaceae Family. This plant grew along the edge of the flowing water at an elevation of about ten inches and a set back distance from the water of about twelve inches which suggested that it needs a certain amount of protection, moisture, warmth and renewal of nutrients as the layer of silt on the bank is occasionally flooded with humic acid rich silt.
The water running in this ravine is well warmed by the sun because the source is an extensive bog and two large shallow ponds on the tundra. It is surprising how warm the water in a Sphagnum bog with its black peat becomes in the summer in the Arctic. These bogs are actually store heat and many plants are specially adapted to this particular microcosm and when there is also a ravine the plants found there will be even more specialized in this adaption because of the added protection from the wind. Also seen was some Labrador Lousewort the Lousewort Pedicularis Laboradorica, some Everlastings Pedicularis sudetica, white and yellow, some Wormwood Artemisia Tilesii, and some possible Fleabanes Erigeron eriocephalus and Erigeron humilis with distinctive spoon shaped leaves.
The most extraordinarily tiny Willow was the Least Willow Salix herbacea, which had two slightly pointed elliptical dark green shiny leaves which were at most half an inch long. Between the leaves was a stem, which had a very diminished catkin being so sparse that one could barely see it and it was tipped with yellow pollen.
This Willow grew in a group or was part of a bush that had about ten branches under the soil showing on top a plant only three quarters of an inch high. The Willow was on a sandy island in the ravine, which most likely had continuous flowing water as well as being a moist protected area.
I found in a very specific area about eight feet in diameter as a defined dominant group of Bog Laurel Kalmia polifolia, which most certainly looked like miniature Mountain Laurel and to be another member of the Ericaceae Family. Each five-inch plant had the typical leathery evergreen leaves and bell-shaped five-lobed flowers, which the Laurels have. I enjoyed the intense display of pink flowers. These plants were in a moist protected sandy riverbank area.
Among to unusual botanical assortment growing in this ravine there were some delightful Violets Viola palustris, which were a plant because of very little difference in appearance from others in the same family are reminiscent of home and an example of how widely some plant families range on a global scale.
Another estimated five hundred Caribou were making their way east and turning south. They came in waves as they appeared to flood across the long ridges each one on its appointed mission following their timeless hording movements. Each group of fifty or more animals had its own leader that in turn was following the movements of the other groups' leaders each with its defined position in the herd.
As the masses of caribou began to thin out, a lone very old and large Musk ox was making it's way along at it's own pace. Suddenly from atop the ridge descended a lone Arctic Wolf looking for prey. The Wolf confronted the Musk ox by dashing in a threatening manner upon the Musk ox, only to be immediately confronted with a quick turn about as the Musk ox met the Wolf with a lowered head and a pair of very sharp horns. The Wolf quickly recognized that this Musk ox was no easy quarry and turned its attention to the Caribou, where the Wolf spotted easier pickings. The Wolf madly dashed after a group of four Caribou and among these was a calf just a few days old at most. The mad race was on the test of strength and stamina, who would out last whom in this race of life and death. Soon the calf began to tire and as it lost pace with it's mother and the group it began to zigzag. The rest of the Caribou herd including a guard animal paid no attention as the madly dashing calf, it's mother and group were being bored down upon by the Wolf. No attempt was made to stop the Wolf by any of the Caribou. The Wolf caught the calf as it tried to heel into ever-tighter turns to throw the Wolf off and in one swift moment the calf was dead. The Wolf dragged the calf a short distance and proceeded to lie down and dine on the most select parts, which are the brain and organs. Then the Wolf went home back over the ridge.
Day 12, July 6th, 1990. was pleasant day which we decided to use to explore the terrain on foot.
On this day the caribou had passed through with one curious exception. There was the one remaining guarding male and the mother of the calf, which the Wolf had taken the previous evening. Despite the seemingly indomitable hording instinct of the caribou especially since that is a critical means of survival the instinct of parenthood and guarding or dominion appeared to be the reason for why these two caribou were remaining where the calf was last alive while the rest of the herd moved on. At great risk these two caribou remained milling aimlessly about in a preoccupied manner. I had seen this seemingly unusual behavior before with another individual caribou and now I knew what was the likely cause of this individualistic behavioral instinct.
Our first curiosity was seeking out the Bear prints from the visitor of the previous day. Streisinger pointed out these paw prints to me as we explored the other side of the ravine where Streisinger saw the Barren-ground Grizzly while I was bathing further up in that ravine. The Bear prints are unlike prints of any other animal. The bear footprints are very short and deep with well-defined heels and clawed toes.
Mosquitoes Aedes sp. were now out in force they made me feel wanted even when I would rather not be. They are attracted by body warmth and carbon dioxide and they can be to a certain extent controlled by cooling an exposed area of skin such as the hands in cold water. When bathing I wasted no time immersing myself in the cold water and found that the mosquitoes ignored my chilled exterior when otherwise they would have become an unpleasant annoyance.
After scouting the ravine I walked to the eastward ridges to look for the Caribou calf carcass that the Wolf had left last evening. With some scouting and a measure of luck the carcass was discovered. Had I realized, when I saw a Herring Gull sitting about midway up the ridge, that the Gull was cultivating one of it's well known attributes that of scavenging the Caribou carcass, it would have been much easier to locate to carcass. Any coastal dump in New England supports disproportionately large populations of Herring Gulls because they are such opportunistic scavengers.
As expected, the wolf had neatly excised the brain and organs. We took for ourselves the hindquarters, which I thought would be lovely for dinner. How can one possibly pass up a chance at such delicate meat.
Among the many split granite boulders I saw possible den areas suitable for Fox or another similarity-sized animal. For lunch there was trout salad made from last evening's Lake Trout, which I had caught. This was slightly like dining in one of the world's finest restaurants complete with atmosphere. The only thing lacking was the subdued lighting which made eating by sight a mysterious experience, but the sun never set quite low enough to darken the evening sufficiently. Next time I should bring a black tent and the candelabra or wear five pairs of sunglasses to have the proper ambiance. I suppose it might be difficult to explain how one might have accidentally burned their tent down with candelabra during the summer in the Arctic or why one broke their neck when stumbling about while wearing five pairs of sunglasses. Oh well.
For dinner there was Caribou calf poached in butter unfortunately without the sherry. Ah just gourmet eating all the way.
Once again I was lead paddler and it was a balmy day. We had to carefully choose our way among the chutes where the water was deepest. I experienced another of those moments when I realized that I was about to be washed out on the shallows but by now I had become quite adept at determining where the deepest chute was. The deceiving magnification of distant objects, resultant from the low angle of the sun, occasionally preoccupied me analogous to a visual "Soap Opera." Many times I would finally arrive at the object I had been fixedly staring at only to find that it was some small nothing.
Quite unexpectedly after numerous bends through the low rolling hills we came upon a distinctive feature which consisted of a peaked cluster of large and unusually high pink sand hills which were pingos about five hundred feet high with variations in elevations. Although these pingos were devoid of plants on their slopes there were some plants colonizing the lower areas and the valleys between the higher sections. There were trails worn into the heaths, which grew on the lower hills and the crevasses between the higher hills. These pink sand pingos were unusually high for pingos in this area because they were higher than any other topographic formations excepting some of the bedrock formations on the opposite side of the river and they were complexly shaped not having tee' simple cylindrical form an esker has. They were most likely by frost and the physics involved would have been different teat necessary to form an esker. I regret teat we did not stop and explore these hills more closely but I did not want to risk harming the delicate vegetation by walking in the area. In the Mackenzie River delta there are many pingos.
We continued down the river and found a rocky point covered with a large flock of about fifty or more Herring Gulls. I do not know why there was such an unusually large concentration here but this may have been in conjunction with the oncoming herd of Caribou.
We pulled behind the peninsula in the quiet waters to disembark for lunch.
Lunch was dehydrated Chourico and Linguisa from "Amaral's" in Fall River, Massachusetts some crackers, reconstituted spiced cider and dry fruit. Although these Portuguese sausages were dry and hard to chew, they were most delicious and wantonly spicy. We dozed off on the warm grey cobbles in the bright sun resembling carnivores after a large feast, seemingly, with hardly a care in the world.
The seemingly flat aspect of the cobbles may be the result of ice each year pushing up and over them forcing the stones to either form a level densely packed layer like a cobbled roadway with any nonconforming stones being pushed outside the margin of the superimposed ice. Ice that is several feet thick would exert enough pressure on round stones on sand to create this type of natural cobbling.
We got underway again but I could not resist visiting a waterfall, which was plummeting from the august height of eight feet. I was curious why there was such a well-defined drop off. The waterfall appeared to be cascading over a one-foot thick stratum of clay and peat, which was, undercut only three or four feet.
Returning I noticed the well-defined water level marks on the sand ridge highlighted by large quantities of Caribou hair, which were a record of the receding river, level. I began to think that taking water from the river was not wise because many Caribou had by now taken a bath in not just one but several crossings of this river. I became concerned about not only the possible addition, indeed bombardment, of possible undesirable microflora in my diet.
While we were eating lunch we had noticed the incipient increase in the Caribou conflagration across the river. The Caribou were milling about agitatedly and accumulating in ever increasing numbers but appearing to be headed upstream on the opposite side. Then just as we were about to continue on our way a lead Caribou initiated the crossing being followed by the next in command. And then like an endless cascade the Caribou started crossing in groups of fifty each in a defined group with it's leader which initiated the crossing when the leader deemed it the proper time in the order of the herd. The herd was easily a thousand animals. Each with it's predetermined position within a subgroup of the herd.
We were helpless, we did not want to miss observing and taking pictures of this event, but we began to realize that we could not paddle among swimming Caribou with those large antlers with our canvas covered kayaks. An hour or more passed by as endless groups of Caribou made the crossing but at last the ranks began to thin. I thought about the behavior of these animals and suggested that we see what would happen when we tried to head these shy animals off at their starting point on the opposite side. We were immediately successful and were able to continue down the river past the temporarily stalled animals.
Well once again, we resigned ourselves to paddling the endless bends, but however on the next curve there was the unexpected. I suddenly became aware of the outburst of alarm cries from a flock of melting Canada Geese. I was mystified as to why such alarm among the geese when I discovered that there were four Arctic Wolves on the ridge along the river with the geese trapped on the beach between us. The wise wolves immediately took advantage of the entrapment and confusion. Two full-grown puppies raced down the bank and awkwardly grabbed two terrified helpless geese by their necks. The two remaining adults became bored with the ineptness of their puppies, rushed down grabbing the geese and retreated quickly out of sight over the ridge. The dazed puppies stood and watched our passage while I unobtrusively recorded the event on video. Finally they trotted off to join the adults.
Rounding some more bends we noticed an odd form resembling possibly a Grizzly at a distance but as we drew closer we realized that we were experiencing a uniquely rare, close-viewing of three Musk ox happily browsing on willows growing along the river's edge. It was most amusing to see a willow, which was unusually tall for this area being six or more feet high, waving violently for no explicable reason, when partially obscured by a bank, and in the next moment to find as the perspective changed that a Musk ox is dining on those delicious tender Willow buds. The Musk ox were not disturbed by my unusually close presence because I was in my Kayak on the river. Indeed they paused at the edge of the bank to watch me with detached curiosity. They began to move with calculated pace from the willows in a resolute predetermined mode following the top of the bank suggesting that they had done this with determined familiarity, in disbelief I succinctly positioned my kayak most advantageously for observations. The massive Musk ox came to the rim of the steep bank and reservedly observed me, which suggested that these the opinion of these animals was that our presence was not likely to be a direct threat to them. I was able to observe them for a long time and take fascinating video shots as they quietly stood at close range and then turned away to pursue their endless trek to other grazing on the tundra. They must cover large distances to sustain themselves. We reluctantly continued our journey after the majestic Musk ox moved off, out of sight over the ridge. I knew we had just experienced an encounter that would be hard to surpass.
The Baillie River nearing its confluence with the Back River at 65 degrees north began to grow decidedly fatter. The river had fewer drops, slower current and was meandering more. It became paralleled by some lakes on the east shore. These may have been an abandoned riverbed.
We decided that we had had enough paddling for the day and pulled in to prepare camp atop a fifty-foot high ridge, which was to be the backdrop for some interesting hiking later. The campsite area had aspects suggestive about it as being suitable for hunting. It was the first distinctly elevated panoramic vantage point we had stopped at along the river. This knoll had soil, which was excessively dry, calcareous and sparsely covered with plants that was bisected by a tiny rivulet that cut through the clay and peat horizon of this indentation. The moist soil margin of the rivulet provided sanctuary for soft fleshy lushly green short grasses and plants, which inspired my curiosity.
While obtaining water I suspended myself over the edge of the undercut bank to see what plants might be flourishing in the spray of water from a tiny drop off. I found my first Liverwort in the Arctic Marchantia polymorpha suspended over a small cataract on a vertical mossy bank. What had peaked my curiosity was the prolifically robust moss on this bank which just invited me to more closely investigate by nearly standing on my head the vertical surface of the mossy sod bank just with the outside hope that I might find a Liverwort because Liverworts are known to grow in very moist areas and this area was not only moist it was being splashed by the water rushing down the cataract. There was no other evidence of Liverwort in other less ideal but similar areas. They have very specific growth condition requirements. I took a sample, along with some Water Ferns, home, which survived the trip.
There was to the west one mile away a most spectacular example of granite domes which were polished to such smoothness by the passage of the glaciers over them that they were luminous because of the immense weight and composition of abrasive materials the glaciers must have had when they passed over these granite domes. Other similarly structured granite intrusions in this area did not consistently exhibit this same type of polished surface.
Observing a broken piece of this granite there was visible on the exposed polished are a change in the crystalline density of the surface which suggested that that this polished granite surface had most likely undergone extensive compression as well as abrasion. The surface appeared to not only to be polished but the crystalline structure appeared to have increased density as well. These highly polished domes of granite were quite beautiful, as they reflected the declining western sun. They seemed as though they were mirrors or glazed, and I was able to capture this polished stone reflecting the sun in my photographs.
On the highest area of this group of granite domes I noticed a square block of granite about three feet high which I would have dismissed as a glacial erratic had there not been three smaller stones and one corner of the granite cube supporting the cube such that it was elevated to an additional height of about eight inches and the upper surface was level. The size and position of this monolith was not only being highly visible but most unusual in this area.
This suggested to me that this stone was placed here by human agency for a definite purpose such as a trail marker, because I could see off in the distance other similar monoliths in similarity visible situations from where I stood. I thought how important it would be to know where the Baillie River is when surviving is dependent on fish and game.
At our campsite which was at the top of a bluff about forty feet above the river with a setback of about fifty feet I found some small grey chert flakes and a turtle back. Then upon closer inspection to my absolute delight I found some large grey chert flakes about two inches in diameter but no accompanying flint block although a large chunk of flint may have been somewhere in the area. Grey chert is much more difficult to spot that white quartz. At this time I do not know to which culture either type of flakes would have belonged to but in New England the larger flint flakes were usually a product of an earlier culture, which hunted with the spear thrown with an atlatl. The quartz projectile points because of the physical crystalline characteristics of quartz were more suitable for small projectile tips, which were used with bows and arrows a later invention than the atlatl and spear.
At about 19:30 I saw three Pomerine Jaegers flying up the river scouting for food and this seemed to be a regular event that the Jaegers would make their forays in the morning and the evening. No other birds of prey were seen that day.
To Erwin Streisinger's delight he found a true beetle, a Weevil Curculioonidae the usual slightly mottled grey with a long snout. This was the only Weevil we found on this trip, however Wheevils do occur in the Arctic.
Day 13, July 7th, 1990, after a night of wondering and two hours of paddling past numerous sand bars and islands we found ourselves at the union of the Baillie and Back Rivers.
We were quite surprised. The Baillie had changed it's course over the years and hence it's appearance quite drastically, we were quite surprised but the flat meanderings of the Baillie and the decrease in current speed did indicate to us that the union was not very far away.
When we arrived in the Back River it was noticeably wider being about four times the width of the Baillie.
The huge, flat expanse of the Back, which was about three times larger that the Baillie, belied its swift current which I found I could not make any headway when paddling against it. I realized that a rapids in this river could be quite formidable; as I was to see from the air several days later. The Back was large enough to dissipate much of the large quantities of Caribou hair, which had been accumulating in the Baillie River the vast number or caribou, which had been crossing the river.
The shore of the Back was sandy in most areas, like the Baillie, and even less rocky with low bluffs about twenty to thirty feet high in most places. The topography was flat with gently rolling hills at a mile distance from the banks of the river.
On the gentle turns which were often a minimum of a two miles in length there were bands of rocks and boulders which had been pushed by the ice during spring breakup up the banks as high as twenty feet from the level the river was at when I was there.
There were gouges in the soil and some remaining blocks of ice, which were handy for cooling drinks on these brilliantly sunny, hot days. Quite commonly I saw columnar crystalline structure in the ice pans, which were two to three feet thick.
This columnar form of ice was about one foot thick layer. When it was thawing was separating in thin one inch thick faceted rods falling apart like a stack of toothpicks. The ice pieces were clear, but when they were as a layer in the ice pan, they had a pale aqua blue color. It appears that this type of columnar ice may be the result of lateral compression forcing the crystalline structure to align itself in this vertical orientation.
At the apex of the convergence of the Baillie and Back rivers just to the side of the highest rock there were the bleached remains of Snowy Owl pellets. In these pellets were the bones of some small rodents and birds such as Lapland Longspurs. This was a typical place, which this Owl would choose to roost because it was a high area with excellent visibility.
Atop point on the north side of the Back River I scanned the horizon for more monolithic cube shaped cairns on the tops of rock domes on both sides of the river.
To the south I discovered two more of the particular monolithic cubicular cairns that suggested that these cairns were purposefully positioned to serve as geographic markers of some type.
Although they were located too far away for me to walk to for making a detailed inspection, I hypothesized that their highly visible locations seemed too obvious for them to just be a series of glacial erratics.
These were part of the group of cairns I notice on the previous day from the opposite side on the Baillie River to the west and north of the Baillie.
Scanning the west horizon I could see that the Back River made its way toward me winding among some low hills.
On the north side of the Back I saw an interesting group of some large and small ponds in the valleys behind the hills where the Back may have once flowed. These valleys and hills were lush and green ideal pasture for the endless herds of caribou.
In the next moment as I turned to scan the eastern horizon I spotted the vanguard of a caribou herd which was making its way down the river shore from the north past our campsite.
Quietly I gently prepared my cameras hoping that they would not notice me sitting at the top of the ridge.
I knew that they would be unlikely to notice me if I sat as still as possible because the wind was not blowing and their eyes lend to notice moving objects much more quickly than stationary objects.
The caribou proceeded around the bend crossing to snow bank thirty feet away and fifteen feet below me. I was able to take some detailed pictures of the rapidly passing caribou until they discovered me and immediately ran. They were only twenty feet away from me.
This was quite an experience for me because in another moment they were gone, as though their presence had been imaginary. And indeed in the Barren-Grounds for the Inuit, being where the caribou were going to be, meant the difference between life and death. There are no longer anymore Barren-Ground Inuit in this area any more.
I ate lunch and decided to escape the hot sun and the overly exuberant hordes of mosquitoes who were also having a feast. I was their feast.
When I could stand no more I became a moveable feast I jammed my unprotected hands into my pockets and beat a hasty retreat into my tent.
I appreciated the protection of my mosquito-netting hat.
I can only say that just the musical harmonics of these charming little creatures became monotonous. Their hoards sounded like the violin section of a large orchestra, which was playing the same part of a piece over and over again.
Hardly believing this possible in my mind, I found myself waiting for the rest of the orchestra to come in. In my imagination the anticipated orchestral parts never came in. The suspense wore on my overly active imagination.
I secretly began wondering which composers might have derived some components of their violin parts in their large symphonic works from just such similar exposure.
Then I thought if I keep asking myself this question I am going to go mad, so I stopped and retreated into the sanctuary of the tent.
Later that evening, I set out to scouting for some Arctic Heath in the bog area just behind the campsite. Our campsite was on sand, which was the only dry area. The rest of the area was an extensive bog. This is typical of this tundra area. The bog encompassed the entire point excepting the sandy riverbank.
To the north the topography rose and became stepped granitic rock terraces culminating in a low ridge about a mile and a half away.
As I approached the terraces I began to once again find the old faithful fire making plant Arctic Heath. I gathered some for the cooking in the evening of Lake Trout that Erwin Streisinger caught. I enjoy the special slightly eucalyptus aroma the smoke of Arctic Heath imparts to the air, the food and myself cooked over the heath fire.
I opened the stomach of one of the trout I caught and found that were small shiny black beetles. These were the same beetles I had noticed were scooting around and under rocks in the brooks and the river. Also I saw Stone fly nymphs and midges, which looked like earwigs. The earwigs would metamorphose and climb out of the water onto rocks. I found these under rocks and on the bottom of the river. I believe I saw a few winged examples of the same insect.
In the bright sunny air, I saw many more butterflies than I had ever expected as I thought that although there are butterflies in the Arctic they were quite rare.
To my delight l saw some Skippers Mesperiidae in jet black with just a touch or an orange dusting on their rear wings. The black on the Skipper was so intense, much more so that the black you see on a Black Swallow-tail in New England, that it was startling. I have never seen any thing as black as the black on that Skipper's .wings and body. I'm not sure but I think I saw a Skipper, which was entirely black as well. I also saw some Fritillaries, Bolaria ssp. with beautiful orange with many small dots on their wings.
Fritillaries always seem to have an incredible number of tiny dots on their wings balanced off with long antennae that have little rounded tips. I also saw the brilliantly bright Arctic Suphur Butterfly Pieridae, which is one of the few pastel colored insects in the Arctic. We were heated to seeing a Ross Erbia rosii, which is quite spectacular.
There were some Hover Flies, the Syriphidae, and some Bee Flies, Bombyliidae, attending some flowers, which I had not expected to have the opportunity to encounter in the Arctic.
Equally surprising was to find a White-faced hornet, which is the largest of the hornets ranging closely in size to the Honey bee but not as wide in body size. Even in New England the White-faced hornet is not common.
On the beach in the sand there were many stripped brown Wolf Spiders and I often saw the hairy black Wolf Spider Alepecosa exasperans which makes a silk lined tunnel in the low under growth. It races out and captures it's prey with lightning speed, then rushes back into it's tunnel to consume the hapless victim. Some of these spiders I have found appear to be even larger than what I have seen in New England. Their bodies are as large as a half to three quarters of an inch. Spiders are amazingly numerous in the Arctic.
I enjoyed watching The Bumble bees whenever they were visiting the flowers because they piqued my imagination. They were typical Bumble Bees and they ranged in color and size from furry small yellow and black which is Bombus polaris; to the most grandiose Bumblebee I have ever seen, the Bombus hyperboreus.
This huge Bumblebee, Bombus hyperboreus, makes our New England Bumble bees look dwarfed. They are black with the usual double band of yellow fur, but between the two bands of yellow is a rectangle of orange brown slightly wider than the yellow fur bands on their abdomen. They are about half and inch longer than our Bumblebees and wide in the same proportion.
How they can fly with all that body mass amazes me.
I tried vainly many times to photograph them but they move too quickly to photograph unless by coincidence. I greatly enjoyed watching them every chance I could and I saw them fairly frequently. I think they knew that I was trying to photograph them. I was especially delighted when I was able to photograph an elegantly ethereal Crane fly, Pedicia hannai, which was content to rest on the water at the edge of a small pond. Despite all the mosquitoes which t»y now had become quite numerous, the Crane fly was lovely to gaze at.
In another pond further inland there were Whirligig beetles 6ynmda'•' darting and whirling across the surface undaunted by the conflagration of grass obstacles which constantly interrupted their darting. I was able to capture them on videotape and another misconception I had about the northerly range of these insects was changed. (Sage-The Arctic & Its Wildlife p.77)
The weather was hot and the sky was intensely clear blue with numerous fair weather altocumulus clouds overhead.
Day 15, July 9th, 1990 I found a new flower, the Cinquefoil Potentilla palustris I had not seen before. It was quite numerous, was in the very wet marshy areas and in the dryer areas I found the Cinquefoil Potentilla norvegica.
Oxytropis arctica grew in the most extremely dry exposed tops of ridge areas on highly calcareous soil entirely isolated most often from other plants. In full bloom the flowers most typical of the Legume family were brilliant blue but as the flowers aged they became purple another color commonly found in this family. The leaves were especially hairy being a silvery green, which made the plant quite inconspicuous on the white soil background. The flowers occurred in flat clusters of three at the termination of stalks about two inches long. The leaves were quite tiny but the plant had as many as fifteen leaves emanating from it's center with several centers belonging to one plant such that one plant was about eight inches in diameter. The root system to this plant Oxytropis arctica must be quite expensive to provide sufficient moisture and nutrients to the plant in such dry soil.
At this time in this area there were hundreds of Arctic Lupines Lupinus arcticus in full bloom, which was quite spectacular because these flowers are among the largest flowers, which are found in this area. I thought that it was interesting to find that the Lupines were not only unusually numerous but also distinctly confined to a strip parallel to the Back River, which was fifteen feet wide and about two hundred feet long and set back on the top of the bank about thirty feet. The area behind the Lupines became increasingly marshy but the confined pattern of distribution of the Lupines suggested that they might be dependent on a combination of soil type and Canada Geese feces for nutrients and moisture conditions. I did not see any Lupines growing in any areas except to riverbanks, which are always used by Canada Geese when they molt. There were flocks with about two hundred geese on the banks of the Back in this area. The geese because they are melting their wing feathers and cannot fly run for cover up the riverbanks where the Lupines always grow during these months of June and July.
We had been running the edge of The Thelon Game Sanctuary. well-known area where large numbers of non-breeding geese come to completely molt during the months or June and July.
In the marshy hummocks I found an Andromeda, Andromeda polifolia, an Ericeae that was scattered at about ten feet separation just starting to bloom. It had three bell shaped pink flowers at the termination of a stalk about eight inches high on a bush. This family is common in the Arctic and also included in this family is Ledum many edible berries such as Arctostaphylos rubra Crowberry and Bearberry.
There were numerous Louseworts Pedicularis capitata just beginning to bloom which are a lovely yellow white erect stemmed distinctly shaped flowers which stands out from it's surroundings I can see why it was named capitata. There were numerous plants of Bittercress Cardamine digitata full bloom.
The weather was very warm and clear and the sky would fill with fair weather cumulus clouds would appear as the temperature elevated and the warm air and moisture rose from the tundra.
As evening began across the river on the long gentle grassy ridges came a few Caribou and a herd of Musk ox.
This herd of Musk ox had four adult females and three woolly calves. The adult males are solitary.
The calves were various sizes but no more than half the height of the adults. The smallest calf had short wooly hair giving it a roly-poly look but with the distinctive profile of a Musk ox. The two older Musk ox calves had longer hair, which was longer on the oldest and largest calf.
These Musk ox covered more than five miles in about an hour staying on the higher parts of the ridges, which is for a grazing animal of their size an important factor as to how they can survive in such a harsh and sparse environment. When they find a stand of Willow they do stop and browse for a period of time long enough to actually do some damage to the Willow because they often strip most of the tender young buds off the Willow.
It is amusing to see a Willow six or eight feet tall waving violently back and forth for no apparent reason and then to find that a Musk ox is feasting on it. I wonder how many apples it would take to make one of these ruminants drunk.
Day 16, July 10th, 1990 we broke camp at the point and crossed the Back River going about two and a half miles down stream to the south shore which is one of the northern boundaries of the Thelon Game Sanctuary.
Here I found an entirely different assemblage of plants because this area was on the inside of a gentle curve and a flood plan with sandy, silly boggy soil. There were mostly grasses and shrubs, which were six to eight inches tall similar to Pond Inlet in the high Arctic. There was no peat bog in this area, which were only two to three feet above the river. However, on the first elevation, which was at ten feet, peat bogs could be found.
It was of special interest the dominance of the grasses despite the wetness of the soil the frequent renewal and disturbance by siltation in the spring floods may have been the reason for the grasses. The under laying soil may have been a sandy calcareous lens and just beneath the soft silt overlay there may have been gravel.
Day 17, July 11th. the weather was brilliantly clear, sunny and warm.
The Back River although quite wide and deceptively calm had a swift strong current which one would wish to avoid paddling against unless absolutely necessary. This was generated by a combination of the amount of water feeding from the large watershed and the drop in bed elevation, which the surrounding low topography did not reflect.
I came upon two possible boulder walls to shelters among the boulders on flood plane margin, which was composed of a wall of boulders forming a distinct line. The shelter walls appeared to be man made because the delineated layout was a combination of a square and a semicircle with an opening for the exit and in the remaining upright walls were chinked with pieces of triangular rock. This appeared unlikely to be natural structure.
The lichen populations on the rocks were not very extensive suggesting that these rocks had not been in this position for a long time, however these boulders were very dry and highly exposed making proliferation of lichens difficult.
In this area there is no wood available for suitable for use for structural support thus the only driftwood, wood brought up from the south or bones lashed together. (Boaz-The Central Eskimo pp 139-145) Wood obtained through trade with the Indians who lived in the Boreal area to the south a distance of about two hundred miles. Drift wood was brought from inlets on the Arctic Ocean wood. Some straight sections of bone and Caribou antlers and could be lashed together and used for structures.
The interior of the structure would likely have been lined with a tent make of hides such as Caribou sewn together and suspended from the outer wall structure. This was done in some areas in igloos as well to deflect water dripping from the ice roof melting during the spring thaw. In some instances single walled tents were covered with a layer of bushy shrubs and covered with another skin of hides sewn together to serve as insulation against the cold in the winter. The Barren-ground area does not always have snowfall with accumulation sufficient in a snow bank for building an igloo.
I found an interesting piece of pale green jade, a type of chalcedony and light pink feldspar in lenticular stripes very interesting, on calcareous gravel soil dome.
As twilight approached we quietly observed as four adult Musk ox and three calves, which were oblivious to our presence, working their way back down toward the campsite and until they were about two hundred fifty feet away.
The calves were cavorting which is very funny to watch for such seemingly ponderous animals.
As the night approached the calves alternately laid down to rest and got up to resume grazing more frequently than the adults until they at last tired and laid down to rest. Finally all but one adult which, was the guard for the herd, laid down to rest for the evening.
I was amazed that these Musk ox seemed quite content because they neither smelled nor heard us. The darkness of night came and the Musk ox stayed through out the night. These were the same group of animals we had observed from across the river a few days earlier.
The fairly full moon rose in the indigo east and I secreted myself in an advantageous position to record it's majesty with my cameras.
To the north at 72 degrees the sun does not set until mid August but here at 65 degrees north it sets briefly.
Day 18, July 12th. we had another balmy day.
We broke camp to move to our final campsite just five miles down the river. There was no hint as yet on the horizon of the one hundred foot high sandy bank, which would be some where in the river depending on where the channel had moved to since Streisinger saw it sixteen years earlier. We could only assume that it must be there.
This was to be our pick-up point for the floatplane to retrieve us from. I was not concerned about being easily seen because the river is an easy land mark to trace and visibility from the air is much clearer than land so that details are easy to spot especially anything which is unusual would be most easily spotted from the air.
We were once again thinking about catching some trout and I decided from looking over the map and the area that the most likely place we might find Trout would be in a stream coming in from some fairly large ponds which would contain minnows and insects for the Trout to feed on. We investigated the stream paddling up the deep but narrowing channel to its first drop-off. As we made our way up the stream, which had cut it's way through the tundra peat turf reminiscent of salt marsh along an estuary, I looked on the calm water for signs of trout.
We disembarked in the backwater and after a cursory inspection of the area tried fishing at the base of the drop hoping for some fish which might be lurking in the fast water. Despite numerous caste and different lures no fish bit. This may have been because of the time of day, but when it comes to fishing; either the fish do or do not bite. We noticed that there were a few representative samples of willows that were about six feet high because of the shelter below the top of the bank from the wind but there were not more that twelve trees of this size. Although Musk ox greatly enjoy willows, which are quite scarce by comparison to other food sources such as grasses in this area.
We once again setoff in our boats back down to the Back headed for our final campsite. The banks were gravel and cobble depending on what had been deposited where, but the loose sand substrate had an effect of their having been strewn about in a random distribution on the cobbles, which was much different than on the banks of the Baillie.
There along the Baillie it was common to find areas of the banks, which were solidly covered with cobles in such a uniform layer that the cobbles appeared to have been laid in by practiced stone masons, as though it was a cobbled road and that one could expect to see a Roman chariot passing by at any moment. This gave everything the illusion of having a very ordered appearance even though I knew otherwise.
As we paddled we found that we were approaching some Red-Throated Loons Gravia stellata. Unfortunately I missed getting some pictures of them because I not being lead boat this time never quite was close enough for capturing the pair on film. This moment was the closest we were able to get to these elusive birds.
Some Arctic Terns sported overhead inspecting the shore and the rapids we were approaching. The racing, churning waters are one of their favorite areas to hunt for small fish and other prey. The excitement of watching the terns near a large rapids in the Back River was infectious as watching a pair of Jaegers passing by scouting for dinner.
We had not seen the combination of both Terns and Jaegers. I was looking forward to capturing in as much detail as possible their particularly unique flight with highly precise instantaneous dives for apprehension of fast swimming prey and with a steeply climbing takeoff to regain altitude once again in just moments.
Their ability to coordinate visually the distance as well as speed in three dimensions of the moving target and to integrate the dive with the surrounding conditions such as strong wind or cliffs is a most interesting natural phenomenon. I was able to obtain some most fascinating video footage of the Terns when they were fishing, but the Jaegers were much rarer and I missed the opportunity a few hours before the close of day to capture them. The camera has to be immediately available at all times to photograph Jaegers as their visitation is so momentary.
Our last campsite came into view. It was on a knoll about one hundred feed above the river overlooking the island, which Erwin had designated to be the pickup point and the rapids. The rapids were becoming shallower by the minute as the spring run off of snow and ice dwindled they were barely passable and had we been continuing down the river we might very likely have avoided them and taken the longer but deeper channel. The less direct channel had changed its route since sixteen years ago but it was still essentially the same. The island was still there as it would have taken much water to erode it away being in the one hundred foot height range.
There were large paw prints from a wolf, which had passed by along the river's edge in the early hours of the morning daily looking for prey. We had seen similar evidence at another campsite and were pleased to see that this area too had a population or wolves, wolves are shy creatures and they avoid encounters with humans.
When I had some spare time, I walked to the top and down the east side of the knoll where there were four or five tent rings which served as a testimonial to the good hunting and fishing in this area in another time when the Barren-ground Inuit inhabited these areas. This was our first sighting of tent rings although previously on the Baillie I had found flint and quartz flakes another indication of a hunting campsite. The tent rings were difficult to evaluate chronologically by a general overview. The lichens growth on the rocks which made up the tent circles was quite sparse because of the dryness of the sandy soil in this location and there were few fragments of bone around, but most likely with a properly executed archeological excavation much could be learned. We did not disturb the area.
The bogs surrounding us had extensive areas of grass, but without thermokarst pits, which I found in some bogs along the Baillie, and in a large area of a few acres there were an incredible multitude of pink Kalmia in full bloom. It was such a delight to walk among them and the grasses in the brilliant sunshine.
Here and there were lakes and shallow ponds some isolated and others interconnected. Had the distances not been so great I would have investigated them more closely. I was quite curious about their possible interconnection with the Back River and the exchange of nutrients such as copepods and minnows as well as mineral and organic leachates as enrichments to the Back River since these bogs are major spawning areas.
In one small pond I found a large Amphipod, a Cyclops colored dark red about half and inch long in a density of one every two inches. Food such as this feeds young Common Loons and Old Squaw as well as other ducks, fish and other animals. How there were plenty of pondweeds for Scaup and insects such as Water Boatmen and Midges.
These I had never seen before in the Arctic and I found the stages of coincidental sequences of hatching cycles interesting.
In the area we were camping the seasonal meteorological cycle of catabatic winds related to the temperature regime developed starting at noon increasing in velocity until the declining angle of the sun in the late afternoon effectively lowered the air temperature gradually decreasing the intensity of the winds at about three thirty in the afternoon. These conditions subsided by five in the afternoon, but this meant that our floatplane would have to either relieve us in the early to midmorning or evening hours. These winds were blowing in excess of thirty knots.
We experienced a sand storm in these conditions and I wished we had camped elsewhere. Streisinger had experienced not being picked up for a week beyond the date scheduled with the air service. He wanted to be very sure we were in a highly visible pickup point.
We were very lucky that the pilot figured on sand storm and catabatic winds coming up by mid day, which would have made it not possible for him to pick us up.
Day 19. July 13, our plane arrived at nine in the morning just as we had finished breakfast.
We packed hurriedly as the pilot refueled, quickly put everything aboard the plane and took our seats.
I was fortunate enough to have the co-pilot seat from which I took video pictures of the take-off and an aerial overview of the river. I always try to record this type of information because it provides a additional perspective as to what the area was really like.
The video camera and solar battery recharging panel with my fabricated clear vinyl dry bag had worked well throughout this their second trip to the Arctic.
I was pleased with the spontaneous moving imagery and sound I could capture with the video camera.
The Klepper and Northwest Designs paddle handled the paddling demands and stresses very well.
Upon our return to Yellowknife the wind was blowing and rain was falling making us most glad that the pilot had picked us up that morning.
Our stay in Yellowknife was rewarding as I had a chance to do some background reading at the library and visit their museum, which had very good exhibits about the Arctic.
Once again I look forward to visiting the Arctic with more things in mind to be looking for as well as the great unknown.
Gail E. Ferris
I Bowhay Hill
Stony Creek, CT. 06405
Wooden Sea Kayak Designs
Email Guillemot Kayaks
© Nick Schade - All Rights Reserved