Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Inuujaq School Spring Camp 2017

When I came back from Operation Spring Fix on Sunday, there was no need to unpack because I would be heading out on the land on Monday, May 29 for Inuujaq School’s annual Spring Camp.  I used what little time I had to shower, launder my dirty clothes, and decide what equipment to bring.  The high school classes go out first to set up camp and the remaining classes visit the campsite on scheduled days throughout the week.  High school students are the only students who overnight at the camp site.
My duties as a commanding officer of the local cadet corps prevented me from being on the Spring Camp Committee this year.  The committee chose a different location, one that was closer to Arctic Bay, because everyone wanted a change of scenery.  A schedule was drawn up, elders & skidoo drivers were hired, and food & gas were purchased.  Everyone & everything were ready to go Monday morning.
I walked into the school that day dressed much differently than normal.  I wasn’t wearing my formal attire because they wouldn’t keep me warm.  Instead, I was wearing “regular clothes” as my students would say.  Think turtleneck, t-shirt, sweatpants, and warm socks.  I left my shotgun at home because the elders were only permitted to carry lethal protection.  However, I would be bringing my machete and niksik. 

The high school students carried camping equipment and boxes of food to the convoy out on the ice.  The weather was warm and the skies were clear.  I drove up to the convoy on my Skidoo Expedition 550F and waited for the signal to go.  A couple of students came over to check out my skidoo and asked me if I was selling it anytime soon.  I replied that I wasn’t.  My first vehicle is still going strong even after my recent tip over in April.  The three-year anniversary of its purchase will be in October of this year.

Which skidoo is mine?
The convoy left at 10am.  I wasn’t pulling a qamutik (sled), so I followed the elders at a slow pace.  I could have easily passed them but I didn’t know the location of the camp site.  We drove towards last year’s camp site but turned left and entered a small hidden bay.  The skidoos pulling the qamutiks stopped near the rocky landscape.  I parked my skidoo in the middle of the frozen bay and walked to where everyone was assembling.  I turned around and noticed four other skidoos parked next to my machine.  A makeshift skidoo parking lot had just been created.

Joeli explaining what needs to be done to set up camp.

Joeli, Inuujaq School’s shop teacher, was in charge.  Everyone gathered around him for a briefing.  He explained: the boundaries of the camp, where the tents needed to be pitched, where the food would be stored, and the schedule for the day.  The students were divided into groups led by elders.  Everyone was dismissed and the camp site began to take shape.

The qamutiks were emptied of tents, flattened cardboard boxes, mattresses, and food.  The tents were set up near the edge of the bay but not too close.  There was an unlimited amount of rocks to use as anchors for the tents.  The flattened cardboard boxes were placed inside the tents, creating a softer surface to walk on.  Mattresses & sleeping bags went on top of the cardboard.  The food supplies were moved into two designated tents.  I stood back and photographed everyone at work.  I wanted to help but I felt that sometimes, having too many people working on one task can be a hindrance.  The camp was “up-and-running” by noon.

For lunch we had fresh fruit, Chinese noodles, and hot dogs.  Most of the high school students sat at the two picnic tables that were brought over to the camp site last week.  They were constructed by the high school shop class.  Elders sat around the tents eating and drinking tea.  I mostly “hovered” around the area, snapping photos.

Pauloosie Enoogoo
Pauloosie Enoogoo instructing high
school students.
Everyone went seal hunting after lunch.  The skidoos & qamutiks, full of high school students and several Inuujaq School staff, left the hidden bay and moved southeast over a vast open area of thick ice.  The convoy came to a stop near some snowdrifts and assembled in a circle.  An elder & experienced hunter by the name of Pauloosie Enoogoo, gave a lesson on how to locate seal holes, lay traps, and how to catch seals once they surface for air.  He instructed in Inuktitut and I filmed his entire lesson.  I could sort of understand what he was saying just by interpreting his body language.  I would have to find someone to help me put in the correct English subtitles in the video.  His instructions may one day save my life if I ever become stranded out on the land and need to hunt seals for food. 

Pauloosie Enoogoo showing how to check & "prepare" a seal hole for catching a seal.
Looking for seals.
The students listened to Enoogoo’s instructions and even asked clarification questions.  He gave a niksik to one student and asked him to stay behind.  The rest of us went back to the skidoos & qamutiks.  The convoy split up, looking for more seal holes.  When a hole was found, one or two students were dropped off with a niksik or rifle and told to wait patiently.  If a seal came up to the surface, they were to kill it.  The area became populated with young seal hunters, patiently waiting for a catch.  Sadly, no seals were caught. 

A high school student waits for a seal to come up for air.
Two high school students waiting patiently.
If the stick gets pulled down, you know
you've hooked a seal.
We moved to a different area and repeated the same procedures.  During a break, I looked at my GPS and noticed it had been tracking my movements since the beginning.  There were many loops and circles in the two seal hunting areas.  Now I knew how my movements would look like from a bird’s eye perspective.  In the end, we didn’t catch any seals.  Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t. 

The elders who stayed behind had prepared another round of oriental noodle soup, and baked bannock.  I gladly took a warm cup that was offered to me.  The taste of warm soup felt good after a long afternoon of seal hunting.  After the warm snack, the high school students went into an elder’s tent to watch an elder dissect the head of a char and explain its many parts.  I stood at the back while the students sat in the middle of the tent.  A Coleman stove kept us all warm.  The elder used her hands to open up the char’s head and take out individual pieces of bone.  She sucked off the attached meat then wiped the bones with a paper towel.  She spoke in Inuktitut but the students translated what she was saying in English for me.  I let my students film the lesson with my camera.

Spring Camp
Spring Camp
The high school students were given some free time to relax in the tents and/or outside.  I decided to walk north towards Arctic Bay and reach the end of the rocky hill behind the camp.  All I could hear were my boots stepping on rocks.  When I got to the end, I could see the pumping station, airport, and the town of Arctic Bay in the distance.  I took a wide shot of the camp site and the far away landscape.

Sketch class
A skidoo gets sketched.
Paulette, the high school art teacher, held an evening sketching class.  Each student was given a sketchbook and several pencils.  They were instructed to draw whatever they saw.  The sketches ranged from skidoos to landscapes.

Clouds around KGVM
Clouds appeared on Tuesday, May 30.  King George V Mountain (KGVM) had a ring of clouds around it and there was fog on the way to the camp site.  Thankfully, there were still large pockets of open sky.  The high school students had a good night’s rest but slowly crawled out of the tents. 

The Grade 7s, 8s, & 9s are coming!
The 7s, 8s, & 9s are here!
The Grades 7, 8, & 9 classes arrived at the camp site at 10:40am.  I had just reached the top of a nearby hill to see them drive past.  I wanted to take photos of the approaching convoy but I was too late.  Instead, I took photos of their arrival.  From where I was standing, I could see & hear, many verbal greetings & handshakes were exchanged.

Greetings all around!
An elder prepares hot dogs wrapped in bannock.
Hot dogs wrapped in bannock.
The elders had prepared hot dogs wrapped in bannock for lunch.  A line up quickly formed outside of the tent when they were ready to be served.  I waited until the line got smaller.  Hot dogs wrapped in bannock are quite tasty.  They’re like Pogos but better.  I think I ate three of them.


The high school students & teachers returned to Arctic Bay after lunch.  Several students had permission to stay behind and help the elders.  I couldn’t stay because I had classes to teach.  We were given the afternoon off to rest & recuperate.  Overall, I had a great time at Spring Camp.  

Sarah & John, Grade 9 & 8 teachers, prepare ice cream for their students.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Operation Spring Fix 17 - Part 3

Sunday, May 28.  Reveille was at 8am.  We slowly crawled out of our sleeping bags, got dressed, and reluctantly emerged from our tents.  We didn’t want to confront the many tasks that awaited us, but we had no choice.  Today we would be returning to Arctic Bay.  We couldn’t stay an extra day or more because there was school on Monday.  I aimed to have everyone on the main skidoo trail by lunch time, otherwise we wouldn’t be going anywhere.  The Canadian Arctic has the ability of making people stay out on the land longer than intended.  There’s just so much to explore and experience.
We ate MREs for breakfast.  The main meals, packaged in individual aluminum bags, were cooked using Coleman stoves.  After breakfast, everyone went to work tearing down the camp.  On the last day of an FTX, you should always roll up & pack your sleeping bag after you get dressed.  One less duty to worry about.  We moved everything out of the tents & cleaned out all the garbage.  The tents were taken down and packed in the specially made bags.  Personal belongings were placed in a designated area.  The remaining MREs were packed in boxes and sealed with duct tape.  The cadets did a garbage sweep of the camp site.

Four wrapped chars.
Ranger Samson gave everyone permission to pick a char to take home.  About 40 chars were caught.  Garbage bags were handed out to everyone to wrap the chars they picked.  I asked Samson if I could take four because I knew people down south who would like char.  He said yes.  The remaining large fish were placed on flattened cardboard boxes, wrapped in large garbage bags, and then tied to Samson’s qamutik (sled).  I placed my four chars in a large green barracks box.  A two-foot char can fetch a good price in southern Canada. 
Female cadets disassembling their tent.
The packing of the qamutiks was the last task to be completed.  Packing a qamutik is not a simple task.  Certain items need to be tied in specific places.  For example, gas cans are usually tied to the rear of the qamutik.  Ranger Samson showed & instructed the cadets on how to pack the qamutiks.  Everything was tied down with rope.

Cadets getting ready to leave.
The skidoos were moved in front of the qamutiks and connected with tough ropes.  The cadets divided themselves among the qamutiks and waited for the go ahead.  I did one last role call before giving the signal that it was time to go.  The four skidoos roared to life and left one by one.  The drive home began.
Ranger Samson led the convoy.  The weather was a lot better than Friday.  The sun was out, shining brightly above the arctic landscape.  It seems the weather is always better when you’re travelling home.  We only drove a few kilometres before Samson signalled the convoy to stop.  If you’re pulling a qamutik with rope, you have to do a rolling stop, otherwise the qamutik will slam into your skidoo.  A sunbathing seal was spotted on the ice but the animal escaped down a hole in the ice before Samson could fire a shot from his high-powered rifle.  We continued onwards.
The drive out of Moffet Inlet was long & monotonous.  The further we got away from Ikpikituarjuk, the more leisurely we drove.  Ranger Samson fell back and let another skidoo driver take the lead.  I followed them out of the inlet.  The ice was still thick and the bright sun made it easier to see the main skidoo trail.  I got better at pulling a qamutik after every kilometre I drove.
Tea time.
Tea time.
The convoy came to a halt just past Ijuyuarjuk, the lake where we held last year’s FTX.  The destination was decided before we left Ikpikituarjuk.  The left-over rations were opened and cooked for tea time.  I took photos of the surrounding landscape while the cadets ate.

Tea time.
It took another three hours to get to Arctic Bay.  The drive was long but I kept myself busy by keeping my eyes on the trail and periodically looking back to see if anyone fell off the qamutik.  The familiar landscape hadn’t changed in the last two days.  Ice, snow, & mountains.  The convoy spread out again but we all met up several kilometres before Arctic Bay.  We refueled our skidoos before driving into town.  We drove over several cracks in the ice but they weren’t big.  The time was 6:45pm when we stopped in front of the Northern Store. 

The cadets unloaded the qamutiks and placed all the corps-owned gear into a waiting pickup truck.  Their personal belongings were packed in another pickup truck.  I helped Frank, Civilian Instructor Reid, and a senior cadet move two of Samson’s qamutiks.  The cadets were driven home, except I recruited two to help me unload all the corps-owned equipment at Frank’s shop.  Once that was done, I drove them home.  Frank gave me a lift home from the community hall because I had to park my skidoo out on the ice near the building.  There was not enough snow for me to drive up to my apartment.  I took a very long shower when I got home.

In my view, Operation Spring Fix 17 was a success.  We travelled and camped at a lake that is not only a popular fishing destination, but it’s the furthest place the corps has ever camped from Arctic Bay.  I’m just glad that nobody got hurt.  We all learned a lot and had a great time out on the land. 

Now I just have to get used to the taste of seal brains.

End of Operation Spring Fix 17 mini-series.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Operation Spring Fix 17 - Part 2

Warning: This post contains pictures & descriptions that some readers may find graphic.

Everyone was out and about at 11am.  The date was May 27.  The weather had greatly improved over the last 9 hours.  The overcast clouds were gone, replaced by blue skies, and a very bright sun.  I left my thick Canada Goose parka inside my tent because it was just too warm to wear.  The turtleneck and t-shirt I was wearing on my torso would suffice.  However, I kept my snow pants and thick Baffin Impact boots on.  A small flock of seagulls stood in the centre of the frozen lake, waiting for people to discard food, and/or pull up fish from several ice fishing holes.
Cadets & CI Reid eating breakfast.
Male cadets on a hill.
The Coleman stoves were fired up and large pots of fresh water, collected from the lake, were brought to a boil.  Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs) were given to the cadets.  They placed their main meals in the pots.  (The meals are sealed in aluminum bags).  It took about 10-15 minutes for the meals to cook.  The cadets climbed some nearby hills after breakfast to get some exercise and better views of the area.  They were then called down to help Ranger Samson set up the fish nets and drill several ice fishing holes.
Me waiting for the cadets to come down the hill.
Ranger Samson feeding the nets into
the hole.
As mentioned before, people travel to Ikpikituarjuk to fish for arctic char.  The char are caught using jigs & nets.  Ranger Samson brought his fishing nets and gas-powered ice auger for the FTX.  He showed the cadets how to use the ice auger and helped them drill several holes.  Using a high-powered ice auger is most effective when operated by three people.  This is based on my observations from last year’s fishing derby.  Two people hold the auger and move it up & down.  The third person uses a shovel and removes all the ice & snow that piles up around the newly created hole.  There was only one ice auger, so several cadets chipped at the ice using ice chisels.  When the holes were made, the cadets began to jig for fish using lures attached to very long fishing lines.  The fishing lines are attached to sticks. 

Laying fish nets is more complicated.  First an ice hole is drilled and a long wooden plank is fed into the hole.  There may be a specific name for this plank but I do not know it.  A rope is tied to the plank so that it’s not lost underneath the ice.  The water carries the plank for several metres.  A second hole is drilled above the plank and fished out using an ice chisel.  With the plank and rope now running underneath the ice, you can attach your nets to the rope and pull them until they stretch from both holes.
Everyone sat under the warm Arctic sun and jigged for fish.  Some people caught very small char but I didn’t catch anything.  Even though the char underneath me evaded my lures, it felt nice to just sit outside and not have to think about the outside world.  We jigged for about an hour.

Ice patches.
Camp site.
Two cadets wanted a break from fishing and asked me if they could climb a hill at the opposite end of the lake.  I agreed and joined them.  It took us about 30 minutes to reach the summit.  I took several pictures of the camp site below and the surrounding landscape.  We could see the entire lake and beyond.  There were a lot of exposed ice patches in the centre of the lake.  I looked in the direction where JF & I camped last year and noticed a lot of blue.  The ice in that corner had either completely melted or the ice was very, very thin.  The two cadets & I built a small inukshuk and then made our way down the hill.  The descent was faster than the ascent because we slid down.      

Me cutting raw pieces of char.
We arrived at the camp site to see everyone sitting around cut up pieces of arctic char.  Knives & switchblades were planted into the snow.  The chars were caught in Samson’s nets.  I put on a pair of baby blue latex gloves and took out my multitool.  I cut & ate several pieces of arctic char.  I requested a cadet to take pictures of me so that I could show everyone on my blog how easy it is to eat char.  (It’s very similar to eating sushi).  Lunch was more of an afternoon snack because everyone had been snacking on raw char.
Me eating Arctic char.
Maybe I had too much char.
After lunch, I taught the cadets how to set up a bivouac site.  I had to modify the content because the lesson provided by the cadet program is geared towards setting up camp down south where there are trees and different wildlife.  The lesson was more of a review because the cadets go camping all the time with their friends & families.  They know the land pretty well.

Ranger Samson's son posing with the
seal he caught.
Ranger Samson took the cadets seal hunting for the remainder of the afternoon.  I stayed behind to look after the camp.  They took two skidoos and a qamutik.  They came back with a seal.  The seal was shot by Samson’s son. 

Ranger Samson cleaning arctic char.
Cadet Tilley, C. cleans an arctic char.
The fish nets were pulled out of the lake in the evening.  (The sun was still up in the sky and just as bright as in the morning).  There were a lot of fish caught in the nets.  They were also very big.  The cadets immediately put on latex gloves and began removing the arctic char from the nets.  Then the switch blades came out and the cleaning & gutting began.  The cadets showed me how to remove everything from a char.  The fish felt cold & slimy.  I’ll spare you the gory details but there was a lot of cutting & pulling.  (“Knife goes in, guts come out.”)  I was glad I didn’t vomit.  The cadets were experts in this activity, knowing exactly what to do, and how to do it.  The gutted fish were gathered into one large pile.
Ranger Samson and two cadets cut pieces of seal.
Helping ourselves to seal meat.
Ranger Samson moved the dead seal to an open space where he could harvest it.  He sharpened his knife and I got my camera ready.  I was going to film the whole thing so that I would know what to do.  The cadets gathered around and watched Samson work.  He cut the seal down the middle and then separated the fur from the blubber.  Once the fur was removed he went to work removing all the inner organs (stomach, intestines, heart, etc).  The seagulls would enjoy those parts.  He then cut up the remainder into smaller pieces so the meat could be cooked.  The entire process took about 12 minutes.
Senior cadet Natanine enjoys a seal eye.
Me & Ranger Samson looking at the
seal brains I'm about to consume.
We all helped ourselves to raw seal meat.  The meat was still covered in blood but that wasn’t stopping anyone.  Two cadets got the honour of eating the eyes which I am told is a delicacy.  I was offered seal brains.  At first I declined, but after much coaxing, I relented and gave them a try.  I scooped a few little pieces of brains and examined them.  They were small and covered in blood.  “You only live once,” I said to myself before licking my fingers.  It was a challenge to taste the brains because there was iron in the blood.  I must congratulate my stomach for digesting the brains; I could feel it confused and wanting to reject it. 

“You’ve done something I can’t do,” remarked Ranger Samson.  “I can’t eat seal brains.”
“It’s an acquired taste,” I replied.  I washed down the taste with juice.

Seal meat in a pot.
Dinner consisted of MREs and slow cooked seal meat.  Ranger Samson really knows how to cook seal meat.

We didn’t bring any wood for a bonfire so I gave the cadets free time until bedtime.  They jigged for fish and climbed the surrounding mountains.  Everyone was sleeping by 11pm. 

To Be Continued . . .