Wednesday, April 12, 2017

To The End of Strathcona Sound

The white line is the planned route.
I woke up on the morning of April 10 with a plan in mind.  Spring Break was in full swing and I wanted to use as much time as I could to explore the land around me.  But where to go?  There are lots of places to visit & explore around Arctic Bay and beyond. 
Last year, I investigated a well-known & travelled route to Pond Inlet that many locals call a shortcut, but large rocks prevented me from driving really far inland.  Using Google Earth as a research tool, I noticed that Strathcona Sound ended at a river bed to the east, but the river continued south for a kilometre or two, before coming to a stop at a group of mountains.  Google Earth gave the impression that there was a narrow pathway through the mountains.  The images made me think it was possible to get to the well-travelled Pond Inlet shortcut by driving south from Strathcona Sound.  There was only one way to find out.
It took me about an hour to get ready for my day trip.  I always aim to be ready to go out on the land in an hour.  I’ve gone out enough times to be able to gather everything I need without making a list.  My essentials were:

·       GPS, SPOT Device, & extra batteries
·       12 gauge shotgun, ammunition, & machete
·       Binoculars
·       Digital Camera
·       Toilet Paper & Kleenex
·       10 gallons of gas, oil, & spark plugs
·       Towing cable
·       Snacks
·       Plastic bags, Rubber bands, Duct tape
·       Small First Aid Kit, whistle, and mirror
·       Facemask, warm toque
·       Canada Goose clothing (parka, snow pants, gloves)
·       Baffin Impact Boots

I notified my coworkers where I was heading for the day and even sent them a picture of my travel map.  They wished me good luck.
I emerged from my residence with a look of concern.  Overcast clouds were in the sky and there was a little wind.  A part of me thought about postponing the trip but I decided to push onward.  Maybe the sun would emerge in the afternoon.  I went inside and brought out my skidoo helmet.  I attached two red five-gallon gas cans to the back of my skidoo using bungee cords.  I locked the door to my apartment after doing my final checks.  I turned on the skidoo and let the engine warm up.  With my helmet securely on, I put my backpack on my shoulders and slung my shotgun across the front of my jacket.  It was time to go.
Graveyard Point
I drove north along the road to Victor Bay.  I didn’t see anyone when I arrived at the cabins.  I continued down to the frozen bay and drove onto the ice.  I began driving across the bay towards Graveyard Point.  There were a lot of bumps; I had to drive slowly.  My skidoo is a two-stroke machine; the engine is loud.  My mind did a good job of trying to ignore the constant droning noise.  I was pretty close to Graveyard Point when I looked back and noticed one of my gas cans was hanging off the back.  I stopped and reattached the can.  I had no intention of losing precious gas.
Graveyard Point
Nanisivik Naval Facility
I rounded Graveyard Point and stopped to take several pictures.  The sun was barely visible through the clouds.  The white overcast clouds above made it difficult for me to see a skidoo trail in the white snow.  I left Victor Bay and entered Strathcona Sound, driving east towards the Nanisivik Naval Facility.  There were still plenty of bumps on the ice, so I kept my speed below 50km/h.  I periodically checked behind me to make sure my gas cans were still attached.  The Nanisivik Naval Facility slowly appeared in the distance.  When I got closer, I stopped and took several pictures.  I halted opposite of the dock and turned off the engine.  It was time for a break.  It took me thirty minutes to drive from Graveyard Point to Nanisivik.
Nanisivik Naval Facility
The last time I visited the naval facility was in March 2016.  One year later and the compound is closer to being operational.  The most obvious additions are the two large gas silos, designed to hold precious fuel for the Arctic Patrol boats that will be patrolling our Canadian arctic waters.  (The boats are currently under construction in Halifax, Nova Scotia).  Other smaller additions include shacks, sea containers, pipes, and two large white tanks.
Looking towards the east.
I looked towards the east with feelings of excitement and curiosity.  Once I left Nanisivik, I would be entering unexplored territory.  I started my skidoo and gently squeezed the throttle a few times.  I nodded to myself after looking at the path ahead of me.  I was on my way.

My luck began to turn for the better.  The ice smoothed out, enabling me to drive faster, and the sun appeared through the clouds, making it easier to see the conditions of the ice ahead of me.  After some time, I periodically stopped my skidoo to take pictures of the tall, rocky mountains on both sides of Strathcona Sound.  Their sides are quite steep.

Hidden valley entrance on the left.
Frozen waterfall
I passed a valley on my left side.  The valley appeared to extend somewhere to the northeast.  I made a mental note to explore this area at a later date.  I also passed a frozen waterfall in the middle of a broken-looking mountain.  Driving off the ice wasn’t a problem.  In fact, I didn’t know I was driving over solid ground until I checked my GPS.  I stopped about a kilometre inland to stretch my legs and fire two shotgun slugs in the air.  I didn’t want to meet any polar bears this far away from Arctic Bay.  I followed the riverbeds because they were full of snow.  As I neared the point I marked on my map, my skidoo crossed a large patch of ice.  I was glad I was driving slowly because the machine suddenly did a complete 360-degree spin.  The unexpected event made me wonder if there exists a sport called synchronized skidooing.
Beyond Strathcona Sound.  Looking towards the south.
I reached my final destination and was slightly disappointed.  The path to the south I was hoping to find was not there.  What I saw on Google Earth was actually a plateau with a rocky descending slope.  The slope could be traversed with a skidoo but pulling a qamutik (sled) would be very tricky.  If I had more gas, I could have explored the plateau and see if pulling a qamutik would be feasible.  Maybe some other time.
Valley extending north to Strathcona Sound.
I drove up the side of a mountain to take the ‘perfect’ picture of the valley extending north, all the way to Strathcona Sound.  The sun had disappeared behind grey overcast clouds but the sudden change did not ruin the photos.  The pictures don’t do the scenery justice.  The landscape looks much better if you’re standing there admiring it with your own eyes.  There was also complete silence; I could only hear my breathing.  I rested and ate some snacks.  Another location, this time, 51km east of Arctic Bay, visited and documented.
Like all great journeys, they have to come to an end.  I refueled my skidoo with gasoline and topped it with oil.  The engine coughed to life and I made sure everything was packed.  It was time to head home.  Little did I know, the journey home would be an adventure on its own. 
Heading back to Strathcona Sound.
I followed the skidoo path I created earlier towards Strathcona Sound.  About halfway, I looked back and noticed I was missing a gas can.  The ‘bumps in the road’ must have caused the can to become loose.  I turned around and drove back to pick it up.  It was easy to spot because the can was red.  I reattached it and continued driving.  I was glad that I recovered the can because it was full of fuel.  The other five-gallon can was empty.
Strathcona Sound. Looking towards the
I entered Strathcona Sound and drove towards Nanisivik.  I periodically looked back to make sure the cans would not fall off.  Apparently, my checks weren’t good enough.  I was quite a distance into the Sound when I looked back and again noticed there was only one red gas can on the back of the skidoo.  I turned the machine to the left 180 degrees and drove back the way I came.  Strangely, I couldn’t see the gas can.  I stopped and took out my large binoculars.  There was no red dot on the horizon.  Not losing hope, I continued driving, looking in all directions, hoping to spot the can.  I’m not sure how much time went by but it was enough for me to worry about the amount of gas that was left in the skidoo.  If I ran out, I would have to abandon the machine and walk home.  I decided to call off the search.
A red dot appeared on the ice as I neared the spot where I made the u-turn.  “You can’t be serious,” I said to myself.  The missing gas can was sitting where I made the u-turn!  I stopped and picked up the mischievous can.  I tried to deduce in my mind how the can could have gone unnoticed until now.  The best reason I could come up with was that the bumps in the ice caused the can to move up and then fall over on the right side of the skidoo.  The bungee cords still held the can.  When I was looking behind me, I was always looking over my left shoulder.  The can must have fallen off when I turned around, again to the left.  I took out more bungee cords and used them to secure both gas cans.
Nanisivik Naval Facility
The sign post is still at the old town site.
When I reached Nanisivik, I decided to follow the 32-kilometre road that connects Nanisivik with Arctic Bay.  I did my best to avoid large patches of stones and pebbles.  Driving over them would damage my skis.  I passed the old town site, t-intersection, and Terry Fox Pass.  I mostly drove next to the road, going up and down snow drifts.  I still looked back, making sure the gas cans were still attached.  When I reached the water pumping station, I drove back onto the frozen ice and continued towards Arctic Bay.  The drive was arduously slow because the bay was littered with snow drifts.  It was like driving over & around speed bumps . . . slowly.  I was finally home at 7:30pm.
Terry Fox Pass.
Despite not finding a passage to the south, I consider my day trip a success.  I got out of the house for a day and explored another corner of Canada’s Arctic.  And I learned a valuable lesson: always keep your gas cans safely secured to your skidoo!  

Arctic Bay. April 10, 2017.

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