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 . . .

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