Saturday, August 1, 2009

Swing through the Arctic...

I traveled up to Cambridge Bay for a five day visit this past week, with a night in Yellowknife both ways. En route, we stopped over in Rankin Inlet... so, I got to see a bit more of the North.

My route:
Here are some pictures I took along the way:

Rankin Inlet...

It was windy with a splattering of rain in Rankin Inlet:
the Rankin airport:Iqaluit had great weather that week - up in the 20s, so the greeting provided to me by the cool wind, rain and local mosquito committee was a bit of a shock...


Moving on to Yellowknife, it was nice to be south of the treeline again. With a population of around 20,000, Yellowknife sits on the north shore of Great Slave Lake and is the capital city of the Northwest Territory. Besides the government activity, the city's growth is fed by local diamond mines, including De Beer's new Snap Lake Diamond Mine. Yellowknife was warm - humid even, in the 20s.

Here are some pics from around the city:
... and, of course, no visit to Yellowknife would be complete without taking in some of the historic landmarks, like the Wildcat Cafe:...and the notorious Gold Range Hotel:I managed to fit in an evening at the Gold Range, sampling some of the local culture and entertainment. The decor and ambience is vintage "Northern Tavern".

Cambridge Bay...

The hamlet of Cambridge Bay sits on the last leg of the fabled Northwest Passage - Franklin never quite made it that far; his ship ended it's journey in the ice pack surrounding nearby King William Island and from there he and his crew struck out on their final ill-fated attempt to save themselves by traveling overland.

There was a low ceiling of clouds over Cambridge Bay when our plane landed - they send up balloons and time how long it takes for them to disappear from sight to determine the height of the cloud cover and whether or not it's safe to land. Rain and cold wind greeted me in Cambay (as the locals as the locals sometimes refer to it)... and, of course, the local mosquito committee.

The hamlet is situated well above the arctic circle and even in the end of July there was only maybe an hour or two of darkness/twilight - as was confirmed to me when I woke up at 4:30am the first night with the sun beating down through the bedroom window at me.

My hosts graciously allowed me the use of an ATV while I was there and it was great fun to go tooling around the town and countryside. The ATV is even more prevalent as everyday transportation than in Iqaluit; I'd guess that the auto to ATV ratio is about 1:1.

There is a stark beauty to the place with its vast expanses of barren tundra where the pure colours of sky, water, soil and rock are unchallenged by distraction.

Here is a picture of the town:
When I first arrived, ice still clung to the shoreline of the bay; a couple of days later it had disappeared.
The Barren Ground Caribou migrate through the area and hunting them is a part of everyday life in Cambridge Bay. Here are some skulls and antlers which were piled at the side of a house:
This is Mount Pelly, an esker (soil deposit left by a glacier) which is in Ovoyak National Park, a few kilometers outside of town:
This is a docking station for float planes:
The view from our office in town:
A local graveyard:

We got a chance to take a ride out the southern coast of Victoria Island where we saw the strait leading into the last leg of the Northwest Passage, Coronation Gulf. Local inhabitants build cabins out here where they come on weekends to escape the hustle and bustle of the hamlet:
On our way back to town from Mount Pelly, we noticed a couple of Muskox very close to the hamlet. My host didn't want to bring her truck over a small bailey bridge, so when we got back to town, I jumped on the ATV and headed out to see if I could get a picture of them. I saw them again from the road near town, but when I got down close to that area, I couldn't see them from the road... so, I guessed that they might be over a hill, and I parked the ATV and climbed up and over. Sure enough, there were two of them on the other side of a flat area with a marsh on the far side, just in front of the Muskox:I tried to get as close as I could... the ground was mushy muskeg (not good for running) and I was alone - as I got closer I began to appreciate just how big the creatures were and my bravery diminished proportionally. Unfortunately, my camera is just a little point-and-click thing so I couldn't get the pictures I wanted (that's next on the shopping list). Once the older, grey shaggy one started paying attention to me (in spite of my sideways approach trying to make it look like I was just going down to the waterhole for a drink), discretion became the better part of valour and I figured I was close enough...

This radar station was part of the Defense Early Warning ("DEW") Line that the Americans set up during the cold war. It is now part of the North Warning System.