Trip Report section 3
Step down of Irish North Pole Expedition
Our alternative adventure
A diary account of an interesting few days on Baffin Island
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(Irish North Pole 2011)
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Auyuittuq National Park (land that never melts)
Irish Baffin Island Expedition 2011 - Pat Falvey and Dr Clare O Leary
Day 1, March 12th: We left Pangnirtung late in the afternoon and camped 10 km up stream, conditions were good but cold – 35 degrees celcius with little wind, we made a good pace along Pangnirtung Fjord in good weather, Clare and I were really happy to be on the move in spectacular surrounding in mountainous terrain after our ordeal of been stuck in Resolute Bay for 20 stressful days.
Our disappointment of having to cancel our North Pole trip now in the recess of our mind and our concentration was now completely focused on the expedition ahead.
Day 2 March 13th: The following morning we continued to the start of the National Park 31 km from Pangnirtung which was usually reached in the summer by boat or in the winter by snow mobile we had chosen to ski for some extra exercise to OverLord where there’s a Wardens hut, an emergency hut and two outhouses are located. This was where the Fjord ended and the land crossing began and the river met the sea.
Day 3 March 14th: The conditions on our third day got colder and windier as we pushed our way along the wide valley floor following a large river bed for 9 Km to Crater Lake Moraine.
We made our way upstream dragging our heavy North Pole sleds full with extra weight that we had taken for training, making it harder then if we just carried what we needed we had a lot of extra weight as we wanted this also to be a training session.
We struggled uphill like little donkeys with heavy loads through a narrowing on eastern shores to Windy Lake. The weather now deteriorating, the river and lakes system stripped from all snow and eroded down to bare ice and rock from the wind. Our journey dangerous under foot as we battled against been blown off our feet on the bare ice.
Today one of our highlights was to cross the Arctic Circle on route to the upper reaches of Weasel River. After passing the Arctic circle north east to another narrowing we climbed up through an icy carved river cascade as we tried to gain grip on the rocky outcrops to gain purchase to pull our sleds upstream through the frozen water.
It was enjoyable as last to be on expedition even though not the one we had intended but we were now traveling in such a spectacular arena of natures beauty that we were elated in our new environment.
We had an enjoyable day of battling high winds, increasingly dropping temperatures and negotiating through icy rivers and lakes.
Day 4 March 15th: Weasel River - Summit Lake: Today we made our way up along Weasel River in high winds and again the ice conditions were severely slippery especially as the ground steepened below summit lake, we encountered a few sections under foot that we encountered running water between the ice and the river below. The Conditions under foot was difficult and made pulling sleds and skiing very difficult as the ice built up on the bottom of our skies and made it at time impossible to walk on them, Ice also caked onto the runners of our sled making our sleds much heavier and more difficult to pull up what was a treacherous ascent of the icy cascaded river.
It was so frustrating as we had to keep on cleaning the ice build up on our ski’s and sleds which at times accumulated to two inches thick and evem made skiing difficult.
There were also times we crossed sections of the river which where like walking on a trampoline and we feared breaking through into the icy water below which would add an additional problem of getting soaked wet with addition problems of hypothermia.
It was really hard but satisfying day pulling our sleds up through the upper section. By the time we finished the days outing we were exhausted and really felt we deserved a good night sleep.
Day 5 March 16th Summit Lake – Glacier Lake an epic outing: This was one of our hardest days on the expeditions which turned into one of those epic outings that you just wish you never had, but one that makes an expedition an adventure and adds that bite of excitement that makes for a memorial outing when you look back and tell the story.
As we made our way across Summit and Glacier Lake we were battered with high winds of 70 kmp, freezing cold numbing temperatures of minus 57 degrees Celsius.
So due to the dangers that we faced of cold injury, been blown over and injured and having to pull heavy sled in white out condition we decided to retired early for the day at 15:00 for our safety:
We were forced to pitch our tent in a narrow Col which made its way from Glacier Lake our high point on our traverse and in white out conditions Clare and I struggled to pitch our tent in high winds on a down hill slope in amongst a series of sastrugi ( sharp irregular ridges and grooves formed by the erosion of high wind.) We were unable to find a camping site earlier in the day having been unable to find a protected secure campsite on the lakes due to the high wind, the bare ice and no protection to anchor our tent.
Eventually we had no other choice but to seek shelter from the storm force conditions and had to make do with our precarious campsite which was home for the night.
Immediately once our home was secured we sought shelter from the worsening conditions. We were freezing and relieved to be in out of the wind and our first job was to get the stoves going to warm up the tent.
Relaxed in out of the tempest .: For the next few hours we boiled water to rehydrate, made dinner ate 3000 calories and warmed up our tent to regain our lost energy, before settling down for the night.
Trapped and buried in tent: Hours went buy and eventually we were ready to retire for the night and as usually we would go outside to tighten our guy ropes and to brush the ice from the tent that was caused through condensation before settling down in our sleeping bags.
As Clare went to get out of the tent she opened the tent door and found that we were trapped inside having been engulfed with snow. While we were rehydrating and eating the spin drift encased our tent nearly right up to the top leaving only a few inches showing overground. Shocked to find this we knew we had to relieve the pressure from our tent or it could collapse in on top of us and cause a huge problem of destroying our home and then we’d have no shelter for the coming days to complete our journey. We knew we faced a large problem as the storm still howled outside.
Luckily we had brought the shovel in when we erected our tent, otherwise we would have to cut our way through the roof as the snow was hard packed outside encasing us in all directions
This was a really frightening development and we knew we would have to dig our self out, to come up with a solution to ensure that our tent would not collapse.
For 3 hours we battle against high wind and freezing cold to create a snow wall protection all around the sides and back of our tent in a horse shoe shape to divert the wind and snow away and to relieve the pressure we had to create a 3 foot channel around our tent. Eventually after much exhausting effort of digging and building a buffer wall we were able to secure our tent from destruction. It was really back breaking hard work. We couldn’t sleep that night as we had to get out every few hours to ensure our tent would not be encased again. Our buffer wall did its job and we were able to divert the spindrift from around our tent, however we had a restless night and neither Clare or I slept.
Day 6 March 17th Polar bear fears; As daylight broke the winds dropped and we broke camp to get under way again, everything was covered in spindrift, we were exhausted and our plan for the day was to drop off the Col and to descend to the valley below. The skies were blue and our surrounding landscape looked beautiful. It was amazing to feel how the conditions had changed over the 24 hour period.
Polar Bear fears: Just as we were leaving camp Clare spotted large polar bear footprints around 14 inches in width signifying a very large male polar bear.
We felt that this bear had passed by us during the night or early morning. The foot prints were fresh as there was no spindrift in them and they were perfectly formed.
Concerned for our safety we continued cautiously deciding to make our way toward a parks rescue shelter just three kilometers in the valley below to report our finding, we felt very vulnerable knowing that somewhere out there was a huge hungry polar bear and if attacked we had no defense. .
We decided to have an easy day and settled in for the night in the rescue hut in fear of being staked by the bear we also sorted out all our gear dried out our tent and sleeping bags and made plans for a pick up at the end of our traverse which was now only a three day trek away, 45 km down stream.
We really had an enjoyable day taking in all our surroundings and winding down from a pressurized night.
Day 7- March 18th: For the next three days we made our way out to the finish of our trek an Pangnirtung North and had mixed weather conditions, from blizzard with katabatic wind to beautiful blue skies.
It really gave you a feeling that you could not take any hour for granted never mind saying any day. We were on constant alert all the time on this trek, we weren’t to sure if this weather was because we were doing this early in the season and were the first people this season to do the crossing.
For the last two days we had good weather and spectacular scenery as we made our way from June Valley to Owl River seeing massive granite big walls to our pick up destination at North Pang our finishing point.
Days 10 to 15 : There we were picked up by a local Inuit called Billy for a backbreaking 4 hour snow mobile journey across 85 KM on rough sea ice to Qikiqtarjuaq (The big Island) a small Inuit community of 500 people situated on Broughton Island while here we stayed with Billy’s parents a beautiful old Inuit couple who had 8 children we stayed with them in their home this was an amazing experience.
This journey across the ice in the sled which was pulled by a snow mobile nearly rattled every organ in my body as Clare and I sat in the back of a sled to complete our journey. I was sitting on a bar which by the time I finished wrenched my back which had already been given trouble throughout the expedition, leaving me in severe pain. We returned to Pangnirtung as Delia suggested and delved further in the life of Inuits in the arctic, before returning to Iqaluit where Clare did some Kite skiing with Matty for a few days, I decided to rest my back and to return back to Ireland to recover from an amazing journey that took us to amazing places.
Now that we are home we will reassess our plans for the coming year and start back into training and reflect on our journey north and decide on what’s next.
We had made the most out of our time in Canada where every cloud has a silver lining.
Over the coming weeks Clare and I will decide if we will be returning for another attempt at the North Pole. It is a huge commitment of both time and finance, it entails putting another year of your life on hold. We will have to assess our ability to secure sponsors and finance for the project as this years adventure were funded from our own fund through borrowing which has now been eroded for us to do the North Pole next year. So its back to the drawing board.
We will keep all our supporters update through the web site on our progress and hope that you will follow our new adventures.
For me this is my 68 high adventure into the most beautiful and remote regions of our planet.
You can also see out other blogs on our North Pole 2011 expedition on the news section.
Read and listen to part 1 of Trip Report: Step Down of North Pole trip.
Read and listen to part 2 of Trip Report: Step Down of North Pole trip
Thank you for your support and following our adventures,
Every cloud has a silver lining