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A Changing Arctic

By July 14, 2017Uncategorized

This is day eleven, or maybe twelve, or thirteen? We have lost track. With the sun circling endlessly, and our moves–or non-moves, rather–dictated by the tides, what constitutes day or night doesn’t actually matter. What does is that we have been working hard to eke out each kilometer. In all of this time, we have had only one day where we have been able to paddle, and that day was against a headwind.

Nares Strait is filled with ice. It is like a super highway of ice leaving the Arctic. From the shore we can see it blasting past us, going south, the direction in which we want and need to go. Imagine the pull of water going down the drain, a giant slushy of small and large floes, meadow sized and boulder sized, impossible to paddle though, impossible to walk upon.

Conditions here are different than Steve has ever seen before. In the past, paddling here has been possible because the floes leaving the Arctic have been big. What we have seen is ice like rubble. At this point in time, the only possible way forward is to half paddle, half drag our kayaks along the ice foot–that ring of ice left on the shore after a winter of rising tides repeatedly freeze, kind of making a ‘ring around the tub’ of ice. Anywhere, but right next to shore, is not safe.

Yesterday we dragged our kayaks along this ice foot at low tide. It did not work out. We won’t try low tide again. The ice foot was half melted, lots of rocks. We made some progress, but at the expense of our bodies and our boats. You could see bits of shredded red plastic coming off the bottom of our rugged custom kayaks. Eventually, we gave up and grabbed what we needed and walked the last few kilometers to the river delta to camp. While the wind came up, once again, we set up camp, and waited out the latest gale, before heading back to retrieve our boats at high tide. That walk is a story in itself.

So here we are, at this wide windswept river delta, camped near tent rings, one thousand years old, left here by people from the Dorset culture. The sun is out, the wind is at a tolerable level. When we set out on this journey, we had hoped to make it 300 miles south to Alexandra Fiord. Now, I just hope that we can make it 40 miles in the next three weeks to Carl Ritter, where a Twin Otter could come to pick us up. Our isolation is palpable. When the wind picks up, and the sun is behind the mountains, it is cold, and I feel really far away. It is so incredibly beautiful, stark. It is not easy witnessing change on a geologic scale.

So here is to hoping that at some point, there will be a break in the flow of ice, and we will be able to really paddle!