Entering the Northwest Passage

Time seems to have gone incredibly quickly since we left our depot on the final section of the expedition as we continued our trudge north. We had been informed by the skidoo riders we met at the hut as well as from Shari, one of our friends from Clyde River, who's husband Jake along with Sarah and Boomer who were making their way with their dog sled teams to Pond Inlet to expect some bad ice. Every time we came towards a spot or closer to a headland where it tends to accumulate we wondered if it was going to hit. We knew roughly where it might be but without knowing it's exact start point we kept wondering if we had passed it or if not how much would it slow us down. With both our finite number of supplies as well as having to start finalising departure plans from Pond inlet we were watching our daily mileage carefully.

Another Headland and the potential of rough ice
Another Headland and the potential of rough ice

Rounding a headland our route options split. The faint outline of the dog teams trail hugged the shoreline through the "rough" ice where as a skidoo trail from the hunters we had bumped into headed out into the frozen sea of Baffin Bay. Maybe this was the start. After a day of trudging through it it didn't seem that bad and if this was as bad as it got then we could cope with that. Camping up we felt pleasantly surprised and satisfied with the situation as well as our mileage for the day. Falling asleep thinking was this as bad as it would get? We both hoped so. Dreams of the perfect ice kept floating through our minds. Depending on your thinking spending your nights dreaming as well as physically walking across ice during the day could be bliss or a nightmare, it all depended on how smooth the journey was. The next day we rounded a point and our questions were answered. The ice resembled a mountain range shrunken down to the scale of car sized peaks. This picture went as far as the eye could see. Basically our worst nightmare. On top of this the wind was blowing into our faces. Meaning that despite the hot work we had to wear face masks and goggles that steamed up before ice froze on the inside during our breaks. With no sign of an obvious path there was nothing for it but to get stuck in.

Getting stuck!
Getting stuck!

For the remainder of the day we spent it happily dragging our sleds up, down and around this field of ice debris. With sleds rolling over, dogs getting tangled and skis crossed there was a lot of huffing, puffing and a number of choice words being used. It had only reached 3pm with a couple of sessions still to go and it felt like we had gone 8 rounds in a boxing match. Our backs ached, legs burned and our minds hurt from having to constantly look for the best route with only a multitude of bad options. With the wind picking up we found a beautiful iceberg to pitch our tent behind. It didn't cut all the wind out but certainly made a difference.

Standing on top of the iceberg it was difficult to see with the swirling snow but one thing for sure the next day would certainly involve more of the same. The views were spectacular though, being able to get a different perspective with the extra height allowed us to see above all the debris which stretched out all the way to the horizon. Collapsing into the tent we checked out the maps to try and hazard a guess at what was causing it and where it might end. Despite our up beat thinking we were still estimating it could continue for another 30km for all we knew. As I checked our position and distance covered for the day it had hit us hard but given the start of the day had been ok conditions it meant it was not as bad as it could be at a whopping 12km over 8 hours. About 6 to 8 km shorter than we had been averaging for the trip but it still beat the 4km we managed over the moraine earlier in our voyage, which took a day and a half.

Jamie on top of the Iceberg looking out
Jamie on top of the Iceberg looking out
Our camp spot
Our camp spot

We both agreed that the conditions were a recipe for a tough few days as we curled up in our sleeping bags munching down our dinner and strategically placing our hot Nalgene bottles on our aching muscles. The day had certainly quickly developed to type 3 fun! Waking the next morning ready to take on the world or as Jamie has started singing "welcome to paradise" as he rubs the sleep from his eyes and his old body creaks up from a morning doze. The tent door was opened to a scene of flat light. This was far from ideal! Within minutes of starting we had one sled tip over as the continuation of bumping along over the ice began for another day like we had never stopped. This is always a good sign of what the day has install. We soon found ourselves back on the trail of the dog sled team with the occasional pee mark from the dogs making it feel like something out of Hansel and Gretel. Then a skidoo track appeared this was great news as it showed there would have to be a half decent route out. The Inuits are not going to completely trash a skidoo simply to find a route through some bad ice when there might be the option to go round. However we soon lost both due to the flat light and a pause in pee marks, shame it wasn't bread crumbs or even better chocolate buttons. We continued on making our own fresh tracks through this unforgiving terrain. For a brief period of time we were even treated to a spot of sunshine which revealed that we were coming to the end of the bad ice or at least a larger section of ok ice. In the distance we could see the point we were aiming for however it was slowly being shrouded in a vail of fog. First snow began to fall but as we continued on the wind speed began to increase and for a second night in a row we headed instinctively towards an iceberg. We had been incredibly fortuitous to have this in what is otherwise an incredibly exposed channel. With our initial thoughts of getting our ice breakers back on, which we had taken off earlier in the day due to the balmy -20c temperatures, our thoughts soon turned to the fact we probably need to get the tent up with the wind speed rising. With a couple of attempts at finding a large enough spot for our tent tipi we finally settled on one. The downside of our tent for 2 people is that it is monstrous in width and more importantly height. Despite it's strong construction this represents a real challenge in rough ice and strong winds as you try to find somewhere flat enough to sleep as well as with enough of a wind break to naturally block it or with enough snow to create your own wall. Pitching it up we had all the guy lines out pinning it to the ground with the majestic grey and blue iceberg behind it. As much as I would like to stand on top of this one we would need ice axes and crampons to make it up.

Holed up for a couple of days
Holed up for a couple of days

Our daily mileage was again disappointing at just over 10km due to it being a couple of sessions short. But with no protection past this iceberg it was our best option. Day soon turned to night and conditions improved. That was until about 3am when we were awoken to roaring winds. By 4 we decided a snow wall was now required as well. Kitted up with not a millimetre of skin showing we went outside where we were almost blown off our feet. We stumbled about for about an hour getting a wall together along with tightening down the guy lines. None of this was helped by the fact that the wind had turned through 90 degrees. Although we still had a natural wind break there too it just wasn't quite big enough. By 5am we were back in the tent with breakfast being served far earlier than normal before heading back into the sleeping bags for a duvet day. Just without the same level of comfort or films on show.

Throughout the day we lay there eating, drinking hot chocolate and watching as the one central pole vibrated and bent in the wind as the high sides of the tent acted like small sails billowing in the breeze. It was unnerving not knowing how much the wind might increase or how much more the tent could take. We made the occasional trip outside to adjust guy lines, to redo bits that had loosened and build up the snow round it's base as the tent took a battering from the wind and snow. There was the occasional lull, which gave us some hope before kicking back in with greater ferocity. Falling asleep that night we hoped not to be woken in the early hours nor that it would be blowing still the next day. Waking to not a sound was incredible there was hardly a breathe on the tent, we could hear ourselves rather than shouting across to one another despite being only a meter apart. The next few days ticked by incredibly quickly as we made good progress, keen to get away from the area that had pinned us down for almost 2 days. With this calm came a period where we could admire Bylot Island which although felt incredibly close was actually still 20km away. It's picture perfect peaks, ridges, bowls and glaciers covered the horizon. It was an incredible sight and together with the region we were passing through looked incredible for a ski trip, downhill as apposed to the cross country we were currently doing.

Trucking along
Trucking along
Bylot Island
Bylot Island

Camping up for the final time we finished slightly earlier than usual. We could see the houses in Pond Inlet up on the hillside which felt strange being so close but yet not quite there. We had planned this so that the next day would be short but not too short plus it would give us a chance to take some more photos assuming we had good conditions. We relaxed eating left over chocolate, biltong and hot chocolates until a couple of celebratory cigars came out. Although it was slightly early the last few days had been windy and the chances of us being able to smoke them as we skied along through face mask and goggles was not likely! It was amazing to think that 70 days previously we had left Qik and about 100 days since we had left the shores of the UK. We were almost at the end of the journey......

Last camp Spot
Last camp Spot

Edited with BlogPad Pro

Bear Necessities

The morning started like any other with the normal rituals of life in the arctic, which after 3 months were running pretty slickly. We were getting the final part of the tent away when I heard an almighty noise. Looking up I realised it was just Jamie sneezing. You forget how quite and soundless the arctic region is. The only sounds we hear are that of our group, the wind on the tent and the odd raven that fly’s past. I had only just started sorting out my sled when a small noise from erupted from Colin's direction. This could have been a bark or, and probably far my likely, a sudden release of air from one of his other orifices. Jamie looked round. The next word I heard in normal situations wouldn't make me bat an eyelid in this environment however it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up while your pulse rises rapidly as adrenaline shoots into your veins. 

BEAR!

Spot the Bear (this was it leaving after everything)
Spot the Bear (this was it leaving after everything)

Looking round I immediately see the ambling cream coloured figure of a bear. There was a momentary pause, as you think wow look at that. Then the far more urgent one that this bear was only 30 - 40 m away, which was close enough for us to need to do something about it. Within moments I had my shotgun as did Jamie. We had discussed and run through our plan for this kind of situation particularly after our last encounter, our rapid reaction force known only as Tala was released. Colin was kept by our side partly for security but mainly because he is more likely to run in the opposite direction. Tala chased down her target, barking aggressively until she was closer to the bear. 

Tala had clearly expected the same reaction as with the mother and her cubs, which ran quickly off into the distance. She returned victorious arriving back to a hero's welcome of belly rubs and food. Being a lonesome young male bear it had other ideas and held his ground. At which point there was a stand off between the two of them. The bear was still obviously trying to work out what we all were and what we were doing in his back garden. They approach down wind lifting his nose in the air to get a better whiff of us and occasionally getting higher on his back legs to see and smell us better. Irritated and distracted by tala he made a little run forward but she kept him at bay. He was only testing the water but the move had Jamie and me on edge.

We didn't get the cameras out when it was closer...
We didn't get the cameras out when it was closer...

With tala keeping him busy this gave Jamie and I time to load up a few bear bangers to fire at him. The guns are kept with live ammunition as the first option so we have to assess the situation before using bangers. With a loud crack and flash of light they started going off around his feet and one bouncing off him. They took effect immediately on both dog and bear as they paused mid stand off each unsure of what these explosions of noise were. These first few didn't unfortunately budge him much as he only wondered off a few steps and certainly not far enough away. Before beginning a slow shuffle back in our direction. 

Time seemed to go incredibly slowly. Other than a couple of bangers we kept my shotgun on live rounds as a very last resort. There was the incessant barking from Tala, I had joined in shouting at the bear, Colin well I will come on to that while Jamie loaded up more bangers. This second round of explosions and with everything else he turned on his heels and routed, clearly deciding this was not worth the effort. Tala continued to follow him with continued aggression until we called her back. 

As he wondered off he clearly heard a noise from a seal. Rising on his hind legs he dived into the ice. Nothing, he was not having a good start to the day. We stood watching carefully as he then continued his long walk into the distance. Now that he was further away we could appreciate the sight of this magnificent animal as he meander about icebergs with the sun rising behind him. It was a beautiful sight seeing a polar bear in it's natural environment. They are certainly an animal to both admire but also respect incredibly highly.

Surveying the scene in front of us, it had been quite an experience, we had fired 8 bangers which later when we walked over to see his foot prints you could see the small blast radius's left as they had exploded about him. Looking from his perspective highlighted just how close he had come. Despite only being 9.30 in the morning we both felt like we had been up and moved a considerable distance already. You don't appreciate how being on edge even for a short period of time takes it's toll on the mind and body.  

Finally with some decent distance between us we felt comfortable enough to finish the remainder of the packing and make a quick get away onto whiter pastures.

Colin Chilling
Colin Chilling

Now throughout this entire fiasco Colin who had raised his small alarm had made one of two decisions. Either the situation was all under control and didn't need his assistance or in one final last stand of pleasure he would look the other way and lick his bollocks. We were both delighted that Colin was the first to highlight the bears presence but then incredibly frustrated that the dog selected for his polar up bringing and likely handling of a polar bear had come so short of the mark. Despite this though he has certainly grown on us particularly over the last few weeks as he still shakes off the effects of 2 years of a harsh upbringing and his lifetime experience where human contact was limited at best. He now nudges me at each break with his nose and licks his lips in hope of receiving some flapjack, which as long as it isn't cappuccino flavour or ginger choc chip if he has gone to Jamie, he gets some. His confidence does seem to be improving with him now slowly reaching up with mouth opening round and in the direction of the flapjack that we are about to eat ourselves. He is incredibly gentle though feeding him by hand he eases it away from you as if it were a delicate relic from centuries ago rather than the semi frozen block of food that it is. We have resorted to warming them up in our chest pocket before hand to stop some flavours breaking our teeth. Tala on the other hand has been trained under the careful watch of Jamie and the occasional addition by myself to balance food on the end of her nose, having her leave it for a few seconds as drool dribbles from her mouth before flicking it up with her nose and grabbing in her mouth. It is then munched down with such a ravenous tenacity that you would think the flapjack is about to come alive.

Tala Being Rewarded
Tala Being Rewarded

HOME BAY & BEYOND

About 12 days ago we reached our first depot. It has been a bit of a shock to the system being back on the trail after everything that has happened, however Jamie and I have been trudging away the miles. We have constantly been looking for that flat and smooth ice where we just effortlessly and gracefully fly over the surface. Sadly we haven't found it, by any stretch of the imagination, and we now have first hand knowledge of what rough ice looks like. Our standards of what we can expect have almost certainly adjusted. We had been advised the area we were heading through had very rough ice, the locals keep saying its the worst it has been in years and they have been skirting around it. This process is much quicker on a skidoo and for us the maths made the tougher route the unfortunate winner. We made it to a large bay that we needed to cross but it was difficult to envisage the vastness of it due to the thick fog that hugged the surface of the ice and the setting sun. Waking the next morning we were met by beautiful blue skies, vast inlets, glorious mountains and ahead of us a rolling sea of broken ice. It was disheartening as our pace slowed to a crawl. It was like being in a constant scrummage with an opponent that lasted for the entire day plus part of the next. For every step won forward you could feel the energy being sapped out of you. Even at -30C we could feel ourselves breaking a sweat, something which we try our hardest to avoid as it clogs our clothes with ice. Being the slightly hotter team member, this comes from bitter experience as I squeezed myself into a ice crunching jacket the following morning.

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Despite the tough ice we have been touched by glorious weather. Excluding one day where ourselves and our tent were rattled by the 30mph+ winds. We awoke far earlier in the morning than the usual 5 am. Although we stayed wrapped in our sleeping bags for as long as possible we soon had to depart this safety blanket and meet the day head on. The snow swirled round our feet all day. It was impossible to spot a reasonable path through it all. Despite the balmy temperatures in the mid -20's the wind made the temperature plummet and every millimetre of skin needed to be covered. Despite our best efforts we would walk along constantly adjusting as the wind managed to squeeze its icy fingers into any gap. It also made the experience of going to the bathroom regardless of what it was, a very chilling and quick but necessary experience. There is only so long you can wait and unfortunately the weather doesn't seem to correlate with toilet stops.

After all of that we finally made our way to our next stash of food and fuel! We are now sitting here appreciating some warmth from some left over fuel in a good friend Jaipotties hut. We are enjoying munching through some planned treats plus some of the surplus goodies that we have.

The next part of our journey sees us heading over the final stretch of Home Bay and then towards Clyde River. It's still a fairly good chunk at around 200 km. Possibly more importantly it marks, to Qikiqtarjuaqs relief, the transition from being closer from one to the other. Chris and Halie can finally relax knowing that we aren't going to spring up and crash in the police station. Thanks again for the awesome hospitality. We are forever grateful.

So now just to push further north.

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In doggy news Colin and Tala are getting on incredibly well. Colin whines and pines after Tala when she goes about her wanderings each day. It does give us a slight headache but provides bears with a disincentive to approach. A win overall we have concluded. It might also explain why Talas trundling goes off into the distance until she appears to be a little speck before bounding back...particularly when she senses we are stopping for food. Her nuzzling Colin though suggests she does quite like him after all though.

Expect the Unexpected

As you are aware, Alex unfortunately picked up an injury to his head. I thought I would provide my own insight into the events that unfolded. That night was completely unexpected. We had a great day skiing, the weather and conditions were amazing as well as spectacular. It just shows you how fast a situation can change. Lying in the tent, getting warm and with some hot chocolates being prepared. Bliss.

Myself and Jamie became aware of the growling coming from the normally high pitched and surprisingly melodic Colin.

Our Camp for the Night
Our Camp for the Night

With Alex outside and aware of the potential for bears we called out to him a few times to make sure he was ok. There was no response. I quickly put my boots on, picked up the shotgun and headed outside. It was eerily quiet. Of much more concern initially there was no sign of Alex. Looking over at the sleds there was a strange dim glow of a light. Heading over I saw Alex's body sprawled on the floor, I called to Jamie for assistance as he was out cold on the snow. Shouting at him and checking he was still breathing, we lifted him into the tent. After following our first aid training, a wave of relief flowed through Jamie and I, as we revived him and got him into his sleeping bag to start warming him up. Our first thought and concern being hypothermia possibly due to fainting or a trip. We began piecing together what had happened with Alex complaining of a sore head and neck there was only one call to make. Fortunately my mum, who is a doctor back in Scotland, provided us with some much needed medical advice via sat phone.

It is safe to say it was not a easy nights rest and waking to an unsurprisingly still medically unfit Alex. Another call to our official expedition doc, Dr Alex Kumar as well as Informing the local Mounties of or situation we waited to see how Alex's condition developed. Jamie and myself quickly made the call that we required assistance to be pulled back to where he could be monitored and treated by the local medical team. If need be he could also be flown to the nearest hospital. With the Skidoos on route it was just a waiting game till they arrived and a case of trying to stay warm as we packed up our equipment apart from our tent before they arrived.

Keeping Alex Warm and Topped up with Hot Chocoloate
Keeping Alex Warm and Topped up with Hot Chocoloate

Once they arrived, we soon had all our stuff including two of the three dogs on the komatiks (large sleds). Gemima despite being fed and following us for the entire trip she would not unfortunately come near enough to get her in as well. She would we hoped follow us back safely.

It was a beautiful evening as we zipped along under northern lights, despite my frozen goggles I managed to catch a glimpse when we slowed. What followed was the coldest journey that Jamie and myself have experienced. Alex rightly so had our emergency down trousers keeping him toasty warm, letting him get cold in his current state was not an option. The decision to hold onto the skidoo or alternatively warming our freezing knees, toes or any other parts of our body that felt cold by rubbing them with our hands, banging our feet or anything we could think of was a tough choice. I found squeezing my legs round the chassis seemed to do the trick! Respite came as the sled carrying the dogs broke off, giving us the opportunity to run about like headless chickens in a bid to get warmth flowing through us.

The final section of the journey felt like an age before the lights of Qik appeared on the horizon and we rolled into town. Rolling off the Skidoos in a semi frozen state. This was followed by me and Jamie piling into Chris and Halie's house where we peeled off our frozen and icicle covered clothing before running, jumping, swinging our arms and rubbing our legs and toes till we could feel them getting hot again.

With Alex at the med centre and us warm, we could finally relax and start reflecting on the fact that we were back in Qik.

It was certainly a mixture of emotions, pleased we had made the right decision and got back safely (other than the obvious) but clearly disappointing and completely unexpected compared to just over 24 hours previously. The whole experience had certainly not sunk in completely.

I thought it would be appropriate to include an extract from Alex's latest blog.

"You may be wondering why I am still in Qikiqtarjuaq and not long-since flown south or back on the route north. We’ve had cumulatively hours of consultation with both the few medical staff here, with two of our expedition doctors, Benno’s mother and in particular my friend Dr Alex Kumar, and thereafter with the medical team from my insurers. It took around twenty-four hours from the moment I, inexplicably, managed to trip on a line in the dark outside our tent and knock myself unconscious, through making the decision to withdraw, to getting medical attention. A judgment was made at that point that an emergency bleed on my brain was unlikely and so an immediate medevac by air was not necessary. You then enter a window of days or even weeks when the symptoms are severe enough to require medication and make a flight on a pressurised aircraft dangerous, but not bad enough to need immediate removal to a large hospital. I am currently in that window. It seems counter-intuitive at first, given the assumption that sooner is always better, but all doctors concur that a scan, most likely an MRI, at this stage is needed to assess the extent and type of brain injury, but that I need to have much-reduced symptoms first. The hope is for an uncomplicated brain bruise that simply needs time and rest to fix. In the meantime, I’m on the biff-train for the first time in around five years. Some of you might recognise that term and empathise with the sheer irritation that comes with it. Benno and Jamie, having done a sterling job on the ice bringing me round and back to Qik, are hitting the balance of making sure that tasks are being done with the increased participation I can manage each day."

You can read the rest on the link below

www.northwestpassage2015.com

Things That Go Bump in the Night- Final

It has been an interesting 72 hours. A mix of incredible sunsets over soaring frozen fjords, high morale over making good progress and a bone chilling skidoo ride back to Qikiqtarjuaq after a tense evening following Alex falling and hitting his head.

Following a good day's skiing and having left a cold hunter's hut at Kivitoo in a gradually warming and brightening morning, we set off perfectly by the setting yellow moon falling behind the jagged peaks to the North. We had made 16km and traversed over land for the first time in order to reach the frozen ocean on the other side of a small spit of land. As we approached our final campsite for the day, the daylight was fading and the high fjords on either side of the bay were glowing in a wonderful deep arctic blue and orange. Despite the cold and the increasing wind, everyone was in high spirits.

Tala Escaping the Cold
Tala Escaping the Cold

Once the Tentipi was pitched, the stoves fired up and the dogs were secured and fed, Benno, Alex and I were inside defrosting a piece of rope to secure Tala for the night whilst preparing for the evening's cooking. Alex went outside to stake out Tala whilst Benno and I continued to prep for dinner and the obligatory, long-anticipated hot chocolate. A strange growling from Colin several minutes later alerted us both that something was not as it should be. Colin is not a quiet dog, he makes noise on a near constant basis with a quite incredible range and variety of pitches but this noise was one we had not heard before and had both of us reaching for the shotguns. Having shouted to Alex several times asking if he needed any help or if he could see a bear, our first thought, we gradually became more concerned as we heard no reply or noise at all apart from Colin's increasingly agitated growls. Benno booted up and went outside - immediately shouting urgently that he needed help. Alex had tripped, fallen and had been knocked unconscious on the corner of one of the kevlar sleds and had been lying on the floor at -32deg for at least two minutes. After getting him into to the tent and managing to wake him we treated him as a hypothermia victim, as that was our initial diagnosis but it soon became clear that Alex had sustained a substantial head injury. Having spoken to our expedition medics, our thanks go to Benno's mother and Dr Alex Kumar for their excellent advice and assistance, and having checked Alex throughout the night, we made the decision to ask for assistance as his feelings of nausea and dry retching had not abated. As with any head injury, they are not a condition you want to underestimate, especially in a small tent on the frozen Arctic sea 75kms from the nearest settlement, so heading back to get Alex properly checked out was a no-brainer (sorry).

Skiing Earlier in the Day
Skiing Earlier in the Day

As in most situations in Canada, when you need assistance, who you gonna call??? The RCMP. Having already discussed the situation with Chris back in Qiki earlier in the day to warn him that we may need assistance if Alex's condition didn't improve, it was time to make a call. Within an hour of making the decision that we needed to head back to Qik, Chris had donned his Red Serge and fired up his snowmobile - with the help of two locals the team were on their way to pick us up. As we watched the lights of the skidoo's cut through the frigid night air we all felt relief as we began to dismantle the Tentipi and ensure the hot chocolate we had made for Chris and the team was ready for them. Making decisions such as this and the impacts it has upon a trip you all have so much invested in are incredibly emotive and difficult to call especially when there is no obvious bone protruding from the skin or blood pouring from a wound. However as we watched the skidoos close on our location I felt and as we all did, that this was the correct decision and in the words of a eloquent medical expert I know, you don't f#*k about with head injuries.

Our Camp for the night
Our Camp for the night

It goes without saying that it's cold up here and we have had some pretty "parky" days especially with the wind blowing strongly, but nothing has come close to how cold I felt on that skidoo heading back south to Qik. Having dressed Alex in our one pair of down trousers, Benno and I quickly found out that the trousers we have been using to haul in did not provide the kind of protection we needed as the skidoos fluctuated between speeds of 20-60kph. I challenge anyone to try curling and uncurling their toes for over two hours as the sensations in the lower part of your body deaden, it' a unique and not to be repeated experience.

As we pushed through the night, passing towering dark-faced features and uniquely-shaped icebergs that we had previously spent many hours staring at whilst making our way painfully towards, I was both impressed with the distance we had covered and increasing worried at the loss of feeling in my legs. As we pulled up outside the RCMP detachment in Qikiqtarjuaq, chilled to the bone is a literal description of how Benno and I felt. The only solution was to run. We burst off the skidoos and began running aimlessly and without direction even before turning our thoughts to the kind Inuit drivers and Chris who had been so good to help us, for our kit on the back of the komatik sleds or even for Colin and Tala strapped to a sled. The bone aching cold that had penetrated us to the core and reached into our joints was all consuming and we both ran and ran and ran without a thought for anything else until our nerve endings had stopped screaming and subsequently burnt our tongues on the cup of tea we were kindly bought by Halie.

Arriving back in Qik and once again being so warmly greeted by Halie, Chris, Glenn and Cayle, Alex headed to the health center and we all started to try and process what had happened. After a week out on our journey, we had all fallen into the pattern of ski,sleep, eat, repeat - all of our energies and focus were on pushing forward and keeping ourselves and our equipment in a suitable state to allow us to continue trying to meet our objectives. To suddenly be back in the warm and familiar surroundings of the RCMP detachment takes some mental adjustment, especially considering the hard fought-for kilometers we had battled to make to take us north and into the frozen beyond.

Alex is now in the process of heading to Iqaluit, the regional capital, to get a CT scan to make sure that everything is as it should be and he has no after effects from his bump. The concern is now to get a full assessment on the severity of the impact on his head and the potential for a slow pressure build. Once we get these results we can make some decisions regarding the expedition. Currently we are all of the opinion that barring any major medical after effects for Alex, we will head back out to the location that we last camped, continuing from where we left off. We have all of our depots laid and no significant time pressures and to rush back into a cold and unforgiving landscape without being completely ready once more. Thoughts of getting to the far west of our route have understandably evaporated and once Alex is back to his best we can make some decisions about what we want to achieve, especially having been given a glimpse into a few of Baffin Islands secret corners, we are all ready for more.

In other news Colin managed to make a bid for freedom and has disappeared. Qik being a small town and with the wind and temperature as it is, we are confident he will come back for his dinner once he is bored of being foot-loose and fancy. Failing that we will track him down and bring him back twisting, turning, howling and growling.

Life in the North continues to prove that adaptability is the most valuable skill to posess past the Arctic Circle. Despite the repeated ice blocks that keep falling in front of us, we have continued to deal with the ever-shifting nature of this expedition in the same way we would an area of difficult sea ice. Get through it as best you can and if it isn't going your way then don't be afraid to look for an alternative route to meet your aims.

Jamie, Benno and Alex

Improvise, Adapt and Overcome

As we approach the 2 week mark in Canada, still enjoying the extraordinary hospitality of our friends in Qikiqtarjuaq rather than the confines of a frozen tentipi, our combined trip milometer stands at a rather poor 18.6 miles pulling sleds, 66 miles on skidoos and innumerable air miles. After a whirlwind morning of saying goodbye to our fantastic RCMP hosts; Chris,Halie and Glenn and preparing and readying ourselves and our equipment for the next 575 miles to Pond Inlet, including gratefully packing away our smelly pairs of jeans and tired t-shirts that had been worn continuously for the duration of our travels,we hit the trail. With weather conditions perfect and just a gentle breeze skipping down the western fjords to push the temperature below -45degs our spirits were high and we gazed over the sea ice taking in the views and watching for any curious bears. As the weight of the sleds began to bite into lower backs and hamstrings the deep snow meant that even with sleds now weighting 150kgs, progress on the flat sea ice was slow and heavy going.

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Once we reached the distant ice bergs locked into the bay that shone like carved ice gates marking the beginning of the end of civilisation, conditions took a significant turn for the worse. The sea ice that had formed in the autumn had been crushed and folded into deep trenches and broken ridge lines by the prevailing NE winds and although far from unusual or unexpected, combined with the abnormally deep snow that gathered in the wells and hollows of the deformed ice pack made pulling the sleds a significant undertaking. Each ice formed sastrugi ridge was between 1-3 feet high and filled with snow meant that the sleds could not be moved over a ridge by a single person as the friction was so great that the sleds simply could not be dragged.

Having crawled 120 metres in 30mins, and due to the rough ice one of Benno's ski skins became unstuck and could not be refitted in the -41deg air temperature, without setting up the tent to warm the metal. With Qikiqtarjuaq still sitting prettily on the horizon and after a brief discussion regarding the speed we were travelling, the loads in the sleds, the distance to Clyde and the endless, violently contorted ice stretching to the horizon we made the decision to turn back. It is difficult to explain the disappointment of returning after only 5 hours on the ice, secure in the knowledge that the plan we had concocted had been rapidly unraveled and we were now facing a serious re-evaluation. Thankfully the sight of the RCMP's finest, mounted on their 4 stroke steeds coming to our aid once more and yet again welcoming us into their homes was enough to help us regain our motivation and spirits after what had been a fairly disappointing day.

Waking the next morning, our first collective thought was "what now". Again with their help, guidance and a garage full of snow loving toys, we saddled up with the RCMP and went on patrol to check out the conditions. The ice was as bad as we had thought and if anything gets steadily worse to the North, meaning that any journey would require lighter sleds to enable us to move at a sufficient speed. Having ensured we got enough 20,000 year old ice from the electric blue ice bergs to enjoy with a glass of 12 year old single malt that evening we headed back to the detachment to consolidate our plans and devise a new approach to get us back on the path to the wildness.

The obvious option we have been considering is to use the local hunters to help us lay depots along our intended route to Pond Inlet meaning our sled weights will be considerably lighter but we will still have the necessary food and fuel cached to allow us to safely attempt this significant journey along the fjord ridden East Baffin coastline. We need to be able to move at a minimum speed of 1mph in order to cover the miles without running out of food and with the snow conditions as they are and unlikely to change in the immediate or medium term laid depots are the only solutions within our budget that allows us to cover the miles and keep our hopes of exploring this coastline alive.

Meeting with the local hunters and the willingness with which they share their knowledge and experience has been a wonderful learning curve whilst allowing us to find solutions to problems such as finding routes and localised ice conditions with their insights we otherwise would not have the benefit of. Jaibute, Johny, Jai, Stevey and Phillip have all helped our printed maps evolve into a record of over 300 collective years of experience now marked with huts built by their grandfathers, areas of broken ice, regions known to be favored by bears and much much more. Although there is some confusion as to what terrain that can be covered by skiers and what is possible on a skidoo, a slight incline on a skidoo is an impassable mountain with a heavy sled and comments of "its only a climb of few hundred feet" are regular occurrences their offers of help means our spirits are high and our options are increasing with every person with whom we share a cup of tea.

Our thanks also have to go to Yves who has so far made us a tent pole base, fixed our skins onto our skis with rivets and is hopefully going to fix my boot tomorrow (although I haven't asked him yet!). His and Eric's (Captain of the famous ice locked Vagabond) mixtures of frank advice and enthusiasm for the wilderness and exploring it has helped keep our heads up and ensured we don't loose sight that having the opportunity to explore this coastline in any capacity is a gift which we must continue to appreciate.

Briefly in Colin's corner, he has settled in well and is now actually coming to us for treats and affection although his excessive whining and howling as his girlfriend and old team mates tease him during the night has lead to him being kept in the RCMP garage. This luxury has now been removed from Colin after he chewed half the banister off the wall in the during the night and is now enjoying the view from a nearby lampost as Tala enjoys the warmth on her own in the peace and quiet.

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Although questions regarding the feasibility of covering the entire NW Passage, supported or not are now at the forefront of our minds, we are are all buoyed by the Northern Lights blazing above Qikiqtarjuaq by night and the friendship and hospitality we have been so fortunate to enjoy, safe in the knowledge that it is a privilege to be here and any length of journey along this frozen ocean will be an adventure none of us will ever forget.

Jamie, Benno & Alex