Strangely, or not if you know of my wife's love of fishing and competition, our day started bright and early at 7:00 am despite getting to sleep at 4:30 am. I awoke as Leah crawled out from under the sleeping bag, ready to get a start fishing. Now I like fishing, just not that much.
I actually didn't fish much for the weekend. I was enjoying just being out. I hiked, slept, chased birds, slept, took some photos, slept, fished a little, uh, slept. I can't believe how much I slept while I was out. But it was a wonderful way to spend a weekend.
But fish I did, and I didn't catch anything. It was a slow weekend for almost all here. Leah, who usually catches numerous char, caught only three. There were only a handful of fish caught on our section of the river. Farther up, where most were camped, and where most of the fishing was done, fishing was better but still slower than past years. As always, one or two people seem to have the charm, the fishing mojo. Our sister-in-law caught 40, far more than most others.
I did get some exploring done. Travis pointed out a Glaucous Gull to me, and as I tried to find it against the grey sky, I saw other birds. A flock of Snow Geese, just disappearing down over the hill. And as everyone was heading up stream to the more productive end, I determined to walk up on the tundra above and see if I could find them.
Sure enough, soon after I got to the top of the valley I found them in the binoculars, feeding on the exposed tundra a ways down from me. They were wary, and as I made my way closer, I dropped down below the lip of the valley. I was still a fair distance from them when I decided I couldn't get closer, without a long crawl on my belly. So I snapped some poor photos, marred by the heat rising from the exposed ground. There were sixty in this flock, one lone Blue phased snow goose amongst them. Also amongst them was a small, lone Cackling Goose.
Also on this little excursion I saw there were many sea shells exposed on the sandy sides of the valley. So when Travis got back, he and I made plans to go collect some. He loved it, and he found many different sorts, and wanted to go back up any chance he got. Each time he added to a growing collection. Which would have been larger had we noticed the hole in the bag we were using.
I was loath to let him wander far alone because of another discovery Leah and I had made on a short excursion from camp. While out we found the unmistakable tracks of a large wolf. It had up the valley to within a couple of hundred metres of camp before turning up the bank and going around. It came some time during the second night there. After one of our shell hunts I took Travis over and showed him the tracks. This is his hand in comparison.
But in truth, the wolf would be unlikely to bother even a child wandering alone. Although I wasn't planning on testing that theory.
The weekend continued in much the same manner, fishing for Leah and Travis, exploring and sleeping for me until noon on Monday, when we broke camp. Our little convoy was plagued by mechanical trouble on the return trip. There are always snowmobile casualties on these weekend, with generally several abandoned on the side of the trail coming or going. This was no exception.
My father-in-law's machine developed some strange fuse problem going on, stopping it several times dead in the tracks. Remember that komatiq thing about sudden stops? On a couple of times the sled narrowly missed their snowmobile, before spinning it around on as it reached the end of the road. This was the first time I'd ever seen fuses rebuilt in the field, and I never cease to be amazed at how ingenious people here are. But there was only so much that could be done, and eventually the machine and the small komatiq from another were abandoned on the trail in Moffit Inlet. It was recovered the following week.
One of the cool things, especially on the return journey, is how the convey's grow along the way. At each stop for tea or a bite to eat, other people catch up and eventually there are a number of groups traveling together. This is the group as we dropped down back onto the ice at Moffit Inlet.
Our last stop was just outside of Iqalulik, where we had supper and fueled up for the last push home. We arrived back around 10 pm, unloaded the essentials from the komatiq, picked up Hilary and headed home. The apartment felt very warm.
The fishing spot at Kugarjuk lies in a low gentle valley, and our approach to the valley was down a small draw. But perhaps a bit of a primer on Komatiqs is in order first.
A komatiq is a marvel. The two runners sit angled on the surface to run straight, but well balanced it turns easily. The slats are all connected to the runners by rope, enabling the komatiq to flex as it goes across rough ice. While some people tow their komatiq with a rigid tow bar, most up here use rope. Using rope makes it easier to start moving a heavy komatiq, the jerk frees it from snow. Plus a rope can be lengthened for different conditions, such as in the spring when there are leads to cross.
Our komatiq is 20 feet long, and normally ladened is probably well over 1000 lbs. I built it along with one of Leah's brother, and it pulls to side a bit. But it glides very well on the plastic runners, better than many. They have no brakes. It requires a bit of practice to stop with them. If you stop quickly, the komatiq glides along under its inertia. So you have to ease into a stop. They have no brakes.
The first Spring we had our komatiq we were coming back from an aborted trip out on the land. As I reached a rivulet of draining water on the ice, my skidoo got hung up on the channels edge, and I stopped. As I gunned the engine to try and free myself, I heard Leah scream from the Komatiq, and looked back just in time to see the Komatiq hit the back of the machine. The runners went on either side of me, narrowly missing me, and easily bent the back rest on the machine. It pushed me instantly out of the channel, freeing us. They are easily the biggest danger in travel up here.
But back to the story. As we got to the top of the draw Leah, who had been traveling on the machine with me, got off and got into the iglutak (the shelter on the komatiq). I started slowly down the draw, knowing how easily my komatiq slides, and not wanting to build up any inertia in it. It didn't work. As I looked back I saw that the komatiq had built up speed and was rapidly gaining on me.
I gunned the engine to try and take it down on my terms, but it was too late. As I tried to increase the distance, the komatiq passed, pulled the tow rope taut and dragged the machine around, flipping it on to its side. Nothing landed on me and I was pushed along by my snowmobile, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing as it would offer protection from what I was madly thrashing around trying to find, the thing that could do the real damage, the komatiq. As I saw it I saw it was going by wide of me and wouldn't hit me. It spun the machine away from me and everything dragged to a stop. I was, to put it mildly, extremely happy that Leah had decided to get off the machine, into the iglutak.
No injuries, and no damage to anything, so all in all it wasn't bad. Some anxious moments followed as the machine following me had to stop, and stalled, and as we were getting it going other machines were coming down the draw, committed to coming down and working hard to avoid us.
We were quickly on our way, and we only had a short distance left before we arrived at the camping spot. It was 1:30 am. By the time we picked our spots, set up camp, got some supper cooked, drilled the first holes so the die-hards could get fishing it was 4:30 when we crawled into our sleeping bags.
Yesterday, for some reason, I thought, I must becoming up to the Blogoversary of the House and other Arctic musings soon. When I looked at the little countdown icon on the sidebar (which for some strange reason has stopped working today) I was surprised to see it was today. Timed that well, I did. Five years, my my.
It's been a strange year in terms of the blog in some ways. My output has waxed and waned, rarely finding its own rhythm. Part of that is that I think I don't care as much about stats and visitors etc. I mean, I care, I'm happy that you're here reading. But I no longer compulsively view the stats page, or fret when I don't reach certain numbers. Part of that is the fault of feed readers, I know most of the regular readers will see new posts pop up when ever they pop up.
I think part of it is just a general writing ennui that has swept over me in the past year, precisely at the time I should be writing more, and should have the time to do it. Part of it has been Facebook's fault as well. Good, bad, or otherwise I've transferred much of my internet compulsions over there.
But I continue to enjoy this forum, this outlet. I like the communities that I have discovered through it. I'll probably beat this dead horse for as long as I can. Hard to believe that five years and 1250 posts have gone by. Hope you
enjoyed some of it.
So, in the spirit of my past blogoversaries, here is a selection from each of the last 12 months. If you're new to the House, then this will give you a sampling of what has gone by the last year.
For much of Canada the Victoria Day Weekend (the May Long) is the kick off to Summer. People head off in campers and cars, to beaches and campgrounds, and that cabin at the lake. Very few of them are thinking about ice fishing.
But up here on the May Long, that is exactly what occupies everyone's thoughts. It is the Fish Derby weekend, and quite simply one of the biggest days up here. I would think that it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that 75% of the population participates in the Derby up here, at one of the five open lakes.
Because of the differences in the general sizes of Char at each lake, and the relative difficulty in getting to each lake (a general rule of thumb is that the farther you go, the larger the fish) and the fact that not everyone has the means or equipment to make the longer journeys, each lake has its own prizes.
We traditionally (and when I say "we" bear in mind that this is my first time participating in six years) go to the second furthest lake, Kugarjuk. It's actually a river, with several wider spots that hold Char, and it is over 200 kms away from here. By snowmobile. Each way.
To put that in perspective, imagine driving by snowmobile half way between Winnipeg and Roblin Manitoba, camping for a few days, and then carrying on the rest of the way. Add to that no restaurants or gas stations, or for that matter any buildings or shelter along the way, and you can get a bit of an idea of the trip. If you're from New York, it would be from there to, say, Cape May and back. Or if you're from London, from there to Cardiff and back.
I love the trip.
We left here Friday afternoon, with three machines, each pulling a Komatiq. We had our older four stroke Skidoo, as Leah's wouldn't charge the battery and so far had mystified the people that need to get it fixed. It was a gorgeous day, mostly blue skies prevailed. As we pulled out of Arctic Bay in a line, then out into Adams sound, where we passed the first broken machine, barely fifteen kilometres out.
As we rounded the corner to Admiralty Inlet I looked back to the St George Society Cliffs, an impressive sight at any distance, and we moved on farther south. I'm continually amazed at this land, and its beauty. As the miles passed, we passed majestic valleys, lined with red cliffs, and towering peaks. Every one would be the highlight of other place's landscapes, but here they are almost ubiquitous. I was somewhat surprised at the lack of icebergs on the trip, given how many were around last spring and summer.
The first iceberg we encountered near some small islands called Pingujiniit. Brilliant blue ice, it looked for all the world as we approached like a fort, or castle. Twin towers marked the front corners, and all it lacked was a front gate. As we passed it opened up, as though it was a fort missing its rear wall. But the miles were passing and we were not stopping for photo ops. There was, in the words of Robert Frost, miles to go before I sleep.
And the miles were about to seem a lot longer, and take longer to work through. Although travel had been relatively smooth, as we edged to the South East into Moffit Inlet, the trail got rough, and our speed dropped below 20 kph. Although it had apparently been like a highway only two weeks earlier, our late snow storms and strong winds had transformed it into a continual mass of drifts, perpendicular to our path. It was slow going and it seemed to me that someone had added to the length of the inlet since my last trip down it.
But we eventually made our way down to the foot of the inlet, by this time joined by other snowmobiles, where we paused before moving into the low gentle valley we'd follow for the next leg. One of the other machines had snapped a bolt so we paused to repair it, and have tea and some snacks, before continuing on our way.
The valley was only slightly less drifted than Moffit Inlet and our way was still slowed, but we eventually passed the length of the valley, which opened into the bottom of Admiralty Inlet. As we turned the corner towards the river and Kugarjuk, two Ptarmigan flew down from the hills, landing between me and the komatiq ahead of us. The male landed right on the track and I actually had to turn off the trail to go around him. It was my first look at a Willow Ptarmigan up here, all the others I had seen have been Rock Ptarmigan. He was a handsome bird in his breeding finery, and he finally took flight as the snowmobile passed him.
One of the really cool things about my son, I mean really, really cool, is that he's curious about the world about him. I don't know about you, but I can't think of many qualities I want more in my children. Whenever friends have children, and I write them a note or comment about it I usually address it to the baby. And I almost always write something along the lines of "never stop looking at the world through a child's eyes." Always stay curious.
So Travis, looks, and sees interesting flowers, and birds, and he looks under rocks. There is a whole world under rocks, even in the High Arctic.
This weekend, at the Fish Derby, we were hiking the hills above the river because they were littered with shells. He picked up a bag full of them, always something that caught his eye. A pattern, or a colour, or the shape. He went to sleep clutching his favourite spiraling shell (which I really must endevour to identify) at night.
But he also flipped over rocks, delighting in the life underneath. Here are a couple of photos, which I know leave a lot to be desired quality wise, of some Springtails found under one such rock. In the first, you can see two types of springtails, a smaller red one and a larger black one. There are also some red mites in the photo, but they're really hard to pick out.
The second is a more cropped photo of two of the larger black springtails. I should add that I believe they are springtails, but could easily be proven wrong. There was also a tiny tiny fly in one of the shells he picked up, lethargic in the cold.
Speaking of cold, High Arctic springtails use a really interesting means of surviving the freezing temperatures. They dry out. Completely. They reduce the moisture in their bodies to almost zero, thereby avoiding the cell wall puncturing frost crystals that would otherwise form and kill them.
In the eleven years I've been living up here I didn't see a redpoll until last fall. The redpolls are a small bird, and amazingly some remain in the High Arctic even through our winter. But even though I'm quite familiar with the two species of them (Hoary and Common) from feeders down south, I'd never seen them around Arctic Bay.
This, however, seems to be a great year for them. Last summer, Travis saw one at Victor Bay. He was able to describe the bird he saw, and pick it out in a field guide. And although he showed me the area he saw it, my search failed to turn one up.
Then in the fall, while looking for shorebirds at Uluksan I found a pair of them. Hoary Redpolls. Then this winter, occasional reports would pop up in the mid-winter of "snow buntings" in the area of the school. I suspected, because the Snow Buntings had long left, that it was redpolls.
Then in January I heard of a small flock of them at Ullisautitalik, and although we heard them on one of our trips there. We were never able to track them down.
But this spring I've seen them regularly. I've watched them feeding in grasses near the apartment amongst some Snow Buntings, and through out town, and on trips outside of town.
Here is a photo from yesterday, out at First Bridge, of a pair of (I believe) Common Redpolls. I'm not 100 percent sure of the ID though.