Adventure at the Floe Edge
Ingrid Kern, a retired nurse from Toronto, was the winner of Up Here’s 2018 Subscriber Appreciation Program. She and her partner won airfare for two via Canadian North to Baffin Island, with five days in Pond Inlet and took a trip out to the floe edge. Kern shared her daily journals with Up Here, a portion of which is reprinted below.
Flying in a tiny Dash 8, 26-seater prop plane seemed like a 1940s, bush-pilot adventure film to us, but our pilot flew through rain and cloud cover to land us gently on a narrow, wet gravel landing strip in Pond Inlet.
We had booked a three-day, custom-made floe edge tour out of Pond Inlet, with BaffinSafari Expeditions. The owner, John Davidson, met us at the airport and ferried us to our hotel.
By now it was pouring rain and the town's unpaved streets had turned to mud. Dense fog obscured our view in all directions. We were depressed and feared that our long-anticipated trip would become a foggy, soggy mess. We consoled ourselves by watching game five of the Toronto Raptors versus the Golden State Warriors. (Toronto lost, further darkening our mood.)
The next day the fog had lifted, along with our spirits, revealing a stunning sight of Bylot Island's snow-capped mountains and the endless ice-covered Eclipse Sound. For the next three days, our lives were entirely in the hands of John and our two Inuuk guides, Noah and Jonathan.
Over the next two-and-a-half hours, tucked into blankets and bean-bag chairs, we hurtled over the ice in a qamutiik. From our vantage point, looking out the back, it seemed like we were travelling at breakneck speeds, leaping over cracks, splashing across melting ice, to reach the floe edge camp 70 kilometres away.
The camp was still set up from their prior trip. Four large, sturdy sleep tents, a kitchen tent, a ‘dining hall.’ And finally, tucked away from the others, the “poop tent.” After a hearty lunch, we were driven to the floe edge, two kilometres away, with our beanbag chairs and binoculars in hand.
“Why couldn't we have camped closer to the edge?” I wondered.
The answer soon became apparent. There were fine cracks all around the ice, becoming larger nearer the edge, where it looked like a giant jigsaw puzzle, the pieces shimmying up and down against each other. Noah had warned us to stay far away from the edge, but he became very adamant when he spotted us inching ever closer.
So from our beanbag perches, we waited and watched from a respectful distance. But no marine mammals revealed themselves. However, vast numbers of migrating birds, headed north, flew over us—snow geese, Canada geese, and many other species we couldn't identify. It was a thrilling sight.
But the most incredible sight was the scenery—a stunning panorama of blue and white, stretching for endless miles all around us. All this under a vast canopy of intense blue sky, flecked with wisps of white clouds. Silent, austere, pristine beauty! We sat in awe for what seemed like hours, just staring at it.
After another huge breakfast the next day, we headed out on the snowmachines and qamutiik again to the flow edge, which now seemed a lot closer. Sure enough, overnight, a giant piece had broken off—the same area that was cracked and jigsawed yesterday—300 metres wide, we estimated. It could be seen drifting out to sea in the distance.
Today's edge looked solid and stable, so we were allowed to park our beanbags a few meters from the edge. Our binocular vigil began again. Suddenly, right in front of us, long, dark, mottled shapes appeared, surfacing and diving, back and forth, as though this show was for our benefit. At one point we counted 10 of them.
Noah reassured us that they were narwhals, possibly juveniles and females, since no tusks were visible. The show went on for 15 minutes, then the pod drifted north, along the ice edge.
After supper, the sun still high in the sky, Jonathan took us on a "walkabout", to see giant ice blocks close to the Bylot Island shore. This is “fast-ice,” huge blocks that are pushed up near the shore by the relentless tides that still ebb and flow under the ice. Held fast there, on the shallow beachfront, the blocks don't float or move. We walked carefully among them, trying to avoid slipping on the meltwater all around. Climbing them was impossible as their contours resembled the smooth, slippery surfaces of a giant's ice cubes.
On the way back south, Pond Inlet was fogged-in (again), so our flight was wisely delayed by our Canadian North pilots until they deemed conditions were safe. Summer in the Arctic brings the cloudiest months, as melting ice exposes more open water, which in turn adds more moisture to the air. No doubt, we can expect even foggier Arctic summers, as climate change hastens ice-melt, all across the North.
We eventually arrived back in Ottawa, sweating in our parkas and rubber boots in the 23-degree weather, feeling like we had just landed from a visit to another planet.
Reflecting back on our “Trip of a Lifetime,” it has left a huge impression on me. The austere beauty of the high Arctic and the Inuit who, through their ingenuity and perseverance, have survived for millennia in the harsh environment.