Arctic Expedition 2013

Follow the journey : July 23 - August 7

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Expedition Update

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Auyuittuq National Park

Daily Update from Expedition Leader Geoff Green
The day began with an early rise to venture into one of the most beautiful places on earth: Auyuittuq National Park at the head of Pangnirtung Fjord on Baffin Island. Auyuittuq is Inuktitut for "the land that never melts" and this place is remarkable. Our SOI team split into two groups and departed for separate adventures. One half of us embarked on a full-day, 26 kilometre hike to the Arctic Circle and a view of the imposing vertical face of Mt. Thor.  The second completed a shorter, but equally inspiring, trek to a waterfall.  Crossing glacier-fed rivers, moraines, sandy shores, rocky meadows, and boggy muskeg demanded personal fortitude and teamwork. Everyone succeeded -- with wet feet, tired legs, and the occasional blister testifying to the arduous environmental conditions.  The students came away exhilarated and exhausted, buoyed by a strong sense of pride in what they'd accomplished. In the evening we enjoyed a special, surprise visit to the ship from a couple SOI alumni who happen to be working in Pangnirtung this summer. Tomorrow we're looking forward to Kingnait Fjord and our chance to officially join the SOI "Arctic swim team"! With some good karma, we may catch the flukes of bowheads, which find sanctuary in these waters.

Please check out the previous days' entries for more stories, photos and journal entries.

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Fact of the Day: 

Mt. Thor- a 1250 metre (4,101 feet) sheer granite cliff face in Auyuittuq National Park - is the world’s tallest vertical wall.


 The vast Auyuittuq landscape.

Students hike across the mud flats at low tide in Auyuittuq. 


Ian hosts a song writing workshop. 

Albert and Yasmine. 

Crossing streams in Auyuittuq requires teamwork.  



 More beautiful Auyuittuq.

Kim (right) and Rasmus during the 27km hike in Auyuittuq National Park.

 A goose feather in the park.

 Kristine shows off her Canadian spirit in Auyuittuq, with Mount Thor in the background. 

 SOI hikers celebrate their arrival at the Arctic Circle, 66' 33", in Auyuittuq National Park with some impromptu yoga.

SOI hikers, celebrating their arrival at the Arctic Circle. 

Justin is so happy to be heading back to the ship after a 27km hike that he hugs his zodiac driver. 

Expedition leader Geoff helps arctic historian Whitney get to shore during a wet landing. 

Olaf learns how to embroider a wall hanging in the craft workshop. 

 Discussion group on how to make change happen. 

Roslyn Bern with Jenna Gall (2009 SOI alumni), saying goodbye after Jenna made a surprise visit to the Sea Adventurer from Pangnirtung.

James Raffin and his hiking group.

Joseph beams after a performance (by Ian Tamblyn), of a song he wrote during one of Ian's song writing workshops.


 Ian and Tyler after a song performance. 

 Ian congratulates Emilie after she performed her composition to her fellow students.




Un altre dia a Canada, i quin dia!
Avui excursio al Parc Nacional d'Auyuittuq, caminada fins al cercle polar artic entre paissatges impressionants de glaceres penjades, cascades i llacs. 4 hores i mitja anada i 4 mes de tornada. Ara tots cansats pero contents.
Crec que mai havia dormit tant poquet a la meva vida, aixo de 24h de llum et desregula tots els habits i nomes quan estas tant cansada com ara t'adones que estas sobrevivint amb menys de 6 hores de son cada dia...
Ahir vam passar el dia a una comunitat d'aqui Nunavut, Pangnirtung, mati de xerrada sobre geologia, barbacoa amb disco per dinar a coberta del vaixell i tarde de tour al poble amb xerrades molt interessants; al museu una sobre vida inuit d'abans em va encantar. La visita es va acabar amb jocs tipics i danses tradicionals al centre civic.
Dies realment inolvidables.
Hi from Canada! What a day! We spent it hiking to the Arctic circle in Auyittuq National Park, just 4 hours up and then 4 down crossing rivers and of course no path to follow..., but all my group made it!
Time to head to bed, feeling quite tired, so many emotions and experiences...
Petons, Regards, Liebe Gruesse,



Coquitlam, BC

July 23, 2013

Looking out of the porthole yesterday morning, I was confronted by a picturesque collection of homes situated between great mountains and the sea. These homes, made of imported wood, were sparsely placed along the little gravel road system weaving through the community. Even though SOI had already visited three Northern communities in Greenland, it still took me a minute to register the fact that no amenities, services, or shops seemed to be in existence.

Upon entering the town, we were guided on a tour that included an artists' studio, library, museum, and parks office. The existence of such facilities and businesses in what would be almost a residential block at home surprised me.

Beyond these places, going inland, steep cliffs rose out of the land. They revealed an impressive history of the Earth, and will always be a source of beauty. It must be incredible to wake up to such a landscape everyday.

Ottawa, Canada

Hello to D, M, J and Stan.  I arrived after an impressive landing at the Pangnirtung airport.  Deep dive and a short runway.  I was greeted by the whole SOI gang engaged in Inuit games and square dancing... a long story there.  The energy and connection of the SOI group is amazing.  The stories of bear sightings, whale sightings and  glacier sightings are truly inspiring.   The short lecture last night was about being involved and making your voice heard through our political system.  Each person can make a difference just by voting!  A simple action that too many people don't take advantage of.  Voting is a right and a privilege and I hope all our SOI students remember that their vote is important and can make a difference.  Today we hiked to a small yet beautiful waterfall and then walked back on the open sand (low tide), through puddles, streams and boulder fields.  I met some amazing young people who are keen to be involved in our collective future and to make that future something we all want and will benefit from.  Impressive.  Oh... the food is wonderful and they are dealing with my food allergies. 



Chelsea, QC

July 20, 2013
Unbelievable! The day started with the sighting of fin whales off the port bow. We saw puffs of what seemed to be smoke as the whales breathed into the atmosphere. The configuration of the puffs were of a symphony beating a a row they performed, and we, as spectators , were speechless. We were on our way to Uummannaaq, the coastal Greenland village where Louis was from. The sound of their breaths, the accompaniment of the beating of the birds's wings on the water, and the crystal lapping of the current against the boat created the most marvellous orchestra! When we landed in Uummannaaq, the town was celebrating its 250 anniversary and we were privileged to be there. On top of that, Ian Tamblyn created a song for the SOI students and staff to sing in front of the town's community. Along with the celebrations, we met the Premier of Greenland and watched the winners of the kayak race. Gord went on a hike to Santa Claus's house along the coast, and I took off with 2 photographers in a zodiac to get up and personal with the icebergs. In the town's museum they had on display the clothing worn by the mummies who were discovered not far from the community. The stitching was immaculate, weaving in bird feathers, narwhale bladder, and seal skin. The official dating was 450 years old. For the celebration, the current townspeople wore colourful clothing to symbolize aspects of living in Greenland, but having the influence of the Danish. All in all, it was a tremendous day.


July 21, 2013

We left Uummannaaq on our way across the ocean. Knowing full well that the crossing of the Davis Strait was going to be rough, many students and staff used patches and gravol to relieve the symptoms of seasickness. The day changed from the previous sunshine to a more sombre atmosphere, so the students were given ample opportunity to share knowledge in groups, focusing on the youth Arctic Council and we had wonderful lectures by DNA specialists, and politicians. We saw more whales entering the Davis Strait, and all the students were running back and forth across the boat every time Geoff mentioned where another whale was sighted. As the day wore on, more students succumbed to seasickness, and the energy was certainly lower than it had been in Uummannaaq.


July 22, 2013

We finally crossed the Davis Strait, and realized that the itinerary going to Resolute Bay and Pond Inlet was not going to be due to ice conditions. As a result Plan B came into effect going over to Pang instead. This was a momentous instant when I realized that Bridget was studying in Pang, and hoped that we could connect. Of course we had no way of contacting her, and we wouldn't be arriving until the late evening, early morning. So, on our way, we crossed into ice fields where polar bears were spotted. These magnificent creatures waded through the frigid waters of the Arctic while watching serenely our approach. One bear even yawned, probably wondering what the fuss was all about. For many students this was their first encounter with the top predator, and the excitement was palatable. The ice field, although beautiful was difficult to navigate through, so the Captain retracted the ship's stabilizers. This created quite a pitch and roll to the voyage and many students were visibly upset. We arrived in Pang with so many details dealt with, from the arrival of the custom agents to the welcoming bagpiper of Becky's family. Quite the itinerary change.

Oakville, ON
There is a Students on Ice motto, "flexibility is key." Pangnirtung rolled out a warm and inviting welcome wagon for our group when we came ashore yesterday. The flexibility of changing plans due to ice conditions produced some great highlights in Pang, like being welcomed ashore by a bagpiper and for an elite few taking a print workshop with a local print maker named Jolly. The day wrapped up with a big show of Inuit games and Inuktitut dancing in the community centre and it was great to see the community reach out to us on short notice. 

Today consisted of a 30km hike through beautiful Auyuittuq National Park that took us into the arctic circle. The mountainous fjord was incredible and the immense scale cannot be captured with justice in my camera lens. The hike was interesting because the scale of the landscape was so immense that "just over that ridge" looked much closer than the 3 or 4 km it actually was. It was an incredible experience to hike the landscape and see glacier waterfalls and then fill your water bottle and nourish yourself with the cold and fresh glacier run off.

It is hard to believe the trip is almost coming to an end, the friends I've made felt like I've known them for years, not days. Leaving the cool climate here to return to the hot sticky GTA makes me almost as sad as leaving the beautiful rugged landscapes. Each experience is so unbelievable that it feels surreal. Expedition has been incredible and I look forward to enjoying all the last few days have to offer.

Rumford, RI, USA
I'm so happy to find out that my hiking boots were completely waterproof!!! Hiking in and around streams, creeks, mountains, and rocks for almost 20 miles today to the Arctic circle was the most tiring thing I've done yet! It was absolutely amazing and I'm so glad I did it! Just walking up the stairs after was such a challenge. I feel like I'm 80! Once we entered Canadian waters the other day, I saw my first Polar Bear ever!! A total of 10 bears! Everyday here is amazing and I'm excited to see what the next days bring!

Houston, Texas
Hello everyone. Sorry it has been a few days since I have blogged. I have been fairly busy with numerous activities such as spotting polar bears, making community visits, hiking, and of course eating. It seems as though there is always food on this trip but besides that I am having a great time. Just the other day while travelling through pack ice we spotting about 10 polar bears and around 6 or 8 seals! Seeing the polar bears was spectacular. We saw them exhibit just about all the behaviours that they do besides hunting and taking care of their young, but what we did see was just unreal. I felt as though I was in a dream. We visited Pangnirtung yesterday, which was a small village where we saw their fish plant, their community centre, and their museum. I found a few bones as well which I managed to snag.
I have noticed that during my time on this expedition I have established a bond with rocks. Now I know that that sentence may sound weird but it is true -- I am really starting to love rocks. Now, as I start to wrap up this blog, I just want to tell you all that a lightbulb went off in my mind. Yesterday I was outside learning from Eric about permafrost. He was explaining it all to me -- how it all works and what exactly permafrost was and yadayada. But just as he was explaining it all to me this beautiful white bird flew by. Just gliding and diving in the air and to me it really opened up my eyes to what the Arctic truly was and is about. To my understanding it is this: connecting with nature not just on a mental level where you understand the different aspects of nature and the roles that many critters play in it but connecting spiritually. Not in a Godly sense but in a sense that these mountains and animals are a part of the same environment that we are. Therefore we should try to connect, understand, learn, and become more of a part of nature than humanity is progressing to be. Connecting not only on the outside but on the inside of us. To almost become one with it. To let the natural beauty enter in you and just let it take over and blossom. Now I know this may sound crazy or absolutely insane but its the best way that I can put the feeling that I felt seeing this bird fly through this great fjord that I am still in today.
Happy Valley Goose Bay, Newfoundland
Hey everyone. So the past 2 days have been awesome! Yesterday, we spent the day in Pangnirtung, NU, which is Becky's hometown. We woke up in the morning to Pang out our window, which was shockingly beautiful and reminded me a lot of some of the places along the north coast of Labrador. We spent our morning in a workshop of choice -- I picked water-colour painting, and that turned out to be a great chance to just enjoy the scenery and the beauty of this town that's just outside of the national park that we visited today. After the morning wandering and painting in Pang we had a very delicious barbecue lunch on the top deck of the ship with lots of food, music, and dancing. I never realized but that's exactly what we all needed -- it let us just have a chance to have fun and relax. We headed back to Pang after all the lunch fun. We were guided around town by SOI alumni from Pangnirtung. The evening was spent in the town hall playing Inuit games, which was nothing new to me, but it was cool to see everyone from all around the world playing these games and participating in traditions.
Today was split into two groups, the "half-day hike" and the "full-day hike." I, of course, chose the half day. The full day people woke at 6:30 am and left at7:30 to hike until around 6 pm. The view must've been stunning and some of them even swam, but I chose the half-day hike. We hiked three hours around the fjord, and spent the other half of the day in a workshop. The tide here rises and drops so much that there's a mile of mud when it drops, so we took the mud on the way back to the ship... big mistake. Yes we never had to hike on rocks but this was the sinkiest sand I've ever seen. By the end we were all sandy and soaked, but it was fun. Then I was in a discussion workshop. We talked about mining in the north and that was very interesting. I've never thought about a lot of the things that were said. Overall, these past two days have been my personal favourite so far.

Rankin Inlet
This journey is the best thing I have experienced in my life. I am so thankful for my scholarship that I received. I've learned so many great things, and I want to make a difference in my community. Today was a great day, we went on a hike. There were two groups, one for the whole day, and one for the half day. I was saying to myself, I won't get through this hike, and its going to feel like forever but, it actually was fun! When we reached our destination I was speechless about the view, it was so beautiful, and calming with happy people everywhere. I finally had seen my first polar bear a couple days ago -- it was so amazing to see so many. Yesterday we went into Pangnirtung, and it is so beautiful. The community was so welcoming, it is also where Priscilla and Becky are from. During our visit we played Inuit games at the community hall, and everyone was having a great time. I'm glad that some of the southern students played, and tried.

Nanaimo BC
Today I went on a day hike to Auyuittuq National Park, on a day long expedition to reach the Arctic circle by foot. I did have the option to do the day hike, to save myself from the at least 22km journey ahead, but I just had to do it. The adventure was calling, and coming into the head of the park yesterday with the mountains stretching vicarious rocky fingers a mile into the sky, there was no other option.
I will say this: the journey is not for everybody. I have blisters on my feet, the sorest kneecaps imaginable and I feel as though I never want to move again. At the end of the nine hour hike (that's opting out the hour of semi rest at the circle) I literally RAN to the zodiac.
One, after nine hours, does not run to a zodiac, into freezing glacier fed water, unless one is a) desperate for real food and b) desperate for a shower.
But I will also say this: I do not regret one blister, one sore muscle, or even my wet feet (we had to cross rivers to reach our destination). The feeling of enormity was so huge, the beauty so surrounding; I was in the middle of nature, of uncertain rocky trails, yet I felt safe. Cushioned by the stubborn life below my feet, refusing to release their hold; and the great Mount Thor: The tallest vertical peak in the world.
I would do it all over again. Perhaps next time without the blisters :)


Toronto, WWF-Canada

"What kills a fishery is the banker" says Trevor. We're standing outside the Pangirtung fish plant, looking out at the rocky flat, left bare by the low tide. A fishing boat leans into the mud, as if stranded on the shore. Trevor knows a thing or two about fish. Now with Oceans North, he's the former Minister of Fisheries and former fisherman - and to hear him talk (when I can understand that charming Newfie accent) - he's more at home on a boat than anywhere else. Has more photos of ships than of his kids, he jokes.

We're guided through the plant by another East Coaster, James from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, who manages the operation in Pang. There's no fish there today, save what's already been frozen and packed from the last catch. The plant processes Turbot (Greenland Halibut) and Arctic Char, and there's not much fishing that takes place during the summer. That may change though. There's a plan on the horizon to commission more boats, hire more captains, and haul in an additional catch of Tubot in late July. Considering the plant employs about 50 people - a meaningful percentage of the working population - the potential for growth is a pretty big deal. But one that raises some equally big questions, especially around fishing quotas. "There's lots of fish in these waters," James says. And he would know as well as anyone. But there's been no scientific assessment of the stock here, no way to really know the ecological limits. Maybe another 4 boats on the water would be okay? Maybe 5? But who can say. What Trevor knows is that once you have too many boats in the water, it's near impossible to take them off. "At the end of the day the banker has to be paid and fishing boats are paid for by fish", Trevor reminds us, "and it is easier on the fish and the people to get that mix right from the start."

But understanding Pang's fishing economy is also about understanding where those fish are going once they're pulled from the water - and in what state. James shows us a piece of complicated, expensive machinery for skinning and filleting the fish (it pulls off the skin through a freezing process, like ripping your tongue off a frozen pole - a gross but fairly accurate metaphor). It sits dormant in a corner, practically decommissioned. That's because the real money today is in sending whole fish, flash frozen, to China. In some cases that is because food preparation and regional preferences demand whole fish (after all, Trevor says, no one want's to order a lobster and get a plate of canned meat). But mostly it's because it's simply cheaper to process fish into fillets in China than it is here in Pang. We could have been talking about wood or oil, I thought. The question of whether Canadians reap the most benefit from the development of their raw natural resources is echoed profoundly here.

And if we were still left wondering how a small fish plant on the coast of Pangirtung, Nunavut is connected to the far-reaching, global challenges of today's fishing industry - Trevor asks us to think about what it means to fish here in the winter time. It means snowmobiling over the frozen bay to the flow edge, where the deep water runs. But warmer temperatures mean shrinking sea ice. There have been winters when people couldn't get far enough out into Cumberland Sound to make a catch, or have risked their lives - perhaps - trying.

Tonight, after a long day of hiking, we'll sit down to feast on Pang's Arctic Char. But what we're really getting a taste of are the tremendous questions and challenges that ripple across our international fishing sector. We owe it to the people of Pangnirtung and the Greenland Halibut of Cumberland Sound to find the right answers.


Arctic History

From 2013 to 2016, Students on Ice is celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the 1913 Canadian Arctic Expedition (CAE), which was the first Canadian government funded expedition. At the time, it was the largest multi-disciplinary scientific expedition ever mounted. 

In 1914, Ikpukhuak and Higilaq, a couple from the Copper Inuit community, adopted expedition member Diamond Jenness. For several months, Jenness lived exactly as they lived, using their tools and survival skills as they travelled Victoria Island. Jenness also learned about and documented the history and customs of the Copper Inuit. After the Expedition departed in 1916, Ikpukhuak and Higilaq remained in the area.

Read more about the Canadian Arctic Expedition!

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