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Arctic “Floe Edge” Expedition 2006

JUNE 18th, 2006


Expedition Leaders Report
Polar Bear Pawprint!!Immersed in the land of the midnight sun we are all adjusting to so many new rhythms.  After crawling into our cozy tents in the wee hours of the morning following a 6 hour komatik journey under an incredible golden sky, it was amazing to doze off knowing that we were sleeping on a frozen ocean and another world, teeming with life, lay beneath.   We crawled out of our tents this morning into a blanket of fog.  Despite the lack of visibility, spirits were high as we began our first full day living on the ice.  It is always astonishing how an expedition can bring total strangers together in such immediate kinship.  Already our new home, a community comprised of 17 tents, 29 people and a collective enthusiasm to embrace this adventure, resonates with such familiar warmth.  The world of cell phones, internet, traffic and media seem a distant way (and when out here, a way where the merits of letting go seem euphoric!)

After Lee and Warren’s Arctic famous blueberry pancakes we gathered around basecamp to allocate leadership takes and daily routines—the basic chores and systems that allow for healthy, happy and safe camp living.   With camp tasks in place, we launched into a roaring game of ultimate Frisbee at 72 degrees North.  Not even surface pools prevented people from laying it out for superman catches.  Blood was flowing, bodies were warm, and smiles were large.

After lunch we were off on our first official excursion.  We had a wonderful 3 hours exploring the rocky cliffs and point of Itilak Point.  Throughout our hike we came across two sets of polar bear tracks—one along the stretch of ice we were walking, the other from 50m above sea level looking out over the white and blue abyss.   As snow geese honked above and snow buntings fluttered in the nearby rocky crags, we soaked up knowing that our new home was teeming with life and creature companions.   Purple Saxifrase, yellow lichen and blossomed willows brought colour to the land beneath our feet.  From micro to marco this land evokes much awe and reflection.   Like a line of ants dotting a landscape with vistas as far as the eye could see, we walked back to base camp for another feast and a well embraced early bedtime.

To the floe edge tomorrow!!!

(Happy Father’s Day Pops, Dave, Stan and all you expedition fathers!)



What a great first day on the ice.  We arrived to our base camp location at 1:30am this The ride to our camp under the midnight sun!morning after a long but spectacular 6 hour ride on the komatiks from Pond Inlet.  Leaving Pond Inlet and venturing east towards the floe edge was like entering another world.  A world that we are fortunate to be able to explore for the next week ahead.  After arriving to our campsite near the southwest tip of Bylot Island, we quickly set to work to get our tents set up.  It was a great team effort and after two hours of non-stop action our tent city had taken shape. By 3:30am everyone crawled into their sleeping bags and were fast asleep by about 3:35am!

This morning we awoke at 10:00am to begin our first full day on the ice.  It was a day filled with putting the finishing touches on our camp, assigning of leadership duties, some team building activities and games, and a great hiking excursion to Itilak Point, where amongst other things we sighted our first Polar bear off in the distance (about 3km). 

The day was interspersed with several great hands-on learning moments.  I am really impressed with this group of students.  They are so eager to learn and are taking advantage of every minute.

Tomorrow morning we head out to the actual floe edge for our first visit – if the weather gods smile on us…


Student Journals
Classroom in the fieldTechnically we started off this day bumping around in komatiks last night, but the day only really started at 10:00am with the banging of pots to wake us all up. Breakfast was a choice of blueberry pancakes, oatmeal, toast, or cereal. I sampled pretty much all of it and it was delicious.

We had a briefing after breakfast where we were all assigned a duty – I got ‘Social Coordinator’! Basically I get to start activities and games whenever we have free time. After our meeting we did some fun ‘get to know you’ activities and played some ultimate Frisbee. The game got pretty intense; there were several very impressive diving catches.

After a quick lunch we set out to visit ‘Itilak’, the south-eastern corner of Bylot Island. While we were there Ingrid gave us a briefing about taking field notes and we spotted a polar bear! Sure, it was way away in the distance and through the telescope it was just a small spot, but it was still really exciting!

Then we hiked over to the other side of the point to get a good view of the Graham Moore bird colony, but we also ended up getting an awesome view of the Arctic Ocean and the floe edge. A few of us even climbed up higher so that we were nearly into the clouds and there was a small pond with such clear water that we drank some.

It’s amazing how untouched all of it was, there wasn’t another soul out there with us (if you don’t count the polar bear) and it was all so serene. We took a moment before returning back to camp to absorb it all.

I can’t wait till tomorrow when we finally go to the floe edge!


PS: Dad, HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!! I love you lots.


We woke up at ten o’clock this morning because of our late night last night. Once we were all awake we had breakfast (blueberry pancakes). After breakfast we distributed the tasks to be preformed around base camp. Once our briefing was over we played a game of ultimate Frisbee. We had lunch at two. After this we went over to the island near base camp. We climbed up the hill and had a lecture about taking field notes.  After this we went for a longer hike around the point of the island called Itilak. We set up our scopes and saw a polar bear near the floe edge. Around the area there were lots of polar bear tracks. By the time we got back to camp it was seven and we had soup and brownies. After this we had our evening briefing and headed off to bed.


PS: hey! I miss u guys! Happy Father’s day!


Today is June 18th and it was our first day on the ice. We arrived at base camp at about 3 Jen, Kristen and Michelle at the morning workshopthis morning, set up the camp and went to sleep (even though it was still light out, we all felt like it was still around 5 p.m. because of the light). At about 10:30 we got back up to start our first day. We had our briefing about camp rules and the responsibilities each person has (mine is the “honey buckets” A.K.A. dumping the contents of the toilets, which is pretty gross, but I can joke about it so I’ll be fine). Between briefing and lunch we had an intense ultimate Frisbee match which my team won, and after a late lunch we headed out to Cape Graham Moore for some hiking and exploration of our area. On the way we saw some polar bear tracks, and a few of us followed them and found that they went the same way we were going. We later caught up with this polar bear when David found it on his telescope and we all got to look. It looked really small because it was so far away, but it was still so amazing to see. Then we had a talk about how to take field notes and started to head back to camp, though we only started. Where we should have gone down the rocks we instead hiked up higher. We crossed some pretty scary looking steep spots made up of loose rocks, but it was worth it because the view from the top was incredible, and it was pretty fun to hike the mountain. When I reached the top, I took some pictures, took a drink from a puddle of the freshest water I’ll ever have (clean melting snow) and headed back down the mountain to return to base camp for dinner and do my first shift of honey bucket duties. Dinner was great, duties were not, and here I am after my first amazing day on the ice by Bylot Island.



alt="Jen, Kristen and Michelle at the morning workshop"It’s a little hard to decide where this day began.  Technically at midnight at the start of this day, I was in the back of a komatik, traveling across the ice to get to our camp.  These past two days have kind of melted into one.

Saturday we woke up at the hotel and went across the street to get some breakfast from The Navigator, the restaurant near the hotel.  We went to the airport and finally got to leave Iqaluit.  I say finally not because I don’t like Iqaluit, but because I’ve grown tired of flight delays and cancellations.  We boarded a turbo prop, and we weren’t allowed to take our carry-ons with us because there wasn’t room, so we had to put them with the rest of the luggage.

We had about a three to four hour flight and then landed in Pond Inlet.  There we met Jeffrey, the last student expeditioner from Pond Inlet; Lee and Mark, our two cooks; and Dave, head of Polar Sea adventures who will help us get to camp.  We got our luggage loaded and went onto the visitor’s center.  There the park warden of Bylot Island, a Canadian National Park, talked with us about safety and we watched a video on polar bear safety.  Then we had dinner at the local hotel and got dressed to spend around six hours on the komatiks.  We walked down a steep hill to where the komatiks were, and then had to walk back up to carry our luggage down because they couldn’t get the truck down the steep slope.  We loaded up the komatiks, which was no small task to get everything and double check we had it.  After maybe two hours of preparation, we were finally on our way at around 9:30 at night.

The trip was certainly eventful.  We stopped to see a small cave in the side of a mountain, and had to stop again later on because one of the komatiks got stuck.  The top layer of ice had started to melt in some places, so there was a little water on top of the ice.  It was actually more comfortable in the back of the komatik than I would have thought.  I stood for most of the time with Geoff, talking with him and looking out at the landscape.  We saw several seals along our way, off in the distance.  Riding the komatiks was lots of fun, though.  I am surprised at how sturdy they are.  They are lashed together with rope instead of being nailed, so they are very flexible.

We finally reached our new home around two in the morning, even though with the sun up it looked like it was two in the afternoon.  We pitched our tents, not necessarily the best thing to do when you are cold and tired, but we got the camp up.  I am sharing a tent with Jonathan and Andrew, and Diz was kind enough to give us a separate small tent to store our gear and other stuff.  Needless to say, after a twenty hour day, I didn’t have any problem falling asleep.

We woke up at ten and got some pancakes for breakfast, and then had our first meeting on the ice.  Geoff talked about our itinerary for the next few days made up of kayaking, hiking, learning, exploring, listening to an underwater microphone, and hopefully a lot of other things.  We were also assigned our camp roles that we will be in charge of over the next few days.  I have been assigned to the satellite stuff, meaning I’m in charge of using the satellite phone to transmit journal entries and pictures back to be posted on the web.  So if this journal entry does not make it back to the SOI website, you can blame me.

The meeting took most of the morning, and then Diz started a game of ultimate Frisbee which we played until lunch.  Lunch was comprised of vegetable soup and grilled cheese.  Then we hiked across the ice to Bylot Island.  The island is probably only about 200 yards away from us, but the part we hiked to took a little under an hour to reach.  We hiked up to a lookout on the island.  The Arctic is beautiful.  It was white snow with patches of blue water and some icebergs too.  Also, while at the lookout point we spotted our first polar bear.  It was way off in the distance, and could only be seen using a telescope.  Even then it only looked like a small dot, but I could make out that it was a polar bear.  We also found a lot of polar bear tracks too on the ice surrounding the island.

We hiked across the mountainside, which was little more than a big pile of rocks and took a look around there.  The scenery is breathtaking.  Huge rocky cliffs plummeting to the ice covered sea.

All too soon it was time to return, and we made the long trek back to camp.  I did my first duty for emptying our bags that serve as toilets.  As weird as this may sound, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  I am glad it’s over though.  Now I only have to do it once more this whole trip.

Dinner was salad followed by arctic char, which I’ve been looking forward to trying.  The char is an arctic fish that is a local delicacy, and it was actually quite good.  Dessert was brownies with warm chocolate sauce and whip cream.  Geoff released everyone to an early bed, although after I finish typing this I still have to learn how to do all the satellite transmission.

To my dear parents, I love you lots and miss you.  Don’t worry, I am very warm and dry and safe and completely enjoying myself.  Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  I’m sorry I can’t be there to celebrate it with you, but I want you to know that you’re the best dad a kid could ask for and I love you.

Tomorrow we hit the Floe Edge for the first time.  I’m looking forward too it and I hope we get to see some more polar bears.

Phillip Swarts


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