13-Mar-2004 -- The tale of capturing North 64, West 69
It all started from a small article in a Canadian national newspaper.
In a few brief words, the article described the idea of capturing confluence points. Being a long time professional land surveyor this quite intrigued me, so I clipped the article and took the time to look up the website. It looked pretty interesting.
I took a quick look at the possibilities in my general neighborhood, and discovered that there were no points conveniently near to the City of Iqaluit, (pop of approx. 6000) located on Baffin Island, Nunavut Territory, Canada. But a couple of points were not that far away either. Of course there are no roads or highways in Nunavut, so access to points is either by boat, hiking or by snow mobile in the winter. It being winter at this point in time, and owning 2 machines, snow mobiling was the obvious choice. This would almost certainly be the easiest way to get to most sites near to Iqaluit.
As I talked to my friends; they seemed to be shy about the idea at first, perhaps thinking it was just another of Stans' hare brained surveying ideas (sounding a bit too much like a work project), but as I explained the idea....they grew keen to go.
All it took was a little planning. Working in a surveying and mapping office, I had access to maps, and soon was into planning a route with waypoints through the easiest terrain to get to the nearest site, being North 64, West 69. We chose to follow a known trail for a few kilometres, then follow a river and lake system northerly, that passed just to the east of the confluence site.
March 10/04 was one of the coldest days of the winter here, with the temperature reported at minus 70 degrees with wind chill factored in. The 3 day forecast was that it was to warm up on the weekend to minus 26 with no mention of wind. Nice and warm!!
So, on the evening of Wednesday the 10th, after a few hot toddies with my friend Vincent, we decided it would be a great idea to go find the point on Saturday, with Sunday as the back up day if the weather on Saturday turned out to be really cold.
Next day, I sent an Email to the friends mentioned above, telling them of the plan. Several were interested and immediately committed to go; while others thought it might be too much for them, as most of the way to the site (36.2 kilometres) is not on any of the established snowmobile trails. This is always a very serious consideration, as one mistake at these temperatures can be disastrous. In the end, 6 young adventurous souls came on the trip besides myself, being: Josee, Celine, Julie, Markus, John and Vincent. 3 women and 4 guys. I was the old guy, so I told them that they had to look after me.
I woke up at 0615 on Saturday morning and looked out the window to see a perfect day, sunny and clear. Great! Then I listened to the weather station on the radio. Hmmm....the current conditions were sunny, minus 32 Celsius, with an East wind of 4KM, with a resulting windchill of minus 44 degrees! Yikes!
The forecast for the day was a little better. Sunny, high of minus 26, wind NW @ 20Km, with a resulting windchill of minus 38 degrees. The tides were forecast as being a high of 10.9 metres at 0824 AM, and low of 0.8 metres at 1439 PM. This was important as we needed to cross the Sylvia Grinnell river just at the start of our trip. It is often subject to water overflow at high tide, especially near full moon, which had just occurred the past week. It turned out not to be a problem as it was cold enough, that any overflow was quite frozen and solid to travel on. (there was a foot of overflow the next day, when it was quite a bit warmer).
We were to meet at 1000 AM at one of the 2 local gas stations. I had previously offered my bigger machine to anyone who wanted to come, but had no machine. Sure enough! At 0950 Josee called to say that she had discovered a problem with her machine (identical to mine), and could she borrow mine? OK no problem. So out I went to fire up the second machine. By the time we got ourselves all straightened out, we left town at 1045 AM.
We followed a well established trail for about the first 10 km, westerly, to a small lake where the locals ice fish for land locked char. Then we followed the unnamed river/lake system almost due north. Snow conditions were passable but we had to dodge around rocks patches quite a bit, particularly where we found overflow on the river and lake system, which meant we had to go alongside the water on the land. With a snack break, it took us nearly 4 hours to get to the site. We saw wolf footprints about half way there, but did not see any animals themselves.
All the machines performed well. 7 machines of various makes, 2 trailing kamotiks, which are traditional wooden sleds held together with cord. The kamotiks were loaded with extra gas and safety gear. One person (who has asked not to be named) had a small scare when the gas gauge on their machine registered near empty. After checking under the hood, we discovered that the gauge had been stuck, and that they had plenty of gas. Later that same person damaged a ski cover on a rock patch. We quickly found out that duct tape is useless at this temperature. The damage was more annoying than serious, so we continued on.
Of a more serious nature, near to the confluence site; Vincent rolled his machine. While climbing a hill to seek a route to the confluence point having enough snow to travel on, he rolled his machine; damaging his mirror and GPS connector to the cigarette lighter power source. He was OK thankfully.
Vincent and I both had Garmin Etrex GPS’s connected to our machines' cigarette lighter power source. This worked extremely well, as we navigated generally towards the confluence point, and then around the final rock outcrops and rock patches near to the confluence site itself.
After 4 hours, it was quite exciting to finally drive up to the confluence point. The point itself was on the side of a small hill, quite near to a very large boulder. The view was great looking westerly and southerly. Very sunny and very white.
We quickly took our confluence pictures and notes as it was very chilly and we also wanted to get back to town before nightfall. We had some trouble with the cameras, as they kept freezing up, so it was an exercise in putting them into an internal pocket (armpit?) to warm them, then quickly taking them out to snap a picture or 2 before they froze up again. The garmin screens became quite slow but still worked. As I programmed the waypoint for our going home coordinates, I noticed that the knobs were quite frosty, crunching as I pressed them; but I was pleasantly surprised to see that it gave me the direction and distance to home...36.2 kilometres as the raven flies. After a few group pictures with the Nunavut flag, using everyone's warmed cameras, we quickly departed for the trip home.
The trip home was uneventful, except that in following the same river and lake system, we encountered fresh overflow, so backtracked a little and went westward to another north/south valley. The Garmins were quite useful here, to corroborate that we were heading in the correct general direction in the dark. About 10 kilometres out of town, we came across another well used trail, and followed it back to town. We passed two hunters along the way who were stopped along the trail. I felt badly, as the racket from our 7 machines would have certainly scared any caribou or other game far away.
The last 10 kilometres were the worst for me, as I was pretty tired and just trying to keep up with those younger folks over the extremely bumpy trail. The thought of relaxing in a nice hot tub kept me going!
I had promised to report in to friends by 6 PM that we were all safe (always recommended in these parts), so I quickly drove past the gas station and arrived home on the dot. They were quite relieved to hear from me.
I noted the weather conditions upon my return. Sunny, minus 26 Celsius, with a NW 20km wind. Windchill of minus 38. It felt very good to be in out of the weather.
And for those who are interested, here are a couple of informative websites for Iqaluit, and Nunavut.
Text by Stan Hutchinson, Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada.