Yesterday the team met Meeka Mike, an Inuit woman dog-musher and guide, who was born in Pangnirtung and has been mushing dogs for twelve years. Meeka is helping the team figure out the best and safest way to leave Iqaluit and reach the beginning of the trail to Pangnirtung, the next community on our route. Because the weather has been so warm, neither of the usual routes out of town is in good condition.
Meeka says if there were more snow, she would mush down the street to the edge of town and join the trail there. Without any snow on the roads, however, mushing down the streets would ruin the plastic on the bottom of the sled runners.
The other common route out of town is down Frobisher Bay to Tar Inlet and then up a frozen river to meet up with the trail to Pangnirtung. Without much snow on the sea ice, however, the conditions on the jumbled sea ice are dangerously fast. Also, the route into Tar Inlet and up the river has large, sharp rocks that are not currently covered by any snow.
Meeka, John Stetson, Simon Qamanirq, Theo Ikummaq, and Lukie Airut spent much of the day today scouting out the different options for getting out of town. They discussed loading all the sleds onto a truck and driving them to the edge of town, then attaching the dog teams to a snowmobile and bringing them along behind the sleds. This option, however, would take too much time and resources.
Finally the team decided to start on the sea ice and mush only a couple of miles on the bay before turning inland and climbing a very steep, snow and rock-covered hill, crossing a small lake and then descending a steep gully down to join the trail to Pangnirtung.
This option will be physically and technically demanding for the entire team. The steep up-hill climb will require everyone, including the base camp support staff, pulling and pushing each of the four sleds along with the dogs. Navigating the gully will require skillful maneuvering of the sleds among the rocks. The gully does not have much snow and will likely be rough on the sled runners. John Stetson said about tomorrow’s route: “The adventure begins right out of the gate.”
We are beginning to get a feel for how much the Arctic people’s mobility depends on good snow and ice conditions. The only ways for the people of Baffin Island to travel between villages this time of year are either to fly, which is prohibitively expensive, or to go overland by dog-team or snowmobile. With the unusually warm weather making travel conditions poor, the people are limited in their ability to visit other communities and to go out hunting and fishing. And the limitations imposed on these activities in turn make a huge impact on the Inuit people’s quality of life.