The expedition team and support staff began today at 5:30 a.m. with breakfast, final expedition preparations and cold temperatures. Finally, the weather outside was starting to feel like winter. The colder temperatures allowed the sea ice and tidal overflow to firm up and improve travel. After final lashing of equipment and interviews with local radio, the team pushed the 1200 pound sleds through the streets of Iqaluit and down to the sea ice where the 44 dogs waited.
The temperature was -10°F/-23°C and the wind howled out of the northwest at speeds up to 40 MPH/64 KPH. It took about an hour and a half to hook up the dogs to the sleds and get ready for travel. The mixing of the two different cultures provided a fascinating comparison, the nylon webbing and cordura of the American sleds contrasted with the seal skin, walrus hide ropes and caribou antler components of the Inuit sleds. This paralleling of traditions has been at the center of Will’s talks about what sets this expedition apart. To see it unfold and come to life after so many months of preparation inspired all who viewed and experienced the blustery scene.
Flat, slick sea ice made for easy going for the first stretch, but after an hour or two underway the route twisted through jumbled and broken pack ice with pressure rubble extending five to six feet upward. This nasty section of bone-jarring, sled-crushing ice proved difficult for all involved and it took a toll on sleds and on the anticipated schedule. What should have taken minutes, began to take hours.
After the pack ice the team headed inland and to the trail to Pangnirtung. The trail the angled up a steep and rocky slope, but fortunately there were several extra people on hand who had accompanied the expedition out of Iqaluit to help push, pull and grunt the sleds to the top. People and dogs working together was a must and once a sled was committed to heading for the top there was no turning back. The trip from bottom to top for each was about 45 minutes to 1 hour and at the top everyone was ready for a break.
The rest of the route was relatively easy, however the gusts of wind still threatened to frostbite unprotected cheeks and noses. The team proceeded on the trail to Pangnirtung to camp 1, a hard-earned 2 miles/3.2 kilometers from Iqaluit. They settled in for a night of wind and cold with a certain happiness and mental transition that comes on the first night of an expedition.
Stay tuned tomorrow (February 25th), when the team begins their dispatches from the trail.