Trail Dispatch – On glare ice–no snow for travel

tent_down.jpgCoordinates: 66.36.799N, 65.13.563 (just on the southern tip of Summit Lake)
Distance Traveled: 9.32 mi/ 14.9 km

Temperature: -10 °F/ -23 °C
Cloud Cover: Cloudy
Barometric Pressure: 985 hPa
Sunrise: 6:23 a.m.
Sunset: 6:37 p.m.

Yesterday there was no hope of sending out a text and photo dispatch. Winds were gusting up to 70 miles per hour. It was impossible to walk outside without being blown down the glare ice of the river. Our tents were shredding, cords breaking, tent poles snapping and blowing sand and snow was finding its way into every nook and cranny. On my watch, the graph of the barometric pressure plummeted for twenty-seven straight hours, indicating a storm of great intensity.


will.jpg We decided to not travel that day and focus our efforts on not blowing away. We were lucky that the temperatures were unseasonably warm — 10 degrees Fahrenheit. If this had been a typical Arctic storm, we could have had a much less pleasant experience.

What is it like, inside a tent during a severe storm?
Click here to watch and find out 2.04 Mb

The day before, however, we had crossed the Arctic Circle, marked by an Inukshuk and a wooden sign. The sky was clear, except for the tell-tale high cirrus clouds that preceded the storm. The clear air allowed us to see the remnants of numerous glaciers that at one point had snaked their way down to the valley floor. Their lateral and terminal moraines, piles of debris they had pushed in front of them as they advanced down the mountain, stood out many hundreds of meters away from the current, truncated end of the glaciers, showing us clearly where they had once reached.

Today as we traveled, excited to be out of our tents and moving once more after our forced rest, the sky cleared just enough to cast a mysterious light around the now just visible peaks. We saw Thor Peak, around the back side of which is the Fork Beard Glacier. This is the glacier whose rapid retreat is being documented by the Geology Department of the University of Ottawa. In 1956 the glacier reached the valley floor. Now we could not even see the glacier until we had climbed up a steep slope up-valley from the glacier.

windy_lake.jpg Everywhere around us truncated glaciers hung precariously from the jagged mountains.

The winds last night scoured any remaining snow off the frozen river. Our dogs’ feet skidded out from underneath them as they tried to find traction. We would try to run in front of the dogs to show them the way and to reassure them on the glare ice, but even we had difficulty staying upright.

The river had lumps and depressions where the ice had expanded and contracted. Some of the remaining snow would collect in the depressions. If the dogsled got hung up on the glare ice in one of the snow patches with all the dogs in front of it, there was little hope of freeing the sled. On the steep sections of the river, Nancy came up with the idea of hacking toe-holds into the frozen waterfalls with our axe. With these small steps we could push and assist the dogs with pulling the sled up.

We are now in camp on Summit Lake, resting in our tents. As you might guess from the name of the lake, we have completed our climb over Akshayuk Pass. It is all downhill from here. We are hoping for some more snow to help slow our descent and give the dogs purchase.




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