Max and Martin have embarked on their great northern adventure, the dog sled and ski trip from Tuktoyaktuk to Kugluktuk, on the Arctic ocean. After a long and tiring week of travel by truck from Yellowknife to Tuk, they have now set off with 11 enthusiastic dogs, one 14 foot sled, 2 pairs of skis, one GoPro video camera, and about 900 pounds of gear.
Just getting to the starting point was a trip in itself. They drove 3000 km in the big truck, bulging with 11 dogs, 1700 pounds of gear, (half of which they shipped ahead from Inuvik for a half way resupply) and a sled. From Yellowknife they travelled southwest into northern British Columbia, then northwest to Whitehorse, then north along the Dempster highway to Inuvik, and finally onto the last leg, the winter ice road to Tuk. As the crow flies that’s a distance of several hundred km, but alas, there is only one road to the coast in these parts. The drive was long, and made longer by the fact that they stopped every 4 hours to let out the dogs for a stretch and walk. They were of course bouncing with enthusiasm for the adventure, and well rested after doing nothing for days. Martin says the dogs are great, quite lovely but also big strong bruts who are very hard to take for a walk!
He called me from the camp near Whitehorse one night and the call went something like this:
Martin: Hi Tandi. We are here in BARK! BARK! Whitehorse, setting BARK! up our camp BARK BARK!
Tandi: Hi Martin. It sounds pretty noisy.
Martin: BARK! BARK BARK! Yes, it is. BARK! The dogs are staked out BARK near the tent. BARK BARK! It might BARK be a noisy night BARK BARK!
And it was. I expect they all are.
They have been traveling on the ice for 5 days now, and via the miracle of the satellite phone, I just got off the phone with Martin. (I don’t know how the spouses of those first polar explorers did it – years and years without any news. I’d be paralyzed with worry. It’s really great to hear from him every few days and just know he is okay.) It wasn’t a great connection, so I missed the part where he was describing the beauty of the land, and it’s too cold for him to uncover his ear for very long, but I was able to glean a bit of news. It hasn’t been very easy so far. The weather has been bitterly cold, with significant wind coming from the east, with wind chills near minus 40 most of the time. They unfortunately have to spend the whole day skiing east, right into it, and they’ve both had a bit of minor frostbite. The skies have been overcast, which makes for flat light and difficult skiing conditions, as it is hard to see the contours of the snow. The going is very slow – one of them skis out in front of the dogs, to help with the route finding, and by taking turns every 90 minutes in this way they travel 7 hours per day. They are moving slower than they expected. Along with wind and the cold snow (which means the skis don’t glide at all) they have to cross pressure ridges, areas where two plates of ice have come up against each other, and have created a ridge, or wall of ice, which must either be crossed by going over, or around. There are lots of pressure ridges.
Martin says the solitude is amazing, wide open endless white in all directions, although they have seen the sun shining on the cliffs along the coastline, off to the south.
While they are mainly warm enough, the real challenge is to keep dry. The dampness that arises in the sleeping bags and tent at night has to be overcome, as once the gear is wet it is no longer warm. With only a cook stove its hard to dry things, but they are managing.
Martin sounds good, but says it very hard going, and he is tired.
Do take care my love, take very good care.