Heeding to Local Knoledge – Lessons of an Arctic Snowmobile Journey

Heeding to Local Knoledge – Lessons of an Arctic Snowmobile Journey

3412
0
SHARE

 

I did this trip with my brother Ted. It was definitely one for the books. Have a look at my feature article on the trip for more details and pictures. Below, I share some of the things I learned along the way. Click the hyper links to view the how-to videos I shot while in the north.

Tulita

We started our 18 day trip in Tulita, NWT, a small community on the Mackenzie River. Tulita is a remote hamlet that is only connected to road system by a long and dangerous winter road. This is the closest we’d be to civilization for the rest of our journey. Before we left town, our contact in Tulita, Brian Borrowitz, showed us the best way to load a toboggan and properly wrap a tarp around our gear.

Winter road near Tulita, NWT. Photo: Jim Baird
Winter road near Tulita, NWT. Photo: Jim Baird

Deline

Our route then took us along a winter road, that follows the Great Bear River to Deline, the only community on Great Bear Lake. We stayed in Deline for a couple days and made sure our machines were in working condition. While there, went over part of our route with local Leeroy Andre. And we spent some time in the bush around Great Bear cutting and splitting fire wood with Leeroy. We learned that the metal tow brackets on our Equinox Boggans have been known to break. Leeroy shared a tip on drilling holes in the toboggan’s bracket anchors, allowing us to tow them with ropes. He also showed us how to ride our machines in very deep show, steering by shifting our weight from side to side. And then, maybe more importantly, how to get them unstuck when that didn’t work out.

Leeroy adjusts his load of fire wood near Great Bear Lake. Photo: Jim Baird
Leeroy adjusts his load of fire wood near Great Bear Lake. Photo: Jim Baird

Thanks to the advice of the locals, we also abandoned our mountaineering style tent and bought an octagonal canvas tent from someone in town. Everyone was asking us, what are you going to do for heat? Knowing we’d soon be traveling well past the tree line, (we planned to finish our journey 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle), and that a wood stove would be useless, we bought a double burner Coleman stove and filled a jerry can with naphtha gas.

Our Coleman stove doubled as a tent heater. Photo: Jim Baird
Our Coleman stove doubled as a tent heater. Photo: Jim Baird

Another guy in town recommended taking a dry spruce pole with us to use it for checking the ice thickness around the pressure ridges we’d run into. It’s easy to tell how safe the ice is by the sound the spruce pole makes when driving it down onto the ice.

The Brothers canvas tent at Dismal Lakes. Photo: Jim Baird
The Brothers canvas tent at Dismal Lakes in Nunavut. Photo: Jim Baird

The Arctic Circle

Our journey continued onto the hard packed drifts of Great Bear Lake. With the constant thumping of our toboggans hitting the drifts, we were very happy that we’d been told to meticulously pack our gear and tie everything down tightly. Even still, the hours of riding over the drifts broke some of our gear.

Jim and Ted Bump into some other travelers between Great Bear and Kugluktuk. Photo: Ted Baird
Jim and Ted Bump into some other travelers between Great Bear and Kugluktuk. Photo: Ted Baird

Almost past the Bear, we ran into a group of Inuit From Kugluktuk who were camped on the Arctic Circle. In speaking with them, they recommended a safer route across the sea ice than the one we had planned. We took their advice; these people know the land and ice conditions better than anyone. Bumping into them may have saved our lives. The sea ice conditions on our original route had recently become unstable.

Jim Baird poses for a picture after crossing the Tree Line with Great Bear Lake in the background. Photo: Ted Baird
Jim Baird poses for a picture after crossing the Tree Line with Great Bear Lake in the background. Photo: Ted Baird

Kugluktuk

Passing the Tree Line we began making our way through the Barren Grounds until we reached Kugluktuk and the Arctic Coast. In Kugluktuk, we had to change the runners on our toboggans which had worn down to the thickness of a dime. I had no idea that snow could be so abrasive. We learned that our fiberglass toboggans were not ideal for the rocky, low show conditions of Inuit territory. Komatic sleds with steel runners are the way to go in the Arctic, but we were unable to buy any in Kugluktuk. It turned out that the initial route we’d planned from Kugluktuk, passes through rocky country which would have smashed holes in our fiberglass toboggans. Again, we were thankful for the advice of Gerry and Isaac who we’d met on the Arctic Circle.

Komatic sleds on the Barren Grounds. Photo: Jim Baird
Komatic sleds on the Barren Grounds. Photo: Jim Baird

We refueled in town and then headed out onto the sea ice. While riding over the rough ice of the Coronation Gulf, we crossed the Northwest Passage to reach Victoria Island, where we began traveling north along its coast. We were now in the Arctic Archipelago.

Jim Baird along the western coast of Victoria Island in Safety Channel. Photo: Ted Baird
Jim Baird along the western coast of Victoria Island in Safety Channel. Photo: Ted Baird

Ulukhaktok

We continued over the Wollaston Peninsula of Victoria Island to a massive Sound. After crossing the sound, we pushed on through Safety Channel and completed our journey in Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories. But it was not the first time we’d visited the small Inuit hamlet. Two years prior, Ted and I completed a month long canoe trip in Ulukhaktok. And it was then that local legend, Pat Ekpakohak, told us how to travel in the Arctic by snowmobile. It was Pat that inspired the trip we’d just completed. Pat was very proud of the trip we’d just made, it was good to see him.

Pat Ekpakohak's komatic sled with jerry can expertly lashed down. Photo: Jim Baird
Pat Ekpakohak’s komatic sled with jerry cans expertly lashed down. Photo: Jim Baird

 

SHARE
Previous articleThe Kesagami River Solo Episode 10 Portaging and Double Packing
Next articleHow-to Do The Indian Stroke
Jim Baird is an Adventurer, videographer, writer, photographer, and talent. His previous rolls include extensive work with a map company as well as guiding and prospecting. Jim has shot video for Cineflix productions, BBC Worldwide, 13 Minds, and The Weather Network US. He's produced video series such as “The Kesagami River Solo” and “Lessons From The Trail with Jim Baird”. Jim’s content has also appeared in print for several publications that include Explore, Canoeroots, Real Fishing, Ontario Out of Doors, Outdoor Canada, Canoe & Kayak, and Field & Stream magazines. Jim is an expert woodsman, white-water canoeist, survivalist, and a bold wilderness navigator. His expedition experience includes a solo trip down the canoe eating rapids of the Kesagami and then along the tempestuous James Bay coat, an 800-mile snowmobile expedition across the Northwest Passage, 300miles above the Arctic Circle. A month long descent of the Northwest Territories Kuujjua River in the Arctic Archipelago, followed by 120-kilometers of paddling on the Arctic Ocean. He's also completed a 33-day canoe expedition via four rivers including the Adlatok in northern Quebec and Labrador.

NO COMMENTS

LEAVE A REPLY