Trail Dispatch – Last Day Out


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Distance Traveled: 10 mi / 16 km
Temperature: 9 °F / -13 °C
Cloud Cover: Clear blue skies

The day we have anticipated for two months now is one sleep away. We spent our last full day of the expedition at a base camp on the ice, a mere 10 miles from Iglulik. Our campsite is pristine and quintessentially Arctic. To the north we face a striking display of jumbled ice. To the south and east lie a great white expanse of frozen ocean.

The layover day on the ice gave us a chance to visit with several important guests who came out by snowmobile to see our camp. Included among them were Shelly and Nelson Stetson (John’s wife and son). The reunion was as joyful as anyone could expect, with hugs and laughter, and 5-year old Nelson wondering out loud where his father’s mustache had gone. We were also joined by our expedition sponsors from Fagen Inc. and the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC). Nicole Rom, dedicated Executive Director of the Will Steger Foundation, also came out to welcome us in.

lastday_02.jpgThe day was a perfect balance of rest and activity. Simon built an igloo for the occasion, with enthusiastic help from little Nelson. Sam glowed over the arrival of his trail guitar via snowmobile, and had an Arctic jam session with Simon inside the igloo. Elizabeth and I invited our female guests in for a ‘ladies tea’ in our tent, where we swaped stories from our adventures for news from the outside world. Ed must have been missing the mountains as he headed straight for the highest jumbled ice block in sight and picked his way to the top.

“Ice!” cried Ed, shaking his fists victoriously into the air. He stood on top of the ice block with a chunky pile of freshwater ice down below. At least he thought it was fresh water ice. Ed had thought to follow Lukie’s example and and collect fresh water ice from the grey-blue tower. When he tasted it, however, he found it was quite salty. Stetson went up himself to investigate and found that if he cut down deep enough, the ice was indeed fresh. Lukie seemed well aware of this phenomenon and could mostly likely find fresh water anywhere he chose to camp (another example of skills that come from a culture tied closely to the land).

lastday_03.jpgWhat is fresh ice doing in middle of a salty ocean? If it were an iceberg cut from a fresh water glacier it would make sense, but this was one of many pieces of jumbled sea ice from from pack ice, blown into jutting formations by the strong Arctic wind. Sea ice, in fact, is a changing, evolving beast. Because salt water doesn’t really freeze, water molecules have to push the salt molecules out of the way in order to crystalize. These salt molecules and a small amount of water form into small pockets inside the ice. The salt water, being heavier than fresh water, then drains down in diagonal and vertical channels (similar to the shape of a tree).

The salt water continues to drain all the way through the ice into the ocean, creating an icy filament as water freezes around the cold liquid. The filaments are an important part of the Arctic food web as they help churn up nutrients towards the ocean’s surface. This is partly why we find such an abundance of life around the ice edge. The salty brine pockets and channels in the ice also provide a home for a variety of tiny organisms that help sustain many ice-adapted fish and sea-floor creatures, which are in turn food for birds, whales, seals and walrus.

lastday_04.jpgWith a rainbow of icy blues in our hearts, we leave early tomorrow morning for civilization. It’s hard to believe this long-awaited expedition is coming to a close. It is also hard to know what to feel about it ending…excitement, relief, a little sadness? Time will tell…

Stay tuned for updates from our arrival in Iglulik and our final words of goodbye.

Until next time,
Abby

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