The trick for the mushers was going to be to get the dogs to run towards the edge of the polynia and then turn right, skirting along its edge, just between Jerry and his tripod and the edge of the water. There was no path for the dogs to follow, so Stetson in the lead sled would be telling Whisper, the lead dog, which way to go using “Gee” for “right” and “Haw” for “left.
I had asked Harry, one of our Inuit friends who met us with our resupply of dog food and fuel, if the ice was thin near the edge. “Oh yes,” he replied, “very very thin.” When Simon and I had fallen through thin ice a few days ago, it was merely an inconvenience – it was a warm day and we were close to shore in shallow water. This polynia, however, was in the middle of a wide stretch of sea ice with deep water below it.
I held my breath as I watched the dog-teams approach. They had just left camp and were full of energy. Whisper listened to Stetson’s commands and obeyed, but I had to imagine that she was wondering, “Where are we going?” She turned the team with plenty of time to avoid the thin ice and passed right between Jerry and the ice edge.
That polynia wasn’t the only open water we saw today. Just before we reached camp tonight, we passed over our first open lead, a crack in the sea ice with only a thin film of new ice covering it. This lead was small enough that the dogs and sleds passed over it without incident. Sam, however, while he was exploring on foot, punched one of his mukluked feet through a thin lead. When we picked tent sites, we made sure to put them far from the leads.
In the far distance we could see evidence of even more open water. Dark clouds hung low over the far horizon. We knew that those clouds marked the floe edge, the end of the pack ice and the beginning of open sea. The clouds formed from the water evaporating from the open water and then condensing in the cool air.
Like the polynia, the floe edge is another area rich with wildlfe. We saw several caravans of snowmobiles pulling komatek sleds and kayaks towards the ice edge. We knew they would be coming home soon with seals to feed their dogs and families.