Thursday, June 6, 2013, Pond Inlet, Nunavut

Pond Inlet, Nunavut
Where We Are Tonight
Pond Inlet, Nunavut

I woke at 5 in my suite in Ottawa, sent Lee some email, and practiced photographing the lovely dawn. (I have borrowed Lee’s camera for this trip and am still learning how to use it. As a photographer, I’m pretty much in the iPhone snaps category.)

It was startling to realize that that was the last dawn I’ll see for a while, as the sun won’t set for us again until we return to Ottawa.

Our last sunrise
(Click on images to enlarge)
In the hotel lobby, I immediately recognized Kate and also got to meet two of our other companions, Emma and John. Later at the airport, I met Mary, Jo, Jenny and Graham, and Margaret and Graham. They are all British and seem to be pleasant and interesting and accomplished, mostly academics. Many have traveled with Mark before. (There will be only thirteen of us in the group in addition to Mark and the guides from Arctic Kingdom.)

Waiting in the departure lounge, I savored what will likely be my last Diet Coke for the week. (The others will be deprived of alcohol in Nunavut, as many of the communities there have strong prohibition laws.)

The first leg of our trip was from Ottawa to Iqaluit, the capital of the Canadian federal territory of Nunavut, which was formed in 1999. “Nunavut” means “our land” in Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit people. Inuktitut is the predominant language in Nunavut. Pre-recorded announcements on our flights (such as, “Do not leave the plane before the propellers stop”) were given in English, French, and Inuktitut.

The importance of the Narwhal to the people of Nunavut is shown by its prominence on the Nunavut coat of arms, co-equal with the Caribou.

The flight to Iqaluit went smoothly. I spent the time re-reading A Naturalist’s Guide to the Arctic by E.C. Pielou. I first read it five years ago at Tiffany’s suggestion but needed a refresher, especially the parts about Arctic landforms. I pleased myself by spotting solifluction lobes on the side of one mountain we flew over, just minutes after I’d read about them. Looking out now and then, I first saw green land with many ponds and lakes, the relics of past Ice Ages. Then the next time I looked out, all was white and blue. How I love the Arctic! (Many of the other folks in the group seem to have been bitten by the Arctic bug, too.)

Nunavut Coat of Arms
Nunavut Coat of Arms
When we landed at Iqaluit, we began seeing signs in the graceful syllabary used for writing Inuktitut:
Iqaluit Airport Inuktitut Signboards
For our one-hour layover in Iqaluit, we were met by a minder from Arctic Kingdom, who said he could take four of us at a time to visit the center of town and see the legislative building. Since I’d been there before and some of the others hadn’t, I stayed in the airport and took advantage of the opportunity to view the Inuit art display. (I can recall regretting being rushed past it when we flew into Iqaluit five years ago.)
The Legislative Assembly’s building is well worth a visit. I remember particularly the Narwhal tusks on the premier’s sealskin-covered chair.

Nunavut Legislative Chamber
Nunavut Legislative Chamber
Premier’s Seat
Premier’s Chair
In the airport, we chatted with some people who’d just arrived from Pond Inlet after having spent the past week camped out on the ice where we’ll be soon. They’d loved it but warned us that the sledge ride back from the camp had been very cold, with 40 mph winds.

I also got to meet two more members of our party, the only Canadians among us, Elaine and her 13-year-old son Ryan.

Before we left Iqaluit, the man from Arctic Kingdom gave us a package of snowmobile parts to take on with us to Pond Inlet, where he said they were being eagerly awaited.

Elaine and Ryan
Elaine and Ryan
At an inukshuk they found while geocaching outside Iqaluit
Our next flight was on a 20-passenger prop-jet operated by First Air. (Here is a map for following the rest of our journey through Nunavut, up the east coast of Baffin Island from Iqaluit to Clyde River to Pond Inlet.) The flight attendant was a charming, but no-nonsense Parisienne, who didn’t let us get away with having anything loose in the plane during takeoff and landing.

The land we flew over was a partially-drowned mountain range, the sea coming in between the mountains as fjords or as inlets that isolated the mountains into a jumble of islands. Many of them were topped with glaciers, and all the water I could see from the left side of the plane was frozen.

Glaciers Sea Ice
The plane had a refueling stop at Clyde River, about half the way up Baffin Island. This was our first gravel runway of the trip. We were all asked to get off for the refueling, so went out to explore in front of the airport, where I tried to spot the Ravens I thought I’d seen as we were landing. We found a friendly little dog tied to an ATV and later watched it trot off very happily when its family drove away.
Clyde River Airport Happy Dog
The scenery grew even more spectacular on the next leg of our flight, high mountains with glaciers on the left, sea ice with open patches of water on the right. Finally, around 5:30, we reached the hamlet of Pond Inlet, home to about 1500 people, the largest of the four hamlets in Nunavut that lie north of the 72nd parallel.

Pond Inlet is on the northern coast of Baffin Island and looks across a channel to Bylot Island, which is mostly a national park. As the plane was landing, the flight attendant announced that we were “arriving in Pond Inlet before the mosquito season; you have no idea how lucky you are.”

As soon as we were in the airport, I grabbed my camera to photograph the spectacular mountains rising beyond the town and its sound. In such a setting, the works of man can hardly fail to be a blight, I’m afraid.

Pond Inlet
Pond Inlet
Mark was on hand to greet us at the airport, along with Tom Lennartz, the expedition leader for Arctic Kingdom. With them was the final member of our group, Sarah, who has been in Pond Inlet for a couple of days.

We loaded our bags onto vehicles for the short trip to the hotel and then walked from the airstrip to the hotel, doffed our shoes to keep from tracking in the omnipresent sand, dropped our things in our rooms, and headed for the hotel dining room for dinner and orientation. (Well, I first took the time to connect my iPhone to the hotel’s wifi to let Lee know I’d arrived, but he’d been watching online and already knew that the plane had landed. I was glad of the three emails he’d sent, as I have had no cellphone signal since we left Ottawa — thanks, AT&T — so I can’t talk with him.)

We were given a warm welcome by Rita, who manages the hotel and does the cooking. She had prepared a good hot roast turkey dinner for us. Tom admitted at dinner that the requirement that we bring along biodegradable toothpaste was a mistake. He took a bit of ragging about it, as each of us had struggled to meet that requirement and those of us who succeeded had come to regret our success. After dinner, Tom and Mark both spoke about the logistics of the trip, which appears to be very well organized. Each of us was given a water bottle and an insulated mug to use to keep ourselves hydrated in the dry Arctic air. “These will be your friends for the week.”

Tom Lennartz
Tom Lennartz
After dinner, we adjourned to the Nattinnak Centre, the hamlet’s visitor and cultural center. It is a very handsome building designed to resemble the icebergs that float in Eclipse Sound below it in the summer after the ice floe melts. (The turquoise trim echoes, but doesn’t quite duplicate, the glorious color one sees in the depth of icebergs.)
Nattinnak Centre View from Nattinnak Centre
From the windows of the cultural center, we could look out onto the ice of the sound, which serves as a sort of livingroom for the town at this time of year. The town’s dog teams are kept out there to reduce the mess. All over the ice there were Ravens and Glaucous Gulls scavenging the dogs’ food (seal meat).
Sled Dogs on Ice Floe Ravens and Glaucous Gulls Scavenging
Some townspeople were there to welcome us with a cultural performance. It was organized by a woman with an adorable small daughter who did her best to steal the show. Two other women and two men joined in. They danced and sang and demonstrated traditional sports and games. The men’s high-kicking ability was phenomenal. I winced at watching some of their other sports, such as mouth pulling, which seemed to be designed to test fortitude more than strength. I should imagine that that was an important character attribute traditionally. The youngest woman had her toddler along and finally stowed him in the back of her amauti (a parka with a built-in baby pouch below the hood) when he got a bit rambunctious. (The little children were clearly very much cherished and indulged.)

The demonstration of keeping a traditional seal oil lamp burning reminded me of a similar demonstration we saw five years ago. It is obviously a tricky process and must have been a very time-consuming but vital chore for the women in traditional times (which didn’t prevent the little girl from mischievously extinguishing it when her mother wasn’t looking). The show was well done, and it gave me pleasure to see young people so clearly rejoicing in their traditional culture.

Performer’s Daughter
(Photo courtesy of Ryan and Elaine)

(Photo courtesy of Ryan and Elaine)
We had a chance to visit the exhibits in the small museum before the show. After the show, Mark called us into another room where a Narwhal was displayed. It was much larger than I’d pictured in my mind (the males are 13-18 feet long, excluding the tusk, which continues to grow throughout life and can get to be ten feet long). Mark gave us a good talk on Narwhals, which he clearly loves. He has spent the past week out at the camp, and they did see Narwhals, which is certainly good news. And he claims to have taken 1,463 photographs of King Eiders (which will be a life bird for me) in between seeing the Narwhals.
As we walked back to the hotel, I could hear Snow Buntings singing and then managed to see some. Mark pointed out a Snow Bunting nest he’d spotted on one of the houses. I paused to photograph a dead Raven nailed to a house to discourage live Ravens from messing with the skins that were being dried nearby.
Male Snow Bunting
Male Snow Bunting
(Photo courtesy of John Chapman)
Raven nailed to the wall
Back in our room, Kate and I got our luggage organized so that we’ll be able to pull out extra layers easily should our long trip along the ice tomorrow turn cold. I’m sure I’m too excited to get much sleep tonight. What a week it’s been!