Ellesmere Island to Greenland
In 1999 we were looking for an interesting route for our annual spring arctic trip. I had read that the polar Inuit of Greenland regularly crossed to Ellesmere Island for hunting. The early explorers, Cook, Peary and others often crossed between Greenland and Ellesmere. At the narrowest place, Pim Island it is only about 6o km wide. One can easily see land across the ice on a clear day. We decided that it would be interesting to follow this ancient route from Ellesmere Island to Greenland.
When I started to research ice conditions, I was told that in the nine years from 1990 to 1998, there were three yearswhen there was no ice. This meant that would only had a 66% change to cross. We were fortunate to be sponsored RADARSAT images of the ice. This gave us a detailed images of the water, thin ice, thick ice and broken ice. And we were fortunate to have ice.
We started from Norman Lockyear Island. We made a big loop north and east going north of the open water. The was a fantastic number of polar bear tracks. We had our German Shepard dog with us to keep the bears from pestering us. For three days the ice was good, then it became so badly broken that we had to walk for two days. On day six we reached the edge of the Polynya where the ice was smoother. The water was alive, birds and seals everywhere. Bear tracks up and down the shore. We continued around the edge of the polynya and then headed southward to Rennslaer Bay. We crossed a set of dogsled tracks and wondered if it was Lonnie Dupre on his way around Greenland? As we approached Greenland the number of polar bear tracks diminished to nothing. It seems that the bears stay on the Canadian side where they are not hunted.
The approach to Rennslaer is stunning. There are dark brown cliffs with tinges of red. Looks like a row of 19th century Russian building! In Rennslaer bay there is a cabin. We spend an extra day resting. Is this Cook’s Annatok? Where he over wintered in 1907-08 before setting out on his attempt at the North Pole.
From the cabin, we went inland and up onto the ice cap. We saw a few peary caribou. The climb was gradual, only the last fifty minutes upon to the ice was really steep. We peak out at about 4500 feet. The trip across the ice cap was white, flat and uneventful. The ski down was another story! The wind was blowing gale force from behind. We had to drop all the way to sea level while avioding any crevasses. There were old dog sled tracks so I decided that if the dog sleds took this route then, it can’t be too bad for crevasses. At the bottom, (Pitorafik) the wind was howling. All the snow was blown away, not enough to put up the tent. We had been told there was a cabin but we couldn’t see it. The ice was gone, we walked along the ice foot. I looked all around with the binoculars but couldn’t see a cabin. It was late and everyone was exhausted. Tim and I climbed up a small hill to get a better view. On the other side was the cabin. more of a box than a cabin but out here it was a castle! That night it blew really hard. We understood why the box was anchored with cables!
It took three long days walking along the ice foot to reach Siorapaluk. In places there was no ice foot and we had to walk along steep snow banks. One guy slipped and almost slide into the water. We cross the bottom of one fiord just as the ice was breaking up. The ice was heaving as we crossed it.
Siorapaluk is a community of about fifty people. It is difficult for tourists to get here. There are few visitors. So you can imagine their surprise when a group of skiers arrived on foot from Canada! Almost the entire town turned up to greet us. When I asked if we cold camp in a particular spot near the town, I was told “no”. So I suggested another spot – same answer “no”. Then someone directed us to a house. They had emptied a house for us to stay in.
Siorapaluk is a traditional hunting community. People were incredibly friendly. We traded some of our camping gear for seal skin mitts, boots, jewellery, even a kayak!
The final day, First Air twin otter arrived from Resolute to take us home.