Saturday, September 17, 2016

Erebus and Terror Bay
74°42’N  91°45’W
-2°C / 28° F
Winds west 10-15 knots
Overcast skies

This exceptional day started when we woke to find we were anchored in Erebus and Terror Bay. Few people can claim to have eaten breakfast in the same place as Franklin and his men.

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It is an incredible spot with the dark cliffs of Devon Island ringed around the bay, and rising magnificently out of the snow covered scree at their base. The island was snow covered; more snow than any of the staff who’d previously visited had seen there before.

Sept.17.1.jpgLarge hunks of ice with blue undersides drifted close to the shore. It was a spectacular spot. We had an early breakfast, then went ashore to the gravesites at Beechey Island. The sky was an ominous granite grey that matched the desolate spot where four headstones rose obtrusively from the thick snow. Three mark the resting place of Franklin’s men who died here in 1845 during the expedition’s first winter in the Arctic. A fourth belongs to a member of Robert McClure’s (1850-54) expedition.

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We were happy to stretch our legs after being on board for a few days, and some folks chose to hike up the mountain behind the graves to the plateau at the top where Franklin’s men had built a cairn. I would’ve loved to climb up and see it too, but was needed to talk about the historical elements on the ground level.

sept.17.6.jpgA large contingent hiked the kilometre and a half to Northumberland House. The line of walkers trooping over the snow resembled what the funeral procession of Franklin’s men must’ve looked returning from the burial of one of their comrades 170 years ago.

Barrel staves, the cross of tin cans and many of the relics usually seen here were buried beneath snow.  Northumberland House,  built in 1853 by Sir Edward Belcher’s men as a storehouse for the expedition based at Beechey, poked its remaining few beams, boards and posts out of the snow.Sept.17_9.jpg

John Ross left a yacht for search parties to use. But all that remains of the Mary is her mast,  protruding grey and weathered from the snow on the terraced beach.Sept.17_10.jpg

Franklin’s Cenotaph, erected by Edward Belcher’s men in 1852 to honour those who died searching for the lost expedition, still stands sentinel behind the skeleton of Northumberland HouseSept.17_11.jpg. Lady Franklin’s marble tablet cemented at the foot of this cenotaph lay hidden beneath several inches of ice and snow. But the tablet honouring Joseph-Rene Bellot, as well as the lead faceplates of fallen men on the wooden cenotaph stuck out dark against the snow.

It was curious to see the more modern monuments, such as the one from Princess Marguerite erected 40 years, wSept.17_25.JPGere crumbling.

 

 

 

 

Compared to the remains of Belcher’s expedition, they had not fared well.

The sky was spectacular with golden streaks stretching open the grisly grey clouds over the snowy headlands around the bay. It was a stark and desolate place, but gloriously beautiful at the same time. We appreciated how this must’ve seemed a welcome harbour when Franklin’s ships first dropped anchor, and to the subsequent search and rescue expeditions. We returned to the ship awed by the history of the place, and a fuller appreciation of how harsh life at Beechey must’ve been.

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After lunch, we headed for Radstock Bay to the east, intending to walk to the Thule  archaelogical site. We halted partway there to watch a bear ambling along the icy beach at the base of a cliff wall.  Not long afterwards, we entered Radstock Bay and anchored near the impressive 650 foot limestone Caswell Tower. sept.17.23.jpg

The staff landed and were just getting ready to welcome the first two zodiacs of passengers when a call went over the radio that the bear had rounded the entrance to the bay. He was heading towards us, so the landing was aborted. The zodiacs turned back, and instead cruised among the ice at a distance from the shore watching the bear sauntering along the land until he disappeared over a snowy ridge.

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At recap, David Newland sang three songs: one for each of Franklin’s men buried at Beechey. It was a fitting homage to an exceptional historic Arctic landmark, and a remarkable day.

 

 

 

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Prince Regent Inlet
89°05’W
-3°C /26°F
14 knot winds

A 06:30 wake up call announced that a polar bear was spotted on an ice floe off the starboard side!

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We all trooped up on deck, cameras and binoculars slung around our necks. The ship slowly came alongside the ice floe where it stopped so we could watch the large male bear. He was lying down, but got up after a while and wandered down the floe.

In a ridge, he pawed up a round nest of snow and curled up in it. Later, he got up, sauntered back along the floe, and leaped over a couple of water leads on the ice. The ship held her position for about 45 minutes while we photographed him. alongside it was an incredible opportunity to see a bear at a relatively close range. It was quite curious about us too and watched the great beast in the water alongside it’s ice floe.sept-16-9After the bear excitement subsided, Milbry gave a presentation on Women Polar Explorers, which was a refreshing change from the usual stories about  Peary, Franklin, and all the testosterone that wandered around the Arctic. Edna talked about the pre division of the Northwest Territories leading to the creation of Nunavut. After lunch as a pre-Beechey Island landing briefing, I talked about the artifacts type things we’d see on Beechey, and the things we wouldn’t see. For many history buffs on  board, Beechey Island is a highlight as the site of the Franklin expedition’s first overwintering and the base camp for subsequent search parties.

We continued northward through Prince Regent Inlet to Beechey Island. When we arrived at Erebus and Terror Bay, it was so foggy, we couldn’t see the shore. Ice was reported moving down Wellington Channel, so an afternoon landing was out of the question. We would spend the night outside the bay in Barrow Strait.

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The quiet cozy corner on the fifth deck where I like to hang out, read or write.

There was no shortage of things to do though. We were treated to a country food tasting with Lois, Robert and Edna. It was the first time many of the guests tried raw caribou, arctic char, seal or muktuk (whale blubber). Carolyn Mallory offered a water colour workshop, and Julia Szucs and Steve Smith showed their film Abandoned in the Arctic.

After supper, we were entertained in the Nautilus Lounge by Barney Bentall, with special guests Holly Hogan and David Newland. Their music was the perfect wind up to a truly fabulous day at sea.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Fort Ross
71°58’N   94°21’W
-4°C / 25°F
No snow
15 knot winds

Sept.15_2.jpgWake up call at 06:45, so we could be ready and geared up at 08:00 hours to go ashore at Fort Ross. However, the scout boat’s attempt to get more than 100 metres from the ship was aborted due to high winds. The weather just wasn’t cooperating with us.

There was no shortage of terrific entertainment on board while we waited for the wind to subside, though. Robert Comeau’s knuckle hop during the Inuit games demonstration was a highlight. For this, the participant holds the plank position but he leans on his knuckles and then hops forward on them for as far as he can. Youch, our own knuckles hurt just watching. Then Julia Szucs and Steve Smith had an early morning screening of their film Arctic Cliffhangers.

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Fort Ross: we can see it, but can’t get to it.

After lunch, the wind had subsided sufficiently for us to go ashore. The staff zodiac arrived  about 15 minutes before the passenger to scout the region for bears.

I wandered up the rocky beach to Leopold McClintock’s monument before the passenger zodiacs arrived. McClintock’s expedition had set up a depot here in 1858 and used it as a base for his Franklin search expedition. He subsequently named this Depot Bay.

I hadn’t seen the monument on my previous visit in 2014. It’s a stone memorial erected in 1979 by Francis Leopold McClintock’s descendants in honour of his discovery of the fate of the Franklin expedition in 1859. It’s quite an impressive to think they carted this headstone-sized monument all the way here from the UK.

I then scrambled up the snow covered hill behind the post to McClintock’s cairn so I could tell the passengers about it.

Although, the pile of rocks is attributed to McClintock, the one built by his men was destroyed by bears, and this one was rebuilt by passengers of the Nascopie in 1937 while the HBC men were erecting the post. The majority of passengers made it up to see the cairn, but no one was inclined to linger there where the winds were gusty. But from that vantage point the 360 degree vista of stark rounded hills was breathtaking. sept-15_13We could see snow greying the distant skies beyond the ship in the dark teal bay. The mood of the post was of incredible isolation.

After the last passenger had visited the rock pile, I headed down to the  post buildings. The Hudson’s Bay Company built the Fort Ross in 1937, thinking it offered good hunting and new fur trading opportunities. It  was abandoned in 1948 because ice in the strait and bay made it difficult to get to.

A path bordered with stones led from the storehouse to the manager’s house. sept-15_9Skiffs of snow had drifted through the broken windows and across the floor. A stove, fridge and large pieces of furniture were left in the house; easier than taking them back down south. A rusted pot belly stove still stands ready to warm the place, while two decrepit armchairs, devoid of stuffing,  brazenly expose their springs through  the snowy upholstery.

sept-15_18We poked our heads into the HBC store. It is the better preserved of the two existing buildings. Cans and non-perishable items sit on shelves, and bunk beds along the wall are evidence that the place is still used by travellers from other communities.

Everyone paid particular sept-15_19attention to the letters over the doorway “Hudson’s Bay Company, Incorporated 2nd May 1670.  David Newland had pointed out at recap last night that the words are not painted on the wall, but each metal letter is individually attached.

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Capt. JE Bernier hanging out with Capt. Highliner

The day ended on a high note with a fabulous party in the Nautilus Lounge where we convened dressed as our favourite famous Canadian. Margaret Atwood, Emily Carr and Dr. Frederick Banting were in attendance with a large contingent of other colourful Canadian characters.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Larsen Sound, entering Franklin Strait
71°14’N  97°10’W
-4°C / 25°F
Strong 45 km head winds
Overcast sky, periods of snow
We set our clocks ahead one hour.

We were all rocked to sleep last night as we headed north through Larsen Sound towards Franklin Strait.  Conningham Bay on Prince of Wales Island was our destination where we would disembark at 09:00 for an early zodiac cruise.

However, a 50 knot headwind and big seas slowed our passage, delaying our arrival. Sept.14_2.jpgWith the high winds, it was too dangerous to be out on the icy decks. We would reassess our zodiac cruise when we arrived at Conningham Bay.

From Conningham Bay, the plan was to transit Bellot Strait, then disembark at the abandoned Hudson’s Bay Company post, Fort Ross, on the strait’s east entrance. So, I gave a talk on the history of Fort Ross. When I mentioned that in 1943 post manager Bill Heslop and his wife Barbara had to be evacuated by plane, Edna Elias said that she knew the Heslops when she was a girl and he was post manager in Cambridge Bay.

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The foul weather didn’t let up by the time we arrived at Conningham Bay, and it was no surprise that our stop was abandoned. No one wanted to get into a zodiac with the rough weather, anyhow.

We all gathereSept.14_5.jpgd in the Nautilus Lounge to hear Jason’s talk about sea ice. He showed us the ice maps for north of Somerset Island where we were headed.  We were all acutely aware that the ice conditions can change quickly. Where it is open water one day, wind can move ice in the next.

It was snowing lightly in the early afternoon when we arrived at the entrance to Bellot Strait. Passengers stood on deck in the cold and wind, cameras capturing the spectacular rugged strait we were travelling through.

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Low dark rocky hills on either side of Bellot Strait were dusted with white.

When we came out the other end at Fort Ross, the wind picked up and we couldn’t land. Instead we had to seek a sheltered anchorage to the south to ride out the storm overnight. The plan is an early morning visit to the abandoned HBC post.

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Before recap and our daily briefing, Lynn Moorman gave us a Geo‐overview of the land our expedition was travelling through – pretty old rocks.   After dinner, we enjoyed a literary evening in the Nautilus Lounge with author Michael Crummey. His stories and poems were funny and poignant: made me laugh and also caught in my throat.

Even though we had anchored in a protected bay, we were still rocked to sleep a little less gently than we would’ve liked. We all hoped for calm seas in the morning.

Edna has been giving us an Inuktun word of the day. Today’s appropriately was Ayurnarmat = it can’t be helped.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Simpson Strait
68°37’N  97°44’W
Winds 30+ knots from the west
-2°C/ 28°F

My alarm went off just before 03:00; the estimated time we’d be passing between the Terror and Erebus. I had great intentions to go out on deck and pay my respects to the sunken ships and the men of the lost Franklin expedition. However, the ship was rolling so much, I paid my respects from my cozy bunk. Milbry Polk later told me that she and the young folks, went out and toasted the explorers with a glass of whisky, then tossed the whisky overboard (the contents, not the bottle).

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My alarm went off again at 06:00 and this time I did go out on deck. The wind had picked up during the night. It was so windy, I couldn’t open the door on the starboard side, but got out on the port side. We were travelling through a narrow channel, Simpson Strait, en route to Gjoa Haven on King William Island’s east side. It looked shallow on either side and we were cruising very slowly.

On deck, I met Anne from Stromness who is a fan of John Rae and the other HBC company men from the Orkneys who came to the Arctic. She loves lichens and spent most of yesterday’s hike photographing beautiful black flat lichen that had a ruffled lacy edge.

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King William Island en route to Gjoa Haven

The wind kept up throughout the day. There were interesting presentations to occupy us as the ship rolled towards Gjoa Haven. Our photographer Scott Forsyth gave an amazing photo session. His image colours are so brilliant, they pop. He said his camera picks out colours the eye doesn’t see. Unfortunately, my camera doesn’t pick out any colours I don’t see and often doesn’t even pick out the ones I do.

Pierre Richard gave us a primer on the region’s marine mammals. Wildlife sightings are as unpredictable as the weather, though. George Sirk talked about how best to use our binoculars, which will be helpful for spotting those mammals.

Thirty knot winds blew us along.  Unfortunately, when we arrived at Gjoa Haven, we discovered that the wind had also blown ice into the bay, and we couldn’t get in. It was disappointing not to be able to  visit the community, but a reminder that our itinerary was at the mercy of nature.

After dinner, we watched the film Crossing the Ice – A journey Through Hell and Back. A crazy, fun movie about two young Australian fellows, Cas and Jonesy, who travelled to Antarctica, intending to cross the 1,140 kilometres to the South Pole unassisted.

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My bed turned down and my towel turned into a dog with a chocolate nose.

I met Janis Parker, she is my ex husband’s cousin Pauline’s husband, Mark’s, boss. (confusing, but less than six degrees of separation.) Janis’s printing company prints the brochures and material for Adventure Canada, and this was her 19th AC trip. I can certainly understand what brings her back year after year.

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Dease Strait
68° 56’N  107°W
0°C / 32°F
Partly cloudy

Sept.12_3.JPGAwake at 06:00, I headed up on deck. The sky was an unremarkable grey, and in the distance over Victoria Island, dark clouds touched the ground with streaks of snow.  The islands and land are low, rolling humps of bare rock. We passed the blinking green lights of an unmanned Northern Warning Station. From 1957 to 1985, stations dotted across the Arctic known as the Distant Early Warning or DEW line, set up to alert American and Canadian military forces of an intrusion from the USSR.

The full company gathered in the Nautilus Lounge at 09:00 for a mandatory polar bear briefing. It was very clear we need to stay in a group on hikes. We all want to see a bear but not up close, and certainly not personal. Our resident archaeologist Latonia Hartery (who I’ve been with on all three voyages,) stressed the “Take only pictures and leave only footprints” landing rule.

During lunch we had an exciting announcement. erebus and terror2.jpgThe wreck of John Franklin’s second ship Terror had been located off the southwest coast of King William Island. The Terror lies about 90 kilometres north of where the Erebus was located in September 2014- and announced while I was on the ship, as well.  Our ship would be passing between the sunken wrecks during the night, as we head through Queen Maud Gulf to Gjoa Haven.

Sept.12_2.jpgAfter lunch, we got into the zodiacs for our first shore landing at Anderson Bay. It was cloudy and windy, but the landing on the rocky shore was smooth with minimum wading through water to the beach. Folks changed out of their Wellies into hiking boots, ready to clamber over the rocks and tundra.

The land was relatively flat, and very hummocky with tufts of lichens and groupings of round vegetationless patches.A skin of ice had formed on the little ponds we passed, reminding us that the Arctic winter was not far off.

We came across the bones and long hair of an old muskox carcass that had been torn asunder by wolves. Everyone composes photos with the skull in it.

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Tiny red and golden lichens were big subjects for photographs, as was the wide, stunning vistas of rolling tundra and moody grey skies. Snow started swirling and the wind picked up as we returned to the beach. The zodiac ride back to the ship was a bit rough with waves sloshing over the side. But it was exhilarating and part of what we came for, plus we were heading in the right direction, back to a warm cabin.

Before dinner we reconvened in the Nautilus Lounge for recap – a review of the day’s highlights with AC staff speaking briefly about specific things we had seen, such as birds or wildlife.  Lynn Morman talked about the fossils the beachcombers found that was evidence of the Arctic Platform and 550-million-year-old marine environment. Jason gave us an overview of what was planned for tomorrow.

I talked about who Anderson Bay was named after. I’d had to look it up on james anderson.jpgthe internet in the AC office beforehand. I found a James Anderson was sent by the HBC up the Back River to corroborate John Rae’s report that Franklin’s men were heading in that direction when they met their end.  I wasn’t 100 percent sure I had the right Anderson, but it was a story that seemed to fit. When I sat down afterward, a passenger came up to inform me that Anderson was a Presbyterian bishop John Rae knew. Hmmm, more investigation is needed.

Recap was followed by Captain Denis Radja’s welcome cocktail. We happily toasted the key staff he introduced – hotel manager, maitre d’, chef –  those who would make our stay comfortable and delicious.David Newland wound up the evening with his Northwest Passage in Story and Song, the show he has been giving to southern audiences about the NWP. What a unique perspective we had, hearing his music while sailing through the Passage.

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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Edmonton
53°32’N  113°28’W
9°C / 38°F
Cloudy

 sept-11_1We need two charter planes to take our 151 passengers, plus Adventure Canada staff, north to Kugluktuk where we’ll board the Ocean Endeavour.

The flight to Kugluktuk (formerly Coppermine) was only 2.5 hours. We disembarked to  cold drizzle – actually fine, wet flakes, bordering on sleet. But as we entered the grey portable air terminal, we received a warm welcome. The outgoing passengers and staff of the ‘Into the Northwest Passage’ expedition had formed two lines. As we walked between them, they sang a rousing rendition of Stan Rogers’ Northwest Passage, clapping and stamping their feet in unison.  – A great start to our trip.

I put on thicker fleece and waterproof gearSept.11_2.JPG before leaving the airport. Some of the guests opted to walk the two kms in the rain to the beach. I was assigned to dock duty, so joined those taking the little shuttle bus to where the
Ocean Endeavour
lay at anchor in the bay. This time it all felt familiar. It was no longer a novelty, but still exciting to cruise out to the ship in a zodiac.

My room, 4124, is in the inside passage (which means no porthole) near the mudroom. I have two narrow beds, a two drawer dresser, tiny desk, and a closet to hang clothes in. I dropped my pack and headed back up to the dining room for lunch.

Afterwards, the full company gathered in the Nautilus Lounge for an expedition briefing. Jason Edmunds, our expedition leader, gave us the general itinerary with the caveat that nothing is set in stone with travel in the Arctic. We are at the mercy of the elements, particularly wind and ice, and need to take each day as it comes.Sept.11_5.jpg

Lois Sukuluk, Edna Elias and Robert Comeau gave us a marvellous Nunavut Welcome. Lois lit the qudliq (stone lamp). Robert performed three drum dances – nanook (polar bear), tulugaq (raven) and tuktu (caribou). Edna spoke about what ‘welcome’ means to the Inuit. She is a great storyteller, and talked about her Inuk name, Ekhivalak. She was named by her grandfather after his lead dog who was smart, strong and his best dog. It is the name of a leader, which Edna certainly is, having been mayor of Kugluktuk and commissioner of Nunavut from 2010 to 2015.

Our briefing was followed by a mandatory lifeboat drill.Sept.11_4.crop.jpg The emergency alarm called us from our rooms to head to our muster stations , then we went out on deck, and were handed life jackets. The sky was bluer, but the air was chillier. One look at the covered orange lifeboats and we were grateful it was a drill, and headed inside to warm up in the lounge. Shortly afterwards, the Ocean Endeavour weighed anchor, and we sailed westward through Coronation Gulf under blue-grey skies.

We had 45 minutes before supper, so I went out on deck with binocs and camera. sept-12_1 As the ship sailed passed low lying rocky islands in the wide Coronation Gulf, I felt the Arctic wind picking up. My third Arctic cruise adventure had begun.

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Four months later…

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I’ve been back from my NWP cruise with Adventure Canada for four months. I’ve moved house, settled into a new family life and routines, celebrated Christmas, and finally gotten around to looking at my trip photos.It was such fun to relive the voyage that I thought it might not be too late to do my trip blog. Over the next few days, I’ll post highlights, but photos and words won’t adequately describe how phenomenal it was.

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September 30, 2016

45°24’N   75°41’W

I’m back in Ottawa after a phenomenal voyage through the Northwest Passage. We saw everything we hoped we would from polar bears to the northern lights. We were awed by incredible landscapes, and enjoyed visits to wonderful Arctic communities. We had rough seas and stormy weather, ice and sunshine. But mainly we had lots of fun. Having taken over 2,000 photos, it will take me a few days to sort them out and organize this blog. So stay tuned for more in the coming days.

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Aboard the Ocean Endeavour, going through Bellot Strait, September 14, 2016

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NWP 2016 – Day one

Saturday, September 10th

Edmonton
Temp. 20C
21:00

Terrific travel day to Edmonton.

 

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Edmonton Airport traffic control tower

 

Up at 04:00. My Joe kindly delivered me to the airport by 05:00.

Had a coffee at Tim’s but didn’t order a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with butter, so I wouldn’t spoil my appetite for the airplane breakfast. Turned out food is no longer providedgratuituously by Air Canada.Took off at 06:30 and landed in Calgary at 09:30.  Time zones always make you think places are nearer than they are.

Waiting at Gate 54 in Calgary, I noticed a gentleman with shorts and hiking boots on. I thought he might be a staff member but his blue shirt with the Adventure Canada logo was the give away. It was Scott Forsythe, the photographer. Lynn Moorman, geographer/geologist, arrived shortly after I introduced myself and we all boarded the plane for Edmonton. Lynn was on my Heart of the Arctic trip last summer. Caught the shuttle to the Executive Royal Hotel in Leduc outside the airport. This is the same hotel we left from for the trip in 2014.

We were warmly greeted in the lobby by Jason Edmunds and Stefan Kindberg,  our fearless expedition leaders. We checked into our rooms before heading to lunch. I have my own room this time with a king sized bed.

Met some of the staff at lunch in the hotel restaurant then the rest of them (minus four who are on the ship with the Into the NWP trip) in the staff meeting after lunch. Jason and David Newland, our host, briefed us on how the trip would go. It was great to see the folks I’ll be working and travelling with. 18:00 we met the nearly 200 guests in the conference room. David and Jason filled them in on what to expect on their adventure.

We are taking two chartered planes tomorrow for Kugluktuk (previously Coppermine) where we’ll board the ship. Transport Canada will conduct a baggage check on the beach before it is all loaded into zodiacs and ferried out to the ship. Forecast for tomorrow is rain. So my waterproof gear is in my pack at the ready.

I joined Pierre Richard, Lois Suguluk and a lovely couple from Cranbrook, Denise and Allister, for dinner, but it took so long to come, that I opted to skip dinner and came up to my room. It was supposed to be delivered but I’m turning in at 23:10 without dinner, too tired to eat anyhow. So I’ll set the alarm for 05:00. Adventure here we come….

 

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Our suggested travel plan, dependent on ice conditions

 

 

 

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