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Published: July 23rd 2017
The broken Ice
Sea ice on Barrow Strait
“In those Northwest voyages where navigation must be executed in most exquisite sort”. John Davis, 1594 , The Seaman’s Secrets.
A high plateau looms behind the lodge. I have climbed to the summit many times. but had yet to explore beyond the rounded dome that casts a midnight shadow on the Cunningham River Delta. The plateau beckoned - it was calling.
It was a foggy morning, with wind and snow flurries, not the ideal time for mountaineering in the arctic, but nevertheless, it was a magical scene with dark peaks dancing through holes in the clouds. As I ascended further, the plateau revealed itself as a blurry nothingness. It didn’t wish to be seen through this blanket of fog.
The gravel expanse of the plateau's surface is mesmerizing, especially in the fog.
All I wanted to do was keep moving. I hiked for hours, deeper and deeper in the fog until I saw a prominent feature - a jagged spire jutting upwards from the flatness. I found a comfy spot and tucked in for some lunch. It was utter silence and freedom.
I was walking through freedom - a hostile, rocky empty freedom. I thought, ‘this is what silence sounds like’.
The only sounds were my thoughts.
I tried to hear the
world but I couldn't.
There was no sound...
At one point, the silence was broken. There was a rustle - I saw a little scurry - some movement on the ground. A lemming was foraging in the giant sparseness. I approached without disturbing the small mammal - it stood tall from behind a stone and seemed curious about my ways… It continued to forage. Lemmings are rarely seen for more than a fleeting moment, a vanishing flash of fur on an otherwise motionless land.
After about an hour of enjoying the solitary confines of a natural throne, the fog lifted somewhat. I continued to the ridge of coastal cliffs that stand majestically as they over look the fabled Northwest Passage. I looked down into the fog, The base of the cliffs were obscured, for all I know there may not have been a bottom and the Northwest Passage may not have been there anymore?
Walking on the plateau really is total freedom - it is a remarkable place - and when the fog lifted and the undulating, fractured terrain of Somerset Island rolled to the horizon - the freedom and silence were enhanced.
minute flight across the Barrow Strait lies Beechy Island. The island has a different kind of silence.
It’s the final resting place of some of the crew of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition. The drive to discover and chart new waters and new lands during the heroic age of exploration claimed the lives of many sailors of yesteryear. Even today, Canada’s massive tangle of an Arctic eludes most people, the Northwest Passage is still ice-choked, foggy, shallow and unpredictable - hardly a waterway to be traversed.
I cannot imagine entering these frigid and unforgiving waters without navigational aids. Yet those hardy souls did it - but not all of them lived to tell the tale…
"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time..." T.S. Eliot.
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