Arctic dreams

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April 26th 2012
Published: April 26th 2012
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I just came back a few days ago from an amazing trip in my own country! 3 of my colleagues and I skied from the crater in Pingualuit Park, Nunavik, back to the village of Kangiqsujuaq.

Just finding dates when everybody was available prooved to be a challenge and then we had trouble booking our flight to the village as there was a paraski competition the same week and many people were flying to Kangiqsujuaq. Isabelle and I had to fly 2 days before Julie and Mélanie, which in the end was a good thing as it gave me more time to explore this amazing village of less than 500 inhabitants.

Kangiqsujuaq means "large bay" (which we were to confirm eventually!) and the house were we stayed was right on the shore with a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains. We put the couch in front of the big window and just sat there enjoying the landscape. Well, that was after we learned how to tell when the septic tank is full...

Anyhow, luckily the weather was good and Mélanie and Julie arrived on Tuesday. We were invited for supper at Pierre and Jessica's place. Pierre is the visitor experience agent for the park and Jessica, his wife, is an amazing Inuit woman. After supper, she shared some stories with us, her life as a little girl, the meaning of loosing her dad when she was very small, the experience of going to school and being shamed for her culture. She showed us how Inuit women used to take care of the qulliq, the soap stone lamp, which meant light and warmth in the igloo. It was an amazing moment, very touching and enlightening. For a moment, I could see through her eyes and the long journey she and her people had to make to meet the modern world.

Wednesday morning we put 5 or 6 layers of our warmest clothes and after a safety briefing from the park director, we were on our way to the crater, sitting on a skidoo driven by one of the park wardens or in the covered qamootik (sled) behind one of the skidoos. The weather was not bad but very windy and it felt really cold in the wind, especially since we were not moving much. We couldn't see the landscape that well because of the white-out and the number of layers we had. Between the scarves, the goggles, the hats, the hood with fur, there was not much space left and we were too focussed on staying warm to really enjoy the scenery!

Actually, I think we also realized that we were to ski all the way back and the distances seemed quite impressive! We stopped for lunch in the shelter that was half-way between the village and the crater and that warmed us a little, before we got going again and reached Manarsulik camp, the biggest and most comfortable of the camps, a short distance from the crater.

After we warmed up we went back on the skidoos towards the crater and spent some time there, admiring the perfectly round lake, sliding or rolling on the hills, taking pictures, trying to do yoga poses in our big winter gear, etc. We went back to the camp and had supper before we all fell asleep.

The next morning, it took us a very long time to decide what we were going to wear!!! We put some layers, then took some off, then back on, etc. It was in the mid minus 20, but quite windy so it wasn't easy to decide. We all worried about the cold and the distance, wondering if we were going to be fine, and finally, after the mandatory departure picture, off we went.

Waaaaww... 4 days of pure fun, incredible scenery and discovery. It is hard to describe the hypnotic and almost dizzying feeling of skiing on an arctic plateau. With the wind, we couldn't really see the horizon, all was white, and flat and so immense. The only things that were not white were the rocks that were not covered in snow, if there were any. We tried to stay together, although with the wind we couldn't stop too long as we were getting cold, but if we kept moving, it was nice and the weather warmed up to about -15. Very nice. The wardens and Pierre, who was in charge of the logistics, checked on us a couple of times during the day and finally went ahead to warm up the next camp. Ah, we were not really roughing it: we had warm camps every night. After all, it was a holiday!!! We also had a dog team with us, traditional inuit style (fan-hitched). All we had to
Sled dogs at nightSled dogs at nightSled dogs at night

I had an almost identical picture on my wall, as a child!
do was follow the trail!

Our first day went well, we were happy and relieved to see that we could manage the distance and the weather quite well. The next day, the weather got even better with much less wind and a few degrees warmer. The landscape was almost the same, still very wide, even and flat. When the dog team passed us on the trail, I realized that I actually had right in front of me one something I dreamed of as a child: I was in the arctic, with inuit and a dog team. It was incredible.

The third day was more hilly, and the weather still a bit warmer, still sunny and almost no wind. I skied alone most of the day, in silence. How many times did I just stop for a moment to look around in awe. Such a huge country. I thought about the Inuit who lived and traveled for thousands of years in that white world. What a people, a culture. The symbolic inukshuk also takes its true meaning it this environment. I marveled at their ability to stay oriented on the land.

That night was going to be even
dog teamdog teamdog team

like in my dream
more memorable. We arrived at the camp, beautifully built on the shore of a lake, and each one of us had a chance to do a little tour with the dog team. It was really nice to see how a team works in a fan hitch, how eskimo dogs and malamutes work together compared to alaskans, how they drive a traditional sled, etc.

Once we were all back, the 4 young Inuit that were with us started to build an igloo for us. We spent the whole evening watching them working hard at cutting snow blocks, putting them on top of each other in a very ingenious way, reshaping them, etc. We were all fascinated to see it taking shape. The sun was setting, and eventually we all stopped to eat something before we all went outside again to fill the cracks and wholes between the blocks to keep the warmth inside. Timothey manipulated the panak (snow knife) with incredible dexterity and we were also amazed that Elijah had the energy to help build the igloo: after all, he also skied the same distance as we did!

Finally, after hours of work, the igloo was ready and the guys had put some foamy mattresses and pillows inside for us. It was under the northern lights that we crawled inside what was going to be our shelter for the night. Oh my God! What a sight, what a feeling to be inside a real igloo! I felt so privileged to be there, so grateful, amazed and fascinated. I can't describe it. Once we were all inside, the guys put the final block to cover the entrance from the outside, and they left us for the night, probably as proud of their work as we were excited and thankful to be there. We spent the next 15 or 20 minutes just laughing and going crazy, not sure why, but we couldn't stop laughing. We also wondered what we would do if we had to pee during the night!

We had so many blankets and sleeping bags, we all fell asleep pretty fast and never felt the cold at all. The wind picked up during the night but still, we were totally warm in our snow house. I woke up in the early morning and when I opened my eyes I could see the shape of the snow blocks, the breathing hole in the roof, and went back to sleep thinking this was another dream. Mélanie said: OK girls, we can check "sleeping in an igloo" off the list! Yes, we did it and it was unforgettable.

In the morning we pushed the door open and crawled out to see another perfect day. Mild wind and beautiful sun. So lucky. The last day was hilly at first, and the last 20 km were on the bay, very flat but incredibly beautiful with the jumble ice and cliffs all around.

We arrived at the village, had a shower, and supper at Jessica and Pierre's place. We talked about the old days, how Jessica used to live in an igloo as a little girl. We share our experience too. The adventure was not over yet. The next day Jessica took us to the Hudson Strait where she usually goes to pick some mussels and seaweed. Polar bear country, fascinating, again. We spend a few hours there, she had made some tea, coffee and bannock and again, we were blessed with unbelievable weather: no wind and warm. We could see icebergs in the distance, open water, and some geese arriving from their long migration. On the way back we stopped at her camp where people hunt belugas. What a feeling to be there, the place is very special and it gave us a very different appreciation of the traditional lifestyle that we don't see so much around Kuujjuaq anymore. She told us about women coming to this area in the fall to do some sewing as the colder and more humid weather makes it easier to sew the skins. She shared many stories with us and we listened like small children interested in learning everything from this incredible teacher.

We came back to the village, under the setting sun, had supper with Jessica and Pierre again. The next day we said our goodbyes and we left with unforgettable memories. We flew from Kangiqsujuaq to Quaqtaq to Kangirsuk to Aupaluk to Tasiujaq to Kuujjuaq!

I will attached some photos of the trip, but it is one of those that is difficult to describe (especially since- believe it or not- I tried to keep this story short!!!!).

Thank you Pierre and Jessica for welcoming us and sharing your life with us, thank you to the Pingualuit park staff who made
the igloo taking shapethe igloo taking shapethe igloo taking shape

the blocks are HEAVY!
this possible, and thank you to my colleagues: you girls are so much fun!

Additional photos below
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