Day 6: “If you go back the way you came, you won’t see anything new”  – Navy Board Inlet and Low Point, Baffin Island (Sept 02)

Last night we sailed straight into a mountain range!

However, this was an imaginary mountain range. The Croker Mountain s to be exact. Back in 1818 the British Admiralty had launched a renewed effort to complete the Northwest Passage, placing Sir John Ross in charge of the expedition. Ross sailed up Davis Strait between Baffin Island and Greenland, and into Baffin Bay. He turned west to sail into Lancaster Sound but turned back for home when he believed he saw a mountain range, which he named the Croker Mountains.  The following year William Parry, who did not believe that Ross had seen real mountains, was given command of an expedition to follow the same path. Parry sailed straight through the supposed mountain range and proved that the body of water was a channel and not a bay.

By the morning we had reached Navy Board Inlet near the northern end of Baffin Island where we were to land at Low Point. One Ocean Expeditions normally breaks up its land expeditions into three groups: the chargers (or sweaty hikers), the naturalist walkers, and the contemplative meanderers. Until now most of our land excursions have been limited to one group, due to lack of visibility (and the danger of bears), or limited options to hike on land. But today we were able to split into our three parties and I set off on the sweaty hike to see how much distance we could cover.

Although our objective was to see how much distance we could cover in 2 ½ hours, we were certainly not going to pass by any major photo opportunities. Our first stop at Low Point was atop a high hill. Here we found a somewhat modern inuksuk. These stone markers, stacked to resemble a person, have and still continue to be used as navigation aids, or to indicate good places to hunt. From this vantage point we had a spectacular view of a huge iceberg, which had run aground in the inlet.  We had come to a point in the hike where we decided to start heading back and it was suggested that we could pass over a ridge to follow a valley on the opposite side back to the zodiacs. There wa s reluctance from some who wondered if we would see anything new on the other side and why shouldn’t we go back the way we came. Our hike leader put it very well by saying that “if you go back the way you came, you won’t see anything new”.

After a vigorous hike, we climbed back into the zodiacs to take a closer look at the iceberg and make our way back to the Iöffe. In the afternoon Tony Beck gave a presentation on all the types of birds that we could hope to see on the voyage as well as interesting facts about particular birds. For example, did you know that the Raven is classified as a songbird, which makes it the largest of all songbirds.

Following that presentation, our Inuit guide Atuat Shouldice told us about life in the Arctic. We first learned about his epic 1700 mile snowmobile journey from Iqaluit to Rankin Inlet. It took Atuat and his friend 3 weeks to make the long trek and it took place in spring when temperatures often reached -40˚C. Atuat told us about his family and what it is like to grow up living in Canada’s far north. Hunting and fishing is essential to survival since a ham at the northern grocery stores can cost upwards of $70. Caribou is one of the main sources of meat and although many are hunted each year, it is no more than what is required for food over the winter. All of the meat is used for food and most of the organs (except the bladder).  The remains of the caribou such as the bones and skin are used for tools and clothing. This practice is also true for hunting other Arctic animals such as muskoxen and Polar bears.

On this Northwest Passage cruise with us are several people who booked as part of a Vancouver Maritime Museum contingent. As a thank you to those passengers the VMM held a wine and cheese get together this evening where we toasted Franklin and his men, the St. Roch, the connections we have made on this tr ip, and the importance of acknowledging the history, landscape, and people of the Canadian Arctic.

Words and images by Duncan MacLeod – Curator, Vancouver Maritime Museum