Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ellesmere Island Journal Days 15-17

For days we’ve seen no sign of man. In the first weeks there was nothing but stories that showed man had ever traveled here. Then a single plane flew overhead at 30,000 feet, I assume full of dozing passengers, bad food, and crying babies. As they rocketed through the sky, probably barely noticing Ellesmere below them, we plodded along on the sea ice, watching it’s trailing ribbon. From then on, the occasional fuel barrel would pop into view where planes had landed and dropped the excess weight or refueled, thinking of course that these were parts where no man visited for fun. 6000 year old ruins dug through again and again by scientists were another sign of man, yet they seemed to fit into the land, because in truth, there was nothing about them that was not of the land. Stones piled high, discarded bones cut clean through. Now though we sit in Eureka Harbor and have left Axel Heigburg Island for good. Soon we will be setting foot on Ellesmere Island itself, the namesake of our expedition

Here in Eureka a few scientists have gathered under satellite dishes, radar, and the 24 hour sun, to us they are the furthest thing from normal.


They Would be shadows were they not snow white,
These wolves running through the arctic night.

Just as we were setting up camp, 11 wolves came out of nowhere and rushed into camp. Some were more than simply curious, and came right at the dogs. It was a strange balance between chasing them off and taking photos of them coming close.
It was a cool interaction, we didn’t have to be afraid of them except for our dogs.

I think the hardest part of the trip is leaving the dogs behind, K2 the loner, Pitarak the cocky teen, Denali the caring mother of most of the dogs here, Kapi the giant Teddy who would be top dog if he cared about anything but laying next to his brother Amurak. Augustus the friendly and playful... So many dogs with such personality, it’s hard not to think of them as people. They have far more intelligence than we generally attribute to them.

The Greatest comforts out here are these things that you have to conserve. If you don’t have to worry about running out and can indulge every day there is no sense being excited. Even toilet paper turns into a valuable item. 2 caramels a week are pure gold, and could sell at the same price, though not for cash perhaps for powdered milk.

I just realized that I’ve been Imagining the end of our expedition party taking place in the dark, as it’s al supposed to happen at night. Strange, I wonder what a Psych would say about that.

There is no better taste than the last of ones water

No sight nor sound betrays the pounding paws of the wolf pack. Once they’ve come, they’ve gone, leaving only melting prints in their place.

It is more than likely true that this will be the last time I’ll be alone on this expedition, sitting in the failing sun that will not ever fail entirely, the blue hue of this landscape rolls out before me. Even the slightest hint of man pulls me back to a world of cars, women, and selfishness. I’m sure I learned a great deal here, but I won’t be able to grasp it for some time. All I can do now is sit and take it all in. What continuation of this experience will I see next? How will I be able to make this time truly my own? Questions without answers are not ones that should be asked. When all of this is but a memory how will I feel upon reflection? Only time will tell, and time is not something I have enough of. All I know is that it stands still until it’s gone. I am still in the beginning of the expedition, landing on the ice of Axel Heigburg Island both afraid and determined.

...A memory
Crossing a great sound mountains rise on both sides. The old ice we cross was once jagged blocks crushed against each-other with glass sharp edges. Now it has melted into rolling mounds of blue and white, cloud-like yet firm, leaving the impression that we sled across the sky in low lying clouds that cover all but the highest peaks.

These are the things that bring me Joy:

Warmth in the Cold
Shelter in a Storm
Passion in the Moment
Moments in a second
Stillness in Violence
Comfort in catastrophe

And here above the sea,
Alone I stand to take it in,
To my left and to my right,
No sign of man at hand for 14 days and a night,
And so I stand to take it in and lo,
There I stand,
The sign of man.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ellesmere Island Journal Entries 10 - 14

Yesterday was a rest day. I spent it skiing solo in the mountains tracking muskox. I went up alone and finally felt like I was truly out on my own. A good feeling when wolves and bear abound. I even saw wolf tracks that had followed my ski tracks. The strange thing is that we’ve switched our schedules around so much so we can travel in the cooler part of the day, getting to bed around 2:00 am and rising at 10:am. Our day now ends around 9:00pm. When I went for my solo hike I left at 7:30 pm and was out till late at night. I kept on observing the sun and the changing color temperature and fought the urge to return to camp before nightfall. I had to remind myself that there is no nightfall up here. I found a point where I could sit high above an alpine lake and look out over the exposed meadows. In the distance a herd of muskox roamed below a jagged mountain range. I left a cache on the peak with a note and my contact information so someone who might find it could send it back to me in the future. Hopefully the distant future, perhaps even with their own stories.

The distance we manage to cover day after day up here is incredible, sometimes 25-30k per day. It's not so big of a deal except that it’s a daily event, through rough ice, and over mt. Passes. The feeling is that you are constantly chasing the horizon, pushing into the distance with every horizon that you reach giving way to a new horizon and a new goal. I’ve never been much of a distance person but I’ve managed to get myself to travel along side the more practiced members of the team. My body has hardened and become lean, and I have the ability to set to climbing a mountain and not rest until I get to the summit. It’s hard to decide how to maintain this hard earned shape once I get home... (Mt. Biking in Santa Cruz?)

I’m listening to Metallica - Turn the Page... Good song for the moment.

As difficult as days can be there is always something that balances out the experience. The dogs and their antics can be both frustrating and at the same time entertaining. Today as we made camp, I saw a pack of animals moving through a mirage. Their white bodies contorted in the vibrating air. The way they circled camp made me immediately think ...Wolf! And a whole pack at that. Soon, we had cameras in Hand, and sam caught a few frames before they disappeared over a rise. We trudged up the hill to track them down but couldn’t even seem to find their tracks! Rabbit tracks abounded though. Good feeding grounds for the wolves I suppose. Tension was high when we heard a chuckle coming from Sam, camera in hand. He had zoomed in on a photo of the animals and, there stalking us in the photo, were some of the largest rabbits I’ve ever seen... They moved so much like I would imagine a pack of wolves moving, circling the camp, staying on ridge-lines, and stopping behind hills to peek over at us. They had even fooled Sigrid, our wolf expert who has raised wolves from pups. To our own credit, the arctic hare in this area are known to be excessively large, and it’s one of the only places they have been observed moving in Packs. Other single Hare I’ve seen here were easily three feel in length. The mirage most likely made them appear even larger.

It’s days like today that make me admire people who do this in the most real tough situations, when you just don’t want to continue, and you’re cold, wet, and hungry.
I felt no groove today whatsoever, the snow stuck to my skis in 10 pound clumps and the sun refused to let up until a cold wet system moved in to make things worse. I even fell through the snow into a river that had caused a nasty slush under the hard looking upper crust. Oh well, I search for Balance.

With the exciting portion of the trip drawing to a close, I find my energy levels have decreased. What do I have to worry about? I know we’ve made it. That and the fact that my portion of the trip was so ridiculously easy makes me hesitant to feel much in the way of Accomplishment. Though I have averaged 25k a day in the arctic, far from home, friends, and family. I guess I still have some claim to pride. Most people would never put themselves here in the first place. I need to let the ego do it’s thing, and just let me be me for a while as it squirms inside.

The sun here is so Strong you can walk around with no shirt on, warmed by its rays as they are bounced from every angle off of snow and ice. Yet the slightest wind will remind you that you are still in the arctic as it strips away the suns warmth. All that is left is the suns power to burn you.

Today was an awesome long day, I started out thoroughly demoralized, so I forced myself to push harder. We hiked up to the mummified forrest which was pretty much the same as what we’d already seen inland, but it was still amazing to think that we stood in a 45 million year old forrest and were dwarfed by the age of our surroundings. It gave me more appreciation even for the stones and sand that I stood on. We walked with a more delicate demeanor for a while. Once we reached camp again, we set off with the dogs for another day of travel. Almost immediately we were confronted with the challenge of crossing a a river which had opened up literally overnight. Spring has arrived all at once. Fording the river was more a mental obstacle than a physical one, and we were across in moments. Though some of us walked in the river all day due to our mukluks flooding. After the fording, we had a pleasant trip through fast snow that allowed for plenty of time to chat and more time to think, which has actually been hard to do. Mostly I find I end up in a near meditative state where the kicking forward on my skis, encouraging the dogs, and taking in the softly rolling hills fully captivates my mind.
It’s so pleasant to be separated from the world, yet when there is someone you care about and every moment can bring change, and every moment matters, it’s hard to think of what changes may have come about while I’ve been away.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A month of Firsts!

Check out my first published writing on the National Geographic Adventure website!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

National Geographic Adventure Magazine

Here's a cool double page spread that National Geographic Adventure published. It was a fast photo shoot, set up and done in about 10 minutes!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Ellesmere Island Journal Entries 7-9

There is no lens that will ever be able to take this in. There is no means of recording or describing this place that will ever do it justice. I sit atop an iceberg facing Mt. White with Ellesmere Island stretching off to my left. Wolves howl in the distance spurring the dogs on into a great salutation to their wild cousins. Blinding white forces the eyes all but closed even with sunglasses on, and the deep black of the earth is beginning to show through, causing a contrast that makes distance impossible to understand. Even in the shade, sunglasses are a comfort. Unlike the Serengetti, I do not feel like I’ve been here before. I do not feel that I was made to survive here. This place of dirt, Ice, and stone. A place where darkness and light do not balance but swing wildly from one to the other. This is not a place for passion or romance, but a place for struggle.

Yesterday we climbed into the hills and came across a herd of muskox with 14 members. I managed to get within about 100 feet of them and they formed up in their circular ranks. They had a number of young, perhaps even newborn calves with them. Now we have another short day ahead of us and have been traveling mostly over land.

It’s strange, I’ve been here nine days now, and yet it feels like I’ve been here forever. Time stands still, here, you feel both it’s rapid passing and it’s molasses like oozing slowness.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Ellesmere Island Expedition Journal Days 4-6

Today was travel day two for me. My body is tired, but my resolve is stronger, this time upon reaching camp I didn’t simply collapse into bed as I did yesterday. The number one thing that I notice out here is the power of light, the way it is so overbearing during the middle of the day, and how when the clouds roll in and the sunlight is scattered among the mountains, it softens to just the most pleasant hues, producing a million shades of blue. I would liken it to a moonlit night except that the sun shines with the same power for the full 24 hours.

My body is making the adjustments to a life of arctic travel, but much of the weight that I put on in order to combat the cold is superfluous and I anxiously await the day when I don’t have to carry it anymore. Still I’ve managed to ski over 50 k in two days so I’m not doing so bad.

(Note: After this point I realized nobody else was skiing the entire time and people were holding onto the sled getting pulled along a bit, still one pushed with the legs, but the sled helps carry your momentum)

Lets not watch our dreams drift by,
Clouds just rolling by,
Let’s not waste our time,
It’s all we have this time.

For two days we’ve been traveling along the coast of Nanson sound, the icebergs run aground here and massive chunks littler the shore. It’s a sight like I've never seen before. We cover perhaps 25K a day now and have sen wolf tracks littered with dripping blood, and caribou tracks, yet only a lemming has shown itself.

Although I currently feel more like bear bait than an author, photographer, or explorer, I could not pass up the opportunity to sit alone among the wind drifts and ice chunks we’ve set up camp in.
As we pulled up to one of the few flat spots on Nanson Sound, a crystalline haze descended on upon us, like the ceiling of clouds and sky decided to come down for a closer look at the beauties of the land. I would cal it a fog were it not for the fact that the clouds shine and glitter. Certainly not the gray and hollow fog that rolls off of an ocean. This is much different, tiny flecks of ice spin through the air reflecting by chance the midnight sun so that all things shimmer like the turning schools of fish you see in oceans. With camp barely visible, sound mostly muffled, I could very well be the most alone person on the planet right now, though I doubt it.

We made it a long way through the rough ice today, and along the way made a friend. Miles to sea we came across a confused lemming, obviously searching for a new land to populate, so we gave the little hitchhiker a ride, a meal and a warm water bottle cover to sleep in.

(Just now I turn to take another look into the fog and find instead a clear view of camp. I then turn back and see before me a mirage, stretching the horizon vertically so it looks like we face a massive wall of ice tomorrow. In seconds the vision passes.

We also heard the sweet chirp of a snow bunting today, a sparrow-like bird which ducked in to give us a closer look.

One of my favorite features of this land is the way the old icebergs stand above the new crumbling ice. At times, the way the fog covers the bottom of the bergs, and the tops stand alone, a peak above the clouds, or like it should look in a fog covered sea. It only takes a few minutes in this land to understand the sereneness of the inuit. Like the way visiting china left me more understanding of the chinese arts. Mirages come and go, yet never before your eyes, leaving the onlooker astounded and mystified

Ellesmere Island Journal days 1-3

Yesterday I finally Joined the team, they’ve been pushing through the rough Ice now for 40 days and only just reached smooth traveling where the plane landed. On the the flight in I manned the controls for a couple of hours and flew the Twin Otter over sections of the Arctic Ocean. I brought plenty of gifts with me to try to get on everyones good side, but it seems I didn’t particularly have to worry about it as they were just happy to see a new face. It’s extremely warm right now, and with the sun shining as it does 24 hours a day, everything feels extremely comfortable. We celebrated a bit last night and drug the sled to the top of a nearby peak and 6 of us rode straight down the hill in a mad dash, I have to say, it was one of the most fun days I’ve had to date.

This may be my only chance to be alone. I’m sitting on top of a small mountain overlooking our camp, and the broken arctic ocean. From here I can see the shadows of clouds as they move across confused jumbles of Ice far out to sea. The shadows shimmer as they move. This place has not been conquered by man, we simply can make quick dashes in and out of it. As I sit here and take in a full 360 degree view the only elusion to man that I can see are my own tracks, and our tents. Not even a man made sound penetrates the stillness, such powerful stillness. Yet, it holds such violence. Only a mountain away the Cache of Otto Sverdrup sits, a treasure lost that has been found by Toby after many years.

It was our first day moving since I arrived. We packed up early and set about moving camp. The sleds are heavy because of the amount of food that we now cary, and as hard as I trained, it was not near enough. As we finally pulled into camp, my motivation collapsed and merely setting up the tent was an act not performed so much as automated. I stand now ready to collapse. We covered about 23 Kilometers and I sat down only once all day. The General Outline of our day is as follows. Wake at 6:00, eat breakfast by 7:00 pack gear by 7:30 load the sleds by 8:00. From here Will usually treks ahead to find a route and we travel at a jogging pace for 2 hours at a time taking 15 minute breaks in between. We continue like this for 8 hours or so until we set up camp again. This is a very loose schedule, on easy days, the breaks extend to almost 45 minutes, and some days we quit a few minutes early or late.