Sunday, 15 March 2009

How will it help?

Brian Perich from South Korea asked, "What are the long term benefits to the Inuit you visit, in terms of global exposure and how will it help?"

That is a very good question. The world is getting a smaller place in terms of how technology has made it. I can now send back my thoughts and reports from the luxury of my tent hundreds of miles away from the nearest computer or land line telephone. The satellite phone and pda has made it possible for information to be sent from remote parts of the world, to audiences from all over the world following an expedition. Last weeks figures indicated we have people reading this blog from all corners of the world, which is fantastic to know.

My expedition is also just one of a number of expeditions which are experiencing the Inuit way of life and how it is threatened by climate change. Expeditions such as;

Glenn Morris
Will Stegers
Mitsure Ohba
The Scandinavian
Rebecca Mcknight

This is just to name a few and all are engaged in educational projects in schools.

How does it benefit these isolated communities? By getting their stories out, by reporting credible eye witness accounts of the world around us, through educating young people around the world about the arctic and the challenges facing the people who live there, people like the Inuit.

Travel is a fantastic way to learn, through direct interaction with the world around us. Expeditions are a more remote example but with the aid of this technology, can help make a massive impact in the classroom. To educate and inspire all over the world, as well as here in the arctic.

Polar Bear Problems

Sunday I headed out on the sea ice around Qikiqtarjuag to see if we catch a seal. Seal hunting is a very controversial subject and I am keen to see this important aspect of Inuit life.

We headed out in good weather by snow mobile. There are two different ways of hunting seals here, one involves placing nets under the ice and the other is hunting with a rifle. Today we would use a rifle and look for a seal hole which seals use to breath through the ice.

We quickly found a seal hole along a large crack in the sea ice and quickly got to work. The wind had increased heavily and the wind chill was more then a little freezing. Billy my guide and local vicar, took up a stance to the side of the hole. It was an amazing site as Billy completely froze to the spot, not even moving his feet to keep warm. I took the snow mobile and drove in a large circle around Billy hoping to bring the seal towards his seal hole. A seal could have a number of such holes and this occasion we didn't get a seal.

We moved on again and quickly came across a seal hole that had been devastated by a polar bear. The snow was red and the remains of a seal near by. In that moment it became very clear how adapted a polar bear is to survival here. We were having trouble trying to find seal holes due to the amount of snow on the ice and the wind but of course the polar bears sense of smell helps it locate seal under the snow and ice.

We found lots of evidence of polar bear including far to many fresh tracks to count. This was an area I was planning to ski through on my expedition but after seeing the remains of the seal and the number of tracks I am now looking at changing my plans. Food for thought, we didn't catch a seal but we did asses the polar bear threat, so it was a very worthwhile day.

Technology of the Inuit

The ancient Inuit possessed one of the most elaborate technologies of any non-industrial society in history. In a land where game was hard to find and harder to capture, it made sense to develop extremely efficient and dependable weapons; there were few second chances.

The most remarkable invention, the toggling harpoon and float, permitted the hunting of large sea mammals in open water. On entry, the specially designed harpoon head turned ingeniously sideways, leaving the shaft to fall away and the attached float to tire out the animal.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Councils aproval

Today's top tip, if your planning to film an expedition give it a lot of thought before hand. It is an extremely time consuming element of your project. It is a film project first and an expedition second. It can however be incredibly rewarding.

Today started on a high after attending the villages council meeting last night. I had been invited along as I believed it important to introduce myself to the village leaders and seek their approval to film their way of life. After everything I had heard I do not wish to appear as another white man with a camera, taking advantage of the villages problems.

I was very nervous about putting my case forward to the elder council and didn't want to come across in a bad light. I remember thinking, "What are they going to think of me?" I entered the chamber to find a circle of table and chairs, along with the Qikiqtarjuag and Canadian flags on the walls.

A photograph caught my eye straight away next to the Qikiqtarjuag flag, a photograph of the Queen. Of course Canada being a Common Wealth country, why shouldn't she be on the wall. I was just struck by the fact that here I was in the middle of the arctic and yet here was a photo of the Queen, obviously held in high regard. It was not the only one either, another showed her visit to the area a number of years ago.

One of the council members saw what I was looking at and asked the translator, "Did I know the Queen?"

"Unfortunately not" I replied, "she lives in a very big house a long way from my home"

Everyone laughed when my words were translated and I felt more at ease with the elders sense of humor, obviously made to make me feel more welcome. After a number of questions concerning my work and on the basis of my previous trips, the council agreed to allow me to film within their community.

Mayor Audlakiak gave a fantastic interview this morning about the history of Qikiqtarjuag as well as how the climate has changed since the villages founding in the early 1960's. Biggest changes he has seen concerns the ocean, he commented on the fact that there was never really any tide, now there is a very strong current in the bay. This has made some areas of ice dangerously thin making it unsafe too travel over.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Transportation of the Inuit

With highly effective means of travel over sea ice and through open water, the Inuit quickly mastered the Canadian Arctic. The invention of the qamutik (dog sled) and umiak (women's boat) allowed them to cover great distances in search of game and to ferry large quantities of food and gear. The kayak, which was used to hunt game along the coasts in summer and at the sea ice edge in winter, however, was the cornerstone of the Inuit hunting economy.

Winter Camps

The ability to transport game vast distances by dog team and qamutik allowed most Inuit to build up food reserves and to remain in one place throughout the winter. Social activity increased during the winter, with games, religious festivities and ancient tales related in song and story, filling the social calendar. As the snow began to melt in exposed places, play, food preparation, equipment repair and other activities essential to life moved outdoors.

Sensitive issues

The past few days have been a very informative introduction to the extremely complex and controversial issues surrounding life in the arctic. The main focus of current discussion involves seal hunting as well as climate change.

For the Inuit, life is completely intertwined with their surrounding environment. Here in Qikiqtarjuag, the closest two other villages are Clyde River (about 500km north) and Pangnirtung (300 km south). There is no roads, there is no way of getting around apart from by plane, even snow mobiles are expensive with today's fuel prices. Even with a snow mobiles, if you break down away from home in the dead of winter, your in trouble, there is no AA to help you. Qikiqtarjuag with a population of around 500 is about as isolated as you can get.

For this reason food has to either be shipped in during the summer or flown in. Food is extremely expensive, a bottle of sunny delight is $20 or about 15 pounds. A small loaf of bread is $5 or 3.50 pounds. This, along with few jobs and the fact that their entire culture and tradition is based around hunting means that it is still a very strong occupation.

Nothing from a seal goes to waste, the meat is eaten and the skins are used for clothing as we have seen in a previous dispatch. Skins from animals that provide food but are not needed for personal clothing are sold, either as they are or made into items for tourists. This provides a much needed source of income and helps keep traditional skills alive.

Now here is the problem, the European Union is looking to ban all seal imports on the 2nd April. This based largely on the campaign against seal clubbing, does indeed allow for traditionally Inuit caught skins to still be traded, or so it says.

The reality here in Qikiqtarjuag is that the European market has completely dried up, due to a change in fashion, public opinion and so has had a massive impact on individual incomes. The local tannery has closed and so the only way to make money is to sell direct to tourists or to the local conservation officer who buys the skins for $60.

Everywhere I go with my camera I get asked, "Are you Greenpeace?" People say that some filming was done here and around Baffin's communities recently under false pretences and has caused an underlying cautiousness and unwillingness to be caught on camera.

Whatever these circumstances maybe, I need to do some further research and questioning. It is a very interesting and delicate situation, if there is no markets for seal products then hunting skills will be lost. I have seen Elders teaching tradition net making and seal skin testament classes in the hope to pass on these skills. A kind of evening class.

The danger is clear. Without these tradition skills, which makes up the core of Inuit cultural identity, then they will cease to be Inuit. There is few jobs as it is and the bedrock of village society will be lost. No wander people are cautious about being filmed on camera.

You also have to understand that this is a people that until about 100 years ago, largely lived a nomadic life style. The elders feel as if culture has gone from stone age to the space age in a very short time, which in itself is a credit to their ability to adapt and there strength to persevere.

Our actions in the western world, is not only threatening this fragile icy world but also challenges the way of life of an entire people. To be reliant on supermarkets up here is a crazy and expensive notion, not to mention morally wrong.

Can more be done to promote Inuit crafts in Europe as well as control and monitor the number of seals and how seals are hunted? Inuit do not club seals and I will be joining a local hunt to record these traditional skills later this week.

A big thank you needs to go out to Emma Wilson and Plymouth University's Climate Change Society for raising funds and awarness for myself and Comic Relief.

Also to Katy Cuckston and Paignton Community College for their donation to the expedition. It is greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

School visit

Today I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the local local school. I decided to focus on showing a slide show of some of the places that I have visited around the world, as well as some of my most memorable experiences.

I wanted to focus on some of the outdoor sports I have done and how they have had an impact in my life. I am a strong believer in outdoor education and how it can help inspire and teach addition life skills like team work and improve self confidence. I was pleased to learn that the school had just started a snowboard club, so I was very keen to share my experiences as a snowboard instructor in Austria and the UK.

The students also enjoyed learning about other peoples around the world, especially about the Sami people in Scandinavia. I talked about how the Sami heard reindeer and how they race reindeer.

Traditional Winter Houses

The traditional winter dwelling of the Inuit was a perfect solution to housing land virtually devoid of wood. Constructed of rock, whalebone, skin and sod, with sunken floors and entrances that trapped cold air, these dwellings enabled Inuit families to spend long arctic winters in relative comfort.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Preparing seal skins

Today has been a busy day talking with different people within the community and arranging meetings and talks.

Last night I had the pleasure of being invited along to a ladies adult education class. This was not your normal evening class but a class designed to promote traditional skills. This evening was learning how to treat and prepare seal skins before they can be made into clothing.

It was a fascinating opportunity to see a traditional skill being passed on. Two of the village elders were busy teaching this lengthy process to the younger women on the course. Once the skins have been scrapped and treated they can be dried and made into different items of clothing, from gloves to kamiks (traditional boots).

In the past seal skins were sold to over seas markets and brought in a extra source of income to Inuit communities. However, recently seal skins have fallen out of fashion with European markets which has had a massive impact on Inuit tradition and way of life. The village tannery closed and markets dried up, with that traditional skills, which make the Inuit who they are, have not been getting passed on.

Last nights evening course was a new scheme to bring back traditional skills within the community. Hopefully this will start a new source of income by selling beautiful items direct to tourist who visit during the warmer months.

Seals are traditional caught with nets under the ice which will be shown in a later dispatch this week.

Man and Sea

The ancient Inuit had a special bond with the sea. It provided them with most things needed for survival; meat for food, blubber for fuel, bones and ivory for tools and skins for clothing and shelter. To obtain these gifts, they perfected the skills of hunting whales, seals and walrus in open water and from the sea ice.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Arrived in Qikiqtarjuag

Today has been a very busy day.

Yesterday was spent having a much needed rest and adjusting to the fact that I was now heading out on my own. During the past two weeks I had got used to working within a team and as a team we over came many challenges and shared a great experience. Yesterday I had to wave goodbye and quickly realized that that part of the expedition was now over. I was more then a little sad to say goodbye.

This morning I awoke feeling fresh and determined to start my next part of the expedition. I started the day with my introduction and orientation of the Akshayuk Pass and Auyuittug National Park, ironically called the land that never melts.

I always enjoy this introduction as it helps highlight any issues I should know before entering the Park. It was also good to meet face to face with the parks personnel I have come to know via email.

It was also the induction for my team mate, flat Stanly from St Mawgan-in-Pydar Primary School near Newquay. Stanley is part of my school outreach project and is traveling with me to introduce himself to schools here on Baffin.

I quickly learnt that there is a number of new developments. First, that the park has under gone dramatic changes since my last trip due to the server flooding last year. Second, there seems to be a lot of surface water or thin ice which will need to be safely crossed.

Lastly and the most scary fact, is that polar bear sightings are very high at the moment. One has been recently seen in the pass and seems to have damaged one of the emergency shelters. A shelter which is a pretty sturdy cabin, what could it do to my tent? The park rangers are not sure if the bear has moved on or not.

Another fact I was told which really surprised me is that winds in the park can reach 175kmph! Last year I was stuck in my tent for 3 days due to high winds. Just 80kmph winds would add a massive wind chill factor to already cold temperatures.

This is a lot to think about and to plan for over the next week. I am now up at Qikiqtarjuag and looking forward to starting my film project tomorrow.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Last night of training

Well its now the final night of training and tomorrow is the end of the course. It has been a demanding and challenging time both physically and mentally.

Yesterday was a hard day covering over 10 nautical miles. To replenish our lost calories we had a tasty meal of pemmican. Pemmican is a frozen block of high calorie lamb stew which you boil and add noodles or rice. On an average day you burn about 5-6000 calories, about 5 large pizza's!

The day starts with a porridge breakfast and a number of hot drinks. You then break camp and walk for about 60 - 90 minutes and then have a 10 minute break to quickly eat and drink. This way you keep your body temperature constant and keep covering good distance. We then pitch tents about 16.30 and straight away start cooking.

It's with a sad thought that I write this surrounded by my team mates knowing that on Monday I set off on my next phase of my expedition. I will be spending a week at an Inuit village before setting out solo, for my 150 mile ski traverse.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Swimming Leads

Today's morning activities before the team split, was to go swimming. I know what your thinking .. Swimming! At - 40'c, you must be mad. Nope, more training.

If you want to do a north pole then you need to expect to get wet. There is no land under the arctic ice shelve, its just frozen sea water. Sometimes the ice breaks apart as well as collides together. These breaks of open water are called Leads and will have to be crossed.

There two different ways of doing this. Either raft your pulks together and paddle across or to go for a swim and pull your pulk behind you.

This was amazing fun swimming in deep dark sea water and leopard crawling over slushy surface ice. The reason I like the arctic environment to travel and live in is because it really is an art. To be able to navigate by the sun, to read the weather and snow conditions. To learn what equipment works and in what conditions, to make sure your eating enough calories and of course knowing how to over come obstacles safely.

Swimming leads is another essential skill and experience to be gained.

A challenging, physical and mental day .. Video to come ...


Day four now of our training and we have had a challenging time. Temperature today is - 28'c but with wind chill of 16kmph it feels like - 40'c.

Yesterday we covered 14km with full pulks which have slowly increased in weight. One of our team developed 2nd degree frostbite on his fingers. He didn't feel the change in his fingers but probably developed from having sweaty hands which soaked his gloves, which in turn then froze with the wind when we stopped. Its not serve and he will recover but will leave the team later today.

We are also losing another team member. Matty and our other instructor Eric Larsen, ( will also be leaving us for 3 days. For 3 days we will be left to ourselves to put into practice what we have learnt.

Those that are left are in high spirits and are sad to lose our two team mates. I can't help but think how quickly frostbite developed and its really hit home that you have to look after your layering system and not sweat. As Matty keeps telling us, "you sweat, you die!" Food for thought as I start planning for my 2 week solo in a weeks time.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Tent life

A number of people have asked what happens when you make camp. So today's blog is all about arctic camp craft.

Once you have chosen a place to set up camp, I first get the tent out of my pulk and anchor one side of the tent down with a ski. This straight away stops it from blowing away. Next I go around unfolding the poles and anchoring the corners and guy ropes with ice screws, ski poles or stakes. Once up then snow is shoveled on to the snow skirts around the tent adding extra security. If the tent blows away then I would have no shelter from the cold. This is my most worrying time, especially in the wind.

The tent is now up and secure so I can start moving kit inside. Before I can get into my warm sleeping bag, I have to cook and rehydrate myself. The steam from boiling water would be disastrous if it got into my down clothing and sleeping bag. The moisture would just freeze and reduce the warmth from this essential kit. If I can't keep warm then the expedition is over.

Once I have eaten I can move my stove inside to dry kit and heat the tent. This is the only time in the day the temperature gets above 0'c and is a nice time to repair kit and write my blogs. After all this I can then get inside my sleeping bag. This normally takes a couple of hours and then I sleep and get ready for tomorrow.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Sea Ice Expedition, day 1

Well it is 18.37 as I start to write this, what a day! We spent the morning going through first aid and what to do if you get attacked by a polar bear. Stories were told about bears coming through tents, which really inspires confidence when I am solo in my tent, think I will keep the bear spray close to hand tonight.

We have traveled a short distance from Iqaluit but taken a line direct through a couple of nautical miles of pressure ice. If your reading this and have ambition to do a north pole then I can not stress this enough ... Get plenty of practice on sea ice. Forget pulling tiers on the flat and on paths, its more like pulling tyres over a boulder field. It does help that we are carrying close to 100kg of kit, if not more. We have all our expedition kit plus 3 - 4 bags of 20kg dog food bags per person.

Matty is a tough trainer but this is what it is all about, nothing else compares. I keep thinking that this is only the first day, imagine doing this for 50 - 80 days, along with open water to cross. Anyone who has reached the north pole as my complete respect and admiration. Those that have reached it solo and unsupported like Pen Hadow, well I don't think there is anything I can say apart from amazing.

If the north pole is something you wish to do, do not underestimate the challenge, get you training and experience in.

We all worked exceptionally hard today and I am proud to be in this course surrounded by people who have achieved so much already and are keen to achieve more from life.

To Lydia, Jessica and Isabel. Thank you for your message, I am well and enjoying the weather thank you, nice -30 something today. Really looking forward to getting up to Qik to id some fishing and hunting, not to mention my 2 week solo expedition.

To Emily and Andy, good question about access rights. Its always important to get the right access visas for your expedition. I've had to keep in with Parks Canada, they also require a CV of previous experience. Its also always important to keep in regular contact.

Well I have eaten and and have my stove going in my tent, will get my sleeping bag out and have an early night. A very hard and challenging day but very rewarding as we worked extremely well together as a team.