Monday, 26 September 2011

Sites with history in the canadian Arctic:

Sachs Harbour, the Aulavik Park, and the wreck of the Investigator

Banks Island belongs to the Arctic Archipelago, on the Canadian Northwest Territories

The island has one settlement, Sachs Harbour, and a National Park, Aulavik

Sachs Harbor, pop. ~140

Latitude: 71° 58' N; Longitude: 125° 12' W

Sachs Harbour or Ikaahuk ("place where one crosses") is the most northerly community in the NWT of Canada. Sachs Harbour is the only permanent settlement on Banks Island, situated on its southwestern shore, and is the nearest community to Aulavik National Park. The settlement is also known as the "Muskox Capital of Canada".

It has a small airfield and terminal, a school, a nurse health center.

Sachs Harbour

Facing the Beaufort Sea

Dreadly cold winters

The Aulavik Park

Aulavik National Park is on Banks Island, the most westerly island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The Beaufort Sea lies to the west. To the northeast, M'Clure Strait separates the island from Prince Patrick Island and Melville Island.

Banks Island is tundra territory, with extremely cold winters. The island is home to barren-ground caribou, polar bears, muskoxen - 68000 muskoxen live on the island, the majority of the world's population.

Paddling on Thomsen River observed by musk-oxen.

The heart of Aulavik National Park is the Thomsen River. It runs through the park, and is the northernmost navigable river (by canoe or kayak) in North America.

The park encompasses a variety of landscapes from fertile river valleys to polar deserts, buttes and badlands, rolling hills, and bold seacoasts.

Spring in Aulavik

Arctic cotton

Gyrfalcon bluff

Arctic fox

Tundra ermine in summer

The wreck of the HMS Investigator

In September 1851, Captain Robert McClure's ship, HMS Investigator, became ice trapped in Mercy Bay, Banks Island, during his search for the lost Sir John Franklin Expedition, ordered to complete a crossing of the Northwest Passage, which had already been charted from both the east and west but had never been entirely navigated.

The HMS Investigator, built at Scotts of Greenock and bought by the Admiralty in February 1848, has now been found by a team of Parks Canada scientists after 156 years since it was last seen.

HMS Investigator was strengthened with iron reinforcement for Arctic services; in 1848 she set sail, in search for the missing Sir John Franklin expedition in quest of the Northwest Passage: with two other lost ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, it had made up the ill-fated 1845 British Arctic Expedition that failed the attempt to cross the passage through the Arctic.

HMS Erebus and HMS Terror trapped in the ice

Having only found some graves and human remains, and failed again the attempt to sail through the deep frozen Arctcic ocean, then on the return voyage, which was commanded by Robert McClure, HMS Investigator itself became trapped in the ice.

Three years later, on June 3rd 1853, her sixty-nine man crew were forced to abandon ship. She was finally abandoned in Mercy Bay, Banks Island. Most of the crew went on to survive for three winters, though in the most unimaginably desperate conditions. They were finally rescued in Melville Island.

The Investigator's remains were found on the shores of the island with the deck of the ship roughly eight metres below the surface of the water. The Canadian archaeologists found the ship "largely intact" sitting upright in approximately 25 feet of pristine arctic water.

(The HMS Erebus and HMS Terror wrecks are yet to be found)

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Point Hope, overlooking the Chukchi Sea

In my wandering quest for Ultima Thule, this time I'm back in Alaska, in the western-most extension of the northwest Alaska coast, southwest of Barrow, called te North Slope.

This is no soft beauty - nature is harsh, civilization too far away, life is back to basics, no comfort, no modern luxury. Isolation is heavy on everyday living, but things got a lot better with, first, the building of the new well-equiped school and a good library, and second, internet access for all.

Point Hope, Alaska
Population ~750
Location 68º 21' N , 166º 47' W, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Point Hope (Tikiġaq) is located near the tip of Lisburne peninsula, a large gravel spit in a lowland area with several coastal lagoons facing the Chukchi Sea, south of the Arctic Sea and north of the Bering Strait.

The settlement got its name from a visiting british captain in honour of an englishman family "connected with the sea". But it had been for centuries inhabited by native Inupiat Inuit people.

Lisburne peninsula is in fact one of the oldest continuously occupied Inuit areas in Alaska.


The climate is arctic. The Chukchi Sea is frozen most of the year, but ice-free from late June until mid-September.

Point Hope in the distance, seen from frozen sea

Point Hope residents are dependent upon marine subsistence.
Ice conditions allow easy boat launchings into open leads early in the spring whaling season.

Native whalers launching the umiak

This highly favorable site, with its abundant resources, has enabled them to retain strong cultural traditions, after more than a century of outside influences. The history of Point Hope was strongly influenced by whaling, trading and caribou herding. Walrus and occasional polar bears are also traditional resources.

Umiak with harpoons in place
The umiak is made of animal skin on a wood frame

Seal skin covered umiak

Caribou herd

Some local facilities:

For shopping

Tikigaq School, the second largest in Alaska, serving more than 250 children

At the Youth Centre's library

The Post office

The igloo-shaped Community centre

Dressed for the cold

Typical house and sled

A wealthy native family: SUV car, 4 wheeler and sled.

At June's whaling festival: inuit drum playing and dancing
Whale bones are strong native symbols

Point Hope at sunset

Cape Thompson

Cape Thompson is a headland on the Chukchi Sea coast of Alaska.
It is located 26 miles to the southeast of Point Hope.

Towering spires and cliffs host giant rookeries

The cape facing ice floes in Chukchi Sea

Chukchi Sea at sunset:

Friday, 2 September 2011

Ammassalik, Greenland - one fjord, three hamlets, ice wonders

Ammassalik Fjord is a 41 km long fjord in southeastern Greenland.

Coordinates: 65°43'N, 37°42' W

The fjord area has become one of the top attractions in Greenland, due to the fabulous sceneries of iced mountains and waters, and the colourful houses cascading downhill to the fjord's waters. Also kayaking and dog sledding excursions have a growing demand.

There are three settlements in the vicinity of the fjord: Tasiilaq, Kulusuk and Kuummiut:

The Ammassalik fjord area

Ammassalik island

The main settlement of the archipelago, Tasiilaq, is located in Ammassalik island, just south of the mouth of the Fjord, approximately 106 km south of the Arctic Circle, on the shore of a natural harbour. Tasiilaq is surrounded by the high Ammassalik mountains, away from the open sea...

Late afternoon, with view over the Kong Oscar Havn and the mountains

With almost 2000 inhabitants, it is the most populous community on the eastern coast, and the seventh-largest town in Greenland. It slopes like a cascade of coloured houses down to the fjord's waters packed with icebergs.

House with a view on Ammassalik mountain and the fjord

Tasiilaq has a museum of inuit arts and History, a hotel and other facilities, and it has a strategic harbour - Kong Oscar Havn - where goods are brought by special supply cargos from Royal Arctic Line.

The old church, now a Museum

Bench decoration inside the church

Ivory decorated box

receives supply ships only between June and September, because for the rest of the year the pack ice is too thick for ships to reach the port. The supply ship from Arctic Line unloads at Kong Oskars Havn. Supplies are vital to the inhabitants, so the arrival of the year's first cargo ship has been waited for long.

Further to the southeast of the mouth, the village of Kulusuk

Kulusuk family and their sledge
The typical many-coloured houses, imported from Denmark

Kulusuk ( pop. 300 ) is situated on the East coast, at 65º N. A truly remarkable place, because of its hostile nature and the fact that it has been cut off from the rest of the world for centuries.

But now the settlement is more visited for its airport, the most important of the East coast, and for being the departing point for several excursions by kayak, dog sled or helicopter.

The airport terminal and the local "taxi"

The airport also provides supplies, and brings danish teachers and medical staff who give basic assistance to the mostly inuit inhabitants.

The local hotel has conquered some reputation among ice-adventure tourists. As the other settlements in Ammassalik, Kulusuk remains relatively immune to Western influence despite the regular influx of tourists.

Hotel Kulusuk, an ideal location for ice adventure

The village of Kuummiut lays on the shores of Ammassalik fjord, located on the eastern coast of its central part, perched on the tip of a partially glaciated mainland peninsula, like a perfect jewel in the fjord.

Here is the link to a blog with wondeful photos by Carl Skou, a danish teacher who's working there since 2000:

Kuummiut in January's sun, by Carl Skou

Sometime ago, I also published this small post related to this subject.

Reflections on the fjord's waters, Kuummiut