Petit séjour à Grise Fiord

  • Grise Fiord au soleil

We take advantage of the Rangers, on their trip back to Grise Fiord, to travel under escort. Two days later, the patrol is gathering for a festive meal at Liza's, she is offering beaver and seal fur mittens to those who distinguished themselves during the trip. Then all Rangers in town are meeting at the gymnasium where they present their annual parade, with awards and honours. Jason, 18, finished his training and becomes officially a Ranger, he was before a Junior Ranger (12-18 years old).

Since light is back, hunters are skilfully providing varied food to everyone; that's how, during these three days, we eat some caribou, muskox, polar bear, seal, narwhal skin... and turkey coming from the South by plane!

Larry is taking me to check his net. We drive three kilometres by car on the ice, remove planks and tarpaulins which are a little bit insulating the holes, break the ice in the three holes and clean them, free the ropes at both ends one after the other to bring the net through the centre hole, get the seal trapped in the net, put the seal in the pick-up, set up the net again, and go back home with the seal who is right away climbing the stairs and waiting his turn quietly in the entrance, in the warmth!

I give a hand to Amon to hang his polar bear skin to dry, in a warm garage. His son is here too, he is getting ready to go tomorrow to Whitehorse to represent Grise Fiord in badminton at Arctic Winter Games. Raymond is supplying us with seal meat for our dogs; Annie gives us dog fur for clothing; Liza, arctic hare fur and muskox meat; Geela, muskox wool to pu inside our mittens... But not much fresh food in the shop, some people are looking forward to get eggs, maybe soon by plane. We still have powder eggs on board.

For the trip back to Vagabond, by ourselves, it is cold: -44°C, which is -80°C with the chilling factor when driving at 40km/h. The girls are wrapped up warmly in sleeping bags, lying on mattresses and caribou skin. Aurore is sleeping all the way, Léonie doesn't want to miss the scenery. We arrive at Vagabond at sun set, the sky is reddening, beautiful. The stove is purring, the generator starts easily and its sea water pump flows right away: water is still liquid under the hull, despite the ice thickness (1.10m), getting close to Vagabond's draught.

Yesterday was a test day on the ice with the icemeter as we have some worries about the calibration of the instrument.

Léonie is five years old today, party on board!


  • Campement de la patrouille des rangers au crepuscule

Here it is. The sun came out entirely yesterday, well above the horizon, without any cloud. "It's too much dazzling!" said Léonie, while Aurore was smiling, mesmerized; the past few days, when we were showing her the heralding light, she was repeating "it's the moon". She is two years old and after four months without sun, she just forgot about it.

It's during our first sunbath (short by -40°C) that the rangers from Grise Fiord appeared. What a surprise to see coming six snowmobiles and six heavy sledges! And to recognize Liza, Lisa, Jason, Jarloo and Imooshie! A military supervisor is here to watch them work during a three days patrol. Their mission is to look after Canadian Territory. Once they spotted a Russian submarine, a few years ago. In the end, the patrol decide not to go any further and to set up the camp for two nights near Vagabond. We are so glad to have neighbours! Today is the traditional day, they will go hunting in the area for seal, polar bear, muskox, caribou...

Friday, I lost the weight for the probe. It was cold and it got stuck in the hole, in the ice. When hitting it with the handle of the shovel, I could free the weight but the line was cut and it's now on the seabed (-130m). Léonie suggested me to use stones to replace it, but the weight must go through a 5cm diameter hole!

Banquise dans toutes ses épaisseurs

  • CTD avec Aurore et Leonie

Sun is making himself wanted. Monday, he could almost come above the mountains which are slightly raising up our south horizon. Nearby summits were pink, sunny. But yesterday, the sky was entirely cloudy!

Fascinating exchanges are going on with researchers, trying to better understand why ice is so thin at some places. In the middle of South Cape Fiord, ice is barely more than 50cm thick, and it is not much increasing, while around the boat (near the northern shore of the fiord), ice is 1.10m thick and is increasing according to laws of physics. There is probably major currents in the fiord, bringing warmer waters from the ocean or from the glacier, slowing down ice growth.

Larger-scale measurements are needed now to have a better idea of ice thickness in the area. This is why I set up the icemeter (EM31) on the sledge last Sunday, when doing a return trip to Grise Fiord (appointment with the dentist, better not to miss it as there is one in town only a few times a year!). 110 kilometres done, more results soon.

Then, to check calibration of the CTD's temperature sensor, the probe was plunged into a barrel filled with fresh water vigorously mixed with iceberg chips. Measured temperature: +0.06°C.

Another test was done by leaving the CTD under the ice for about 15 minutes near the boat, where conditions should be close to freezing: temperature = -1.64°C, salinity = 31.98psu. Investigation to be continued.

It was not too cold yesterday (-20°C), because of the clouds, then for the first time, all the family joined the middle of the fiord for scientific routines! Six months ago, at the same place, we were watching from Vagabond's deck narwhals, hundreds of Harp seals, and many birds. What a difference with quiet winter! For sure, South Cape Fiord waters are rich.

Quelques heures à Grise Fiord

  • Ours du 6 fevrier
  • Tete de gros ours polaire

"Welcome home!". I received the warmest of welcomes in Grise Fiord. I did a return trip yesterday, to get several parcels: some scientific equipment sent by Mary and Humfrey from the Institute of Ocean Sciences (British Columbia, Canada), and a waterproof camera sent by Rémy Marion to film under the ice. Slipped in the boxes, between these equipments, many gifts for the whole crew! Our friends from Grise Fiord are also offering me oranges, candies, coloured pencils for the girls, and even a nice cut of polar bear meat. Tom hunted it last week, not far from our fjord. A big one, "10 feet plus!" he wrote to me on his return. Tom shows me the head, which dentition is formidable, and the skin, superb in its winter fur (he should sell it 9000$, according to prices displayed in the hamlet office). He explains to me how to prepare the meat to have it nice and tender. He already fed family and friends, and most of the dogs in town! Amon got a nice bear too (8 feet) last Saturday, not far from open water, near Smith Island, south-east of Grise Fiord. I met fresh tracks on my way this morning, not long after leaving Vagabond. It could be from the polar bear who came to our camp on Monday? Dogs scared him away, but we had good time watching and filming him.

I'm buying a whole seal to Tom, to feed our dogs. We should move our net but we didn't see any better place in the surroundings of the boat. Seals like to breath in the cracks, where ice is thinner and easier to break. Liza is providing me with a seal skin, France wants to make mittens out of it, after she made some for the rest of the family. Suddenly Liza and I can see the tip of the sun, shortly, like an orange flash, wow. I was expecting it two days later!

Our friends are repeating it to me, we will have more visitors in a few weeks. For now, for most people in Grise Fiord, especially families with young children, it is too cold to travel the 50km from the village to the boat. Mainly hunters are travelling the length and breadth of the area...

When emptying my sledge last night, on my return on board, while the full moon was illuminating the pack ice, I was playing Santa Claus. Without beard and without going through the chimney!

Un ours passe...

  • Time lapse 1er fevrier
  • Fraiches traces d ours

A polar bear is passing... on the other side of the fjord. Tracks are fresh, the animal just explored the end of my trail. This is were I turn back, every three days, while measuring ice thickness across the 7km wide fjord. Ices are broken up, overlapping, piling up along the shore, due to the tides, like on the beach near Vagabond, and hiding-places are not missing! I'm even more vigilant that I'm alone with the snowmobile, without the dogs. Six days earlier, four of them were joining us, Léonie and I, for scientific field work, and together they caught a polar fox, at the same place (read Léonie's story - in French)! Dogs are quietly staying at camp since, still for a few days to make sure they don't have rabies, which is not very likely, hopefully. Another polar fox is following today's polar bear, at a respectful distance, as can tell the little tracks I also meet. Carrion feeder in winter, he is looking for remains of seal, which is making most of his diet before the birds and their eggs are back in spring.

The snowmobile is allowing me to do longer profiles than on foot, the icemeter (EM31) can theoretically work at a speed up to 30km/h, depending on snow surface. It is usually necessary to slow down because of snow drifts created by the wind, even if the ice is very flat. Also, the heat from the engine is good to warm up the CTD, instantly frozen when taken out from the water (it's -35°C today), and then to do several casts in a row. But this is offset by burning gasoline, and sitting in the cold, noise and smell, not as pleasant and comfortable than walking with a dog pulling the pulka!

After 23 January gale, the big snow drifts around the boat are making a great playground for Aurore and Léonie. First trials with the snow bike (ktrak given by Stéphane Rousson, and mountain bike lent by our friends in Grise Fiord): hard snow needed because the rear track is not very wide!

France, who is dutifully checking our net every night, almost finished to make splendid seal skin mittens for me! Thank you Eva for the seal skin.

Twilight colours at midday are beautiful, 8 or 10 days more before seeing the sun again.

France raconte Grise Fiord

  • Grise Fiord plage fin janvier

Spending some time in the village is a privilege. When Liza tells us "make yourself at home", this just turns really amazingly simply, even with our culture and language differences; Liza and Aksakjuk are speaking more Inuktitut than English. Their generosity and attention to the child are touching. Without the girls I could join women who meet every Saturday afternoon, and are learning at the moment about muskox wool process. The muskox skin is laying out in a room and each one, with a fork, can extract the sweet wool which is below the long fur, close to the leather. Then we have to clean it, to card it with a machine and finally make some wool spinning to be able to knit! But here we are not yet... On Monday's evening, it's sewing at the church, or at home if the church is too cold; these moments with women only strengthen warmness and complicity, so precious into our cold polar night. Each one comes with her work, the prays and songs take place at the beginning and in the end, and humour is here with all these bubbly old and young women!

The best place to meet people is the Coop during opening times. We go there as much as to buy little things as to chat and know news in Grise!

Even going to the seal net can be a convivial time, with one or two families joining on the ice, then following each other to look for seals breathing holes if no seal on the net. Joining every day our friends is rewarding. At first, it's a hard time to take some seals on the meshes at the moment. And it's not seldom that incidents happened, meaning adjustments with the net or the ropes that pass through the ice. So we can learn how to get out of this tricky situations between water and ice. And keep in mind to have patience...

Kids don't spend lot of time outside in the cold, they meet at night in the gymnasium to play or to let off steam. Junior Rangers, from 12 years old, were there last Sunday for shooting training. Many other activities, no only sport, are taking place here to take advantage of the large, warm and lighted space.

Here is the life in the night, maybe the day incipient again will see each one breath more fully outside, but maybe also will miss the nice warm time into the night... And so on-board Vagabond. (by France Pinczon du Sel)

Seul à bord

  • Liza Peepeelee et France verifient un filet

France, Léonie and Aurore are in Grise Fiord since Friday. Invited by Liza and Aksakjuk, we went with the snowmobile and the big sledge (qamutik). What a surprise to see our hosts coming to meet us by car! On the ice, at 20km from town, the girls jumped inside the well heated vehicle and went ahead all the way to Grise Fiord. Supplies, mail and parcels, real showers and laundry, health centre, Internet and phone... but first of all, the pleasure to see our neighbours and new friends. Léonie is at school for the afternoon, and in the evening, always by car, Liza is taking us all to check her big seal net: nothing. The next morning, not to leave Vagabond and the dogs alone too long, I drive back the 50km, alone, without any sledge. All is fine on board, but wind starts blowing and, it does no harm just this once, despite high pressure (1025mb), bad weather is setting in for two days. I manage to check the net on Saturday night (two hours are needed to break ice around the ropes holding the net under pack ice), before isolating myself inside Vagabond for 36 hours. This morning, all is quiet and our scenery has changed a lot: big snow drifts had formed around the boat, spectacular.

Today, between 12:23 and 13:19 (local time), sun will be at less than 6° below the horizon: it will be daylight for almost one hour (read more here)! Before going back to town to pick up the rest of the crew, I need to check the net again, collect some ice (iceberg for fresh water), feed the dogs, run the generator (batteries), fill up the stove tank, clear the snow from the snowmobile (buried), and above all, go for scientific measurements. Last time, to do longer profiles, I decided to use the snowmobile. But I broke down 4km away from the boat! I could get it the next day, with Tom and Jerry's help, as they were passing by. A godsend.