What Did Kevin Get Himself Into Now?

What Did Kevin Get Himself Into Now?

This summer I was lucky enough to get a job working with Environment Canada at the world’s most northern permanently inhabited location in the World! (no, not Santa’s Palace nor Superman’s Crib, but they live close by) This location is of course Canadian Forces Station Alert, Nunavut (aka CFS Alert). Alert started out as a joint weather station between the US and Canada, now it is a military station run by the Canadian Air Force and has approximatey 100 personnel, most of which are military. The position I have is with the GAW (Global Atmosphere Watch) lab which collects data on a variety of surface and atmospheric a variables as well as pollutants.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Found an Ice Cave! Well eventually....

So I have taken three long trips out to a gorge near Kirk lake (about 8 km from the station) looking for some ice caves. I have seen pictures of them and have been given directions their general location, but no one could tell me exactly where they were or if they even still exist. Some people said that they would be snowed over at this time of year while others said that it was too warm and that they had probably melted. Well either way I tagged along and encouraged any trips going out looking for them. I just really like hiking.

Attempt 1

The first trip I took was a while ago, around early May, and I went with a couple other Environment Canada employees (Jane and Eric, they launch weather balloons and do a lot of meteorological work up here). There was still a lot of snow at this time so we were able to take some snowmobiles out. One of the difficulties though was finding the gorge. There aren’t any real roads up here, especially going out towards the Ice Caves. There was only a trail marked by rusted barrels, but most of those were covered by snow. Once we got to Kirk lake we took a break at the “Love Shack” which is really just an old fishing hut.

The Love Shack is hardly used now, but has quite a long history and from what I can tell must be pretty old (it has asbestos walls and flooring haha). A few years ago a couple of long time Alert civilian employees got married up here and had their honeymoon in that shack, and I am pretty sure that is how it got its name. Apparently they stayed out there for around 2 weeks!

We were surprised at what we found in the Love Shack, which was a variety of things. Most notably was an old hockey goalie mask and a home-made mace. Naturally we all did our best “mace murderer” impressions, pretty sure I was able to find the sociopathic killer look in me for this picture.

There was something scrawled on the side of the mace but it was really hard to make out what it was. Something about avenging someone who had been attacked by wolves… comforting, haha. The mace was some old club with a few nasty nails sticking out.

After our stop off at the Love Shack we decided to hike through the gorge looking for these ice caves. We finally got to the corner that looked like what was described to us but unfortunately we found no caves. All we found was a huge snowdrift, Eric and I decided to slide down it, you can pick up some pretty good speed on these drifts!). Even though we didn’t find any caves the excursion was tonnes of fun.

Attempt #2

Last Thursday I decided to hike up with a few other guys from around station, I thought that maybe things had melted enough to expose the ice caves. Turns out things weren’t done melting yet, and the melt-water streams were very deep and fast flowing.

It was pretty surprising how much had melted, and how many streams their were. Wasn’t much of a surprise that none of us got back to the station dry. But, we also saw a good deal of wildlife! Lots and lots of arctic hares, a couple leverets (baby arctic hares), and even a fox! So once again even though we didn’t find any ice caves the hike was well worth the trip.

Looking back at my pictures I can actually see where the snow was about to give way for the stream to burst through, pretty neat! On the right side of the picture below you can see a huge crack in the snowdrift.

Attempt #3

I found out about a group of people that wanted to go looking for the ice caves just this past Saturday. They asked me to help them get to the area since I had been there twice in the past month. I told them that I would love to come but that I had just been there on Thursday and that the ice caves were still not thawed. This deterred most of the group from coming, unfortunately. I feel pretty bad about this because it turns out the ice caves were open (Yay!).

They were pretty neat! They had formed by the melt-water bursting through a snow drift that fell between two ridges. Earlier in the spring the melt-water had just ran along side one of the ridges and on top of the snow, but as things melted and the flow of the stream increased the melt-water undercut the snow drift and burst out through its front wall. Pretty impressive, and frightening, especially since I had been sliding down that snow drift just a month ago.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Unforgiving Arctic

The arctic is a very unforgiving place and I can’t believe anything survives up here. I have been told that in the winter the temperature drops to -70 degrees Celsius and its average annual precipitation is only 6 inches, while only 0.7 inches of that is actual rainfall. With conditions like these it is no surprise that there is so little vegetation, and also so few animals. 7 months of the year it is complete darkness, whatever soil there is up here is also frozen solid for those eight months. These don’t exactly make for comfortable living conditions, and I don’t think anyone plans on opening any retirement homes or resorts up here either.

But there are many hidden treasures to be found in the arctic, little things that brighten your day when you see them.

The other day a friend of mine, Kristy, was talking about some caterpillars that exist out here, and that they only come out during the month of June. Well I do an exhausting amount of hiking (I love hiking), I might as well while I am up here, and decided to keep my eyes open for these caterpillars. Well I didn’t find any for quite a while haha. But, eventually, I spotted one! OK, so maybe I was really out hiking with Kristy and she spotted it, either way I got to take a couple pictures.

We found this little guy by the side of the road surrounded by rocks, so we brought him over to the biggest pile of vegetation we could find. This caterpillar is an Arctic Wooly-Bear caterpillar. Apparently these guys spend over 90 percent of their lives frozen! The lifecycle of these caterpillars is approximately 7 years, but that includes the time it is an egg till when it is a fully grown moth, still impressive. Nobody ever drives on that road but me, but still, I am sure he loved his new home.


Another beautiful thing about the tundra is that you can find these patches of flowers, purple saxifrage, scattered all over. It’s amazing that these things grow up here, and they are usually found in the most rocky/desolate areas. I mean, sometimes I find them growing straight out of a pile of shale, with no apparent source of water for nearly fifty feet, nor any signs of fertile soil.

There is also a local wolf pack up here in Alert. Normally, arctic wolves would survive mainly off of lemmings (which I have yet to snap a photo of, they are so fast!), arctic hare, and the occasional caribou or muskox when they come around. But because they do visit the station all the time, I can only assume that they do sometimes eat garbage. Nonetheless, these wolves have a hard ‘nough life!


Pebbles (as named by the inhabitants of the station) was one of the wolves in the local wolf pack.

Pebbles was probably the most photogenic wolf that I have ever seen and is always around station. But she has good reason to stick around, she was kicked out of the wolf pack. We can assume this because when the pack goes out hunting for a few weeks at a time she stays here by herself.

Unfortunately, the pack came back to the station one week and beat the crap out of Pebbles. Then the next week they did it again, she ended up getting sick, and died. That’s life in the arctic, unforgiving. Of course I personified that story a bit, I mean, this is the arctic. The wolves are wild animals, they do things more out of instinct than malicious intent, and they’re doing what they have to in order to survive up here.

Rabbits, there are lots of them. These arctic hares grow to be up to 70 cm long, larger than a lot of dogs. And they come in herds up here. I mean, I have been told that in the summer they have been seen to aggregate into groups of over 50! The largest herd that I have seen is seven, and frankly, it might be a bit frightening to be hiking and then stumble upon a pack of fifty of these guys. They do kind of freak you out when they start running on their hind legs like a bipedal (yea they do that up here for some reason)

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Day Trip Out to Crystal Mountain

One of the most popular things to do up here is to take a trip out to a nearby mountain for some hiking, scenic views, and crystal hunting. Crystal Mountain (AKA Dean Hill) isn’t really a mountain, maybe by Manitoba standards. I would honestly call it a large hill, but because it is surrounded by relatively flat tundra it really sticks out! It is called Crystal Mountain because there are a lot of quartz crystals lying around on the surface of the mountain.

The smaller lump on the left is Crystal Mountain”, and the larger hill on the right is Mount Pullen. From the point where the picture was taken it is probably about a 30 minute BV ride, granted you can't go very fast over the tundra.

To get out to the mountain from Alert we have to drive an hour in a BV across the arctic tundra (nobody seems to know what the acronym BV stands for).

This is a BV. This is the one I got to ride in (Haven’t yet taken the course to drive it, but I will soon, hopefully!). The first ride was LOTS of fun, pretty bumpy as you can see it doesn’t really have much (any?) suspension. These BVs can go nearly anywhere, apparently they are also aquatic and can traverse across water. I don’t think I would be willing to try that though.

So after the hour BV ride over the tundra and through the valley between the two mountains we finally made it up to the top of Crystal Mountain. It was perfect weather for a day trip up the mountain and the scenery was awe inspiring.

It was also a pretty warm and sunny day. As you can see it was quite the struggle to keep my eyes open for this picture while the sun was glaring at me from my right. Behind me and to the left is Mount Poulin, which is much larger than Crystal Mountain but also much, much more difficult to climb up. Some hills and another mountain range (which is a few hundred kilometres away) are behind me to the right.

At first everyone was pretty excited to look around and take pictures, but pretty soon everyone forgot about the scenery. Once a few people started finding crystals everyone started to dig in to find their own and compare their loot among each other.

I took a few pictures of this happening and then started my own frantic search for some quartz crystals!

On the way back we stopped in the middle of the valley between the two mountains (hills…) and I snapped a few pictures. The people that were bored of taking pictures made snow-angels (pretty good ones too in my opinion!)