We have lately enjoyed the grueling, 5 km/day ice foot travel as we slowly turn down the coast towards Carl Ritter bay. On our left is the formidable ice ridge, thirty feet high. On our right the limestone slopes of North Ellesmere, land appropriately classified as “the Barrens.” This progress is a halting amphibious slog through an alien but starkly beautiful terrain. 60 degree slopes with boulders hanging precipitously. Gorges to make Todra jealous. Multiple waterfalls starting 1000 feet high. River valleys that bunch ice into fortifications 100 feet high.
Today the ice foot ended. It just petered out, running into a slight spit of land and quitting, probably just sick of being sledged on. Between here and Carl Ritter lies a massive wall of ice on shore and the immobile pack of Nares Strait. We are stuck, two weeks until our planned exfiltration. At a not-discussed-in-camp level our impotence is embarrassing. We started as wealthy, well-kitted westerners, supposed to dominate the Arctic, just another place on Earth. Speaking for myself at least, the experience of hugging a minuscule and vanishing serpent of former ice just a few meters wide, with mountains of ice on our left and mountains of stone to our right, has been humbling. We took the bare scrap Nature afforded us, and now even that is gone. In 21 days, our kayaks have been in the Strait for just 3 hours.
Maybe nature will open a door instead of a window.
So we wait. Our feelings about a forecasted multi-day storm have changed from annoyed and uneasy to annoyed and hopeful. Unlike our last encounter, we are prepared for this storm. We are camping in a small alcove, 500 feet up, covered in musk ox droppings. normally this would be an opportunity for a game of throw-the-poop-at-Mike, but instead we took it as a sign that a herd waited out a previous storm here. The view is panoramic and insufferably beautiful, overlooking the ice-clogged Strait clear to Greenland, with Hans island slightly visible to our South. While the storm blows over, we plan to enter a state of torpor, napping our way through the next 72 hours.
As we drowsily drift through the days, listening anxiously to the wind, rereading the Naturalists Guide to the Arctic’s mammal section for the fifteenth time (and maybe, finally, getting through the pictureless “Plants” section) and memorizing the number of polygons in our tent (1 octagon at the tents apex, then 4 hexagons, 6 pentagons, and roughly 10 acute parallelograms – I’ll have to recount – all connected through an elaborate mesh of – again have to recount – 42 equilateral triangles) we have a first-class view of the show and the only power that dictates travel in the high Arctic.