During 2006 and 2008 I spent quite a bit of time operating out of Resolute Bay and Gris Fiord either on expedition or on filming projects. These Inuit settlements are the highest (most northern) in the Canadian High Arctic and among the most isolated places of human habitation on earth. Resolute Bay, a small township of around 250 people, is situated on the south coast of Cornwallis Island which itself borders on the famous Northwest Passage. As such, Resolute Bay draws polar explorers from all over the world and it has become a regular rendezvous point for teams attempting expeditions to the North Pole.
Three hundred miles further north and east is Gris Fiord, an even smaller community. As with Resolute Bay, its inhabitants are split between local Inuit people and workers from the Canadian mainland. The compact nature of both townships, and the struggle to survive in such a hostile environment has engendered a culture of warmth and friendliness towards outsiders. To the traveller and explorer, both places seem like havens in the middle of the vast white emptiness of the Arctic.
The team for the ‘Our World’ expedition was co-guided by a good friend – Ryan Scarratt. Once we arrived in Resolute bay, we found that our original proposed route had to be altered because of unexpected open water on the south side of Cornwallis Island – yet another sign of seasons changing early as the arctic warms. To have continued on this route would have been dangerous, not only because of thin ice around the water, but also because polar bears would be drawn to the area to hunt seals.
Our route was diverted to crossing Cornwallis island itself – with heavy sledges pulling over rolling hills we managed only fifty four miles in ten days, which was good considering our circumstances, but slow according to our rigid timetable.
Eventually we got sight of the sea ice off the east coast of Cornwallis as this was the point we had been aiming for: the Northwest Passage, and the promise of smooth sea ice to take us across to Devon Island, twenty eight miles away.
However, two days in and the Northwest Passage was turning out to be a nightmare of obstacles. By half way through the time allocated for the expedition, we had only covered about a third of the distance. With the threat of supplies running low and the deadline of booked flights home, I was worried that we might not get to Gris on time. The only way forward was for the whole team to put in some super human effort.
Just when we thought the Northwest Passage had thrown all it could at us, we got caught up in a blizzard. For the last nine and a half miles we endured white-out blizzard conditions through which we had to navigate, with only a few feet of vision, in order to get to Devon Island. Needless to say, that night we were mentally and physically exhausted.
The expedition now turned into a race against time: we still had one hundred and forty miles to go before we reached Gris Fiord. Normally we worked to measurements of time for our stops, but now it was decided that we had to work to measurements of distance if we were going to make it.
With help from the rangers at Gris Fiord (who I was able to call with the satellite phone), we managed to navigate the sound avoiding any more ice rubble. We headed slightly south to an arbitrary co-ordinate in the middle of the Sound which I named Kelly Point in honour of my co-explorer on the last trip. From there it was a seventy mile relentless slog to Gris Fiord – covering the distance in five days and even having a day to spare thanks to all our efforts.