Plans, plans and ice

Hello from a sunny (well, for a few hours of the day) High Arctic here in our base in Qaanaaq. The sun has risen since we last blogged (although we didn't actually see that wonderful orb until the day after it officially rose, courtesy of the first cloud we've had in weeks. It was strange to realise how much we had missed direct sunlight. When you don't have it, you just make do, but as it glinted over the mountains to the south for the first time in months, all three of us sat here staring at it almost open-mouthed. There were shadows, real ones, and new colours to replace the black, rich blues and soft pastel colours of the late winter.

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On the ice and around the settlement, we've been up to our normal tricks, preparing our gear, improving expedition systems and training the dogs. After the return journey to Qeqertat and moving them down off the hill and onto the sea ice, there have been some teething problems as might be expected. Previous non-chewers like Dave have taken to ruining some of our hand-crafted harnesses and some of the dogs who found the trip hard, especially Houdini, are still a little fragile on their feet. We have ramped up their diet of excellent quality food, seal and fish along with top quality sled dog feed, and given some dogs a few days of rest and recuperation.

On Monday we are going on a recce north which may have a lot of possible outcomes. In order to start the big journey at the tail end of next month, we need a good route out of this coastal region and onto the good ice. We also have hundreds of kilograms of important and very expensive supplies depoted at remote locations including Etah and Marshall Bay. This all needs recovering.

The odd ice this season has continued to throw up surprises. In the last week or two the Nares Strait finally got itself into a fairly settled state (many weeks too late for Dark Ice to have been feasible but you'll have to wait till the summer for my full, referenced report on that situation).

The North Water Polynya to the west and north-west is massive this year and has made its presence known. The sea ice in our region, the Murchison Sound, is usually amongst the first to consolidate and is frankly, pretty good as far as sea ice goes. The seasonal fluctuations do sometimes cause thin or broken ice even fairly near to Qaanaaq (a place called Herbert Island) but it usually recovers very fast. This winter however, the journey we made to Siorapaluk and back a few weeks back is now impossible, has been since the day after we got back, and show little sign of recovery. There is open water off both headlands we'd need to cross. This effectively locks us east of Herbert Island (overland routes are impossible here due to lack of snow and steep hills). Most of the icecap access glaciers are west of here so we have a conundrum. And so to our Monday plans...

We are going to drive our two full dog teams east from here and up a large fjord north. There are various glaciers there and our plan is to access the moraine (rocky glacial deposits) and potential routes up. These are not first-choice routes but we have to find a feasible way up, and the hunters locally have little need to find routes until March or April when they head north to hunt polar bear and musk ox.

Glaciers are crevassed, and my job will be to find and mark a safe routes amongst a maze of large gaps in the ice. Dogs are hard to control at the best of times and our sleds weigh hundreds of kilograms, so precision will be key. It may well be that we, after travelling only fifty kilometres or so, we have to admit defeat on this glacier route and wait for next month and hopefully routes west, but if we are successful then a push north and west to Etah is on the cards. This could extend to being a ten day foray into the polar wilderness at a time when no-one here is contemplating journeys that far. They don't really need to and March and April time is safer with more sunlight, ten more degrees of temperature and some more snow. As ever in the modern world, we need to comply with the rules. The government have been exceptionally understanding with our big journey plans and issued us with an early permit for that, so we must of course stick to the restrictions whilst here training and operating without a permit (which isn't needed here on the coast). This may mean a sprightly push north from the area south of the glacier to above a line of latitude which is a permit-free zone. Either way, the safety of our team and the dogs, as well as being responsible to the community we're part of, must come first. Looking forward to telling you what news we have! We'll tweet live from the ice and check out the website tracker too.