Ron Carlson Arctic Expeditions

Ron Carlson Arctic Expeditions
To see 2012 expedition go to:

Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Boat Place"

Had a good weather window today, so quickly picked up and flew a long ways to that somewhat famous location known long ago as "Boat Place".  This is where the lifeboat and human skeletal remains of uncertain Franklin crew members were originally found by one of the latter search mission expeditions.  Led by Francis Leopold McClintock, hired by Lady Franklin, on the ship called Fox.  It is probably the most intriguing and eery of all the sites.  Back then, inside the boat, which was purportedly being dragged back to the Erebus and Terror by some 15 men, a clothed skeleton was frozen sitting at one end of the boat and on the side, two shotguns leaning on the gunwale still locked and loaded.  Probably the last man in this sad band.  [Revised from picture showing the guns held in the hands of the last skeleton, the guns were actually leaning on the boat as depicted in the new picture here, thanks for clarifiation to William Battersby, who actually coincidentally had lunch last week with Leopold McClintock's great great granddaughter]. 

Not very accessible, it's on the north side of the Graham Gore Peninsula.  It looks much different than I had thought it would look like over the many years of reading and imagining.  A very small thin little spit of gravel and sand.  I was at very low altitude, with flaps down to slow the plane's airspeed - about 100 feet AGL (which means "above ground level", MSL is "above sea level").  Did some landing approaches nearby but when 10 feet off the ground, near eye level, the boulders that were very small from the air popped up like huge gophers.  Too many to dodge for a touch down, so I did a couple of go arounds...but no dice.  Taking no chances.  I can probably land a mile or two away and hike over, maybe in the next week or two if I pass nearby.

Leopold McClintock
In making some additional very low slow approaches, I recorded some good video and a couple of clear pics.  There is plainly visible a small pile of debris; planks or boards and other things.  I assume these are the last remains of the whale boat that they were dragging.  Glad to see that some things are still there.

What a sad and lonely little spot.  As I looked down, it was so isolated, but framed.  On this little spit of gravel and sand, in the shape of an "exclamation mark" actually.  You could almost see in one's imagination the complete whaleboat there, perched on the small gravel shelf, with the men in despair, sitting on the gentle gravel slope and looking out over Victoria Strait wondering what will become of them. 

To me it seemed surprisingly more of an obvious place to any observer on land or sea than I thought it would be.  It does not blend in as everything else does here, especially when flying or walking in the interior.

I will download and broadcast all these images tonight or tomorrow.  Images turned out well and in one picture, one can clearly see the pieces.  3 large planks are most noticeable.  2 of them appear as runners from sledge, maybe.....

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Snow Today

Still grounded.  Snow in season today in Cambridge Bay.  Summer is late.  

By the way, I have had the privilege of parking in the restricted zone with the Canadian Department of National Defense (DND) for the NWS Long Range Radar Station base.  The DEW Line is seeing significant activity here and the boys have been great hosts.

Cambridge Bay Airport, in the in the DND restricted zone - June 28, 2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Baymaud - Cambridge Bay

The Baymaud sitting on the bottom adjacent Hamlet of Cambridge Bay
While waiting out the weather here today, though I would go check out the famous local shipwreck in one of the bays called the Baymaud and snap some pics of her.  The location is very accessible and one can get close if you are willing to hike around 2 miles there and 2 miles back.  I wore my immersion suit for the walk for a couple of reasons.  One, I was pondered saving a lot of time by walking straight across the bay ice, after seeing a local cross in an ATV earlier in the week.  Secondly, if not taking the big shortcut, the bridge to get across was closed because of the rushing river, and, well, of course I would be walking across that closed bridge.  After walking down a snow bank to the ice, I quickly thought better of it.  Thinking carefully about how fast the current just might be under the ice, given that just upstream, that bridge was closed for a good reason - the fast melt off was overflowing with swift current and rapids (video).  I was thinking the news would read: "Smart American guy with 2 hour survival suit falls thru ice and never comes up, sucked away by current - But we'll find him next month when the ice melts by O'Reilly Island".  So I decided on the long march.

Maud, as she looked originally

Originally christened the "Maud" by Amundsen, the ship was later sold to the Hudson's Bay Company and renamed the Baymaud.  

There is a big controversy going on here right now between Norwegian proponents that want to raise the Baymaud and bring her home to put in a museum, and the locals who want her to stay right where she is.

First Catholic Church here
Stern of Baymaud - June 26, 2011

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Permit Update

No exceptions have been taken by the various agencies or groups except one - CLEY (the archeology division; Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, the group who umbrella approves/disapproves permits).  Groups that have been favorable include NIRB (Nunavut Impact Review Board), Cambridge Bay Hamlet, Kitikmeot Inuit Association, and as recently posted, Gjoa Haven Hamlet has just signaled go.  

I have made more than one inquiry over the last month to CLEY on what the latest status was on my permit for my Phase 1, which is only to take thermal pictures.  Their answer was that they were waiting for "Stakeholder response".  Stakeholder means "the Hamlets".  

So, taking this lead and developing initiative, with time  and effort here, I mitigated that.  But yesterday, under 24 hours after I sent the note to CLEY about my Gjoa Haven progress and good news, I received a short one page letter back that officially advised that they regret to inform me that, based on lack of archeology experience, they are denying me the permit for this Phase 1.  

But how could that be?  Gjoa Haven Hamlet did not vote yet?  That's coming up July 5th.

So, for this trip I will not be doing the thermal work.  However, I will be "out there" and spending time with people here in Cambridge Bay and of course Gjoa Haven.  My work here and now is still an important step.  So instead of phase 1 of 2 summers, I will simply look at this as Phase 1 of 3 summers. Although, I have to say that I am very surprised that I need an approved archeologist with me in order to just take pictures of the ground from up in the air at 3,000 feet.  

Be that as it may, I will still stay and "explore".  It's all good.  Now starts the most intriguing part of this year's mission.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Weather turning bad

Looks like the weather is turning bad tonight here in this region for the next several days.  Will have to probably stay on the ground as the temperatures aloft will be at or below freezing and with all the clouds and overcast, significant icing will be probable.  Will focus on preparing and staging fuel.  I will have to manually separate/filter all the fuel from each barrel that I obtain from now on to make sure all water is removed.

Images over King William Island

To view numerous pictures along the flight path from Cambridge Bay to Gjoa Haven, and a couple of pictures on the way back, go to "To Gjoa Haven"

Tied down at Cambridge Bay - Day after return, morning 6-23-11
Looking south over river discharging into Washington Bay

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Success in Gjoa Haven

You can track some of my flights on FlightAware

Enter my plane tail number N888BH under

It's free, just subscribe.  Note that only the flights that I file as IFR (under Instrument Flight Rules) are shown.  Until arriving in this region, I have been VFR in many cases.  Many flights here will be IFR.  On most days thus far, Cambridge Bay in particular, has been typically shrouded in very low ceilings (200') and fog, some days with periodic light rain.

I just returned this afternoon from what I think was a very successful 2 day mission in Gjoa Haven.  Met with the Mayor, SAO and others.  Was well received.  It was good that I went, as things seemed to have been in a holding pattern and shelved. Might be described as "administrative delays".  It's always better to meet in person to understand who people are, what may be their motivations, and what are their intentions.  I left this morning after another personal meeting with the Mayor, just prior to departure, and his word was that "now" I will almost certainly be approved at the next counsel meeting, which will be held the evening of July 5th (just under 2 weeks from now).  The question will then be: How long after that before I can commence with scanning?  We'll see.

On ramp at Cambridge Bay Airport
Had a nasty problem on departure day with the AV gas being sold here by the Hamlet of Cambridge Bay.  Engines don't run well when just a little water is mixed with the gas.  In this case, it was "gallons" of water.  Unfortunately, the typical sumping of the tanks was not enough to detect the full extent of the water's presence.  Fortunately I did not take off as the engine didn't sound quite right, and deteriorating.  Then upon more careful examination the full extent of the problem was discovered.  The fuel lines were then disconnected, intensive carburetor flushing, while running the electric fuel pump on an off for a good hour.  After much more sumping (draining from lowest point in tank), I discovered that within the two barrels of fuel that I had just purchased and pumped in, there was approximately 4 to 5 gallons of water mixed in.For those of you who are not pilots, the good news is water does keep itself separate from gas and quickly settles to the lowest point.  So all is not lost.  I just have to devise a better filtration system in my pump, but first best to come up with a separation system.

Gas maintains separation with water
Thanks to the folks at Adlair Aviation (who I should mention here does not sell the fuel).  They were able to  help me expedite the extraction of the water in the system within 4 hours or so.  I then executed an extended high RPM run-up, cycling all tanks.  I then took off and circled the airport at high altitude for a few laps within glide distance of the runway.  When I felt it safe, I departed the zone direct for Gjoa Haven.  I must admit that I was sweating it out a bit over Queen Maud though, as it was hovering in my mind.  My eyes were locked on the dials every almost every second, and I made sure to island hop as best possible (Royal Geographical Society Island).  But as one can plainly see, many miles of ocean crossing is required in the "no man's land".  I can assure you - death can await you down there.

One does not want to land out there now, whether with floats  or wheels...big or small.  In all my flying experiences I have never had any significant trepidation, even when up here back in 2003.  But this was edging on terrifying.  A combination of ponds, shallow lakes interweaving hummocks, old and new leads; no smooth surfaces when you actually get down there close enough to see, looking through the binnocs.  To think: "What if I had to glide down", especially with this fuel incident floating in my head.  That smooth turquoise ice is really a trap - it is not frozen - it's ponds and lakes of seawater of varying depths.

I am in the process of downloading some intriguing pics of the Victoria Strait / Queen Maud Gulf crossing and also from east Victoria Island, Royal Geographical Society Island and of course King William Island; Terror Bay and Washington Bay, from 2,000 to 5,000 feet above (views plotting the direct route from Cambridge Bay to Gjoa Haven).  It  was stunning to see it all at this particular seasonal transition time.

More tomorrow.

 Southeastern coast of Victoria Island, heading east

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Arrived at Final Base Today - Cambridge Bay

30 minutes out of Baker Lake
I made Baker Lake in three hours this morning.  Then a quick fuel turn and then three and a half hours later landed Cambridge Bay. 

So all in 7 hours.  Had a bit of a nail biter with the always fun final instrument approach for landing with 200 foot ceilings and intermittent fog once hitting the mainland to the north of the gulf.  

First fracture - Queen Maud Gulf edging across Dease Strait today

What made it a nail biter was that it was a non precision approach  - RNAV Rwy 13 True with MDA at 298 AGL.  Translated, that means that you don't have the most accurate airport approach setup guiding one in here and when you get down to 298 feet above the ground and don't see the runway, you have to declare "missed approach" and either climb, circle and try again, or go to an alternate airport > like almost 200 miles away.  Sure.  

Queen Maud having her way, creating odd low weather patterns.  It is still frozen thick and solid in a deep turquoise glow of wind swept glass.  It was stunning.  

Spring is late up here this year I am told.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Next Destination - Cambridge Bay, NU

Time to be moving on from Churchill.  The plane is now prepped for tomorrow's planned departure to Cambridge Bay via Baker Lake.  Depending on winds aloft, each of the two legs will be around 3.5 hours, mostly over the "Barren Lands", with the final hour crossing Queen Maud Gulf.  Supposed to have cross or quartering tail winds tomorrow, so I am much happier with that than when I was last up in 2003 .  Back then was flying VFR very low at only 300 feet AGL to avoid the headwinds.  Here is a picture from that flight.  To and from - almost nothing but rock and water.

Over the "Barren Lands" in August, 2003 at 300' AGL - to Baker Lake, then on to Cambridge Bay
On that last leg of the 2003 trip (Baker to Cambridge) had all of 15 minutes of fuel left when touching down at Cambridge Bay.  Gotta love GPS and with that ETA computer.  In looking down, it would have been a very UNcomfortable thought of having to land in the Gulf with the swells back then.  Different plane.  This Beaver has an additional hour in range capability.

Planning to meet with the Mayor and SAO of Gjoa Haven sometime next week depending schedules and weather.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Stained Glass Donated by Lady Franklin

Today I happened upon St. Paul’s Anglican Church here on the outskirts of Churchill, which is the first prefabricated building in North America and is the oldest church in the North still in use. It originated as a kit of pre-fab components made in England and was assembled on the west bank of the Churchill River.  

The famous glass is inside, in front, on the right.
It was later moved in winter by sledge to the other side of the river, followed by a final relocation to where it stands today. St. Paul's is the home of the stained glass window donated by Lady Franklin in memory of her husband, Sir John Franklin.  It was moved here from York Factory in 1967.

In the inscription it says:  "As a memorial to her husband and to the forty groups who took part in the search for him, Lady Franklin gave this window to St. John's, York Factory."

Lady Franklin's stained glass
Glass detail 1
In conversation with Fr. Charles, he mentioned that when it's dark out, the back lighting for the window needed very much help.  Hey, that's my forte!  So a nice halogen solution for them is on it's way, on  us.  Soon it will really glow.

Glass detail 2

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ice Pack Almost Gone Now in Churchill

Hudson Bay on June 3, 2011 - Churchill
Hudson Bay on June 6, 2011 - Churchill
Since I arrived here in Churchill, the endless ice pack on Hudson Bay has all but disappeared.

When I had arrived  on an earlier trip years ago; July (a month earlier in the year) it was year 2000.  There were large broken ice flows from shore to 5 miles out, and after that, solid pack ice.  I guess things are warming up earlier in recent years after all.  But plenty of ice pack up north where I am going.  And that ice pack will be there for a few more weeks or longer.  Would rather fly across ocean ice than ocean water, as I am configured without my floats on this expedition.

Hudson Bay on June 11, 2011 - Churchill
Well, I will soon be off to fly north again from here.  It will be two long flight legs, about 4 hours each, depending on winds aloft.  Will depart Churchill for Baker Lake, a quick fuel turn, then  across the arctic north's barren lands, on up across the expanse of Queen Maud Gulf and then finally landing in Cambridge Bay, which will be fuel base.  

Flight route in red (click to enlarge)

That's 175 miles away from the north side of King William Island as the crow flies, but really 200 miles distant for me, as I will try to stay nearer south when I cross the ocean each time, off the coasts of the Royal Geographical Society Islands and the like, in case I encounter problems at any time.

The present hot question is:  Will I be a "Research Explorer" or an "Explorer Tourist"?  As of this writing, I have not heard whether my permit is approved or not approved.  Supposed to know by mid June.  That's this week.  Stay tuned - as soon as I hear, I will post the news.

Sloop Cove

Back taxi to position for departure (self timer)
Flew down the Churchill River yesterday and landed near a famous place called Sloop Cove.  It was "the preferred parking spot" here in the 1700's  during the harsh winters  in order to protect the ships  from the immense and deadly crushing forces of the shifting pack ice.

Sloop Cove, looking southeast across the Churchill River

I landed on a beach a little ways away - it was about 1,000 feet long.  The Beaver was somewhat light with 2/3 fuel and little cargo, so with a 20 kts headwind from the east off Hudson Bay, it was a snap.  Only had to hike a mile back up river.

Old iron ring bolt used to secure ship
The site is famous because of the inscriptions left there by the men who lived at the Prince of Wales Fort in the 1700's and worked with the boats used by the Hudson's Bay Company. Sloop Cove is a sheltered nook situated a few kilometers from the Fort on the west side of the river. Sloops were wooden sailing vessels used during the fur trade for exploration, whaling expeditions and northern trading attempts with the Inuit.

Inscription of Samuel Hearne when he was 22 ("Sl Hearne. July ye 1, 1767")

The lichen covered rocks bear the names carved into the stone by the HBC Company men. They were sailors, harpooners, shipwrights, carpenters, shipmates, captains, laborers and a servant. The name most people would recognize is that of Samuel Hearne, the famous English explorer and naturalist.  He was 22 years old when he carved his name at Sloop Cove.

artwork of Samuel Hearne
Samuel Hearne   
Feb. 1745 – Nov. 1792

If you want to see pictures of most of the other names there, go to this link:  Sloop Cove Inscriptions  

Ready for takeoff departure, and if you don't make the takeoff, it doesn't count...     (Pic taken before the hike to the site.  When I returned a couple of hours later, the tide was coming up).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Historic HBC Site - Relocated "Caribou Post" on Duck Lake (southern Nejanilini Lake region)

Approaching HBC Trading Post site at Duck Lake
This structure was the main post / store.
Remains of warehouse storage building.
Following up on the previous update:
Here are some of the pics that I took while walking through the historic buildings.  

There were 5 structures in all (click to enlarge any of the images for high resolution):  (1) A two story structure which appeared to be the trading post / store, with 2 bedrooms and closets upstairs, (2) the warehouse storage building, (3) an additional single room  living quarters structure (for the HBC manager), (4) an outhouse, and (5) down by the water to the south  there appeared to be the ruins of a small structure.  I did not go all the way down to investigate this building as all 4 walls were practically gone  and I could see nothing inside.....and the weather was starting for the worst.  So with the 6 mile hike back, I was in a hurry to get out of there.
Main trading room in post/store.  Note shelving shadows on walls.
Kitchen in post/store

Many HBC relics are still there, inside and out.  I also found few relics on the trail of my long hike to and from the landing site, probably from Sayisi Dene ancestors.

This area of Duck Lake and Little Duck Lake (part of the Nejanilini lake/river system) is on a major caribou migration path.  Each fall, the Beverly - Kaminuriak caribou herd turns south from the barren grounds and crosses the lake on it's way to the transition forest.
Looking down the stairs (riser and tread dimensions extraordinarily small)
One of the 2 upstairs bedrooms
Cellar (no skeletons)
Can with faint markings
Counter in warehouse storage building
Part of original weight measuring scale
Tea kettle in tundra 10 feet away
Remains of baby carriage (HBC Manager's family)
HBC moved it's 250 year old post from Churchill to Caribou Lake in 1930.  Then  another relocation in 1941 to this final location on Duck Lake.  It became a seasonal settlement for around 150 people.  

[Update 6-16-2011 - I sought out some  of the elderly surviving Dene people  in Churchill this week and through their memories was told that these structures were here before the time they could remember.  Most of them  lived on the land adjacent to this HBC post, and  many families camped right on the peninsula next to these structures.  So it is probable that these structures  were constructed in 1941, as previously documented by others.  In addition, there was not one but two churches at this location too.  An Anglican church was at this site adjacent  to the storehouse, closer to the water -- and a Catholic church in the vicinity, but not on this peninsula.  Sadly, little or no remains  exist of the church.  Also, a locally famous old trapper named Johnson lived on the tiny island in this bay to the north, for  many years, with his dogs.  

The post was run by an HBC manager named Horace Flett, who resided there  with his  wife/family; they had two or three children.  There was great harmony with this family and the Sayisi Dene people, in evidence the memory given that a Dene aunt was midwife for this family.  It was said that the caribou hide tents could be seen as far as the eye could see.  These were termed the "happy days", before they were suddenly all taken away in the late 1950's.]

Arctic wolf print in muck en route back to landing area 1/2 mile from HBC Trading Post site at Duck Lake

Saturday, June 11, 2011

2 day mission in the bush - Found Remnants of old HBC Site

Just a quick update, will post details, pics and some video on this excursion in the next couple of days - after I catch some sleep.

Still waiting to hear about my permits.  I am expecting some word by next week.  So in the mean time, no shortage of adventures.

En route to Nejanilini Lake region, 150 miles to the NW
I flew approximately 150 miles northwest of  here in Churchill to the Nejanilini Lake area .  It was there in the wilderness, in the year 2000, in my older seaplane, that I had found what looked like the early last century's remains of Hudson's Bay Company's "Caribou Post".  I had lost all my film back then (yes film, digital was just taking off).  

On gravel and sand esker, 5 miles from site
So I revisited the location 3 days ago, landing on an esker some 5 miles away.  

Exact position of the post, from my handheld Garmin (see on Google Earth) is N59deg24.757', W097deg43.994.  Unfortunately, the march was not as easy as stepping off the floats like last time.  It took all of 6 hours to get there; navigating through heavy tundra, swamps and boulder filled lake beds.
It was especially tough getting back because as I was  photographing the site, the winds suddenly shifted from 10 to 20 out of the south with sun (35 degrees F) to 30 to 40 out of the north, with snow squalls (20 degrees F)....and I was already soaked with sweat head to toe.  

Had sporadic encounters with arctic wolves, still in their winter white, easy to see against the tundra.  Boy are they HUGE!

Arctic wolf tracks on esker gravel
After doing some research back here at base, I found out that this was an HBC site that was closed in the late 1950's.  It was built on the former range of the small band of  Aboriginal Peoples called the "Sayisi Dene".  This band followed and lived off a particular migrating  herd of Central Canada 's Barren Ground Caribou here, which they followed and hunted on the migration routes north to south and returning - for thousands of years.   This post was to support trading  with the Sayisi Dene for skins. 

Almost there - 1/2 mile away
But in 1957 the post was closed.  The numbers of this caribou herd were in decline for a few years and the thinking at the time was that is was the fault of the Indians. So the government had the Sayisi Dene all  relocated to what was in the day a frontier town  called Churchill.  It was here that almost half of the tribe perished.  Soon after they were  then again moved, more recently, to a place called Tadoule Lake, ironically just south of where they were taken from, where they now seem to be doing better.

Sayisi Dene family camp - Duck Lake - 1947 - HBCA (From book: "Night Spirits" - by Ila Bussidor)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Prince of Wales Fort - Cape Merry, at Churchill

Did some hiking around here in Churchill since Friday.  Here are a few pics.

Prince of Wales Fort - Cape Merry

(Left) I took this picture Friday evening at the cannon battery across the Churchill River from the Prince of Wales Fort.  In the distance, under a fog bank, you can see the  outline of the Fort.  By the late 1720s the uneasy peace between England and France threatened to disintegrate, and in 1730 the Hudson's Bay Company authorized the construction of a stone fortification here at the mouth of the Churchill River. Prince of Wales Fort was built in 1731-1771, at a time when its major shipment and supply route operated from Hudson’s Bay through Arctic waters. 

The fortress was constructed to be an impregnable English stronghold, and today it's imposing 12 m thick walls and 40 mounted cannon still survive along with this battery, cannon and powder magazine built to safeguard it on Cape Merry. As commander of the fort, Explorer Samuel Hearne surrendered it to the French in 1782, an act that terminated Hudson’s Bay occupation and terminated Prince of Wales Fort’s utility. 

Miss Piggy
Here is a pic I took yesterday of "Miss Piggy", a Curtiss C-46 Commando which crash landed in November 1979. The plane was  affectionately named because of the sheer abundance of cargo it was able to carry, also at one stage it did have a cargo of pigs.  On the fateful day, the plane had mechanical problems after taking off from Churchill Airport and was attempting to return to land, but came down several miles short of the landing strip.  it came  to rest on a rocky cliff after topping a few trees and taking out power lines. Fortunately there were no fatalities but two of the three crew were seriously injured. 

 MV Ithica Shipwreck

Here is a shot from yesterday while I was hiking the coast of Hudson Bay at a place called Birds Cove.  The MV Ithaca (below) was a British owned steamship, built in 1922 in, Quebec and is 80 meters long. It was heading to Rankin Inlet (Hudson Bay community) to deliver generators and plywood.  The ship ran aground after the engines failed and the 80 MPH gale-force winds pushed it to it's present location.  

The hull was punctured and ripped, and the prop and rudder torn off.  Local rumour says the MV Ithaca was deliberately run aground for the insurance money.  Lloyds of London investigated the incident and agreed that it was indeed done purposely. Consequently, no insurance was paid to the owners. 

When the ice is gone, in low tide, one can walk out there.  It's about a mile off shore.  Hurry back tho.  I think it's under 10 hours before the tide rises again.

Abandoned Structures

No shortage of abandoned buildings here. They come in all shapes and sizes, from little shacks to huge government scientific and military buildings.  On the right is a pic I took Friday of a little shack that is common on the coastline.  

As I mentioned previously, next week I hope to do some exploring for old HBC trading posts out in the bush.  Will get pics to post here.

Churchill Critters

From yesterday