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Northern Venture Part 3: North Star Harbour to Sachs Harbour. August 8, 2013

posted August 13, 2013

Having spent 1/2 hour swatting mosquitoes in the cabin before going to bed, we managed to have a good sleep, though it seemed too short. While John and John packed up the gear after breakfast, Mack and I spent more time at the old “village” site, mapping and photographing, and checking the beach for eroded artifacts. It is interesting that there is an old water or fuel tank here, almost exactly like the one at the Mary Sachs site. So we assume it came from one of the schooners. Many artifacts show signs of traditional Inuit/Inuvialuit ingenuity; many things repaired with materials from other sources. The ice had moved considerably with the strong winds during the night. Now Terror Island was ice-free on one side. The seaward side, like so many places, is eroding badly. It was hard to leave Terror Island behind, knowing that the CAE caches that may be there now, may not be there in a few years. So I took more photos and video and climbed aboard our “taxi” for the long trip south. We followed the high ground eastwnards to avoid the wet areas and the uncertain coastline.

We still had a lot of rough ground to cover, but there was also some wide expanses of open, flat tundra. Somewhere along the way, our path crossed that of Stefansson and his two companions, who in 1917 haid to walk across Banks Island from the northeast corner to the southwest corner where the wreck of the Mary Sachs awaited them. They had come south from their northern island explorations by dog team, floated the sleds across McClure Strait from Melville Island on the melting ice, and then abandoned them when they reach Banks Island, as there was no more snow. They also had to abandon the souveniers they had picked up from various British Navy depots left during the search for Franklin. The sleds and some of the souveniers survived, and were picked up by the icebreaker HMCS Labrador in 1954. They were featured in the Expedition Arctic 1913-1918 exhibition, now traveling across Canada.

The major highlight of the trip home was a stop at the row of hills known locally as “The 1936 Hill.” On the highest hill with a grand view in all directions, we could see back to Terror Island, over to Sea Otter Harbour, and south to the hills that would guide us back. On the hill top is the date “1936” outlined with rocks. Who knows who placed these rocks here? In the 1930s there were no tourists, no scientists, and few travelers from the outside. Was it someone who lived at Sea Otter, just leaving his mark? Was the date significant? Another question to pose to the Elders who remember those times. But the hill was also interesting from an earlier perspective. Two small rock piles, the rocks covered with the orange lichens we associate with old sites, appear to be markers for people of long ago. Near one pile we found two small flakes of what seemed to be the same quartzite that is associated with archaeological sites farther north. A material not found on Banks Island, it was traded as a valuable material for making tools; arrowheads, spear points etc. Is this site a known archaeological site? It will be fun to find out when I get home. For now we were just happy with our discoveries and our vewpoint. The wind was up to 40 rplus km/hr and the temperature an incredible 23 degrees. Au hot hill indeed!

We saw a Rough-leggedo Hawk soaring the hills, surprised cranes as we cambe over the ridges, saw a lone calf caribou later joined by its mum, and paused on the crest of Lucas Hill to reflect on family history. Our last crossing of the Kellet River, in sight of the Sachs Harbour airport and weather station, proved that focus is important at the end of a long day. One last winching out of a soft, deep, trench hiding in the riverbed.

It was a great trip, but pleasant to be back in one piece with 3 cameras and a notebook full of history and memories of expeditions across the ages.