Wednesday, September 21, 2022

A Small Hamlet in a Big Landscape, and an Adventure


En route to the Arctic Ocean, we stopped in Fort McPherson to purchase a few groceries. While there we met an Inuvialuit man who asked us about our trip, opening the conversation for us to ask us about his life. 

He is from the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk which perches on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. His wife is Gwich'in and because her mother needed some care, they lived in Fort McPherson. He was purchasing groceries for a trip he planned to make, down the river, past Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk. His purpose was to hunt a beluga whale, about 16 feet long, he said, for food for the winter. People there still live very traditionally, hunting and fishing, gathering berries, and storing food for the long months of winter. 

In 2017 a year-round road opened between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk (shortened to Tuk by everyone). Previously, access was via air (costly) or by ice road for four months of the year. The landscape changes from boreal forest of spindly evergreens to vast expanses of tundra marked by innumerable lakes. Small cabins hug the lakeshore, providing shelter for hunting parties. Surprising to us were the seemingly abandoned snowmobiles alongside the road. We saw at least 50 of them. It seemed to us that when the snow melted, the snowmobiles were left in situ, and when the snow returns, owners will return and use them once again.

We saw a number of what I think are Sandhill Cranes on the tundra. They migrate here to breed, from the southern United States where they spend the winter. They are large birds, and quite striking with the red patch on their forehead. 

On several lakes Trumpeter Swans drifted with their young. We sometimes see them here on Vancouver Island in late winter when they are returning north to lay their eggs and raise their young. Such elegant birds. I wondered if they were Tundra Swans, but because they are so large, I decided they were Trumpeters. I'm open to any correction.

The hamlet of Tuk is a string of small homes on a peninsula jutting out into the Arctic Ocean. Industrial buildings dot the landscape, including the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line radar station, which monitored Soviet planes during the Cold War. The still-active station is now run remotely. 

I was disgusted by the evidence of oil exploration in this area. In previous decades (70s and 80s), several companies brought in huge amounts of equipment in order to explore for natural resources. They built camp buildings to house workers, and constructed maintenance yards. The oil business diminished and all of this equipment remains, despoiling the landscape. A half-submerged barge sits in the harbour, and heavy equipment is left to rust. My opinion is that the companies that brought this stuff here should be made to remove it. 

This was the coldest day of our trip, with a temperature of 8 degrees Celsius. The previous day had been rainy, but before that unusually high temperatures were the norm for this summer. We wondered about taking a dip in the ocean, but the chill Arctic wind howling from the north soon changed our minds. Around noon, however, the wind died down, the sun came out, and it warmed up enough for us to kayak at the Pingo Canadian Landmark. We wore several layers, including rain jackets and rain pants, along with our life jackets.

Our goal was this boardwalk across the tundra to a viewpoint overlooking a particularly large pingo. What is a pingo? It's an ice-cored hill that rises from the flat tundra. The Inuvialuit people use them for landmarks while traveling. We tied up at the dock and walked along the 400 metre boardwalk. Along the way we noticed a variety of plants, including wild rhubarb and cloudberries, in the tundra. 

Although one could paddle directly to the pingos, walking on them is not allowed during the spring, summer, and autumn, as they are quite fragile. 

Returning to the dock, we prepared to get into our kayaks. Tim was busy doing something with his, and although he usually holds my kayak for me to enter, I decided to be independent, and enter it on my own. (cue ominous music) Things were going well until there was a realization of impending doom as the distance grew between my feet in the kayak and my hands on the dock. Yes, dear reader, I went right under. It was a bit of a shock, alright! But when I came up, I was more concerned about my phone and camera in the now upside-down kayak. Fortunately, they were in double-sealed Ziploc bags and popped up to the surface without incident. (aside - I do have a waterproof case for kayaking, but I'd left that in Inuvik. - sigh)

I couldn't stop laughing as Tim pulled me onto the dock, righted my kayak, and took care of everything. He was quite shocked, he said, when he heard a noise and turned around just in time to see my head go under. He snapped a photo of my drowned rat Arctic look. It was chilly, and I still had to paddle 30 minutes back to shore. The exercise kept me warm, although I was shivering when I changed out of my wet things. (We brought a change of clothes in case the weather warmed up). We blasted the heat on in the Tahoe and that felt absolutely wonderful!

Soft cotton grasses grow on the tundra, and when we stopped to pick up a hitchhiker from Spain, I snapped this photo. It's fun to run one's hand along the grass, for it feels like cotton balls. 

One common question I am asked is about the temperature of the water. It was cold, but I had on a number of layers, and where I fell in was part of the delta. I personally think going into the ocean here on Vancouver Island is colder, but then, I'm usually not wearing so many clothes. 

All's well that ends well, and this adventure will be memorable in many aspects. 


  1. What a shock for you to be suddenly plunged into the water. Glad you came up smiling!

  2. I love the picture of the sandhill crane! It's a big deal when they migrate through my state in spring and fall.

    I'm so sorry you took a dunk! but you sure are a good sport!

  3. Now this sounds like a true adventure, although I am sure there is one portion that you'd rather not repeat :). I was glad to see that you were still smiling through it all. Very interesting sights and observations from your trip.

  4. Great experiences, dare I say, even in the kayak? I enjoyed this post!

  5. Oh that does not sound at all pleasant...going under in such chilly weather. Good thing Tim was there! I am much happier thinking of you at home, though I know you had a most excellent time.

  6. Wow Lorrie, what an amazing adventure...beautiful scenery (thank you!) and girl, you're a very pretty drowned rat. :-)

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  8. How absolutely fabulous. You must be one of very few of us who has had a dunking in the Arctic Ocean! I am glad you were swiftly rescued and no harm was done. What an adventure you both had. The cranes and swans are beautiful, and so is the tundra. I have never heard of a pingo; they are really interesting too. So glad you shared it all with us :)

  9. You still look good in Artic Water Soaked one time only fashion.
    Great pictures. Your adventure gets better with each post.

  10. I'd love to walk that 400 metre boardwalk, touch the cotton grasses, see a pingo. What an adventure you had. Even the dunking in the water ends up being part of the story.

  11. You know, I've never been in a kayak. I would love to, but it just hasn't happened.

    I really enjoyed this and I have to admit I did grin reading your fateful flip, but you did tell a good tale!

    I so like traveling this way with you!
    (ツ) from Jenn Jilks , ON, Canada!

  12. This certainly will always be a good story to tell, and you are such a good sport! I'm afraid I would have met the same fate and go right under - and then probably would have problems to get on land again because I woudl laugh so much, partly out of embarrassment. To be honest, I always have difficulties getting into and out of kayaks.

  13. Love the smile on your face after your mishap with embarking! :) We opted not to go punting because sad but true it is very difficult to get up from the ground let alone an object that will move out from under you. You really traveled the roads less traveled.

  14. What an adventure ! The water must have been cold.
    It was a nice trip I love the birds and cotton plant.
    Thank you for sharing your holidays.

  15. Hello, Lorrie~ What a great adventure! I have absolutely loved reading about your trip, so fascinating. I can only imagine what a shock that must have been to find yourself submerged in icy water...what a good sport you are!! That is a Sandhill Crane, we have them here in Idaho, they are such beautiful birds. Happy Fall!

  16. How shocking it must have been to go into the water! I love your smiling face after that adventure!

  17. Thank you for sharing your wonderful adventure with us. That must have been quite a shock! :D

  18. Ellen in Ohio3:28 PM

    I have recently found your blog and I'm glad for it. Thanks for describing and sharing photos of your trip to the Arctic Circle.

  19. Lorrie - it is fascinating to me that people in Alaska are still living in traditional ways. I admire them so much. You are not going to find a 16-foot Beluga whale at the local Costco, are you? That is a Sandhill Crane. I agree with you about companies being accountable to clean up their mess, especially when it relates to the natural resources of the Earth. If you are going to exploit the resources, you should have to return the area as close as possible to the original condition. I had never heard of a pingo, so now I know. And I so appreciate your sense of humor with the kayak incident - you even included the drowned rat photo. Good on ya!

  20. What nice touring kayaks you have. Here they are all white water or full on sea kayaks - yours look in between. I really must get out on the sea in mine. The seals have arrived on the beaches to pup so it's important not to land too close, but if you stay offshore sometimes they will come and investigate.

  21. What an adventure!

    That must have been quite a shock!

    You were such a sport to be still smiling through it all.

  22. This really is, in so many ways, the fulfillment of a Canadian dream; it takes on some of the attributes of a pilgrimage. I admire you for doing it and have more than a little envy. A great adventure!

  23. That really was an adventure Lorrie - I have learnt a new word today - a pingo, and what it actually is. Glad that even though you were soaking wet you could both still laugh about, then arrive back safely with all of your possessions safe and with no ill effects.

  24. thank you for good wishes...


  25. What an amazing adventure. I loved everything you shared. So glad you survived the capsize and even rescued your phone.


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