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International Polar Year

Students and staff celebrate at the Arctic Circle in Auyuittuq National Park
Photo by Alex Taylor, Students on Ice

August 4, 2009

Good morning!

Our team had a fabulous day yesterday visiting Pangnirtung. They certainly welcomed the group with open arms and provided tours to the local school, the Visitor Centre, all the artist's workshops, and even the local clinic!

The students had a chance to meet many wonderful community residents and partook in a traditional feast of caribou, fish stew and bannock. A group of elders spoke to the students about climate change and the students had a chance to participate in some Inuit games! Stay tuned later today for photos and more details about yesterday's exciting adventure!

Today, the students hike through one of the world's most incredible natural wonders: Auyuittuq National Park. Deep valleys, lush with tundra, sweeping glaciers, mountains, clear creeks, bright wildflowers, caribou and other Arctic wildlife abound.

The destination will be a the Arctic Circle!

Click Above to watch "Auyuittuq National Park"

The Lyubov Orlova is dwarfed by mountains in Pangnirtung Fjord
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Sophie Crump - Student

This has been the most incredible day. Never have I walked so far or been in such cold water. I was in the first group to head off into Auyuittuq National Park, which meant that we had almost no idea how far we had come, or how much farther we had to go. However, it did mean that we were able to see a lot more wildlife than the others (apparently we scared them away) and I counted at least 38 Canadian Geese in the park at various times.

On the way, we were walking slowly, so we had a lot more opportunity to look at the magnificent mountains that were rising high above us and the small glaciers on the top. Auyuittuq means ‘it does not melt’ and I can just imagine how much is has to have changed for there to be such small glaciers. Not too many years ago they must reached all the way down to where we were walking. Seeing the park and the changes we had heard of in the stories from the elders yesterday in Pangnirtung really showed all of us the true need for change and action.

Although being in Auyuittuq was quite sobering, it was also simply awe-inspiring. Walking next to those mountains which rose high above us all truly hit home how small we are. Once we reached the Arctic Circle we had a discussion (all 53 of us) about the feelings and thoughts that the park had inspired in us, and someone mentioned that it put things in perspective: we are so small in the grand scale of things – so tiny – and yet we are having such a huge effect on the very glaciers we were walking beneath. That we are able to do something so drastic to something ancient and seemingly permanent is shocking and terrifying. But I think it also shows that if we can have such a huge negative effect on the planet in such a short time, we should be able to change things and have a positive effect in the same way.

The problem is long past being one for our descendants to deal with – we have become the ones who have to do it.

Students hike in Auyuittuq National Park
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Agatha Kang - Student
Cumberland Sound

We went on a hike this morning. It would have been amazing to go see the Arctic Circle, but the group I was in did a short hike along the beach. It was good. The scenery was so fantastic that I wish we were there for the whole day. We also saw a beautiful waterfall, arctic plants, and some rocks with an interesting pattern made with lichen and moss. Also, it was interesting to see an emergency shelter with a solar panel on it. I really hope to come back to this place! AND of course, the lunch was the best lunch I have ever had on the ship so far.

I understand everything better now and all is so clear to me now. After looking at the beautiful glaciers and feeling as one with nature, I strongly feel that the national parks must be preserved and protected from destruction. Even though I felt the need to preserve the parks before, I never felt so connected to nature. I would say that today’s hike made me think hard and deep about the choices I have made in life. I hope to make a positive impact on the environment. Hopefully when I come back some day, the glaciers will still be there on top of the mountains!!

Landscape painting outdoors
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Eden Full - Student
Cumberland Sound

Until this moment in time, I have never truly comprehended how intricate and diverse our Canadian heritage is. Kuujjuaq was merely a dip of the toes; today in Cumberland Sound had me – and rest of my peers – awestruck. Wading knee-deep in a cultural ocean, we will spend the rest of our lives trying to understand our history. After exploring Kekerten Island, visiting the community of Pangnirtung, and experiencing a “short” hike in Auyuittuq National Park, I have witnessed the courage, ingenuity and sheer determination that is required to live in the north. I can’t imagine having to hunt, travel long distances or just LIVE in the Arctic winter. I already had difficulty with traveling over the rough terrain by foot during the summertime! (I had so much fun; this is definitely the highlight of the trip so far!) The Inuit citizens have embraced their core values and knowledge passed down in order to adapt to all four seasons. Now I understand in my own way why our country has much pride in the greatness of Inuit.

What struck me was the opportunity to visit a summer shelter of an Inuit woman living near the water at Pangnirtung. Actually, it felt like a HOME because they appeared very comfortable inside this makeshift structure, despite the fact it was made out of plywood and the walls were covered with magazine pages to brighten the room. This ingenuity with such limited resources is admirable, and we can learn from them. I felt very welcome as the two women gathered us around their seal-oil stove, offering us delicious homemade bread and sharing with us their world.

Hearing the stories of elders in Pangnirtung surprised me more than I expected. I never fully realized how much of an effect climate change had on the society and geography of Cumberland Sound. It completely changed their way of life – how they work, play, interact and survive. This further reinforces the fact that something needs to be done to prevent these changes from going too far.

Wet feet while crossing at low tide
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Elise Jackson - Student
Cumberland Sound, near Auyuittuq National Park

Just a quick one from me as curfew is in a few minutes. Today we hiked to the Arctic Circle through the spectacular Auyuittuq National Park. It was absolutely mind-blowing- potentially one of the best days of my life. The hike was about 25 kilometres long, and took us about 10 hours, approximately 8 of which we spent hiking, including tens of river crossings. Possibly one of the best memories was swimming in the glacier fed river right on the Arctic Circle, most of us in our long underwear, as we were unprepared to swim. A very cool experience (pun intended). We also had some reflection time, to think about our day, and we shared some of our thoughts on the place and on climate change in general, which was really moving. The unity, energy and determination of everyone there was really encouraging. Just an unforgettable day in general. We’re all pretty sore now, so hopefully tomorrow will be a pretty relaxed day.

Waterfall in Auyuittuq National Park
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Forson Chan - Student
Cumberland Sound

I woke up today to the sound of furious knocks on my bedroom door. I yelled out “I’m awake!” as usual, but the knocks kept coming. Peeling myself off my bed, I opened the door, expecting to see Mike, a staff member. Instead, I saw Bilaal, fully dressed and looking like he would be ready for anything. In my pajamas, I looked at him quizzically, and in confusion asked, “What’s up?” He stared back at me with an equal degree of puzzlement. I asked again, “What time is it?”

“It’s 8:30, man! We’re leaving for the shore in 15 minutes!” I thought he was lying so I looked at my watch - I began the day with a self-induced rush of adrenaline. I dressed, ate breakfast, packed my day bag, put on my life vest, and rushed out into a Zodiac in very short order. I never heard the announcement over the loudspeakers to wake up; I had slept like a half-flowered Wintergreen during wintertime.

Today was the best day out here. After we got out of the Zodiac this morning, we hiked along the edge of Cumberland Sound through dense growth along the tundra. The ground was spongy and the puffy grasses and mosses sunk beneath our feet like bowling balls on foam mattresses. Our destination was a waterfall fed by glacial water. Climbing up along the side of the waterfall, we had to jump like mountain goats over various boulders, some twice as large as I was. The views were spectacular.

Near the top of the falls, I looked at the untouched scene before me, with so many potential adventures to be undertaken. There are so many interesting plants, lichens, and mosses that can be found if you just look at the ground. The place is timeless. Thankfully, it is protected as part of Auyuittuq National Park. Would I come again if I could? Yes. Do I want to help make sure the next generation can see it too? Without a doubt.

Students Forson Chan, Eden Full, and Agatha Kang take a break on the trail
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Janet Waldon - Staff
I am smiling to myself as I sit to recapture the highlights of yesterday’s adventures… they seem like a week away already.

Time in the Arctic has several faces.  On one hand, there is a reverence for traditions and culture that have lasted over many generations; there is a collective memory of hundreds of years of hunting – times when animals were plenty and seasons that were lean.  On the other hand, I have a sense that our daily activities happen in their own time.  It is a curious, not-quite-serendipitous pace that moves the tasks of the people, and in turn, our expedition.

As a programmer, I have been aware of the timing of our schedule – oddly for me, not stressed at “getting things done”, but rather simply observing HOW it happens.  The visit to Pangnirtung was a brilliant example; our local young-adult guides moved us through four stations and back to the Community Centre in a timing that they deemed “just right” for what we needed to do.  We then we moved into a conversation with the Elders, a dance and a feast of Caribou and Arctic Char stews.  Most happily I can report, I never had a need to check my watch.  In every sense, it all happened in good time - it came at the pace it was meant to happen!

Students hike among giant mountains on the trail to the Arctic Circle
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Jayne Waldon - Student
Cumberland Sound- Tip of the Pangnirtung Fjord

Yesterday felt like two days in one. The first half of the day went by quickly as we explored an old whaling station. The second half of the day consisted of a visit to Pangnirtung, where the community generously extended their arms and welcomed us.

It was a holiday there, but they opened their buildings especially for us. They had an arts and crafts shop, where a member of our crew, Jolly, works. It had a shop portion, a printmaking studio, and a weaving room. The weaving room was very interesting because they are in the middle of creating a tapestry for the Olympics! It was an awesome behind the scenes look at cultured crafts. They also had their museum, a “hummack”- which is a traditional old-fashioned type of Inuit home, and their Parks Canada office open for us to explore.

Afterwards we were able to go to a community hall where we enjoyed some Inuit games, food and culture. We were offered caribou and char soups. I was a little disappointed that by the time I reached the front of the line, there was no more caribou soup, but I tried the char and it was actually very good. Two girls from the community performed throat singing for us, which were amazing. The sounds that the girls were making were fantastic! They even taught some of us the sounds to try out. It was one of the highlights of my day. Watch out everyone - when I come home, you will have to put up with my “lovely” throat singing attempts.

Another highlight of my day was the morning when we were at the former whaling station - Kekerten Island. Way out on one side there was a box. I first noticed it when I was at the top of one of the hills and when I came down to investigate I realized it was a coffin, left over from the days when the whalers were still in operation. It was one of those moments for me, a moment when you truly stop to wonder what your place is in the world. To most people, I would look like an ordinary “plain Jane” girl staring into an old box of bones, but in reality, I was gazing upon the bones in wonder and amazement. Who was this person in the box? What kind of life had he led? Did he have a family? Do they know what ever became of him? What would they think if they had? Why was this man buried in a box, when others at the time were buried in barrels, or just in the ground? Wood was scarce then, as it is now in most of the Arctic regions. Above the tree-line, trees grow flat on the ground, and spread outward instead of upwards. What made this man so important? All these kinds of questions ran through my mind, and I was taken by surprise. It was a definite highlight of my day.

All together, everything is great here; the food, the company, the sights, the experience. It all becomes intertwined, and it is what makes this trip so wonderful, and so different. This trip is already worth the 3,840 Dilly-bars I will have to still sell to pay it off! Each day brings something new, and it feels like I’ve been here for weeks already! Most amazing, and I would recommend this trip to anyone!

Crossing a river in Auyuittuq National Park
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Lauren Gamble - Student
Today we visited Cumberland Sound.  The hike to the top of the waterfall was amazing.  We were surrounded by mountains and it really made me feel insignificant but it was so gorgeous.  In order to get around the stream to the waterfall we had to wade through it – basically.  Geoff helped everyone over and really got soaked so everyone else could stay dry.  We trudged through mud, clambered up boulders, and navigated through vegetation hundreds of years old to see natural glaciers, waterfalls, and have a beautiful view of the Arctic Circle.  On the way back I decided that instead of soaking my feet and shoes I would go barefoot through the mud and water – Mud facial for the feet!  It felt so good and I stayed very dry unlike some of the others!  I had so much fun on the trek and I cannot wait to paint the images I saw as we head back there for the evening!

During dinner we switched from Russian Techno to the Beatles for a change and at my table we had an ‘only in the movies’ moment.  As ‘Hey Jude’ came on my whole table burst into song and we were so loud and in harmony I could have sworn the whole room was singing – only as we looked around to see faces turn did we realize that it was only our table belting out! 

I miss my family and friends and it is hard not having email but the experience is worth it and it really keeps me focused on what is here and important as opposed to having my mind off on the internet! 

Love to all!

A student hops across a tributary in Auyuittuq National Park
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Laurissa Christie - Student
Today was the most amazing, inspiring, adrenaline, physically demanding, sweat filled, and exhausting.   It was by far the best day of my life!  It was awesome!  I woke up at 6:00am, breakfast at 6:30am, and was on the zodiac by 7:00 a.m.   We then began our 8 hour, which turned into 11 hours trek into the Arctic Circle.  The hike was about 25 km in total to the Arctic.  I am speechless!  My body aches everywhere! I loved the entire trip to the Arctic.  The terrain was very physically demanding: we were on rocky areas, sand, rivers, mountains, and cliffs.  Multiple the sand dunes at Sauble by 1000 and you have the terrain for the Arctic!  The sand was the worst part, there were sections where we just went up the cliffs, and down the cliffs for a long time before the Arctic Circle.  To get to the Arctic Circle, we had to do SEVERAL river crossings.  One of the most amazing parts of the day was working as a team against the glacier water to cross the rivers.  My feet were soaked!  We also filled up our water bottles with fresh glacier water; it was the best water that I have ever tasted in my life.  Just before we got to the Arctic Circle, we all linked hands and gave everything we had to run into the Arctic Circle together.   Then, we all ran into the FREEZING water and went swimming, we all had huge adrenaline rushes as we splashed, did belly flops, and ran through the Arctic water. 

Another great part of the day was when everyone took a chance to reflect upon their experiences.  All I could think of was, we wrecked this planet.  An area that should be covered in glaciers has teenagers swimming. 

The Arctic is another world.  It has every country linked to it, whether it be the mountains, cliffs, the water, the crystal blue skies, or the beaches.  The Arctic is covered in sand.  We hated the sand; it was so hard to walk in.    The beaches looked like something you would see on a tropical island resort with incredible scenery and landscape.  The way the water flowed and the landscape looked like a scene from a fairy tale.  I am so tired, my body aches all over.  Tomorrow will be another great day, who knows what will be in store for us

Student Jennie Day watches the sun set aboard the Lyubov Orlova
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Susan Nanthasit - Student
Cumberland Sound

Every morning there are yoga sessions on the trip 30 minutes before wake-up time. Yesterday was my first session and wow! It was really refreshing, a good way to start a day.

Yesterday we had our first landing on Kekerton. It was amazing! We visited an abandoned whaling facilitation site at the Pisuktinu Tunngavik Park in Nunavut. There were bones of bowhead whales everywhere. There was even a full, intact skull! I got pictures in all sorts of angles! They’re actually really big, something I wasn’t expecting. The land was also very ‘squishy’ when you were walking to the boardwalks. (We walked on the boardwalks so we wouldn’t disrupt the different ecosystems.) Along the boardwalks were different artifacts and plaques that explained them. There were tools, metal rings from barrels, and big cauldron-like pots. The barrels were used to store long thin strips of blubber. And the cauldrons were used to convert the blubber into crude oil. We spent a tiring 3 hours hiking up, down and around the rocky hills. There was even a polar bear nearby; but only the patrol had seen it.  This reminds me, there was also a beluga whale sighting right before we left the ship for the hike!

We came back on the ship for about another three hours for lunch and reflection time. But were off again to Pang for a tour. We went to the crafts store, art gallery, museum, hummocks, and the community centre. I found that the museum was the most interesting. There were quotes from the elders on the walls and they were interesting. I wish I had a better word to use than ‘interesting’ because it was definitely more than that.

At the community centre there was throat singing, a section where the elders answered our questions and there was caribou & arctic char stew! It was an amazing welcome; the community was so supportive of SOI. Some elders even praised the program for including students from around the world!

We also found out yesterday that we most likely won’t make it to Clyde River. Which is disappointing but flexibility is the key and we’ll just have to keep that in mind.

SOI Operations Manager Reina Lahtinen surveys the landscape of Auyuittuq National Park
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Florence Albert - Étudiante
Pangnirtung in Cumberland Sound

Après le petit déjeuner, nous nous sommes rendus à Kekerten Island dans Cumberland Sound. Là se trouvent les vestiges d’une «whaling station» c’est à dire, un site où les baleines étaient dépecées, l’huile et la peau étaient récupérées par les Européens et la chair et les os des mammifères étaient donnés aux Inuits qui les aidaient. Aujourd’hui il ne reste pas beaucoup de choses mais quelques os dispersés, des gros chaudrons de sorcière utilisés pour récupérer l’huile et des cabanes. Le déjeuner suivit cette visite, après quoi, Geoff nous fit un briefing sur la Communauté de Pangnirtung, que nous allions visiter plus tard.

À Pangnirtung, encore cette impression du Far West avec les maisons en bois le long des rues, cette fois non goudronnées. Mon groupe a d’abord visité la boutique où des petites figurines en os représentant des animaux marins tels que des morses et des narvals, ou des «Inukshuk», des bonnets, écharpes et gants de laine et de peau de phoque étaient en vente. Ensuite, nous avons visité un musée et un «hummack», maison traditionnelle habitée par les Inuits dans le passé. Pour clore la visite, nous nous sommes tous retrouvés dans un espace polyvalent pour la communauté où des personnes âgées racontaient ce qu’elles ont vu changer dans leur vie et particulierement en relation avec le réchauffement climatique. Ensuite, deux «throat singers» (chanteuses de gorge) ont interprété des chants Inuits pour nous, puis certains du groupe ont tenté d’apprendre, ce qui a suscité des vagues de rires dans le public. Finalement après des dances, des jeux ou de la nourriture Inuits, nous avons dû rentrer pour le dîner et après un dernier briefing, nous sommes partis nous coucher.  

Tina Kieffer - Staff
On Kekerton Island, the remnants of a long gone whaling outpost were near shore – large iron pots for rendering blubber, some hooks and pulleys, tanks to store the oil. There was an amazing variety of flora albeit all at a level below my ankle. I was surprised to find garnets (Madi, your birthstone looks majestic against the contrasting granitic rock.) and a small patch of azurite (I think.) on my exploration of the rocky landscape. Wow, since the onset of this adventure, I have seen and touched icebergs, tried throat-singing and have tasted caribou. I have been overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape – the majestic rock cliffs, the variety of flora, the tracks and traces of fauna and the ice  - be it on water or on land. Our visit to Pangnirtung was fantastic – the people, the place, and the feel of the land. Traveling farther down the Cumberland Sound along the Pangnirtung Fjord, we were a Zodiac ride from shore. We hiked in Auyuittuq Park where if you can imagine there were ripe blueberries among other berries, flowers and very very small trees! The view within the park included glaciers and waterfalls, streams and wildflowers. It was truly a beautiful and peaceful place.

Mike Jensen - Staff
Auyuittuq National Park

What a physically exhausting day! As mentioned previously, today our Students On Ice team was split up into those who were going on a 25 km long hike to the Arctic Circle through Auyuittuq National Park while the other half were left to take a shorter hike from the entrance of the park.

I had originally felt very guilty about not asking to go on the longer hike – I had promised myself that I wouldn’t skip out on anything offered on this trip no matter the effort. But two things swayed my decision. One was knowing my limitations. I don’t even know if I can walk 25 km on flat prairie pavement, let alone the same distance on uneven, rapidly changing terrain. The second was remembering that this trip is for the students, not me. And a lot of students wanted to go. So off they went, with the minimum number of able-bodied adults to help them.

And that left me with the “short” hike. Which I was thinking would be a couple of kilometers along a beautifully groomed trail through gorgeous scenery. Well, the last part was right. First of all, it was 10k. And the “trail” was at best a 6-inch wide trampled path through rocks and boulders, spongy moss, sand and water. It was simply the most physically exhausting hike I’ve ever been on. It’s probably the only hike I’ve been on.

We walked all the way to a waterfall in the shadow of the glaciers just south of the Arctic Circle. It was absolutely breathtaking. And by the time I stumbled back into the zodiac, I was soaking wet, covered in dirt and every part of me ached. But I had done it. It wasn’t the Arctic Circle, but it was a success for me.

Of course, then all the long hikers came back and raved about how amazing their excursion was…

Describing my hike wouldn’t be complete without thanking one of the students – John “Jack” Krantz, one of our American students from upstate New York. Jack is one of the nicest guys you could meet and could easily have done the long hike, if he had chosen to do so. But Jack chose to not go, simply because he has already done something similar – he’s one of our bi-polar students, having already gone to Antarctica with Students On Ice. And I’m thankful he came along on the short hike.

As we were climbing up the boulders along the ravine by the waterfall, Jack took the time to make sure I made it without injury. He recommended safe paths, helped me out in rough spots and generally kept me motivated most of the time. Jack is one of the older students and one of the few to actually pay for the excursion on his own, rather than through scholarships or sponsors. Not to belittle the accomplishment of those who did achieve this experience through those methods, but Jack worked three jobs for a year and a half to pay for half the trip. Once he did, his parents chipped in the rest. And considering the costs, that’s an amazing accomplishment from an impressive young man.

Tomorrow, we’re cruising back through Cumberland Sound towards two spots where we are expected to see some whales up close for the first time – first some belugas and then some bowheads in Kingait Fjord. Both are new destinations for Students On Ice, the thick sea ice forcing us to improvise our plans. In fact, the second destination is so uncharted, we’ll need to be led by a zodiac with a depth finder to make sure we make it in safely. “It is not down in any map; true places never are,” said Herman Melville. We are truly going where there is no map…

Collin Fair - Student
Cumberland Sound

The trip, even just being a week into it, has been dramatically more than what I was expecting, and it’ll be hard to give justice to it in reasonably small entry, but I’ll try. Just today 50 or so staff and students went on a 27+ kilometer hike in Auyuittuq National Park, eventually making it to the Arctic Circle, and just the place itself was worth the hike, not even considering the fun everyone had otherwise. Once at the marker for the Arctic Circle, nearly everyone (even Niki, the participant coordinator) jumped into the bitterly cold river running down the valley for a quick swim to cool off, after which we all gathered around the marker (an inuksuk) and talked about the relevance of that place and that moment. That was just today! Yesterday we made it to Kekerton Island to visit a historic whaling station, and in the afternoon we had an amazing visit to the town of Pangnirtung itself, where we had a guided tour to a large variety of very engaging places around town, after the day was finished off amazingly by a community celebration featuring elders from that area answering questions, throat singers (even a few SOI participants tried), and a selection of delicious country foods. In between these events,  while we’re on the ship, there’s always things to do, weather it be talk with the other amazing participants from all over the world (from places like Monaco, NYC, and Rhode Island, in addition to 20 people from the Canadian Arctic`), attend a variety of interesting workshops, or just chat with the over forty highly knowledgeable and engaging staff on board. Overall it’s been a great experience, and I’m sure I am not the only one on the trip that will remember this for the rest of my life.

Stay Tuned for Further Updates!

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