Cross Canada: On to thin ice

The second part of the Cross Canada Expedition, after leaving their bikes behind and switching to skis, began near Gillam. From there they skied 300km through boreal forest to Churchill – the polar bear capital of Canada. From there they headed out on to the Hudson Bay to cross the sea ice and coastal tundra up to Rankin Inlet, around 700km away, and then on to Baker Lake. Temperatures went down to below -50C at times, and Ben got frost bite on his two thumbs and a finger half way through, just to make life more complicated… but they made it!

Looking back at this ski journey and there were plenty of highs and lows. We perhaps underestimated a lot of the challenges ahead of us, and over-estimated the distances we would be able to travel, and it could be frightening at times when we thought about how we were so far away from everybody we knew and indeed, any local community. At the same time, just being by ourselves, working towards our goal in the north of Canada, the variations in the terrain, the wildlife…. everything just made it so exciting with different challenges every day.

It started off tough: we followed power lines that cut through the forest between (simple huh? At least we couldn’t get lost…). The problem with that was that the snow accumulated in the gap, and pulling sleds that weighed 80kg each through that snow, with so much resistance… That was hard and progress was half of what we wanted, often only managing 5km or so in a day, which as discouraging.

When we got to Churchill, we were able to rest and take stock (and also mend our sleds, which had got damaged), before heading out on to the ice and north. From then on, progress was mixed – the ice at first was varied: some of it was very smooth, so we could go pretty quickly, but then we would get rough ice caused by the tidal pressures pushing the ice to the coast, with huge fields of this rough ice to navigate. We would often have to travel a few hundred metres with one sled before going back to get the other as they were so heavy to pull over these walls of ice. Then there was the thin ice, that we encountered once as we got very close to open water – scary as the ski pole went in almost straight away when poking into the ice, which provided an immediate sign that we needed to retrace our steps a little…

So many highlights to remember! Meeting Inuit hunters on the ice; seeing Caribou on the tundra and even arctic hares… One time that stands out was when we arrived in Arviat, just in time for Natalia’s birthday – we had 15km to go in the day and the conditions were terrible with strong headwinds blowing snow into our faces – it was so nice eventually arriving there and staying at a guest house; having a shower after almost 40 days!! After a couple of days rest, we left and headed up to a tiny community called Whale Cove. Visibility was good when we arrived, and people could see us coming for miles, and when we got there, it felt like the entire community had come out to greet us!