Mittimatalik is a village located in the heart of the Canadian Arctic, well nestled between valleys and fabulous mountains. It is located on the edge of the beautiful Tasiujuaq Strait. And when we inevitably plunge our gaze to the horizon we discover the marvelous island of Bylot and its Simirlik National Park, a sanctuary for the protection of birds and the nesting grounds of the thick-billed guillemot, the black-legged kittiwake and the greater snow goose.
I met polar explorer Vincent Colliard 3 years ago and since then we have become expedition partners as well as life partners. As a couple, we like to face situations that seem uncomfortable to us in an adventure context in order to grow together. Married for only a few months, we find our happiness in the present moment. Leaving with as little material as possible and for a long time makes a lot of sense for our duo.
Our desire to trace the outline of this island on skis was born from the desire of our passions united. Vincent had originally passed close to this place in 2010 during the expedition on the trimaran Northern Passage led by the Norwegian explorer Børge Ousland, where the crew had managed to complete a tour of the North Pole in one summer.
For my part, I had heard of this place in the exploration stories of Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, who in 1903 headed towards the Arctic to try to find a route through the ice floe on Gjøa, a small vessel specializing in cod fishing. He will become the first to cross the Northwest Passage. It therefore passes close to the coast in the famous Lancaster Sound on the northern side of the Bylot Archipelago.
It is an exciting place because there are also an impressive number of arctic foxes, ringed seals, narwhals and also polar bears.
Leaving the city, we felt filled with a strong energy, a particular excitement. The preparation period had taken us a good week and putting the skis on the snow allowed us to finally look back and be able to forget how difficult traveling in northern Nunavut with all our equipment had been.
The young free dogs belonging to the Pond Inlet mushers gather in front of us, giving us a puzzled look to see us dashing over the strait that will later lead us directly into the frozen Baffin Sea.
I feel like I'm part of the pack and just as happy and good as those off-leash quadrupeds. Suddenly I don't feel held back or taken by my sometimes suffocating daily life in the city, I feel that we are going to experience some adventures that will change the course of our lives. Without ties and being accomplices, we are now starting our first kilometers on the ground. I feel that Vincent is coming back to life, ice is his element.
We don't do any great distance in the first few days which quickly reminds us of the body aches that come with pulling the load of our sled. Blisters in the heels, tired shoulders, tension in the knees; the repetitive song of the first days of expedition. We must start with a slow and regular rhythm. I approach all these little ailments in a positive way, because I understand that the pain of the body is a benchmark that always allows me not to leave too long in nature. Hungry or dead tired, I have to come home to be able to leave, but I like to push this limit more and more and leave for days, weeks, and months without supplies. The call of the comfort of urban environments calls me sometimes. It is good to enter after a long adventure in a place where everything seems luxurious when our house is only a small tent placed on the snow.
Tracing about 25 km per day, we progress on a flat ground at the start which, quietly skirting the island on the east coast, gradually becomes a labyrinth of impressive icy structures. The decor surprises me, it's my first experience on this ice floe, very different from that surrounding Svalbard, on which I passed last year. I try to understand, the ice fractures shrink and grow according to the wind, the tides, the currents. They are stunning. But I don't understand them. It doesn't make any sense, you can't calculate how the Arctic ice is made up and I really like being in a complicated environment, an icy labyrinth.
I am learning to recognize where to collect the ice that will be used to boil my freeze-dried meals. If I pick it up in some places, it has a strong taste of sea salt. In other places, it is filled with sandy particles. I melt it in the pan and sometimes it takes me up to an hour to get this one ready and put it in big thermoses ready for the next day. I have a relationship of trust with the stove that I treat with care in order to keep it in perfect condition until we return to town at the end of the adventure. Rigor must be applied in every detail when going on a polar expedition. Broken equipment can bring us a lot of problems that can sometimes seem trivial, but which can become major when we find ourselves far away without any means of communication with the outside world. That's why I bring with me only the most resistant equipment and clothing, those that will not let me down.
Advancing with a good average each day, the kilometers pass and on our way we cross a few hundred tracks of polar bears and we meet the animal only once during a sunny evening. It was making its way near the tent, probably in order to feed near the ice-free waters a few kilometers away. The meeting was powerful and meaningful. When you are lucky enough to stare into the eyes of a bear roaming free in its territory for a few seconds, you can easily feel its full splendor and power. It's a unique moment.
The course charmed our spirits, but this one also took a lot of our energy. This field trip was complex. During this polar expedition, we touched the very essence of the adventure. The feeling that the exploration was at its highest level, at all times.
I accepted over the miles that it was possible to develop an appetite for discomfort, a kind of desire to go and see what is hidden there. I believe that there is a certain power in the discomfort which is connected to our desire to leave the zone of what we know and master in order to learn, in order to evolve and become better. Everyday life is a vast territory of learning.
In summary / For a successful winter expedition:
Take a large number of days for preparation before departure
Study the terrain and maps
Have tested your equipment in advance, especially the essentials such as the sleeping bag, the tent, the stove
Have already made short-term expeditions with partners
Bring a repair kit
Bring a full pharmacy kit
Let a team in town know your itinerary
Have good means of communication: Distress beacon, Satellite phone
Bring more food in case the weather gets worse and the number of days planned in tents is exceeded
Bring extra clothes in case the weather conditions are colder or windier than expected (It will probably happen!)
Bring a small notebook to write down
Do not wear cotton that stays wet for a long time, but rather opt for merino wool which gives off little odor and dries quickly
And above all, do not leave any waste on the site visited!
Equipment used by Caroline: