Polar Flight 90 - The Polar Pumpkin's Journey to the North Pole

2012 Flight Log

POLAR FLIGHT 90 UPDATE - Follow along on our 2012 Flight Map

Read 2012 Expedition Part II

APRIL 21, 2012

I actually thought that today was the day that the Polar Pumpkin and I would be headed to the North Pole and Ice Station Barneo. I filled my two thermos bottles with hot water, hopped into my flight suit, and generally got ready for departure.

When I checked satellite photos early in the morning, the horseshoe band of cloud south of the Pole and Ice Station Barneo was dissipating and moving northeasterly. Flight briefers, however, informed me that the low pressure system with a "quite dense" center was indeed coming from the west ; and more clouds would be moving over the area from the southwest - still with winds expected to increase to 20 knots - persisting through Sunday.

So even though it appeared to me that conditions - i.e. cloud cover and visibility - were improving in the Pole vicinity, the logical choice was to accept the forecast of a staff of professional weather experts with access to the latest and most diverse satellite weather images and weather forecasting models.

Consequences of arriving at the North Pole and/or Ice Station Barneo with low cloud, poor visibility/contrast, and blowing snow - and the inability to land - could prove disastrous.

I was therefore unable to go today.

APRIL 20, 2012

Checking my notes for flight briefing today, I see that I spoke with a briefer at least 5 times. Then, with checking satellite photos and Graphic Area Forecasts, much of the day was spent trying to get a handle on the weather between Eureka Weather Station and the North Pole/Ice Station Barneo.

Basically, there is a big mass of low cloud from 86 North on up to the North Pole that is not forecast to move for the next 12 hours. Ceilings were to be at 1,000 feet to 1,500 feet with tops of the cloud between 5,000 and 6,000 feet. In the words of the briefer, it's "not very good to go to the North Pole" today. Ice Station Barneo was in the clear. One possibility, mentioned by the briefer, was to go much further east around the cloud - to the east side of Greenland. Clearly with the fuel capacity of the Polar Pumpkin, that was not an option. The immediate vicinity around the North Pole was also in the clear for part of the day; then, later, that area also filled in with low cloud.

Wind was the next issue. With a serious low pressure system moving from Siberia toward the Pole - i.e. with the low moving up against a high, with tightening pressure gradient - southwesterly winds from the North Pole down to 86N were expected at 20 to 25 knots, and to increase, with significant blowing snow, ice crystals, and poor visibility. According to the briefer, "I wouldn't do it (make the flight), based on what I see here".

Briefers suggest that it will not be a nice day at the Pole tomorrow; and that there will not be good VFR conditions for 24-36 hours.

But tomorrow is another day; and we'll see . . .


APRIL 19, 2012

Scientific instrumentation inside the Pearl Laboratory, Eureka Weather Station.
Scientific instrumentation inside the Pearl Laboratory, Eureka Weather Station.

Given the opportunity for another lifetime, I think that I'd come back as a polar weather researcher - or at least observer. Weather in the high latitudes is such a diverse phenomenon; and today was no exception. Of course, I was checking weather and satellite images early - about 5 AM this morning - and there appeared to be no possibility to go. Later, however, I discovered that the current weather at Ice Station Barneo was again "Tickety Boo".

My optimism was slowed, though, when the Edmonton Arctic Weather briefers informed me of a broad bank of clouds between Eureka and the Pole. Adding another dimension, there was an even larger band of low cloud headed toward the Pole coming in from the 160 West longitude. To add an even further dimension, there was a band of low cloud headed from the Russian sector toward Ice Station Barneo , and, perhaps, on to Greenland. So, all in all, the Pumpkin needed to stay in the patch once again today.

Besides giving me the latest weather, and interpretation of satellite imagery, the Edmonton Arctic Weather folks - in their very friendly manner - explained to me a few of the details regarding the NIR (visible), 11 micron (standard Infrared), and 3 micron (mixed image) satellite photo information.

Last night, just after I returned from a walk to the airport to check on the Polar Pumpkin, one of the radio operators reported that an arctic fox had just attacked an arctic hare (very large rabbit) near the station. In the middle of that melee, came a snowy own swooping down to have a snack on one or both the hare or the fox. The snowy owl was of a more brown color - a female I was told - in contrast to the more white plumage of the larger male snowy owl.

Clearly the dynamic Arctic Ocean weather is doing its' thing overnight . . . and we'll see what tomorrow will bring . . .

The Polar Pumpkin and a Canadian Forces Hercules C-130 parked on the Eureka airport ramp.
The Polar Pumpkin and a Canadian Forces Hercules C-130 parked on the Eureka airport ramp.

Bell Long Ranger helicopter arriving at Eureka Weather Station from Resolute Bay for the transport of research scientists.
Bell Long Ranger helicopter arriving at Eureka Weather Station from Resolute Bay for the transport of research scientists.

Weather monitoring equipment at Eureka Weather Station.
Weather monitoring equipment at Eureka Weather Station.


Art at 80 degrees north latitude, along the road to the Pearl Laboratory.

Art at 80 degrees north latitude, along the road to the Pearl Laboratory.

APRIL 18, 2012

After checking the weather at 3 AM, it appeared quite unlikely that I would be able to fly North to the Pole and Ice Station Barneo today. Still there were numerous bands of low stratus throughout the Polar Basin. Then, when I checked the weather a few hours later, emails from Dale Andersen and Marc De Keyser had come through, with better satellite imagery backing up what I had seen earlier. Just after breakfast, I phoned Andy Heiberg at Barneo, and he said "the weather is not so hot".

There was a clear patch - such that the sea ice was showing in the satellite images - between 87 North and 89 North, between 90 West and 180 West. Enticing as that may have been, it simply was not possible to fly the Pumpkin North today.

So - to take advantage of my time here at Eureka - I accompanied Rai LeCotey, Station Manger, up to the Pearl Lab on a mountain top a few miles from the weather station. There scientists conduct various types of experiments involving light beams and the upper atmosphere. On the way, I was looking for musk ox and arctic hares; but the only animal observed was an arctic fox.

This evening a helicopter - Bell Long Ranger - came through from Resolute Bay and reported good weather all the way. The crew did say, however, that there was a cloud bank out to the west that is forecast to reach us here overnight. Their mission tomorrow - or whenever they can get there - is to transport a group of scientists now at Expedition Fiord to their research sites in the vicinity.

Boxtop 31 - a Hercules C-130 - made two trips into Eureka today, off loading resupply fuel. They are based at Thule Air Base in Greenland. One of the passengers dropped off for a short visit here at the Station was Mr. George Stewart, a long time polar veteran.

We shall see what Mother Nature has in store for weather tomorrow.

Headquarters building at Eureka Weather Station.
Headquarters building at
Eureka Weather Station.
 Canadian Forces Hercules C-130 parked on the ramp at the Eureka airport.
Canadian Forces Hercules C-130 parked
on the ramp at the Eureka airport.
Scientific sensors on top of the Pearl Laboratory roof, with Ellesmere Island in the background.
Scientific sensors on top of the Pearl Laboratory roof,
with Ellesmere Island in the background.


APRIL 17, 2012

latest weather mapThe Canadian GFA (Graphic Area Forecast) depicting weather near the North Pole as: Overcast at 2,000 feet, greater than 6 miles visibility, patchy 2 to 6 statute miles with light snow. Ceilings 700 feet to 1500 feet AGL (above ground level), and local visibilities 1 statute mile with light snow and mist.

Last night I was quite optimistic that today the Polar Pumpkin and I would be on our way to the North Pole, and Ice Station Barneo. A weather forecast indicated that this would be the day.

When I got up to check satellite images at 0430 hours local, however, I was quite surprised to see extensive low stratus cloud still within the polar basin. There may have been a few holes here and there. When I asked my friend Andy, via sat phone, what the weather was at Barneo, he replied "Tickety Boo", i.e. great. Another call to Edmonton Arctic Radio, however, confirmed the expanse of the stratus. If I were to take off for the Pole and Barneo, I would have to fly over approximately 300 miles of low stratus; and then hope that it didn't close in before I landed at Barneo. The risk was too great. Also, I did not know how high the tops of the undercast would be. Icing was the other issue. If one were to pick up ice in the cloud, be unable to climb above it, and have to descend through the clouds to an area of little no contrast/definition above the sea ice, the result would most likely be very bad.

So it was another day to enjoy the friendly atmosphere of Eureka. Eureka Weather Station - besides taking weather observations - is a hub for activities in the northern portion of the Canadian island archipelago. Twin Otters transporting scientists stop here for fuel, military helicopters checking communications equipment stop, and then today a Hercules C-130 stopped in to deliver fuel. This time of year, there is the "Boxtop" exercise - using C-130s - to resupply the Canadian Forces Station Alert, based out of the American base at Thule, Greenland.

I'll be up early checking weather again tomorrow; but tonight I can't be particularly optimistic with the approaching low pressure system from the west, and the low stratus in the vicinity of the North Pole that I see on tonight's satellite photo.

But polar weather is particularly fickle; and there could be a major change for the positive overnight. We'll see . . .

APRIL 16, 2012

Today an Antonov 74 - Russian twin engine jet aircraft - with engines on the top of the wings, made a technical (i.e. supply) flight from Longyearbyen in Svalbard to the Russian drifting ice station near the North Pole.

In past years, my good friend Victor Boyarsky - a long time polar veteran - had been working at Barneo, but not this year. Another friend, Andy Heiberg, from the University of Washington is there this year; and Andy informed me that the afternoon weather at Barneo was good. It was also good here at Eureka Weather Station.

So the temptation was to get in the Pumpkin, fire up, and head North. Satellite photos, however - and consultation with the professional weather experts at Edmonton Arctic Weather - indicate a great deal of stratus or low cloud for a distance of about 300 miles between Eureka and the Pole.

Professional polar weather forecaster, Mr. Marc De Keyser, in Bruge, Belgium also concurred on the existence of these cloud banks.

So, as much as I'd like to be out flying with the Polar Pumpkin - and headed North to the Pole - it was not possible.

I'll be checking possibilities first thing again tomorrow morning.

APRIL 15, 2012

Marc de Keyser, a very highly respected professional polar weather forecaster in Belgium, informed me early this morning that there was extensive low cloud in the vicinity of the North Pole/Ice Station Barneo; and that it was "very cloudy to overcast with possibly some outbreaks of slight snow. Possibly a few very weak sunny spells. Risky to fly in".

When I spoke with my friend Mr. Andy Heiberg of the Applied Physics Lab at the University of Washington - who is now at Ice Station Barneo - along with Ken Borek pilot Paul, their opinions concurred with Marc's: Do not fly to the North Pole today.
The message was quite clear: today, keep the Polar Pumpkin parked on the ground.

I did have quite a pleasant surprise this afternoon. When I went up to the airport to secure the pilot's door on the Pumpkin, there - attached to Renee, my mascot/flight crew member, the penguin - was a note from Dr. Dale Andersen, one of my colleagues from the Tawani International Antarctic Expedition. He and Wayne Pollard had landed with a Ken Borek Twin Otter this afternoon - for fuel - on their way to Resolute Bay from their research site at the McGill Arctic Research Station at Expedition Fiord in western Axel Heiberg Island. Dale is a distinguished scientist with the SETI Institute and the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe. Dale is also likely one of the world's most experienced under ice divers.

Tomorrow's forecast for the North Pole vicinity isn't so great; but weather is fickle - and Mother Nature reigns supreme.

So we shall see what tomorrow brings . . .

APRIL 14, 2012

Scenes across Eureka Sound to Ellesmere Island and Axel Heiberg island.  Note the folded geology. Fossils, petrified wood, and coal are found in the region.

Scenes across Eureka Sound to Ellesmere Island and Axel Heiberg island. Note the folded geology. Fossils, petrified wood, and coal are found in the region.

Scenes across Eureka Sound to Ellesmere Island and Axel Heiberg island.  Note the folded geology. Fossils, petrified wood, and coal are found in the region.

Once again fueling the Polar Pumpkin from barrels - using my system of hoses, filters, and small Honda pump - took much of the morning. I happened to notice that in the bottom of the filter bowl of the Goldenrod water block filter there was ice - chunks and crystals - and, what appeared to be a spider, of all things. The fuel was shipped north from a region where spiders could exist; and, I think, I got one. There is definitely a reason for good filters. So I proceeded to replace both - a Goldenrod water block and a screw on hydrosorb filter.

In the afternoon, a Ken Borek Air Twin Otter arrived - with a crew of copilot and engineer (American term: mechanic). Paul was flying. After a quick refueling of his aircraft - and a satellite phone call for weather at Ice Station Barneo - Paul headed north. The weather report at Barneo was "adequate" for an experienced IFR crew to get in; but none "too good" - and definitely not good enough for me and the Polar Pumpkin, needing to fly VFR only.

So back to the Station - 1.5 miles - with hopes of better weather in the North Pole vicinity tomorrow.

APRIL 13, 2012

A gorgeous day in Resolute Bay. A bit chilly. Clear skies with light and variable winds. When it's windy, it's tougher to put wing covers on an airplane; so I didn't do so last night. Therefore, this morning the Pumpkin was covered with frost. Once I found a ladder, and a small broom, it didn't take long to get the aircraft wings ice free. Since it was parked tail first into the rising easterly sun, any remaining ice melted quickly. Deicing aircraft flight surfaces is critical for safe flight - allowing smooth air flow over the contour of the aircraft.

Although a northerly headwind seems to persist, weather was generally good all the way to Eureka Weather Station. Satellite photos showed one or two bands of cloud, but nothing very widespread. So the Pumpkin was loaded; and off I went. It was suggested that I stay low to avoid the higher winds aloft; so I never went above 2500 feet. The occasional turbulence was light to moderate.

My direct, course, however, was over some quite rugged terrain of eastern Axel Heiberg Island. In order to avoid the mechanical turbulence there, I followed pretty much the whole of Eureka Sound, low level. Rugged terrain on both sides of the Sound provided some incredibly magnificent scenery.

True to form, Rai Lacotey, Eureka Weather Station Manager, and his friendly capable staff had dug out my fuel; and positioned it in the perfect location. After parking into the wind, getting the wing covers on, and sorting some gear - I made a VHF call to the Station Comms Center; and shortly a vehicle was sent up to get me for an absolutely marvelous supper.

APRIL 12, 2012

The forces of wind - especially in rugged mountainous terrain - can be more than a small aircraft can handle. So, with approximately a 30 knot northeasterly wind forecast over Eureka Weather Station, I decided to postpone my flight there another day. One forecast suggested that if I stayed low level - i.e. below 2,000 feet - I would find lighter winds, but still the possibility of moderate turbulence. If I were at home in Alaska, knowing the countryside and somewhat the results one might find from winds at certain locations at certain velocities, then - perhaps - I'd feel a bit more comfortable to fly in higher winds. Here, me as a stranger to the topography and wind/weather patterns, I must err on the extra conservative side.

Late this afternoon, I was informed by the administrator of Eureka Weather Station that a helicopter was grounded there by the high winds aloft. So, after getting that information, I'm quite content to spend another night in the friendly hamlet of Resolute Bay. Very graciously, Cori - one of the operators of C.A.R.S. (Community Aerodrome Radio System) operators at the airport - invited me to his home to meet his family, and spend the night.

Cori has a keen interest in the Inuit culture; and seems quite happy to answer my multitude of questions regarding hunting, sea mammals, weather, history, etc. One of the elder gentlemen - Scotty - a British whaler, now in his 80s, has been living here since the 1960s. Cori says that Scotty has an amazing collection of stories and pictures relating to his whaling days. Hopefully someone will document what appears to be an incredible oral history before it's too late.

Little did I know that walrus will eat red meat from seals, polar bears, etc. Cori says that the older larger walrus with stained teeth have been doing just that. Those particular animals are then especially dangerous; and can flip a boat in a matter of seconds. Ringed seals, Cori says, are some of the most difficult animals in this area to hunt. Polar bears not so difficult. It is now the season for hunters to be "out on the land".

We'll see what tomorrow brings . . . . and what Mother Nature will allow for Art and the Polar Pumpkin.

APRIL 11, 2012

I hadn't heard the term "low level jet" before; but that's what the flight briefers were reporting off the northwest coast of Ellesmere Island this morning. They were referring to a very strong wind - 50 to 60 knots - from the north in coastal areas. In addition, 3,000 foot winds over Eureka were forecast to be 46 knots from the northeast - along with low level wind sheer. All this information, along with a report from my friend Dr. Dale Andersen at the McGill Arctic Research Station at Expedition Fiord of west Axel Heiberg Island - that there was "wind on the ridges" - I decided that the Polar Pumpkin and I needed to stay put on the ground.

Resolute Bay weather was fabulous all day. Fairly light winds, and lots of sunshine. One reason that the weather may be better than last year - with fewer days of "ice crystals" - is because the ice in the bay and the strait is frozen tight, with few if any open leads.

So today was a "catch up" day on some things - calls, emails, and even some laundry.

We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Green roofed Resolute Bay Health Center.
Green roofed Resolute Bay Health Center.
A home away from home camper cabin built on a snowmobile sled or komatik
A home away from home camper cabin built on a snowmobile sled or komatik
Small church in the center of Resolute Bay.
Small church in the
center of Resolute Bay.
Seal skins for sewing clothing that have been scraped and dried, now being bleached white by the sun and wind.
Seal skins for sewing clothing that have been scraped and dried, now being bleached white by the sun and wind.
Some stop signs are bilingual.
Some stop signs are bilingual.
Not all dogs curl up on a nice cozy rug at the base of the fireplace.
Not all dogs curl up on a nice
cozy rug at the base of the fireplace.


APRIL 10, 2012

Canadian Forces C-17 cargo plane taxiing on the Resolute Bay airport ramp, adjacent to the Polar Pumpkin.
Canadian Forces C-17 cargo plane taxiing on the Resolute Bay airport ramp, adjacent to the Polar Pumpkin.

Clear skies, blustery north winds, and wind chills well below zero in Resolute Bay. Today was a day for refueling and regrouping. Most any activity seems to take longer in the cold; and refueling the Polar Pumpkin is no exception. First I had to remove the strapping around a pallet of 4 drums, roll the drums to the Polar Pumpkin (downhill, fortunately), warm up my fuel transfer pump and hoses inside the air terminal building; and then do the fueling before my pump got too cold and quit.

Return fuel for the flight from the North Pole - and Ice Station Barneo - is a critical issue, of course; so also today both Damaris and I were busy negotiating for the positioning of that fuel. It appears that some of the fuel will be coming from Svalbard; and possibly a bit from Canada as well. In either case, the proposition involves a sizable expenditure. Those individuals and/or companies with the experience and equipment to accomplish the task are few and far between.

Just as I was leaving the airport for the evening, a C-17 Canadian Forces cargo plane landed. Tis quite the amazing aircraft.

Through the "Polar Gravevine", I heard that 3 polar bears were spotted just on the edge of the hamlet of Resolute Bay.

APRIL 9, 2012

Mike Sutherland, left, and Art, right, in front of the Polar Pumpkin at the Resolute Bay, Nunavut airport.

Photo Credit: Aziz Kheraz, South Camp Inn, Resolute Bay, Nunavut

A day with no wind in Cambridge Bay is nearly unheard of. But this morning, it was basically calm; which made refueling the Pumpkin so much easier. Also, Renee Laserich, CEO of Adlair, helped me a great deal - in the actual refueling process, and also with a host of local knowledge. He has grown up and flown in the area for 35 years; and knows where one might make emergency landings, and where there may be a cabin in which to "hole up" in case of bad weather.

Most of today's flight was in the clear. There was a section, however, where a band of clouds formed over the mountains on the north edge of Prince of Wales Island. Generally, the ice was tight in all the bays, channels, and fiords. That was to my advantage; because in such a case, there would be less "sea smoke" from open water cracks in the ice and/or fog drifting around the area.

As I made my final approach to the Cambridge Bay airport, I heard the captain of the commercial airliner behind me give his intentions for landing over the radio as well. It was a familiar sounding voice. Both of us then had landed, the commercial airliner parking just in front of the Polar Pumpkin. When I looked up, there was the captain headed directly for the Pumpkin - my good friend, Mike Sutherland, whom I had not seen for many years. Mike had actually done mechanical work on the Pumpkin at 90 degrees South - the Geographic South Pole - when I flew it there in 1999-2000.

What a small - and wonderful - world of good people and relationships!

APRIL 8, 2012

Weather in Inuvik was great - a few high clouds, light winds, and good visibility. My flight briefer reported that weather at both Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk was good; but that there was a cloud band in between Inuvik and Kugluktuk. Little did I know just how extensive that cloud band was to be - and that the Kugluktuk weather would come down about the time I got there.

Fortunately, I put on enough fuel to continue on to Cambridge Bay - in case I had to - and could not land at Kugluktuk. Lo and behold, that's exactly what happened. I had a band of clouds for about 200 miles. For only a few moments I was actually in the cloud; and when I checked the leading edge of the Pumpkin's wing, there was already ice forming. So I climbed back up "on top" and had mostly clear sailing to Cambridge Bay.

My good friends there, the Laserich family, took me under their wing once again; and shortly after "putting the Pumpkin to bed", I was enjoying a nice supper with Jesce. Her grandmother, by the way, put together a recipe for probably the world's best potato salad.

'Twas a good long day; and the bed felt good.

Hasta la manana.

APRIL 7, 2012

 The Inuvik airport terminal building is a modern - very clean - well kept facility.  In the middle of the lobby floor there is a map of the Circumpolar North.
The Inuvik airport terminal building is a modern - very clean - well kept facility. In the middle of the lobby floor there is a map of the Circumpolar North.

Also in the middle of the lobby is a full sized polar bear mount.  The Inuit name for the polar bear is
Also in the middle of the lobby is a full sized polar bear mount. The Inuit name for the polar bear is "Nanook".

 Polar bears have long hair on the under side of their paws - partly for warmth - and partly for providing very quiet movements when stalking seals at their breathing holes in the ice.
Polar bears have long hair on the under side of their paws - partly for warmth - and partly for providing very quiet movements when stalking seals at their breathing holes in the ice.

Inuvik weather, first thing in the morning, had broken clouds at about a thousand feet, and light snow. Windy Cambridge Bay was still blowing, with drifting snow, and ice crystals. Kugluktuk was maybe the average of the other two -multiple stratus layers, light winds from the west, but still lingering snow showers. By this evening, however; all 3 locations had good VFR weather.

And where am I? Yet in Inuvik, having come very close to launching for Kuguluktuk late this afternoon. An observant flight briefer, however, informed me that about the time I would arrive Kugluktuk -7 PM -there was a chance (Noted in the GFA, or Graphic Area Forecast) for low celings and visibilities, with light snow and mist. If I would have had any other reasonable alternate airports, I would have launched. Aerodromes, however, in this part of the world are often hundreds of miles apart.

So I gave the Polar Pumpkin a bit of attention today, had a chat with a local Basler DC-3 crew, and am now hoping for better weather tomorrow.

It's a gorgeous evening in Inuvik. Folks are out walking their dogs . . . or -I've often wondered -is it the other way around? Are dogs out walking their masters?

APRIL 6, 2012

Another fabulous day in Inuvik - clear to partly cloudy skies, light winds, and temperatures close to zero degrees Celsius. Out at the airport, one of the baggage handlers was sitting up on a trolley soaking in the gorgeous Springtime atmosphere.

East of here, however, it was a different story. The morning began with mile visibility in ice fog at Paulatuk. That increased to mile, then 1 and mile with fog to the northwest and northeast. But generally Paulatuk improved to flyable VFR conditions much of the day. The difficult - impossible? - locations for VFR flight were Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay. Each location had light snow and lower cloud layers pretty much all day. To top things off, Cambridge Bay had up to a 22 knot direct cross wind with drifting snow. Many larger airfields have accommodation for cross winds - other runways into the wind - but not so at Cambridge Bay.

So my option was clear: meet more nice folks in Inuvik. One friendly fellow that walked up to me acted as though we had met before. We had. Embarrassing? You bet. Kevin had worked at Patriot Hills in the past as a Borek engineer - working on Twin Otters - and knew the Polar Pumpkin well. Am I the only one that can't recognize a person and remember their name? I hope not. Perhaps it's a case of "Sometimers Disease".

Two other friendly folks came by; and this time I knew them both. Robert - a native gentlemen from the village of Uluhaktok - was being flown home by my other friend Bob Heath. I had met Robert - a well known hunter - when I was weathered in at Ulukhaktok last year.

Watching people in the Inuvik airport terminal was very interesting. Many folks in this area wear fur on their clothing - just like we do back home in Alaska - and conversation often relates to where the caribou are, who got a polar bear, what the weather is doing, the condition of the ice, etc.

Today, at the recommendation of Nelson Eisel - who saw the Polar Pumpkin sitting on the Inuvik airport parking ramp - I tried a musk ox berger at the local airport caf . Fabulous. I had eaten dry musk ox meat in Ulukhaktok - what we would then call "Paniqtuq" (any dry meat) - but never the ground meat. It's great to see folks utilizing local resources off the land. In our so called "modern society", how much energy is utilized - wasted? - in shipping a product from a production source, to a processor, and then back to the production source? Farm, to processing plant, back to the farm. There seems to be a resurgence, however, for folks to buy direct from producers.

Another weather system is coming in tonight from the west - behind me - but supposedly it's a high level system that is moving rapidly, and hopefully will not dramatically affect the local Inuvik weather for long. The forecast for Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk is for improving conditions. One of the main reasons for needing good visibility in the High Arctic - or Antarctic, for that matter - is because there otherwise is little or no contrast, especially north of the tree line. Should anything go wrong - and one need to make an emergency landing - in flat light conditions, one descends and "gets what one gets", with little or no control. Under these conditions, there's a good chance that it won't be good.

So we'll look for better weather tomorrow; and proceed east and north with the Pumpkin - when conditions allow.

APRIL 5, 2012

The Canadian High Arctic - Land of the Muskox - also called
The Canadian High Arctic - Land of the Muskox - also called "Oomingmak"

Another day of "great here", but "marginal to poor to terrible there". Skies were once again sunny in Inuvik; but the weather was particularly bad in Cambridge Bay -my next destination. In a phone conversation with a friend there, the weather was described as "snowing bullets". A Twin Otter search and rescue mission in Cambridge Bay had to be kept on hold due to the bad weather. Paulatuk had improved considerably over the day; but Kugluktuk was still reporting snow yet this evening.

Most folks that I know are not particularly fluent in the Inuvialuit language. So the proper pronunciation of words such as Tuktoyaktuk, Paulatuk, and Kugluktuk can be a real challenge.

In the case of Tuktoyaktuk, most local folks just say "Tuk", for short. It is an Inuit community at the very mouth of the Mackenzie River -more or less -and the name translates to "It looks like a caribou". An earlier name was Port Brabant; but in 1950 the settlement was renamed Tuktoyaktuk -the first in the Canadian Arctic to revert back to the traditional native name. A Hudson Bay trading post was established there in 1937. Sadly, between 1890 and 1910, epidemic diseases brought by the whalers, such as flu, killed a high percentage of the native inhabitants.

Paulatuk -a settlement of approximately 300 souls -slightly north of my course to Cambridge Bay, is translated to mean "place of coal". Approximately 65 miles west of Paulatuk -between Paulatuk and Tuktoyaktuk - there are the "Smoking Hills", where subsurface coal veins are continually smoldering and "smoking".

Kugluktuk translates to mean "the place of moving water". It is an Inuit settlement of approximately 1500 people at the mouth of the Coppermine River. In fact the community -before the change back to the native name -was called Coppermine. The Coppermine River -named for the copper ore in the vicinity - flows approximately 525 miles north into Coronation Gulf from a small lake called Lac des Gras, near Great Slave Lake. Nowadays it's a popular river for canoeists; but requires portages around some of the rapids. Samuel Hearne was one of the first European explorers to visit the area. On July 17, 1771, a group of Dene massacred approximately 20 Inuit men, women, and children in what is now known as the Bloody Falls Massacre.

First thing tomorrow morning, I'll be checking the weather once again.

APRIL 4, 2012
Inuvik, Northwest Territories

The Canadian Richardson Mountains - a vast wilderness - on the west flank of the Mackenzie River Delta.
The Canadian Richardson Mountains - a vast wilderness - on the west flank of the Mackenzie River Delta.

 Fur trapping has traditionally been a way of life in the Far North for both Natives and Non Natives
Fur trapping has traditionally been a way of life in the Far North for both Natives and Non Natives

'Twas a stellar mornin' in Inuvik. CAVU, cold, calm . . . some might say "severely clear".

So I got my hopes up for flying . . . just a bit . . . up to the point that I called the flight weather briefers. Although the weather was great here - under the influence of a High Pressure system, weather to the east in the vicinities of Paulatuk, Kugluktuk, and Cambridge Bay was not so nice. Low ceilings, snow, blowing snow, and poor visibilities.

Nonetheless, I headed out to the airport - about 8 miles - and proceeded to fine tune some gear; and then taxi over to the fuel pumps. AvGas here is transported either by barge in the summer and/or over the Dempster Highway - the road that connects south to Dawson City.

Just one little story . . .

Years ago, a friend and I were assigned to do a fish tag recovery on the Fishing Branch River - south of Old Crow, Yukon Territory - on fish that we had caught and tagged on "fish wheels" in the Yukon River near the village of Galena, Alaska. Access to the Fishing Branch was best done via helicopter off the Dempster Highway. There were no gravel bars on that river large enough to land even a Super Cub on wheels, or any type of float plane. So Mike and I drove the Dempster, rendezvoused with the helicopter, and went in to this most amazing ecosystem for one of the most memorable 10 days of our lives.

In the 10 days that we were collecting our Peterson Disc Tags off of chum salmon, there was nearly no time during that period that we didn't have at least one grizzly bear in sight at all times. Actually, when the helicopter was landing, one big grizzly stood on his back legs - pawing the air - and, presumably, trying to pull the chopper out of the sky. Then, when we landed, here he came out of the woods right toward the helicopter . . . until we scared him off. True stress equates to having a shotgun - and being unable to quickly find the ammo - in which duffle? - as the bear is approaching!

I've never been to the Garden of Eden - nor do I expect to ever get there - but the Fishing Branch has got to be darn close. Wolves were unafraid, coming so close on the river bank; and then those bears again. In one night alone, we had 5 different grizzlies within 50 feet of where we were sleeping. We could tell by the tracks in the snow. We were afraid, actually, to even put up a tent. So we slept under a crudely constructed lean-to, with our shotguns/rifles close at hand. When I woke up - and saw the silhouette of a bear sitting in our Zodiac inflatable - about 30 feet away, I yelled at him . . and - in his own sweet time - he ambled down the beach. Little did I know then that the back compartment in the Zodiac had been torn - and deflated - with the bear's sharp claws. So try as we may - in the cold and snow of October - to pull the Zodiac close enough to a campfire for a patch to stick - we failed.

In those days before sat phones, we got on the HF Radio and had the chopper come fetch us.

I believe that the Fishing Branch River ecosystem is now a Canadian National Park - or some sort of preserved area.

For good reasons. Besides it's amazing natural pristine beauty, it is also one of the greatest chum salmon spawing grounds in the Far North.

April 3, 2012
Fairbanks, Alaska to Inuvik, Northwest Territories

Weather in the Canadian Richardson Mountains was still marginal- but showing signs of improvement. Old Crow, Yukon Territory, reported better weather. So about the time I decided to take off, a snow squall moved across the Fairbanks airport. It was fairly light snow; so visibility was still acceptable.

Pushing a warm airplane out of the hangar into the snow, however, produced a bit of ice on the airplane. That had to be removed before I could go anywhere. All paperwork - CANPASS, EAPIS, and Flight Plans - were filed; so I was ready to go.

I didn't see much of the "neighborhood" in the first hour or so of the flight, due to the aforementioned snow squalls; but by the time I got to the Yukon River, visibility had improved considerably. My two alternate airports were Fort Yukon, Alaska and Old Crow, Yukon Territory. Fortunately, as I proceeded east, weather over the Richardson Mountains had improved a lot - so at a cruising altitude of 7500 feet, I had a good 1500 feet of safety altitude. It was actually clear enough for me to get another good look at the pass between the Bell River and Rat River. It's a narrow winding pass; and I could very well see that it was a good idea to avoid the temptation of flying through it in bad weather. Complicating the issue are numerous side valleys - i.e. box canyons - that look much like the pass itself.

The Customs agent in Inuvik was typically polite and friendly; and the required paperwork was taken care of in an efficient manner. After parking the Pumpkin, putting the wing covers on, and plugging in the engine preheater for the night, this gentleman graciously invited me to a ride into town.

Last year, while here, I enjoyed the 57th Annual Inuvik Muskrat Jamboree. This year - the 58th Annual - I missed by one day . . .

East of here - at the villages of Paulatuk and Kugluktuk (formerly Coppermine) - there are still areas of light snow, and poor visibilities; so we'll see what tomorrow brings.

April 2, 2012
Fairbanks, Alaska

Early morning weather here in Fairbanks was fabulous. So I got up at about 0530 and checked the weather in the Northern Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories . . . not so good. More snow, blowing snow, gusty winds, and poor visibilities.

Nonetheless, I headed out to the airport to check on the Pumpkin and load a few items.

Throughout the day, I checked the weather again numerous times; and it was the same story. I'm hopeful that overnight the stationary front causing the poor weather will dissipate.

CANPASS - the Canadian Customs and Border Protection folks - have been absolutely fabulous in their flexibility to extend my filing day by day; since the weather has been so poor. Our American Customs folks also have been delightfully flexible; although today I was told that I must file a new EAPIS.

Since there was no flying for the Pumpkin today, I took a swing past Creamer's Field - the most likely location for the first arriving Canada geese. None here yet.

April 1, 2012
Fairbanks, Alaska

Left to Right:  Ted - the Teddy, Renee - the Penguin, and Art inside the cockpit of the Polar Pumpkin.  Ted and Renee are my honorary flight crew.
Left to Right: Ted - the Teddy, Renee - the Penguin, and Art inside the cockpit of the Polar Pumpkin. Ted and Renee are my honorary flight crew.

The NASA hyperspectral camera in the belly of the Polar Pumpkin is kept warm with a beaver skin muff made by my wife Damaris.  This is likely the only beaver skin thermal protective unit on any NASA instrument.

The NASA hyperspectral camera in the belly of the Polar Pumpkin is kept warm with a beaver skin muff made by my wife Damaris. This is likely the only beaver skin thermal protective unit on any NASA instrument.

Sorting expedition gear inside our log cabin, with a caribou skin tacked on the far wall.

Sorting expedition gear inside our log cabin, with a caribou skin tacked on the far wall.

Art installing a laptop computer inside the cockpit of the Polar Pumpkin.

Art installing a laptop computer inside the cockpit of the Polar Pumpkin.


Today was the day that I picked as a target date for departure.

So early this morning, I once again checked weather conditions to the north and east. Overnight, here in Fairbanks, we had gotten approximately 1 inch of snow; but conditions improved all morning to mostly clear this afternoon.

Old Crow, Yukon Territory - Aklavik, Fort McPherson, and Inuvik, Northwest Territories are my points of reference. In Old Crow the ceiling wasn't so bad - at 3200 feet - but they were getting northerly wind gusts to 25 knots, snow, and drifting snow. The same was pretty much true to Aklavik, Fort McPherson, and Inuvik - with, in some cases, lower visibilities to 2 miles and lower ceilings.

After having flown through the Richardson Mountains a few times before, I realized that the primary problem confronting me was the fact that peaks of the Richardson's rise to approximately 6,000 feet. With a desired 1,000 foot clearance over the peaks, I needed a reported ceiling of 7,000 feet; which - today - I was just not getting.

So . . . more waiting until conditions are right. As Ron Klem mentioned yesterday: "Time to spare, go by air"!

There is one low level VFR route through that Richardson Mountains - that I had also flown before - which involves flying through a crooked valley between the Rat River, and the Bell River. This is the country of the infamous "Mad Trapper of Rat River". Flying the Polar Pumpkin through this narrow route in the mountains was simply not an option. If forward visibility was to be blocked by snow squalls, there is no room to turn around.

We'll see how "stationary" the so called "Stationary Front" remains in the Northern Yukon Territory overnight. Maybe . . . just maybe . . . we'll be able to take off tomorrow.

March 31, 2012
Fairbanks, Alaska

The big news is that geese have been spotted in the Delta Junction area, not so far south from Fairbanks. Its only a matter of days now when the geese will be here. Our Alaska Department of Fish and Game very wisely has set aside an open field close to their headquarters for the first arriving migratory waterfowl to land and feed. There were a few ducks that had overwintered in the open water of the Chena River, close to the warm water discharge of the Fairbanks power plant.

Soon the grizzly bears will be out. After exiting the winter den, they usually hang around close for awhile. Then off they go in search of food. This first meal may consist of roots or frozen berries; but  given the opportunity  the bear may pull down a caribou or moose.

On each of the past few days, Ive been checking the flying weather for points north and east of here  in the Northern part of the Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territory.

Conditions  with low ceilings, snow, and blowing snow  are such that it is yet not possible to launch with the Polar Pumpkin.

March 30, 2012
Fairbanks, Alaska

In planning a trip to any remote part of the world, there is a myriad of little details to consider. Did I forget my toothbrush? Is my satellite phone charged  and do I have enough spare batteries? What about extra oil for the airplane? On and on . . . So today I was busy with these little errands . . . that may become big issues if I forget an important one. Fortunately, Fairbanks is a big enough metropolis to have pretty much anything one might need.

Both well known dog sled races  the 1000 mile Yukon Quest, from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, and the 1000 mile Iditarod, from Anchorage to Nome  have been completed. Also the Fur Rendevous sprint race in Anchorage, and the Open North American Championship spring race in Fairbanks have been completed. Serious dog drivers must now resort to Spring Carnivals in the various villages around the bush. Manley Hot Springs just had their carnival  no dog races this year  but a variety of races for the kids, the toilet toss, ice bowling, snowshoe races, etc.

With the longer days  and warming temperatures  folks are using all sorts of excuses to get outdoors after the long winter. People with fast snowmachines  and reservations in various forest service cabins  can travel from one to another; and enjoy the outdoors that way. Others  in a more traditional travel style  may take their dog teams with a wall tent and wood stove on board the sled. These folks would then stop pretty much anywhere along the trail to camp. A wall tent, with wood stove and floor of spruce boughs covered with caribou skins, can be a very comfortable warm toasty camp. Sitting back, sipping a cup of tea, and visiting with friends makes such simple pleasures one of the very best! Basically technology free . . . an admirable goal in our technifested world.

March 29, 2012
Fairbanks, Alaska

Nathan Howard finished up inspection and repairs to the Polar Pumpkin this morning; and it was then time for me to take her for a test flight. The engine ran perfectly; and the tail wheel shimmy  experienced yesterday  is not a problem.

The boys with the Travelair had hoped to start the engine today  but that was not possible. Theres no reason to rush into something that may ultimately cause damage to a very valuable and historic aircraft. The engine has been pre-oiled; and perhaps will be started tomorrow.

Each day I check the weather in Northern Canada. This evening, forecasters predict weather in the Inuvik, Northwest Territories area to become IFR in the next couple days. So, once again, its a matter of waiting until all is right .

MARCH 28, 2012
Fairbanks, Alaska

Today I had intended to take off from Alaska and head North. During a test flight, however, I found two mechanical issues that needed attention. My excellent mechanics, Mark Hasner and Nathan Howard, dove right into the diagnosis and solution to the problems.

The NASA hyperspectral imager has now been installed in the Polar Pumpkin; and we are endeavoring to solve some of the thermal issues noticed last year. For example  in order to keep more of the cold wind chill out of the belly of the airplane  we put a bead of silicon around the junction between the belly pod and fuselage. Also  in order to keep more heat contained in the hyperspectral imager  Damaris sewed a beaver skin muff to put around the camera. I would venture a guess that this beaver skin muff is the only one protecting a NASA instrument anywhere in the NASA system.

I am still awaiting the gelatine filters to arrive from Dr. Sattler in Austria. Supposedly the factory was to send these to Alaska some time ago; but as yet they have not arrived. These filters will allow the collection of microbial life in the air of the Arctic. Dr. Sattler has been analyzing the filters from Polar Flight 90 in 2011; and seems quite pleased with the results.

Thanks to Rob Evert  and Everts Air Fuel  I have a spacious hangar in which to sort/load gear; and make further preparations to the Polar Pumpkin. Several guys from Robs staff are in the process of rebuilding a 1929 Travelair aircraft that has had a long history of service in Alaska. The rebuild is indeed an exquisite example of craftsmanship and precision.

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