As I looked out over the frozen expanse I could not believe I was here. The Arctic landscape was swallowing my disbelief. Is this the moon with snow on it? I was
in a false state of reality. Mountains, big Mountains everywhere to be seen! The Arctic was supposed to be flat the way my imagination visualized it. This polar bear hunt with South Carolina hunter Bill Muncy and outfitter Ikie Naqitarvik was going to be a new world of discovery for me!
What was I in for? This thought laid in my mind as the wheels of the 747 touched down on a massive runway supported by three small Quonset hut buildings. Our
flight was suppose to depart from Ottawa to Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut Territory, then carry on to Resolute Bay and final destination of Nanasivik. Due to bad weather we missed Resolute and came straight to Nanasivik putting us about an hour ahead of schedule. An early arrival is generally no major thing, except looking outside wondering if your ride is going to show up with zero options open leaves a lonely feeling in your stomach! Shortly after our plane landed and we were inside wondering how to get a hold of Ike to let him know the plane was early, our gear was hauled around front and set down in an open end steal crate. All our baggage having arrived gave us a better sense of security. At least we had warm clothes to put on and at minus 30 Celsius that was a plus. Ikie soon arrived on time for the regular schedule and we were off.
Our destination the first day was Arctic Bay, residing about 800 people, nestled into the cove of Arctic Bay. A community recognisable by a giant cliff face that skirts the frozen salt water for about 2 miles, averaging a height of about 800 feet. This cliff face comes to rest at the mouth of Arctic Bay and signifies the ultimate home beacon when returning from the seemingly endless frozen salt water. The drive from the airport allows a great view of both the community and the cliff wall. On route we crossed one bridge over a spring run off creek, which had a couple picnic tables beside it. The tables just seemed peculiar out there all by themselves! Cold and lonely, that was my first impression of the land thanks to those tables!
We spent the night in a rental style house, which acts as the Arctic Bay hotel and draws a modest $150 a night per person from your pocket. The Inuit houses in Arctic Bay are mostly government funded and prohibit any sport hunters from staying at private dwellings. The positive side to our one night accommodation was the heater worked exceptionally well and we were toasty warm! Bill and I sat back watching some old war movie and listened to snow machines race back and forth past our wood igloo until 1 in the morning. Everything up there seems to operate until late hours and then hibernate until late morning. With almost 24 hr. light by mid April it didn’t really matter. The next mid day we picked up our $53.50 hunting licence and were heading out on the ice by 2:00 pm.
Thick wood runner’s bound together by 1X4 lumber four foot long laying crossways formed 20 ft. sleds that were attached to the snow machine by fifteen foot ropes. These three identical sleds carried all the supplies. Two huts were built on these sleds to transfer clients. Bill was on skimmer one pulled by Ikie. I was on skimmer two pulled by helper Damien and the sled dogs were on skimmer three pulled by Ikie’s father Olayuk Naqitarvik. Olayuk, having been on over 50 polar bear kills was our senior expert and chief commander even though Ikie was the outfitter. All of us who have strong willed fathers understand this situation!
We had extra fuel packed and food enough for countless days on the ice. Our destination point was across Admiralty Inlet and over land to Prince Regent Sound. A total of twelve hours of skimmer riding and a distance of 95 GPS air miles. The actual trail miles were a twenty-five kilometres per hour average adding up to over 300 km. 6.2 miles per 10 km.
I remember looking out the plexy glass window from the skimmer hut at Damien. A vast plain of white supported by orange and red shale mountains lay beyond him.
Classic Dall Sheep Mountains like the Mackenzie’s in the North West Territories. Normally this would have been a treat. But after three hours of constant skimmer bouncing over frozen wind drifts my bladder was in desperate need of a break. This ended up being an universal signal I came to realize before the trip was over. Full bladder signalled time to stop for tea.
Nothing like a Coleman stove melting snow and boiling water into tea to warm your bones. A frozen piece of bannock bread and hacked off frozen Char trout went
great as a snack... well the bannock did anyway. We also experience the wonders of frozen seal hacked off and eaten raw. I have to confess that I didn’t have the courage to try raw seal. Itchaban soup was also a warm treat on a couple of our breaks. I do wonder how much old Olayuk must appreciate those Coleman stoves in comparison to his younger days. I will make a point of asking him next time. I think if I had to pick one or the other, snow machine or Coleman gas stove, I would take the gas stove. Which would you choose?
Olayuk would walk over and climb on his snow machine and take off with his skimmer full of sled dogs. This was a sure signal tea time was at an end. The Inuit people are very quiet on average and don’t waste much energy stating the obvious. Myself I wasn’t to eager to get left. I definitely became a quick load up man. Ikie and Damien were very conscious at all times that they had their passenger’s but I believe old Olayuk, after raising nine children of his own, didn’t really mind if one or two were left behind!
Admiralty inlet was far behind. The land bridge over to Prince Regent Sound was passing smoothly under skimmer ski when a line of Oil started to appear in front of Damien. A sheared screw from a flywheel in Ike’s new snow machine caused things to come a part a little. I thought we were in trouble and were going to be faced with doubling someone back to Arctic Bay to get another machine. We pitched a twelve by twelve hand made insulated pyramid tent with a forty-inch wall and six-foot centre pole anchored between Muncy’s and my skimmers. This became camp in the twilight hours. Tucked in a little canyon and out of the wind for the most part Ikie started working on his snow machine. Olayuk staked his dogs out on a long chain and Damien started dinner, which I qualified to help with. Four hours later dinner was finished, paper plates were stuffed away in a garbage bag, and the two-way band radio was blaring Inuit conversations across the North. I half expected to hear call sign 514 Don Taylor, who is constantly monitoring northern BC and the Yukon. Ikie was still working on fixing his snow machine in his bare hands. One more hour of snow machine fixing when we woke in the morning and Ikie had her running.
Ikie robbed a screw from another part of the sled, worked and fought the sheared screw out, replaced the borrowed one, put all pieces back together and that is that. Not quite, I was impressed. An accomplishment truly worth mention and recognition. Camp was broke and we were on our way about noon the next day.
I recommend a light pair of fleece gloves. I love to take pictures plus video. As we rolled along on our skimmers I did exactly that. The fleece gloves allowed my
finger’s movement but kept them from becoming ice cubes while exposed. All other times I kept my Arctic mitts on. Arctic jacket, pants and boots are also a must. I had a balaclava and good ski goggles over my head and eyes. I was always warm and only suffered wind bite from the cold around the edge of my goggles. The number one annoyance I encountered was my goggles fogging from the warmth of my breath rising through my facemask. The sun was shining and the sky was blue while I was leaning my head way back trying to see out the bottom of my goggles below the froze fog on the lenses.
A black snake of snow machines and skimmers slid off the slopes of Baffin Island on to the pack ice of Prince Regent Sound on the early afternoon of April 18th 2005
and I was there. That is an amazing thought to think back on three weeks later as I sit looking out my window over a budding Bulkley Valley. The town of Smithers BC resting, snuggled in spring warmth, within eyesight. How different worlds come to intermingle and then separate is a boggle. I am warm now, but I was ready for tea when we reached Regent Sound. Tea, Bannock and the dog sled from the cache, we made ready for the big ice.
Our plan had been to go far out and make camp on the ice pack. Pressure ridges of ice made travel interesting. Olayuk was caught doing a few circles trying to weave his way through the jutted ice. I was in heaven taking pictures and looking at, “to me”, a surprising amount of polar bear tracks. Family units coming out of their winter dens. “Big boar’s stay out all year around”. Eventually as we make our way across this broken terrain, reminding me of an ice forest if there was such a thing, Olayuk stops and jumps off his sled quickly joined by Ikie. My first real mature male polar bear track I was about to look at. Wow it was awesome, 9 inches across the front track and 13 inches long on the hind track. A true 9ft. Class polar bear was here maybe a day before. Goose bump time, I was beginning to feel the hunters chill! The rugged terrain made it impossible to follow this bear so we pushed on. Our goal was the smoother ice out towards the middle of the inlet.
The day was clear and windless. I am sure we were experiencing the Arctic ice at its best. I shouldn’t have questioned good fortune because I was hunting with Bill Muncy who we call Muncy 18 because he’s been in 18-car wrecks and is still alive! To his credit Bill has not been driving in any of them except, I think, two. I am proud to say I brought Bill up to 18 while he was on a cougar hunt with me! Anyways that is a story of its own and I need to get to the point where Olayuk jumps off his sled to look at a track for the second time. Big business this goes around. 10-inch front and 14 inch hind foot track. A real bear in the makings! The track was only a few hours old and walking on the navigate able ice pack. We climbed up on an ice burg and started to scan the froze horizons. I possessed an extra quiver to my hands. Again I held the thought like so many other times in the pas.
“I’m glad I don’t have to be the shooter”!
I was excited; we were about to make a play on a polar bear. That thought still doesn’t seem real! A decision was made to start tracking the bear. The dogs were hooked up and away Bill went with Olayuk. Ike and I were to come behind with the snow machine at a distance and hope to be close enough to video when Bill went to shoot. Damien would come behind us with the gear. Olayuk stopped a while later, locking his dogs in with the break hook before climbing up on another ice burg. Ike and I climbed up beside him. I was intensely searching the horizon with my bino’s; never escaping my thought was the size of the track. The trail the polar bear was leaving was broad. His claw marks defined images in the snow from the lazy drag of his feet.
“What kind of animal could make such an imprint”?
There was my answer, yellow like a big old Mountain goat there was the polar bear walking dead away about a mile out. My butt came through my head as I turned
inside out! I quickly pointed and in moments Ikie, Olayuk and Damien seen him. We were off in a shot!
The track, the trail, and then the bear. This sequence of events had me pumped! Olayuk and Bill with the dogs took about an hour to catch up. Olayuk busying his whip to direct the dogs quickly set Bill in position for about an eighty yard shot with his 338. I no sooner had my camera on the bear and Bill had a solid hit, soon followed by two more. Ike and I caught up to Bill and Olayuk with big smiles. We all passed around handshakes. Muncy 19 had himself a polar bear that measured 115inches long and 124 inches paw to paw. A ten foot squared bear with almost a 27 inch skull and I was there to witness it, wow! Day two and a dream come true. We set camp right at the bear and went to skinning. Later down in Ottawa I was able to have the bear hide weighed with feet and head skinned out. It was 106 pounds!
My adventure to the top of the world was a short stay. I loved every minute of the Arctic and its solitude. I look forward to future visits and big polar bears. I will sum up my trip as a life altering experience, which I highly recommend to those in the right frame of mind. I came home with great pictures, awesome video and a new outlook on life!!! What more can you ask from the Arctic!!!