Everything has been blasted by the wind. Can you see the sled in this picture?
February 21, 2001
Position: 58o52 N 94o35W
Clear, whipping ground snow, -20F/-28C, 50 to 70 km/h gusty NW
is cold. I remember not to long ago when Eric was developing
the Collaboration Zone "The Big Freeze"
and he asked me if we often got really cold out here.
Paul and I both answered "rarely, if you dress properly
we're almost always warm." Well, today is one of those
the last couple of days have been cold. It is not so much the
actual temperature, rather the wind. It is howling out the
Northwest. The wind has been blowing hard for the last five
we did have a small window of relative calm and did not really
blow again until right when we had set up camp - very lucky
for us. It is a lot harder to set up the tent, stake out the
dogs, and get everything set for the night when the wind is so
strong. When it blows this hard, we can become windburned or
frostbitten in seconds because of the extreme windchill - it is very dangerous. Take a look
at the windchill chart and determine how many
seconds we can have our skin exposed on a day like today. I
just had to go to the bathroom, so I can tell you from
personal experience - not long!
decided this morning that it was not worth traveling in this
weather. Navigation is simply too hard and dangerous. Instead,
we took a "storm day" in the tent. We have spent
most of today trying to dry our gear and get organized. It has
been necessary to do everything as fast and efficient as
possible these last couple of days, and our skills have
definitely been put to a test. It is hard to get the tent warm
enough to dry the gear at night when it is so windy. Although
we had the lantern going and both burners on our stove last
night, we just could not get it warm enough in here in the
tent that it could dry our windblown and snowpacked clothes.
This could be a serious problem.
both wearing 3-4 layers of clothing, hats, and gloves inside
of the tent and still could barely keep warm. That's rare. One
way we gauge the temperature is to look at the inside of the
tent walls. If the wall is icy half way up, it is usually
about -35 F outside. Last night, the walls were icy 2/3 way
Frost half way up the tent wall means an outside temperature of -35F. Last night, the walls were icy two-thirds of the way up.
We gauge wind speed by looking at the lantern hanging down
from a loop in the tent ceiling. If it kind of jiggles back
and forth it is windy out; If it is swinging, it is a storm
day. Right now it is swinging! We have only one burner going
on the stove to save a little fuel, and we are both in our
sleeping bags. My pen is having a hard time writing (I write
by hand before we turn on the computer to save battery power)
and I can easily see my breath. Paul has just been outside
checking on the dogs. They are all doing good. We built little
walls near them as a wind block and they curl up and have the
snow drift over each dog - like an insulating blanket. They
have done a great job running in these difficult conditions.
"Dog of the Week" is definitely Cola.
When the going got really tough, she just put her head into
the wind and kept going. The lead dogs actually use the wind
for navigation. They "read" the wind and orient
themselves in the right direction. The best leaders can run
straight as an arrow; however if the wind shifts during the
day, they can easily get confused. They also need to listen to
which way we want them to go. We direct the dogs on a
particular bearing yelling out the commands "gee"
and "chaw" (right and left).
relatively calm sunset before the wind really starts
direction often changes and it is easy to become confused when
navigating. However, "the wind" is still one of the
most closely observed, and frequently discussed, phenomena in
everyday arctic life. Most elders have vivid childhood
memories of being sent outdoors each morning to check the
weather. Their reports, once confirmed and considered, would
dictate the days activities.
The Inuit talk of four primary
winds: Uangnaq, Kanangnaq, Nigiq, and Akinnaq. We know those
winds as WNW (west/northwest) which comes from 296 degrees on
a compass, NNE/19 degrees, ESE/119 degrees, and SSW/202
degrees. Out here on Hudson Bay, we are most often confronted
and concerned with the opposing west-northwest and
To the Inuit, the arrangement of Uangnaq (west-northwest) and Nigiq (east-southeast) as "opposites" is symbolically important. The traditional belief states that Uangnaq is a woman and Nigiq is a man, and that the two do not get a long all that well. They are said to retaliate against each other. Out here it is relatively common to have a west-northwest gale followed by a contrary blow from the east-southeast (could it be a woman and a man arguing?). Besides from having such a huge impact on daily life, the winds are actually an important way-finding tool for the Inuit. The wind works the snowy landscape into "sculptured snowdrifts" and are used for navigation. This is how it works: when the wind blows, snowdrifts are formed. The prevailing winds create mounds which are called uqaluraq and defined as a drift with a tip that resembles a tongue which is pointed and elevated from the ground. These are only formed by the Uangnaq (the west-northwest wind) and always show the west-northwest direction.
A well established uqaluraq is even difficult to penetrate with a snow knife or a shovel, meaning they are long lasting, dense, and hard. They are so strong because of the wind that forms them - the Uangnaq doesn't blow at an even pace. It dies then it blows, then it dies, then it blows harder. As the wind fluctuates, it forms these special snow drifts. The east-southeast wind on the other hand blows very steady creating even and flat snowscapes.
Inuit traditionally used snowdrifts to aid them in
Inuit traditionally uses all their senses and knowledge when
navigating. They look at every available sign of nature,
including wind direction, snow drifts, land marks, vegetation,
sea current, clouds, the behavior of sled dogs and other
animals, and various astronomical bodies - the sun, and to a
lesser extent the moon, and the stars. Northern
lights are also used for navigation since they always are
seen in bands running across the sky from east to west.
Utilizing all these tools, the Inuit have been able to find
their way without compass or GPS (global positioning system)
across some of the most difficult conditions on earth.
course use maps, a compass, and GPS
when navigating. However, we are
always very careful to listen to what we are told in the
villages. We will be traveling on many ancient Inuit routes on
our way to Grise Fiord. These paths have been traveled over
countless generations. The routes were often marked by little
stone formations that look like people and were chosen with
one overriding consideration in mind: to be the best possible
for dogsledding (in other words, they mark the trail easiest
trail with the fewest rocks. Luckily, that tradition holds
true for the snowmobile trails of the present as well.
traditionally acquired a detailed knowledge about their land.
Everything was noticed - even a little rock. When we ask an
elder to draw us a map, it is amazing to watch them draw, not
like we would from a bird's view, but instead they tell us,
for example, to go "right at this rock" or
"straight by the bend in the river." This minute
attention to topographical detail is reflected in the Inuit
"place-naming" practices. A bad rapid is called
"Devil Rapids," Seal River has many seals in it, and
so on. Today, many young Inuit do not understand or know the
traditional names so they have "lost" a lot of
knowledge about the land. We learned the hard way when some
years ago we traveled right up and over "Blow
Mountain." Let me tell you, it was really windy there.
And I guess we are learning more lessons these days, too. We
are traveling through the "Keewatin Region."
Keewatin means "Where the wind blows!"
more thing before we finish for today..Happy 80th birthday
Fante Lene! KH