After four months of post-ice recovery I’ve headed north in search of the next ridiculous escapade. I’m still only vaguely aware of how I ended up here but the story goes as follows: During my Antarctic survival training I shared a tent with a researcher from McGill University. Upon hearing that I had gone to the same school and finding that my personality was tolerable enough to spend a night in very close quarters with, he offered me a position to work at the McGill Arctic Research Station (MARS) in the Canadian High Arctic to pursue research on climate change.
MARS is located in the territory of Nunavut on Axel Heiberg Island, which is located at roughly 79º North and is utterly uninhabited. But getting to this degree of latitude is no simple endeavor. To put things in perspective, Alaska is completely south of us. While getting to the Antarctic is largely arranged through the US military in uber large aircraft, flying to Axel is done by a series of “milk-runs” in small prop planes. First Air runs flights out of Ottawa to Iqaluit, after which the connecting flights north become increasingly weather dependent – heavy winds, snow storms, and caribou on the runway can all throw a wrench in travel plans. From Iqaluit a 16-seater makes a stop at Nanisivik airstrip (a narrow patch of flat space atop a mountain crest) and then on to the desolate town of Resolute on Cornwallis Island. Resolute is a gateway station to the extreme latitudes of Canada. Adventurers, thrill-seekers, and in our case, scientists, use the town as a staging area to get to Axel Heiberg, and the Polar Continental Shelf station provides the last hot shower before heading out to our field camp. We spent two days in Resolute preparing food, scientific equipment, camp supplies, and clothing – with Canada Goose generously providing me with the attire I need to survive this season.
After a few nights sorting out a few thousand pounds of gear we jumped on our chartered Twin Otter and took off. The flight to Axel was two straight hours north from Resolute over barren Arctic landscape. Gravel, sand, clouds, ice. As the plane descended towards Axel the cloud cover broke to reveal an entirely different scene: jagged peaks, creeping glaciers, and green valleys that defy expectations. We landed directly on the tundra, unloaded our gear, and I watched the plane take off – knowing that I have another field season of isolation, limitless scenery, and only a vague sense of where I am to look forward to.