Saturday, September 06, 2008

Part IV, Day 3: 080723

This morning I got myself checked out of the Frobisher Inn, and made my way to Iqaluit’s airport along with my abundant luggage. After paying the excess-luggage fees and making sure the First Air employees all knew exactly which components of my luggage were most important (in case some things couldn’t fit on the plane), I wandered towards airport security. The queue was about the shortest airport-security line I’ve ever seen, and I walked right up to the conveyor. When I handed my boarding pass to the security guard, he told me in his voice of telling-the-clueless-southerner-again that I didn’t need to go through security, that my flight would board directly from the main area of the airport through gate 2. All that work carefully packing away scissors, Swiss army knives, shampoo, etc. for nothing. Oh well.

My aircraft for this flight was an ATR 42, a largish twin-engine turboprop. As before, the passengers were only in the back half of the cabin, with the front half reserved for cargo. This worked out well for me, actually, since my abundant luggage all came along. Before we took off, one of the ground crew came through the cabin and put little disclaimer stickers on our tickets, stating that if we didn’t make it to our destination (i.e. Resolute), the airline was not at fault because of weather. We were also given the option of staying in Iqaluit for a later flight, which would likely not be for several days, versus flying anyways with the possibility of spending one or more nights in Pond Inlet should the weather in Resolute remain crappy. Nobody got off the plane that I saw.

Once airborne, our little plane faced at least 4 hours to Resolute, assuming decent weather. The North is very, very large – distances between tiny villages of less than 500 residents are comparable to or greater than distances between major cities of multi-million populations in the rest of North America.

As we flew over southern Baffin Island, my seat on the starboard side of the plane afforded a nice view of the more abundant pack-ice covering much of the surface of Foxe Basin. I had thought I was looking at Lancaster Sound, but we flew a more southerly course than I expected.

Without announcement or prior notice, our plane landed in Hall Beach, a small, utterly barren, windswept community West and a little North of Iqaluit. It actually lies just North of the Arctic circle, making this flight my first journey to the Arctic proper.

This is our little plane, during our short stop. Apparently, the reason we stopped at Hall Beach was to unload cargo. I think the runway blends seamlessly into the surrounding landscape; there’s no difference that I could see between the airport’s surfaces and the countryside. Not pictured: the total absence of anything at all around here. Also not pictured: the high-speed winds that probably blow everything away.

Once airborne again, the pilot kindly informed us that we might have to go back to Pond Inlet, some 2 or 3 hours to the East, if we could not land in Resolute. He said there was “some fog”, with decent visibility below the 300-to-400 foot ceiling.

I think the pilot was being far too optimistic, but he obviously has more experience of his flying skills than I – I was looking out the window at grey nothingness all the way down; we contacted the runway only a second or two after I saw the gravel surface rushing by underneath. Upon touchdown, everyone in the cabin burst into applause. On my way off the plane, I asked the flight attendant to specifically thank the pilot for the most impressive landing. She seemed strangely nonchalant about it.

Inside YRB’s tiny terminal, I was met by George, an employee of Natural Resources Canada who manages the warehouse and other things at the Polar Continental Shelf Project. My abundant luggage was loaded onto a very large forklift, and I was driven to the PCSP centre. The fog at ground level was so thick that the fuel storage buildings only about 40 metres away were colourless, and loomed indistinctly through the mists. The plane was invisible from the terminal. A surreal place.

At the centre I ran into Dr. Derek Muir of Environment Canada, who long ago agreed (perhaps foolishly) to act as my on-site field supervisor for part of my time in Resolute, a requirement of the PCSP. Tomorrow we plan to drive out to some lakes and collect Arctic Char (Salvelinus alpinus), the only freshwater fish on this or most other islands of the Arctic Archipelago. His work is mainly on the accumulation and transmission of Mercury through aquatic ecosystems in the Arctic; he catches fish and measures the levels of Mercury and other pollutants in their tissues. While he’s doing that, I should be able to get my net into the shallower parts of the lakes to get some invertebrates.

1 comment:

King Aardvark said...

What, no pictures of the fog?