Jim Baird's Arctic Adventure Diary: Ulukhaktok or Bust!

The adventure has begun! Well, kind of…

My brother Ted and I are stuck in Deline.

First, we were waiting on the auger to arrive. When that got here, we thought we'd be ready to hit Great Bear Lake, but then we had a slight glitch with one of our snow machines during the first leg of the trip. Now we're just waiting for the mechanic to make the repair and then, fingers crossed, we'll be on our way.

This delayed start gives me a chance to show you the route Ted and I will be taking. We'll travel across a few different landscapes: spruce forests, massive Great Bear Lake, mountainous northern shield country, treeless barren lands, and the frozen Beaufort Sea ice finishing the trip in the stark but beautiful landscape of the Arctic Islands.

Here's a breakdown of our trip, stop by stop:

Tulita: The expedition started in Tulita, a small community on the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories. Ted and I landed Tulita earlier in the week, and we organized our gear for the first leg of the trip--a 65-mile winter road trek to Deline. The ride took a couple of hours and was tough at first. But then, toward the end of the leg as the sun was setting, we came over this hill and got our first glimpse of Great Bear Lake. It was one of the most beautiful sights of my life. We rode the ice rode in the rest of the way to Deline.

Deline: It's actually a blessing that our snow machine trouble happened when it did, because we're still in "civilization" where we can easily get mechanical help. That won't be the case after we leave Deline and head out on to Great Bear Lake, heading east toward the McTavish arm and Hornby Bay. On this 190-mile stretch we'll take our time, stopping to fish for trophy lake trout in Great Bear, the ninth largest lake in the world. The average March temperature for the area is 2 degrees below zero--and temperatures below 40 degrees are common.

Hornby Bay & Dismal Lakes: Just the name of this place is unsettling to me--especially because it's at the head of the most difficult part of our journey. The Bay was named after John Hornby who starved to death while wintering in his remote NWT cabin. We will navigate this stretch by following creek beads and riding over large hills to make our way through the mountainous terrain. Trees will be sparse and by the time we reach Dismal Lakes they will be well behind us. At Dismal, and other lakes on this route, we will ice fish for Arctic char that spend the winter in the headwaters of tributaries of the mighty Coppermine River just east of us. We'll cover 93 miles on this part of the journey.

Kugluktuk: We'll refuel here for our final 200-mile push to Ulukhaktok. Fifty miles of this trek will be overland before we head out on to the Dolphin and Union Straight of the Beaufort Sea. There won't be a tree in sight, and we'll be camping right in the middle of the ice--so if a blizzard hits, we'll be very exposed. We'll also be right in the hunting grounds of polar bears.

Ulukhaktok: At the end of our trip, we'll reunite with our friend Pat Ekpakohak. Ted and I first met Pat about four years ago when we were exploring the Kuujja River. He invited us to his home, and before we left I bought a musk-ox hide from him that I brought on this trip. Pat is an expert in the ways of Arctic travel and survival, and we will spend a couple days with him. Hopefully he'll show us how to build an igloo or take us out on his trap line. By the time we reach Ulukhaktok, Ted and I will have travelled 548 miles.
That's if we were to travel our chosen path exactly.