Jim Baird’s Arctic Adventure: Miserable Night in a Cold War Base

We left Kugluktuk late in the morning despite our 6 a.m. wakeup. The previous evening I marked the route we would be following in my GPS. We planned to make it to Lady Franklyn Point on Victoria Island, about 80 miles away. We wanted to go fast, but the ice formations and abrupt drifts in the Coronation Gulf were not easy to navigate, especially on our big crossing to the island. It would be the roughest ride we'd had so far. We were careful to make our crossing before venturing into the Dolphin and Union Straight, where we knew the ice conditions were unsafe.

We reached Lady Franklyn Point at 10:30 p.m. and I was surprised at what I saw: a couple of buildings were marked on my topographic map. I thought they might be old trappers' cabins where Ted and I could stay, but when we got there we found what looked like something from a James Bond movie.

There were big satellite dishes and geodesic communication domes. There were oil tanks and a couple gravel runways. There was a warehouse full of stuff from, I assume, the cold war era: oxygen tanks, aviation fuel, oil, expired army-issued instant heat meals, chemicals, an oil furnace, and a generator.

A list in the furnace room showed the last time it had been checked: November, 1974. Lists of hazardous materials hung in the dismal office at the back of the building. I was half-expecting Bond himself to roll out from one of the isles brandishing his Walther PPK at any turn.

It seamed we had stumbled on some secret government outpost. It must have cost a fortune to fly all the materials to such a remote location. I think it was an old Distant Early Warning Line site. During the Cold War, the DEW Line, a system of radar stations, was build throughout the Canadian Arctic to detect incoming Soviet bombers and provide an early warning.

"Do you really want to sleep in this dark, cold warehouse," I asked Ted.

"Not really," he said. "But it would be better than setting up our tent and sleeping outside."

Outside, the wind howled and snow blew through the partially open door. We were exhausted after our long day and tough ride, and the warehouse seemed like the warmer choice. It wasn't.

Wind blew snow under the warehouse door we were up against, and my feet felt like they were frozen. I don't think I slept for more than 20 minutes. Ted woke up shivering and put foot warmers in his socks. The misery factor was high that night--it was the worst one we've had so far.

The next morning Ted melted snow to make our instant oats in the dark and gloomy warehouse. Light from the partially open door at the other end of the building was all we had to work with. Although it was sunny, it was also very windy and cold. Still, we were happy to get moving. We began heading up the western shore of Victoria Island toward Rymer Point. We knew we had fallen behind and would have to make a big push to reach Ulukhaktok on schedule.