Sat 23/07-2022 Day 702

Pos: 71.0921,-154.8423
Loc: barrier island across Sinclair River
Acc: Hilleberg Keron 4 tent
Dist: 36,1 km
Start: 6:45 End: 18:30

We have to cross Dease Inlet today, eighteen kilometers almost due east. The wind in the morning is moderate with ten to twelve and gusts up to fifteen knots north east, anything else than friendly, but doable. We instantly turn off the coast straight into dense fog. Thank goodness for a good GPS. Lilja is mentally ready, but seems to be not in physical shape yet on her second paddling day, still working off her jetlag. The first paddling day, I was wondering a little about her capability, but I was patient and gave her time to get used to the heavily loaded kayak, new paddle, cold weather and exposure.
This morning, after one kilometer crawling along with three to four kilometers per hour, I ask if we should play music to pep our spirits up. Lilja happily agrees. But the pace does not change much, and I suggest we should join our forces and paddle this crossing in a ‘double kayak’. And off we go. Suddenly, together we make five to six kilometers per hour, and amazingly I do not even feel much pull on my belt. When I look behind me, I occasionally see the line dragging in a curve in the water, slowing only me down but Lilja paddling happily in the side wake. But mostly, she seem to use the stern wake and a tiny added force and all feels easy going for both. Perfect. I can dig in deep to my favorite music, and Lilja seems to wake up to her own capability.
At some point, she asks me if she can change the forty-five degrees paddle feather to her usual sixty degrees, as she thinks this would feel even better to her pace. But soon, she tries my suggested thirty degrees and stays with it, as well as with my 205 cm paddle length. This setup has proven well for me all those years, and it does also for her. It seems like Lilja needed to refind her long-forgotten kayak racing skills, as she has a reasonably good body rotation. Almost at the end of the crossing, also as the connecting line ever so often starts wrapping around my stern rudder, we paddle solo again for a while until I think we need to team up for the last kilometers to reach the land we finally see through the still dense fog. We need to pee! The chop on the crossing was sizeable, nothing serious but also not an inviting smooth glide for a just-started Arctic expedition paddler, so all good.
On our first landfall, about ten resting caribous with big antlers wake up and hop away, such a nice view! The pee on land feels good to warm my hands. I have no problems to do this in this cold unfriendly environment.
I like to find a connecting channel which shows wide and deep on the chart and satellite images to reach the other, smaller lagoon of the McKay Inlet. But the opening starts out of a wide shallow mud flat area, and I have a hard time in the thick fog, despite GPS, to locate the correct entry and deep water channel. It might not be precisely marked, charts are moderate correct here, and satellite images might be old. We run aground briefly, and I get sick of the idea we might get stuck here more often, and possibly in the other McKay Inlet waters in the ever-dense cold fog. I aim rather north to cover those three kilometers to the outer barrier island coast.
On our approach, we see even through the thick white soup some bright white spots towering over the shallow sand bar – ice bergs? Unfortunately, I sense this must be the case. We get confirmed after we run aground on the sand bar and peep over it. SHIT! A quite dense, maybe fifty to hundred meter wide ice belt has collected in those constant north-eastely winds of the last days. Behind, the ocean is open and ice free. The pushed-together-pieces are loose and have already been broken up and floated around before they stranded again with the wind on the shallows upfront the long lagoon sand bar. They are not like the old, shore-fast ice shelfs like the ice I saw with Peter from Wainwright to Barrow. Still, it is nothing we would like to overcome for launching to the open sea and paddling behind. At particularly not in this dense fog.
What are our options now? Continuing on the ice free inland waters to the McKay Inlet makes sense, despite the mist. I know of a cabin at the eastern end, which might give us shelter until the ice belt loosens up. To my right, on the completely ice free inland lagoon, I suddenly can see only open water and no mud flats in the now temporarly a little less dense fog. Does it already lead all the way to the McKay Inlet? The chart and satellite images shows here dense mudflats and only a tiny connection channel. But this sudden view motivates us to keep on paddling east as long as we can, and we are lucky. My seventh sense and experience finds the flowing deep water channel in the shallow mud flat water. Soon, there is no obstacle other than not deep enough water after the channel disappeares. But we reach a solid land point on the southern shore of the McKay Inlet with not even getting out of the kayaks to drag. This crossing from one inlet section to the next went much easier than I thought! An now, we can rail along solid land in deep water. The two points are occupied by caribous, and to the right of the second one, we see a stranded boat! But it has been sitting there already for a while, the rotten engine dumped inside. We finally aim to the cabin at the lagoon end, but suddeny see the coastal sand bar in a small patch of better visibility – and an ice-free opening in the bar leading out to the sea! We need to check this out, and rather paddle the mere kilometer across the inlet and have a look. Right now, we can see everything around us, the cabin, the lagoon end, the open sea with the ice-free outlet to the ocean. But there is still the dense ice belt on the western side of the opening. How does it look around the corner going east? We need to see this. Sure, after a kilometer and even one more opening, the ice starts to become dense on the shore, and after another five hndred meters, we need to stop – or paddle behind the ice belt in the open ocean water. But not tonight anymore, we are cold and tired and the fog is dense again.
We set camp on the sandy bar, go for a short hike to find one very old bear track. We settle happily into our tent, satisfied about our today’s achievements and decision-making. Tomorrow is another day, and even better, less windy conditions. The evening is already dead calm now, but we need to rest and get warm.