Loc: Drew Point
Acc: Hilleberg Keron 4 tent
Dist: 44,4 km
Start: 8:50 End: 17:55
I wake at four o’clock in the morning, knowing the wind is still fully down and we should better make the best use of it. My peep out of the tent shows rather a more loose ice belt, we might not even need to back-paddle to the opening to get out and behind the floes. I wake Lilja, and we get going. It takes her still a while to pack, and once more, I take both, tent and bear fence down and shuffle most gear. But she gets a little more organized already, and I have good hopes for the future mornings.
I am a bit nervous to paddle today behind the ice belt, as today after the wind free night, the belt is not clean clinging to the shore any more but it rather becomes gradually less dense. The east-going current did the job. When we are ready to leave, the fog falls again. But we boldly thread our way out. It is fifteen kilometers to the start of Smith Bay, and I am sensing this bay will be ice free, and it should be gradually less ice on the shore when the coast trends more south. But what do I know, as a sea ice newbie? I can only use my seventh and common sense and my limited experience from those days since starting from Wainwright and talking to the locals.
Also, it feels again like there might be some stranded bears sitting on any of those smaller ice pieces, and I have my flare gun ready in my deck bag. But thankfully, we do not see any seals – and not a single bear. We can slalom with no big problems in the less dense area, even without loosing the view of the sandy shore in the bad visibility. It feels eerie, but compared to those two times Peter and I went behind the ice belt, this feels safer as there are no shore fast pieces, and no wind or current is moving the ice visible fast. We can even land for a pee and a look around. The densitiy of te ice belt changes all the time, and when we like to land after five kilometers for a look at a runway with houses I spotted on the map, we can only see some building shades through the white mist from far offshore. Too much ice here to land. To get there, we would need to find a landing spot before or after and have a walk. But as there is not a single wheel track on the beach and no runway lights flashing, I very much sense there is nobody around any more, which I think I was remembering also from talking to the Barrow locals.
We leave this spot aside and keep on pushing the last ten kilometers through the ice belt. I like to reach Cape Simpson, the beginning of Smith Bay, as soon as possible, in the hope the wind stays down and the ice disappeares. And it does, slowly but surely, and soon we can paddle easily and land at the Cape. I marked a cabin in three hundred meters inland, but we can see nothing but a white wall. All we need to do now is getting warm again, eat, pee, and get ready to cross. Despite eagerly marching up and down, the warmth to the feet and hands comes not easy. I suggest heating sea water to pour it into the boots and to bath our hands which works well. Soon, we are ready to leave for the crossing.
The sea is still dead calm, the wind zero, but so is the visibility. But no problems, we have working GPS’s. I sense Lilja will have woken up and learned on yesterday’s tandem paddling enough to keep pace on this crossing. We switch on music again to chase the fog ghosts away, and we glide along for kilometers on end side by side with five or rather six kilometers per hours. Nice job, Lilja! Now she is getting where I hoped her to be, and I praise her. Her answer, “I could keep up your pace all the time, but I just did not always do it!” makes me smiling, and she realizes this was a bit too much… When I explode to my favorite ‘Buenos Aires, Argentina’ tango from the Gothan Project, I almost disappear in the fog before I turn two circles around her. She gets not so much puzzled any more about keeping her paddling direction, as she has now her own compass on her deck, and the sea is smooth. Yesterday when I did this ‘paddling partner-annoying move’ once for the first time, she turned almost ninety degrees off course. But soon, we glide side by side again, and the world feels perfect in our misty bubble – until the wind breezes up to maybe ten knots and we get good visibility for the last twelve kilometers. It is much less wind and chop than yesterday, but Lilja’s perfect third day muscle energy starts draining. As much as we paddled along side by side so far, as much I paddle now mostly slightly ahead to drag her along and to keep at least barely our five-kilometers per hour traveling pace. It works well for both, and for the last five kilometers, we can spot land.
At first, I am aiming to an inviting looking sandy spot in the cliffs, but I soon realize we should better aim to the sandy hook I saw on the satellite images. It also seems the closest to land asap to relief ourselves. We peed twice on the water, which worked well for both, but doing it standing up is more relaxing. There show two caribou silhouettes on the cliffs, and one of them comes down.
But where we land, it is no good camping, and we launch again to aim for the corner where the sand bar hits the cliffs. We hope to find a bit of wind shelter for the next day’s strong north-easterlies rest day. The caribou on the sand is not sure about us and hops along the sand bar with us for a while until it runs off and we land again. The corner spot is full of logs, but we find a sandy space about fifteen meters away from the cliff shelter which must do. We just have to carry and drag our stuff for maybe hundred meters as the beach near our planned camp is a steep sand cliff.
We have off tomorrow again, with gusts up to thirty five knots, still from north-east. We are just happy we made it past the loosened up icebelt on this calm day, as tomorrow, we are sure the ice compresses once more against the shore on the western side of Smith Bay. And we are more than glad we made it across Smith Bay already, as hugging the shore in the likely shallow and muddy Chipp River delta makes no sense. There was no other reasonable way than crossing those twenty-five kilometers. The occasional floating smaller ice bergh did not bother us at all, and plenty of seal heads were popping up here and there. Thankfully, no white furry head. On this eastern side, there is likely no more ice on the shore, but we can only see it tomorrow on a hike or when we paddle on Tuesday.
We very much hope to find people on the old Point Lonely radar station, which is out of use but supposed to be maintained by a contractor company. It might be the same situation and company as at Cape Lisburne where we landed and got hosted for a day last year.