This morning we took a helicopter ride from Alert to Ward Hunt Island to meet with another Ranger Patrol. It turns out Ward Hunt Island is even further north than Alert – the 83rd parallel. A new record for me. We took a tour of the famous things on the island. No kidding. The first is a handmade marker with a small plaque commemorating the visit made by Pierre Trudeau while he was Prime Minister. The second was a large bronze plaque marking the first unassisted trip which began on Ward Hunt Island in 1995 to the North Pole AND BACK. It took 110 days.
After taking in some of the breathtaking scenery and eating some bannock – Aboriginal fried bread which is very good and is supposed to keep you warm – we headed back to Alert.
Our last stop before we left had great meaning for me. Anyone who has ever read about Alert has probably seen the place where there are signs to dozens of cities and their distance from where we stood. I added one from my hometown, Chicago – 2862 miles.
We then boarded the C-17 and flew to Thule, Greenland, to refuel. During the 90-minute refueling stop we toured the US Air Force Base at Thule. At the height of the cold war, Thule was the home to 12,000 people and was one of the places where strategic bombers were based. Given the changes in geopolitics and in technology, it has a new mission of early warning as part of NORAD and as a place to track items in space (satellites and so called “space junk”). As they explained to us, they can track an item in space the size of a softball at a distance equal to that between New York and Los Angeles. Pretty amazing.
We then got back on the C-17. I got to sit up front and see the scenery including the Polar ice cap and thousands of icebergs. We then settled in for our next 4½ hours in the air on the way back to Ottawa, which they tell me is basking in temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius. That’s a few degrees warmer than the weather we left behind.
I want to gather my thoughts a little about the Arctic. But I know learned a lot on my trip. First, it is a wondrous place. The usual rules that apply to our world don’t work there. It is hopelessly rugged. Compasses don’t work. Communication is extremely difficult.
Everything you need to survive has to be brought in. Second, the effects of global warming are felt here more than anywhere else. The shrinking of the polar ice cap. The thinning of the sea ice. The rising temperatures. Third, as those effects are being felt the Arctic will become more accessible. While there is a great deal of attention paid to using the Arctic as a shipping route, that is a long way away – if ever. But, in the near term there will be more tourists and adventurers. They will cause more environmental challenges and demand more search and rescue. Meeting these challenges will require a great deal of international cooperation.
While I was glad to get back to Ottawa with its warm temperatures and my own bed, the high Arctic is quite a trip. I understand this blog will be posted on Earth Day- Happy Earth Day, everyone!