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Author Topic: Bathurst Inlet April/May 2017  (Read 246 times)

Offline arcticmag

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Bathurst Inlet April/May 2017
« on: November 09, 2017, 12:26:41 am »
I spent most of last winter working in the central Canadian arctic. In late March and April I laid out and constructed a floating ice airstrip on Goose Lake, in the Back River area. The strip was 1800 metres long and was used by a 737 jet with internal fuel bladders to deliver 300,000 litres of fuel to an exploration camp. It’s quite a feeling to watch the first jet come in and land on your strip on the lake.

After the bulk fuel haul was completed I started on a job to establish a camp and fuel cache on the south end of Bathurst Inlet for the same gold exploration company. The plan is to build a Marine Laydown Area and port for delivery by ship of fuel and equipment to Bathurst Inlet and then haul by ice road 75 kilometres south to the mine site. We decided to use a Basler turbine conversion of the DC-3 to mobilize our camp and fly in the 250 barrels of diesel and Jet-A helicopter fuel from Yellowknife. Our camp was 600 kilometres NE of yellowknife and 275 kilometres SW of Cambridge Bay.

           

Our camp and fuel cache was to be set up on the west side of Bathurst Inlet but the captain of the Basler didn’t like the drifting of the snow at our chosen location so he spent an hour flying back and forth down the inlet looking for a suitable place to land. He finally settled for a spot on the far eastern side of the inlet - 5.5 kilometres from where we needed to be! The three of us who were staying to set up the camp were more than a little dismayed at his decision as we had gone in by helicopter the day before and laid out a landing strip right next to our camp spot that was easily as smooth as many of the other strips we had used with the Basler before, but in the end it is the pilot’s decision and we couldn’t say anything too loudly.

The Basler is an amazing modification of the old DC-3 and is actually a complete rebuild, taking 40,000 man-hours and millions of dollars for the conversion. The main modification is the turbine engine replacement of the old radial engines as well as a 40 inch extension to the fuselage. This particular aircraft took part in Operation Market Garden in World War 2 and regularly flies in Antarctica.

The Basler getting ready for take-off with our camp gear on the ice and our camp site way across the other side of the Inlet.

    

We loaded as much gear and lumber as we could on two sleds pulled in tandem by the one snowmobile we had brought with us and Andrew started across the Inlet towards our campsite. With a prevailing N-S wind direction and the hauling in a westerly direction across the drifts the trip was brutally slow with the tandem sleds crashing up and down over the hard snow drifts. The first trip there and back took over 1 1/2 hours.

The first load ready to go across.

   

To get all our of gear across the Inlet took 8 or 10 trips and by the time we were ready to start building the plywood floor for our 14X16 foot Weatherhaven tent it was after 10 PM. Luckily the season was advanced enough that we had close to 24 hour light so I left the other 2 to continue building the tent floor and getting the tent and stove set up and I took the snowmobile to look for a closer suitable spot to land. I still liked the look of the first spot we had picked next to camp and I spent several hours knocking down snowdrifts and marking the edges of the strip with black snow-filled garbage bags. When I finished with the strip I went back and helped finish setting up the tent and stove and we crawled into our sleeping bags at around 4 AM.

The next morning the Basler returned with the first load of fuel drums which they dropped off on the far side of Bathurst Inlet again. I had a handheld VHF radio that I was able to use to talk to the pilots and I asked them to come and look at our original strip again. They flew back and forth over the strip several times and declared it unsuitable so I asked them to try to find something closer to our side of the Inlet as I had no desire to haul 250 barrels of fuel all the way across. Round and round they went, and back and forth, and finally they called that there was a spot right underneath them that would work. I raced over with the snowmobile and they directed me to the spot. It didn’t look any better than the original spot we had picked beside camp but at least it was only 2.5 kilometres away. The Basler continued hauling fuel all day and also dropped off another snowmobile. While the other two fellows started hauling barrels to camp with one snowmobile and sled, I marked the edges of the strip with garbage bags and started grooming the new strip by dragging a piece of heavy screen. I had to groom the strip after every flight because although the main gear is on skis, the tail wheel is not, and it leaves deep ruts in the snow as it drags along.

Our Weatherhaven all set up. Frozen food in the cooler. 100 pound propane tank for the kitchen stove. Poo pails at the ready and an extra bed frame. We had a couple of 2000 watt Honda generators for power.

 

Our tent on the shore of Bathurst Inlet.

 

Heading south to camp from the strip on Bathurst Inlet.

 

A 75 barrel fuel berm. We also filled 3 more berms, hauling barrels up 2 at a time with the snowmobile for several days till we called in a B3 A-star helicopter that hauled 6 barrels at a time to make short work work of the last 150 barrels.

 

I should be heading back to this spot some time this winter to set up several more tents and probably haul in more fuel to get ready for more work on the Marine Laydown Area.     

Make friends with the wolf, but keep your axe ready.

Offline HOOP

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Re: Bathurst Inlet April/May 2017
« Reply #1 on: November 09, 2017, 07:25:35 am »
AWESOME TR Arcticmag!  Heavy duty winter camping at its finest.

What an amazing job you have! 

I have twice paddled into Bathurst Inlet from the Burnside River, ending my trip at the lodge for pick up by float plane. Its good to see some of that amazing landscape in the hard water season.   
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Online Marko_Mrko

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Re: Bathurst Inlet April/May 2017
« Reply #2 on: November 09, 2017, 08:19:56 am »
Wow, just... Wow.

Offline Undersky

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Re: Bathurst Inlet April/May 2017
« Reply #3 on: November 09, 2017, 10:36:16 am »
Thank you for posting, Arcticmag, and especially for your notes.

Most of us are slaves to a daily clock and a 5 day/week schedule, and much further south than your adventuring. It is great to learn and see the work you are doing!

Offline arcticmag

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Re: Bathurst Inlet April/May 2017
« Reply #4 on: November 09, 2017, 02:00:29 pm »
Thanks all.

I was hoping to get a little further north to see the lodge, either by helicopter or snowmobile, but it didn't happen. I believe it was only about 20 or 30 kilometres away. I'd like to be able to paddle in the area some day.

I've been doing this sort of "work" for nearly 40 years now and I really appreciate how lucky I've been to have the opportunity to experience these remote places. The challenges are often extreme, especially with weather and navigation, but time has a way of dulling bad experiences and eventually the memories are all good.

Daryl
Make friends with the wolf, but keep your axe ready.

Offline Bothwell Voyageur

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Re: Bathurst Inlet April/May 2017
« Reply #5 on: November 09, 2017, 02:32:12 pm »
Looks an amazing place. We have been to the Yukon a couple of times on canoe trips and to Churchill but never up to the tundra.

Keep posting the pics!
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Online southcove

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Re: Bathurst Inlet April/May 2017
« Reply #6 on: November 12, 2017, 02:31:11 pm »
An astonishing TR and pics.  That Back River area and the inlet have a whole lot of exploration history associated with them.

Hard to believe after all these years that the DC-3 is still considered a viable airframe, $$$ mods and powerplant upgrades and all.  Slower, steady and reliable wins the game in the end.   
That is a heck of a pulk you are pulling with the snowmobile.  Is that an area where you set up the shelter that you'd have to be wary of polar bears or is it the wrong time of the year?  Did anyone drop a line or two in the lake or salt water area for Arctic Char, lake trout or whitefish?

How many folks will be working to establish the camp and all that before the actual mining work gets going?


Offline arcticmag

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Re: Bathurst Inlet April/May 2017
« Reply #7 on: November 12, 2017, 11:01:01 pm »
Thanks southcove.

Though the south end of Bathurst Inlet isn't a high density polar bear area there is always a chance that one could show up so we kept a constant lookout for them when out and about. I did see a wolf trot north past the tent about 200 metres away but it seemed to be on a mission and wasn't interested in our camp. We kept a loaded shotgun in the tent at night and I employed my usual strategy that I kept secret from my tentmates. My choice of bunk location is at the back of the tent (away from the door) and on the side of the tent where the 45 gallon fuel barrel stand is located outside. That way a bear coming through the tent wall won't be at my head because of the fuel barrel outside and if it comes through the door end I'll have a bit of time to get the shotgun up and aimed. I've been at this too long to not have all the angles figured out.

As for fishing we didn't really have time to drop a line in the water. There may have been some char in the inlet but I don't know enough about salt water fishing to say.

As for the Marine Laydown Area, a small drill crew was there this past summer testing the rock for structural characteristics in preparation for putting piles in for the wharf/ dock that will extend out from shore. They will have used up a lot of the fuel we cached so this winter we'll go in and do another fuel haul and probably set up some more tents. I believe it will be about a 20 person camp for now and during construction of the wharf. Once unloading facilities are established there will be a small crew of equipment operators to unload ships in summer/ fall and then a winter road construction crew in winter to put in the trail to the mine 75 kms to the south and operators to do the hauling, probably with Cat Challengers on tracks pulling sleighs.

Apparently the camp location has been a traditionally well used area by the local Inuit and there are a lot of artifacts to be seen all around so I hope to get there in the summer once all the snow goes. The Kitikmeot Inuit Association is working closely with the mining company involved and have signed a 25 year beneficiary and land use agreement with the company. The communities in the area are excited about the benefits that will come their way if the mine goes ahead.

Make friends with the wolf, but keep your axe ready.

Online southcove

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Re: Bathurst Inlet April/May 2017
« Reply #8 on: November 13, 2017, 03:15:21 pm »
arcticmag - I love your well thought out 'exit strategy'...

Looking at the map I couldn't tell whether you'd be more salt water than fresh or if there is a mix somewhere in the bays as the tide ebbs and flows, but maybe someday you'll have time to find out.  I bet the natives still do some fishing for subsistence.

It's an interesting process where the village groups agree or disagree on whether to undertake mineral or other resource development and extraction.  The EIS is reassuring and scary in the same breath.  Having seen some (both active and abandoned) places myself in the high arctic of Alaska you quickly realize that between the handprint of modern man, the heavy usage of all manner of machinery and the fragility of the tundra, once things start to happen, they'll never be the same in the entire area.   

And you have to hope that the monies that are returned to the native villages between high wages and royalties on the extracted minerals or oil, that it's spent wisely and for the long term.

For all that caution, I am still intrigued by the totality of the process and the sheer volume of money, men, materials etc that go into making it happen, sure thing or not.

Good luck and stay safe during your travels (and take more pics!)...