“H” was very keen to keep observing the wolves which was very understandable but having risked the sea ice the previous day and got away with it and the rivers on previous occasions, I thought we’d be looking at trouble if we were to continue our little commute each day.
So we hatched a plan to provision ourselves and create a small camp near the den to monitor activity until the rest of the crew flew in by helicopter in six days’ time.
The helicopter could then be used to get the rest of our equipment and provisions.
This of course meant one more journey of river crossings or ice; but this time towing a laden trailer.
We set off when the tide was at its lowest in case we had to get on the ice. This would make it easier. We chose to look at the rivers first and if they were impassable, somehow get onto and over the ice.
River 1 was the lowest we’d ever seen it and H duly hopped off the back and forged a route as high as his boots would allow.
It proved to be no obstacle although the shear weight of two people and a full trailer being pulled across very rough terrain was putting an audible strain on our poor ATV. So much so we had to stop every 20 minutes to let the clutch cool down.
River 2 proved much trickier. The entire structure and flow of rivers, sand, stony banks and paths change so quickly here in the Arctic; and the frozen muddy banks of silt were now just quicksand waiting to catch us like a fly on flypaper.
The trailer acted as an added hazard that would float like a boat if we weren’t careful, dragging the ATV, H and me downstream with it!
Was it heavy enough? What was the alternative: the cracking sea ice? Maybe our luck would last one more time?
“Let’s give it a go!” seemed to be the phrase coined too often on this trip. We gave it a go and got away with it again!
We soon made it over to River 3 and set up our new camp on the eastern river bank some 1.8km away but in full view of the den on the opposite bank, upstream.
H wasn’t impressed at all by my brand new two-man tent, arguing that, “it might be a two-boy tent but there’s no way you could get two men in there”.
Well, he is six-foot-five inches tall so his yardstick is somewhat different. However, I had to agree with him, it was a bit like being in a cloth coffin.
So we turned the trailer up on its’ side and put a tarpaulin over the top reaching almost down to the ground and secured it with bungees hooked onto our spare fuel canisters. Home from home.
Later that afternoon, H, who’d been observing the wolves whilst I got the camp organised, radioed telling me that seven adult wolves were on their way downstream to see me.
I got all excited and readied my cameras but alas they went off in a different direction, after all. “Never mind,” I thought to myself; “I’m sure there’ll be time to watch a few wolves in the weeks to come.”
Just to crown a perfect day, a beautiful musk-ox appeared in the sunshine some 10m up on the far bank of the river downstream, and H and I went to say hello.
They are extraordinary creatures with their buffalo type head and big curly horns, huge pale muscular legs draped all over in thick dark brown hair with the occasional light brown bit down the back and on the shoulders.
“Gordon”, I called him, strode on his own up and down the bank as if belonging to a lost ancient world of which he was king. It really fires your imagination this place!