Eventually our Ken Borek aircraft, a Twin Otter (the one Andy arrived on) is also refuelled and ready for takeoff. The four of us clamber on board, together with our bulky kit, sleeping bags, cameras and equipment and our dreams. There are no other passengers. The Twin Otter normally seats ten persons, so we have some extra room to stretch out a little more. The flight takes approximately one and a half hours and we fly across vast expanses of uninterrupted whiteness. We cross the Wellington Channel, over Devon Island and then into Jones Sound. At times we are flying very low, possibly not more than 300 metres off the ice.
We reach the edge of Ellesmere Island and fly even lower, perhaps down to 70 metres, in between the mountain ridges. It is breathtaking but also pretty frightening as a strong wind could perhaps force the aircraft into a mountainside. It is clear how critical the weather is in deciding whether it is possible to fly on or not. We pass over some extraordinary rock formations, really majestic shapes, and all the time our excitement is mounting. We are getting closer and closer. Grise Fiord is just 1,500 km from the Pole. I tie my coat tighter. It’s a heavy but safe landing as the aircraft crunches down on the ice.
Arctic Circle World Map Photo Gallery
Grise Fiord has a population of approximately 150 people and it seems as if a third have turned out to welcome us. Only 5 per cent are non-Inuit. In fact, it is not so cold by Arctic standards and of course we are wrapped up warm in our numerous layers of clothing. Our luggage is loaded on to a van that immediately takes off. We look around but there is no vehicle for us and we set off to walk in to the village, about 400 metres away. Suddenly several ski-doos (snowmobiles) roar up to offer us lifts. I climb on the back of one that is being driven by Pam, the cook at the lodge. Pam takes off at a very fast pace and I hang on for dear life, the wind blowing so fiercely that it drives back my hood. To keep out the bitter cold I need to haul it back with one hand and use the other to hold on with all my might.
Grise Fiord is the most northerly Inuit community in the North-West Territories of Canada. It is located on the southern coast of Ellesmere Island, on Jones Sound, north of Devon and Baffin Islands, 1,050 km north of the Arctic Circle. In the summer there are 77 consecutive days when the sun does not set. Bare rock mountains tower abruptly just beyond the narrow strip of beach area at the fiord entrance. The views around here are stunningly beautiful. The island is also rich in prehistoric Inuit sites. However, subsequently in historic times no Inuit lived here and only in fairly recent times have small communities begun to reestablish themselves.
Grise Fiord was named by the Norwegian explorer Otto Sverdrup, who charted the south and east coasts of Ellesmere Island from 1899 to 1903. In Norwegian the name means ‘pig fiord’ and to Sverdrup the sound of the walrus had reminded him of pigs grunting. Its Inuit name is Aujuittuq which means ‘the place that never melts’ infinitely preferable. The Inuit established a co-operative there in the late 1960s and a school was built. Nearby is
Goose Fiord, more delicately named, where Sverdrup was marooned for an extra year when the ice didn’t break up. This is game-rich territory, particularly white fox, polar bear and the extraordinary looking muskox, the creature that seems to have wandered out of its time.