I mean it this time

Okay.  I know I said that I was moving on from the Arctic.  I lied.  I must share these anecdotes:

Anecdote No. 1: The pilot on the right in this photograph was named Smirnoff


Anecdote No. 2:
Don’t let those big, official-looking aviation headsets fool you.  The pilot on the left had his plugged into an iPod Shuffle (see it clipped there, just to the right of his hand?)


The moral of these anecdotes:
Arctic pilots are undeniably badass.

Goodbye, Arctic.  I mean it this time.

Weightless

I am officially at Woods Hole now, which I guess means it’s time to bid farewell to the Arctic as far as blog posts go.

We left Axel Heiberg on one of the windiest days I’ve ever seen.  Upper Camp, where we had been staying further north on the island, was experiencing some nasty cloudy weather, so we took a gamble and hiked a few miles south, in the hopes that the plane would have a better chance of landing there.  The clouds may have actually been better, given the incredible gusts ripping through Lower Camp, and unpredictably changing directions every few minutes.  If I unzipped my jacket and held its edges out like sails, the wind literally lifted me off my feet.

I’d secretly been hoping it wouldn’t be able to land, but in some crazy feat of expert piloting, the twin-otter managed to touch down at Lower Camp, after circling a few times to gauge the wind.

We were splashed with jet fuel as the pilots tried to fill up the twin-otter’s tank in the blustering wind.  In between gusts, I overheard the pilot say, “Young pilots think they’re going to live forever.  Me?  I’ve already lived forever.”

I wasn’t sure what exactly that implied for the flight ahead of us, but I guessed correctly that it was going to be a bumpy ride.  As we strapped down our cargo and began to buckle ourselves in, the co-pilot turned around and warned us:

Make sure you buckle those tight.  I mean … TIGHT.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long after the twin-otter took off from the tundra that we hit some serious turbulence.  We were actually weightless at one point, with all our jackets, cameras, and cargo floating right at eye-level.  I was videotaping the view out the window when it happened.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think fast enough to catch the floating stuff on camera, but it’s a fun video to watch nonetheless:

I get so wistful watching that landscape disappear below the plane.  I can’t wait to go back.  I’m addicted to the Arctic.

Arctic Toilet

The toilet on Axel Heiberg Island is a rusting old fuel barrel with a plastic seat stuck on top, giving new, literal meaning to the phrase “sitting on the can.” You think your toilet seat at home is chilly sometimes? Try sitting on a metal cask in the Arctic.

Yet the view from this toilet made it all worthwhile. The chance to sit and stare at glaciers and mountains was my number one motivation for staying well-hydrated during my stay on Axel Heiberg Island.

Rob shared my sentiments, and made a short video on the subject. Watch it:

cold but wet

One of the most interesting features on Axel Heiberg is the existence of perennial springs. They come in a variety of forms. Some look like little streams flowing down the side of the hill, others look like ponds bubbling up like tiny jacuzzis, still others look like seeps coming up from below. Some of them leave deposits that form shapes like pipes over the springs.

But don’t let the bubbling jacuzzi effect fool you–these springs are not hot. Not even close. Intriguingly, the temperatures vary from spring to spring, despite their proximity to one another. Most are around 4 degrees Celsius. The really neat thing is that these springs flow year round, despite a mean annual temperature of minus 15 degrees. And they come up at a constant temperature and flow rate, despite air temperatures which, over the seasons, change drastically from above freezing to 40 below.

The springs also reek of that delicious rotten egg smell, like a giant fart. Thank you, sulfur.

The grayish stuff you see in the pictures above is a film of sulfur-reducing bacteria. The white stuff is gypsum, a type of salt.

Upper Camp

Picking up from my last long post:

Flying to Axel Heiberg was breathtaking. Pack ice breaking up to look like a big doily on the water, huge glaciers sliding off mountains, expanses of ground covered in strange polygonal patterns formed by the freeze-thaw cycle. The twin-otter touched down on the tundra. Those planes need a terrifyingly small amount of space to land, so we were able to land right at camp. The little food hut is just across Colour Lake from where the plane landed. Up a steep hill are the sleeping and working quarters: two tent-like “weather havens” and a sturdy wooden hut. We’re the only humans around.  And while a poor-quality video hardly does it justice, here’s a 360-degree view of camp: