Bush Flight to Lake Diana

On Saturday August 8th Tundra Tom (along with Girly, our mascot of a Siberian Husky mix, her primary job was to alert us

Tundra Tom, with Girly
Tundra Tom, with Girly

to bears) picked us up at 2:45 PM to take us to the float plane dock a few miles away (click on photos to display on full screen).

Rich loading the de Havilland Single-engine (turbine) Otter at Kuujjuaq
Rich loading the de Havilland single-engine (turbine) Otter at Kuujjuaq

Six of us were going with about a thousand pounds of equipment (Rich and I had 150 pounds between us). We were joined by Adam and Bob from Halifax, Nova Scotia, who are wildlife documentary photographers coming to get footage for their production company. Also with us, Lloyd, a retired engineer from Wisconsin.  Our plane was a 1957 de Havilland single-engine (1,000 hp turbine) Otter. Once loaded and seated, we taxied out, turned upwind, and departed. Though I’m an experienced pilot, this was my first trip on floats! We climbed and flew the trip at 1500 feet mean

Adam (L) and Bob working on the carbuerator.
Adam (L) and Bob working on the carburetor.

sea level (about 1200 above ground).  I took  several shots out the window of the rugged landscape. Though turbines use less fuel

Climb out from from Kuujjuaq
Climb-out from Kuujjuaq

at high altitudes, this short, fifty mile hop would burn less fuel at low altitude. Visibility was unlimited with only light turbulence, due to ground warming by the afternoon sun.

Adam, Tom in Background, on board the Otter
Adam, Tom in background, on board the Otter

The cabin was cramped, but I managed a shot of Adam and Tom, behind me.

After landing we taxied to the shore. Two of us held the plane while the rest formed a human chain to unload. We had to unload a couple of hundred yards away from our campsite further down the beach, due to offshore rocks at the campsite. Yosef and Shelby, our guides, were there to meet us; they arrived on an earlier flight. Yosef ‘s experience includes hiking the canyons and desserts of the Middle-east, he organized a seven day trek through the Himalayas, and worked in the jungles of South America to help save Macaws. He has also traveled across Canada with tent and fishing rod. Shelby graduated from Bishop’s University, studying conservation and zoology as part of her Biology major. Both have Wilderness Advanced First Aid certificates.

(L to R) Rich, guides, Yosef and Shelby, and Lloyd
(L to R) Rich, guides Yosef and Shelby, and Lloyd

The mosquitoes also were there to meet us, and they annoyed us whenever the temperature was above about 35°F. These guys are not like their temperate counterparts. They’re larger, darker, and more aggressive. You will see them in some of the musk-ox photos. Consequently, I spent most of the time wearing a hat, head net or bug jacket, and photo gloves.

Nunavik Tundra is owned by the Inuit; we were there with their permission—thank you. Although I’ve backpacked in the White Mountains and the Adirondacks, this experience was far different. It was more transformative. Looking over this vast expanse of pristine environment I saw myself as one small part of the biosphere. There we were with no one else around, except for those on other tours 30 or 40 miles away. We stood alone with nature, with only our group on which to depend. There was absolutely no human-made, ambient night light.

Aurora Borealis over Lake Diana
Aurora borealis over Lake Diana

We spent the rest of the afternoon setting up camp, getting settled, and eating dinner. After dinner we set up tripods and cameras to photograph what we hoped would be a good Aurora show. Though they don’t peak until September and October, we weren’t disappointed. They weren’t limited to the northern sky either, they streaked across—some down toward the southern horizon.

The next morning Rich returned to our tent saying there were musk-ox grazing across the lake. Soon, all the camp was out with cameras and tripods photographing. Unfortunately, even with long telephotos, the musk-ox were too far away to provide very good shots. We saw that they were moving in a constant direction. Given that they would have to follow the shoreline, our guides suggested a way to intercept them. Remaining downwind, we were able to set up near another lake about 1½ hours later and waited for them to approach. And approach they did. We started shooting and when they were about 50 yards away they heard our shutters and stared our way. Since we were standing between them and water, our guide, Yosef, motioned for us to pull back expeditiously.

Although Tundra is mostly flat, it takes a lot of energy to walk over it. It’s very uneven, so

Musk Ox on the Tundra
Musk-ox on the Tundra

foot placement is critical. It’s also soft. Many areas have low, heavy bush that creates resistance while hiking. As a result of having to lift our legs against this resistance and careful attention to foot placement, our demand for water and calories went up. Adding 15 pounds to our packs, and hiking two to three miles a day all wears on aging bodies (this didn’t seem to be true for our 20 something guides).

The next morning Yosef and Shelby led us toward the river flowing

Tunbra Bush, Lake Diana
Tundra Bush, Lake Diana
Lake Diana
Tundra Moss, Lake Diana

from Lake Diana, then northeast. About an hour later Yosef spotted a musk-ox about a mile or so away. We stalked it by taking an indirect route so we could close in, hidden along a high rock ledge downwind. Yosef climbed the ledge and later caught up with us, reporting that there were two musk-ox.

Lunch on the Tundra
Lunch on the Tundra

Nearing the musk-ox, Rich and I crawled on all fours to take up positions behind some boulders where we started shooting handheld from about 60 yards. The sound of our shutters alerted the musk-ox to our presence. Aside from staring at us, they pretty much stayed near their luncheon location. After shooting a long series of shots we retreated behind the ledge where we lunched. Another good day was had!

That night the weather turned, with dropping temperatures. Rain and wind began around 8:00 PM and continued on and off

until around 3:00 AM. There was a heavy fog that morning, but it was mostly sunny by 10:00 AM. After breakfast we all went to photograph a dismembered musk-ox skeleton, spotted the day before. Thereafter, our group split, the documentary photographers going

Muskox Skull
Musk-ox Skull

with Yosef to photograph the musk-ox, and Rich, Lloyd and I with Shelby to photograph an Inuit tent ring. Tom told us some of the artifacts from this and other sites had been carbon dated to 2800 years ago. After returning for lunch we did some packing and rested. Our return flight was planned to arrive at 9:30 AM the next morning.

On our last day in camp I arose at 6:30 AM. Last night the temperature went down to about 20°F, resulting in a heavy frost. Nippy—but no mosquitoes! While we were waiting for our plane, Adam and Bob, had a high-end drone  they used to take a group photo from the air, along with video as the drone ascended—pretty neat. I hope to have the photo and video at a later

Artifacts carbon dated to 2800 years ago
Artifacts carbon dated to 2800 years ago

date. Shortly after our trip they were off to southern Mexico to photograph wildlife at an underwater reef—good work, if you can get it.

My next task is to process several images for my on-line gallery.  I’ll provide the details about this is in my next post. In the meantime if you have traveled anywhere on the Tundra it would be great to receive your account.

Author: Stephen Fielding Images

I'm a retired medical sociologist from the University of Rochester. My publishing experience includes a wide variety of academic articles and a book, "The Practice of Uncertainty" (1999). The mission of my blog is to provide accounts of the natural environment, including photos, in order to raise awareness of its fragility and the impact of climate change. Climate change is the greatest challenge currently faced by humanity. I occasionally write about the impact of climate change using the principles of social scientific writing. To do this I read reputable books and articles on the topic. So when I make statements about climate change you will see a link taking you to the scientific source(s) of the information I provide. As for my independently published photobooks, each has gone through several layers of editing and peer review for both readability and accuracy. This is not to say that everything I say is accurate. Even the New York Times makes mistakes. So, if you find something that is factually incorrect, let me know. I hope you find reading my blog a positive experience. If you do, please encourage your family and friends to have a look. Best wishes, -Steve

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