Friday, 16 August 2019

A grand day out

We took advantage of the thick sea ice in early June to hike to two islands that guard the entrance to Alexandra Fiord. Walking across the sea ice is a really cool, no pun intended, experience and the flattest hike out. The melt water on top of the sea ice made for lovey reflections and beautiful aquamarine blue ice.

Hiking across the sea ice to Sphynx Island.

 Sphynx Island reflected in melt water on the sea ice

We had to weave a bit through the jumbled ice and open leads to reach Sphynx Island. On Sphynx Island we saw a pair of gyrfalcons. One on the nest and the other on look out on the cliffs above. This pair of gyrfalcons are the white morph. The nest is in a small cave on the side of a tall cliff that is also occupied by a colony of glaucous gulls.

Gyrfalcon on look out above the nest on Sphynx Island.
We climbed to the top of Sphynx Island for the stunning views up the Fiord and across to Thorvald and Bache Peninsulas. It was interesting to see our camp and field site across the fiord to the south gave us scale and perspective. The hills on either side and Twin Glacier behind just dwarf our camp.

View south from the summit of Sphynx Island towards our field camp and Twin Glacier with Arctic willow (Salix arctica) in the foreground.

View north from the summit of Sphynx Island with Thorvald Peninsula reflected in the sea ice of Alexandra Fiord and Purple Saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia) in the foreground.
 From Sphynx Island, it was a short walk across the sea ice to Skraeling Island where there is an ancient Thule settlement. It was fascinating to see the circular stone houses sunken into the ground with a low tunnel entrance, a stone sleeping platform and a cooking area. The Thule mainly hunted for belugas and there were hundreds of whale bones scattered around the site, many of which would have been used as rafters for the rooves of the houses.

Ancient Thule settlement on Skraeling Island with the remains of their circular houses in the foreground and Sphynx Island in the background

Meeting house at the Thule settlement on Skraeling Island with a whale bone guarding the entrance and stone seats around the edge.

Iceberg trapped in the sea ice between Skraeling Island and Bache Peninsula.   
We had brought a little camp stove so we cooked up some soup and noodles to fortify us for the next leg of our hike around Skraeling Island on the land fast ice to Little Skraeling Island where there was another Thule settlement to explore. On our way back to camp we saw a large group of seals sleeping on the ice. As we approached they quickly slipped down their holes through the ice to the sea below.

Seals sleeping on the sea ice. They rest by holes they have dug through the ice to the sea below, a quick escape route from predators – humans and polar bears.

Watching the seals on the ice by Little Skraeling Island, Alexandra Fiord.

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