6 April 2007
The Expedition was not very worried about making much forward progress today but decided to do a little exploring of the historic Dease Arm. Several early Arctic Expeditions and Explorers (See "Explore Topics" under School Activities Tab) established winter quarters or posts in the tree fringe country of the Dease Arm. The site of Fort Confidence holds particular interest to those who follow Arctic History. Ft. Confidence was built here in 1837 by the explorers Dease and Simpson. The Fort was used as winter quarters for numerous expeditions through the 1800s including those searching for the lost Franklin expedition in 1848-49. While the fort itself has long since disintigrated, the remains of several stone and clay chimneys have been reported by a few summer visitors in recent decades. Was the SnowSTAR crew able to find any sign of the historic Ft. Confidence today and under the drifted snows of winter?? I will let tonight's dispatch tell that story. Mathew's short soundclip tonight is about the summer fishing activities that go on in the this part of the North during the summer:
Click here for tonights Soundclip from Mathew.
A Day of History
Dispatch, April 6, 2007: Douglas Cabin, Dease River north of Great Bear
Camp 22 Location: 66º 54.22'N, 118º 56.97'w
76 km covered today
Sunny and Windy, -4ºF (-20ºC); overnight low -10ºF (-23ºC)
First, an apology to Ms. Faulk's students in Florida. We had planned to bag
the confluence at 67ºN, 120ºW for you, but some times things don't work out
as planned! When we left Etacho Point yesterday morning, the wind was
starting to blow. When the wind blows in snow country, the snow starts to
move. First it will bound along the ground (that is called saltation), then
fine snow dust particles will get lofted into the air (that is a called the
suspended load). When those things happen, it is a blizzard. You cannot see
anything. Well, that is what was happening by about 11 AM yesterday, and
prudence meant we needed to get across the 50 km reach of the main lake as
fast as possible. Heading for the confluence was out of the question
because it would have meant 90 km out in the blizzard away from trees. By
the afternoon, the wind was blowing about 20 m/s (40 mph). Nasty
conditions. We could not even see the land until we were just 1 km from
shore. We had to struggle through the drift to make it to Cape MacDonald
and camp. All night the wind howled in trees.
This morning the wind was still howling and there was drift everywhere, but
we continued up the southeast side of Dease Arm, Great Bear Lake, using
whatever tricks we could to shelter from the wind and to find softer snow
(drift snow can get as hard as a rock and be very hard on the snow machines
and sleds). A picture of the bleak conditions and lake ice swept free of
snow are show below. They may give you a feel for what it was like.
About 3 PM we made it into the channel between Ritch Island and the
mainland, and conditions were better (see the SnowSTAR map). We headed for
Ft. Confidence. This is the spot where Peter Warren Dease established a
fort that he and Thomas Simpson used as their exploration base between 1836
and 1839. Two of the four chimneys from the original log buildings are
still standing, as the photograph shows. Dease and Simpson's epic
explorations spanned from Point Barrow in Alaska to Boothia Peninsula in
eastern Canada. Dease was an American; Simpson was the nephew of the Hudson
Bay Governor George Simpson.
From Ft. Confidence we traveled east, entering the Dease River behind a
small island. When we did that, we left Great Bear Lake. We had traveled
330 km in nearly a straight line on this enormous inland sea.
We wanted to find the cabin of George Douglas from 1911 on the Dease River,
but realized it was unlikely we would. All we knew was that it was on the
true left bank of the river, and that behind the cabin was a hill.
Eagle-eyed Jon spotted the cabin 9 km up the river. It was fallen in, but
the fine workmanship still showed. Douglas wintered here in 1911. Hornby
was here the same year, as were the Jesuit Priests (more on them later).
Douglas wrote a fine book on the arctic barrenlands called "Lands Forlorn",
and until his death in the 1960s was Canada's most knowledgeable source on
the Barrens. A picture below shows the crew in front of the cabin. It is very
special to camp here tonight.
This has been a wonderful day of history in a very special part of the Arctic!