On our first full day, we departed Arctic Bay in rain, heading south in Admiralty inlet for a place called The Gallery, which was supposed to have fine examples of something called hoodoos.
“Have you ever seen a hoodoo?” Mayor Frank had asked me the day before our departure.
“What’s the English word?” I asked.
Frank looked at me smiling, “That is the English word.”
I discovered that Mayor Frank from Arctic Bay, had studied geology. He would often lapse in to musings about the area. “These islands are mostly composed of sedimentary rock,” Frank explained after recovering from my ignorance about hoodoos, “which is formed from pre-existing rocks eroding and weathering into fine small fragments. Over time, these fine sediments get compacted and cemented together. In some areas, the sedimentary rock is pushed up and then eroded by wind and water turning the rock into life-like shapes called Hoodoos.”
As we pushed through curtains of rain and a building breeze, I was eager to visit the Gallery and these hoodoos that lived there. But in the Arctic, one’s plans are often subject to change. By the time we were approaching the coast where the hoodoos lived, the wind had risen to 25 knots, blowing straight in to the proposed anchorage, creating a lee shore and difficult landing conditions for the tenders. And so we opted to explore the other coast, an indentation on the chart called Levasseur Inlet. No one on board knew anything about this anchorage, not even our expedition leader, Ken Burton. Uncharted shoals prevented us from getting too close with Rosehearty but both tenders were launched and it was not too long before we had 14 of us plus two very excited dogs on the coarse sandy beach. Though we had studied the shore with binoculars, we did not accurately understand the scale of what we were about to see. We found ourselves in a surreal place, where colors, shapes, size and distances were all blurred. A sweeping glacial plain was flanked on ether side by rolling hills that ended abruptly at steep cliffs. I had the sense that were in a very wide alley, perhaps canyon would be more accurate.
Ken proposed a walk, which led us from the beach across the flat plain and up on to a granite step. The colors under our feet were quite extraordinary. Tiny shrubs, grass, lichens, even blueberries grew on the damp loamy ground. The dogs were charged; imagine the thousand new scents that would have bombarded their senses after a morning at sea! As the flat plain gradually turned in to a gentle ascent. Ken’s arm went up indicating that we should all pause. He extended the arm and pointed. We all peered to the area he was indicating but saw nothing. We held the dogs on a short leash. After directing us further, we finally all saw the Arctic hare, well camouflaged and crouching in front of a large craggy rock. The National Geographic website explains, “Arctic hares are fast and can bound at speeds of up to 40 miles an hour. In winter, they sport a brilliant white coat that provides excellent camouflage in the land of ice and snow. In spring, the hare's colors change to blue-gray in approximation of local rocks and vegetation. These hares do not hibernate, but survive the dangerous cold with a number of behavioral and physiological adaptations. They sport thick fur and enjoy a low surface area to volume ratio that conserves body heat, most evident in their shortened ears.”
“Just walk quietly, we should be able to get a lot closer,” whispered Ken. He was right. Despite our numbers, the hare stayed put, unphased by the clicking shutters and the oohs and aahs from our shore posse.
Atop the granite step, Ken paused and said, “Wow.” Three stone cairns were positioned on the promontory. They faced out to sea. “These are amazing,” said Ken. “They’re called Inuksuk.” There was one large and two smaller structures. “The larger one may have been used for navigation or to mark a particular camp or hunting ground,” Ken explained. But the two smaller pieces represent family, possibly placed by a descendent of the builder of the original. These are really exceptional.” In the Tundra biome, this whole area above the Arctic Circle, there are no trees or other natural landmarks. These Inuksuk can be visible for great distances. The word “inuksuk” means “that which acts in the capacity of a human.” Historically, the most common types of inuksuk are built with stone placed upon stone. The simplest type is a single stone, positioned in an upright manner. There is some debate as to whether the appearance of human- or cross-shaped cairns developed in the Inuit culture before the arrival of European missionaries and explorers. We are debating on board as to whether our example had arms.
Standing on the precipice next to the Inuksuk, we take in the view, looking where he is looking – we see the high sides of the canyon blending into the wide plain, which then sweeps into the sea, framing Rosehearty against the grey green waters of Admiralty Inlet.