We flew out of Cape Sheridan on the afternoon of August 7th. Strong, warm westerlies had been blowing for 24 hours, and just when we thought they would calm down, our tents would get buffeted by strong winds. We knew the twin otter was on it’s way to pick us up, but wondered whether it would be able to land given our short “runway” and the winds. But land it did, ahead of schedule, sending us scrambling to take down the tents.
The pilot and copilot loaded our gear carefully, placed us at the rear of the aircraft for weight balance (luckily we had a light load), taxied to the end of the gravel river terrace, and turned the aircraft into the wind. Then the pilot backed up the plane a bit more — its wheels were at the very edge of the gravel! Clearly he wanted every bit of runway he could get. He revved the engines and down the terrace we went, getting airborne and flying above the high terrace behind the camp just in time!
Clearly the pilot knew his aircraft, as Bob Bartlett knew his ships, though happily the airplane behaved better than the Roosevelt, which in 1906 had, as Bartlett and George Wardwell often noted, “a mind of her own.”
In 1906 the Roosevelt left Floeberg Beach on July 31, after a bad encounter with ice which destroyed the rudder and sheared off two of the propeller blades. She followed the same route used in 1876 by the Alert, inching along the coast. The Roosevelt was leaking badly and behaving unpredictably. It took a full six months to get her home to New York, with multiple stops along the way to try to repair the rudder the men fashioned from parts of the ship.
The Roosevelt’s 1909 departure from Cape Sheridan took place on July 18. Bartlett, unwilling to repeat the 1906 experience, decided to blast out of winter quarters. As always, he turned to one of his favorite tools, dynamite –which he often referred to as “Mr. Dupont”– and blasted his way through the rubble ice into Robeson Channel, where he let the vessel drift south with the current.
We heard and watched a great deal of melting of sea ice during the last few days at Cape Sheridan, and watched the thick rubble ice begin it’s march south, replaced by thinner and flatter ice from further north. By August 5 we could see open water beyond Cape Rawson, and by the 6th Floeberg Beach had open water as well, though the ice was right offshore, ready to come back in, as it had in 1906 when it damaged the Roosevelt.
It was with mixed feelings that Genny and I left Cape Sheridan and watched a now familiar landscape disappear. We flew past the memorial to Marvin, quickly left the Sheridan River behind us, and flew beyond the range of our long survey walks. But to our delight we learned that we would be picking up a Parks Canada crew at Lake Hazen, an important hunting and fishing area used heavily by the Peary Inughuit and hunting parties. We relished the few moments we had on the ground at this historically important but remote place.
Now we are at Polar Shelf waiting for a flight to Iqaluit and then Ottawa. Again Resolute is our Battle Harbour, from which we are sending communications south, though unlike Peary we are not waiting for the press to descend on us. Genny looked at the weather forecast for Alert. Cape Sheridan should see snow on Friday. I wish I could see it, even for a brief moment.