S and I took our kayaks out to head over to West Arm. It was my first time going to West Arm, a popular fishing spot and cabin area outside of town. There's an ice road that leads there in the winter, and a dirt road in the summer accessible by ATV, but it was a fun challenge to get there by kayak. It's about seven kilometres out (so a fourteen kilometre trip in total), taking about 4 hours going at a leisurely pace, so I had plenty of time to reflect while we paddled.
how to get to West Arm. The "A" is Cambridge Bay.
Here are some thing that you think about while you kayak in the Arctic.
You notice how beautiful the water is, with its brilliant teal-blue-green colours, how deceptively inviting it looks, like the Caribbean Sea. You know that if you jump in, it will not be warm like the Caribbean; it will be very cold, inviting possible hypothermia within minutes sometimes, and that is why you are wearing a wetsuit, just in case you tip over. Still, the water looks beautiful.
You notice the direction of the wind and the currents going against you, and you wonder if the wind and currents will still be going in the same direction on your trip back, making the paddling easier for at least one way. With your luck, the wind will probably die out.
You wonder if you will see any seals.
You wonder if you will see any narwhals.
You wonder if you are going to get shot, if there are narwhals.
I am told that sometimes on this route, narwhals will come and swim around your kayak. It's a magical moment, until suddenly you see bullets being fired near your bow. It's not easy shooting photos of whales. That's because whenever the whales do appear, so do the hunters. Hunters who are busy shooting at them, and not with camera.
The importance of not interfering with the hunt is something that is taken very seriously around here. You do not want to be getting in the way of the hunt. I was reminded of this when I observed a conversation about whales on Facebook. See, down South, the conversation would have gone like this:
Remark: "Look! Out in the water there are whales!"
Reply: "Wow! Let me tell the kids so we can take pictures."
Instead, how the conversation goes up north is like this:
Remark: "Look! Out in the water there are whales!"
Reply: "Will you please get out of the way? Let me tell the elders so we can hunt them."
So when you kayak, you worry about narwhals appearing and you worry about getting shot.
You also worry about being knocked over by a whale. Someone told me a story about how they were out fishing in a little boat, when they saw/felt/sensed something very large pass under the boat. And then all of a sudden, a humpback whale broke the surface of the water on the other side of the boat, causing splashes and waves everywhere. Sort of like what happened to the divers in British Columbia this week, who narrowly escaped being swallowed whole by humpback whales. A kayak wouldn't stand a chance. And so you worry, just a little, about whales.
While you are thinking about things of nature that can get you, you remember the polar bears are excellent swimmers, and they have been getting very hungry lately. You remember that dramatic chase scene in that IMAX movie you saw, where the male polar bear chased a smaller polar bear frantically across the ice floes. It left an impression on you; the desperation of a polar bear that is so hungry that he will try to eat a cub. The polar's bear's impressive, almost majestic, ability to navigate through the water and across ice foes also left a deep impression on you. They are such good swimmers that you remember reading somewhere that the Inuit traditionally classified polar bears in the same class as the whales and other marine mammals, albeit a special one. You wonder if a polar bear would ever swim out to eat a kayaker. Hmmmm...
the shores of West Arm
It was while I was thinking about polar bears that the magnificent cliffs of West Arm began to show themselves. Cambridge Bay is a generally flat region; there are no rolling hills like those in Iqaluit, and in fact the land is mostly so flat that you can see across the tundra for miles, Mount Pelly a little blip on the horizon. But riding the waves to West Arm, the shores gradually become cliffs, rising high above your head, with cabins occasionally dotting them with what must be a wonderful view, and the perfect spot for a sundowner, if sunsets existed here in the summer (this, along with the restriction of alcohol, is probably why sundowners are not a tradition here).
We pulled our kayaks in to a quiet, flat beach on the shore that was perfect for parking and resting. I appreciated the chance to go for a swim to cool off. I wished I had brought some water; not bringing some along on this longer trip was foolish. I wish I'd packed a whole picnic basket. West Arm was so quiet and peaceful, it would have been the perfect picnic spot. Assuming a hungry polar bear didn't catch whiff of the food...
And then it was time to go back. The wind, indeed, had died down and the sun was out. I was disappointed to lose the wind at my back, but the sun was very welcome, and our kayaks moved smoothly over the calm waters.