Thursday, September 12, 2013

climbing mount pelly


Last weekend, my friends and I decided to climb Mount Pelly. Our reasoning was that we wanted to take the chance to go hiking before the weather turned too cold and everything was covered in snow.   So of course, that morning, it snowed. Whatever.  If you want to wait until the perfect weather to go on an adventure, you might be stuck waiting a long time when you live in the Arctic, so we headed out anyway, snow falling around us.

Mount Pelly in the spring, with Cambridge Bay in front 

Mount Pelly in the winter, view from the Bay

Mount Pelly is the tallest "mountain" around Cambridge Bay. I say "mountain" because it's an esker formed by glaciers, so perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is the tallest ridge around Cambridge Bay.  Still, once you get up close it's a pretty considerable height to climb up, covered in the tundra plants and shale rocks that make up the Arctic rock desert landscape.



so much shale

Mount Pelly forms Ovayok Territorial Park, which features a big friendly sign, a picnic area, washrooms, and a trail map. I did not find the trail map to be particularly helpful.  There are apparently several different trails that you can take around the park.  However, the trail markings are colour-coded, and the colours assigned to each trail seem to be randomly switched between each sign post, assuming you actually find the sign posts, which is also not easy.  I personally believe this is all part of a larger plan to make your hike more exciting, just in case the possibility of running into a polar bear or a grizzly bear is not exciting enough for you.



Luckily, it's pretty easy to find your own way up the mountain, because it's not exactly like there are trees to obscure your view and get you lost. Everywhere you go, you can see forever.

glorious view of the vast landscape, 
which allows people from miles away to see who is using the outhouse

According to Inuit legend, Mount Pelly is the body of a giant named Ovayok who starved to death and died.  Nearby, you can also see the hills that form the bodies of Lady Pelly and Baby Pelly. I made sure to pack some bannock for the trip.

The climb up Mount Pelly is made up of a series of shelves, carefully designed so that as you approach the top of each shelf, you are mistakenly fooled into thinking you are close to the summit.  Then you peer over the top of the step, and realize there's another shelf to climb over.

Gloria the explorer
It was as we climbed over another shelf that we could see a figure moving in the distance close to the top.  We wanted to wave at them to chat, but then we realized we weren't sure if it was a human.

"What if it's a grizzly bear?"
"What if it's a polar bear?"
"What if it's a grolar bear?" *

*what we've decided to call a cross-breed between a grizzly bear and a polar bear BECAUSE THEY'RE DOING THAT NOW.

But it just turned out to be the reporter that we had been partying with a few nights before. She had decided to go for a walk herself to see if there were muskoxen - or maybe bears - around.

"We thought you might be a grolar bear!" we told her.
 "I thought you might be a grolar bear!" she replied. 

It's so difficult to try to capture the depth of the landscape from the mountaintop on my camera

When we got to the real top of the mountain, after many false alarms, we saw that there was an actually marked ATV trail that went along the flat top of the esker. We decided to walk along it to see what else there was to see.

It was oddly then that C chose that moment to reveal her secret thoughts about aliens one day coming by while she was in an isolated place, and swooping her up in their spaceship.  We all have our own quiet irrational preoccupations: for L, it's vampires. For F, it's zombies. For me, it's nuclear holocausts. But we all thought the same thing - this particular spot in the empty wilderness would be a pretty good place for the aliens to carry out an abduction.

At that point, we came across these odd structures. 

Were they alien structures?

Upon closer inspection, one of the structures was a plaque, commemorating fallen Inuit people. There was presumably at some point a rock memorial nearby, but all we saw was a small pile of rocks that had been knocked over, with a Coca Cola can thrown in.  We guessed that the original monument had been knocked over.

We still didn't know what the wooden platform was about, but it did make for a great tripod for a group self-portrait.

i don't know why we are crouching

In retrospect, if aliens did want to lay a trap to catch humans, setting up a camera tripod for selfies is a pretty brilliant way to do it.

C, still waiting for the aliens to come get her

As we went further along the side of one of the cliffs, we came across this unexpected message.

This was obviously not a communication sent by extraterrestrial beings. It was the work of Chris Bray, an Australian man who bought a yacht called Teleport in Canada and slowly sailed it back  through the Arctic to Australia with his love, Jess Taunton.  At some point, he stopped in Cambridge Bay and built this marriage proposal out of rocks, for Jess Taunton to find when they went hiking.

This is the story, in case you're interested:

As a side note, I'm really glad she said yes, because otherwise it would have made for a really awkward walk back down the mountain.  And an awkward sail back to Australia.

walking back

Today's blog soundtrack: