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2014 Summer Arctic Trip

The Trip Blog for the 2014 summer research trip.

August 13th and 14th - our final days


August 14th, last day of the trip

I’ve been incredibly proud to be a part of this group, this trip, this experience we all have shared, this little family of insanely smart and talented people. Today, waking up and all sitting down to breakfast at a little restaurant in the airport, I still didn’t quite believe that it was over. Even now, on the flight from Minneapolis to Baltimore, I still feel like I should be waking up tomorrow at Nester or in the room at the CNSC or in a seat on the long train ride or next to two others in the back seat of the van. I thought that this year, being my second year on this trip, it would be easier to adjust to the transition back to daily life, to shake the feeling that a part of me is now missing, left somewhere in Churchill and Wapusk. But I already feel it, and I know it’s going to be hard, hard for all of us. The days spent doing science and learning and adventuring are endless when you’re in the middle of them, but fleeting now they’re gone. Moments that feel timeless, like sitting at 4 AM on the platform at Nester 1, or standing on the CNSC deck watching the northern lights dance, are already slipping into the past. I find myself re-reading what few journal notes I had time to write, grasping at the ribbons of memory before they slip away like silk. We’ve all left pieces of ourselves behind, made tangible in small ways – a name written on a board at Nester, a footprint in the springy moss of a bog, perhaps our names or faces remembered by people we met.
Last year, it dulled the sadness of leaving to know that I could come back, I could apply to go on the trip the next year and be once again in a landscape that I came to love so much. But this time is not the same. Going through security this morning after our last breakfast, watching the Canadians walking away, I knew that today could be the last time I saw some of those faces in person. We kept saying these last few travel days “it’s not over yet, we still have [the train ride/the van/the plane]” but for many of our group the trip ended this morning, and for us it ends in an hour or so, when this plane lands at BWI and we go our separate ways. We’ve all worked so hard and had so much fun that’s it’s difficult to take in. I can’t even begin right now to try and reflect on these two weeks that have felt like a month. I looked around the airport and wondered if the people around us could sense that we were still miles and miles away, feel that a different sort of air hung around us – our hearts still in the North and the clear, cool air of Wapusk and scent of Labrador tea swirling in our minds. There’s something about being outside in the field all day, with my mind constantly thinking and planning and organizing – it feels good. It feels like I’m truly engaging in life. And that’s not something I’ve gotten anywhere else but on this trip.
We’re all coming home different people than we were when we set out, and that’s an amazing thing. We learned, to quote something Jordan said during a conversation, to “see the land for what it is, not what it contains.” We discovered that we are powerful, with the knowledge and ability to hold our own in the adult world of science. We learned to look at what’s around us with the eyes of others, and to be conscious of our own impact on the world. We learned with each other and about each other. I’m going to miss everyone we’ve left in Canada. Thank you all for everything you’ve given me during these weeks together.


Annika Salzberg, The Park School



Here are some of the graphs I made while at Nester 1 of the data we collected!

Active Layer Thickness at each flag on both transects, for four different sites.

Active Layer Thickness at each flag on both transects, for four different sites.

Sorry about the weird color scale - dark blue is group 1 and light blue is group 2 - this shows what percent ground cover was soil at each flag on a transect, as recorded by two different groups.

Sorry about the weird color scale - dark blue is group 1 and light blue is group 2 - this shows what percent ground cover was soil at each flag on a transect, as recorded by two different groups.

Uber ALT measurements per flag on one transect.

Uber ALT measurements per flag on one transect.



Before we left Nester 1, we students all thanked the adults who helped us so much on this trip. For a few of us, that meant writing a song for Miguel and Jill. Here's the song we wrote (while out on a hike) and who performed each verse.

A Tribute: the dramatic monologue
I need water, filtered, to drink
I need food, to continue, to think
I need hiking boots to walk along the shore
‘cuz I don’t want to hike in waders anymore

We like beach ridges to walk across Wapusk
We like eating dinner outside at dusk
We like swimming in West Camp Lake
We like eating Dania’s marble cake

Even when they say, there won’t be any sun,
We’ll still go out and probe, until our work is done
A fire at the cape heats the rations that we’ll eat,
To fill up our bellies and rest our sore feet

Our resident history teacher, Miguel’s bug-spotting is so fly
His attitude always pleasant, his cooking never dry
He keeps up our morale, even when the fens are deep
If a job needs doing, he’ll always take the leap

We like our resident ranger, who protects us all the way
Jill works to keep us safe, each and every single day
Her dedication and her knowledge, helps our group to be our best,
A teacher and a leader, she’s a head above the rest

Thank you Jill and Miguel for all you’ve given us!





August 13th
This morning, waking up on the train felt like our final goodbye to a place that has come to mean so much to all of us - even though we'd already left town the night before. I barely got any sleep, so it was with a peaceful sort of drowsiness that I watched the sky lighten before sunrise. We feasted on bagels with cream cheese or nutella (or sometimes both at the same time), and hung out looking at photos and videos. I felt a little bad interrupting the fun with work, but six of us set aside a little time to do our last bit of data entry. It was around 1 when the train pulled into Thompson and we started the next leg of the journey, the long car ride to Winnipeg. Going back to the same Quiznos we went to on the way up, it was an odd sort of déjà vu – we’d all done this exact same thing before, but after two weeks together, so much had changed. The 9-10 hour ride in the vans didn’t have that tinge of awkwardness it had had before, when we were squished up against people we hardly knew. In the bigger van we played several games of Mafia, and took turns reading out loud from The Hobbit. After two weeks of minimal sleep, most of us dozed off for good portions of the ride. The other van was much more productive with their time – Natalie wrote a good portion of the Wapusk Report and Bob put together a video of us all probing.
We pulled into the Kelvin parking lot in Winnipeg at about 10:15 PM, and got to meet members of the Winnipegger’s families. We all split up to go to Akio, Bob, or Chloe’s houses – their families were incredibly generous to open their homes to the Baltimore folks – but not before agreeing to all meet for breakfast the next morning before the Baltimore group’s flight. Once we split up, Chloe, Nina, and myself decided to bake cookies – though it was past midnight – and I attempted to write this post. We eventually went to sleep at 1:30, when I gave up trying to write through my exhaustion.

Aug 12, evening


Though a good day, today is sadly the end of our stay in Churchill. We started the day early, vacating our rooms at the CNSC by 7:00am. After breakfast we sorted our gear and got going on a tour of the surrounding area guided by local naturalist Paul Ratson.

As we hiked around the two sites, Bird Cove and Polar Bear Alley, Paul talked about the history of the area and the various jobs he has worked in and around them. He showed us scrap left from old military exercises and told us stories about his time monitoring polar bear populations; we actually got to go and see one of the old polar bear snares they used to use for the monitoring!

Once lunch rolled around we picked up our gear from the CNSC and headed to town to do some exploring and shopping. We wandered around town and visited the Arctic Trading Post, Eskimo Museum, and Gypsy's Bakery where we got some delicious treats!

When we were finished in town we drove a little ways south to Goose Creek and so we could check out the local marina and try our hands at fishing. Nothing was caught but three of our number decided to go swimming in the Churchill River! Thankfully we had a fire going for when they came out.

For supper we got to visit Jill's cabin where we had a wonderful meal of caribou and goose meat. After supper we had a great time hanging out and playing games until it was time to go to the train station. Once there, we piled onto the train and pulled out of the station. For now, it's time to say goodbye to Churchill and the arctic. But we'll be back next year!


Jordan Bunka

Aug 11, evening


Today was our first full day spent away from Nester One, the secluded, beautiful, research camp in Wapusk National Park, that over the past five days had become our home. Today, waking up in the heated rooms of the CNSC to an electronic alarm (our alarm at Nester had been the smell of bacon and Webs voice offering us eggs), eating breakfast in a room full of people outside our tight knit group, using a car to get from place to place, we were through back into society. 

Despite being back in Churchill, the day was no less of an adventure. We headed out early for the Richie Lakes Bog, a bog spanning over 10 kilometers of tundra. The hike to the site was beautiful, the ground covered in spongy mosses and lichens. As I hiked, I found myself looking down, rattling off the scientific names of each plant we passed in my head, and thinking of how the permafrost, just meters below my feet, effected the surface that I was walking on. Nowhere else on earth can I look down and identify, by color, texture, and shape, what plants I am standing on, or understand what is happening beneath the ground to cause fens, bogs, beach ridges, and hummocks to form. There is something incredibly liberating and empowering about being able to understand what is happening around you, and 

Once in the bog we quickly completed our site. By this point in the trip we have become an incredibly functional team. What the first day took us several hours to complete, we finished in under an hour. It’s a very cool feeling to be part of an amazing team that comes together so quickly over a common goal. That, for me, has been one of the highlights of this years trip.

After our first bog we took a break, lounging on the hummocks, telling stories, doing cartwheels, catching frogs, and eating. The food here always tastes extra delicious. After lunch we raced the clouds to complete another transect before it  began to rain. The rain came just as we were finishing up the second site, this time a treed fen. Again, it was incredible how well we worked together, how each person knew their role and how they could efficiently help in the data collection without prompting. Now, wrapped up in rain gear, we retraced our hike through the spongy mosses and lichens and back into the vans. 

Earlier that day, Webs had promised us all donuts from gypsies, the local bakery, if we completed three sites. So when Webs proposed doing a third site in the cold rain, whether for the good of science, or maybe just for a donut, several people jumped at the offer. Nine of us stayed to do the site (luckily the sun came back out and we finished the transect quickly enough to have a large mud fight), while the rest of the group went back to the CNSC to get warm and begin organizing our gear for the trip home. 

As always seems to be the case up here, the days adventures were still not over. After dinner we set out to watch the sunset at Cape Merry, a jut of rocks sticking out into the Hudson Bay. From our spot on the rocks we could simultaneously watch the flaming red sun set over the Hudson, and the streams of beluga whales leaving the channel to begin their winter migration. It was one of the most beautiful things that I have every seen. I feel so lucky to have experienced that moment, and all the incredible moments that we have had, with this really amazing group of people.

The adventures of the day aren’t yet over; time to go look for the northern lights!!!!!


-Natalie Rudin, The Park School

Aug 10, evening


Today was our final day in Nester 1. As a student who is graduating after the coming year, I knew this was most likely going to be my last time seeing and living in the remote research station. Sitting in the cockpit of the helicopter and watching the camp disappear out of the corner of my eye as the vehicle slowly ascended off the ground brought out a part of me that I do not experience too often. I felt a part of me slip out of my grasp that I would never again be able to feel. I am sure that every person in the group experienced the short five days at Nester 1 differently, but for me, it was the sense of isolation, openness, and carelessness that I would really begin to miss even as soon as we touched ground back at the CNSC. But before I say more, let me tell you about this morning. The original plan was to get up at 7 am and be ready for the first chopper flight at 9, and we would be able to knock out a fen in the afternoon before supper. The first step went smoothly, with a delicious breakfast of pirogues and sausages made by our chef Miguel, but getting the helicopter in the air proved to be a problem. Thick fog covered the ground, preventing the helicopter from taking off. Visibility was limited to two hundred metres (yes, I am Canadian) for the greater part of the morning. Surprisingly (or maybe not so much) the students were ecstatic at the thought of getting to stay at Nester 1 for an extra day. Moods were lightened, and morale was rising (inside ISAMR joke). Bunmi and I decided to create a voodoo totem out of an old rocket, caribou skull, bones and antlers in an endeavor to create more fog so that we could stay at nester 1 for a little bit longer. We would like to believe that it worked, given that the fog did thicken a little bit, before thinning out again once the wind blew the devilish structure over. While we waited for a further response from the CNSC about the helicopter situation, Jill gave us several very interesting presentations about her trips doing some surveying for the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas over the past few years. These included canoe trips, long hikes, and getting up at 3:30 in the morning to catch the sunrise when the birds sang the loudest. The MBBA is a way for citizens of Manitoba to help keep track of what birds are found throughout the province. The stories she told us about her expeditions were both fascinating and hilarious enough to keep us glued to our seats for several hours, save for a few bathroom breaks. It was around noon and Jill was about to begin another presentation when Bob stood up, pointed out the window and shouted: “There’s a chopper!” Everyone looked out the windows, and sure enough there was a helicopter banking hard in the 80kph winds in an attempt to land. The helicopter had appeared out of nowhere without a warning. Even with the strong winds, the pilot (who I later found out had begun flying at the age of seventeen) managed to land safely and the first five people to be shipped out swiftly got their jackets on and rushed out to the gate. The sudden helicopter took us all by surprise, but we had to go with it. The first passengers from Ryan Brook’s university course got out and the adults unloaded the university students’ bags from the chopper before packing it up again with our gear. Jessica had made us some soup to keep the rest of us filled up while we waited for the chopper. We ate that and played some cards as the ISAMR students filed out and more of Ryan Brook’s university students flew in over the next few flights in the copter. My flight was third. Luckily for me I got to sit next to the pilot for this flight. I was extremely happy about that because large machines and flight intrigue me greatly. I had flown in a helicopter three times before, twice last year, and once on the way out to Wapusk this year. As far as I know, that was the last time I will ever fly in a helicopter so it really meant a lot to be able to watch the ground glide past beneath my feet from the pilot’s perspective. The strong winds meant that the helicopter could only fly at half speed, and kept getting pushed around by wandering gusts of wind. Once we landed we climbed into the van, and Jill, who had been feeling a bit ill from the helicopter ride drove us from the landing site to the CNSC before retiring to her home for the night. After I put my bag back into my room I took a nice long, hot shower. After five days without showering and barely changing clothes the steaming water felt amazing. After everybody washed up we milled about the CNSC while waiting for dinner: salad, pasta, chicken, yam, and more. After we ate the delectable food prepared by the fantastic cooks we set to work on soil moisture recording and data entry. We worked until 8:30 when we had a meeting with all the students and adults on the trip about the plan for the next couple of days. Afterwards we went for a drive to the coast so that we could witness the sunset in all of its glory. Even though it was cold and windy, all the kids climbed on top of the vans to get a better view. Personally, I thought this was one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen. The colours (Canada) on the horizon were incredibly vivid, and the clouds were surreal. The way that the vans were parked allowed us to sit on one side of the roof and see the sun sink beneath the curve of the Earth in the west, but then when that was over we could switch sides and gaze at the unbelievably large, white and bright full moon in the east. We also tried to drive into the town of Churchill in order to catch the belugas as they swam out into Hudson’s bay but we were too late and knew we wouldn’t make it so we chose to turn around and return to the CNSC instead. By this time it was getting late so some people went to sleep while others finished up some more work. I began on this blog. I had gotten up to the helicopter flight when somebody informed us in the classroom that the northern lights were out. Due to the fact that we had yet to see some decent aurora borealis everyone was eager to get out onto the deck despite it being seven degrees Celsius and windy, and that most people were in pajamas. Let me tell you, we were not disappointed. They were not the best I had ever seen, but there were some incredible brief bursts of activity when it appeared that they grew tenfold in size. I was sent out to wake up the sleeping few to let them know that the lights were out. Cory and Kevin managed to capture some phenomenal photos of the auroras using long exposure photography and some skill. Many pictures were taken of the lights, of us, and of the other people staying at the CNSC. Cory attracted a great deal of attention from the Australian visitors with his camera. A few even asked him if they could use some of his photos. The lights were great, but they weren’t the only things out that night. The clouds were beautiful as well, resembling giant glowing white shrimp hanging in the sky, but the moon seemed to be demanding attention to itself with its brilliance. It illuminated the night like nothing I had ever seen before. While it’s not ideal to have such a bright source of light when viewing the northern lights, the two phenomena provided an unforgettable night that many of us will never have the privilege to see again. Finally around 12:30 am the lights began to fade out and the people out on the deck started to head back inside. I picked up the computer again and started typing. Now two hours later I lie here in my bed with the night light on thinking of a justifiable way of concluding this blog while the memories are still fresh in my mind. I suppose I will just thank all the parents, teachers, grandparents, or whoever is reading this for raising such wonderful kids for me to venture and discover the wilderness with. I wish these were not my last few days in the tundra, but unfortunately, all things must come to an end. And with that, I say goodbye. Or as the French say: au revoir. Until we see each other again.


Akio Bird

Kelvin High School

Aug 9, evening


Today began with the wonderful smells of french toast coming from the kitchen. Breakfast was wonderful with homemade peach syrup and sausage. Shortly after we began packing lunches for the day as we planed to take a hike to the coast and also to retrieve one of the trail cams that we put out with Jim a few days earlier. The hike was a 13 km round trip. On the hike we enjoyed walking through the tide pools on the coast of Hudson Bay and looking for fossils. On the way back we spotted some very nice caribou running through the willows. They all had very nice racks of antlers on them. Dinner was fantastic, as the wind and the rain picked up we headed to the bunk house for a dance party. Filled with strobing head lamps, and very very original dance moves. As the wind picked up to 70 km/h I hunkered down in the tent for the night as the wind and the rain blew the tent around. Today was the last full day at Nester 1. Over the past days we have spent here we have experience so many unforgettable events. These events will for ever stay with myself and have changed my views in many ways. 


Bob Hancock, Kelvin High School