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2010 Summer Arctic Trip

August 24, 2010

We are home safe and sound. :)

August 23, 2010 (Josie Verchomin)

We spent 50 hours on the train eating sleeping, more eating and more sleeping then eating again and sleeping some more. We read books, played card games and Banana grams. I think it was after breakfast or lunch, the meals blend together after a while, a 1st nation woman named Iowna Anderson talked to us about how she went around and taught children where there food came from and how to keep their bodies pure. It was absolutely amazing that she was so open enough to talk to us about who she was and what she did without us even asking.

On the very first train ride Dorothy gave us sheets of paper to draw or write our life maps on. Life maps could be anything from the reasons we decided to go on this trip to what made us who we are today. Today we were able to share those maps with eachother it was a great bonding experience and I learned many things about many people. Paul and Jonathan then performed their scary yet funny puppet show. We then had time to reflect together on what we experienced on this trip. We talked about our most memorable experiences to what we found frustrating. We shared things we wished we had done and things we will take from the trip. One question asked us to share a Ah Ha moment that we had on the trip, I actually had one about 10 minutes prier to that question. I had figured out what my term paper topic for this year would be, the 1st nations tribes of North America. Brad shared his amazing video of the trip and we finally got the call that we were an hour away from Winnipeg. While waiting for our luggage we played a game of Ninja. We had fun riding to Victoria Inn an eco-friendly hotel with organic shampoo. As soon as we got our keys we ran to the pool. We all went down the water slide  at least 17 times, it felt amazing. Dorothy invited us to her room to hang for a bit and talk. We shared the notes that we had written on the train to everybody on the trip. We then had to say goodbye to Dorothy. Goodbye Dorothy we love you so much, and we will miss you. We are all looking forward to your visit to Baltimore. This trip has been amazing (yes another dollar for you Dorothy) We have had so much fun and still are. 


August 22, 2010 (Jonathan Gorman)

Today was a day of captivity.  We woke up, had our meals, and are now going to sleep on the train.  Last night students woke up/stayed up hoping to see the aurora, but unfortunately there were too many clouds to see anything.  Our normal activities throughout the day have been talking, listening to music, sleeping, eating, reading, or playing with Paul, Max, and Jack.  After lunch we were fortunate enought to have a three hour stop at Thompson.  We spent the first hour going out to get ice cream.  Right as we started heading back it poured and we spent the rest of that stop doing "whatever" on the train.  Although the train is dull compared to the Arctic experience I have to say the the food is good, the scenery outside is excellent, and there is always some way to entertain yourself.  Everyone actively participated in the group discussion about ecotourism an about our job as ecotourists.  For tomorrow we are anticipating yet another puppet show from Paul and a couple student volunteers.  In addition, Brad has been working on a trip video all day and we expect it to be as great as last year's.


August 21, 2010 (Jackson Hance)

 Today was our last day in Churchill, but it did not disappoint. We woke up a littlebit early in order to go out on the Churchill river to watch some Beluga whales. The belugas were out in force. Even as we approached the river we could see pods of white backs breaking the water. We also went out to a point just outside of the mouth of river because our tour guides thought it might be a good place to see some polar bears. They were right! We saw two polar bears, one large one and one cub. We then came back into the river and looked at a few more belugas and some of the large grain ships before going back to shore.

After our amazing whale-watch we returned to the study center and packed our bags, cleaned out the van, and prepared the bags that would hold everything we would need for the train.  With that done, we headed back out into the field with our bear monitor Paul.  We needed to complete one small activity in a site we hadn’t fully probed, we were trying to gather some data that could confirm whether or not our estimates of vegetation cover were consistent and legitimate. Unfortunately some of us were not as well prepared as we had been on previous days, and a few people walked away with soaked feet.

Returning to the study center once more we grabbed our lunches and dry footwear and Paul then drove us down to a beach where a dead whale had washed shore in the hopes that we might see a polar bear. (he had seen an exceptionally large one there earlier). As we were about to leave I saw movement down the beach and we were able to watch as the same polar bear, easily more than 1000 lbs, ate from the already mangled whale carcass.  Paul soon pointed out another polar bear out in the water, waiting for the other bear to leave.

We then went out to a little camp and had a huge bonfire/closing ceremony.  We roasted marshmallows and participated in a few final activities/discussions about the whole trip.

After one more trip to the CNSC we headed into town and wandered around for short timed, shopping. While there a few teens invited us to a bonfire down on the beach, but due to time constraints we were unable to attend. We then boarded the train on time, an are now on our way south.


August 20, 2010 (Maia Draper-Reich)

Today was another busy and wonderful day.  Technically, our day started early.  We stayed up until about one a.m. this morning talking with Ryan about the next step: publishing our research.  Several of us will be working with Ryan and one of the University of Manitoba students, Jill, on a paper that will cover our five year permafrost study.  After we discussed a rough timeline, we headed straight for our beds.  Emma and I slept out in a tent within the Nester One compound.  It was really cool to be warm and cozy as we listened to the Arctic winds whirl around us.  In the morning, after a breakfast of pancakes and ham, we headed out with the U of M group who were hiking towards sites where they were going to spend the day taking data to add to our study.  We had to turn back in order to make it back to the compound in time to eat lunch and be ready for the helicopter.  So, in the middle of the tundra, we said and hugged our goodbyes to the Parks Canada rangers, the U of M students, many of whom we got to know well in only  two days, and of course Ryan.   I hope to keep in touch with many of these people who inspired and motivated me to continue my path somewhere in science.  I genuinely felt sad as we walked the opposite direction on the vast tundra.  Farther away, we spent some time sitting separated from each other focusing on listening to the sounds around us.  It was really great to tune in to the wind and the birds so closely.  I couldn’t help but imagine what this beautiful place is like when there are no humans around.  It seems completely magical to me how this environment functions.  We headed back to the compound to eat lunch and pack our final bags.  I was in the last helicopter flight out, so Dorothy, Emma, and I sent off the other three flights and found ways of spending the 40 minutes in between departures.  We did a final sweep to make sure we had all of our stuff and gave out presents to the Parks staff and people from the U of M course that included Park School honey and Old Bay.  We waved to each group as the circled the camp from the air and enjoyed the warmer, almost sunny weather.  Eventually, we said goodbye to those who were in the camp and climbed into the helicopter.  I sat in the front seat next to the pilot.  We spotted bears, listened to some Bob Dylan on the pilot’s ipod, and took in the amazing landscape that spread for miles below us.  We got back the CNSC, or “home” as several of us have been referring to it, took quick showers, and dove head first into the production of a Powerpoint presentation.  We worked for several hours entering data and creating slides to be ready at nine o’clock.  Our audience consisted of a large group of geography students from the University of Winnipeg who were surprised and impressed with our research and presentation.  Right after we took questions and talked with that group we loaded into a van and took a drive towards the town of Churchill, complete with good old Canadian CoffeeCrisps. Each day here has been crazy and busy, but every moment has been worth it.  To experience this place from any angle is incredible. 


August 19, 2010 (Kat Whitney)

Today was the single best day at Nester One, and possibly the entire trip.

We started the day in the mist and rain heading out on a hike with the U of M group and led by Ryan Brook and the Parks Canada staff as bear guards. Our destination was a set of two little hills over the beach ridge and past several willow clumps. We headed out dressed in our rain gear and on the lookout for bears. 

Roughly forty-five minutes into the hike we surprised a polar bear in the willow clump. Karin from Parks Canada spotted the bear as we came around the corner and ordered the group to stand still and quiet. We all watched as the bear ran through the shrubs before slowly making his way directly across our path on the ridge. We all got our cameras out and took photos of the bear in the mist standing high on the ridge. It was an amazing experience. The bear had no fear of us, just a mild curiosity and it stopped several times to look directly at us, as if to say “What are you doing here?”

We waited in a group until the bear had made his way downwind of us, before continuing on our way. We then parted ways from the U of M folks and made our way back to camp to get ready to do some probing in the afternoon. Lunch was eaten on the observatory tower with Heather, one of our favorite Parks Canada bear guards and we had a hearty discussion about the future of the polar bears and best management practices in the park. At some point during lunch we began to feel the sun on our faces and watched in amazement as the clouds were pushed aside by the wind and brilliant blue sky and bright sunshine poured in. We all were a little sun-crazy after the many days of cold and wet and we ran around in the front yard of the compound and even brought out the basketball for a little bit! 

The afternoon’s probing work was the best by far. I sat on the ridge overlooking the group and took photos of the work and of the landscape. The group broke out singing on several occasions and the time seemed to fly by. When we made our way back to camp it had almost gotten warm and so we obviously decided to go swimming! It was a mad dash to the lake edge where we all quickly stripped down to our long johns and rushed into the freezing cold water. It was decided that we would all go completely under and the first plunge was the hardest, we all screamed from the shock of it. The water felt amazing after not showering for several days and we splashed each other before going under once again. 

After drying off and changing into warm clothes we prepared for dinner all together under the most glorious sunset on the tundra. A makeshift long table had been set up in the yard and we sat down to enjoy a roast with bacon gravy and potatoes and biscuits. Ice cream sundaes for desert topped off the meal and we were all very content. After we had eaten there were several presentation/lectures given by students from U of M and their instructor. We broke to watch the sun finish setting and since it was a clear night there was much anticipation for the Northern Lights to show. 

A few of us set up watch on the tower while the group got to work planning out their presentation to be given Friday night at CNSC. The aurora started to show around 11:30pm and grew slightly brighter as the hours rolled by. I managed to get several decent photos of it by taking a long exposure and holding very still. 

We were all exhausted by the time we finally rolled into our tents or sleeping bags and said goodnight. I’m sure that this day will stay with us for a long time.


August 18, 2010 (Anna Rose Schenerman)

Today was our first full day at Nester One!  We woke up this morning to a nice hot breakfast, after which we got ready for a morning in the field.  We walked a short way away to a nearby fen to probe.  It took a little while for the probing to get underway because the ground was extremely gravely but we were able to probe both transects pretty quickly. We are getting faster and faster at laying out flags and probing each location.  While we were probing we could see the helicopter flying in and out with the people for the University of Manitoba Churchill field course that was also taking place in Nester One. 

After probing, we walked back to Nester One for a nice lunch of hot soup and pasta.  Once all of the U of M students had arrived and gotten situated, we set out on a hike on the beach ridges right outside of the compound.  The weather was awesome. For the first time since we left Winnipeg, we finally saw the sky!!! (Maybe tonight we’ll actually see the aurora borealis. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!) On the hike, we saw wolf tracks, a fox den, caribou tracks, a whole bunch of caribou antlers, and an actual caribou in the distance!

We had dinner when we came back, and then went out onto the roof to watch the sunset. The sunset was absolutely incredible.  It was super windy and cold on the platform on the roof, but we were so excited to finally see the sun and such an amazing sunset, that none of us really cared.

There are too many people staying at Nester One right now to all have room inside to sleep, so most of the U of M students are sleeping outside in tents, along with a few of us. Currently, Emma, Josie and I, and Jackson and Jonathan are gathering all of our gear and sleeping bags to sleep outside. The wind outside is crazy, but I’m wearing all the clothes I brought with me, and we have plenty of blankets and sleeping bags to keep us toasty warm. This should be interesting!


August 17, 2010 (Emma Saltzberg)

We woke to another cold morning at the CNSC. It’s always hard to leave the comfort and coziness of our blankets! At breakfast, we ate French toast and eggs, and then somewhat frantically tried to organize the rest of our stuff to go to Nester One. We found out that we were going to be able to go to Wapusk National Park a day earlier than planned!

But before we could leave, we had to do some more research and take care of some things in the town of Churchill. The group split up to do things most efficiently. In the field, we probed and analyzed the vegetation in an open wet fen and a treed fen. And in town, we had locals fill out toxicology surveys, we bought supplies, and we got an export permit for a caribou sample.

When we got back to the CNSC, we ate our bagged lunches and got a safety briefing from Hudson Bay Helicopters! We found out which helicopter groups we were in and waited until it was time for our group to leave.  The helicopter ride was incredible. We already knew we were a part of a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but being in a helicopter just added to the experience. Flying over the open tundra—with geese and polar bears galore!—was amazing. You could see for miles and miles.

Once everyone arrived at Nestor One, we shared a big group hug. Most of us have really become good friends through this trip. After, we heard yet another safety briefing about polar bears from the Parks Canada staff. Then some of us helped make dinner in the kitchen, and some of us just hung out and warmed up.  We ate a yummy dinner of perogies, sausage, broccoli and carrots, washed dishes, and heard a presentation about arctic critters. Jim, a professor at the University of Manitoba, taught us all about food webs and population dynamics of arctic foxes, lemmings, geese, polar bears, and a few other animals. The information was thought provoking, and Jim was a very energetic speaker. After the presentation, we laid out foam pads and sleeping bags and quickly fell asleep. 



August 16, 2010 (Jonathan Gorman)

The weather conditions had not changed since yesterday.  Everyone was a little more prepared today for the chilly wind.  For today we moved out to the fen for the first time to do our probing.  The fen is a shallow layer of water (5-10cm deep) with grasses emerging all along the surface.  This is broken up by many spongy islands of peat and moss with a few short tamaracks (type of pine).  We all got into our hip and chest waiters in preparation.  At the fen we saw small specimens of butterwort, the only carnivorous plant in the arctic, for the first time this trip.  We decided that due to the windy cold weather we would cut our probing short and do only one transect instead of two.  We went to Miss Piggy, a crashed C-46 aircraft, to eat lunch.  Although we didn't end up eating in the aircraft, we did climb in and take pictures.  From the van where we had lunch we watched the waves bash against the rocks.  Back at the CNSC we had a conversation to prepare us both for the powerpoint we would later give at the research center and our guest speaker, Caroline, who is going to have dinner with us and to talk about culture.  Dinner is now the next thing on our agenda.

For dinner we had the normal buffet, with the addition of char also being served.  Dinner with Caroline was surprisingly quiet.  Afterwards Caroline talked about her experiences.  To give a very brief summary of what she talked about, she was taken away from her family at the age of six to residential school.  There she was taught English and was beaten if she spoke her native language.  When she got back to her family, she did not know any of the traditions that her family had expected her to know by her age.  She reverted to drinking because of the pain she felt.  Later Caroline decided to stop drinking and to learn what she can from her remaining relatives about her culture.  Now she does educational programs telling her stories as she goes along.

We are leaving tomorrow for Nester 1 which is earlier than planned.  For sure we will have an exiting day tomorrow.  The blog however might not be posted for the next few days.

PS- Don't forget to check on the Arctic Photos page


Augest 15, 2010 (Josie Verchomin)

Today we got off to an early start, eventhough a couple of us had some technical issues involving an alarm and sleep. While we were on our way to finish and collect more data we saw some beautiful arctic loons diving in and out of one of the many lakes around here. We had no trouble finding the sites (that is the GPS seems to be working) There were also no bugs, only to be replaced by 40 degree weather with wind that knocked us over many times. It was our first big day of data collection and it was great. We managed to have fun screaming out how deep the permafrost was, and breaking a large metal probe. Julie just came in a said we will be posting a video of us, (Wahoooo) After canking out three sites we headed back to the CNSC blasting awesome contry music all the way.

We just ate a wonderful, yummy, meal and now some of us our playing with the kids or crunching numbers into our huge data table. We are planing on going out again to collect more soil samples around the rocket launch buildings, so pumped for that :) (we are actually leaving now to do that, YESSSSSS) So far this trip has just been amazing.

We just got back from our soil and paint samples adventure. It was pouring and still is pouring rain that hits you like little pebbles because the wind is blowing so hard. We had fun making wind seats for ourselves. Some of us even spread our arms and legs out leaning in towards the wind, a few of us attempted to fly, surprisingly it didn't work out that well. We filled all our tubes and recorded all the locations. We even ventured inside of some of the rocket launcher buildings, super cool but a bit creepy.


August 14, 2010 (Jackson Hance)

It’s our first day in the Arctic! At about 9:00 am the train rolled into the town of Churchill after a 17 hour train ride. It’s a cloudy, breezy, brisk day in Churchill. Fortunately for us that meant that there are very few mosquitoes. We went on a bus to the Churchill Northern Study Center (CNSC) and began our first real day of research and field work. We toured the Study Center, ate a quick breakfast of donuts, and were allowed a short period of time to settle into our rooms. We reconvened in the classroom at the study center and received a briefing on Polar Bear safety from Ryan Brook.

After eating lunch at the CNSC we headed into the field for the first time. Our first site was rather hard to find as we were inexperienced with the use of the GPS and we were at first unable to find vital information such as the distance to the desired locations. Despite these challenge we were able to find our way to our first data collection site. We managed to graze on some berries (blueberries and cloudberries).  

Our first data collection site was an open are completely carpeted in moss and lichen. In some places, as happens in this type of habitat, wedges of underground ice had split the ground and the carpet, revealing a wet are through which one could—by putting your arm in almost to the shoulder—feel the hard ice beneath. We set up our transects and began probing and collecting data on the vegetation. After a few hours we headed back to the Study center for dinner. Only our first day and we already have managed to be late for a meal.

We’ve now packed our lunches for tomorrow and will soon be gathering as a group... to be continued.


August 13, 2010 (Friday the 13, OH NO!)(Akira Townes)

After arriving at the hotel in Thomson at around 2 o’clock in the morning, we then were informed that if we weren’t tired enough, we still had to unload all of our luggage from the trailer. We slept in and met in the lobby at 9:30 to go to breakfast at Tim Horton’s. After we returned from breakfast we loaded up the trailer to head over to the train station to catch our 1 o’clock. Once we arrived, we found out that we wouldn’t be able to get on the train until about 4 or 6. With the extra time that we had, we went on a little hike on the Millennium Trail. While on the trail we did some plant ID, to test our knowledge. At the end of the trail was a playground so we hung out on the playground until our bus came. Once Ed, the bus driver got there, he told of this wonderful story of his family. What made the story the best is the fact that he had been told the story by his grandfathers and was now making us apart of tradition of history being pasted down orally.  After story telling, we got some lunch at Subway and then headed over to the train station. At around 4:30 we got on the train and got comfy. We did some bonding activities and then had chill time. After chilling, we had another activity where we had to make life maps that led us to where we are today. A little later we had dinner and dessert. Then we watched Glee and some other shows. For the rest of the night we just stayed up talking and laughing until we all passed out in mildly uncomfortable positions on the seats of the train. 


August 12, 2010  (Maia Draper-Reich)

Today started in our lovely Winnipeg hotel.  We ate breakfast at 9:30 at the restaurant in the hotel.  Jay, our cheerful waiter, took good care of all fifteen of us as we ordered eggs, waffles, bacon, and coffee.   We packed up our bags and stashed them in a storage room in the hotel lobby and headed off, walking towards the Manitoba Museum.  Once we got there, our tour guide walked us through interactive dioramas, a replica of the sailing ship the Nonsuch, and other exhibits that showed us about the history and different environments of Manitoba.  To serve our interests, our tour guide focused on the Northern regions and specifically Churchill.  One highlight was a recently added exhibit that showed, over three large screens, an animated representation of what Churchill looked like 400 million years ago.  Walking through models of the environments we were going to spend time in only made us more excited to head straight north and begin our days working in the field.  

Next, we walked to the Old Spaghetti Factory where we met up with Ryan, a professor of ecology and large animals at the University of Saskatchewan and a collaborator on our permafrost study.  He is the one making it possible for us to travel to Nester 1.  We met his family and all of us shared a lunch consisting of different varieties of spaghetti.  Then, we walked back to our hotel where our bus and driver, Ed, were waiting for us.  We loaded everything and set out on the eight-hour drive towards the Pas where we were going to catch the train.  We made periodic stops as we drove north.  We hit a bump in the road when Dorothy learned that the train was not going to the Pas and we were going to drive up to Thomson.  Luckily for us, Ed was flexible and very capable of handling the two lane roadways.  This was only a few hours more, so we all went with the flow and ended up in Thomson at two a.m. after about 11 hours on the bus.  We unloaded the luggage and found our way to our rooms and beds in a sleepy fog.  At least we got to spend another night in real beds.  


August 11, 2010  (Anna Rose Schenerman)

We're finally on our way! Yesterday we started our long journey to Churchill at about 4:30AM in the BWI airport.  Two plane rides, and about six hours later, we arrived in Winnipeg where we checked into the Place Louis Riel hotel.  We then had our first meeting where we introduced ourselves a bit more and journaled.  Unfortunately, Dorothy's flight hadn't arrived yet so we got to go nap while we waited for her to arrive. When Dorothy got here we had another meeting to go around and introduce ourselves then headed out to go see the pavilion  of the Metis people (people who are of a mixed descent of native people and European hunters and trappers from years ago).  The pavilion was sort of a display the culture of the people with food, a dancing performance, and a small museum display of traditional clothing) We had a delicious dinner of buffalo stew, buffalo pie, wild rice, and bannock (traditional deep fried bread) while watching a dance  and music performance.  The dancing was a combination of tap dancing and square dancing and was really impressive, especially considering some of the dancers couldn’t have been younger than 65.   We also got to look around at a museum display they had set up in the back of the hall with a table of furs and traditional Metis clothing and jewelry.  It was a really fun evening, but the best part of all was definitely standing at a bus stop for 20 minutes getting completely mosquito bitten. We were all incredibly exhausted after being awake for almost 20 hours straight though and were super happy to get back to the hotel where we all immediately collapsed.  THE END.


August 10, 2010 (blogged by Emma Saltzberg)

At the meeting four days ago, none of this really seemed real. I volunteered to blog the night before we left, but it's strange that that's exactly what I'm doing now. I'm finally realizing that bright and early tomorrow morning--at 6:48AM. woooo!--I'll be on a flight to Chicago and starting this (very long) journey. I'm so excited. I'm sure a lot of us have been running around frantic today, just like me. We've made our last trips to REI and L. L. Bean, and our duffels are pretty stuffed. In less than twelve hours, I'll have to wake up and go to the airport. But even though my 3AM-ish wake-up time is crazy, I know that it'll definitely be worth it. I can't wait for our once-in-a-lifetime experience to start. See you all at 4:45 tomorrow morning :)

P.S. In my research about Arctic animals, I've found some pretty adorable pictures. I'm so excited to see polar bears! But even though they're cute, don't forget to watch out!


August 6, 2010 (blogged by Julie Rogers)

We had our last parent-student Arctic Trip preparation dinner meeting last night. The excitement in the air from students and parents alike was palpable.  We met Dorothy Lagana, the Global Explorers field employee and dear friend my mine, over speaker phone during the meeting. Personality chemistry on the trip is essential and Dorothy, I think we would all now agree, has enough energy, enthusiasm, and love of life for all of us.  Almost everyone had a question or two that was answered by me or the vetran parents in the group.  Each of the seven students on the trip has required reading and some aspect of the experience, be it cultural, sciency, or historical that s/he is researching.  On the train, each student will teach the group their area of expertise (and we'll all play some sort of game or do some type of activity to reinforce our learning of that topic).  Five days to go.  I feel almost ready.  We're meeting at the airport at 4:45am on August 11th.  A student, Emma Saltzberg '12, has volunteered to blog the evening of the 10th to get the blogging ball rolling.  Churchill, here we come.