Kugluktuk, Nunavut

Due to freezing rain and snow forecast for Inuvik, NWT, Alex and I came to Kugluktuk, Nunavut yesterday from Yellowknife.  Kugluktuk is 67 degrees 49 minutes north latitude, i.e., well above the Arctic Circle.  The town’s 1300 residents get all of their supplies in via air or by barges that come up the Mackenzie River, east through the Amundsen Gulf of the Arctic Ocean, through the Dolphin and Union Strait and into Coronation Gulf.  Sealift is possible only after the August breakup of the ice.

The Canadian Flight Supplement, equivalent to our FAA Airport Facilities Directory, shows that the 5500′ gravel strip here has 100LL fuel for sale.  I decided to call and verify.  “Yes we do have Avgas,” Alameda said, “How many barrels do you want?”  If you want less than 55 gallons or you don’t carry your own pump you’re kind of stuck.  “There are some guys doing an aerial survey up here who are using Avgas and have a pump.  They might sell you some of theirs.”

The hotel in Yellowknife was full, Inuvik was inaccessible to a plane without good de-icing gear, so I decided to launch.  It was a beautiful day filled with Arctic light and a few puffy clouds spreading over the rock-and-lake-studded tundra.  During the 2.5-hour flight I did not see another airplane or any sign of human influence on the ground aside from one small mining town.  The Cirrus SR20 can be run “lean of peak” with remarkable fuel efficiency:  8.5 gallons per hour at 140 knots.  I made it all the way from Yellowknife to Kugluktuk on less than half of the Cirrus’s tanks.  Frugality turned out to be unnecessary because just after I landed Denys taxied in with his Piper Navajo, festooned with magnetic survey gear.  Yellowknife and the lands to the north turn out to be home to some of the world’s richest diamond reserves, unproven until the early 1990s.  Folks fly around in bizarre aircraft looking for anomalies that indicate the presence of kimberlite pipes.  Denys and his crew filled N707WT, drove me to the town’s only open hotel (closed as of tonight for two weeks’ holiday), and brought me back here to the airport today.

Kugluktuk is an easy place to make friends if you’re traveling with a dog.  The “Copper Inuit” here have been making full use of modern technology.  The entire town, like most towns in Nunavut, is blanketed with a wireless Internet.  Travel in winter is via snowmobile, in summer via powerboat or four-wheeler.  Everyone is enthusiastic about hunting and eating “country foods” such as dried caribou, seal meat, or dried Arctic Char.  The local newspaper is filled with statistics on animals hunted for food or their hide.  The saddest number for me was the CDN$80 average price paid for a seal skin; it was painful for me to think about a wild animal killed for such a low price.

The teachers working in the government building invited me in for coffee and showed me their translation projects.  The Inuktitut language had mostly died out, except among some elders, and the territorial and federal governments are trying to revive it.  The kids, however, are not said to share the bureaucrats’ enthusiasm for the ancient tongue.  They’d rather speak English.

Folks in town pitied me for having to live in “the south”.  “How can you live in a place where all of the land is restricted and you can’t just go where you please?” they asked.  Here one can got for hundreds of miles in almost any direction without running into private property.  If you want to build a cabin you apply for permission from the tribal council and pay a minimal annual rent on the land (don’t try this if you are white).  “What did I like about Boston?” they asked.  “It is easy to find experts from whom to learn,” was my reply.  “But we have the Internet,” they responded.

Thanks to Irene, Corey, and Carey, Kugluktuk can be a very comfortable place to stay.  They run the Coppermine Inn, which is also the town’s only restaurant (superb home-made pies!).  The town offers beautiful views of the bay from almost every street.  The bugs haven’t come out yet this year (end of June is usually the beginning of the season of mosquitoes so numerous that you inhale them by mistake and so big that they ought to have navlights).  It would be a great place to return in April to run around in snowmobiles and look at the northern lights.

Everything was going swimmingly until I went back to the airport.  The public forecast had been for a nice sunny day.  A cold front, however, had swept down from the northwest and brought low ice-filled clouds and rain mixed with snow grains.  Right now it is 3 degrees C, about 1400 overcast, and the rain is coming down sideways.  Willie Laserich, the German bush pilot legend, came in a couple of hours ago from Cambridge Bay in his de-iced Twin Otter and said that he wouldn’t be willing to proceed southwest (my direction) even in his vastly more capable airplane.  Hans, who runs the flight service station and quasi-control tower here, is keeping us supplied with hot dogs, ginger ale, and high-speed Internet.  Maybe in another 8-12 hours things will clear and we can move on to Norman Wells or Dawson City, Yukon…

(Personal note: I’ve now visited every Canadian territory and province.  Before this trip I had never been to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, or Nunavut.)

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