Rei’s Arctic Adventure
Many of you are aware that when I’m not drawing I’m working in the freelance videography and motion graphics realm. If you’re reading this, then you’re likely also aware that I signed up for a shoot that would take me as far north as the sixty-fourth parallel. If you’re willing to do a bit of reading, I’d be happy to tell you a story about a place where there are no trees and where the snow blows sideways. If you don’t like reading, I took a few photos just for you.
Pre-Shoot Day 1
A day that began like many before. I got up early and drove out to the Nisku Inn near the Edmonton International Airport where I would meet Steve (the outdoor television show producer that requested my videography services) with Jia, who would take the car home. My wife and I parted ways and I sat down to a late breakfast to go over what would ultimately be the hardest week of work I’ve ever had to do, unbeknownst to me at this time.
Steve and I ran a little late, but managed to catch our 11:30am Westjet flight from Edmonton to Yellowknife.
Yellowknife is a little more than an hour north of edmonton (as the aluminum bird flies), or around 1400 kilometers (870mi) by ground. I’ve done the drive before and I’m more than happy to have flown this time.
When we arrived, the airport was about as empty as I remember it being when I was little. I used to make the trip every summer when I was in my early teens to visit my mother who lived and still lives in Yellowknife. As much as I would have loved to spend some time with her, the trip didn’t really afford me the luxury.
Part of what I had to shoot was the airport; some b-roll to tell the story of the producer’s trip.
This meant I needed a tarmac escort, and an appropriate vehicle to be ferried around in while inside the restricted landing strips.
I don’t care how old you are; when you get to go for a ride in a firetruck, you will instantly revert to a child mental state. Even though I had to work, riding around in the YKZ Airport firetruck was the highlight of my day.
Pre-Shoot Day 2
From here on out, it’s safe to assume that I was up early every day. We checked our packs and made our way down to the Air Tindi float plane docks, checked in and loaded our equipment on the twin-prop Otter.
One must assume that the pilot is experienced, and that in the even of an emergency, would do everything in their power to save as many people as possible. This does not, however, keep one’s mind from wandering into frightening scenarios. I’m a confident flyer, I know the statistics, I realize that flying is the safest form of travel, but that doesn’t stop me from imagining the worst.
Aside from some slight turbulence in the first half-hour of our hour-and-a-half flight, the ride was realatively smooth, and the vew was quite breathtaking: Trees and water, as far as the eye could see, though only for the first little bit before the trees became scarce and eventually non-present.
Our float plane flight would take us almost 400 kilometers (250mi) northeast of Yellowknife, just beyond the NWT border into Nunavut. There are no roads that go this far north in the summer. No wired electricity. No plumbing. I had left civilization behind and was heading into the true untamed Canadian wilderness.
If I were to venture a guess, the cool winds that greeted us upon arrival were only just above freezing. I’m quite accustomed to winter, but many of the others that came with us on the flight were from the US; some had never seen snow. Having not had the chance to acclimate yet, even I felt it was a bit too brisk to be outside for longer than a few minutes.
The float plane ferried away the previous group who looked a little weathered, and those of us left behind began to settle into the tents that we would call home for the next week.
I slipped on a few more layers and the camouflage I brought with me. I grabbed the backup camera and started snapping a few shots here and there to capture the first bits of video and photos that would make up the b-roll for our arrival in this new cold, treeless world.
My bags weren’t even put away before I was in full-on shoot-mode. This was exciting, but as the night went on it began to sink in that despite being amongst a few other people, I really was quite alone. I was the only nerdy videographer amongst manly survivalists.
Shoot Day 1
Our Nunavut guides were six local Inuit people. Sam would be our guide. Suzie was the camp kitchen cook, and a glimmer of sunshine when even the toughest of us were down. There was also Sam and Suzie’s son Shane, as well as the other Inuit guides who took other groups of two out every day, though from what I hear, Sam was probably one of the best to get.
There were signs of life in this rugged edge of the world if you knew where to look for them. Caribou tracks in the sand took us up over ruddy hills and down through cold, wet muskeg.
Every so often we would stop to admire the view, and glass for Caribou. Much of it looked the same; uneven, rust coloured tundra sprinkled with hardy sprigs of stunted grass and moss, lichen-spotted rocks, and seemingly endless sheets of frigid, black water.
The water was just about the only thing that seemed familiar, aside from the fact that it was so pristine and untouched by civilization that you could drink straight from it. We never spent a day thirsty, and it was some of the best drinking water I’ve ever had. The boat rides each day were no shorter than an hour each way.
By mid-afternoon, the wind began to pick up and we had only seen two Caribou. We docked the boat on the calm side of the crescent and hiked to the top to glass. The wind nearly knocked me off my feet as I crested the upper edge, though the view was more than worth the short hike.
If I had known this would be one of the last days I would see the sun like this, I might have spent a little more time enjoying it, but our group needed to get moving if we were to catch up with our quarry.
We did manage to spot a ‘Bou herd from the cove, but it was further away than we could close the ground on before sunset and there was a strict rule about being back at base camp before sunset. While we did have a few amenities like gas heat and generator light in the larger tent, we were surviving. We made it back on time this day.
In the event of being stranded away from base-camp, we would have to make do without heat, sleeping bags, and possibly food for a night. This might sound a lot like regular camping, but when there is no fire, staying warm in sub-zero nights can easily mean death from hypothermia.
Shoot Day 2
While most of the second day at Contwoyto Lake was overcast, it was a nearly windless day. Just about every other day at camp had (at least) a wind constant around 30km/h gusting to 60. I could hear myself think and the boat-ride was almost enjoyable. This day we did a hard hike to catch up with a herd of ‘Bou up and down about 800ft and at least 6 kilometers round trip. Aside from the few sand beaches we docked on, there was no flat ground to speak of. I carried around 40 pounds of gear in my pack with an EX-1 mounted to a tripod over my shoulder. This was the first day we came back late. Not too late, but later than Suzie would have liked, seeing how our guide was her husband.
Shoot Day 3
I woke to the third day of shooting to a gorgeous sunrise through thick layers of fast-moving clouds. The mornings were particularly cold when first climbing out of my warm winter sleeping bag. Fortunately it was a quick sprint to the camp kitchen to get something warm in my belly for another long day of hiking through the mounds and mire.
I was finally acclimating to the cooler temperatures of the north; my body quickly remembering to burn a few more calories to keep my extremities from freezing. This day we decided to head southward on the lake and I began to realize just how huge this lake really was. We landed on a rocky beach and caught up with a herd of Caribou after another hike.
It was quite a bit of shooting on my end before we were all wrapped uo for the day. This put us back at base camp nearly past eight. Suzie was not pleased.
Shoot Day 4
The night was cold. My sleeping bag was more than adequate to keep me warm, but quite a few of the others in the camp mentioned that they had trouble sleeping in the cold. It snowed that night. We headed south on the lake this day, and the wind was bad. We knew we would have a hard time coming back through it at the end of the day. We hiked further and harder than ever before; over hills and through rivers. I was up to my knees through the last river and knew that once I stopped moving and generating my own heat, that I could be in trouble. We came across a gigantic herd of Caribou, but they had skirted us around a distant lake by the time we caught up. It was too late to continue our pursuit and we hiked back to the boat. As long as I was moving, I was fine. I was no more dry than after I had been in the river by the time we returned to the boat, and it would be at least an hour, riding against 60km/h gusts in below zero temp before I could get into something dry. When we landed on shore I had stopped uncontrollably shivering. This was the first stages of hypothermia. Steve and a few others quickly ushered me into the outfitter tent and helped me pry my boots off. The laces were frozen solid and I couldn’t feel my legs past my upper thighs. After a few minutes I started getting feeling back and shivering again. It was an experience I never want to relive.
Shoot Day 5
By now it seemed as though we must have landed on the last day of fall, and mother nature decided it was time for winter. It didn’t snow, but it was certainly below zero with a good deal of wind-chill. We took a short half-hour boat ride, spotted our ‘Bou just off the shore. Got our footage and were pretty much wrapped up.
Most of the others in camp were fishing by now and with most of the major videography done, I had a chance to relax at camp. All I really had left to do now was shoot some scenic stuff around camp with a bit of product placement here and there for Steve’s show. I drank some warm tea, and took it easy. The next day the plane would arrive in the morning I would soon be back in civilization.
Shoot Day 6
I woke up. It was cold. This isn’t news, but something felt different. The clouds were low and the wind wouldn’t settle right. I passed it off and ate breakfast. When I was done, I walked out of the tent and couldn’t see the far shore. There was a couple centimeters of snow on the ground and a lot more of it going sideways. We were in a snow storm.
My stomach sank. Steve said the float plane was grounded. We would not see the float plane until the storm lifted, and anyone who’s lived in Canada through a winter anywhere flat knows these storms can last days. I kept my mouth shut, Steve did too. The others hoped that this would blow over like the others before it, but this was a big storm. If it was going to lift, the soonest it could would be in hours, maybe if we were lucky, in the night. Everyone hunkered down for what could be a long wait. The fuel that ran the stoves in camp were depleted. By noon, we would have to rely on our layers to keep us warm.
Everyone just sort of went quiet. Normally they’d chat light heartedly amongst one another and a few of them even started opening up to me (particularly when I nearly froze to death), but now it was different. I’ve been through Canadian winters, I know how to deal with this sort of bleakness, but even I didn’t want to look at it. I went to my tent and decided it would be best to conserve energy and heat. I napped on and off, my hands tucked into my pockets. Hours went by. I looked over at the tent zipper which had been mangled rather ferociously by my roomie and thought that I might be seeing a bit of blue out there. I thought that it would be too good to be true, passing off the chance to the fact that the tent’s interior is mostly orange and it’s just a trick of the eyes. I was a bit hungry though, so I figured I’d head out anyways. When I poked my head out, the snow had nearly stopped entirely and there was indeed a few breaks in the clouds. Enough, I thought, that if it wasn’t too late in the day, that we could signal in the float plane. I headed over to Steve who was spending the wait time in the camp kitchen. He seemed busy trying to cheer up one of the others when I mentioned that the storm may be breaking. Even this hardened outdoor enthusiasts’ eyes lit up just a little. He checked and agreed, though there was still a chance that the pilot could assess the weather when he arrived and turn back. A chance was worth it. We signaled for pick up.
The breaks held and everyone was more than relieved to see our Otter touch down on the lake. We knew that we were pressed for time, so the others had all their forms filled out for their gains for the week before the Otter landed. It was barely an hour before we were all on the plane and headed away from the cold, the wet, and the white.
I had strapped a Hero3 to the stinger of the Otter and caught the first light of the sun as we lifted up past the thick clouds. The jovial cacophony of the others died to appreciative silence at the view on my tiny iPhone screen.
Quicker than I might have thought it would, the snow was gone, and the trees were back. The sunset shone through thousands of lakes dotting the NWT landscape through my tiny float plane window. A welcome sight, aside from feeling rather cramped in my seat. No sooner had we landed and I had gotten a stable WiFi signal, I was texting my wife to let her know that I was alive and well.
I drank my first beer in weeks at the Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife after we landed, and it had to be one of the best beers I’ve had in my life. The guys regaled us with their versions of their adventure from the past week. This went on for an hour or two, before we all turned in early. A warm, soft bed seemed almost alien.
Post-Shoot Day 1
Steve and I stayed at the delightful Dancing Moose Bed and Breakfast in Yellowknife, just off the shore from the Air Tindi docks. If you’re ever in Yellowknife, I would definitely recommend spending a night there. Great service, good beds, nice people, and one cute server.
Steve told me to sleep in, and while I suppose in comparison to the past week, I did indeed sleep in, it was 8am when I sauntered into the Dancing Moose Cafe for a coffee and breakfast.
Steve and I arrived at the Yellowknife airport around noon and boarded the plane at our leisure. We talked numbers, and performance and he said I had done about was well as he expected of me.
This was an adventure I will never forget, and I mean that in a sense that it was both a breathtaking experience, as well as a damaging one. I have a few scrapes and broken blood vessels to show for it, but I think the positive/negative trade off ends nearly equal.
True adventure is rarely comfortable.
Finally, a modular solution to phones. Look out Apple.
Tumblr-Man is a definite YES.
Art Deco automobiles
Here’s a promotional video I did up for the Ontario based electronica group “Squid Lid.”
Fur Affinity, the internet’s largest online furry art community.
Fur Affinity, the internet’s largest online furry art community.
Fur Affinity, the internet’s largest online furry art community.
Commissions Opening Soon Update
I got a bit sidetracked with additional work. Now that it’s more or less out of the way I’ll be starting up with a pay-what-you-want Sketch Stream this Wednesday afternoon (around 7pm Mountain Time). I should be online for sketch commissions for at least a couple hours.
At about the same time, I’ll be posting the journal opening my commission queue. Remember; this thing doesn’t open for years at a time, so if you’ve wanted one from me for a while, here’s your chance. Slots will be limited.
There’s also going to be a YCH style auction involving Neesah, and one involving Jessi.
Details on all of these things work will be in the subsequent notification-posts tomorrow afternoon.
For those of you who can’t make the stream tomorrow, I’ll probably also be doing another PWYW Sketch Stream the next morning (Thursday).
See you soon!
Commissions Opening SOON
I have this week free, and so I’ll be opening up my commission queue in the next day or two.
This journal isn’t the opening announcement (so requests here won’t count). It’ll be first come - first served when I post the opening. There will also be one ladder auction and probably a sketch stream day where I’ll just be doing 1hr sketches, or maybe a pay by the hour type deal thingie.
If there’s anything else you’d like to see me do this week, (YCH maybe?) let me know; I’m always open to new ideas!
So yeah, lots of goodies up for grabs!