Counting the days to Arctic Return

Twenty years ago, the late Louie Kamookak led the way to ruins of the cairn that John Rae built in 1854. At that site, three of us erected a plaque and toasted Rae and the two men who traveled with him — the Inuk William Ouligbuck Jr. and the Ojibway Thomas Mistegan.

Now the Arctic Return Expedition is within two weeks of departing for that site — and getting there the hard way. And in radically different conditions than those you see in these images. I’ve been chatting with Ottawa-based expedition leader David Reid. The three other team members will make their way to his neck of the woods on March 22, arriving from Toronto, Vancouver, and Scotland. The expedition will follow the route of the epochal 1854 expedition led by John Rae — the one that discovered the fate of Franklin and the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage. They’ll spend a couple of days at a hotel getting organized. David will set up two long tables to serve as a

production line. Then the guys will set to work packing 160 grab bags, forty each, because what are they going to eat while trekking for 35 days across frozen tundra? The Ottawa hotel is within easy reach of grocery stores, David says, just in case one of the guys realizes at the last moment that he can’t live for 35 days, and while trekking 650 km, without numerous packages of those dark-chocolate-covered almonds. On March 25, the four will fly to Winnipeg. Next day, they will fly to Naujaat (Repulse Bay). They’ll stay there a couple of nights and then set out, probably on March 28, maybe the 29th, for Point de la Guiche, where Rae built that cairn overlooking Rae Strait. We’ll be able to follow the trekkers by checking their route map. They will also publish a blog. If you’re anything like me, you will follow closely.

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