A Hiker’s Survival Guide
After a High Arctic hiking trip to Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, hiking enthusiast Yvonne Kyle creates a Dictionary of sorts to describe her amazing trip.
arduous adj one of many terms, not equally positive, to describe the physical challenge of walking 140 km in 13 days, on rough terrain, over hills through valleys and around glaciers, carrying a heavy backpack.
bear banger n 1 noise maker effective in dissuading a muskox from entering a campsite. 2 a device to scare away polar bears, if any were silly enough to think they might find something to eat in river valleys far from the sea ice.
Charybdis and Scylla n 1 glaciers, about 200 m apart, between which a hiker walks on the rocky debris left by receding glaciers. 2 glaciers, between which in 2012, one could walk with a hand on both at the same time.
circle v 1 action of wolves considering baby muskoxen as a potential meal. 2 action of a muskox herd when threatened wherein young are positioned in a core behind adults facing toward the danger. 3 action of wolves when they determine that people watching them need themselves to be watched closely before the wolves move into the river bed.
n path of the sun relative to the Earth for 24 hours every day in an Arctic summer.
eat! v encouragement provided by a hiker from whose back pack a meal or snack bag has been taken to implore trip-mates to consume everything in the bag, thereby reducing the load the hiker must carry.
empty adj 1 how one may initially perceive the Arctic landscape until one gets closer and sees the abundance of life tucked into myriad nooks and crannies. 2 containing few reference points such as trees, making it difficult to estimate distances.
fiord n long narrow bay, often lined with cliffs and glaciers. Tanquary Fiord 1 former home to a Defense Research Board base (1962-1974). 2 current home to one of three Quttinirpaaq National Park warden stations. 3 start and end point for adventurers circum – navigating the Ad Astra and Viking ice caps. Grise Fiord 1 northern – most inhabited community in Canada.
footing n 1 where one places one’s feet to maximize the chances of remaining erect and not injuring oneself. 2 what one must watch at all times, thereby reducing the opportunity to gaze at the scenery unless one stops moving and accepts that one will usually be the slowest hiker. good footing 1 solid level ground with few loose rocks. 2 terrain that allows hikers to cover up to 14 km per day, especially if it also contains few inclines. poor footing 1 terrain that requires increased diligence to avoid accidents e.g. hummocks and tussocks, loose rocks between the approximate size of a baseball and a basketball, closely-piled boulders of varying sizes and shapes, bog. 3 considerably more commonly found than good footing on a High Arctic hike.
gobsmacked adj 1 overwhelming feeling of awe when encountering ever-changing displays of stunning glaciers, snow-topped mountains, tundra, valleys, streams, etc. 2 disbelief after traversing a route previously thought to be impassable by humans. 3 pride and satisfaction upon completion of a High Arctic hike.
incline n 1 part of a trail that increases in elevation, causing weary legs to move more slowly. 2 cause for questioning the efficacy of one’s pre-trip training for an Arctic trek. 3 direction of travel frequently required before a hiker can move to lower ground. 4 often encountered immediately after one’s trip-mate says, “it’s all down hill from here.”
jeffism n 1 words of wisdom or quirky expressions spoken by one’s trip-mate. e.g. (upon discovery of something good) “well put me in the frozen food aisle,” (when observing a trip-mate’s reaction to a glacier) “I’ve never seen someone get so excited about an ice cube on steroids.”
lemming n 1 small rodent that may, but probably will not, be seen on Ellesmere Island. 2 unit of measure for tundra vegetation e.g. mouse-eared chickweed is shorter than a lemming, capitate lousewort is taller than a lemming.
Mars n 1 one of the subjects of research for scientists in the Arctic. 2 planet that comes to mind when observing the terrain of the Arctic, particularly vast tracts of nearly plant-less tundra clay littered with boulders, often reddish in colour.
non-sketcherific adj term used by a guide to describe the desired pathway down a slope where the slope may be steep, have risky consequences if a trekker falls, or be comprised of areas with poor footing.
northern time n 1 euphemism used to explain travel delays caused by weather, mechanical issues, and business decisions. 2 good reason NOT to plan anything on the day one is scheduled to return from an Arctic adventure.
parade v 1 the action of a herd of muskoxen, including babies, moving past campers on the opposite river bank. 2 the action of a group of people moving past a herd of muskoxen standing on a hillside.
Quttinirpaaq n 1 Inuit word meaning “top of the world.” 2 national park established in 1988 and formally recognized in 2001 to protect 37,750 sq. km of the Canadian Eastern High Arctic.
scree slope n 1 steep hill comprised of loose shale that hikers must navigate to get around a glacier reaching into the river valley. 2 decline manoeuvred by walking a series of switchbacks 3 area with high likelihood of all trekkers falling and potentially tearing their pants.
sun: n. 1 glowing orb that brightens the Arctic sky 24 hours each summer day, except when it is blocked by clouds, fog, snow, or rain. 2 source of warmth for Arctic trekkers, except when it is blocked by clouds, fog, snow, or rain.
surprise n 1 unexpected treasures encountered when one must watch the ground intently to maintain one’s footing. e.g. cool rocks, fossils, bumblebees, bones. 2 new breathtaking view when one rounds a corner or climbs a hill. 3 brilliant arrays of colourful flowers, mosses, grasses, etc. that negate the concept of tundra being barren. 4 the discovery of remnants of trees, thousands of years old, that have been left behind by receding glaciers.
tenacity n the quality of tiny Arctic plants that allows them to find just enough nourishment and protection to take root in a field of rocks and ice.
trekking pole n 1 useful device to assist with balance on uneven terrain or when crossing streams. 2 acceptable alternative to trees as posts for a storm shelter or a clothesline.
water n 1 clear, cold liquid formed when glaciers melt providing a refreshing beverage for hikers. 2 liquid flowing through one or more of the water courses in a river bed, often blocking hikers’ intended route and requiring them to execute stream crossings. 3 barrier to safe stream crossing if in excess of the height of a trekker’s boots, necessitating the changing of footwear to maintain dry boots. 4 may be difficult to locate, even in a river valley, without resorting to having one or more hikers travel for 30 minutes to a source.
weight n 1 an abundance that makes a backpack awkward to pick up and a challenge to carry at the beginning of a 13-day hike but which becomes increasingly more manageable as food and fuel are consumed. 2 what hikers may lose several pounds of during a multi-day hike.
wind n 1 movement of air that forces hikers to reorganize their clothing layers each time they stop for a break. 2 force that blows down from glaciers accompanied by precipitation that manifests as horizontal snowfall. 3 often the reason why hikers retreat to their tents immediately after eating supper. 4 difficult to escape when walking on the open tundra.