A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

The Stories Benoît Told in the ‘Dacks

September 16, 2017
Emilie Phillips

We should have been unpacking from our Olympics trip, but when Benoît called saying he would be this side of the Hudson Strait, we had to go visit. He was in Montreal, too far to drive. We agreed to meet half way by flying to the Adirondacks.

Emilie flying the Bearhawk

The forecast for the weekend was fog in the mornings burning off to scattered clouds. The fog wasn’t an issue. We were unlikely to finish packing before it burned off, and we had to stop at Jaffrey for gas. I flew the Bearhawk to Jaffrey and then up to Lake Placid. Looking at the gray mass surrounding Mt Monadnock, Tyson doubted my plan to fly above the clouds, but once we passed the mountain, the rest of the flight was mostly clear as reported. On landing, Tyson reminded me of approach speed, but otherwise I flew the Bearhawk unaided. I think that’s a first.

We arrived at Lake Placid a few minutes after Benoît, each of us an hour behind schedule. Admittedly, an hour behind schedule is the standard timing when we meet up with Benoît. We ate lunch at a restaurant and then hiked out to Marcy Dam. The real point wasn’t the hike, it was time spent with Benoît hearing about life in Iqaluit, NU.

Size comparison?

Iqaluit is the capital of Nunavut, Canada. It is up on Baffin Island where it stays light all summer. 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle. The whole city is off the grid. The roads stop at the edge of town. Outside of town is nothing but tundra and Frobisher Bay. The town is powered by a giant diesel generator. Electricity prices are high enough that Benoît bought a whole case of LEDs in Montréal and estimated the payback time was a month.

Towards the bay, the coast drops off steeply. Benoît described seeing a helicopter fly by below him at low tide. Tides are 8 to 11 meters. One of the local inlets is fun to hike across at low tide, but Benoît said you have to get the timing right. When he hiked it, he tracked the tide by watching the seaweed in the drainage streams; when they leaned uphill, it was time to hike faster. On the other side of town is open tundra. Benoît says there are mountains, but the pictures he and Leah have sent look more like hills. It’s permafrost, so there are no trees and barely any dirt. It’s all lumpy rocks and boulders. Benoît thought it too rough to land an airplane even with bush tires. The caribou and polar bears stay away from town. Farther out where the tourist treks go, it’s prudent to bring explosives and weaponry.

Iqaluit is split between the Inuit and the Southerners. The two groups don’t mix much. The Southerners come up for a few years on government business and then leave. The Inuit already had their society wrecked by residential schools and don’t care for any more southern “help”. Nor do they care for the Southerners bragging about how tough they are to come live up north. Rather, the Inuit are rebuilding their culture and arts to fit a modern world.

Most of the housing is modern — since the 70s. Everything is built up on stilts because of the permafrost. This is a problem for growing food. Leah is working as a nutritionist, so of course we discussed food. The town has one greenhouse which is more of a hobby than a real source of food. Benoît described what it would take to build an industrial scale greenhouse — unheated, on grade using the ground as a heat sink. In it you could grow potatoes and cabbages and other cold hearty vegetables. But you can’t build the greenhouse near any other structure because it would melt the permafrost and destabilize the stilts.

Benoît says we should come up for a visit. April is a good time for skiing, and the city holds a community feast. June is for hiking — the wildflowers are in bloom but the bugs aren’t out yet. September the tundra turns red from the blueberry bushes. Then it’s back to winter.

Isaac flying the Bearhawk

Sunday, we finished our hike up Giant’s Nubble. Then Tyson, Isaac, and I flew home in our little plane, and Benoît drove north to Montréal to catch his jet plane. I napped and Isaac took his first turn at holding the stick.

GPS Track Flying To The Adirondacks

Photos From Marcy Dam

GPS Track of Marcy Dam

Isaac hiked back really fast from the dam trying to keep up with the adults in front of us, one of whom had just broken her wrist.

Photos From Giant’s Nubble

GPS Track from Giant’s Nubble