Saturday, October 6, 2012

Around Ellesmere to Pim Island

The ship's corkscrewing started during the night ... we were steaming eastward around the southeast corner of Ellesmere Island, and then north up Smith Sound.

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Happily, the ship's motion didn't cause me any undue distress, although some of my fellow passengers were definitely suffering its effects. It took a while to figure out how to move about the deck without staggering like a drunkard, but once I had that mastered, I was golden - I could even carry a mug of tea, along with my camera bag, up several flights of steep stairs to the upper outside viewing deck without spilling a drop (or dropping my camera)! Surprisingly, I found that one of the best parts of it was sleeping with the ship's pronounced up-down-left-right-slide! After several days of busy-ness, it was nice to just be at sea for a while. Of course, Adventure Canada's team put on lots of interesting talks, something for everyone, so those who didn't feel like standing up on the top deck for hours at a time, just watching the world go by, had plenty to occupy them. There was no large wildlife in sight, just our usual escort of Northern Fulmars. The light, the sea, the sky, the shoreline, the icebergs, however, all were constantly changing.

The East Coast of Ellesmere Island

Jon & Dave On The Forward Deck

Towards evening, we reached Pim Island where I believe it was 4 survivors of the Greely expedition were eventually rescued. It's a harrowing tale. In the spirit of one-up-manship that typified the time, this US Army expedition set out to establish a base further north than any other white man had yet to do. Aldolphus Greely was put in charge of the mission, despite his complete lack of Arctic experience. In 1881, they succeeded, building a relatively civilized station at Fort Conger, just short of the northeast corner of Ellesmere Island (about 83.5 degrees of latitude north) - and just four miles north of the previous British record-holder of the furthest-north settlement - in what is now Quttinirpaaq National Park.

They had with them the supplies to build their fort, and food to sustain themselves for two years while they established their foothold. Two resupply missions, in 1882 and 1883, failed to reach Fort Conger due to impassable sea ice. This left the men with about two months' worth of food by October 1883, at which time it was decided that they would strike out southwards, to pick up their supplies at the pre-arranged emergency cache at Cape Sabine on Pim Island. By the time they got there, weather changed for the worse and they were forced to dig in (for want of a better expression - no digging would happen in this frozen landscape) for the winter.

For reasons that it has been impossible to establish (ie: well hidden), neither resupply mission left the food cache on Pim Island. By this time, the senior officers back at HQ who were responsible for the mission had decided that it was impossible that Greely's party could have survived the two years without resupply. And with that, General Sherman (yes, THE General Sherman!) decided not to waste money on a rescue attempt.

It was purely due to the efforts of Greely's wife who, not without financial resources herself (nor friends in high places), drummed up enough interest in her husband's plight by offering a $25,000 reward to the ship that rescued him. This sparked a bit of a race between the whaling fleet, which had a great deal more experience in the region than the US Army did, and the US Navy! The race (won by the navy) reached Pim Island in June 1884, to find that 19 of Greely's team had perished due to starvation, drowning or hypothermia - and one execution that was apparently ordered by Greely.

Greely himself survived to see his home again. The handful of survivors was hailed heroes upon their return, although allegations of cannibalism cast a pall over the celebrations (nothing was ever confirmed or admitted - but, having seen the place for myself on what would be considered a balmy summer day, who could blame them if they had been forced to such depths by their dire circumstances in the unimaginable cold of an Arctic winter?!).

East Coast of Ellesmere

Piece of Clothing/Bedding Remaining from Greely's Camp

One of Canada's Icebreakers - Never Found Out Which One!

Our Intrepid Captain - Kenth Grankvist

Dave heading back to pick up another load of passengers

The remains of Greely's shelter on Pim Island - it housed 25 men!

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