September 4th, 2014
(Canoe Center to Ikkattooq)
Miles Walked: 13.5
Canoe Center Hut
I was a little too well hydrated last night and woke up in the middle of the night. Just outside the hut, while "adjusting my hydration level", I looked up and noticed the faint shadows of what must have been the Northern Lights. They weren't the brilliant green colors you so often see in pictures but simply shades of black and grey. Still worth getting up for! Canoe Center is by far the largest hut on the trail, boasting beds for 22 people, and floor space for many more. Of course, as the title of this journal entry implies, I had it all to myself! I felt a bit like Goldilocks as I examined the empty rooms and decided which of the 22 empty beds would be mine for the night.
Plenty of room for a "pack explosion"
Still no sign of any other humans, which is particularly a shame for this hut since the kitchen is so large and even boasts full sized picnic tables. I always enjoy sitting around the campsite in the morning, enjoying breakfast, conversation, and especially coffee! Since I had the place to myself I studied the map as I ate and even had time for a coffee drinking selfie.
This early in the trip there are still plenty of meal options "on the table"
Fueling up for the day ahead
As I left the hut to begin the day's walk I realized that I still hadn't seen any canoes! Had they been removed? Had they sunk? With only 300 people a year walking this path, and with that group speaking many languages, I wondered if the canoes were long gone and that word of their departure had simply not made it into English language guide books. Or maybe it was just another piece of trail lore where someone who had hiked the trail 20 years before would tell you about their experiences with the mythical canoes. All I knew was that there were no canoes at the "Canoe Center", nor anywhere else along the lake where they were supposed to reside.
Reindeer running up the mountain
Not long after leaving the Canoe Center, I finally spotted a canoe! It was, as I had sort of expected, carelessly left on the rocky shore. I wondered if someone had capsized, swam to shore, and left the canoe to drift here, or if they had somehow picked this spot as the optimum place to make landfall. There's a nice, sandy beach directly in front of the canoe center, which would be perfect for launching onto the lake but for some reason the boat stand is located almost 2 miles to the West, which is where I found the rest of the canoes. They were in varying states of seaworthiness and several served as evidence of someone's extreme confidence in the effectiveness of duct tape!
The Lone Canoe (At Center)
Duct tape really can fix anything!
THEN THE RAIN HAPPENED. I say it happened because it didn't just fall, it was an event. It began as I was enjoying the gradual downhill walk through the valley between Lake Amitsorsuaq and Lake Kangerluatsiarsuaq. The rain fell lightly at first but soon became steady and heavy. Initially I just kept moving and hoped it would pass, but soon realized it was here to stay. Reluctantly I put on my rain gear.
Anyone who's walked a few miles in "breathable" rain gear knows that it is only breathable to a point. Though far superior to traditional rain gear, breathable fabrics are still sweat inducing so most experienced backpackers only wear them when they are absolutely necessary. I had debated whether to bring my Marmot Spire Gore-Tex® Jacket, which I normally reserve for Winter hikes in the single digits, or my much lighter, Marmot Precip® Jacket, which saved weight but offered less protection. Precip® is my go to shell for most of the year, and I had even worn it on Iceland's Laugavegur Trek when encountering hurricane force winds and heavy rains but in extreme conditions I like the extra confidence that comes from having a Gore-Tex®, or similar laminate type shell, in my pack. The forecast didn't look to bad and of course, on this journey, weight was a major concern. I was expecting to complete the trail in 8 days but realized that there was a very real possibility that I might be weathered in for at least 1 day, which necessitated bringing 9 days of food. I didn't weigh my food but I generally find that 2 lbs per person, per day, is a good estimate for backpacking food. To counter the extra 2 lbs of food, I decided to go with the Precip® Jacket, which is a coated jacket, and not a laminate, but that had done so well for me just a few weeks before in Iceland. There's a saying that "ounces make pounds, and pounds make pain!" Though lighter, the risk of my choice to save weight and go with the "coated" Precip® Jacket was that it could be come saturated in a heavy, sustained, downpour, but I felt the weight savings was worth it and I didn't expect much rain or temperatures below freezing during the day when I'd be walking and exposed to the elements. I know this gear discussion may be taking away from the adventure of this post, but don't worry, it will come. Plus this is an important discussion for anyone considering completing a journey on the Arctic Circle Trail.
Before the rain
My rain gear held up well at first and I felt like I had made the right decision to go with the lighter rain gear. However, as the day went by and the rain intensified fairly rapidly I started to get wet as the shell became saturated. The temperature was also dropping and the wind was picking up so hypothermia was a concern. Hypothermia is a possibility in temperatures as high as 60 deg F and I've had the early stages of it in the past. I was cold and wet but I knew if stopped to change into dry clothes now I wouldn't have any dry clothes to change into when I reached the hut. My plan was to keep moving so that my body temperature wouldn't drop, and to change into dry clothes once I reached the shelter of the hut. Setting up my tent and getting out of the rain was always an option but it didn't look like it was going to stop anytime soon and I was still focused on completing the day's miles.
I soon reached the sandy beach on the shore of Lake Kangerluatsiarsuaq which had looked so inviting and out of place in the pictures I had seen in the guide book. I had hoped to take a long break here, maybe even a nap or a brief dip in the lake. Instead, I filtered water, ate a quick snack, and kept moving to warm up. By now I was thoroughly soaked and since I was going downhill I had kept up a fairly rapid pace to stay warm. Once past the beach however, I would be climbing for most of the day's remaining miles. I knew heading uphill would make it easier to stay warm but I was also starving by this point. I couldn't stop for a proper lunch, as my body's temperature would cool rapidly, so instead I searched through my food bags for anything that was high energy or high in sugar. I ate mostly on the move and my "lunch" consisted of Honey Stinger® waffles, dark chocolate, and a single energy gel. I decided that if even moving at a brisk pace couldn't keep me warm I would stop, set up my tent, and get warm as quickly as possible. Shivering would be my proverbial "canary in the coalmine".
The beach at Lake Kangerluatsiarsuaq
This was already the second longest day of the trek and being cold, wet, and hungry only seemed to make the miles last longer. I kept my mind busy with time distance calculations, wondering if I would encounter any other humans on the trail and where they were likely to be from, and of course, what I would eat when I reached Sisimiut, but kept coming back to imagining how nice it would be to finally have the hut in sight! When I felt a bit chilled I sped up to generate more heat. I remembered from the map that there should be a series of small lakes as I approach the hut so when I began seeing these I knew I was getting close. When I passed those lakes and still had no hut in sight I realized that this was the equivalent of a "false summit" and the lakes that I was expecting were further down the trail. In the guide book it mentioned that this hut was the only one not painted red so I then wondered if maybe these were in fact the lakes I was expecting and that the hut was just a bit camouflaged, with it's unpainted, weathered wood blending in among the colors of the Arctic Fall. I broke out my monocular and scanned the horizon for anything that looked like a man made structure. After inspecting several boulders and rock formations I realized the hut was still further down the trail.