Gull Canyon and Musk-oxen

July 14, 2017

At our 8 am meeting today we were presented with three options for today’s excursions. Option 1 was a short ATV drive to look for musk-oxen, option 2 was a long ATV drive to the Northwest Passage, and option 3 was a trip in the Mercedes Unimog truck to Gull Canyon for a hike. It was an easy decision for us—we chose option 3.

After breakfast we put some extra clothing in our daypacks and joined the group outside by the truck. There was Luc and Linda from Quebec City, Terry and Karen from Pittsburgh, Eric from Squamish, Katie from London, and Elspeth and John from Boston. The truck, driven by Dave, took us across the river and the gravel flats and the airstrip to the hills nearby. It was a slow drive because of all the uneven terrain but after about half an hour we were at the start of the walk.

Hiking on the tundra

Hiking on the tundra

We started across the tundra, admiring all of the flowers, and very soon we passed a group of Long-tailed Jaegers. We must have been a bit close to their nests, so they were flying above us and squawking away. But they finally settled down once they deemed we were far enough away. Soon we reached the top of the hill, where there were a lot of Snow Buntings.

Long-tailed Jaeger

Long-tailed Jaeger

From here we had fantastic views down into the canyon, which was formed millions of years ago along a fault line. We could see massive sections of uplifting as well as greatly eroded columns of rock. After spending some time on the ridge we backtracked a bit and descended into the canyon, where Dave had driven the truck and set out the lunch. What a great lunch—squash soup, bread, chicken salad, cheeses and cold meats, topped off with fantastic chocolate chip cookies!

Gull Canyon with Unimog

Gull Canyon with Unimog

After lunch we walked up the canyon to explore. There were Thayer’s Gulls nesting on the canyon walls, along with a couple of Glaucous Gulls. Along the way were fossils of corals and other underwater creatures. Since we were wearing rubber boots we could walk in the water if we liked, and we did, but we were told that last week the water had been too deep for that. So because of the low water levels we could walk past the green mossy part with the gulls and into the more barren upper canyon.

Nesting gulls

Nesting gulls

(Walking up the rocky river bed was a good for the boots. You might think that rubber boots might slip while walking on sloping rocks, but ours didn’t. We were very impressed.)

Walking up the canyon

Walking up the canyon

Rocks with fossils

Rocks with fossils

Back at the truck, we watched a pair of Rough-legged Hawks for a short time and then drove back to camp. The plan when we arrived there was to head down to the bay to see the belugas. But Dave called Gretchen, the researcher who lives down by the bay, and she said that they had left because the ice had been blown in. But luckily for us, Richard, one of the owners, had gone for a run up the hill just behind the lodge and noticed a small herd of musk-oxen!

Bay with no belugas

Bay with no belugas

So naturally we hurriedly put our boots back on and headed up the hill with our guides. After a vigorous 15-minute walk we carefully looked over the crest of the hill to where the six musk-oxen were. They were still lying down, so we were able to regroup and figure out how to get closer. But while we were doing this the wind changed, so now the musk-oxen were on alert. When we tried to move closer, they all stood up and casually started to wander away.

Musk-oxen near the lodge

Musk-oxen near the lodge

Dave then suggested we should go downhill a bit to try to outflank them, so we did that. Only to see them down in the valley about a kilometer away, making good speed away from us! Oh well, at least we got a good view of them.

Walking back to the lodge

Walking back to the lodge

The Northwest Passage group had had a mechanical problem with one of their ATVs, so we ended up having dinner at 8:30 pm. Fortunately the kitchen staff had got enough advance notice, as we had another great meal—turbot, roast potatoes, and salad, followed by orange crème brulée. After dinner we sat and chatted with Terry and Karen before returning to our cabin.

Next: Belugas and Solo walk