Travel

Gearing up to find Franklin: Equipment I brought on this summer's Victoria Strait Expedition

  • Oct 22, 2014
  • 896 words
  • 4 minutes
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Seven weeks in the Arctic. Starting out with the ceaseless sunshine and warmish days of early August and concluding with a brutal winter weather setting itself upon a fast darkening Arctic landscape. For these months I would live in a tiny bunkroom for eight in the bow of the 62-foot long Arctic Research Foundation Vessel the Martin Bergmann. Space being limited, I could only take three bags with me, one and a half of which were given over to camera equipment.

Given the need to dress for two different seasons, take professional pictures and document the search for Canadian Geographic magazine, packing for this summer’s Victoria Strait Expedition was probably one of the most challenging packing jobs I’ve ever had to do. Here are five things that I considered indispensible enough to merit space in my bags.

1. Delorme InReach Satellite communication device — With a single wobbly internet connection shared between a dozen people, my InReach was the envy of the crew of the Martin Bergmann. Screen time at the ship’s only satellite-connected computer was gobbled up by Parks Canada staff remotely directing the search for the Erebus; the Bergmann’s crew tracking down the daily ice reports; myself filing stories to Canadian Geographic’s headquarters in Ottawa and the rest of the crew attempting to stay in touch with their loved ones. My InReach allowed me a quick and easy way to send text messages to my friends and colleagues without having to line up for my turn at the computer.

It was only when the seas swelled above 3 metres that it moved from its customary perch on the ship’s bridge. Even in the most remote regions that this summer’s search navigated, my messages reached their destination. At best, I was able to communicate with editors (and friends) nearly in real time. At worst, it took up to ten minutes for a message to find a satellite and transmit my message. In either case, it allowed me to communicate important information on a timeline befitting the speed of communications in the modern world. By allowing you to tether your cell phone to the unit and use its keyboard through the Earthmate app, the InReach represents a substantial improvement other GPS trackers.

2. Columbia Powervent water sneakers — I’ve only had my Columbia Powervent shoes since the spring, but it’s already hard to imagine life without them. I’ve used them to cross rushing rivers in Australia’s Daintree Rainforest, hopscotch across icy streams in the Canadian Rockies and land zodiacs on the sandy (but very, very cold) beaches of Nunavut’s Queen Maud Gulf. With outlets to drain water ringing each shoe’s sole, the Powervent is extremely effective keeping your feet dry, which is desirable in any climactic condition. In Australia’s northern tropics, this kept my shoes from becoming the swampy, putrid stew of human feet that shoes can only really become if they haven’t been dry in a week or two. In the Arctic, the shoes afforded nimble movement around the ship that boots would preclude, while ensuring that brief forays into frigid Arctic seawater wouldn’t leave my feet numb and freezing.

3. Columbia TurboDown jacket — With the Turbodown, Columbia has upped its game. The lightweight down jacket kept me warm and dry while being compact enough to pack into a backpack’s top pocket. The temperature in the Queen Maud Gulf dropped below freezing just before Labour Day, and the moment it did, the TurboDown rarely left my back. And when the snow started flying and the mercury dropped to -15C? The jacket performed. Its hood helped seal in my body heat and heavy rains beaded effortlessly on its water resistant shell.

4. Iridium network satellite phone by Roadpost — Communications are important in the modern age, but when you work in media, this importance is amplified. Heading into the expedition, I knew that could encounter problems with internet access due to heavy demand for the single computer or problems with its satellite connection, so I brought along a satellite phone connected to the Iridium satellite network through Toronto’s Roadpost. I never needed it to use it to file my stories, but I did use it for communications that are at least as important. As my son set out for his first day of grade 8, he got an encouraging phone call from his dad, and even if the budding teenager to cool to admit that calls like that are important, I know that they are.

5. MEC Relay X-country ski gloves — The magnesium alloy bodies of my Nikon DSLR cameras retain the cold a little too well, and by early September in the Arctic my fingers are going numb when I shoot. Finding the right glove for cold weather photography is a notoriously tricky job. You need to be able to smoothly operate a camera’s controls, and most gloves are far too bulky, sacrificing dexterity for warmth. Others are too thin, trading off warmth for dexterity. Mountain Equipment Co-op’s Relay X-country ski gloves find the balance between the two. I find they allow me to shoot comfortably to temperatures of about -10C, all while retaining full control over my cameras’ whirl of buttons and dials.

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