Can't wait to travel again with Louie Kamookak! He's the Inuk historian who pointed the way to Erebus? The first-found ship of John Franklin? Louie will revisit that site in September while sailing Out of the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada. You can find out more about this looming adventure by going here. I'm excited because I remember an August afternoon in 1999, when Louie sailed his twenty-foot motorboat south along the west coast of Boothia Peninsula. He had two southerners with him, two Qallunaat -- myself and an Arctic antiquarian named Cameron Treleaven.
Two evenings before, from Gjoa Haven on King William Island, with a stiff north wind creating white caps and billowing spray, we had thumped our way fourteen miles across Rae Strait. We had come to the west coast of Boothia to honour fur-trade explorer John Rae and the only two men who could keep up with him -- Inuk William Ouligbuck and Ojibway Thomas Mistegan. With us we had brought a plaque of weather-resistant, anodized aluminum that we had screwed to a slab of Honduran mahogany.
The plaque relates how in 1854, after hauling sledges through gale-force winds, blowing snow and bitter cold, Rae and his two best men built a cairn to mark his discovery of what would prove to be the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage.
Having camped out on Boothia, located the ruins of that cairn (see photo), and erected the plaque beside it, we were returning to Gjoa Haven. Louie said that, before recrossing Rae Strait, he wanted to investigate a spot he knew, where sometimes he found good hunting. We entered a small bay, hauled the boat up onto a beach, and climbed a sandy ridge to scan the horizon. Nothing. But then Louie pointed and whispered: “Caribou!”
A big-horned animal, almost invisible against brown earth and scree, stood in profile more than one hundred metres away. Louie fell to one knee, put his gun to his shoulder, and fired. Nothing happened. I felt bad that he had missed. But then, after what seemed minutes, the caribou dropped down dead in its tracks. I could hardly believe it. We raced across the tundra. Louie was ecstatic: “Straight through the heart!” He said a blessing, then skinned that dead caribou, put the carcass across his shoulders and staggered with it back to the boat. Heaving it into the stern, he said: “Meat will last all winter.”
As we pounded back across Rae Strait, I reflected that Louie Kamookak -- historian and hunter -- is just the latest in a long line of remarkable Inuit. I haven't been on the water with Louie since that day. So I'm excited about September. Louie won't be hunting caribou. But I imagine he'll share a few thoughts when we reach the site where Erebus lies eleven metres beneath the surface.