Skiing and fishing at Lake Five

My headache was getting worse. I was scavenging through the bags to check again whether we had actually left the dry food bag home. Yup, no doubt about it. No coffee this morning. Epic fail.

It's especially bad when you are on the land because you are typically a little groggier than normal in the mornings. I was groggier than normal that morning. Typical. Everybody who drinks coffee says they need their coffee in the mornings and they're absolutely right. It has nothing to do with coffee addiction: a human being is designed to have a large cup of dark roasted coffee in order to function.

Lake Five is just another quite unremarkable lake. It doesn't even have a real name but for this story's sake I will call it Lake Five. It's roughly the fifth lake when counting all the lakes up from Kuulik. We had returned to the area due to its above-average snowfall which we had discovered one week before on a trip to Iqalukjuak.

Our overnight trip plan included a day for skiing and a day for fishing. Next to the lake there were several moderate peaks to ascend on skis. There were exposed rocks but the snow was soft, light and of high quality, overall. As our skiing peak we chose one to the east of the lake. We started the ascent directly from the tent, slowly heaving ourselves up the mountain. I wasn't feeling quite as strong as last year because we hadn't done as much skiing. The snow just hadn't been there this winter. Also, normally we ski up on hard snow.

After some arguments on route selection (that's how our relationship started several years back), I got my way (she was grumpy at me, though) and we traversed through some gullies and moderately steep faces up towards the top slopes. The day was sunny and brilliant, warm. Closer to the top, however, temperatures started cooling down because of higher altitude and winds. Our turnaround point was maybe 600-700 m up from the lake, which gave us a nice long run.

Generally speaking, the conditions were possibly the best I've skied in close to Pangnirtung. I had found good snow here and there, but at Lake Five, everywhere was good. I could have hoped for a little more snow higher up but lower down there were some "movie moments". And all the way down the snow remained consistent.

(Remember that we are not talking in Revelstoke terms here. It's Baffin. You still scratch your skis on rocks.)

The night was cozy at the tent. We heated up Kauko-Lämpö, our wood stove from Sweden that we bought from our friend Kauko. I had forgotten half of our food home but at least I had packed some pork sirloin. We slept like little pigs after eating.

After a well-slept night and a coffeeless morning, we drilled a few holes in a random spot at the lake. We had no idea whether there were fish or whether they were going to bite. All we knew was that if there were fish, they would be land-locked char (i.e. do not migrate to the ocean in the summers). You don't need to use the yanking technique with them when fishing; all you need to do is bait your lure and move it around until somebody comes and swallows the goods. And that's exactly what happened after 15 minutes of fishing: up came a skinny three-pounder. It was quite brown and not very pretty. But it was a fish. And hungry.

Soon after Delia got the first one, I lost my lure to another fish. The fish was not that big but my line had a weak spot in it. The fish in that lake seemed to be starving: this guy swam directly to Delia's hole, wearing my lure on its mouth, and gulped hers. Up came our second fish with two lures in the mouth! This one was another skinny char.

We were content. Clearly the lake had fish, that's all we wanted to know. We headed home where I promptly made coffee.

The (very happy) End.

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Another trip to Iqalukjuak

Two weekends ago we finally had a chance to go to our possibly favorite fishing spot close to Panniqtuuq, Iqalukjuak. The lake, which is more like a river due to its flowing nature and small size, is located about a two-hour drive from Pang. Big fish, gorgeous scenery, and a great drive.

Last year we had some epic moments on our three-day trip to the location. The smell of white gas vapors in my sleeping bag still makes me smile (with a twitch). This year we were better armed: we had experienced friends with us, Devin and Kendra. Our camping tactics had also changed: now we had a frame tent and a Swedish military wood stove for keeping us warm.

The drive was swift because the trail conditions were awesome. Without qamotiqs, the sleds, it would have been a blast to drive fast but even at our cruising speeds it only took us two hours to get there. That's good for Iqalukjuak (at least on a qallunak index; an inuk would shave off half-an-hour).

The weather was absolutely brilliant all day, temperatures around -20 C or somewhere around there. At this point of the winter we are so well winterized that as long as it's not below -30 C, it doesn't really matter what the temperature is. It all feels about the same.

And of course, our last year's cooking stove blunders (word edited based on public request) and fumy sleeping bags did not quite get resolved this year either: at the lake, we discovered that our chosen camping stove was no longer functional. The fuel hose between the bottle and the stove element had cracked. Luckily we had brought friends who were more adept in outdoor preparedness. They had a fully functional stove.

(By the way, on our next trip we had a working stove but we forgot the dry food. I think it's partly bad luck but mostly lack of appropriate brain capacity. DARN.)

Fishing was great as usual and we caught close to ten large arctic char between the two of us. Delia caught a big one, 13 pounds, that was quite reluctant to come up the whole. The line kept slipping through her hands and she nearly lost the fish. By walking backwards, she was able to pull the fish up.

For fishing, we use large shiny lures that are moved up in yanking motions. The fish do not really bite; instead, they get attracted by the lure, come sniffing, and CHUNK the hooks sink into their probing body parts. It's close to snagging but not entirely (snagging is illegal). Often the hook is in the mouth, but as often it is in the tail.

While Delia's fish was handsome, the best fish prize may go to Devin.We were warming up in the tent when we heard "you've gotta be kidding me" through the tent's wall. He had been opening up some holes and cleaning them with an ice scoop when a six pound char swam up the whole and stared up at him. By using the ice scoop, he quickly scooped up the highly surprised fish that landed on the ice, flopping.

When the fish were not that active anymore and catching them was difficult, Kendra and Devin shot off and up a nearby hill to look for ptarmigans. It's been a really good season for ptarmigan and they are all over the place. Kendra shot four or five birds, a few of which we used for dinner that night. With char, of course.

The mountains and snow conditions around Iqalukjuak are amazing. There is a lot of snow around that area, which makes it perfect for playing with the skidoo or skiing around. This time we didn't bring our telemark skis but we'll definitely bring some in the future. it's the perfect playground. We did some driving around on the skidoo and climbed up a mountain saddle to see the sunset. A person cannot be happier than we were that night.

After a cozy night in our tent we woke up to a fairly cold day. The early morning temperatures floated around -26 C but we were toasty all night after finally having bought decent sleeping bags. On our return day, there was an issue with one of the skidoos but it got resolved by changing the spark plugs - luckily it was nothing worse than that. It makes such a huge difference to have good equipment.

The normally open holes in the ice lower down the river were not open when we went to check them. They will probably open up later this spring. Typically you can see a few dozen large fish hanging around those holes. Good for spearing or even bow-fishing them.

On our return trip, our friends caught another couple ptarmigans while Delia and I lounged on our skidoos and watched them hunt. We kept an eye on future weekend camping spots and spotted a great one on the way back. The higher ground between Pang and Iqalukjuak seems to have a lot of snow and has great potential for skiing. And that's exactly where we camped the following weekend. More on that later!

Spring time. It is so exciting, so full of possibilities. You can do anything you want, anywhere you want. All of our weekends are planned with more outings, and not a single moment will be wasted inside when the weather stays like this.

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Summer Fishing

Our first boating trip this season - thank-you Kendra and Devin! I'll let the pics tell the story this time.

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