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Arctic diary: Tracking wolves (1)
Professional explorer Jim McNeill has travelled to Ellesmere Island with a BBC Natural History Unit crew to capture the elusive Arctic wolf on camera.

The Arctic wolf lives in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland; only rarely does it interact with humans.

Mr McNeill is writing a diary of his experiences on the expedition for the BBC News website.

SATURDAY 7 JULY: SUPPLY DROP

Friday was the big day when Jonny Keeling, the producer, and Mark Smith, the cameraman, had been due to arrive.

We were to pick up all the camera gear and the rest of our supplies from the makeshift airstrip and finally be reunited with the gear we left at Camp One.

Helicopter, Jim McNeill
Jonny and Mark arrived in style
But all of that was going to start happening at 1600 with the twin otter flight dropping the bulk of the stuff at the airstrip. The weather looked good in the morning but got a bit iffy around 1800.

I spent a good deal of Friday morning doing a piece to camera (PTC, to use the trade vernacular) for the launch of a climate change initiative I've proposed, which will be held at Windsor Castle.

In my absence, they'll show the video speech of about 6-7 minutes with a backdrop of melting sea ice. Once I'd put my teeth in and mastered the technicalities of the camera I think it went okay.

Warm greeting

"H" spent most of the day watching either wolves or birds, although he did admit to falling asleep for an hour.

Jonny and Mark eventually arrived at 2300. It was like a scene from the film Local Hero when the oil baron arrives by helicopter straight onto the beach to buy the wee Scottish village.

Jonny was waiving from the cockpit and taking photographs of "H" and me standing by.

The rotors finally stopped turning and we all greeted each other like long lost friends. I hadn't met Jonny before so I was really pleased to see how amiable he was.

Although I'd only met Mark once before in Bristol, he gave us both a warm hug. "Welcome to Ellesmere," I said.

That over with, the pilot Randy greeted us and we sorted out a plan of action. I walked to the airstrip with Jonny and loaded all our gear into the cargo net slung under the helicopter - ATV included.

"H" and Mark then unloaded it at the beach and drove it the 500m up the river to the camp. Randy then picked us up and flew us up the coast and along to Camp One.

Tent burglary

On arriving at the camp, my heart sank when we saw what was left of my tent. What a disaster! A brand new Mountain Hardwear Satellite tent ripped to shreds and wrecked, with the vast majority of poles snapped like twigs and the material in tatters.

The only saving grace was the fact that there were so many poles in the design of the tent that the wolf pack (where the blame clearly lay) couldn't have got into the main area of the tent where our personal possessions and the dried food had been stored. It was virtually untouched.

The wolves managed to drag just one of the four big food bags out and ripped open a couple of the super freeze dried beef stew with rice bags. Obviously not being to their taste, they decided to leave the rest.

I imagined it must have been like trying to eat three cream crackers as fast as possible without water. So it wasn't quite the disaster that it could have been; if they had ruined all our food then we would have needed to fly in more - very costly indeed, I'm just one tent short!

We cleared the site of debris and flew back to the beach where, having heard the story, "H" couldn't resist a smile, he had suggested that such a thing would happen just the day before and had got me to make the risky commute to check.

In our absence the wolves had come down to greet our new arrivals and Mark was already put to work filming! To have "footage in the can" within the first hour of landing here made us all happy.

We said goodbye to Randy and took everything back to camp, threw up the remaining tents and gathered outside for a cheery treat of chocolate washed down with the finest Scottish malt whisky. It was 0530 hrs before we retired happy but tired to say the least!

FRIDAY 6 JULY: GETTING COMFORTABLE

We had a little rain overnight; more of our 6cm annual quota.

It still seems quite bizarre to me to have rain in this land where I'm normally struggling to get comfortable due to the intense cold.

Twin otter (Jim McNeill)
In these parts, the twin otter is a workhorse
The snow on the mountains is really getting thin, revealing a vista of grey and brown rocks. These mountains are very young, geologically speaking, and absolutely fascinating just to look and stare at. Fault lines, erosion on a vast scale, massive valleys caused by glaciers, and deep river gorges still being gouged out of the rock - all the ingredients of basic school geography to wonder at.

The wolves left the den to go off hunting (we assumed) and didn't return for some 15 hours. This caused us some concern.

Had we scared them off? "H" was very worried and stayed up all night to watch for their return. Twenty-four-hour sunlight was very useful in that it provided continual visibility; unless of course the weather came down.

Just before I awoke at 0600 hrs, the wolves returned and were sleeping like warn-out pet dogs on the hill top above the den.

Camp preparations

The den, I should explain, was about 10m up a fairly loose and flaky riverbank with two enormous boulders situated about two-thirds of the way up.

The one that stuck out most didn't seem to be used and the other, which looked flatter, had piles of trodden down excavations all around it and more than one entrance hole.

From our camp 1.8km away you can count eight different holes so there must be a labyrinth of caves and tunnels underneath.

Research carried out on a den site further north indicated that the dens were re-used again and again over as much as a 700-year period. (It's good here, with all the paper research and the knowledge that the crew has; I'm becoming a little wolf "expert" in my own right - well relatively speaking anyway).

The logistics were going really well. Because we found a den so soon and much further south than the known den, we've managed to save quite a bit of the budget and so can utilise some of that in servicing this site properly.

I've planned for a helicopter to come up from Yellowknife and bring Jonny and Mark (producer and cameraman) in very close to our base camp; and en route they'll be able to take some aerial shots of Devon and Ellesmere Islands.

The helicopter will drop them off and then travel to the airstrip where I've arranged for the remainder of the equipment and provisions to be landed and cached by the crew of a twin otter aircraft.

Lots of lemmings

I'll get the helicopter pilot to under-sling this stuff and fly it the 10km to base camp (probably three journeys in all) and then fly west up the beach to pick up the remainder of our first camp; all should run like clockwork but it'll be a long day.

During the next few days, whilst we were waiting for the rest of the crew to arrive, H spent most of the time carefully noting every movement of the wolves; and when he wasn't doing that he was wandering in the local vicinity finding other wildlife gems that would add to the story.

Ice melt (Jim McNeill)
A great place to live the subject
We were building quite a collection: the snowy owls nest that we came upon earlier; a snow buntings nest just yards from our camp in the crumbling mud of the river bank; a Jaeger's nest found on our route to the beach some 500m away; and of course the lemmings. Wow!

There are thousands of dear little brown lemmings (their coats turn white in winter) scattered all over the bog. It seems they dig their burrows when the bog is really wet and sit there waiting and willing for it to dry out! (I know the feeling!).

Meanwhile I was exploring on a daily basis, gently pushing the boundaries of our immediate situation and adding to the knowledge of our whereabouts - one day north, the next west; and so on.

This was incredible fun. I felt like Huckleberry Finn, stripping off naked on a daily basis and washing in the pure clean melt-water of the river and then deciding what amazing adventure I'd get up to today.

I had a feeling that things might change somewhat when the crew arrived, however, and the real work would start.

WEDNESDAY 4 JULY: INTRODUCING GORDON

"H" was very keen to keep observing the wolves which was very understandable but having risked the sea ice the previous day and got away with it and the rivers on previous occasions, I thought we'd be looking at trouble if we were to continue our little commute each day.

So we hatched a plan to provision ourselves and create a small camp near the den to monitor activity until the rest of the crew flew in by helicopter in six days' time.

The helicopter could then be used to get the rest of our equipment and provisions.

This of course meant one more journey of river crossings or ice; but this time towing a laden trailer.

We set off when the tide was at its lowest in case we had to get on the ice. This would make it easier. We chose to look at the rivers first and if they were impassable, somehow get onto and over the ice.

River 1 was the lowest we'd ever seen it and H duly hopped off the back and forged a route as high as his boots would allow.

Too cosy

It proved to be no obstacle although the shear weight of two people and a full trailer being pulled across very rough terrain was putting an audible strain on our poor ATV. So much so we had to stop every 20 minutes to let the clutch cool down.

River 2 proved much trickier. The entire structure and flow of rivers, sand, stony banks and paths change so quickly here in the Arctic; and the frozen muddy banks of silt were now just quicksand waiting to catch us like a fly on flypaper.

The trailer acted as an added hazard that would float like a boat if we weren't careful, dragging the ATV, H and me downstream with it!

Was it heavy enough? What was the alternative: the cracking sea ice? Maybe our luck would last one more time?

"Let's give it a go!" seemed to be the phrase coined too often on this trip. We gave it a go and got away with it again!

We soon made it over to River 3 and set up our new camp on the eastern river bank some 1.8km away but in full view of the den on the opposite bank, upstream.

H wasn't impressed at all by my brand new two-man tent, arguing that, "it might be a two-boy tent but there's no way you could get two men in there".

Well, he is six-foot-five inches tall so his yardstick is somewhat different. However, I had to agree with him, it was a bit like being in a cloth coffin.

So we turned the trailer up on its' side and put a tarpaulin over the top reaching almost down to the ground and secured it with bungees hooked onto our spare fuel canisters. Home from home.

Arctic 'king'

Later that afternoon, H, who'd been observing the wolves whilst I got the camp organised, radioed telling me that seven adult wolves were on their way downstream to see me.

I got all excited and readied my cameras but alas they went off in a different direction, after all. "Never mind," I thought to myself; "I'm sure there'll be time to watch a few wolves in the weeks to come."

Just to crown a perfect day, a beautiful musk-ox appeared in the sunshine some 10m up on the far bank of the river downstream, and H and I went to say hello.

They are extraordinary creatures with their buffalo type head and big curly horns, huge pale muscular legs draped all over in thick dark brown hair with the occasional light brown bit down the back and on the shoulders.

"Gordon", I called him, strode on his own up and down the bank as if belonging to a lost ancient world of which he was king. It really fires your imagination this place!

TUESDAY 3 JULY: I LOVE LUCY

Having, beyond all expectations, found a wolf den we had thought that the day's events were over. We reached our camp on the beach and settled down to a well-earned supper.

The seemingly impossible task of finding a den was completed in just three days and called for a celebratory wee dram of Canada's finest whiskey.

A female wolf, nicknamed Lucy (Image: Jim McNeill)
A wolf, nicknamed Lucy, found easy pickings in the camp
Then, just as we were looking out over the magnificent sea ice to the seemingly never-ending mountains beyond, "Lucy" walked into our lives.

The beautiful female wolf came sauntering along the beach heading straight for us.

Totally unperturbed by our presence - you would have thought she had seen humans every day, whereas we were probably the first she'd ever seen.

She carefully smelt our tracks and then proceeded to come into camp and pick up my best float rope and cheekily carried it off - I felt an instant rapport with her. We thought it was a female because she squatted in front of us, making her mark; nothing to do with me fantasising.

I took the opportunity of photographing her in all her stances and expressions as she seemed to pose for the camera. This lasted about 10 minutes before she continued on her way along the beach.

We saw her scratch up the odd lemming as a snack as she disappeared off westward and out of sight. As we settled down to enjoy our evening again, she reappeared.

As she passed through our camp again she took a fancy to a jacket I had left on the floor. TV producer "H" had the video camera out this time and caught me chasing her over the ice in hot pursuit of my favourite coat. I liked her cheek!

Back to business

The next day was a serious day, full of logistics. How were we going to get the camp over to River 3 with the deadly raging rivers or disintegrating ice? How were we going to land cameraman Mark Smith, producer Jonny Keeling and even more equipment if the sea ice was getting so bad? Could we get a helicopter and use it to take some aerial footage at the same time?

THE ARCTIC'S WHITE WOLF
Arctic wolf (BBC)
The Arctic wolf is actually a subspecies of the grey wolf
In comparison it has a shorter stature but a bulkier build
Scientific name for the Arctic wolf is Canis lupus arctos
It ranges across the Canadian Arctic and north Greenland
Packs will prey on caribou, musk oxen, hares, lemmings
Lots of questions, phone calls, discussions, plans and contingencies made. This was my area of expertise and I loved every moment of it.

I needed to keep our options open and my eye on the budget, so today's task was to recce the beach for a suitable landing strip for the twin-engine aircraft.

This meant negotiating either the rivers, one of which H had now named "Jim's Drift", or the diminishing sea ice.

We chose the ice which was OK apart from the numerous just-too-wide cracks we had to get the ATV over; but we made it to River 3. By 1230, we had our runway - 230m of gravel, sort of straight and level; recced a suitable campsite and started to watch the wolf den for activity.

As soon as we stopped to watch, the pack came running down the far bank of the river and across to us.

One of them, a male we had called "Bill", came really close, about 4m away, until the alpha male called him back and came close himself.

He looked, moved, sniffed, looked again and paced off to the rest of the pack to report his findings and announce his conclusions. They all eagerly greeted him with suitable reverence; lots of face-licking, tail-swishing and bottom-smelling.

It was a gorgeous day with the sun beating down on us; could it get any better than this?

By half-past three in the afternoon, we thought we'd better get home to camp. Having come the ice way we were going to try to return the ice way. Our first problem was actually getting on the ice.

The tide was in and the small cracks were now wide and full of water. You couldn't really see much ice because of the large amount of water lying in pools on top and we soon found out these were also pretty deep.

Having finally found a way out on to the ice, I drove the ATV very carefully indeed, trying to see through the foot or so of water to spot the large cracks in the ice. I knew they existed because I had seen them earlier. The last thing we wanted was to lose the ATV in deep water, let alone stranding us on the ever-melting sea ice.

This was hair-raising stuff and by the time we had made it back to camp my eyes were bulging and my nerves wrecked; I was mentally and physically exhausted.

H, who had been riding shot gun as usual, was in a similar state having been bracing himself for a deep ditch in the ocean at any moment.

We made it but I did think that we were really pushing our luck now.

THURSDAY 28 JUNE: TRACKING BERTIE

Having met Bertie the previous day and then seen him disappear across the plain towards the east, we woke up determined to try to get further east ourselves to see if we could stumble across his den.

Sea ice  Image: Jim McNeill
The team opted to navigate the sea ice
The thought of crossing raging rivers or driving on the rapidly melting ice didn't sit well with me in my capacity as guardian of safety but we had to progress.

That being the case I thought we'd attempt the sea ice. If we went far enough out to avoid the river outflows it shouldn't be too bad, as long as we took it really slowly and assessed each problem in turn.

So suitably provisioned we set off in search of Bertie (which unbeknown to me is the name of the brother of my TV producer companion "H").

We had a few maintenance tasks to begin with which included repairing a puncture on our trusted iron horse but got going eventually at 0920 hrs.

Vantage points

We reached River 2 with all its problems at about 0946 hrs - record time. But we were wearing a path along the beach - a distinct blot on an otherwise virgin environment.

We took the deep wade very cautiously up to the point where the engine started to gurgle under the water and then I wellied it praying that positive thought and momentum would see us through. Luckily it did, but not without taking its toll on our nerves!

Yee ha! We were back on the trail of old Bertie.

H had spotted a rocky outcrop that could have contained a den so we headed in that direction and went as far as we dared on the ATV and then proceeded on foot.

We came upon a number of piles of gravel, geographically known as pingos, which we thought would be a good place to observe the rocks and so sat down and had some lunch of cheese, nuts and a chocolate bars.

Presently, H skipped up to an adjacent pingo to observe the south west a little more, scanning the horizon for wolves.

Fantastic find

About 10 minutes later he returned, and I went to the same pingo. But on reaching the peak I beckoned H over. There, not four metres from where H had stood was a nest with six beautifully white eggs.

Harry recognized them as snowy owl eggs and we quickly vacated to the next hillock some 300m away to watch and make sure the bird returned.

We then went on to a further hillock where H bagged the only seat out of the cool uncomfortable breeze. Unable to sit down I was wandering around, occasionally conversing with H when I noticed wolf tracks all over the place and some fresh ones distinctly leading off to the east.

Inukshuk  Image: Jim McNeill
Inukshuks are used as directional markers by Inuit people
Could this be Bertie? I suggested H follow the tracks to the banks of River 3, which were visible, while I went back to the ATV to try to bring that around to meet him. Just to keep his hopes up, I flippantly remarked that Bertie and his family den would be just over the horizon, down the river bank.

About 20 minutes later, having wrestled hugely with the ATV and the bog, I had just stopped the engine when H called me on the radio.

"You're not going to believe this Jim but I'm staring at four wolves sitting round a big rock on the far side of the river.

"Fantastic!" I said, excitedly, "I've given up driving and I'm walking toward you at the moment."

"Jim, one has just gone down a hole by the big rock. I think we may have found our den."

"I'll be there very shortly."

And, sure enough, we could not believe our luck. We chanced upon a den. We phoned Fergus immediately and gave him the good news. He was delighted and somewhat surprised. The filming was on.

WEDNESDAY 27 JUNE: FIRST CONTACT

The first obstacle was just a big stream but still tricky to cross with the ATV. The last thing we wanted was to lose the ability to get about quicker than walking pace (wherever that's possible).

The team plans to name the wolf "Bertie"

There was a deep water channel and "H" got off the back of the machine to see which would be the best route. This was a technique we were going to perfect in a very short period of time.

"River One" was next (we'd started to name them rather creatively). This was fairly deep and wide and we found our best bet for a crossing was at the mouth of the river where the water had spread its volume over an even wider distance - and was therefore shallower.

We made it; but only just! And mostly thanks to the fact that the mud banks were still frozen.

Travelling along the shore towards the next river, we went past a beautiful little iceberg some 500m offshore and spotted what we thought was the most amazing sand and rust coloured rock.

On closer examination, it turned out to be a massive piece of polyurethane foam, 3m x 2m x 0.5m. All over it were signs of wolf claws and stains. H thought it was a spot where they mark their territory.

Dried milk and sawdust

Another amazing place we found was what appeared to be an old hunter encampment with many musk ox heads scattered about the beach as though there had been a dreadful slaughter of some kind.

Arctic plant   Image: Jim McNeill
The island is due 6cm of rainfall - the same as its annual total
I spotted something that looked like an iron object and asked H to investigate, as he was close by. It turned out to be the remains of a very old rifle; large bore, single shot, but quite small.

My mind raced, thinking of all the early explorers and how they would have settled their ship in the bay and put ashore a hunting party to supplement the ship's rations. I took a picture of H with the rifle in one hand and a musk ox head in the other - like the hunters used to do.

We went as far as fuel allowed and returned somewhat tired from our adventures, particularly the nerve-wracking river crossings.

The following day, after our normal breakfast of dehydrated porridge (a bit like chewing your way through sawdust and dried milk powder with the odd dead fly thrown in for good measure) we phoned Fergus, our producer boss back in the BBC Natural History Unit's Bristol HQ and explained how difficult we were finding getting about but that we were going to do our very best regardless.

He thanked us for our efforts and said he really wasn't expecting us to be successful in finding a wolf den.

On the trail

Our mission today was to push the eastern boundary and so we stocked up as before, plus more fuel, and set off determined to get further.

After only 40 minutes and just past the iceberg we had seen the previous day, we came across our first wolf of the trip. We were euphoric; like two children having just reached the seaside after a long car journey.

Characteristically, the wolf - soon to be named Bertie - went a full semi-circle around us so that he (at least it looked like a he) could get a sniff of our tracks. He was a little bit scrawny and had what looked like a fly bitten tail, I got the impression he was of the older generation.

He passed through our camp, having investigated a ringed seal some 300m off shore. As soon as Bertie got close, it promptly disappeared down its breathing hole under the ice.

Den hunt

We wanted to follow Bertie for as long as we could, hoping that he would give us some inkling as to where his den was. As it happens, just close to where we were scuppered from going any further west, Bertie turned inland and up the side of a valley.

I pursued at a distance with H hanging on for grim death but, alas, again the bog got us; but not before noticing that the wolf was doubling back inland. I flippantly remarked to H that we should get back to camp, have a brew and catch him where we first saw him later on.

And - believe it or not - that is exactly what happened. H and I were both staggered at our impeccable timing and we were both beginning to believe that luck was on our side.

Again we followed Bertie eastward until we came across big "River Number Two". This one we nearly managed to negotiate, but for the last deep channel of water. We agreed it might be pushing our luck a little too far, so we returned to camp happy at our day's progress.

Later that evening it rained. Rain in the Arctic - apparently we are due 6cm - the entire average rainfall for a year!

MONDAY 25 JUNE: GETTING STUCK IN

With all this peace and tranquillity it was a little hard to get going and get ourselves organised.

The sky reminded me of one of those Scottish winter skies with dramatic clouds, fierce swathes of colour and hugely differing areas of contrast.

Arctic valley (Image: Jim McNeill)
Looks can be deceptive, as Jim McNeill and "H" found out
Temperature-wise it was warm - around 10C (50F) - and quite alien to me.

I had nothing but my cherished tracksuit trousers, bog standard T-shirt and newly donated Mountain Hardwear over-trousers on (and, of course insulated wellies that I had bought in Resolute). When hauling equipment, this proved to be far too hot. No gloves or hat; very strange.

We unravelled the second largest tent and had some fun deciding quite how to erect it. "A deliberate ploy," I said tongue-in-cheek to "H" (the producer), "to instil good teamwork from the start".

The truth was I had never camped with this particular tent before in my life so was on the same voyage of discovery as H. Needless to say, he hasn't let me forget it in the context of my "field expert" role.

Heavy going

Having finally erected the "monkey-puzzle" tent and got ourselves organised, we decided to have a quick recce up the shallow sloping hill reaching down to our encampment.

I recognised this location as being directly south of where I'd camped on a previous expedition, during which getting across the 11km (seven miles) peninsula was a major undertaking, taking us two whole days dragging sledges through heavy snow and undulating terrain.

Jim McNeill
Jim described the relatively warm conditions as "alien"
Ready with our all-terrain vehicle (ATV) suitably "armed" with all the necessary equipment for a complete disaster, we shot off up the hill.

Just 50m (160ft) later we began to get bogged down in very silty, heavy mud. The terrain that looked so easy to travel on turned out to be a quagmire and the only thing I could do was welly it as fast as possible to prevent us getting bogged down completely.

Over my left shoulder, H was hanging on for his life. After almost one kilometre of full throttle I found a relative dry spot and stopped the poor machine.

We turned to each other and each expressed the awful realisation that simply getting over the terrain was not going to be easy.

We eventually made it back to camp having got stuck a few more times. By now, we were absolutely shattered, somewhat disillusioned and pondering our next move. We slept on it!

And what a great night's sleep we had; probably better than the four-star hotel accommodation we experienced on the way up.

Our spirits were high despite realising how difficult this job was going to be and we felt like two excited children about to undertake a fabulous adventure, straight out of an Enid Blyton novel.

I suggested we try travelling on the ice a bit to see how we faired. My concern here was obvious. It's one thing getting the ATV bogged down on dry land but to lose it altogether in deep water is quite another!

We took it cautiously at first, still heading in a westerly direction with H riding "shotgun" behind me. The going was great until we reached the next river outflow where a wide open lead of water blocked our path.

There was no way of getting across this and reluctant to turn inland we headed back towards camp on the ice we knew to be good but rapidly melting.

We stopped for a quick brew and a lunchtime snack and off we headed on the beach in an easterly direction this time.

We quickly encountered the first of many rivers that were set to be the bane and the most exciting part of our continuing adventures.

THURSDAY 21 JUNE: ARRIVAL IN ELLESMERE

It isn't very often that I get asked to conduct an expedition to the High Arctic and get paid for it.

Plane   Image: Jim McNeill
The crew arrived in Ellesmere to begin looking for wolf dens
So when the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol asked me if I would be their Arctic field expert, I jumped at the chance.

Not only was this a fantastic opportunity (and very welcome having turned "professional explorer" in October of last year) but I would also be working alongside a group of people I had long admired for their tenacity and resilience in producing some of the world's most amazing wildlife documentaries.

The programme series is BBC 2's The Natural World and this particular programme would follow two Arctic species - gyrfalcons and wolves - and has a working title: Sisters of the Snow.

I found out very early on that senior producer Fergus Beeley would constantly pick my brains (in the nicest possible way) about where I had seen wolves previously.

So, the plan was for Harry (programme producer and ardent naturalist) and me to carry out reconnaissance on an area I had been to on Ellesmere Island - the largest, and one of the most northerly islands in the Canadian High Arctic.

I had encountered Arctic wolves here several times before.

Beneath the cloud

As is often the way when travelling in the Arctic, our flights north from Resolute Bay, the last staging point and second most northerly community, were delayed by bad weather for two whole days which we found very frustrating; but on the third attempt Harry (now known as "H") and I were off at last.

As we went further west, the cloud became visibly thicker until just before our refuelling stop, it was an absolute pea-souper! I thought this was it; we'd be flying back to Resolute for sure.

Arctic wolf   Image: David Mech
Arctic wolves are distinguished by their year-round white coats
The pilot, Paul (not someone with whom I had flown before) turned the aircraft seaward and spiralled downward almost into the ground it seemed.

I shouted to "H": "He must be trying to get beneath the cloud" and sure enough he was, and did so very successfully. We had made it to Grise Fiord, the most northerly community in Canada. After a quick refuel we were heading north.

We had asked the pilot to fly up and back a couple of times over the area before we landed to see if anything would give us a clue to the whereabouts of a wolf den.

Musk oxen and Arctic hares were plentiful. Both of these are wolf prey, so we knew the possibility was there.

Negotiating the ice

"H" told me later that research has shown that a typical hunting area for a pack could be as large as 1,000 sq km; so our chances of finding a wolf den were very slim but we were determined to give it a real go.

Twenty minutes later, Paul was looking for a landing spot on the fjord ice just near to the peninsula we had surveyed.

The ice looked decidedly wet and dodgy to me, but after three practice runs and some steep low banking, Paul placed the aircraft down between two cracks, about a metre or so either side of the wing tips. He knew his stuff!

We unloaded all of our gear, which seemed like a huge amount, and then carefully lowered the all-terrain vehicle (ATV) on to the ice.

The problem now was how to get from the sea ice to the land. The cracks Paul landed between were very deep and about three-quarters of a metre wide, just too wide for the tyres of the ATV.

So we had to travel up and down the crack until we found a place just wide enough. Having done this two or three times with different cracks, we reached the stony beach; and then went back for the second load.

Meanwhile, Paul had taken off and was flying back to civilisation. We were on our own, left to take in this spectacular, silent and tranquil wilderness.

Click here to read the following instalments of Jim's wolf diary.

Jim McNeill runs the Ice Warrior Project, which organises expeditions in the Arctic


SEE ALSO
Mission to Ice Island
24 May 07 |  Science/Nature

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