B Glaciology in the Rockies A
Added to Baffin Studies, 1965
The first year of the IHD opened as plans for the Geographical Branch’s new venture into the Canadian Rockies and Coast Ranges were being refined. Gunnar Østrem arrived in Ottawa from Stockholm on New Year’s Day, 1965, this time with his entire family. I had found my way through the Civil Service Commission’s labyrinthine channels for specialized appointments and, as part of Gunnar’s special pleading for Swedish and Norwegian assistants who had previously worked with him in northern Scandinavia, six of them were added to our glaciological field team, including Stig Jonsson, Wibjörn Karlén, and Randi Pytte. Randi was part of the “women in the field” breakthrough. The strong Scandinavian personnel contingent was vital to what would be an exacting undertaking that we hoped would produce almost immediate results. Keith Arnold, another member of the permanent branch staff, who was temporarily distracted from his Polar Continental Shelf Program love affair with the small Meighen Island ice cap in the High Arctic, provided additional, well-seasoned support. Kent Sedgewick, Tijs Bellaar Spruyt, Robert Gilbert, and Chris Cambray were recruited from the now rapidly growing number of students from Canadian universities applying for summer employment.
Gunnar’s objective was to select representative glaciers for detailed and long-term mass balance studies that would provide a cross-section from the eastern rain-shadow side of the Rockies with a continental climate to the wet maritime western Coast Ranges. Factors that would affect the choice of individual glaciers during the field reconnaissance included distinctiveness of their accumulation areas, size, nature of their meltwater streams, relatively smooth surfaces for safety and ease of foot or ski travel, availability of early records such as photographs, and accessibility for approach on the ground. It was hoped that six suitable glaciers could be located. This would require reconnaissance inspection of a large number of glaciers across some of Canada’s most rugged terrain.
Glaciological fieldwork in the Rockies and Coast Ranges
The work began in Ottawa by examining all of the available 1:63 360 topographic maps: that is, one inch equals one mile (the adoption of metric by the federal government came later). Some areas of the cross-section had no adequate map coverage and so had to be eliminated. Nevertheless, some three hundred glaciers were selected for more intensive review. This led us to the National Air Photo Library. The air photos clearly demonstrated that many of the three hundred were unsuitable because of severe crevassing, a feature not shown on the topographic maps. In the end, thirty individual glaciers were identified for final examination on the ground. At this stage, the operation shifted to the Rocky Mountains, with Gunnar taking with him as an assistant Stig Jonsson, an experienced skier who had worked with him in Arctic Sweden.
In mid-April, I received an urgent telephone call from Gunnar, who was then at Lake Louise. After his initial vivid and enthusiastic account of the entire proposed transect of Canada’s mountainous west, he explained that he was facing problems of accessibility. He had realized that an intensive reconnaissance survey would involve field visits to each of the provisionally listed glaciers before he could proceed with confidence to the final selection. It had become apparent that this would require extensive helicopter support. He needed to find out if his budget could be increased, in order to enable him to set up a series of local helicopter charters. I said I understood the necessity and that he ought to go ahead.
“But how many hours of helicopter charter time can I plan to use?”
“As many as you need!” I rejoined.
And he needed a lot—too many for either of us to remember now! I told him “not to worry,” as I would go cap in hand to head office, and that I felt confident. To this day, Gunnar still talks about my response and how it totally astounded him, as he had fully expected questioning, compromise, or apologetic regret.
As a result, five glaciers were firmly identified: from east to west, Ram Glacier, northeast of Lake Louise (one of the most easterly); Peyto Glacier, some thirty kilometres north of Lake Louise; Woolsey Glacier, in Mount Revelstoke National Park; Place Glacier, northeast of Pemberton; and Sentinel Glacier, between Pemberton and Vancouver.
Once the final selection had been made, the rest of the team joined Gunnar and Stig, and all was set for an energetic summer. Trigonometric stations were established and precisely surveyed for future special air photography and preparation of contoured maps; numerous snow pits were dug; accumulation and ablation were measured continuously on two glaciers and intermittently on another; and meteorological data were collected from selected locations. Equipment and many specialized instruments had been brought from Stockholm, and given the intensive undertaking that extended across the entire width of the western mountains, the tightly knit and experienced field team more than justified itself. Valuable experience was also transferred to the Canadian summer student assistants.
One special outcome was that the detailed survey of Place Glacier, along with air photos taken later in the summer, became the basis for the first metric map ever produced by the Surveys and Mapping Branch. It was a challenge to negotiate this switch to the metric system with the very conservative federal surveyors and mappers, but I doubt that anyone could have been more persuasive than Gunnar Østrem. Much assistance for the fieldwork was provided by the Canadian National Parks Service and the DOT, who supplied all the standard meteorological instruments. Specialized equipment was borrowed from the Norwegian Water Resources and Electricity Board. The western field research that year was an outstanding example of interagency and international collaboration.
Olav Løken joined Gunnar at the end of August for an inspection of the ongoing work on the Peyto Glacier. This led to a short journey across the Canada–United States border to meet with Dr. Mark Meier, a leading American glaciologist. The ensuing negotiations led to adoption of internationally uniform field methods so that comparative assessments could be made. The stage was set for a major expansion in the 1966 season. Gunnar had also spent most of May on Baffin Island. The scientific significance of the glaciological efforts of the 1965 summer, both in the western mountains and in Baffin Island, is described in more detail in chapter 11.
Baffin Island 1965 field season
The 1965 Baffin Island expedition was the single largest operation organized by the Geographical Branch to that date. Seventeen student assistants were recruited from eleven Canadian universities, several of them having been with us on previous Baffin operations. Of the permanent staff, Olav Løken took over the position of expedition leader and prime organizer; John Andrews had returned the previous fall with a doctorate from the University of Nottingham based on his earlier Baffin research and was more than ready to make up for missing out on Baffin in 1964; Brian Sagar reoccupied his now regular Barnes Ice Cap position; Gunnar pushed ahead with the new IHD components; Martin Barnett returned with Dave Harrison, now on permanent staff; while George Falconer managed supplies and logistics with great skill. Dr. Cuchlaine King arrived in Ottawa from the UK in mid-May and by June 26 was setting up her first field camp at Eqe Bay, west of the Barnes Ice Cap, with two assistants: Jane Philpot (later Buckley), newly recruited to the permanent staff, and a University of Toronto undergraduate, Wendy Jocelyn (later Smith).
Once again we were able to provide field support for graduate students who undertook their own individual research: botanist Robert Hainault, of the University of Ottawa, and geologist Norman Gray, from McGill. They worked on independent thesis projects while relying on our logistics and field facilities. There were two other innovations, as mentioned previously: construction early in the season of the splendid base camp building at the head of Inugsuin Fiord and our first dedicated helicopter charter. A professional carpenter was flown in to supervise construction of the base hut at Inugsuin. After four days, the building was sufficiently advanced that he could leave its completion in the hands of the regular expedition members.
As in previous years, a chartered DC-3 on ski-wheels was used to transfer personnel and heavy equipment, especially to the new Inugsuin Fiord base camp and to the ice cap. It was backed up by a Cessna 185, also on ski-wheels. During the open-water season, a Beaver (CF-GBF) from Northern Wings, in Sept-Îles, provided long-range reconnaissance, camp moves, and, later, assistance with the evacuation of the widely dispersed field parties toward the end of August. It was piloted by my old friend from Baffin ’63, Jim Cole.
George Falconer, Gunnar Østrem, and Brian Sagar, together with seven assistants, had reached Fox-2 by May 12. Dave Harrison left Ottawa by chartered Cessna 185 on ski-wheels on May 17, reaching Fox-2 a week later. Michael Church, flying the commercial route from Ottawa to Montreal to Hall Beach, arrived on May 18, so that an early start to the fieldwork was assured. Gunnar and Chris Bridge had also reached Inugsuin and the Decade Glacier. Heavy work preparing food and equipment caches at Fox-2 continued under George’s direction. The DC-3 was able to return south on May 22, while the Cessna arrived at Fox-3 the following day. Gunnar departed on May 29 for Ottawa and to oversee the new field program in Alberta and British Columbia. During the hectic period from May 22 until June 7, nine more personnel arrived. Olav reached Inugsuin base camp on June 8 and took control over the entire complex of operations. The 1965 season comprised a complicated series of separate activities, and only a few of the main ones are detailed here. However, credit must be given to Olav’s organizational skills, backed up by George’s indispensable management of the logistics.
Brian Sagar reached the north end of the Barnes Ice Cap on May 19, together with M. Birtles, Mike Church, Barry Goodison, Peter Lewis, and G. Moroz. Mike, Barry, and Peter quickly reoccupied the Lewis River camp and began a more extensive glacio-hydrological study. Brian and his two remaining assistants tackled the ice cap. This involved further extension of the accumulation and ablation measurements of the previous years, often hindered by inclement weather and poor visibility. Nevertheless, the now very large array of stakes was surveyed; 1,600 snow-depth and 400 snow-density measurements were recorded, and samples were collected for tritium dating. (Map 7)
On June 10, all the ice cap personnel were flown to Gee Lake, on the northeast edge of the south dome, where they made the preliminary moves to establish a northeast-to-southwest transect across the entire width of the ice cap. On June 14, Olav relieved Brian, who returned to Ottawa via Fox-2. From this point, Olav completed the transect, inserting thirty-six equally spaced stakes. This enabled him to confirm a previously introduced hypothesis that the mass balance of the ice cap was strongly asymmetrical, with a positive balance northeast of the crest line and a tendency to a negative balance to the southwest. This fitted with the geomorphological fieldwork that indicated a progressive move of the region of greatest ice thickness from the middle of Foxe Basin toward the mountain rim of northeastern Baffin during the final 15,000 years or so of the last ice age and that this process was continuing into the mid-1960s. The southern traverse of the ice cap was completed on June 18, again in very difficult weather.
Cuchlaine and John and their assistants focused on the area west and south of the Barnes Ice Cap and along the Foxe Basin coast. Their combined work involved a series of camps between Eqe Bay in the north and Piling Lake, Foley Island, and the Tweedsmuir Islands in the south. Extending the earlier work in the Steensby Inlet area (1961) and Grant-Suttie Bay (1963), it provided a well-documented account of late-glacial entry of the sea into Foxe Basin, its overlap onto southwestern Baffin Island, and the contemporary retreat of the Baffin Island remnant ice sheet that was eventually reduced to the Barnes Ice Cap of today. It facilitated the construction of precisely determined isobases and proof that lobes of the ice sheet remained in contact with the sea between 7,000 and 5,500 years ago. Configuration of these isobases, which run approximately parallel to the general alignment of the present southwest coast, confirmed the original hypothesis that Foxe Basin had served as a centre of outflow of continental ice during the maximum of the last ice age.
Meanwhile, the Spartan Air Services helicopter (Bell G2A) had been flown disassembled from Montreal to Frobisher inside a commercial freight plane. Pilot David Harrison1 with engineer Tom Murray reassembled and test flew the machine at Frobisher, making a successful positioning flight northward up the western coast of Baffin Island to Fox-2 and then eastward to reach the Inugsuin base camp by June 28. The very first day of operations at Inugsuin, taking full advantage of fine weather and twenty-four-hour daylight, David logged a full eight hours of time in the air with several of the field parties. This was an encouraging start to the helicopter support work, though it wasn’t long before there was another airborne adventure story to be related.
Olav had initiated studies on the sedimentary succession exposed along the outer coast between Cape Christian and Cape Roper. On July 1, Olav and MacHattie were flown in David Harrison’s helicopter to the coastal lowlands north of Clyde Inlet. Olav’s objective was to investigate the low-lying sediments of the outer coast first identified by Professor Dick Goldthwait during the 1950 AINA expedition (R. P. Goldthwait, personal communication, January 5. 1961). As recalled by David some years later:
This work on the east coast has vivid memories for me. July 2 was a long foggy day of fieldwork, and it was still only my first week in this part of the North. While Olav and his assistant picked antique seashells from the cliffs, helicopter FCK and I had mainly sat around on a beach enveloped in grey mist. Came the end of the day, the three of us got back in the helicopter—tired, hungry, and ready to fly back to a warm camp. The engine, by now quite soaked in foggy droplets, had other ideas: it failed to start. Three or four more attempts and the battery was dead flat—and with it the radio. We could be waiting a long, long time for a pickup. Olav stoically but politely dismissed my (not very bright) idea about hiking along the shore to Cape Christian (the U.S. Coast Guard LORAN base many miles south), knowing there were several rivers and outlets with open leads that would be very unsafe to cross at this time of year. He just pointed 90 degrees out to the vast expanse of sea ice and announced, “No! we’ll walk out there and continue on the sea ice—it will be crunchy but we shouldn’t fall through.” So we crunched along for hours and hours. It was around midnight the following day when we walked, pretty fatigued, into the overheated mess hall and astounded the guys on the base who were watching the latest movies and supping on beer and pretzels. It was the morning of the Fourth of July. I am sure we had been stalked by a polar bear for much of that walk. Fortunately our number was not up. Olav, of course, seemed to take it all totally in his stride. (Personal communication, March 12, 2011)
Luckily, another helicopter (with a spare battery) was soon diverted from some other northern operation so David could pick up his stranded machine and get back to Inugsuin with Olav and MacHattie; very little time was lost, and David had learned two valuable lessons in the geography and climate of the High Arctic. There was never another flat battery (or forced march) in the three years of his work with us.
Coastal work with marine fossil dating
Olav’s east coast investigation resulted in examination of the complex wave-cut section of sea cliffs stretching for more than thirty kilometres northwest from Cape Christian. The freshly exposed cliffs, regularly undercut at high tide, displayed a great variety of deposits ranging from bouldery glacial clay and coarse gravel beds to sand and clayey silt layers. The stratification was distinct and nearly horizontal and could be traced for considerable distances. Complete marine fossils and shell fragments could be found in most of the individual layers. Exposures of the bouldery clay were easily accessible along the lower section of the cliffs and yielded many marine fossils (shells). Higher up, a thick section of stratified sand contained large numbers of such fossils, many upright and, therefore, in apparently living positions. Olav made large collections that were identified as cold, or arctic, species. Only four different species were present: Hiatella arctica, Mya truncata, Serripes groenlandicus, and Astarte borealis.
The coastal work was extended south of Cape Christian on the far side of Clyde Inlet for nearly eighty kilometres, to Cape Aston. Here, large deltas graded into what was interpreted as a higher sea level, about sixty-five metres above present sea level. The delta strata yielded similar assemblages of marine fossils. Following the field season, fossil materials from both Cape Aston and the Cape Christian cliffs were dated at 50,000 years and 54,000 years before present (BP), respectively.2 The Cape Christian and Cape Aston results, the first of their kind from the Canadian North, provided a controversial preliminary supposition that parts of the outer coast, between the fiord mouths, had not been covered by glacier ice for at least 50,000 years. This result complemented my own efforts on the mountain peaks and uplands. Nevertheless, later work has led to claims that these conclusions need to be modified (see chapter 11).
Additional work on the outer coast and within the fiords by both Olav and Ed Smith (under Olav’s supervision) provided much more detail on the interrelations of land, sea, and glacier ice during the closing period of the last ice age. During this period of about 18,000 to 7,500 years ago, the main outlet glaciers continued to penetrate into Baffin Bay while the land between the fiords was free of ice. This was indicated by the late-glacial marine limit: as high as eighty to eighty-five metres above its present level away from the fiords and only about twenty-five metres (or less) within the fiords. This implied that the land was rising in relation to the sea while the glacier tongues still extended to and beyond the fiord mouths, thus preventing access into the fiords by the rising sea. These initial findings prompted an invitation to Dr. Rolf Feyling-Hanssen, an internationally recognized expert on marine micro-palaeontology from Aarhus, Denmark, to join us the following summer for an intensive study of the coastal deposits.
The 1965 summer was also the first time in Arctic Canada that measurements of slope development (talus slopes) were initiated, this time by Martin Barnett in the vicinity of the Inugsuin base camp, with provision for repeat measurement on fixed markers in subsequent seasons. This type of geomorphological process study was greatly extended during the 1966 and 1967 field seasons. In the latter part of the 1965 field season, however, Martin concentrated on the moraine systems of inner Clyde Inlet and along the Clyde River valley to Generator Lake, dammed against the southern margin of the Barnes Ice Cap.
I was able to visit the field area between July 4 and August 31, at which time I made a reconnaissance of Ekalugad Fiord with Olav that led to a decision to extend field research to that area the following summer. At the same time, Olav took me to inspect his critically important Cape Aston delta sites. I also made short visits to both John’s and Cuchlaine’s camps.
There were several reconnaissance flights that season with David in the helicopter, with the purpose of investigating whether or not the highest summits had ever been eroded, or at least submerged, by the continental ice sheet at its maximum extent during the ice ages. It has proved a long-running controversial topic in the realms of glacial geomorphology and vascular plant history, beginning with a dispute between biologists and geologists in Norway as long ago as the 1890s. One special difficulty still facing us in the 1960s, and for some time thereafter, was our inability to obtain absolute dates from high mountaintops that retained no material for C14 dating (the anticipated ages were far beyond the limits of lichenometry).
In wrestling with this problem, I realized that the area around Inugsuin Fiord provided helpful insights for estimating the age of apparent glacial erratics on mountaintops and of contributing to the controversy of survival of vascular plants throughout the ice ages. We were surrounded by summits capped by very thin patches of ice (small ice caps), which were presumably frozen to the underlying ground. As these patches melted, there would be no trace of their former presence. It was apparent that, given the similar yet more extensive situation of mountaintop glacierization during the ice ages, subsequent disappearance of thin summit ice cap cover would similarly leave no trace of its former presence. So, perhaps the main task should be to concentrate on searching for the upper limits of actively eroding ice. This would imply thick ice—so thick that it would not be frozen to its bed but rather would be in motion and capable of eroding the surface. At least this would provide an approximation of the maximum thickness of the major ice sheet during the last ice age, although there still remained the conundrum of the occasional high-altitude erratic block within the zone that apparently had not been moulded by moving ice. At the same time, it appeared that a complete answer would have to wait for the development of techniques for dating the erratics and tors directly. This simplistic expectation proved too optimistic, as demonstrated by very recent developments (Margreth, Gosse, & Dyke, 2014). (A full explanation is reserved for chapter 11.)
Despite this obstacle, it was a project that I would take up in earnest in 1966. The 1965 summer, by contrast, enabled a first reconnaissance of the Baffin Island northeast coastal mountain situation. On another dimension, it laid the foundations for a close partnership with our helicopter pilot, David Harrison.
Building confidence in helicopter capability and safety
I had first met David Harrison in Ottawa when Olav and I were reviewing helicopter charter tenders earlier in the year. One of the most competitive bids for the contract had come from Spartan Air Services, an Ottawa firm with a long history of aerial survey and supply work on the original DEW Line. I took the precaution of meeting the pilot whom Spartan had proposed for the operation in the event that they won the contract. David’s personality was immediately arresting, as were his experience and educational background. He had earned a Cambridge degree in economics before spending two years in the RAF, training under the RCAF as a NATO jet pilot. In civil aviation, he had flown helicopters on agricultural operations in the United Kingdom, Central America, and New Zealand; recently, he had specialized in bush and mountain flying in British Columbia. He was currently teaching geography at a college in Ottawa and flying helicopters for Spartan during summer vacations. Meeting David was like coming across an old colleague; sparks flew and there was a sense of instant rapport. I pressed my head office contacts to scrutinize Spartan’s bid carefully, taking into consideration the background of the proposed pilot. Thankfully, this succeeded. David was to spend the next three summers with us on Baffin Island.
My most intensive operations with David and the helicopter were in 1966 and 1967. In 1965, I was still struggling to hold down my responsibilities as director of the Geographical Branch while also putting in a fair measure of fieldwork on Baffin. My close collaboration with Olav was essential in this, and during the summer of 1965 I was able to get away from Ottawa for most of July and August. This provided the occasion, from the impressive new base camp at the head of Inugsuin Fiord, for me to develop outstanding working relations with David.
The registration letters of the helicopter we used in 1965 were CF-FCK and this always—and not surprisingly—produced a degree of amusement. David proved a very special helicopter personality, and he was particularly interested in one of my objectives: to obtain wide-ranging photographic coverage of the exceptional glacial landforms, glaciers, and mountain and fiord landscapes of northeastern Baffin Island.3 He also welcomed my interest in examining the summits of a large number of isolated peaks as a new challenge for his mountain flying techniques.
That spring through the Geographical Branch I had arranged for the purchase of a high-performance, medium-format camera (Hasselblad 500C) with several extra lenses. The arrangement of removable camera backs that permitted both colour and black-and-white photography through first-rate Zeiss lenses was one of its particularly attractive features.4 And to facilitate the camera’s most effective use, David was more than willing to fly with the passenger-side door removed so that I could avoid reflections from the helicopter’s Plexiglas bubble and side windows. Furthermore, with his extensive experience and considerable knowledge of physical geography (one of his teaching subjects), he could quickly place the helicopter in an ideal position for obtaining the best perspective for shutter release once a target had been identified.
Before any helicopter photo-run, however, I had to undergo David’s “training for active passengers.” First, he insisted that he had to convince me that his helicopter was safe—and through me, presumably, the entire team. To impress this upon me he claimed that FCK was safer than any “fixed-wing” aircraft; in fact, he maintained, with a twinkle in those steely blue eyes, that fixed-wing flying was downright dangerous in comparison.
David took on the attitude of a perfunctory instructer, explaining that I was required to undergo a series of “lessons” before I would be allowed to enter the rarified atmosphere of serious helicopter flying.
Lesson one. The Bell G2A was a small helicopter capable of taking either one passenger and a limited load strapped on racks attached to the top of the floats or two passengers in a pinch, but with only a modest load in the sides. In the event of an engine failure, it was possible to execute what was referred to as an autorotation. Essentially, the emergency response was to manually disconnect the engine from the main overhead rotor blades, rather like “de-clutching” the manual gears in a car, and doing the equivalent of freewheeling. As the main blades continued to “windmill” at the same rpm as normal, and the tail rotor was interconnected to the freewheel, the helicopter could still be steered and directed to a certain extent—though with two significant exceptions: an inescapably rapid descent and only one chance at the landing (no “going round again”). Enough momentum is built up in the descent to provide this one final “cushioning” of the eventual forced landing. Helicopter pilots in training, and occasionally out in the field, can practice this emergency manoeuvre by throttling back the engine and descending in autorotation, but recovering well clear of the ground. David explained much of this to me on the ground, and once we were used to flying together, he asked if I’d like to have a live demo (but with the engine still running, of course). I was excited at the prospect and agreed.
We were at a much higher level than the usual cruising altitude and directly above base camp, probably about a thousand metres. Grinning, David asked if I was ready; he then calmly throttled back the engine to idling and pushed down the collective control stick to disengage the rotors and force the freewheel autorotation. The extensive gravel terraces surrounding the Inugsuin base camp stretched out below us. There was also some open water in the mainly ice-covered fiord that could be used if necessary, as the machine had rubber floats and so was in that sense amphibian—provided it landed upright.
It was a great thrill. With my door detached and the air whistling past us, at a safe height the engine was brought into play and we circled in for a normal perfect landing.
Lesson two. To further increase my confidence as a passenger in cloudy weather, it was necessary to fly much higher than for the first “lesson”: in fact, right through gaps in the layer of stratocumulus cloud that had its base about one hundred metres above the neighbouring mountaintops. First we soared up through one of those gaps to emerge into a wonderland of sun and blue with a startling white expanse below us. (Fig. 23) Then we found another gap in the cloud cover, disengaged the engine, and descended smoothly and rapidly through the cloud base to see the rocky pinnacles rushing up to meet us.5 As before, there followed a gentle landing.
Lesson three. Several flights and routine landings later, David asked me, “Now for lesson three; what do you think?”
To which I replied, “Splendid. Are we going to loop-the-loop?”
David assured me this was not only mechanically impossible but also of absolutely no redeeming moral value. We boarded the chopper and coasted down the fiord to its midsection, where the mountains were highest and their peaks sharpest. We landed gently on the top of one giant rock summit that rose about 1,200 metres above the deep blue-green water of the fiord with its subparallel lanes of broken ice. What a spectacular camera station! Out came the Hasselblad, and I took a round of both colour and black-and-white photographs while David lay out full length in the sun on the bouldery rubble of the mountaintop.
“What now?” I asked.
David simply answered, “Wait and see!”
So we got back in, buckled up, and he started the engine. After some minutes I realized that we were not able to take off. He assured me that this had not been planned, so we got out and looked over the edge. David commented, “Looks like it would be a difficult walk back to camp, but if we did climb down, how would we rescue my helicopter?” He casually off-loaded the two five-gallon drums of extra avgas that had been strapped onto the floats, and in a carefree tone said, “I can retrieve them when I am on my way back next time without a passenger.” (At this point a dark thought entered my mind.) David continued, “As it is now, at this altitude and with you on board and the gas on the side, our engine just doesn’t have sufficient power to lift off.”
When we restarted the engine, David pulled the helicopter into the hover “cushion” about ten metres above the summit and edged sideways until we were over the fiord, with a sheer wall of granite falling about a thousand metres straight down on one side of us and open space on the other, David casually disengaged the rotors. We seemed to be making the most rapid mountain descent of my life, and the granite wall appeared to be at arm’s length. It was a very stimulating lesson and I was now fully confident of the ability of David to take me safely into and out of potential research locations, places that often could not be reached any other way. Back at camp, in calmer retrospect, I understood how David—realizing that he would be required to make numerous mountaintop landings that might well be scary for a passenger—was aiming to ensure that I would be relaxed and not likely to panic or jump out.
So began for me the first of three summer field seasons combining successful photography and geomorphology research with a frequent sense of adventure. Only once did my pilot seem to have any misgivings about our mountaintop perching and hovering for perfect shots (“Jack! You’ve turned me and my helicopter into just another accessory to your damned Hasselblad!”).
Expanding research all the way from Foxe Basin to Baffin Bay
The 1965 summer on Baffin Island also witnessed a major expansion in glaciological and glacio-hydrological research to match Gunnar’s activities in the Canadian western mountains. Complementing Brian’s extensive work on the Barnes Ice Cap, Gunnar spent a couple of weeks between the Lewis Glacier and River and the Decade Glacier above the Inugsuin Fiord base camp. This involved additional training for Mike Church and Bill Rannie, who along with several other students were to take full control of the attempts to determine the flow and silt content of the highly turbulent Lewis River. This group included yet another first-year undergraduate, Barry Goodison. Also in May, Gunnar, assisted by Chris Bridge, set up a camp high on the Decade Glacier and began the detailed task of mass balance, climate, and hydrological studies. Chris was left in charge while Gunnar transferred operations from Baffin, hurried to Ottawa, and then headed out west to his newly selected glaciers in Alberta and British Columbia. Barry Goodison’s early Baffin experience involved assisting Mike Church in his glacio-hydrographic study of the Lewis River.
From the end of May, Chris Bridge and Bill Rannie took care of the Decade Glacier mass balance and meltwater runoff measurements. A meteorological station was set up and observations maintained from June 14 until August 20. Despite the limited observations, it was apparent that the 1964–1965 year had proved a slightly positive one for the IHD-selected glacier. Working conditions were vastly improved when a helicopter lift added a snowmobile and a “Gunnar-type” A-frame hut, the latter to be firmly anchored on the northeast margin of the glacier at 950 metres asl. Several of the undergraduates were flown in to provide assistance, in accordance with the general plan to transfer students to difference phases of the overall operation so that they received as broad a training experience as logistics allowed.
For the first time, Baffin Island operations extended from the islands in Foxe Basin across the entire width of the main island, the Barnes Ice Cap, and the mountains and fiords of the northeast to the outer coast fronting Baffin Bay. This level of activity was possible because we had been able to justify the large increase in annual budget necessary to ensure a worthy Canadian glaciological contribution to the IHD. In this sense, the 1965 season could be regarded as the pinnacle of my aspirations both for Baffin Island research and for the Geographical Branch itself. Little did I realize at the time that I was due for a major letdown and that the IHD would prove the beginning of disintegration for the branch as a result of a forced departmental reorganization.
All personnel were back in Ottawa by the beginning of September. Yet another season had been marked by outstanding collaboration and enthusiasm among all expedition members, as well as between them and the aircrew. DEW Line assistance had remained at a high level. The logistical importance of Fox-2 and Fox-3 stations could not be exaggerated. The early record of neither illness nor injury had been maintained. Cuchlaine King and her two assistants, Jane and Wendy, had had a very enjoyable and productive summer and were impressed by the courteous and enthusiastic reception they had received from the DEW Line personnel. I felt much satisfaction in being able to report this to the senior departmental members who had put up so much opposition to the proposal that women deserved the same opportunity as men to conduct research in the Arctic.
Ottawa developments and planning for the 1966 field season
This critical winter of 1965–1966 not only found me committed to preparations for what was to become, yet again, the largest and most complicated Baffin Island field season; I was also heavily involved with general Geographical Branch administrative affairs. These included continued efforts to expand the economic geography activities. Dr. Michael Szabo was recruited as chief of the Division of Economic Geography, and a significant study of Prairie railway branch line optimization was initiated under the leadership of Tony Burges. The desk atlas and the reinvigorated National Atlas program moved ahead under the direction of Gerry Fremlin. And the not-so-routine affairs, such as meetings of the newly created National Advisory Committee on Geographical Research and of the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names, required special attention. There were also discussions on Canada’s hosting of the 1972 IGU Congress, much of the expense of which would have to be covered by the branch.
Much work was put into compilation of a special glaciology issue of the Geographical Bulletin. This involved analysis of the large amount of field data, from both Baffin Island and the mountains of Alberta and British Columbia. Thus George Falconer, Olav Løken, Gunnar Østrem, and Brian Sagar were all heavily involved, with a notable assist from Ross Mackay of UBC. The issue, which included Canada’s first published regional map of glaciers (southern Alberta and British Columbia), was what I considered a critical undertaking in order to demonstrate that the branch’s glaciological program was rapidly producing substantial results. It was published by the Queen’s Printer in early 1966 as Geographical Bulletin, volume 8, number 1. I regarded the production of the special glaciology issue as a showcase of what the branch could do in glacier research, demonstrating the progress from rapid and effective performance in the field all the way to a peer-reviewed journal publication within a rather short time.
The most time-consuming but politically important development was the recruitment of members for the newly approved Canadian National Advisory Committee on Geographical Research. The committee’s inaugural meeting was held on November 5, 1965. I was thrilled with the highly successful results.6 While most members were chairs of geography departments from across Canada, I was also able to attract senior members of industry (for instance, from Imperial Oil, The Tower Company [Arctic construction], and British Newfoundland Corporation) and other federal and provincial representatives. Dr. van Steenburgh had originally agreed to chair the meeting although, being indisposed, Dr. James M. Harrison, recently promoted to the position of assistant deputy minister, delivered the address of welcome on his behalf. Dr. Harrison forecast an important role for the advisory committee in shaping departmental and national policy regarding geographical research. He outlined changes taking place in the Department of Mines and Technical Surveys, attendant upon creation of the new Waters Research Branch. I gave a report on recent research and organizational developments in the Geographical Branch and welcomed the creation of the advisory committee as an important instrument for both strengthening collaboration with academic geography and finding ways for more effective relationships with Canadian industry.
It was rather conspicuous that all attending the meeting were male, with the exception of my recently recruited and extremely able chief administrative officer, Alexandra Cowie.7 This inaugural meeting proved extremely convivial and promised to be of great importance for the continued development of the Geographical Branch. The concluding recommendation made to the minister was to strengthen both economic and physical geography within the branch rather than risk negative effects due to reorganization of the department. A grants-in-aid subcommittee was set up and, for the 1966–1967 period, twenty-three modest research grants were awarded to academic geographers throughout Canada. A second meeting was scheduled for the following February.
The most serious development of the winter, however, had to do with the start of the IHD. Responsibility for water research, both freshwater and marine, and its management as a vital Canadian natural resource had traditionally been divided among several federal government departments. Competition for “control”—and hence very much enlarged annual budgets—between the Department of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources and our Department of Mines and Technical Surveys, was becoming especially pronounced. Yet while glaciers are conspicuously part of the hydrological cycle, I had not initially suspected that this would draw the Geographical Branch into departmental and interdepartmental politics; my vision had instead been that it would provide a base for fruitful collaboration. The next twelve months were to prove me wrong.
In the briefest terms, our department was reformed as the Department of Energy, Mines, and Resources, while all water-related affairs were placed under the responsibility of a newly created Inland Waters Branch, to which my greatly cherished Glaciology Section was transferred. This had no effect on the 1966 Baffin field season, nor on the Glaciology Section in the short term. Everything remained in place—but very shortly it became apparent that a significant number of branch staff would be reporting to Dr. Al Prince, the newly appointed director of the Inland Waters Branch. I discussed my concerns with Dr. Van, who explained that arrangements were moving beyond his control, especially with the approach of his sixty-fifth birthday and, with it, compulsory retirement. A new deputy minister (DM) was to be appointed, and that might (or might not) have repercussions all the way down to the Geographical Branch. However, Dr. Van urged me to continue with what I was doing. In retrospect, this augured the end of the Geographical Branch, not that I realized it at the time.
These uncertainties, as unnerving for me as can be imagined, could be submerged beneath a sense of achievement for the field program and the personal satisfaction of realizing that a small helicopter, with the right pilot, could achieve a level of effective research combined with high adventure that I could never have imagined before experiencing that first autorotation. It was a feeling that has stayed with me for a lifetime. Meanwhile, I knew that a great deal more was in store for 1966 and 1967.