August 14, 2007
Location: Nelson and Hayes Rivers, Hudson Bay
I was so excited all morning long, I couldn't contain myself. I danced a bit of a jig on the 4th deck while waiting for Greg, Klaus and various others to go out on the barge. Because shortly after they left, I was due to leave for the Nelson and Hayes Rivers in the helicopter. Debbie and Jeff were also going to collect samples for their mercury tests.
We had to put on special helicopter mustang suits along with headphones and helmets. Our pilot lifted off and all three of us craned our necks around trying to get a view of the Amundsen. Flying was an amazing experience, I had such a beautiful vantage point, looking down on Hudson's Bay. I snapped dozens of photos of the wave lines, foam lines, and the shore as we approached the mouth of the Hayes. We landed on a small island in the middle of the Hayes, figuring that we might be a bit safer. The pilot thought we would have a slightly better chance of seeing a polar bear before it reached us if we were on the island.
The pilot was due to pick up the mooring team at another location and return them to the ship so he dropped us off and left us, rifle in hand (in case of polar bears). After getting off the copter, I forgot to remove my nifty Amundsen ballcap. It was pulled off my head by the wind of the copter blades, and sucked into the blades. Debbie, Jeff and I found small pieces of it in many places as we took samples and explored a bit.
I collected water samples from the river in chest waders, but got sopping anyway. Debbie and Jeff collected their samples and we tramped around a bit while waiting for the helicopter to return. The spot was lovely, and Jeff and I wanted to look around at the plants, and rocks nearby. Every now and then Debbie hollered out "Bear Patrol" to make sure we were paying attention and staying alert to the real possibility that a bear might appear. However, it was not a bear that swam up to our island, but a large seal. The seal seemed rather curious about the three strange creatures and it stayed around our vicinity for 10 or 15 minutes, diving and then surfacing to snort or bark. What a beautiful sleek animal it was!
The helicopter pilot returned for us and we loaded our gear into the back compartment and were whisked away to the Nelson River. We flew over land part of the way and it was lovely to be looking down on a forest of short trees and fallen trees. The Nelson is a larger river not far from the Hayes. From the air we found a rocky beach area that looked like a good spot to work from and the pilot landed nearby.
We had only worked for ten minutes when a huge rainstorm moved in and the sky split open above us. The three of us covered the gear as best we could, then we ran up a rocky slope to hide in some large bushes and try to get out of the downpour. After 15 minutes or so, the storm moved on and we crawled out of our hiding spot and continued our work. While there we saw another few seals (who did not seem interested in us) as well as some shorebirds and ducks.
The trip back to the Amundsen was uneventful but beautiful. I tried to soak up every detail and paint it in my mind, knowing that would be the only time I'd view the area as a bird would. Back on board we unloaded gear and I changed into dry, warm clothes, at last. What an amazing experience! Again, I had Gregg to thank for asking me to help out by collecting samples for him. Very few people had the opportunity to ride in the helicopter and I was one of the fortunate ones!