Ungava Episode 1: Picking Mussels Under the Sea Ice

After a long string of flights that started in Montreal, the turboprop finally landed in Kangiqsujuaq, a small Inuit Hamlet of Arctic Quebec’s Hudson Strait. I was travelling alone save for the company of my dog Buck who was crated in the cargo haul with all the provisions and gear we’d need for a 370km journey across the Ungava Peninsula.

The Co-Op Hotel provides pick-up from the airport and drove me, Buck and all our gear a short distance from the airport to the Hotel. Usually, the hotel is not staffed and guests let themselves in and out with a key.

 

Soon after I began walking around town and I spoke with a couple of people. One person told me I was an 11 out of 10 on the crazy scale and another person just straight up told me that I was going to freeze to death. This was a little concerning.

 

I didn’t rush my departure, rather I took some time to explore the community, pick up any other provisions, speak to local hunters about my route and, most amazingly, I was able to connect with Lucasi who is an expert in the art of going under the sea ice at low tide to harvest mussels.

Chiselling a hole in the sea ice

Going under the sea ice for mussel picking can be very dangerous and is something you don’t want to do by yourself. I really wanted to do it however and I pretty much got lucky that I was able to connect with Lucasi who was leading a group of students. Someone in town told me where to find the general area of where people go to pick mussels under the ice, and I heard another person tell me they knew some people were going that day. So, Buck and I just walked out there and waited, and sure enough, the people arrived. It turned out Lucasi is the same guy I’d watched go under the sea ice and build an iglu on the BBC documentary Human Planet. Though it is definitely dangerous, I quickly realized that BBC dramatized the danger of the undertaking, and also made Lucasi and the people he was with out to be a lot more primitive in their clothing and gear choices than they really are.

Light shining through the sea ice

The Hudson Strait is only the region in the world where people venture below the sea ice at low tide to harvest food. Large tides of nearly 30′ allow them to do this but you have to be careful. Should the tide begin to come back in while you’re under the ice, the ice will shift, plugging the hole you chiselled and trapping you below the ice. Lucasi explained to me how many years ago, two women were trapped under the ice while mussel picking and died.

 

In the next episode, I begin my journey and as I start the climb to over 2000′ in elevation I quickly realize things are going to be extremely challenging.

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