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Exploring Tuktoyaktuk: Pingos, Muktuk, and the Arctic Ocean

Tuktoyaktuk is the only community along the shores of the Arctic Ocean that you can drive to. Hosting 800 year-round residents, this community only recently became accessible via road, with the opening of the gravel ITH (Inuvik Tuk highway) in 2017. A local Inuvialuit man, Dang Dang, is a friend of mine who graciously showed me around the community and took me out on the land to some of his favourite spots. After our overnight stay in his family's remote hunting cabin on Husky Lakes, we headed up the ITH another 40km to explore the community of Tuk.

The drive through the delta was so interesting, the landscape dotted with lakes as far as you can see and thick with low shrubs, creating a fuzzy look on the tundra. The sky seems to stretch further and bigger than I've ever seen before and all around you in any direction are the most dramatic and unique cloud formations.

When we arrived to Tuk, we stopped at a shop to grab some snacks before heading to the Arctic Ocean (translated in Inuvialuktun to Nunartuam qaangani tariuq). We saw locals out at their drying racks on the shore, working on their whitefish that was caught nearby with nets. Yes - I dipped my hands into the water and yes was super cold. To my disappointment, swimming in this area is prohibited (it is actively used for traditional fishing).

Up next: viewing the Pingos! There are over 1350 pingos decorating the Arctic and several of these distinct landforms create a beautiful backdrop as you near Tuk. A pingo is an ice-core hill with a diverse ecosystem thriving atop, ranging from 5-70m tall. Eight of these landforms comprise a Parks Canada "Canadian Landmark" near Tuk, which I can not recommend viewing enough! Ibyuk Pingo (seen in the background of the above photo of Dang Dang and I at the Tuk sign) is Canada's tallest and the world's second-tallest pingo, erupting from the tundra at almost 50m tall and stretching about 300m wide at the base. Viewing the delta speckled with pingos, I was also reveling in my own awe at the diversity and quantity of birds present and how the gold evening light vibrantly showcased the beauty of the land and water. The experience was simply brilliant.

We arrived back to Inuvik at 11:00pm and stopped at the Gruben's home for a meal before heading home to sleep. My body has adjusted to the daylight here and I am no longer tired at this time of the evening - may as well be 5:00pm and I would know no difference. We feasted on roasted goose hunted by the family, homemade cinnamon buns, and Eskimo donuts (similar to our bannock/fry bread down south). After dinner, I was offered to try traditional Muktuk (beluga whale skin with a thin layer of blubber still attached). Cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces, I ate some "as is" and some how the locals love to enjoy: dipped in HP sauce. I must say this is a delicacy and I really enjoyed it.

This day was probably the highlight of my trip so far and I am extremely grateful to the Gruben family for sharing their time and culture with me both out on the land and in the kitchen!

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