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The Struggle To Stay Put

The Struggle To Stay Put

Three men wait out a blizzard for three days. In a two-man tent.
By Peter Autut
Mar 21
From the March 2018 Issue

There wasn’t much room in the two-man tent with three men in it.

We were at least 120 kilometres from Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut. The snowmobile had broken down and we had no communication system. I don’t know if we even told anyone where we were going. My brother likes his cigarettes—he lit one up and the tent held the smoke. I don’t smoke, so it was not easy.

We were heading in-land in March to see if we could get tuktu—caribou. I was 17, my brother 21. Our leader, my brother-in-law Sully, was older. We had good survival skills. Pops gave us those. We pitched the tent and, not long after, the blizzard hit. And it hit hard.

We weren’t cold, but it sure was cramped in the tent. We’d put the Coleman stove on every now and then to keep warm. All we could really do was tell stories and wait it out. But after a couple of days, we’d just sit and stare at the ceiling. We’d take turns to get out and stretch. On the third morning, I threw my boots outside because there was no room to put them on in the tent. I got out and there was at least three feet of snow that wasn’t there before.

It was a beautiful morning. The tent itself sagged from the snow piling up all over it. I saw our broken snowmobile—it looked pretty grim. Our qamutik had a couple caribou, though it seemed wet and looked tired too.

It’s times like these when you take a deep breath, look over things and get your thinking straight. I shook the snow off the qamutik and cleaned it out. This was just to avoid going back into the cramped tent.

I was missing mom’s cooking now. We had been eating boiled caribou and bannock. It was keeping our spirits up, but it was starting to get on our nerves. We’d joke about the snowmobile, asking Sully to go fix it. He’d say: “I’ll get right on it.” He can fix anything, but sometimes no parts, no fix. The snow was too soft to build an iglu. And it was too soft to walk over a hundred kilometres.

We were playing the stay game. You’re thinking, I can maybe walk this. In the back of your mind, you’re fighting yourself to stay put. It’s a good way to prevent injury. And maybe another blizzard hits and this time you won’t be able to put up shelter.

I scanned the land. The wind was dying down and you could now be outside without having to shield yourself from it. Once there’s a lot of snow, it’s like a quiet room. You can’t call out that far. Your voice does not carry.

There were a couple of hills and I looked up to see a man on a snowmobile. I started to wave and holler. I couldn’t tell if he saw me. He drove off to the other side of the hill so I ran toward him. To my amazement, he appeared again. This time I knew we could see each other. But that didn’t stop me from still waving and hollering. I was excited like a kid with a new bicycle.

It was an elder from Chesterfield leading a search party. I’ve never won the lottery, but this felt pretty good. It had been a long three days in the wind and snow. Our tent was so saggy it looked like there was no one in there. With a sad look on his face, my elder asked in Inuktut about my friends. I was like, “Here,” and grabbed the tent off the guys. They were sleeping so heavily they didn’t hear the rescuers come. We had hot tea and bannock, but we didn’t stay long. We got our gear ready and I hopped on a qamutik. Little did I know, the owner of the qamutik was going to drive 100 miles an hour back home.

Within an hour and a half, I was pulling up to Pops’ place. I could smell my mom’s cooking. She even made pizza. I was being spoiled and I ate like a king. Mom wanted to know all the details. A couple of hours later, the rest of the family came back. We all sat down and had a family dinner. We joked about how Sully didn’t fix the snowmobile. It was good to be home with my parents and tons of hot food and fresh tuktu. Even before we were done eating, we were making plans to pick up the broken snowmobile the next day.

The weather can hit fast and hard in Nunavut. The temperature drops quickly and this sometimes catches the hunter off guard. I always wondered why it was very important for my parents to say bye whenever we were going on a weekend trip to set the nets. But I knew people who were unfortunate not to come back.

I was blessed to grow up in a hunting family.