Showing posts with label Arctic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arctic. Show all posts

November 03, 2018

Red-Jacketed Rangers Give Up Their Lee-Enfields; Somber Danes Keep Theirs


A Canadian Ranger shoots his Lee-Enfield rifle in .303 British.
I like shooting old wooden-stocked bolt-action military rifles, so I was a little sad to learn recently that the Canadian Rangers were giving up their Lee-Enfield rifles, based on the model adopted by the British army in 1895.

The Canadian Rangers are military reservists who establish a government presence in the Far North ("sovereignty patrols"), perform search and rescue, and so on. Why the bolt-action rifles? Mainly for hunting and for aggressive bears. As reported by the National Post, the Lee-Enfield worked well for decades:

Canadian Rangers with Lee-Enfield rifles
at a shooting match in Ottawa (National Post).
Since 1947 the Lee-Enfield has remained the main service weapon of the Canadian Rangers, a part-time force mainly devoted to Arctic patrols. [In August 2018]  the Canadian Rangers began replacement of their Lee-Enfields with the specially commissioned Colt Canada C19.
Unlike many other antique items in the Canadian military, the Lee-Enfield didn’t hang on for so long out of apathy or tight budgets. Rather, it’s because it’s still one of the best guns to carry above the tree line. . . . .

The Lee-Enfield is on
the Rangers' insignia.
Its wood stock makes it uniquely resistant to cracking or splitting in extreme cold. The rifle is also bolt-action, meaning that every shot must be manually pushed into place by the shooter. This makes for slower firing, but it also leaves the Lee-Enfield with as few moving parts as possible.

“The more complicated a rifle gets … the more prone you are to problems with parts breaking or jamming in a harsh environment,” said Eric Fernberg, an arms collection specialist at the Canadian War Museum.

“It might seem old-fashioned … (but) the retention of the Lee-Enfield by the Canadian Rangers was a wise choice for their role and environment.”
The Rangers' new C19 in .308 Winchester.
The new rifle, still bolt-action, is lighter and more accurate, says the government.

Canadian Rangers march with their Lee-Enfield rifles.
As the photos show, the Rangers are mostly Indians and Inuit people.
The Canadian Rangers provide a limited military presence in Canada's remote areas and receive 12 days or so per year of formal training (often more days of training are offered but attendance is not mandatory), albeit they are considered to be somewhat always on duty, observing and reporting as part of their daily lives. Canadian Rangers are paid when formally on duty according to the rank they hold within their patrol and when present on operations or during training events. They are paid in accordance with the standard rates of pay for Class-A (part-time) or Class-B (full-time) Reserve forces, except when they are called out for search and rescue missions or domestic operations (such as fighting floods and wildfires), when they are paid as Class-C Reserves and receive the full Regular Force pay and benefits ("Canadian Rangers," Wikipedia.)
When I was introduced to mountaineering as a teenager, I received two conflicting pieces of advice about colored outerwear.

One was to wear bright colors because they cheered you up, particularly if the sky was grey and the wind was blowing. I took that counsel to heart during my five years in western Oregon, where my burnt-orange cotton anorak was my go-to jacket. I had a bright red down-filled jacket too, but it was better back in Colorado, out of the Northwestern drizzle.

The opposite advice came from famed mountaineer Paul Pedzoldt, founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School. I never met him, but I read somewhere that he told his students to wear subdued colors above timberline as a courtesy to other mountaineers. Let other climbers sit on a summit and enjoy the view without having to look at dots of orange, bright blue, or red on the next ridge over — that was the gist of it.

While the Canadian Rangers have their new rifle, another elite group of Arctic patrollers, the Sirius Dog Sled  Patrol, part of the Danish navy, is sticking with a related Enfield — in their case, the Model 1917 American Enfield, as carried by many "doughboys" in World War One.

And while the Rangers favor their British red, the Danes seem to be in Pedtzoldt's somber-colors camp.

You can see them in this recruiting video (in Danish with English subtitles):


October 30, 2016

Smoked Links with Seal Meat

This is "good" smoke, coming from a fire-line burnout
on the Junkins Fire three days ago.
I am still catching up after the evacuation, the firefighting, the meetings, and the general nervousness of having Chinook and Skycrane helicopters thumping over the house hour after hour.  So here are some quick nature-blogging links.

¶ Talk about going against the narrative an Inuit filmmaker creates a pro-seal hunt video.
Alethea Arnaquq-Baril: I'm Inuit, so I grew up in the Arctic. I grew up hunting and eating seal meat with my family, and as an Inuk, you just grow up hearing people complain [about] and criticize seal hunters. It's just kind of always been an issue for me, and I knew that when I became a filmmaker that I was eventually going to have to cover this issue. 
¶  When trekking poles became popular a few years ago, I had a sort of snobbish reaction. "Who needs two poles?" I thought. "They turn you into a beast of burden. Maybe if you are carrying a very heavy pack on rocky ground . . . "

Other people put a positive spin on "beast," saying that the poles make them feel like a sure-footed quadruped.

I am all for sparing your knees on long downhill trails, but I hate to have two hands occupied with poles. When I broke one of my old bamboo x-c ski poles a few years back, I cut them both down to walking-stick length and added rubber tips. But usually I carry only one, because the other hands needs to be free for a tool, a leashed dog, or whatever.

But here is Randy Newberg, one of the few makers of hunting videos that I can stand to watch, making the case for them — with a video too.
“You can laugh at me all you want,” says Newberg. ” But there’s a reason why this 51-year-old, gray haired fart, who drives a desk for a living a good portion of the year, can go and hunt the mountains: trekking poles.”
Another video: Put a camera on bears in Yellowstone and let them wander — and see what happens when they encounters wolves.

January 17, 2015

Would You Have Eaten What George Melville Ate?

Jeannette's boats are separated in a gale. Illustration from "In the Lena Delta"
In July 1879, the USS Jeannette, a former Royal Navy gunboat with both sails and a steam engine, left San Francisco Bay for the Bering Strait and the Arctic Ocean beyond.

Its purchase and outfitting expenses were chiefly covered by newspaper tycoon James Gordon Bennett, Jr.,  sort of the Ted Turner of his day, with the ship being commissioned by the US Navy and given a Navy crew—plus two native Alaskan dog handlers and a veteran whaling captain to serve as "ice pilot."

For two winters Jeannette explored northeast of Siberia, looking for a hypothesized open water projected — by eminent geographers— to exist north of the band of pack ice. For most of the time, of course, the ship was stuck in the pack ice, carried along by the polar drift while the crew carried out scientific observations and visited some hither-to unknown islands.

In June 1881 Jeannette was released by the ice—but then re-caught by moving floes. Despite the hull reinforcements added in preparation for the voyage, this time the ship was crushed. The crew had warning and had evacuated many supplies, sleds, dogs, and three of the ship's boats.

And then the hard part started. The story of Jeannette, the sinking, the horrible sled journey south, south, south, and the open-boat voyage toward the Siberian cost are told in Hampton Sides' book In the Kingdom of Ice, and if you like stories of adventure and endurance, you will devour it like a starving sailor eats raw fish.

But there is more. When the story shifts to the struggles of the castaway sailors and the search for the missing, Sides relies quite a bit  on In the Lena Delta (1884), an account written by the senior surviving officer, George Melville, the ship's engineer. So I had to get it.

Only two months after being rescued by some native Siberian Yakuts and still suffering from frostbite and malnutrition, Melville organized a November dogsled expedition to look for more survivors beyond those already found. (He did receive significant assistance from Russian imperial officials, once they learned of the castaways' existence.)

At one point, in the middle of howling winter gales, Melville and his Yakut guides (who always lived on the ragged edge of starvation anyway) ran out of food and were reduced to eating bits of leftover frozen reindeer and bones that the Yakuts cached here and there on their trapping routes. He writes,
With an axe the rib pieces were soon severed from the back-bone, and then from the inside of these the natives cut strips with their sheath-knives and handed me a chunky moral from the loin, as breakfast. I bit into it without any ceremony, while the dogs clamored frantically for a share. So long as it remained frozen the meat did not exhibit the vile extent of its putridity; but directly I had taken it into my mouth it melted like butter, and at the same time gave off such a disgusting odor that I hastily relinquished my hold upon it, and the dogs captured it at a single gulp. The natives first stared in genuine astonishment to see me cast away such good food to the dogs, and then burst forth into hearty laughter at my squeamishness. But I was not to be outdone, much less ridiculed, by a Yakut, and so ordered some more, perhaps a pound of the stuff, cut up into little bits. These I swallowed like so many pills, and then gazed on my Yakut friends in triumph; but not long, for in a little while my stomach heated the decomposed mess, an intolerable gas arose and retched me, and again I abandoned my breakfast — my loss, however, becoming the dogs' gain.

At this the natives were nearly overcome with mirth; but I astonished them by my persistence, requesting a third dose, albeit the second one had teemed with maggots; and swallowing the sickening bits as before, my stomach retained them out of pure exhaustion.
Remember this the next time you notice that the package of meat in your refrigerator is past its expiration date.

And In the Kingdom of Ice is a great cold-weather read. Unless you are in Yakutsk (a locale that figures in the story), it will make your winter seem like balmy spring.