National Geographic : 1986 Jan
MID A STAMPEDE but unalarmed, John Schultz appeared to be no more threatening than a rock to caribou momentarily startled by our arrival on their grazing island in Takijuq Lake (below). Their dense movement made it easy to understand why the French Canadian voyageurs in Franklin's time called these herds lafoule-the throng. Indignant at our approach, a male musk-ox arouses from napping in a swale beside the Hood River (facingpage). On another occasion five of us climbed a hillside to get a closer look at a massive bull. When we closed to within 20 yards, he gave a snort and galloped toward the river. Heading back to the canoes, we found John near where the bull had passed, his tan turned a pasty gray. "That big guy almost bowled me over," he stammered. Once hunted to near extinction for its hide, Ovibos 136 moschatus has been protected in Canada since 1926. Hundreds breed in the late summer and early fall around Bathurst Inlet, an area identified by Parks Canada as a potential national park. The area is also thought to hold one of the world's largest concentrations of the endangered peregrine falcon. These wildlife encounters were exciting diversions on our trip, but they meant sheer salvation for Franklin's party. He and his crew often had to eat musk-ox, although they were not fond of it. "The flesh has a musky disagreeable flavour," he noted. Considered fine eating, caribou were a vital and welcome staple throughout Franklin's expedition. But by October the men no longer had the strength to steady their guns; some took to searching the heavy snow for caribou remains. Shortly before Mathew Pelonquin became the first in the party to die from exposure and starvation, he returned from a day's hunt with only the "antlers and back bone of a deer which had been killed in the summer. The wolves and birds of prey had picked them clean, but there still remained a quantity of the spinal marrow. This, although putrid, was esteemed a valuable prize," Franklin reported. The disaster of 1821 appalled and instructed Franklin. On his second expedition, begun in 1825, after which he was knighted, Franklin surveyed without major mishap 1,237 miles of coastline now belonging to Canada and Alaska. On his final search for the Northwest Passage, Franklin with 129 men on two ships became icebound in 1846 near King William Island, and all eventually perished. The numerous rescue missions that searched in vain for them nearly completed the mapping of the Canadian Arctic.