With visions of caribou in his mind, Andrew Alerk left Baker Lake just before 7 a.m. on March 28, heading toward Judge Sissons Lake.
But as he went across the lake, his snowmobile overheated due to the lack of snow on the ice.
“I stopped for a moment to cool it off and added a bit of antifreeze,” said Alerk, who took off again north of Princess Mary Lake hills.
His Ski-Doo overheated again, and just past Aniguq hill, he parked it to let it cool and added some antifreeze, but the machine became stuck in the snow.
“I was tired, exhausted and hungry as I left town early in the morning without eating as I had no food,” said Alerk.
“Just when I gave up, wanting to walk back to town, I decided to try to get the Ski-Doo out one more time. I cried out to God, ‘If you love me, I need your strength to get me out, God.’”
While holding down the throttle, he finally managed to budge his machine.
Alerk reconnected the sleds and began travelling again near Princess Mary Lake, but his Ski-Doo overheated more than a dozen times along the way.
It was nearly 6 p.m. and Alerk decided he needed to get home, even though he was anxious for a catch.
He was down to his last jug of antifreeze to fend off the Ski-Doo overheating, but the machine wasn’t lasting long in the conditions. Going through Pitz Lake Hills – which his cousin Russell Toolooktook had told him provided a faint bit of internet service – Alerk heard his cell phone ring.
He quickly went on Facebook to alert his friends and family to his situation, but he kept losing connection. He texted Toolooktook that he was cold, tired and hungry and his Ski-Doo needed antifreeze, and then he lost internet service.
“I thought of putting up the tarp, then use my sleeping bag to try to warm up and sleep, but it was too cold, so I decided to try to start the Ski-Doo once more,” recalled Alerk. “Whoa, it started. Then (I) went down the hill before it got completely dark.”
He stumbled upon fresh tracks from another hunter – Lars Qaqqaq – and followed them in the dark until his Ski-Doo gave out.
“I was a bit scared ‘cause I couldn’t see anything in the dark, and I had less than quarter of antifreeze, so I put in my last drop,” said Alerk.
His Ski-Doo made it about a half mile before he heard Toolooktook calling, saying search and rescue was on the way with antifreeze. Toolooktook told Alerk to stay put.
But exhausted and starving, Alerk tried to push on just a bit farther, even seeing search and rescue’s Ski-Doo lights in the distance. He cut off the fresh trail and his Ski-Doo got stuck in soft, deep snow, forcing him to wait it out.
“I kept turning on the Ski-Doo every few minutes to let them know my position,” said Alerk.
Search and rescue finally made it to Alerk, offering him hot soup to warm up and helping him get out of the deep snow, eventually following him back to town to make sure he arrived safely.
“I was scared but I learned not to panic,” said Alerk, remembering a time he was lost on the way to Rankin Inlet two decades ago, ending up near Whale Cove.
He learned from that trip not to leave his machine while in a perilous situation.
Alerk finally made it home just before 1 a.m. on March 29.
“While being stuck out there, a lot goes through your mind,” said Alerk. “Scary at first, but try to stay calm no matter what, be patient with the search and rescue team, as they will eventually find you, and never panic.”
Always bring a sleeping bag and a pana, he added, and even extra sleeping bags and food and drinks.
“Always dress warm too,” added Alerk, “as your equipment won’t tell you it’s going to break down.”
Finally, he suggests hunters and travellers always inform their friends and family where they are headed and for how long, so that search and rescue will know where to look.