Royal Ontario Museum Governors | Young Patrons' Circle
YPC Research Fund

Dr. Sarah Fee

Crosscut Creek

August 3, 2012

We couldn’t cross where we wanted to enter Crosscut creek, so we had to go way down the river where the water was slower in a wide spot and then straight up a very large hill to enter the creek from above. This was by far our most challenging day, but perhaps one of the most fun. The climb up took about an hour, (think as steep as climbing a ladder and also full of thick trees).

Ron checking out the crossing

Ron taking a moment to look at the scenery | View from the top of the hill, looking down on our camp (yellow dots are our tents!)

I’ve never been in wind as strong before as what we experienced at the top of the hill. I wondered a few times if I would be pushed right over! You couldn’t even breathe the wind was so strong, to take a breath I actually had to turn my head. We walked for about 20 minutes on the tundra and then navigated down a steep slope to get down the creek bed.

Probably the most famous mineral found in this area is lazulite, a striking blue mineral, which is what we were looking for this day. The ground was covered with it. I’m sure on a sunny day you would see it better, but it was a grey, cold stormy day. We walked down Crosscut creek studying and collecting rocks. What a great last day!

Lazulite (blue), Yukon’s official gemstone | Beautiful walk down Crosscut creek

Textbook geological features | Rocks everywhere!image
Camp life, high water and the encounter

July 29, 30 and 31, 2012

In my last post, I mentioned a lot of bear signs in the area, unfortunately we found the bear. On day 2 Heidi and Ron walked down to the camp on the garyansellite slope a slightly different way from Ian, Bob and me. They were walking in a river valley when a grizzly bear came around the corner and they found themselves face to face with the bear. Ron had a shotgun with him, but still this was a very scary moment for them as they had to navigate themselves out of the situation. For every step backwards they took the bear was coming forward. But, by staying calm they were able to negotiate out of the situation and everyone walked away, thank goodness! Now, we keep seeing the bear near camp on the ridge above us, which makes sleeping a bit harder!

I also mentioned that we were in the soft sandy part of the bank, but that the water levels could be an issue. As we came back to camp on the 30th there were a few stormy-looking clouds in the distance, which I thought were coming our way, but Ron bet me a nickel that it wouldn’t rain. I certainly won that nickel, because it started raining, then harder and harder to the point where you couldn’t hear the rain drops anymore, just a thunderous roar of water falling. I was sure the water would breech the bank and come down into the low spot we were camped in. Ron was standing guard in the rain, and I had everything packed up in my tent—the water rose, but not enough for us to evacuate, thank goodness!

Unfortunately, this made crossing the river impossible. Shoot!

On the 31st we were stuck in camp due to the rain—the temperature dropped too, so I thought I’d write a bit about what it’s like living in our camp. We took turns making dinner and the people who didn’t cook as much could do dishes. It felt like there was a constant hunt for firewood to keep the campfire going, but we did OK. As we drew closer to the end of the trip we were worried about propane for the stove, so we relied more and more on the fire to boil water and such, just to preserve the fuel.

We flew some frozen meats in, but with 24-hour sunlight and no ice we had to eat the meat fairly quickly. We tried to bury the coolers and cover them, but really after five days everything was defrosted and we had to eat it up. We bought UHT milk in Inuvik, which was a nice treat, and had a lot of dried meats that didn’t need to be kept cold, so we got by.

We had a generator in camp to charge laptops, cameras, GPS units, and anything else that needed power. We’d fire that up about every other day to keep everything running, including the X-ray diffractometer.

Keeping a fire going was a bit of a challenge the whole trip, with the amount of rain we had, but somehow we did.

Kim cooking breakfast with the broken spatula. We eventually used a stick as a handle. | Kim, Bob and Ron eating grilled cheese and soup on this particularly cold July

Charging cameras and GPS units with a generator image Camp move day

July 28, 2012

Two weeks have passed now and I’d give anything for a shower and some clean socks, but we’re hanging in there. We packed up 1,300 lbs of minerals and rocks to go back to Inuvik, and we are all packed up to be moved to our next camp at Rapid Creek. Our first two weeks have been extremely successful—no one got hurt, we didn’t run out of food, and we are still talking to each other, so what else could you ask for at this point in a field season? The clouds parted and we had some beautiful “camp-move” weather. Bob, Ian and I headed out first to our new camp which was only eight nautical miles away.

Brian dropping off our gear at Rapid Creek | Watching the helicopter leave, no contact for another week

We set up the tents in the lowest part of the river channel, which is nice and soft to sleep in, but we’ll have to keep an eye on the water levels!

Our camp

There are certainly more signs of bears here, even recent signs of a bear nearby.

Cache can left behind from an old camp that had been ripped open image
Bobdownsite/whitlockite slope

July 23, 2012

Across from the nodule slope is another locality that we wanted to focus on. It’s the type of locality for a mineral called bobdownsite, which I described (named), and a famous site for whitlockite and arrojadite. We held off on this one as it’s one of the steeper slopes and we needed to build our confidence to scale it—at least I did!

Whitlockite slope

We made it up to the lowest part of the ridge, and then it got a little too steep for most of our likings. Heidi and Ron, (Ron didn’t want to be left behind!) kept going up to the top and decided to come down on the opposite side of the hill, which was a bit safer, but required crossing a major river. Ian, Bob and I hiked down the river and met them on the ‘other side’.

Taking a break, taking in the scenery. | Happy, dirty Kim

Heidi and Ron threw over all of their gear using ropes first, and then we basically dragged them across to safety on the other side of the river. The water was quick and deep where they crossed, but was calm just a few metres downstream. There wasn’t much concern for them getting hurt, but there was no way they weren’t going to get wet! A bit of excitement at the end of day, but a good day for sure. image The Nodule Slope

July 21, 2012

One of the most famous sites at Big Fish River is the “nodule slope”. These rocks, Cretaceous in age (around 110 million years old), are a series of flysch deposits. Without going into a full geology lesson here, basically these rocks are made up from sediments in a deep ocean that used to cover this area. In these sediments are fossil ammonites and fossil pelecypods, which would have been deposited in the soft muds and silts and then as more muds and silts were deposited on top of the layers they became lithified, or turned into rock preserving them as fossils.

Although we aren’t all that interested in the fossils per se, we are interested in what has happened to the fossils over time. Fluids carrying elements have travelled through these rock beds over the last 110 million years, filling in the void left by organic parts of the organisms that weren’t preserved with the minerals. We saw many ammonites in the rocks all over, but in one area the slopes are covered with loose ones, broken free from the rocks due to erosion.

Ammonite nodule in the rock

Here you can see our footprints after a couple of days of exploring - zig zagging lines going across the talus. We have many buckets full of these fossils; each of them contains different rare phosphate minerals. Examining all of these minerals will definitely keep us busy this fall! We also mapped and extracted some of the rocks here too.

Heidi and Ron investigating the rocks image
We aren’t alone

July 18, 2012

Now that we’ve been in camp a few days, animals are becoming interested in us, or maybe we’re more aware of them, but we can see lots of fresh animal prints near camp. We had a caribou walk right by us one morning while we were eating pancakes. It may have been a bit annoyed by our presence, but kept on walking. We can hear the yipping of wolves now and again, but so far so good in the bear department. Hopefully it will stay that way!

Support Wolf prints right by our camp in the wet mud that weren’t there the day before. Mammal highway?

On the third day we decided to head south, which you guessed it, involved more river walking. The rocks were just as amazing in this direction, and the hills were even steeper. It’s hard to capture the scale and beauty of the area with a camera, but hopefully some of these photos will help.

SupportBob, Heidi and Kim setting out for the day.

SupportThe commute to the south rocks

SupportBig rocks

We found a calm pool of water that became the “watering hole”. We were able to drink the water straight out of the river without filtering it, but in this little inlet there was even less silt, which made our drinks a little less ‘gritty’.

SupportOur ‘watering hole’ | Fresh, cool Yukon water, no filtering or treating needed! image
Getting started

July 16, 2012

After we got settled in on the first day, we wanted to start seeing the rocks as fast as we could, so off we went. We decided to head north first and the easiest way to get around is along the river. It is a braided river and sometimes the bank was easier to walk on one side vs. the other, so we had to cross it several times.

Support Heidi and Ian leading the way.

Some crossings were easy, some weren’t. The bottom of the riverbed was sometimes rounded boulders and the water moved quickly in places. If we felt we could fall, we’d use a rope to help us get across. We were wearing hip waders to keep us theoretically dry, but somehow I wound up wet every day anyway! Heidi’s brand new waders got to camp with a hole in them somehow, so she was wet a lot too.

Support Ron crossing the river.

Support Here I am with my waders on and my hiking boots around my neck. It wasn’t deep where I was standing, but close to the shore it dropped right off, so photo time was at the high point!

We got down to business right away, taking notes on the rock types, taking measurements of strike and dip of the rocks, GPS points and taking samples. All of the rocks we need to look at are at the top of steep hills made of the talus, or broken rock that has fallen down. We will definitely get our exercise over the next few weeks! The scenery from the top is absolutely amazing though!

Support Heidi working away.

Support Ian and Bob hiking upwards. | View of Big Fish River from the top of this slope.

Dr. Ron Peterson from Queens University brought a field-portable X-ray diffraction instrument. This was a great tool to have, as we could identify minerals right in camp, helping us plan our representative field-collecting priorities.

Support Ron and Heidi doing some X-ray diffraction with a field instrument.

After a big day of crossing rivers, hiking big hills, great geology, and even lab work time, we all collapsed after our dinner. Keep in mind it is 24-hour sunlight where we are, so getting to sleep would normally be a challenge, but not today!

Going to camp!

Camp day, we were all very excited. However, I woke up that morning with a high fever, swelling near my ear, and no idea what was going on! There was no walk-in clinic, or any medical help except at the hospital, so I went to the emergency room as I didn’t want to have an ear infection heading into a camp for three weeks. After being told to cancel the trip a few times, they heavily dosed me with antibiotics and sent me on my way. I hadn’t made it this far to not go! After my interesting morning, we arrived at the helicopter hanger around 11:00 am and started to weigh our gear and load the helicopter. Admittedly, I had been pretty worried about the weight of our gear going in—the helicopter had a weight limit of 1,200 lbs per load (including people) and I didn’t budget a third trip, so it all had to fit in two.

Support Trying to figure out the best way to get all of the equipment into the helicopter.

SupportRon and I pointing to the motto on the helicopter, it seemed appropriate!

After a group weigh-in on the large scale, and weighing all of our gear, we were 20 lbs short of a two-load fly-in with all of our gear, 2,380 lbs! Our pilot was very impressed, asking if that was planned, to which I of course said “You bet” and smiled. That was pure luck, but I breathed a sigh of relief.

Ian and I flew out first, leaving Heidi, Bob and Ron behind in Inuvik. The scenery was amazing from the helicopter. We flew over the Mackenzie delta for about 30 minutes and then got into the foothills of the Richardson Mountains.

Support View of Inuvik, top right.

Support First views of the Richardson Mountains.

Support Touchdown in our camp. | Dropped gear.

The site where we had planned to camp was completely washed away by the river, so with a few last minute panicked swoops of the helicopter, we settled on this sandy beach on one of the bends. Brian, the helicopter pilot, was really nice and helped us walk our field gear to a high spot (just in case the water rose with a storm). He then left us to refuel and reload the helicopter, bringing Heidi, Bob and Ron to the camp as well. During that time, Ian and I pitched all of the tents in the soft sandy part of the bank, got some water from the river and set up a fire pit. The rest of the gang showed up and we got all settled into our home away from home, and slept fairly well the first night after our busy day! image The night before we head out!

July 15, 2012

We flew to Whitehorse on Wednesday, and stayed through Thursday getting last-minute supplies, and visiting with the Yukon Geological Survey. They have an extensive library of reports and maps that we wanted to review and we ended up finding a few reports that were not online, which was really a great surprise.

On Friday we got up at 4:30 am for our shuttle at 5:00 am to the airport. We then flew from Whitehorse to Dawson City, Dawson to Old Crow and then onto Inuvik. When we arrived in Inuvik it was 26C (not what I was expecting at all!). First stop was a restaurant to get some lunch; we had muskox burgers. Surprisingly they were pretty good. We did some running around trying to find last-minute items and that evening we went to the Great Northern Arts Festival. At the Festival we saw people drumming on a large whale bone and there was traditional drum dancing too. Heidi and I even got up to try the dancing when invited!

Tomorrow we will fly out around 10:00 am and off we go! I am really looking forward to the adventure. Stay tuned for more details about what we find when I get back.


Support image Hello YPCers,

Things are coming along with the training and planning aspects of my upcoming research trip. Here is a little glimpse of what I’ve been up to.

June 2 and 3, I spent the weekend completing my Canadian Firearms Safety Course, including 16 hours of training on restricted and non-restricted handguns, shotguns and rifles. The training was held at a popular hotel chain in Mississauga, so there was no shooting of the guns, just loading and safe handling. I found it a bit odd having a firearms safety course in a hotel; we kept the doors shut to the room as much as we could! There were two written exams, and two practical exams. A few people failed—it was a bit intense! I got 90% on the two written exams, 100% on the restricted practical and 92% on the non-restricted practical (I messed up on the crawling under a fence drill. I was supposed to prove it was safe before and after I did it, but I only did after). Oh well, I passed! I now have to do one and half days of training for the ROM—half a day in the classroom, and then one day at the shooting range to make sure I can actually shoot a gun, and safely load and handle the guns as well. I’m looking forward to that. I also have to do a firearms psychological assessment on July 3, which will take two to three hours.


June 13 and 14, my team completed an excellent Wilderness Basic First Aid training session. The course instructor came to the ROM especially for us, so the class was perfectly tailored to our needs. She went through our first aid kit with us, pointed out some items we needed and suggested a few more we should buy in anticipation of our trip.

Most of my time right now is tied up with planning—which GPS unit we need to buy, getting our grocery list together, and completing all of our paperwork. I have been purchasing granola bars, instant oatmeal and peanut butter, along with items we can ship to keep the cost of groceries down. Our rental gear from Natural Resources Canada has already shipped from Ottawa (a bear fence, bear bangers, bear spray, Coleman stove and propane, etc.) and we’ll ship a box of supplies out this week too! Seems like I’ve been working on plans for this trip every day for the last month, but it is finally coming together.

Kim image Dear Patrons,

I am very excited to be the second recipient of the Young Patrons’ Circle Research Fund. I feel that I am now part of a journey with hundreds of close friends—too bad you all can’t fit into the helicopter! We are preparing to leave for our trip on July 12. Three of us will head to Whitehorse, Yukon to pick up some equipment in storage while two other team members will go straight to Inuvik to make sure the equipment and food is ready for our departure on July 14 into the field.

Our plan is to first camp at the Big Fish River locality (approximately 136°30" W 68°28" N) for two weeks. This location along the river is called the “Big Bend” for obvious reasons–it gives an excellent exposure of the rocks over a 2 x 2.5 km area. We will collect representative samples of each of the rock units through the region (approximately 400 samples) for the analytical work necessary to test our hypotheses and map the type of rocks that occur.


We would like to move to the Kulan Camp (approximately 137°46" W 68°34" N) in the third week. This is the main area where the prospector Alan Kulan made his first discoveries of lazulite, a beautiful blue mineral in the 1970s. I’m not the first ROM curator to go to this region and I’ll tell you more about the history of the ROM and this region soon.

I spent the past weekend in firearms training in Mississauga—more on that soon!

Kim image YPC Research Fund

The YPC Research Fund supports cutting-edge curatorial research projects at the Royal Ontario Museum. Every year, a portion of each YPC gift is directed through the YPC Research Fund to support an exciting initiative that helps build the understanding and appreciation of natural history and world cultures. image Current Project

We’re pleased to announce that Dr. Kim Tait has been selected as the new YPC Research Fund recipient for 2012.

Kim Tait is an Associate Curator of Mineralogy and oversees mineralogical, gemological and meteoritic research at the ROM. She is also a cross-appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Geology at the University of Toronto.

As the new recipient of the YPC Research Fund, Dr. Kim Tait will be using the funds to journey to the northeastern corner of the Yukon—a remote region rich with minerals called Rapid Creek. Her work will build on the legacy of ROM research on phosphate minerals, which are one of the largest and most complex in the mineral kingdom and act as the atomic building blocks of our natural world.

Kim’s project will soon take her to the northeastern corner of the Yukon, a one-hour helicopter ride from Inuvik. Follow Kim’s adventure and experience her thrilling field work—from wilderness and firearms training to breathtaking helicopter rides over Inuvik and Big Fish River—and learn about the painstaking process of collecting good specimens and discovering new minerals through her own personal accounts and photos. Check back regularly for updates on Kim’s exciting work.
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Check back often for news, photos and updates from the field as Dr. Kim Tait’s research project gets underway. 
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Young Patrons’ Circle (YPC) supports the Royal Ontario Museum’s overall mission to engage
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