Lost and found: Iqaluit’s Eepeebee Campbell tells his story
“I really found out how the community loves me”
Not many people can say they’ve spent four days out on the land, curled up in a tunnel with little but a Coleman stove, a few instant noodle packs, and a ripped tent to protect them from the harsh Arctic winter.
But when Eepeebee Campbell’s snowmobile broke down during a hunting trip on Sunday, Dec. 23, that’s exactly what happened.
One week later, the 33-year-old carver is home safe with his family in Iqaluit. Here’s his story, as told to Nunatsiaq News.
Do you hunt often?
Every chance I get. I enjoy the land.
What animals do you hunt?
Caribou, seals, ptarmigans…
What were you looking for on Sunday?
I went out caribou hunting on Saturday on Pang trail and I went up to second cabin. The weather was kind of bad up there, so I turned back… And the next morning, Sunday morning, I left toward Sylvia Grinnell River.
And was that an area that you were familiar with?
Not really. I went caribou hunting a few times out there with other hunters, and I just thought maybe I would go and look for caribou before Christmas day because my daughters really love country food.
So, you have a family. Can you tell me about your family?
I have two daughters – one’s five-years-old and the other one’s turning four-years-old in January – and a lovely common-law.
When you went out on Sunday, you said you were going up the river… what happened?
After I drove for like two, three hours, up north, I felt a little chilly so I stopped for a snack. I had a quick tea up there with my Coleman stove, to warm me up.
Shortly after I had my tea, I took off… toward town again, and that’s when my snow machine stopped on me. I tried starting it for like half an hour to an hour. It started for a bit then it ran for another five, 10 minutes. Then it died on me again. I tried starting it for like three or four hours… it wouldn’t start no more.
Daylight was just about gone… and it wasn’t too good a spot to make a snow shelter.
I walked maybe one hour from my skidoo with my komatik and my skidoo seat and some supplies from the skidoo. I pushed my komatik where I saw that deep snow… I dug that tunnel (for) maybe two hours.
It was a very small tunnel that first night and I used my komatik to cover the door.
I took off my skidoo seat from my skidoo so I could use that as a mattress inside my tunnel, and I had a tarp I brought with me, so I used that as a floor.
What did you use to dig the tunnel?
The first night I used my little pot I use to heat my water with. And second day I walked back to my skidoo to get some more gear, and I took the belt guard for a shovel so I could dig my tunnel deeper. I didn’t want the walls touching my clothing because the snow could get my clothing wet.
Were you cold?
I had a Coleman stove with me, but my Coleman stove ran out of fuel. I used gasoline instead of Coleman fuel to keep me warm over night.
Even though I was going just for the day trip, I brought extra soup. I brought like five cup-a-noodle soups and one chicken noodle soup, one loaf of bannock, and four snack packs. Each time I got cold, I would just boil up tea and drink tea.
It was so cold second night. I was going to be out and trying to spot planes, but I was so cold. I think it was Christmas Day… I just stayed in my tunnel drying up all my clothing one by one: my hoodie, my socks, my boots…
It was a very long night inside the tunnel because even though I didn’t have any time on me, the night seems very long because it gets dark so early.
So you had no watch on you?
Nothing. I used sunset and sunrise for telling time because sunset would be around 2:30. I would use the moon for time.
I needed my rest each night, so I tried to sleep even though it was a little cold. I kept my Coleman stove running very low all night… Then I would just stay in there until it got bright.
I was so far I didn’t think I would make it if I would try walking back. So I kept staying close to my machine, knowing that maybe they’re looking for me… I was thinking to burn my machine on the spot, but I was thinking at the same time, I don’t know how long I might be stranded here. I might need the gas in the skidoo.
It was very hard at times. I had so much in my mind: Am I going to be out here for a long time? Am I going to be spotted right away?
So, when you went out you didn’t have a SPOT device or a satellite phone or anything with you?
I was looking for my GPS radio at home, but I couldn’t find it so I just left without it.
Over the course of the four days, did you ever see anything or hear anything interesting?
The very first night I broke down while I was digging my tunnel. It was dark by then. I was hearing a plane flying by, but it was so high and I think it was heading to Cape Dorset. I shot three shots with my rifle up in the air, hoping that airplane would see my flash on my rifle, but it just kept flying. I wasted half a pack of bullets at nighttime trying to get airplanes’ attention.
On the 24th, there were planes flying. I’m not too sure where they were going but I could see them at night-time. On the 25th, I didn’t see if any planes were flying by because I was in my tunnel the whole day. It was so cold on the 25th.
Was Christmas the hardest day for you?
It was hard in my mind. I was thinking so much. I would start crying out of nowhere at times. Each time after I cried I would pray… praying really kept me motivated. My kids kept me motivated.
On the 26th I got up early and I put my hand out the door to see if it was cold, and it wasn’t too cold. When it got bright I went walking around my tunnel site. I was looking for a rabbit all morning for like three, four hours, but I couldn’t spot any rabbits. I kept seeing lots of little poops here and there.
I was just about to go back to my tunnel because I was so tired from walking… And that’s when a plane flew right above me.
That was the best sound I heard in a few days… because it was so quiet where I was…
I was so filled with joy and happiness when I heard that plane, but it didn’t spot me right away. It seemed like it finally noticed me after like five, 10 minutes of searching that area. The plane flew lower, and I noticed the pilot looking at me…
It was heading back and forth from my skidoo toward me, letting the ground searchers know where they found me. When Moosha Akavak came to me, I was so filled with joy and happiness…
I told Moosha Akavak I would like to go see my machine. I told him I want to burn it. Then I just set it on fire.
Why did you burn it?
It just caused so much bad luck to me. I didn’t want anything to do with that snow machine anymore. It almost cost me my life.
Who were the people searching for you? Did you know them?
I knew a lot of the people that were up there, but I didn’t know some of them. I would really like to say thanks to all the search and rescue people that helped me… all the local people… I feel like I’ve been spared with another chance in life.
I had two little girls I was thinking of the whole time and my common-law, and my family. I knew I put a lot of people’s minds in misery at Christmas time, but I didn’t plan to have this happen.
Next time I go I will go more prepared. I will not go alone, and I will take whatever I need.
I learned a whole lot from this experience. It’s best to let people know which way you’re heading when you’re going out there, when you’re going to head back. And always bring a Coleman stove if you’re going out on the land.
After this experience, has your perspective on the community you live in changed at all?
It changed a whole lot… I really found out how the community loves me and how they got together. I got lots of warm welcome backs from a lot of people I don’t know. Lots of people calling me saying, “Merry Christmas, welcome back. Good to have you back.”
It’s amazing how people get together and work together when stuff like this happens.
I’m going to keep talking about my ordeal out on the land to young people. I’m going to keep passing it on. Some people could go through the same problems I went through, so we could learn from each other a little bit.
Will you hunt again?
Sure, I will. As soon as I get the chance to be out there again, I’m going back out there because I love eating country food and my daughters really love eating it.