November 2012 - Arctic Kingdom Polar Expeditions

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So…what’s it really like? – Day # 7

November 14th, 2012 | By | Filed in AK NEWS, AK PRODUCTS & SERVICES, Client Reports, FEATURED, Featured Trip, Recent Trips, TRIPS, Trips

By: Liz Fleming

The last blog from Liz Fleming’s trip to the Arctic. Read below for the final fascinating installment.

What an adventure!

There was less laughter than usual at breakfast on the last morning. We all seemed to be struggling to swallow the  idea that the best adventure ever was coming to an end.  Looking around the dining tent, I realized that in the space of just seven days, total strangers had become close friends –
friends who lived in places like Berlin, Seattle, Melbourne, Singapore and Pond Inlet.  The gaps between us were going to seem vast.

Packing up, loading our bags into the komatiks, saying goodbye to the few camp staff members who weren’t coming with us to Pond Inlet, taking group photo after group photo – it was a long morning. As we pulled away, heading back to town, our yellow tents quickly shrank until they were nothing but tiny spots of colour on the flat, blue-grey ice. I think we all felt our hearts contract then too.

"Say Arctic!"

Mike and Tom had warned us that the trip back to Pond would be a long one. During our week away, the ice had shifted and larger than usual cracks had appeared.  The acrobatic snowmobile leaps we’d seen on the trip out were going to seem like child’s play.

Who knew you could make bridges from chunks of floating ice? I certainly didn’t, but fortunately it was a skill Tom and the guides had honed to a fine art.  When we came to cracks that seemed too large to slide a komatik across, they calmly moved big bits of ice into the gaps, creating the smooth surface we needed. Weirdly, this engineering wizardry caused no panic – I didn’t worry for a second about whether the whole process would work. After a week of watching the calm, capable guides handle every challenge our extreme environment presented, and knowing that the rock-solid Tom was in charge, I felt totally safe. No worries – we were in the best possible hands.

Though it was a long trip back, it was punctuated by seeing a rare white gyrfalcon in its nest on a barren cliff. These birds of prey are prized so highly by Saudi Arabian princes that they send bird-nappers to capture and smuggle the falcons out of the Arctic. Though he glimpse we had was brief, it was enough to send Jens, our ornithologist, into fits of joy as he added it to his birding life-list.

After hours of bumping around in the komatiks, we arrived back in Pond Inlet, tired and ready for our denouement dinner – a bitter sweet moment. As we ate, Mike and Tom talked about our time together on the ice – and Mike reminded us of his promise that we would find our magic
there.

We realized that we had each found an individual magic as we shared our most important reflections on our week together.  While all were special, my favourite revelation came from Sandra, my Singaporean buddy. Tiny, intrepid and seemingly always ready for anything, Sandra confessed that she’d struggled her whole life with a fear of water, but wanting to snorkel with whales and narwhals, had decided to conquer her phobia. For the past year, Sandra had been taking swimming lessons at a pool, working her way from wading to actually swimming a few strokes. When I remembered helping her wrestle into her dry suit and seeing her hop off the edge of the ice into the water, I was amazed by her courage. No shortage of guts, that girl!

By far the funniest ‘best moment’ belonged to Sandra’s husband, Soo Young, a serious-minded, cautious orthopedic specialist who told us his favourite experience had been…riding in the komatiks.  Given that we were all nursing various degrees of stiffness from banging around in those same komatiks on the seven-hour trip home, Soo Young’s comment exploded like a laughter bombshell. Perfect timing – we needed something to keep us from crying as we finished our night and our incredible adventure.

As a travel journalist, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to some of the most exciting destinations in the world with fellow travel journalists who are usually adventurous and articulate.  But no trip has ever been quite like this one. No destination has challenged and changed me as this did and no other group has ever bonded like ours.  Mike was right – we did find magic on the ice and more – we found a passion for the Arctic that will stay with us forever. If that sounds like a dramatic statement, it is…because only words of that strength can describe a life-changing experience.

 

So…what’s it really like? – Day # 6

November 12th, 2012 | By | Filed in AK NEWS, AK PRODUCTS & SERVICES, Client Reports, Current Events, Featured Trip, IN THE NEWS, TRIPS

Day 6

Author: Liz Fleming

Because it was our last full day at camp, Tom and Mike suggested we sleep in a bit in preparation for a late, great night.  Lolling in bed felt delicious.

When we finally crawled out into the daylight, the sun was dazzling – so warm, in fact, that we began to lose our minds…just a little.

I went in to the bathroom to brush my teeth and stepped out to find that the usually conservative Cornelius had stripped down to his black Calvin Klein boxers and was setting up his camera for an iceberg photo shoot in front of the iceberg. Sandra and I were enchanted!  Not wishing to be outdone, we ran for our bathing suits and the craziness took hold.   Never had our Inuit guides looked more surprised.

After an hour of rampant silliness and giggling, we gathered our clothes and our wits and headed for a new floe edge – one that was much closer…just half an hour away.  We arrive to find the air filled with hundreds of birds and as we dragged the kayaks to the edge and set out on the calm water, we were snapping photos of the mers, kittiwigs, king eiders reflected on the surface.

Birds in flight

Justin and Jens pulled on dry suits and kayaked to a floating berg, where they were quickly surrounded by belugas.  Pulling on their masks and snorkels, they slipped into the water (no mean feat when you’re balancing a kayak at the same time) and began what was for them, their best ever day of whale watching.

Meanwhile, on shore, the sense of last-day lunacy returned.  Spreading out a couple of caribou skins, Sandra, Tom, Cornelius and I posed for our own Arctic version of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot. This time, the guides had their cell phone cameras ready and snapped shot after shot – most of which were no doubt sent to their friends under the heading: “Dumb things southerners do when the sun shines.”

Arctic Swim Shoot

The biggest excitement of the day was provided not by the whales and not by our swimsuit silliness but by Edward, our fifteen-year-old campmate.  All week long, he’d been needling his parents about wanting to do a polar plunge – and they’d said no.  This was his last opportunity and he somehow managed to convince them.  Stripping down to his bathing suit, the lean, lanky, shivery Edward headed for the edge.  Tom quickly tied a rope around his wrist to enable a quick yank back onto the solid ice should the cold water prove too much – and Edward’s moment had come.  We gathered at the edge, cameras at the ready, and waited.  And waited.  Edward looked at the water.  And waited…and looked as if he might change
his mind…and waited some more.

The tension was deadly until Tom took matters in hand.  “We’re doing this together, buddy,” he said, stripping down to his own bathing suit.

Then Tom jumped, giving Edward the encouragement – and the yank on the rope – necessary for him to make his much-anticipated polar plunge.  It was a life-changing moment and we are all impressed by both Edward’s courage and Tom’s ‘just do it’ attitude.

Just do it!

There was a sense of trying to hold onto that last day…to stretch it out as long as we possibly could…to savour every last moment of that Arctic passion we’d all developed.  As the long, long day came to an end, Cornelius and I followed Simon and Mike on a slow paddle in our kayaks.  A thin film of ice was crusting the utterly still surface of the water – each stroke of our paddles carved into it.  In the distance, narwhals were breeching and all around us, breaking the stillness of the air, was the gargantuan sound of a bowhead whale breathing.  It sounded just as the dinosaurs once did.

When we loaded the komatiks and headed back to camp, it felt as if we’d filled our own lungs to bursting with the clear, fresh air of the far north – and it’s a scent that will linger with us forever.

 

A trip to Nunavut for Small Business Week

November 5th, 2012 | By | Filed in AK NEWS

Arctic Kingdom was honored to host Minister Bernier, the Federal Minister of Tourism, on his recent visit to Iqaluit!

On the picture above, I am with Graham Dickson, founder and CEO of Arctic Kingdom Polar Expeditions, which organizes polar expeditions to observe the wildlife and the spectacular landscapes of the region. Here he suited me up in a traditional Inuit seal skin suit for a short hike in Sylvia Grinell territorial park near the capital, Iqaluit.

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