May 30th, 2014 | By Prisca Campbell | Filed in Postcards from the Arctic
Story by Olivia Seifried
“This is your brake and here is the throttle,” explained our Inuit guide, Sam Omik Jr.
At 9:00am we met in the lobby of the Arctic Hotel, reviewed our cold weather gear, and then jumped into the “Polar Bear Van” to head down to one of Arctic Kingdom’s sea can locations where the guides had the snowmobiles warming their engines.
I pulled down my goggles and adjusted the balaclava to completely cover my face from the fridgid Arctic air. I was happy to see the snowmobiles were equiped with both hand and feet warmers.
We mounted our snowmobiles, forming a single line of Arctic engines behind our guide, and headed out on a four hour snowmobile tour to the polynya, a tiny pin-point on Frobisher Bay where the water current is so strong that the ice is unable to freeze over even during the coldest of the winter months. To reach the open bay we first needed to wind our way around the pack ice that crumples like pieces of paper as it pushes up against the land. Even though the bay is frozen, the tides are still alive, rising, falling, and reforming ice sculpture gardens.
Soaring across the vast, white ice we explored the roaming grounds for rabbit, fox and wolf, who manage to forage on what appears to be barren land during the cold winter darkness.
Approaching the natural ice hole, we could see the vapour condensing as it rose above the water. To better spot any ring seals surfacing in the nutrient rich polynya, we took a short walk to a stone landmark known as an inuksuk, marking a place of reference, and overlooking the entirety of the open water.
We warmed our hands around a steaming cup of sweet hot chocolate and learned a few words in Inuktitut before returning to Iqaluit – the most northern capital in Canada, and an easy access point to explore the vast arctic playground.
May 8th, 2014 | By Prisca Campbell | Filed in Postcards from the Arctic
Story by Kristyn Thoburn
After a few years of leading groups of adults to experience the wonders of the Arctic, I had the opportunity to introduce the Arctic, in all of its wonder, to some amazing kids. In 2010, I led two private family trips - one to Pond Inlet in April with two couples and their three children and another to Qikiqtarjuaq in August with a couple and their three children. The following is a story of two unique trips with two remarkable families and some of my favourite memories...
Pond Inlet was the stop in Canada’s Arctic for two families who were taking their children on a tour of Greenland, Iceland and Nunavut. We departed Pond Inlet amidst stunning mountains, glaciers, and fiords and set up our camp near the newly formed floe edge. One of our guides brought along his son who became fast friends with the kids on our trip and exchanged stories and experiences.
While the trip itself was only four days long, we packed as much as we could into this short time. We watched for seals on the floe edge, visited the bird cliffs, searched for polar bears, and hiked around icebergs. The highlight of trip was when the children built their own igloo (with help from our lead guide and expert igloo builder Sheatie of course!) and then spent the night in it – a quintessential Arctic experience!
Later on in the summer, I embarked on a summer adventure to the hamlet of Qikiqtarjuaq with a family of five with children aged 5, 8, and 12. We camped on a beautiful beach with views of the Baffin Mountains and Auyuittuq National Park. Agai,n our guides brought younger family members along to enrich the cultural experience. Traditional games were played, stories were shared, and everyone in the group walked away with new knowledge and friendships.
Our guides and hosts, Billy and Daisy Arnaquq, were extremely welcoming, showing us all around their “backyard”, teaching us words and phrases in Inuktitut and even inviting us to join them for dinner with their extended family. Our 12 year old guest, Kirk, had a bucket list item - to swim in all the world’s oceans – so he was very excited to check the Arctic Ocean off his list! We took advantage of what an Arctic summer has to offer by fishing for Arctic char and enjoying a mid-afternoon sushi meal, picking fresh blueberries from the surrounding area for breakfast, hiking to the top of a peak to enjoy the majestic view of the surrounding mountains and glaciers, and watching icebergs float in the crystal clear water. The pièce de résistance was an amazing encounter with a swimming polar bear who decided to make his appearance for our 5-year-old guest’s birthday. Her delight was a wonderful reward for all of us. Our trip was a great success!
Being able to share in these families’ experiences was one of the most rewarding times in my career. What a wonderful opportunity for these young people to see and experience a different country, a different culture and a different way of life. I’m sure they will carry these memories with them for a very long time, and so will I.
May 2nd, 2014 | By Prisca Campbell | Filed in Postcards from the Arctic, Uncategorized
Story by Jason Hillier
The day started with an exciting helicopter flight through the gorgeous Eclipse and Tremblay Sound regions near Pond inlet, Nunavut but the day ended with an even more memorable boat ride!
The Helicopter Flight
“Where do we want to land for lunch?” was the question we all were trying to answer with our eyes. We scanned the icecap as we flew over it, seemingly scraping the snow as we were so low, all the while peering out into the seemingly endless river valley below our feet. We were trying to find the perfect spot to not only give us the ability to do some light hiking but also get somewhere that we could take a few great pictures. We searched for only a short period of time before we found the perfect spot that gave us the best of both worlds. Lunch this day wasn’t just sandwiches or freeze dried rice; it was an amazing spread of salad, whole BBQ suckling pig (prepared the previous day in a custom made BBQ pit), fresh fruit, and of course, dessert. The view was spectacular and the lunch was fitting the occasion.
After our leisurely lunch we were headed north looking for the next great spot to put down. In almost no time, we came across a polar bear dining on a narwhal carcass. Quickly, we determined our plan to put down and do what we could to get a picture of that bear and the whale. After a little stalking and stealthy hiking, we eventually got close enough to get some great pictures.
It was shortly after our polar bear encounter that we happened upon what was undoubtedly one of the most amazing things I had ever seen, a pod of orca. We followed them with the helicopter and were inspired when we saw that they were heading towards the vicinity of our basecamp. We knew what we had to do. Get to our boats!
We quickly made for the basecamp and I am sure our pilot somehow found an extra “gear” in there somewhere. Within minutes of landing we were donning our PFDs and fuelling boats for Part Two of our adventure.
The Boat Ride
Orca from the Air
To say there was excitement in the air as we boarded our boat, which was captained by our faithful senior Inuit Guide Sheattie Tagak, was an understatement. It was with an almost nervous anticipation that we left the beach, without even a thought of dinner, to try and intercept our cetacean quarry. We were armed only with cameras and energy candy bars. After all, those will get you through anything in a pinch.
It didn’t take long before we came across the pod of orca. There must have been 20 of them but quite possibly, there were even more than that. It was impossible to tell for sure. In the midst of the commotion there was something we weren’t expecting to see but after a minute of staring in disbelief we saw a narwhal The orca had ‘taken’ a narwhal and were doing what killer whales do best with their prey. A simply amazing sight and one that I could only hope to one day be fortunate enough to see again. We watched the pod circle the narwhal and within a matter of minutes, the feeding frenzy was over, but that certainly wasn’t the end of the show.
Orca Up Close
The orca, freshly fuelled from a late evening snack, decided it was play time. The show they gave us for the next 3 hours took our breath away. They breached, they swam on their back while doing tail-slaps, they cruised in and out of our wake and prop bubbles, time and time again we literally made eye contact with our new found friends. I am sure we could have reached out and touched them on many occasions. They were playing with us and we were gladly reciprocating with them. It may sound weird but it even seemed that the orca were excited that we were with them. As the juveniles swam next to us and under us, you could almost see them smile, but maybe ear to ear grins are infectious?
Breaching Orca with Iceberg - Lucky Shot!
I feel extremely privileged to have had such an amazing and intimate encounter with such beautiful and intelligent animals. We drained our camera batteries, filled our memory cards, and found ourselves babbling like schoolchildren throughout the encounter. I wonder what amazing animal encounters 2014 will have in store for us!
Orca Playing in Wake