November 12th, 2012 | By Candice Hong | Filed in AK NEWS, AK PRODUCTS & SERVICES, Client Reports, Current Events, Featured Trip, IN THE NEWS, TRIPS
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.
October 29th, 2012 | By Candice Hong | Filed in AK NEWS, Client Reports, Current Events, FEATURED, Featured Trip, IN THE NEWS, Recent Trips, TRIPS, Trips
Day Five – By Liz Fleming
After our incredible day and night (hard to distinguish between the two) yesterday, crawling out of our cozy beds was harder this morning, but luckily, breakfast waited for us. A big feast of eggs and toast and lots of chatter about all that we saw and did the day before and we were soon revved for another trip to the floe edge – on this, the longest day of the year.
Our arrival was punctuated by a group of belugas cavorting just off the edge of the ice, so we hurried to get into our dry suits and kayaks to join them, wriggling into dry suits or climbing into the kayaks. The whales lingered with us for a while, gliding smoothly around the drifting ice chunks, then slowly swam off, leaving us eager for more.
More Arctic Kayaking
With the belugas gone, we turned our cameras on the huge flocks of birds that swooped overhead. Though they were all beautiful, my favourites
by far were the king eiders with their black and white bodies and brilliant, toucan-like beaks. It was incredibly peaceful to simply sit in the sun and watch them soar and dive.
Peaceful sitting in the sun got old pretty quickly for the four kids in the group, however, so Mike and Tom started an impromptu ice soccer game, using a cushion for a ball. Despite my basic lack of both ability and competitive spirit, I found myself playing goal – and getting decked by a
rampaging Mike! I laughed so hard I could barely get up.
Brett, our crazy Aussie pal, had brought a kite and his flip-flops (what else would you pack for an Arctic adventure?) and put them both to use that afternoon. The reds and yellows of the kite were like bright streaks of paint against the white landscape and the blue sky.
Though a duck hybrid dropped by to fascinate Jens the biologist, other wildlife proved elusive for the rest of the afternoon. Still tired from the night before, we were content to head back for dinner at what seemed like the early hour of 8pm. When the sun never stops shining, you lose all track of time.
Back at the camp, Chef Andrew had a great dinner waiting – and Tom and Mike had more treats in store. One of the guides had agreed to tell us the story of his family and their life in the north…speaking in Inuktituk. Billy, another guide, sat beside him to translate what was a harrowing story of devastating hardships. The guide’s grandparents had traveled for two years from a tiny, remote community to make their home in Pond Inlet. The grandfather was sick throughout the trip and unable to hunt, so the grandmother carried the burden of the family alone.
Often going without food, the family lost six of their seven children during the course of the journey – those who remained survived only because the desperate woman managed to kill a walrus.
As we listened, we could hardly believe that anyone could live through such terrible challenges – or that the grandson
whose mother was the only child to survive that epic journey could tell the story in such a matter-of-fact way. We were coming to realize that life in the high Arctic is unlike anything experienced anywhere else.
Landscape of ice
October 9th, 2012 | By Candice Hong | Filed in AK NEWS, Client Reports, Current Events, FEATURED, Featured Trip, IN THE NEWS, Recent Trips, TRIPS, Trips
Day Four – By Liz Fleming
We woke to an unexpectedly damp camp. The sun had come out and was shining brilliantly (yay!) but the sunbeams, in combination with a warm wind, were turning the surface of the ice to melt-water and causing our camp manager Simon grief. Not to worry. This was a man who’s spent a good chunk of his life navigating Antarctica, largely without support – a little water was no match for him.
In no time, Simon had produced an enormous auger and was drilling holes down to the sea below the ice, creating a superb drainage system. He also, quite unexpectedly, created a whole new form of adventure for the guys in the group who all wanted to take a turn with the auger and seemed fascinated by watching the water get sucked down the hole.
With the water situation well in hand, we again loaded the komatiks and headed for the floe edge. We’d only just gotten underway when our convoy came to a halt and the guides all jumped from their snowmobiles. They’d seen polar bear tracks in the snow.
Furiously snapping away with our cameras, we marveled at the huge footprints. The guides scanned the horizon with the binoculars and finally spotted the maker of the prints far in the distance – he was hard to see as he blended so well with the landscape. After a few moments, he seemed satisfied and ambled off.
We hopped back in the komatiks and continued our journey to the floe edge.
Today was our day! The sun was blazing overhead and the water seemed filled with life. Tom, Mike and the guides hauled out the toys for the day – kayaks, paddles, survival suits, drysuits, snorkels, masks – everything we needed to get up close and personal with the whales, narwhals and seals we could see just beyond the edge of the ice.
If you’ve never wriggled into a dry suit, let me tell you, it’s a trick that’s best achieved by removing all your hair and perhaps your ears as well. Because the seal has to be complete to keep the frigid water from rushing in, necks and cuffs are incredibly tight. We took turns torturing one another, stuffing heads and hands and feet through the rubber openings as we fought our way into the suits – and we laughed ourselves sick while we were at it.
My best moment of what proved to be an absolutely incredible day, filled with every kind of Arctic wildlife I’d ever dreamed of seeing came when two enormous, browny-grey narwhals surfaced on either side of my kayak. I raised my paddle and laid it across the gunwales so I wouldn’t disturb them, while my heart tried to beat its way out of my chest.
It was a moment I’ll never forget…but only a taste of what was yet to come.
After hours of snorkeling and kayaking in the endless sunshine, we were reluctantly packing up the komatiks to head back to the camp for dinner when suddenly the water erupted. Beluga whales – dozens of them – were breaching. We abandoned the komatiks and raced to the edge of the water where we could see our new playmates arriving – gigantic bowhead whales had joined the belugas. The excitement in the group was off the chart.
Later that night, following a toast to Simon, who’d created an entire small city’s working drainage system in our absence and secured all of our tents, we were still so pumped that going to bed just wasn’t an option. Heading out with Mike and Tom, we hiked our neighbourhood icebergs, leapt like ballet dancers off icy outcrops and took turns photographing one another’s reflections on the lenses of our sunglasses. It was long past 2am when we finally fell asleep in our beds listening to the winds whipping the sides of our tents, still reeling from the glory of our incredibly Arctic day.
September 20th, 2012 | By Candice Hong | Filed in AK NEWS, AK PRODUCTS & SERVICES, Client Reports, Current Events, Current Trips, FEATURED, Featured Trip, IN THE NEWS, TRIPS, Trips
"Don't open your mouth when you look up!"
Day Three – By Liz Fleming
As we climbed out of our tents the first morning, the air was damp with mist. Although Tom and Mike were a little apologetic about the lack of sunshine, we were all so pumped about heading out for our first trip on the ice, we hardly noticed.
After a big breakfast, we gathered at the komatiks and loaded up for a trip to the bird cliffs, a particularly great area for Jens, an ornithologist and biology
professor from Germany. He was my komatik partner and I felt very lucky to be able to listen to his commentary as
we headed out, bumping along the ice behind the snowmobile. I could tell I was going to go home considerably better informed about birds.
“The best advice I can give you,” Tom told us when we arrived, clambered out of the komatiks and stared up at the sheer cliff faces ahead, where hundreds of birds wheeled and screamed, “is don’t open your mouth when you look up!”
Birds of a feather
The guides warned us often to watch where we stepped – the ice was solid but there were cracks. Our Aussie buddy Brett learned the hard way. Looking up as he focused on a shot, Brett put his feet too close to the edge and plunged into the water up to his armpits. In just moments, the guides had hauled him out – no mean feat, as Brett’s a tall, solid man. Wet but none the worse for wear, he was helped to a komatik and offered a quick ride back to camp. In a display of true Aussie toughness and good humour, Brett opted to stay and seemed to dry out remarkably quickly.
After a return to camp for a hot lunch, we made our first trip out to the floe edge – a world unlike anything we’d seen anywhere…ever. Pulling our small chairs from the komatiks, we moved to the edge of the ice where we sat, stunned into near silence by the vastness of the water. As we watched, cameras in hand, we played with photographing the King eider ducks that swooped past in huge flocks, their images reflected in the mirror-like surface of the water.
Suddenly, though very quietly, our guides signaled us to come. As binoculars were passed from hand to hand we saw – perhaps a kilometer away – a polar bear, watching us as intently as we were watching him. Against the brilliant white background, his fur seemed cream-coloured – almost yellowish – and he was huge. And we were in his backyard.
It was an afternoon of watching, of breathing in the cool, clear air, of trying to capture the size of our new world with cameras that suddenly seemed inadequate. When it was time to reload the komatiks and head for camp, we were stunned to see that it was long past 8pm. In a land where the sun never sets, we were quickly losing our sense of time.
On the way back to camp, a seal appeared on ice, sitting stock still beside its hole. Our guides stopped and Cornelius, whose camera outclassed the rest of ours, climbed out to see if he could get a shot. Taking slow, deliberate steps, Cornelius moved closer to the seemingly unconcerned seal, clicking shots as he went. He didn’t get very far before the seal – who had actually been hyper-aware of his approach the whole time – turned, slid into the water and disappeared. I suddenly realized how incredibly difficult hunting seals must be and
how ridiculous it was to worry about the possibility of mass slaughtering. Seals are far too quick.
After our long day on the ice, we’d have been happy to eat anything that stayed still on our plates, but were thrilled by the feast Chef Andrew had waiting for us. Hot carrot and ginger soup, rare lamb chops and a decadent chocolate dessert topped with berries. How he managed that, in the middle of nowhere, I can’t imagine.
A few hours later, stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey, I snuggled into bed in my little yellow tent and listened to gentle rain falling. I’d have been happy to stay there forever.
September 13th, 2012 | By Candice Hong | Filed in AK NEWS, Client Reports, Current Events, FEATURED, IN THE NEWS, Recent Trips, TRIPS, Trips, Uncategorized
Day 2 – By Liz Fleming
Packing up for a week on the polar sea ice is like outfitting an army for a major campaign. It’s an exercise in memory – anything you forget, you’ll have to live without – there’s no dashing out to the corner store for that extra quart of milk.
Fortunately for us, the Arctic Kingdom team proved to be masters of organization. Not only had they made sure we’d brought everything on the list they’d provided, but they also rented us anything we didn’t own (and really…who has a stash of Arctic-style gear hanging in the closet, next to their shorts and t-shirts?) but also, when it was discovered that one part of the group had forgotten their oh-so-vital big warm rubber boots in Ottawa, the Arctic Kingdom team managed to scrounge replacements.
We gathered in the lobby, marveling at the sheer bulk of our gear, then piled mountains of stuff into the hotel’s bus and headed for shore to load the komatiks (sleds pulled by skidoos) for the expedition north to camp. As we met our Inuit guides and helped them to load a seemingly endless collection of bags, boxes and coolers, I started to get a sense of the size of the project – it was like loading a wagon train for an epic journey.
The hauling and lifting worked up a sweat. Decked out in acres of Canada Goose down – coats, pants, mitts – and wool lined, knee-high rubber boots, we were roasting like Thanksgiving turkeys and silently wondering if we’d need it all. After all, the temperature in Pond Inlet that day wasn’t cold – not even close to cold.
Tom Lennartz, Expedition Director (and secret mind reader) laughed at our glowing faces.
“You might be baking right now, but later on, you’re going to be happy you have every bit of that gear.”
By the time we stowed the last bag and box and climbed into the komatiks ourselves, I was zipped and tucked into more clothing than I’d ever worn before, and thought I was ready. Guide Mike Beedell knew I wasn’t. He pulled the strings on my parka hood tight, framing my face in coyote fur so only my ski goggles peered out.
Some hours later, as the komatiks rocked and rolled and the wind whipped across an unbroken sweep of sea ice, I was grateful for those tightened hood strings and glad of every ounce of down that protected me from the cold and wet. In the Arctic, staying warm and dry is key – once you’re chilled, the fun’s over.
I’d never given much thought to cracks in the surface of ice before, but they became a huge entertainment feature of our trip to the camp. Because komatiks rest on long wooden skis, they can glide easily over almost any split. Snowmobiles are another thing. After pushing our komatiks carefully across the big cracks, our guides then backed up, gunned their snowmobile engines and leapt across the open water like Olympic long-jumpers. It was simultaneously terrifying and fascinating – a madly exciting spectator sport.
Pond Inlet - Stunning Landscape
After nearly seven hours of travel across the frozen polar sea, punctuated by the snowmobile stunts and the occasional tea-and-pee breaks, we arrived at camp. Dwarfed by towering icebergs, the collection of white and yellow tents looked impossibly, almost hilariously tiny in the vast sweep of the ice. We were home – and like any good home, ours was warm, and inviting, with the smell of a hot dinner wafting from the dining tent.
I made it!
March 28th, 2012 | By Candice Hong | Filed in AK NEWS, Community News, Current Events, INUIT, Inuit Culture/Art
Imagine eating raw seal, whale and arctic char, or trying some caribou stew. This March and April, students from Mississauga, Ontario and the small community of Taloyoak, Nunavut are currently participating in The YMCA Youth Exchanges Canada Program. These students are spending a few days seeing how the other half lives.
Big city lights and tall buildings are a normal everyday landscape for most people in the city. To the Inuit students this is a completely different view from the Arctic tundra they call home. Visiting the CN Tower or going to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto are exciting adventures. The Taloyoak students will be touring Toronto, going to Niagara Falls, and staying at the homes of their city counterparts. Meanwhile, Paul Officer the principal at Riverside Public School, will be leading the Mississauga youth, while they experience the Inuit culture from eating traditional food, drumming, ice fishing, building an igloo, to perfecting the high kick during the Arctic games. This cultural exchange is not only about fun and games, but building special bonds that will last a lifetime. As a part of the Taloyoak exchange this year, the city youth will be learning what it means to be responsible Canadians. This will be done through literacy and environmental activities. Students will share favourite books, garden, and interact with elders at the senior centre.
The YMCA Youth Exchanges Canada Program allows students who would not normally get the opportunity to explore another part of Canada, a chance to step out of the classroom, and learn through engagement with a new community. While open to all youth the YMCA program gives priority to students from underrepresented groups such as low-income families, those with disabilities, visible minorities, and First Nations students. Cost of travel to the respective communities is fully covered through a grant. Each community in turn relies on the
kindness of their communities to supply funding for food, local travel, and activities for participants.
Arctic Kingdom to help support this program, has equipped the Mississauga students with all the Arctic gear they need to survive the extreme weather conditions of the North. From toques, Canada Goose jackets and pants, to boots the students have the proper gear needed to stay dry and comfortable. To read more about the activities and the exchange please visit: Paul Officer’s blog.
February 13th, 2012 | By Candice Hong | Filed in AK NEWS, Current Events, Current Trips, FEATURED, Featured Trip, IN THE NEWS, Trips, Upcoming Trip
Arctic Kingdom’s Narwhal and Polar Bear Safari is now a part of the Canadian Tourism Commission’s (CTC)’s Signature Experiences Collection (SEC). This Arctic Safari, which takes place in northern Baffin Island, Nunvat, is an amazing experience, where people get the chance to see first-hand polar bears, narwhals, seals, or sometimes even walruses. If you don’t know what a narwhal is, picture a whale with a unicorn horn – “the mystical unicorns of the sea.” In addition to seeing an array of wildlife, there is also the opportunity to kayak among floating ice fully escorted by knowledgeable Inuit guides.
Narwhals courtesy of Eric Baccega
We are proud to be a part of the CTC’s SEC, an amazing collection that features the best of what Canada has to offer. The SEC is a collection of unique and inspiring travel experiences that showcases Canada to the world.
Arctic Kingdom was highlighted recently in a case study done by the CTC. To see the full article visit: CTC Arctic Kingdom Case Study. If you would like to take part in a true Canadian adventure, and join the Narwhal and Polar Bear Safari for June 2012 visit: www.arctickingdom.com. For more detailed information about the trip you can also download our brochure.
January 3rd, 2012 | By Candice Hong | Filed in ACTIVITIES, AK NEWS, Current Events, Current Trips, IN THE NEWS, Media, Sports, TRIPS
Experience mushing personally.
This past Saturday Dec 31, 2011 Arctic Kingdom was in The Telegraph – India: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1111231/jsp/personaltt/story_14945414.jsp
If you like speed and the winter try mushing (dog sledding)!
Arctic Kingdom offers customized trips for clients, or it can also be a part of a trip. Tours can be half a day to 2 weeks.
In addition to mushing clients can also see icebergs, glaciers, mountains, sea ice, polar bears, narwhal, arctic fox, arctic hare, Inuit culture, and traditional Inuit clothing,
If this is an activity that intrigues you or you would like to take one of our trips visit: http://arctickingdom.com/
September 13th, 2011 | By Thomas Lennartz | Filed in Current Events, IN THE NEWS, SCIENCE
Last week’s solar flares made for some fantastic aurora displays in the Northern Hemisphere. And according to Space.com, skywatchers in northern climates can expect more of the same, as intermittent geomagnetic storms stir things up once again.
The auroras are a fixture of Arctic nights, and can often make a spectacular backdrop to a night at camp, as seen in the photo above, from an AK expedition to Torngat.
But Arctic isn’t even the most extreme spot to view the auroras. Space.com reports that they’re visible from the International space station, as well.
This photo was taken last week by NASA astronaut Ron Garan:
I guess we’ll just have to content ourselves with having access to some of the best views on Earth.
September 7th, 2011 | By Thomas Lennartz | Filed in Current Events, IN THE NEWS, Mechanized Vehicles, TECHNOLOGY
In the popular imagination, the phrase ‘Arctic transport’ most likely conjures up images from another century: sleds pulled by teams of dogs, or ships locked in ice. But shipping companies are looking to another retro-seeming vehicle to revolutionize the future of Arctic air transport: The zeppelin.
For miners and others doing remote operations, the airships can save time and money by transporting up to 50 tonnes of cargo across Canada’s north — eliminating the need for heavy trucks and roads. Plus, these ships are tough. The Vancouver Sun notes,
Airships today use a combination of lighter-than-air helium instead of hydrogen, a highly flammable gas, and they’re built with tough “space-age” fibres, like spectra, up to 10 times stronger than steel of equivalent weight.
Discovery Air Innovations hopes to roll out the airships, which will deliver freight at one-quarter the cost of other methods, by the year 2014. Even better, the airships will utilize “clean” energy to minimize the impact on the environment.
Airships on their way to Canada’s North (Vancouver Sun)
Airships could prove a lifeline in the Arctic (Wired)