Expedition Journal

High Arctic Explorer

Aug. 6–Aug. 17, 2019

© Martin Lipman

Sometimes, “Plan B” is the best plan. We had sailed overnight back to Beechey Island and no one would be disappointed on this day. Clear skies and warm sunshine greeted us. The small bay where Franklin’s ships had sheltered was icebound today.

Map

High arctic explorer 2019 trip log map
  • Day 1: Ottawa, Ontario to Resolute Bay, Nunavut
  • Day 2: Beechey Island
  • Day 3: Beechey Island
  • Day 4: Stratton Inlet off Devon Island
  • Day 5: Tallurutiup / Croker Bay Nunavut
  • Day 6: Pond Inlet—Mittimatalik, Baffin Island
  • Day 7: North East Coast of Baffin Island
  • Day 8: Approaching Greenland
  • Day 9: Disko Bay, Greenland
  • Day 10: Ilulissat, Greenland
  • Day 11: Sisimuit, Greenland
  • Day 12: Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

Day 1 – Tuesday, August 6

Ottawa, Ontario to Resolute Bay, Nunavut

Coordinates: 74°69'N 94°83'W

Weather: Cloudy

Our Adventure Begins!

Adventure Canada’s High Arctic Explorer voyage began with great excitement, good luck, skilled management, clear communications, and natural anticipation combined. With 130 guests and thirty-plus staff, we boarded buses, and then three chartered Nolinor 737s in Ottawa, refuelled in Iqaluit, Nunavut’s capital city, then flew another two thousand kilometres northward to Qausuittuq (Resolute Bay) on Cornwallis Island in Canada’s High Arctic.

Travellers transfer from zodiacs to Ocean Endeavour Qausuittuq Resolute Bay

© Dennis Minty

Less than twelve hours after our early wake-up calls, all hands were seated for the evening dinner, thoroughly briefed on the ship’s facilities and safety standards, given the mandatory lifeboat drills, and briefed on the exciting and full twelve-day itinerary. Expedition Leader Jason Edmunds admitted he could finally relax—for days, ice conditions around Cornwallis Island had kept him busy studying alternatives.

Inuit throat singing

© Dennis Minty

The community of Qausuittuq gave us a warm Nunavut welcome and hearty send-off. They introduced us to Inuit culture by way of traditional games and throat singing. That evening, we were lucky enough to host twenty-eight people from the hamlet—children, teenagers, and their parents and grandparents, who joined us for dinner.

Day 2 – Wednesday, August 7

Beechey Island

Coordinates: 74°43'N 91°51'W

Weather: Foggy, light wind

Setting the Context, Setting the Course

We sailed eastward overnight into Lancaster Sound, cutting through some substantial ice pans. The winds were light and the seas quiet; both a recipe for the wall of heavy fog that separated us from our first scheduled landing. Beechey Island is known as the graveyard for three crew members of the ill-fated Franklin expedition and a fourth, a sailor from one of the many search parties that set out to find the lost expedition.

Hour by hour, we waited, watching the fog lift, only to close in again. Our personal encounter with history would have to wait. The expedition leader set a new course south to Prince Leopold Island, with its towering cathedral-like cliffs—the protective nesting grounds for hundreds of thousands of Arctic waterfowl.

Beechey Island 1

© Dennis Minty

Our skilled staff set the context for High Arctic Explorer, historically, environmentally, and culturally, offering “Tunngasugitsi Nunangat—Welcome to Inuit Land!” Martha Flaherty was born in Canada’s most northern community, Grise Fjord on Ellesmere Island. Dressed beautifully in colourful traditional Inuit clothing, Martha lit the qulliq, the seal oil lamp, a crescent-shaped, slightly hollowed-out soapstone filled with seal oil with a small wick of arctic cotton. For generations, the qulliq was the sole source of heat and light in the igloo; food was cooked and clothing dried over its gentle flame. Today it has become a cultural icon for nearly all Inuit ceremonies.

Murres Beechey Island 1

© Dennis Minty

Culturists Robert Comeau and Heidi Langille—dressed in traditional clothing—reflected the pride and power of Inuit song and drumming. Inuit Art specialist John Houston spoke of growing up in an Inuit community on Baffin Island—bridging and living in two northern worlds. Season Osborne set the tone for Beechey Island, detailing the ordeals Franklin’s crew suffered in the late 1840s when their ships became locked in thick arctic ice.

Whit Fraser, author of True North Rising, spoke about the remarkable courage and confidence of today’s Inuit leaders, who fought for their rights in the Constitution of Canada and changed Canada through the creation of Nunavut.

Laura Adams, an expert mountain guide, presented “Poles Apart”—insights into the unique weather and climate of the Arctic regions.

Travellers in zodiac Beechey Island 2

© Dennis Minty

After dinner, we arrived at Prince Leopold Island, and as if on cue, the thick fog lifted. Soon we were in Zodiacs, cruising beneath the 300-metre rock walls as thousands of gulls, kittiwakes, murres, and guillemots ensured we had a memorable beginning.

Day 3 – Saturday, August 8

Beechey Island

Coordinates: 74°43'N 91°51'W

Weather: Sunny, 7°C

Back to Beechey

Sometimes, “Plan B” is the best plan. We had sailed overnight back to Beechey Island and no one would be disappointed on this day. Clear skies and warm sunshine greeted us. The small bay where Franklin’s ships had sheltered was icebound today. We had to anchor in nearby Union Bay, but the Zodiacs put passengers and staff on the beach in front of the grave sites of the lost men of Franklin’s expedition.

Franklin expedition graves beechey island

© Martin Lipman

A hiking perimeter was set up, with staff carefully placed to explain Franklin, his ill-fated voyage, the geography and geology of Beechey Island, and its scarce but sturdy vegetation. All the while, the ice shifted and moved on perfectly clear and calm waters—a silent reminder of nature’s many faces.

Our afternoon was informative and relevant to our surroundings with several presentations: the prehistory of North America with archeologist Chris Wolff; the hidden world of Tallurutiup Imanga, or Lancaster Sound with Jim Narraway; and the amazing plants of the Arctic with Dawn Bazely. Kathleen Blanchard spoke of the work of the Quebec-Labrador Foundation’s community approach to biodiversity and conservation.

Travellers relaxing beechey island

© Martin Lipman

Part of Adventure Canada’s mission is to “Cultivate connections and community.” In that context, Brian Faber introduced Kaapittiaq coffee, an exciting joint venture between Inuit in Nunavut and Indigenous people in South America, linking culture across borders in the quest for a better cup of coffee.

Day 4 – Friday, August 9

Stratton Inlet off Devon Island

Coordinates: 74°29'N 80°36'W

Weather: Sunny, light wind, 9°

Unparalleled Beauty

We woke to bright sunshine and a calm sea with scattered ice pans. The majestic Devon Island on our port side and the scenery was specular. Our expedition leader, Jason, reported a walrus sighting earlier and told those who had missed it not to be disappointed: “It wasn’t an awesome walrus”.

Devon Island 1

© Dennis Minty

Two presentations filled our informative morning program, beginning with photographer Dennis Minty who said the secret to a good picture is to pay attention to your own emotions, and to follow your head and heart as much as the lens or shutter speed. Steve Morison has studied and worked on Arctic geology in the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut for more than forty years. Steve put the age, formations, and composition of the rocks and islands around us, including Devon Island (formed more than two million years ago), into clear context.

Travellers Devon Island 1

© Martin Lipman

Our afternoon was spent ashore exploring one of the small fjords in Stratton Inlet. The main feature was a small meadowland, with patches of Arctic cotton, all wedged between alluvial slides or gravel deposits accumulated for millennia from the walls of the steep flat-topped mountain cliffs around us. Scarce vegetation to be sure, and yet a source of food for Arctic wildlife. Our field staff scientist, Laura Adams and culturist Robert Comeau quickly found evidence of muskox: in one area, rather recent droppings and in another, a bleached skull, the horns still intact.

The winds and waves were perfect for Adventure Canada’s kayak specialists Daniel Freeze and Cam Dalinghaus to get their craft in the water with about a dozen enthusiastic paddlers, who explored the shoreline and one fine iceberg grounded at the end of the fjord.

Walruses Devon Island

© Martin Lipman

We had some interesting and exciting wildlife sightings, with a small herd of really awesome walrus, perhaps half a dozen, basking on the rocks near the entrance to the small bay where we embarked. Passengers viewed them from the Zodiacs, as well as from telescopes set up on the opposite side of the bay.

In the evening, it was entertainment night and our resident musician, Tom Kovacs, set aside his Zodiac driving and polar bear monitoring duties with a performance that got everybody’s hands clapping and feet stomping to some favourite hits from the fifties and sixties.

Day 5 – Saturday, August 10

Tallurutiup / Croker Bay Nunavut

Coordinates: 74°44'N 83°11'W

Weather: Skies clear and sunny, winds calm and a flat sea, 8°C

The Ice Cliffs of Croker Bay

Croker Bay is the terminus point for a spectacular tidewater glacier proceeding from the massive Devon Island ice cap, Canada’s largest, covering more than 12,000 square kilometres. The glacier is 800 metres thick and a constant reminder of our changing and warming climate. Every day, large and small ice chunks crumble from the glacier face and drift away. Frequently, full-blown icebergs break away or “calve,” which can create dangerous waves. That’s why our drivers are cautious, avoiding getting too close to the glacial face.

We had several polar bear sightings today, a mother and two cubs early in the morning and two separate apparent male bear sightings later in the day.

Tallurutiup Croker Bay Nunavut 1

© Dennis Minty

Our afternoon program at Dundas Harbour let us embrace both recent and ancient history, separated by a few kilometres that provided the day’s exercise and hiking program. Most of our guests began at the Thule archeological site, with remnants of sod houses and tent rings dating back about a thousand years. Nearby there is evidence of food caches relating to the same period. It is a beautiful location and a reminder that for thousands of years, people have lived here.

Just an easy walk away over a low ridge are three old, now-weather-beaten buildings that speak to more recent history.

Travellers Tallurutiup Croker Bay Nunavut 1

© Martin Lipman

Expedition historian Season Osborne was on location, recounting the timeline beginning in the early 1930s when the RCMP set up a post to assert Canadian sovereignty. A few years later, the Hudson Bay Company opened a trading post but then closed it within a few years because fur was scarce. A decade later the RCMP returned, assigning two constables as “human flagpoles” expected to spend a full year in entire isolation. One succumbed to the isolation and took his own life. Surrounded by a small picket fence, his grave lies just above the old detachment.

Tallurutiup Croker Bay Nunavut 2

© Dennis Minty

It was a great day for staff to inform and educate. Culturalist Heidi Langille provided a series of “Inuit 101” workshops, teaching a few basic words and providing cultural and geographic information about Nunavut and Inuit.

In the evening, guests and staff were treated to a documentary, directed by John Houston. It was both his personal journey as a child of Nunavut and a history of Inuit art, including the role of his parents who brought it to the attention of an appreciative world.

Day 6 – Sunday, August 11

Pond Inlet—Mittimatalik, Baffin Island

Coordinates: 72°45'N 79°53'W

Weather: Sunny, light winds and very calm water, 10°C

Up Close and Personal in Nunavut

On a glorious morning, the warm sun revealed the spectacular beauty of Baffin Island on the starboard side of the Ocean Endeavour and the magnificent cliffs and snow-capped mountains of Bylot Island on the other. The weather and beauty had dozens of people soaking it in on all open decks. Some said: “This is what I came for.”

Mittimatalik Baffin Island Pond Inlet 1

© Dennis Minty

The approach to the north Baffin Island community of Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet) caused concern for Jason, who wrestled with landing conditions. Winds had picked up and rolling waves were hitting the shoreline. While Jason pondered his next move, Zodiac drivers ferried more than thirty members of the community to the ship for lunch.

Suddenly, winds subsidized slightly, and with some strategic re-positioning of the Ocean Endeavour, everybody could get safely into the Zodiacs, for some promised “adventure.” Six very component drivers worked in harmony with the rolling waves, getting all passengers easily in and out of these incredibly dependable watercrafts.

Karen mittimatalik

© Martin Lipman

On shore, we experienced another warm Nunavut welcome. Many from the village of nearly two thousand came to the shore to shake hands and say hello. “Pond” is built on a hillside overlooking the water and nearby Bylot Island. We walked in groups up the hill to the shops, the Visitor’s Centre, and finally the community hall, where the official welcome was held. Drum dancing, throat singing, Inuit games, and “O Canada” sung in Inuktitut were some highlights.

In “World Cup Nunavut Style” soccer, the community remains undefeated in the long-standing Adventure Canada vs Mittimatalik tradition. They edged out a win by scoring in the final minutes to break a 2-2 tie. Still, it was The Adventurers’ best showing yet. Their enthusiastic fans left the arena with familiar sighs of “next year!”

After the evening meal, another traditional competition played out as staff members Season Osborne, James Raffan, Danny Catt, and Heidi Langille offered multiple meanings for obscure words, challenging guests to distinguish between true and false. A few memorable ones you won’t find in spell check included Forestoppet, Water Gaw, Mollymock, and Gam.

Day 7 – Monday, August 12

North East Coast of Baffin Island

Coordinates: 72°30'N 70°54'W

Weather: Overcast, 8°C

Water Water Everywhere

We were at sea, moving at eleven knots per hour and beginning our crossing of Baffin Bay under ideal sailing conditions. Guests took the opportunity to relax, absorb what we’d seen and experienced thus far, and prepare for the next great adventure while appreciating the ocean.

Today’s presentations were varied, beginning with a screening of Martha of the North, the remarkable life story of Martha Flaherty.

North East Coast of Baffin Island

© Martin Lipman

James Raffan took to the deck to present “A Sailor’s Life”, which focused on knot tying. Expedition Leader Jason Edmunds demonstrated traditional Inuit games. Ashley Savard discussed approaches to the developing social economic enterprise of Inuit jewelry. Nearly a dozen guests joined snow scientist and artist Laura Adams for a workshop on painting acrylic landscapes.

The Ocean Endeavour galley staff hosted a late afternoon tea and ice cream social, and Adventure Canada culturists followed with a tasty offering of traditional country foods: narwhal and Arctic char.

Day 8 – Tuesday, August 13

Approaching Greenland

Coordinates: 71°54'N 57°46'W

Weather: Partly cloudy, 8°C

Sigguup Nunaa / Welcome to Greenland

As we approached Greenland, everyone was struck by the number of icebergs dotting the horizon in every direction. As we sailed south through the day toward Disko Bay, the numbers and sizes increased. By evening, depending on where you were on deck, the number of bergs might range from twelve to twenty.

Some were massive ice mountains, all beginning their journeys to warmer waters and oblivion.

Two very informative presentations preceded our first landing on Greenland’s shores. Culturist and law student Robert Comeau set out the structures of Inuit governance in relation to the comprehensive modern treaties or land claims agreements.

Sigguup Nunaa Greenland 2

© Dennis Minty

Glaciologist Charlotte Mougeot gave a thorough summary of the characteristics and dynamics of Greenland’s ice cap and glaciers.

A four-hour landing in the afternoon prepared everyone for one of the expedition’s most memorable evenings. We landed in a sheltered bay, on a rocky beach for short, medium, and long hikes over very interesting terrain. The high ground was a long rock and gravel ridge, while below, mounds and humps of muskeg and mixed vegetation gave us the feeling we were walking on giant sponges. On the beach, mussel, clams, and scallop shells deposited by sea birds and waves illustrated rich and bountiful waters.

Sigguup Nunaa Greenland 1

© Martin Lipman

Back on ship, we enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime chance to cool off in the icy waters of Baffin Bay. The annual Polar Plunge set a record: 105 guests and staff lept from the gangway into the icy water. More than invigorating! If anyone was keeping score in the eternal battle of the sexes, the women won, with sixty-nine female swimmers compared to thirty-six men.

Kayaking Sigguup Nunaa Greenland

© Martin Lipman

We capped the day off by taking advantage of the warm sun and smooth waters with an on-deck barbeque offering juicy steaks, ribs, hips of beef, sausages, chicken, burgers salads, and sweets.

With a great feast comes good music, and a jam session of staff and guests singing and playing carried on into the late evening. Worthy of special mention: Jason Edmunds, who put his heart on his sleeve and sang "Ode to Labrador", which Labradoreans consider to be their national anthem.

Day 9 – Sunday, June 14

Disko Bay, Greenland

Coordinates: 69°36'N 55°02'W

Weather: Sunny, 12°C

Disko Sights, Disco Nights

Our remarkable weather conditions continued, from early morning to late night. Guests and staff enjoyed the calm clear waters, and marvelled at the continuous floating parade of ice bergs and smaller “bergy bits” in all sizes and shapes as we sailed into the 200 kilometrerwide Disko Bay, high above the Arctic Circle.

James Raffan, Adventure Canada’s resident Explorer, one of the few people anywhere to follow the Arctic Circle through eight Arctic nations, presented “Circling the Midnight Sun”; his account of the people who live at sixty-six degrees north, their lives, and the challenges they now confront with a rapidly changing climate.

Disko Bay Greenland 2

© Dennis Minty

Dennis Minty presented “Perspectives of a Photographer”, which concentrated on capturing the magic and beauty of his own home, Newfoundland and Labrador. James and Dennis, along with Season Osborne and Whit Fraser, were also part of the panel of authors, who read excerpts from their books.

In the afternoon, we did a little exploring of our own. It was a new landing site for Adventure Canada and one very popular with passengers. Features included soft tundra for walking, and hills on either side for hiking, in the middle of the little valley a small lake about two kilometres long and a half a kilometre wide. It was a great place for our interpretative stations. Ornithologist Garry Donaldson soon found it was home to some common loons and Canada Geese. Archeologist Chris Wolff quickly located remnants of ancient camps and food caches, dating back two and four thousand years, respectively.

Disko Bay Greenland 1

© Martin Lipman

Botanist Dawn Bazely was also on the discovery path. In addition to big patches of blueberries and crow berries, she identified numerous plants to add to the expedition’s plant list.

By evening, we shifted from Disko Bay to disco dance and the Adventurers’ Costume Party. Vikings, whalers, traders, and more than a few aliens had a great evening party and dance.

Day 10 – Thursday, August 15

Ilulissat, Greenland

Coordinates: 69°22'N 51°01'W

Weather: Slightly overcast, 7°C

Where Icebergs and Memories Are Born

We woke this morning in the ice-filled waters off Ilulissat to stunning views on all sides. The community of about 3,000 people sits high on Greenland's rocky coast and is increasingly becoming a bellwether for climate change. The face of nearby Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, which proceeds from Greenland’s ice cap, is retreating at an alarming rate, as now sixty metres a day. In recent decades, its retreat was mere metres in a month.

Ilulissat Greenland 3

© Dennis Minty

The glacier and surrounding area are protected by the United Nations through its Education and Scientific Cooperation Commission (UNESCO). Included in the World Heritage Site are archeological sites, where people lived and hunted as far back as 2,000 years ago.

Ilulissat Greenland 4

© Dennis Minty

It was a full day with a two-hour morning tour of the harbour and the expansive icefield, a slightly overcast sky adding contrast to the dark waters. Humpback whales thrilled passengers with sounds, rolls, and the awesome tail-waving deep-dive salute.

Ilulissat Greenland 2

© Martin Lipman

The afternoon shore program was full, informative, inspiring, and unforgettable.

Adventure Canada staff were stationed at key points in the town to guide passengers to the shops, sites, museums, and boardwalk that stretches from the northeast corner of the community across two kilometres of Arctic meadow. Scientific staff were at the old campsites and at the end of the boardwalk, where the glacial ice reaches the mouth of the ice fjord. Nature has carved out a natural majestic amphitheatre where one can sit and listen to the cracking, groaning, and melting of wall of ice and know they are in a very special place.

Day 11 – Sunday, August 16

Sisimuit, Greenland

Coordinates: 66°55'N 53°50'W

Weather: Overcast, 7°C

Bidding Farewel

As we approached Greenland’s second largest community of approximately 5,000 people, we were reminded that we were actually on a ship. The calm seas gave way to some rolling waves, giving us a gentle rock. It was clear to many just how fortunate we had been for the past ten days. Anchored in the sheltered and very crowded harbour, we also got a sense that the world is both discovering the Arctic and recognizing the extent to which climate change is impacting the people and environment.

Three other cruise ships were also anchored in the harbour with all passengers disembarking to tour this very busy fishing community and growing tourism-focused retail centre.

Sisimuit Greenland 1

© Martin Lipman

Our passengers visited shops and museums, and explored the town, guided by several Sisimuit residents hired as tour guides.

Back on board in the late afternoon, our expedition leader Jason chaired a panel discussion on perhaps the most widely acclaimed session of the voyage—a discussion on Arctic climate change that invited the expedition’s scientific staff to set out their personal observations of the impact of climate change. In every discipline, archeology, glaciology, ornithology, geology, botany, and biology, panellists said the changes they see are “alarming”. Inuit culturist and law student Robert Comeau said all of the changes others are witnessing are compounded into one uncertain reality for Inuit. Everyday climate change is impacting each aspect of their lives, including what they can eat, and their ability to travel the land and ice in pursuit of food.

Sisimuit Greenland 2

© Dennis Minty

In her farewell, Adventure Canada CEO Cedar Swan reiterated the company approach to sustainable development in the Arctic, noting the company is aware of its own environmental footprint but at the same time plays a significant role in helping people from around the world see and understand how alarming the climate change crisis has become.

We ended on a fun and charitable note, with the traditional whisky label contest, “Old Walrus”, conceived by passenger Steve Ridlington and co.

A final charity auction, with a host of donations including clothing, jewelry, books, videos, and artwork raised over $6,500 for both Students on Ice and the Quebec-Labrador Federation.

Day 12 – Monday, August 17

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

Coordinates: 67°00'N 50°72'W

Weather: Breezy, 10°C

Heading Home

Overnight we sailed up the majestic Sondrestrom Fjord to our final destination at Kangerlussuaq for our charter flights home.

About the Author

Whit Fraser

Whit Fraser

Journalist

Whit Fraser’s association with Arctic Canada began almost fifty years ago. His experience includes broadcast journalist, a term as Chairman of the Canadian Polar Commission, and one as Executive Director of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

He covered the remarkable events that shaped today’s Arctic, including the McKenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, Constitutional negotiations that enshrined Aboriginal rights in the Canadian Constitution of Canada, and the Aboriginal Land Claims from initial concept and demands through to the final Agreements.