Our journey of discovery begins in Edmonton as we board our charter flight to Cambridge Bay and the Arctic. We board our flight at 54°34°N and disembark north of the Arctic Circle. From the airport in Cambridge Bay, we transfer to the beach and prepare to embark our zodiac inflatable boats for the shuttle out to the ship.
Cambridge Bay, also known as Ikaluktutiak or 'good fishing place', is the centre for hunting, trapping and fishing. Local Inuit have had summer camps in the locality for hundreds of years. Today ships visit the region annually bringing supplies. Amundsen spent two winters in this area learning how to master dogsledding from the locals.
Little is known of how the Franklin Expedition spent its last months in the frozen Arctic. The vessels, abandoned in the ice of Victoria Strait, have left no trace. An abandoned lifeboat, bits and pieces of copper and iron, cutlery and buttons and a skeleton here and there all tell a story of a desperate race south in search of rescue - a rescue that never occurred. We visit Victory Point and continue to reflect on the quest for exploration that opened up the Arctic, while sacrificing some of its bravest explorers.
Marking the western shoreline of Peel Sound, the coastline of Prince of Wales Island is broken by numerous bays and coves. As we explore this region, we drop anchor in one or two of these bays and launch the zodiacs. A hike on the tundra, wildlife watching and photography will all be part of the attraction to this area as we learn about the history and wildlife of the area and the very important role that the culture played in both.
We attempt the passage of the Bellot Strait entering at slack water, if possible, in order to avoid a current that can be more than seven knots during the peak flow. The mixing of waters in this strait provides an ample food source for marine mammals and we will keep our eyes peeled for Harp seals, Bearded seals and even Polar bears as we sail through. On exiting the strait, we will stop at Fort Ross, on the southern tip of Somerset Island. Fort Ross is a former Hudson's Bay Company fur trading outpost. Ancient archaeological sites nearby tell a story of more than a thousand years of habitation at this site by the Inuit and their predecessors.
As we sail North out of Prince Regent Inlet, we pass by the incredible cliffs of Prince Leopold Island. A migratory bird sanctuary, Prince Leopold Island is home to Thick-billed murres, Black guillemots, Northern fulmars and Blacklegged kittiwakes. Totaling several hundred thousand birds Prince Leopold Island is one of the most important bird sanctuaries in the Canadian Arctic. Bird life will be on the wane here as we approach the end of the Arctic summer however we will keep our eyes open for the late season inhabitants of this colony.
We continue North across Barrow Strait on our way to the 75th North parallel and Beechey Island.
Beechey Island holds great importance in our quest to complete the Northwest Passage. It is here that Franklin's ill-fated expedition spent its last 'comfortable' winter in 1845 before disappearing into the icy vastness, sparking an incredible series of search expeditions that finished the charting of Canada's northern archipelago. Roald Amundsen stopped at Beechey Island during the first successful complete transit of the Northwest Passage almost sixty years later.
Lancaster Sound is in many ways the wildlife 'super-highway' of the Arctic. A massive outlet for water from the high Arctic archipelago, there is a mixing of water here that is very rich in nutrients. Coupled with areas of open water for much of the year, Lancaster Sound is home to a diversity and concentration of wildlife that can be staggering, given the sparseness of the region be travelled. Our stops along the shore of Lancaster Sound will be very dependent upon ice conditions and weather.
We visit the town of Pond Inlet and make our base at the Natinnak Centre there. A spectacular cultural exhibit at the Natinnak Centre will be the background of a display put on for us by the Elders and youth of Pond Inlet. Inuit Carvings, Jewellery, and other local craft will be available to purchase from the local artisans here. Take time to meet the children of Pond Inlet and marvel at their athletic abilities as they demonstrate the challenges of the Inuit Games.
Day 8 - 10
Almost unknown to outsiders, the fjords of Northeast Baffin are startling for their stark beauty. Sheer cliffs rising hundreds of metres out of the ocean, deep fjords piercing tens of miles inland and hanging glaciers plunging down into the water. An early morning ship cruise, a mid-morning paddle or zodiac cruise and a late afternoon hike will all be on offer depending on the conditions and our progress along the coast of Baffin Island. By this time of the season, the Baffin Bay middle ice has all but disappeared however as it melts it recedes onto the East coast of central Baffin Island. We search for the remaining ice and the wildlife life that is present on this ice. Spotting scopes and binoculars will be trained ashore as we search for Polar bear. The low light of sunrise is perfect for helping to spot the faint blow of a Narwhal. Our expert guides and naturalists help you search for and identify the wildlife as we go.
A small town of approximately 1300 residents on the South coast of Pangnirtung fjord, Pangnirtung (or Pang as it is commonly known) is located on a coastal plain on the border of Auyuitiuq National Park. A gateway to this crown jewel of Canada's northern parks, Pangnirtung is also known for its carving and weaving. A visit to Pangnirtung will include the Auyuitiuq National Park office and interpretation centre as well as the weaving studio and art gallery.
A cliff towering from the ocean, Monumental Island is host to numerous bird species and is known to be an excellent place to spot both the Gyrfalcon and the Peregrine falcon. From time to time, walrus have been known to haul out here in great numbers and we will keep our eyes peeled as we approach in the hope that we experience the sight and smell of a large haul out.
We drop anchor off the beach in Iqaluit and make our way ashore by zodiac. Depending on flight times, we may have a chance to explore the capital of Nunavut before making our way to the airport.