Dispatches

Polar Bear Encounter

Team opXpeditions Nunavut encounters a huge Polar Bear on Baffin Island during the last few days of the Nunavut expedition.

Video by Will Allen / Edited by Franny Plumridge / Music by Incompetech

Jan. 23, 2014, 3:31 p.m.

Trekking Auyuittuq National Park of Canada

opXpeditions continues trekking across Auyuittuq National Park in Nunavut Canada.

opXpeditions continues trekking across Auyuittuq National Park in Nunavut Canada.

Jan. 7, 2014, 4:30 p.m.

Auyuittuq National Park of Canada

opXpeditions Nunavut starts the first leg of their trek across Auyuittuq National Park in Nunavut Canada.

opXpeditions Nunavut starts the first leg of their trek across Auyuittuq National Park in Nunavut Canada.

Dec. 18, 2013, 11:17 a.m.

Pangnirtung and Polar Bears

opXpeditions Nunavut arrives in Pangnirtung and gets briefed on Polar Bears and trekking across Auyuittuq National Park.

opXpeditions Nunavut arrives in Pangnirtung and gets briefed on Polar Bears and trekking across Auyuittuq National Park.

Dec. 18, 2013, 11:14 a.m.

Inspiration Everywhere

Nunavut is a land synonymous with inspiration. It is so easy to feel an overwhelming sense of awe while gazing off into the sprawling untouched landscapes and endless arctic sea. 

This land imbues one with a sense of fascination and reverence and has a clear influence in the expressions of its inhabitants.

No wonder Nunavut has more artists per capita than any other place in the world. In fact, you are almost certain to stumble across someone working on an art piece during your travels through Nunavut.

From intricate carvings to colourful print and clothing pieces, the landscapes, cultural mythologies and majestic wildlife forms the basis of a landscape that can’t help but inspire one to create art.

On our latest opXpeidtion to Nunavut, team outpost has the opportunity to explore galleries and artwork the likes of which we have never seen before. From the meticulous detail of a polar bear sculpture with thousands of individual cuts to give the piece a texture of hair, to the colourful and vibrant prints depicting inuit myths and legends, to the balanced utility and beauty of Inuit parkas (called Anoraks), there is an almost endless variety of art for you to enjoy.

Visiting Nunavut will offer you insights into the motivation for many of these pieces. Check out Nunavut Tourism’s interactive map for a full list of the Arts and Culture opportunities in Nunavut.

Nov. 4, 2013, 11:58 a.m.

Dog Sledding Nunavut

Imagine racing across the vast and beautiful arctic tundra, chasing spectacular blue skies and an endless horizon aboard a dogsled.

The exhilaration of travelling with a pack of powerful, cohesive and determined dogs that live to run across this expansive landscape is an unmatchable experience.

Out here, there is no form of transportation more intertwined with arctic history and culture than the dogsled.

The thrill of dog sledding is undeniable, just ask anyone who has experienced it. But dog sledding is also one of the truest ways to experience the raw beauty of the arctic. And while snowmobiles have replaced the dogsled as the basic means of transportation, dog sledding and the reverence of sled dogs is still an integral part of life in the north, and nearly every community in Nunavut offers the opportunity to experience dog sledding.

On our recent opXpeditions Nunavut expedition, David Spadavecchia and Jaclyn Truss experienced dog sledding with William Kennedy from Arctic Circle Paws and Paddles who offer professionally guided dog sled tours, on the land and sea ice, using traditional Inuit-style kamotik sleds.

You can read about David and Jaclyn’s dog sledding experience, and if you are interested in having a Nunavut dog sledding experience for yourself you should check out Arctic Circle Paws and Paddles. Trust us, it is an experience you will never forget.

Photo by Sonny Side Up!

Oct. 28, 2013, 12:53 p.m.

To End a Great Day in the North

We continue to make our way to Vicki’s quaint cabin on the tundra above a lake. We stop for a moment for a short break and hit some golf balls with Vicki’s kids before jumping back into the truck. We drive a short distance towards the base of Mount Pelly, park the truck, and then hike the rest of the way.

Mount Pelly is far from a Mount Everest, it is more of a long ridge-like feature, but it is beautiful none-the-less. Up-and-up we go, revealing a sparse landscape of tundra and lakes behind us. Our gradual incline continues and proves to be too much for our young Inuit companions, who eventually retreat back to the cabin at the base of the mountain. The sky is moody and the sun streaks through the clouds in places, reflecting off the many small bodies of water below, providing us with a nice scenic reward for our effort. At the summit there is a small plaque monument for the Inuit soldiers who have served the nation in peace and war.

After hiking halfway down the mountain we a pause on a rock to enjoy the breathtaking scenery around us. With the wind calm and no one around the silence was almost deafening.

Back at the cabin, Vicki’s husband, Jorgan Aitaok, and his extended family welcome us with a tasty meal, juice, and lots of interesting conversation.

Colin, who is an experienced paddler and outdoorsman, was eager to head out in the canoe to fish. Vicki jokes that he could just stay at the cabin overnight. After a moment of silence Colin shouts, “hey, why not!” and after a brief overview of the unique operations of the cabin, Colin grabs his fishing rod and is off.

I head back to town with Jorgan, who is a friendly and knowledgeable Inuit man that grew up on the land. He is also a member of the Canadian Rangers, part of the Search and Rescue team in the area, and the manager of Mineral Agreements for Nunavut Tunngavit Inc.

As we drive back, the sun begins to drop low on the horizon, and I look over to the left and spotted a small herd of Muskox, possibly the same ones we saw earlier. So Jorgen and I get out and walk down towards them. We get a bit closer than before, but once again, they head off in the other direction. Jorgen tell me that there might be a bear in the area, and that might be what is spooking them, as he can usually get closer with out any trouble. I wonder if it might be my tripod and camera, which is much safer for the Muskox than a hunters rifle, but how would they know?

A beautiful sunset reveals itself in the northern sky, creating beautiful images of inuksuks that stand like statues in the tundra.

A splendid way to end a great day in the north.

Text and Photo by Aaron Whitfield.

Oct. 16, 2013, 10:49 a.m.

Musk Rocks

As we continue to explore Cambridge Bay we come across a stone catholic church in old town that was built in 1953 and caught fire in 2008.

Just below the church is a big old abandoned wooden sailboat. It was Father Steinman’s who sailed from Tuktoyaktuk in the 1950’s. It had a leak and once he arrived in Cambridge Bay, it never moved again. It was somewhat surprising how intact the wooden ship was in this land without trees.

We headed back to town for lunch and decided to get a few groceries for the next couple days instead of eating out every meal. We got some cereal and strawberries, and juice for breakfast and snacks. 

After lunch, we stopped by Vicki’s small retail store that sells local arts and crafts, plus some brand name fashions and accessories. Colin and I both picked up a little something for our loved ones back home, and then headed out on the land towards Vicki’s cabin near Mount Pelly. 

Enroute we stopped to check out the remains of some stone houses with only the rock ring foundations remaining visible from the Copper Inuit homes and food caches.

As we were driving along the gravel road, we had our eyes out for Muskox, a large beast of an animal that resembles a Bison from a prehistoric era, with long hair and curved horns out the front. Many large rocks dotting the landscape trick the eye to think they are Muskox, but alas, they were not. Those are referred to as Musk rocks. As we neared the cabin, Colin spotted the beasts, near a small lake or waterhole, not too far from the road. Out of the vehicle we went on foot towards the herd. Getting closer got their attention, and only a couple images were captured before they were on the move. We pursued after them, but the Muskox were surprisingly fleet of foot.

They were dots on the horizon in no time flat.

Text by Aaron Whitfield Photo by jweston_40

Oct. 15, 2013, 11:55 a.m.

First Day Cambridge Bay

Our first day in Cambridge Bay is a busy one, and it starts off like any other: alarm, shower, out for breakfast, and then back to the Suite to gather our gear. Things pick up from there.

Vicki picks us up and gives us a tour of the hamlet. An eco tour of sorts, as once you are here, not much money needs to be spent to have an enjoyable visit. We visit numerous Inuksuks dotting the landscape. Inuksuks are rock constructs in the shape of man, and often mark a significant location on barren lands, for example: safe travel paths, good hunting spots, vantage points, a food cache, etc.

We stop by the Arctic Coast Visitor Centre to learn about the history of the area and check out some artifacts. Across the street is an old white shack type building that is an uninhibited staff house from the Hudson Bay Company era, and a small old boat out front that once belonged to a man named Norman Evalik, who bravely used the boat to take his family through the Northwest Passage to Kugluktuk and back again.

We head toward old town across the bay. The old town was inhabited back in the 1920’s until the Hudson Bay Store opened up across the water where the main hamlet is now located. There are the remains of the famous ship, “The Maud,” that was the boat of Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, who was the first to sail the Northwest Passage. The ship was bought by the Hudson Bay Company and ultimately sunk in the bay in 1930. There is a Norwegian group planning to spend millions to raise the ship and return it to a museum in Norway.

Sit tight, more to come soon as we continue exploring Cambridge Bay.

Text by Aaron Whifield

Oct. 14, 2013, 10:43 a.m.

Kugluktuk to Cambridge Bay

With a 2pm check in at the airport, we again packed up our things and prepare to leave Kugluktuk.

With the weather starting to clear up we are pretty confident that the airplane would be landing and we would be on our way. Before we head out, we decide to go for one last hike up to a high point above the hamlet. It was nice to have a high vantage point to get an overall look at this great place we have been fortunate enough to have spent the last few days and get to know some of the people that call it home.

Once checked in at the airport we have a smooth flight to Yellowknife, in what felt like no time. The plane we arrive on was the same one taking us to Cambridge Bay, so no worries with missing our connection. Eventually, we board the plane again and head north, this time towards Cambridge Bay in Nunavut. The clear condition during our take off lets us see the dramatic landscape of the north with rock and lakes scattered across the tundra. The further north we go, the greater the cloud cover increases, eventually entirely covering the landscape below. We descend through the second layer of cloud, which was thick and made us wonder where the ground was. Finally we emerge and land in Cambridge Bay.

Vicki Aitaok, of Qaigguit Tours, and Dan, of Green Row Executive Suites, meet us at the arrival area of the airport. We collect our luggage and off we go for a short drive into town to check into our suite, which we were told is the very suite that the Prime Minister stayed in during his visit to Cambridge Bay last year.

Green Row looks from the outside like nice row housing, but going in to the suite reveals a modern two bedroom apartment that you would see in a trendy condo down south: nicely decorated and a huge flat screen TV and satellite channels; very comfortable indeed.

We meet with Vicki of Qaigguit Tours, Qaiggut means come, and discuss schedule revisions for our time here.

We are looking forward to the next few days exploring the area.

Text by Aaron Whitfield Photo by Colin O’Connor

Sept. 30, 2013, 10:38 a.m.

Low Cloud Fog

We packed our things and head off to the airport for our flight to Cambridge Bay, but with the low cloud cover and fog we weren’t convinced the plane would be arriving from Yellowknife to continue on to Cambridge Bay.

As we were in the departure area at the small northern airport, the announcement came through that the plane had been diverted. So back to town we went and are again at the cozy Enokhok Inn for another night.

The next flight to Cambridge Bay from Kugluktuk isn’t until Friday, so we are going to fly back to Yellowknife tomorrow afternoon, then connect to Cambridge Bay from there tomorrow night.

Text by Aaron Whitfield Photo by Mike Rodriguez

Sept. 26, 2013, 10:54 a.m.

Kugluktuk on Foot

A nice hot shower to start the day is always nice, but seems extra luxurious this far north. 

The shower reminds me of stories I have heard over the last couple days of Inuit hunters being stuck out on the land—the first thing they do when returning home is take a hot shower. Maybe back in the day, before hot showers, dry clothes and many hugs would have to suffice? 

We are picked up by Christabelle with Koda Adventure Tours and head out on an interpretive walking tour of Kugluktuk. Our first stop is the hamlet office for a look at the council chambers, which features traditional Inuit murals adorning the walls.

Around town, the locals walk and ATV mainly, with some trucks and SUVs being used as well. All supplies, including vehicles, are brought up by boat, or on enormous Hercules airplanes.

It was the first day back to school, so the streets were absent of youth, save a few who were scolded by our guide Christabelle, who also works for the school board.

We stop by the library, which acts as a temporary residence for many interesting historical artifacts while a new cultural building is being constructed. We also stop by the recreation complex, which is a large building that serves as an indoor soccer field in the summer and hockey rink in the winter. There is also a gym and dance hall, which doubles as the court when needed.

Text by Aaron Whitfield Photo by Colin O’Connor

Sept. 25, 2013, 10:24 a.m.

Bloody Falls

Heavy rain came down most of the night and finally eased up as morning came. Grant and Christabelle pick us up at 10 am with the jet boat in tow. We head down to the boat launch and head up the Coppermine River towards Bloody Falls.

We meet Rebecca Torretti, Regional Coordinator, Parks, Planning and Operations, (Kitikmeot), and park employee, Gerry Atatahak who gives us a guided hike of the area. Gerry is a soft-spoken middle aged Inuit man, we were told earlier that he is one of the best hunters in the region. There was also a married couple from Rossland BC—Fred and Sue Bushell, and Fred’s brother Jim from Calgary, who are finishing a boat trip down the Coppermine river—they all join us on the hike.

The falls are a traditional fishing area flanked by steep rock cliffs, with evidence of thousands of years of inhabitance, but are more like a set of rapids than true waterfalls. They are called Bloody Falls after a tale of a massacre of Inuit by the Dene told by Samuel Hearne.

On the way back down the river, we stop at Grant’s cabin for a traditional lunch of Caribou soup and bannock. It was a real treat, simply delicious and filling after a day out in the fresh air and hiking through the tundra. After lunch, Grant gives us a show of what his jet boat is capable of as we watch from shore. At nearly full speed, he can stop and turn on a dime. With water splashing and spraying everywhere the boat disappears and pops out again as the water settles down, and full throttle, he’s off in the other direction.

Back in the boat, we head off to Uncle Allen’s Cabin. The cabin is full of people: three daughters, and many grandchildren all running around playing. A true sense of family is evident. Allen had just returned home with fresh White Fish and Arctic Char caught minutes earlier on the Coppermine River, already filleted and sliced into cubes ready for batter and the deep fryer. One of his daughters was heading south for school and had requested one last feast of her dad’s specialty, their annual fish fry. Being in their home out on the land felt so natural and comfortable as though we had known them for a long period of time. They are truly special people and would give you the shirt off their back. This is true of all the Inuit people that we have met thus far in Kugluktuk.

Check out the Nunavut Tourism site for a guide and interactive map to Kugluk (Bloody Falls) Territorial Park.

Text by Aaron Whitfield Photo by Colin O'Connor

Sept. 23, 2013, 12:17 p.m.

Tundra ATVing

Aaron and Colin on Team Kitikmeot make their way out to the arctic tundra for an ATV trip with Grant and Christabelle from Koda Adventure Tours.

Christabelle and Grayson from Koda Adventure Tours pick us up from the airport and take us to Enokhok Inn to check into our rooms and drop off our bags. We quickly get changed and gathered our gear to meet our guide Grayson for a short drive to Koda headquarters where quads were waiting. After a brief ATV safety training session we are on our way out into the tundra.

An afternoon of riding around and checking out the sights on ATVs is a great introduction to the north.

We end up at a quaint cabin owned by Grant, who runs Koda Adventure Tours with his wife Christabelle, to enjoy our prepared lunch of sandwiches, coffee and snacks. Mud bogging ensued, and with some minor issues getting stuck in the mud, we were off again.

“If you don’t get stuck,” says Grayson, “you’re not having enough fun.”

We carry on towards Bloody Falls in Kugluk Territorial Park when one of the quads develops a strange sound. We stop and notice an oil leak, and decided to park it and double up on one quad and come back for the other later, to trailer it back to town.

Down at the falls are many locals, berry picking and fishing with various tools: fishing rods, a bow and arrow with a string on it, and a traditional harpoon type long stick called akakivak.

Grant and Christabelle hear about the quad breaking down so they jump in their jet boat and drive up the river to meet us at the falls.

For ease of getting back we decide to send one of us back in the boat and the other by quad with our guide.

Colin and I flip a coin. Colin gets the quad and I get the boat back to town down the Coppermine River. The boat is a jet boat; so going fast in shallow water is the name of the game. With Grant and Christabelle, it wouldn’t be right to travel down the river without a stop at Uncle Allen’s cabin for some tea and bannock. Allen Niptanatiak is Christabelle’s Uncle, and a senior conservation officer in the region, and with his wife Grace, they are gracious hosts. They still live a traditional Inuit lifestyle, out on the land as much as possible, and family is very important and all close by. 

“The old way of life is still alive. Live off the land and share what you get. What you give away will come back in friendship or whatever.” says Allen Niptanatiak. 

Text by Aaron Whitfield Photo by Colin O’Connor

Sept. 20, 2013, 11:59 a.m.

Awe at the Waters

Will Allen takes a break from paddling the frigid arctic waters in search of Narwhal to  updates us on his status.

I'm never anything less then in awe at the waters of the arctic. Some of the most powerful and terrifying water when the winds are blowing and churning the frigid ocean that's home to so many well adapted creatures like the elusive bowheads and narwhal, are the very same waters that transform into a mirror for the mountains and the sky. Where the sound of a seal exhaling can be heard for nearly a half a mile and the massive bowhead for well over a mile. It's an incredible place and you can't help but be inspired and respect it. 

Text and Photo by Will Allen

Sept. 19, 2013, 3:36 p.m.

Adventure Beginnings

Having some spare time in Yellowknife, Colin and I decide to go for a hike down to Yellowknife’s Old Town area and have breakfast at a nice B&B across from the Air Tindi Float Base.

With floatplanes buzzing in and out, we enjoy some coffee and a bite to eat as the sun filters through the high clouds. We finish up quick and walk to Weaver & Devore, a long time local outfitting store, to grab some final pieces of gear for the expedition.

And of course, a visit to Old Town Yellowknife wouldn’t be complete without a stop on the docks to have a look at the colourful houseboats dotting Yellowknife Bay. We learn an interesting detail about the bay: a few hearty Yellowknifers live in houseboats year-round and commute to shore each day in a canoe, which becomes a little trickier in colder seasons when ice forms on the lake.

After our hike we make our way to the Yellowknife airport, check our bags with the friendly staff at First Air, and board our plane. We are off.

The flight to Kugluktuk was less than half full, so the steward suggested we all choose our own seat and enjoy the flight. After a smooth flight over light cloud cover, we touched down in the northern hamlet.

Our adventure is about to begin.

Text by Aaron Whitfield Photo by Colin O’Connor

Sept. 18, 2013, 11:20 a.m.

Kitikmeot Begins

We now connect with team Kitikmeot—comprised of Senior Photographer & Outdoor Expert Colin O’Connor, Videographer & Writer Aaron Whitfield—who will be exploring Nunavut’s western reaches.

I am headed for the north coast. My journey begins in Terrace, B.C., with a 6 a.m. flight that will take me south to Vancouver then east to Calgary, before flying north.

The launch site is Yellowknife, where I will rendezvous with the other Outpost team member, Colin O’Conner. Together we form team Kitikmeot, and will fly further north to Kugluktuk then later onto Cambridge Bay in Nunavut’s Kitikmeot region where we will spend the next seven days exploring this unique part of the world.

Text by Aaron Whitfield Photo by Colin O'Connor

 

Sept. 17, 2013, 10:11 a.m.

Jurassic Landscapes

We’ve headed back to the B&B for lunch, and it’s nice to come in out of the elements and have warm soup and sandwiches waiting for you.

The wind has finally died down, and Bill is arranging a small boat for the afternoon. Our plan is to go to the Harbour Islands, which are a collection of approximately 15 islands north off the coast of Repulse Bay, where polar bears are known to frequent.

With all the narwhal tags having been spent, and talk of sightings of orca pods nearby, we are pretty stoked for some potential encounters with whales as well. Our wildlife search having been stunted by the wind for a few days simply added to our list of reasons we wished we were staying here longer.

There is so much to do, so much to experience here, and each thing has you vying for the next. There is something magical about this place, something I haven’t been here long enough yet to explain, but it is remarkably enchanting, nonetheless. With more than a half hour of water between us and our destination, we are more than content to sit back, breathe the salt air and let the landscapes come to us.

We are scanning the islands for shocks of white. This being the end of summer, and a particularly warm one at that, there isn’t much snow or chunks of ice left, so anything large and white and well, moving, will likely be a bear.

The islands are all made up of the same rock hills of the mainland and after searching to no avail, we circle one entirely until we can deem it reasonably bear-free. We tie up the boat and set off to explore.

Our captain, Paul, shoulders his rifle, and says, “Can’t be too careful, eh?”

He’s right of course, and you can’t take your safety for granted here—you are in the wild, even if the tundra feels unconstrained and approachable.

The sun begins its piercing decent as we reach the top of the hill, and the view down toward the middle of the island is spectacular. The rocks roll down into a soft, squishy, pond-filled moss valley that feels like an enormous bed of sponges littered with stone. Unusual greenery and flowers permeate the area and the landscape is all but Jurassic. You can’t help but almost expect a dinosaur to climb over the ridge, much less a bear.  

Text by Jaclyn Truss Photo by David Spadavecchia

Sept. 15, 2013, 10:55 a.m.

Arctic Kayaking

High winds had put a damper on any attempt at water play for the last two days, which we spent hiking, but our legs didn’t ache nearly as much from use as our arms ached to be used.

David and I are restless to get our feet wet (so to speak—Arctic water can be chilly), and finally here it was, a wonderful windlessness of unseasonably warm proportions.

Guided kayaking is about $75 an hour, and I think it’s a small price for the kayaking-inclined. We load the kayaks onto the ATV and put on our dry suits, which are non-negotiable when boating in glacier waters. A gaggle of children tag along in the hopes of helping.

After putting on our life-jackets (or PFDs), having a technique review from Bill, and sealing our skirts, we let the kids help push us off into the pristine, clear, cool Arctic Ocean. We glide effortlessly through the liquid sun streaks, our paddles glinting in the light, as we cut through the ever growing waves in the water.

I’ve spoken too soon about the wind: suddenly the water roughens with a rising gust, and after a while we are forced to shore, but not before we have a little mishap as a sudden wave slaps up against our vessels. I keep myself righted and go with the wave, and have to say am a tad proud, being as I’m in the Arctic Ocean. David…well, he had more gear than I.

Text by Jaclyn Truss Photo by David Spadavecchia

Sept. 13, 2013, 11:56 a.m.

opXpedition Inukshuk

We decide to mark the passage of Team Outpost Kivalliq touching the Arctic Circle by erecting our very own opXpedition Inukshuk.

The concept of constructing a small Inukshuk may sound simple, but it turns out to be more challenging than we thought. One might think it’s just a matter of piling rocks on top of each other, but rocks that have been broken and weathered after countless years of natural change are not necessarily built to do that.

It takes a few tries to get a sturdy two-legged base, find a couple arms, a nice flat piece for the body, and a perfect head. However, none of the rocks have particularly level, smooth or interlocking sides, and we quickly realize that there is probably no translation for Lego in Inuktitut. However, we are determined, and after much picking and choosing, trial and error, and surprisingly not knocking over the entire thing even once, we emerge victorious.

Our traditional Inukshuk stands strong and proud against the sky and endless hills, and so do we. It is a point of reference, not for navigation purposes for others, but for us, to say we were here, in the remarkable land of the midnight sun. 

Text by Jaclyn Truss Photo by David Spadavecchia

Sept. 12, 2013, 10:48 a.m.

Untouched Land

Ice in August; feels strange, but strangely cool. The dust from the wind makes the wavy ice remnants look like a lake of toasted marshmallows marking the edge of town.

Here, David and I begin to hike up one of the large rocky hills that interfuse the lands of the bay. These types of hills are a haven for hiking; the rocky terrain is challenging enough to keep it diverse and compelling to investigate, but easy and safe so you don’t need to clip in. The view from the top is marvelous, and we decide to hike down to some water inlets down on the other side.

The rocks become smoother the closer we get to the shoreline, the wind has died down for the moment, and we are able to sit and listen to the calm trickling of the water. We stay for a while, soaking up the absolute peacefulness of the place—there is literally no other sound, just water over rock and your own breathing.

It’s incredible to think that just behind us is a small town of a thousand people and in front of us is about 140 kilometres of empty, untouched land.  

Text by Jaclyn Truss Photo by David Spadavecchia

Sept. 11, 2013, 10:01 a.m.

Tastes Better Outdoors

We’re home late for dinner, but Bill’s wife, Carol, has a lovely treat for us: baked fresh Arctic char. It’s the first time I’ll be trying it.

Looking much like salmon it’s a tasty fish that doesn’t have a fishy taste—with a few teams on this Nunavut adventure, I know my fellow Outposters will sample it too, and I’m anxious to compare notes on what they think of this regional delicacy.

Paired with her secret rice and vegetables, we’re in heaven. Why food always tastes better when you’re hiking or camping, or outdoors in general, I’ll never know, but it really does.

We trade stories and find out that despite the distance between us (they are Northerners and we are called Southerners!), we know common people, proving that the world can be so big and yet so small. Both Bill and Carol are teachers at the school, and tell us about their experience dealing with a culture that is different from what they are used to.

Landing in Repulse Bay with a sense of adventure, a desire to do something different and to travel and to teach, they assumed that if they liked it they would stay a few years. Seven years later, they find themselves still here, loving it, with a full kennel of sled dogs to boot.

For dessert Carol has made some homemade pumpkin tarts that are simply to die for. As she serves them she jokes, “I grew the pumpkins myself.”

Text by Jaclyn Truss Photo by David Spadavecchia

Sept. 10, 2013, 10:27 a.m.

Ancient Thule of Nunavut

About 20 minutes up into the hills, we are alone. Surrounded by rocky hills, valleys, water and wind, we make our way down to a stone-lined trail that will take us all the way down to another Thule archaeological site where some of the Thule people of the North settled.

Off in the distance to our right I can see a large rock cliff with a river beneath it, and as we draw nearer you can appreciate its full size. Huge cracks run down through the rock face, flowing water glittering in the sunlight beneath it. Just past where the river breaks shore we find the Thule site, a sort of grassy knoll with deep grooves where the tunnels that connected their underground homes used to be. 

We tuck ourselves into a hill to get out of the wind. And as we share tea and food, we begin to muse about how when the Thule people began arriving in and migrating across the Canadian Arctic 1,000 years ago, they were likely sitting right here, maybe in this very spot, likely doing much the same as we are.

Overlooking the side of the bay where the bowhead are found, the view is beyond spectacular, and you can easily see why they would have chosen here as home.

Text by Jaclyn Truss Photo by David Spadavecchia

Sept. 9, 2013, 10:09 a.m.

Whale Bones

“I will take you to see the whale bones,” says Bill. Morning had come to meet the wind, and by mid-afternoon it was showing no signs of letting up. 

We decide to postpone the kayaking, and instead lace up, grab our gear and hop onto the ATVs. Sunglasses protect us from the dust we kick up as we speed out of town.

Not too far past we reach yet another point where land meets water. A mass in the distance has been growing larger as we draw closer, and when we arrive the whale bones came into full view. Three massive bowhead skulls sit on the rocks, purposefully arranged, with a giant fin bone, spine and a large piece of baleen littering the surrounding area.

I am in awe of the incredible size of this amazing creature that roams the waters of the Arctic Ocean—my whole body could fit into its mouth without it even noticing! I struggle to imagine it in its totality, and to know that what I’m seeing is not even as big as they get.

Bowheads have been known to grow to more than 65 feet and weigh up to 100 tons—magnificent, but almost unfathomable! At 5’4 and about 110 pounds, I am left with the feeling that even though bowheads are intellectually comparable to humans, in size I am comparatively closer to krill.

Text by Jaclyn Truss Photo by David Spadavecchia

Sept. 8, 2013, 11:10 a.m.

Ready to Run?

While the Inuit are recognized as the first users of the dog sled, the Arctic Circle Paws & Paddles Outfitter and Bed & Breakfast is the only place left in Repulse Bay to find a dog sled team.

Bill and Carol Kennedy’s dogs are a sight to behold: a gorgeous team of nine, paired by temperament, characteristics and their compatibility with each other. You would be scarce to find a more enthusiastic team.

Whether they are pulling a traditional sled over the hard packed snow of the tundra and cruising down frozen rivers with enormous rockcliffs looming overhead, or hauling an ATV through the hills to the lake for a quick dip to cool their paws in summer, these dogs live to run.

The kennel is located just out back of the B&B—all you have to do is go out back and say “Ready to run?,” and the cacophony of barking begins, levelled only by the sweet expectant singing of the Malamutes.

The dogs quiet momentarily as they are harnessed, one by one, and placed into their position in the line, before they rile up again. Bill shows David how to straddle them to get the harness on and hook them to the line, then David does the rest.

You can see the sheer delight in the dogs as they ready themselves to work. As they speed off into a dust trail of singleminded purpose, winding their way around well known curves, it’s no mystery why the dogs feel they have it made—this unique experience is the alpha dog of adrenaline rushes!

Fun Fact: Bill says that his dogs run best at -30 degrees Celsius—anything warmer and they get too hot!

Text by Jaclyn Truss Photo by David Spadavecchia.

Sept. 6, 2013, 10:20 a.m.

Home sweet Nunavut

Bill’s bed and breakfast is his home, a small but sturdy three-bedroom house, with two rooms made up for guests.

Outside waiting for us is Buck, one of his (so far I have counted nine) sled dogs. We go out back to meet the rest of the dogs with the small gaggle of curious children who are never far behind.

His house is beautiful and full of pictures of wildlife, some of which he has taken himself, including a few polar bear close-ups. The wind has started to pick up, you can hear it howling as it whips the Canadian flag around a pole outside.

Safe inside, not so much as a window rattles. We pack our bags for the day to come: since there is little snow we will dog cart instead of sled, and while we were planning to kayak as well, the rushing water and the 70-mile winds make hiking seem a better option.

It’s now late, but you can still see some light in the sky, and under our window the Malamutes begin to sing, hauntingly and beautifully. I sink myself into the song, but it only lasts a couple of minutes, then we sleep, all of us.

Text by Jaclyn Truss Photo by David Spadavecchia

Sept. 5, 2013, 10:09 a.m.

Naujaat

Before us, the land slopes toward the darkening bay, and Bill, David and I stand in silence, soaking in the quiet wonder that leads you to the deepest core of your thoughts.

I am urged to ask a question I had been wanting to since before we arrived, and having been given the gift of eloquence in special moments, I ask:

“Bill, how did Repulse Bay get its name? It doesn’t sound appealing. Was ‘Awesome Bay’ taken?”

Bill laughs before answering. “A long time ago there was an explorer, I believe it was Christopher Middleton, and he came into the bay looking for the Northwest Passage. After discovering he couldn’t pass through, he wrote in his journal that he was ‘repulsed’ by the bay—meaning ‘pushed out’ by the bay. The name stuck, I guess. The Inuktitut word for it is Naujaat, which means ‘the seagull's nesting place.’ I think that sounds better!”

I agree; its English name does this place no justice, and I can’t help but feel sorry for the explorer who unexpectedly left behind the name, completely unaware of the unexpected grace he left behind. Had he taken the time to discover this place, he never could have left the same way he came.

I know I won’t.

Text by Jaclyn Truss Photo by David Spadavecchia

Sept. 4, 2013, 10:29 a.m.

Quiet Reverence

It’s midnight, and we’re wandering through a cemetery. Plastic flowers adorn every grave, some of which are smaller than others, and my heart breaks a little.

The last bits of sun are all but faded behind us; the lights of the stand-alone houses spark like fireflies across the horizon. The occasional ATV blows by in the nearby hills, reminding you that you are not completely alone, only almost.

We step carefully and respectfully as we make our way through the raised stone graves of this small Inuit community. There is only calm, quiet, reverence. Next to the cross that tops the rocky hill, Bill gestures to various points of the bay and speaks softly, telling us stories of the history of the land.

In a town like this, nothing is far from anything: your dogs are close to the land they will transport you across, your kayak is close to the water, trekking is as close as your boots, the living not far from the dead. There is a rawness here, but it’s the kind that doesn’t sting—the kind that makes things seem simple, makes things honest, that makes you remember how death is simply a part of life. 

Text by Jaclyn Truss Photo by David Spadavecchia

Sept. 3, 2013, 12:54 p.m.

We All Share Here

We hop in Bill’s side by side ATV to boot down to the water. On the way there are kids milling around and playing; some chase our ATV and all of them wave. Of the approximate 1,000 residents of Repulse Bay, almost half are school-aged children. 

 

As we get to the water, there are a bunch of people crowded around a boat that is being hitched to a truck. A boy of no more than 16 or 17 years old has caught a Narwhal, a large feat for a young man. Narwhals are no easy catch, and he stands proudly, holding up a tusk that is as tall as he is. The residents of Repulse Bay are lucky: caribou, narwhals, seal and Arctic char are plentiful, here.

Everyone in the community is excited about the Narwhal. I ask a woman standing by the boat what will happen to the whale, which was clearly more meat, skin and blubber than any one family could need. “We will share,” she says. “Everyone will get some of it, we all share here.”

Sept. 2, 2013, 12:51 p.m.

A Seasoned Outdoorsman Appears

Team Kivalliq is now en route to Repulse Bay.

Plane number three—I believe it was an enjoyable flight but am not sure because I closed my eyes and suddenly we were landing. Next stop is Repulse Bay, a small Inuit community in Kivillaq, right on the shores of Hudson Bay, where we’re hoping to see the plethora of Arctic wildlife.

The plane bumped as we descend, knocking both David and I back into consciousness. “Welcome to Repulse,” he says to me. As soon as we enter the compact airport we are greeted by Bill Kennedy, our next guide and host for the duration of our stay here.

I like him immediately, he is tall and muscular, and has the look of a seasoned outdoorsman. He is pleasant and polite, and has a quiet and a humble calm. The landscape is beautiful, you can’t really see its full beauty from the airport, but you can sense it almost immediately.

Children run to greet us as we leave the airport—they think we are new teachers and crowd around to ask our names. The feeling of freedom the children emit is infectious, as they mill about, ride their bikes in circles around us, and climb a nearby stone structure.

As I look around at the rocky tundra and hills, with what’s left of the sun spilling behind them, I know we’ve come to a special place, a place I haven’t seen before and already want to again. Five minutes here, and my soul is not the same.

Text by Jaclyn Truss Photo by David Spadavecchia 

Sept. 1, 2013, 10:03 a.m.

Back 3,000 Years

Timmun Alariaq was born near Cape Dorset and raised in the traditional Inuit ways. He tells stories of the entire family living in one small cabin on the land, of hunting and fishing and the traditions and culture of Canada's most northerly peoples. His pride in his ancestors is clear and his connection with the land is palpable and infectious.

Timmun Alariaq was born near Cape Dorset and raised in the traditional Inuit ways. He tells stories of the entire family living in one small cabin on the land, of hunting and fishing and the traditions and culture of Canada's most northerly peoples. His pride in his ancestors is clear and his connection with the land is palpable and infectious.

Whenever the opportunity arises, Timmun, his wife Kristiina and their children, grandchildren, cousins and friends - and occasional visitors like Dan and me - head 80 kilometres along the south coast of Baffin Island to the rustic cabins they built over the course of several summers. It is for the Alariaq family - and others from Cape Dorset and other Nunavut communities - what a weekend at the cottage is for many more southerly Canadians. Except their family-links to this land stretch back thousands of years.

Tucked just behind their huts are the remains of camps from the Dorset and Thule people, the first residents of the Arctic. Dating back 3,000 years and more, the rock circles mark the spots where they lived, rested or stayed during hunting trips. The rocks mark the outer boundaries of their shelters, where their sleeping platforms sat, where they cooked and the entrances they framed with rock. Not far away are several stone cairns which still contain the skeletal remains of these same people.

These circles have never been examined by scientists, historians or anthropologists. They are not contained behind plexi-glass or identified by interpretive signs. But they are protected just as well as any museum exhibit because the Inuit people like Timmun and his family who come here treat them with the reverence and respect with which we should all treat our ancestors. 

Text and Photo by Simon Vaughan

Aug. 31, 2013, 10:38 a.m.

Where the Shapeshifters Live

Team Kivillaq now heads into the interior of Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga Territorial Park to explore some ancient Thule grounds and the legends they hold.

Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga Territorial Park. It rolls smoothly off Leslie’s tongue. Our host for the park tour, Leslie says the name means “the land around the river of little fishes,” referring to the Meliadine River, and it is here we will find the ancient Thule grounds that were discovered in an archaeological dig 20 years ago.

Part of the park is preserved, while the rest is open for to the public for hiking and camping, and even the occasional wedding on its breathtaking high hills that overlook the low valleys and plentiful lakes.

We are told that still the caribou pass through here, and a month ago today, the head count was 10,000.

“The campgrounds are off this way,” Leslie says, gesturing to the left. “They are free and anyone can camp there, but the Thule site is on this side, and we do not allow camping there as we don’t want campers moving rocks we haven’t documented yet.”

The Thule are the ancient ancestors of the Inuit, who migrated across the Canadian Arctic over a thousand years ago, and settled in various places. As we weave through what initially looked like just a pile of rocks, we see there are circles of rocks that once held tents, rows of rocks that would have acted as kayak-like vessel stands, fish drying stations, and stacks of rocks that were once fox traps. 

The pile of rubble comes alive before your eyes, stringing a tale of a people’s life so long ago. I point up over a long and large hill off in the distance and ask if that is part of the park. Leslie says yes, but that’s where the Shapeshifters live, and where community Elders refuse to go, and it is closed to the public.

There are many stories from the Elders of sneaky spirits that would shapeshift before their eyes. I ask her if she has ever been over there herself.

“No,” she says incredulously. “This part here is our land, the land of the living; and that is the part of the spirit world, the land of the Shapeshifters. It is what the Elders believe, and I respect that.”     

Text by Jaclyn Truss Photo by David Spadavecchia

Aug. 29, 2013, 12:28 p.m.

Right, what’s the plan?

Now it's back to Team Baffin as they hunker down for the night deep in polar bear country.

The thought of sharing one double bed in a tiny cabin with my Outpost colleague Dan for a couple of nights terrified me. 

It’s not that I don’t like Dan—I’ve grown rather fond of him since travelling up to the Arctic together, in fact—it’s just that I didn’t really fancy sharing my bed with him. However, when our host Kristiina Alariaq described the frequency of polar bear sightings in the area, I decided that having a 6’5” web and social media guy with me might not be such a bad thing after all…because everyone knows that polar bears love the internet!

Before turning in for the night, Kristiina’s husband Timmun handed us a rifle. “Either of you know how to use this?” he asked.

Dan nodded yes, although being the sceptic that I usually am, I couldn’t help but wonder if his experience with bolt action rifles extended beyond virtual reality…which still made him significantly better qualified for the position of bear guard than I was. And so, with rifle in hand we set off over the rocks to our small cabin with its two pain glass windows and the  neon “Humans inside!” sign flashing outside.

“Right, what’s the plan?” Dan asked as he positioned the rifle and box of bullets by the head of his sleeping bag while I extended the tool intended to remove stones from horse’s hooves from my Swiss Army Knife and practiced looking menacing.

“You shout and roar if one appears at the window,” I suggested “while I cry hysterically.”

“Okay,” he replied. “Sound good to me. Good night.”

Text and photo by Simon Vaughan  

 

Aug. 28, 2013, 1:12 p.m.

Great Strides

Arnaujuq takes us to Ivalu, a convenience store, one of only a few in Rankin Inlet. After perusing the handmade hats, vests made of seal and muskoxen coats, as well as more pieces of art and jewellry, jams, teas, dolls and other treasures, we are greeted by Darrin Nichol, who at first I thought just owned the shop.

Turns out, his role in Nunavut is quite extensive—he is president of NDC (the Nunavut Development Corporation), which supports local businesses as well as the vast and fantastic cultural industry up here in Canada’s most eastern territory.

Having been here since the 1980s, he tells us that everything that holds true in business—like having a big-city university—simply doesn’t in Nunavut. He has, however, seen great strides over the years, and is confident about its expansion, especially because of its geography.

The geographical location of Rankin Inlet gives it what no other place has: all planes, boats, goods and services centralize through Rankin. The accessibility to outdoor adventure, world-class fishing, photography, kayaking, camping and hiking, among other things, is incomparable.

People are always around in the community—but you just need to walk over a hill, and there you are, alone in the tundra.

Text by Jaclyn Truss

Aug. 27, 2013, 4:53 p.m.

Polar Bear Stories

“Do you ever see polar bears?” I asked Kristiina hopefully, just as I’d asked everyone from the baggage handler at Iqaluit airport when we first landed, to the taxi driver who took us to the hotel to the lady who tried to sell us an Arctic char in a plastic bag.

“I can tell you some polar bear stories,” Kristiina said, with a knowing smile, as we huddled around the table in their small cabin on Andrew Gordon Bay after dinner on our first evening just east of near Cape Dorset.

“See the scratches on the window?” she asked, gesturing to lines engraved in the thick plexi-glass window by my side. “Those are made by polar bears standing up on their hind-legs to look inside. And that window down there,” she added, pointing to one at the far end of the room, “won’t close properly because of a fight with a bear.”

“It was the middle of night and there were five of us asleep in here,” she began. “It was hot and we had the window open to bring in some air. Someone woke up to find a polar bear staring in through the window separated from us only by the mosquito screen. He roared at the bear as loudly as he could, waking everyone else up in the process. Soon we were all roaring.

“Timmun jumped out of bed and grabbed his rifle from beside the front door, while someone tried to close the now-bent window he’d been leaning against. But the bear was already backing away. It finally turned and headed up over those rocks.”

Dan and I stared at each other incredulously. All we’d talked about since arriving in Nunavut was seeing a polar bear, now we were living with people who lived with bears on a daily basis.

When 5 year old Tapau stepped outside, Kristiina called after her grandson “Watch out for polar bears!” This was no idle threat like ‘if you don’t eat your peas the tickle monster will get you.’ No, this was real life and threats like polar bears were treated with respect and sensible caution…although that didn’t stop Tapau from chasing after the lemmings!

Text and Photo by Simon Vaughan

Aug. 23, 2013, 4:10 p.m.

Raw Char

I’ve never been big on sushi, but as the raw Arctic char entered my mouth I decided that it was best to feign a serious look even if I didn’t actually feel it. 

However, the cube of fresh, bright red meat carved from a char the size of my upper thigh using a traditional Inuit ulu knife simply melted in my mouth. It was superb, and without a second thought, I was having…seconds!

We had set off from our camp on Baffin Island’s Andrew Gordon Bay in the late morning. The tide was still coming in and the sky was a mix of blazing sunshine and rolling fog. Seals bobbed in the water while eider ducklings scrambled across the rocky shoreline. Our small boat followed the coast before turning into the mouth of the Iqalugaaqjuit River not too far away.

We weighed anchor and each took a different point on the boat with our rods.

“Now remember,” explained our host, Kristiina Alariaq, “we have nothing for lunch except what we catch!”

It was a good incentive.

Time and time again we cast our lines, the boat gently turning and swaying in the crystal clear tides. While Dan and I tried our luck with the rods, Timmun set up a net. Within minutes he had success: big flopping, flapping, white-bellied, grey-dappled Arctic char success. Dan and I were not so skilled: he once caught a rock, while I once snagged something considerably more impressive…Dan’s line.

After an hour we gathered the net and returned to camp with no fewer than eight large Arctic char. Kristiina set about filleting them. The ulu artfully removed the skin and bones while we eagerly downed the magnificently fresh meat – no lemon juice, no soya sauce, just unbelievably fresh, raw char.

“We have enough for dinner today, lunch tomorrow and to take home to smoke,” she explained.

Dan and I nodded appreciatively, knowing that if it had been up to us we would have been having a lovely lichen salad instead!

Text and Photo by Simon Vaughan

 

Aug. 23, 2013, 3:43 p.m.

Inuit Family Life

Team Baffin now heads out, far from civilization, for some Inuit style camping. 

When Timmun and Kristiina Alariaq of Cape Dorset on the south-west point of Baffin Island invited us to join their family for a few days of camping—Inuit style—it didn’t take us long to think it over.

Soon we were stowing all our gear and supplies on a 24-foot freighter canoe and setting out into the town’s harbour to transfer to a larger aluminium boat for the two hour journey 80 kilometres east along the coast to Andrew Gordon Bay.

“This will give you a taste of Inuit family life for a few days,” Kristiina explained.

We motored through dense fog, skirting rock islands marked by towering Inukshuks which looked eerily and unerringly human in the swirling mists. Finally, a little chilled but thoroughly invigorated, we came ashore in a small inlet.

“It took us several years to finish the camp,” Timmun explained. “We camped here in traditional tents to start with, before slowly assembling the cabins with materials we bought in town and brought out by freighter canoe.”

They now have two small cabins, a workshop and a generator all with a magnificent view over the Hudson Strait. They come for weekends – or longer – in the summer, and even by skidoo during the winters. It’s an opportunity for the family to bond, to get back to their traditional ways and to simply have fun. And occasionally they take along complete strangers like us for a taste of their unique life.

As Dan and I made our way to our tiny, comfortable cabin, lemmings darted about the meadow, dashing under rocks and across the spongy tundra while birds flitted across the boulders. There was no electricity except from the occasional use of the generator, our water was drawn from the Iqalugaaqjuit River and the only communication came from a CB radio network which broadcast only in Inuktitut.

It was already heaven.

Text and Photo by Simon Vaughan

 

Aug. 22, 2013, 5:29 p.m.

Without Luggage

Arnaujuq, our guide (who calls herself A.A. for short), has her office in the tiny Rankin Inlet airport. She’s invited us to go over our itinerary while we wait for our luggage to be off-loaded.

We browse brochures of the gallery we’re about to visit, until we hear the conveyor belt start. Then it stops…without our luggage. Everyone from our flight has gone, and our backpacks are not there. That’s a quick first snag for Team Kivillaq, I think, as I silently beat myself up for packing my shell, and not carrying it like the smart part of my brain told me to.

Clothing catastrophes are not so problematic—as much as we might like the shirts on our backs, I’m pretty sure we won’t six days from now. Theoretically it could have gotten unnecessarily dramatic from here, if our fear had been real and not merely perceived. Turns out since, as we were heading to Repulse Bay later that day, our luggage was being held for transfer for our next flight.

Note to self, never panic prematurely—it’s unbecoming. Wardrobe change reinstated, it’s definitely time to check out some local art.

Text by Jaclyn Truss, Photo by David Spadavecchia

Aug. 22, 2013, 5:26 p.m.

Smooth Sailing

Team Kivalliq, consisting of Outpost Creative Director David Spadavecchia and Writer Jaclyn Truss, is now headed to Nunavut's central heart. This is their first dispatch. 

It’s smooth sailing as we touch down in Winnipeg and arrive bathed in a clean morning sun, the trees beyond the airport standing in greeting. We’ve been up for the most of the night by now, having flown to Winnipeg from Toronto; but as tired and as coffeeless as I am, I can’t help but be excited. With what we have in front of us over the next several days, we have every cause to be.

We are on our way to Rankin Inlet, in central Nunavut and a region called Kivalliq, for a true-north Canadian adventure as part of opXpeditions Nunavut. (Henceforth, we are known as Team Outpost Kivalliq!) 

As we pass through another bout of security, we spot a young kid in army pants, a plaid shirt, a dangling electric guitar chain, and rocking his grandpa’s fedora. In a kind of respect for such under-aged swagger, you can’t help but wonder where the kid is off to and sort of hope it’s where you’re going.

After saying hello to a giant stuffed Royal Canadian Mounted Polar Bear, we are ready to load up for a flight from Winnipeg to Rankin. Instead of the usual announcements in English being translated into French, here it is translated into Inuktitut. The sound is melodic and I understand none of it, but it lulls me as our First Air flight hurtles toward our adventure, at 500 miles an hour.

Text by Jaclyn Truss, Photo by David Spadavecchia

Aug. 21, 2013, 6:30 p.m.

Whales!

We awake on our final morning in Pangnirtung to find the town shrouded in heavy fog. The cliffs across the fjord that have captivated us are completely obscured.

“You may be here for a few more days,” said Louis, our host. “The plane can’t get in if this doesn’t lift, but you’re not flying until this evening so you’ll be alright. Hopefully your trip to the old whaling station will still go.”

Down in the harbour, we board a small aluminum boat and head off into the fjord. The fog begins to ease and ahead in Cumberland Sound we make out icebergs and floes in the blue water.

In the 19th century, there were three whaling stations in this part of Baffin Island that helped provide the oil that fuelled street lamps in many U.S. and European cities. Today, one of those sites, Kekerten, is a territorial park located 50 kilometres by boat from Pang.

Our skipper, Jamiesy, ably swerves around the bergs and ice floes while we cut across the open waters of the Sound. The scenery is breathtaking. Coming ashore, we tour the old whaling station and think back to an age when ship-loads of men from Scotland and the U.S. toiled in the Arctic to harvest a commodity as valuable as petroleum is today. It’s hard to imagine a more remote or evocative historic site anywhere in the world.

Back on our boat we head out once more into the ice fields. Suddenly, we change direction and stop.

“Whales,” announces Jamiesy, pointing at a black smudge in the ocean. We edge closer and watch the glossy black bodies surface and roll under the sea, their tales flicking high into the air and clouds of spray shooting skyward from their blow-holes.

“They’re bowheads,” Jamiesy adds. “We can’t get too close because they can be aggressive and even overturn this boat, especially when they’re with their young.”

We see perhaps a dozen whales and one bearded seal on our return trip. It’s strange to at once view a site made historic by their harvest and then marvel at their existence. The Arctic is one of the last havens for whales—bowheads, belugas, and narwhals to name a few—and we have them all to ourselves.

Everything we’ve seen, tasted, and done since arriving in Iqaluit can only be described with superlatives, but our whale encounters in Cumberland Sound have taken the bannock.

Text and Photo by Simon Vaughan

Aug. 21, 2013, 11:36 a.m.

Humbled and Empowered

We spend one final night surrounded by our mountain gods. This is no doubt their domain, and we are privileged to have experienced it.

Our morning begins with a quick breakfast before we depart: pasta from a bag, water from a nearby stream and some partially frozen candy bars—breakfast of champions.

During breakfast our guides introduce us to a game they call floating hair spoon. The game is played by balancing a spoon on a piece of hair that is floating on a plate of water. When participants get close to the spoon to see if it is actually floating (and that should be the tell), the game’s host upends the plate, sending water into everyone’s visage.

“You guys are good at this game,” says Matthew, “have you played much before?”

Great fun, and no doubt a game invented after weeks alone in the wilderness.

And then we are off—trekking back into the depths of Auyuittuq. I bid Odin farewell, thinking to take one last photo in an attempt to immortalize this once-in-a-lifetime moment.

I end up taking 50—or that’s what it feels like.

We are making incredible time across the tundra, and we seem to slip into an organized rhythm, keeping our formation tight and our pace consistent. We rarely speak, each of us lost among the overwhelming sensory experience of Auyuittuq.

I hear a familiar sound, like mumbled babbling in the distance. It grows louder with each step, and again I find myself on the edge of a rushing torrent of water.

“Not this time,” I think, “this time I’m going through.”

I step forward into the river. Instantly, my feet are numb. I feel the adrenaline rushing through me—it keeps me moving. Each step through the rushing mass of water feels like I am locked in a grappling match, with the river trying its best to throw me sideways—it is unsuccessful, and I stand on the bank of the river, watching my team cross.

“You did well,” says Matthew “your confidence out here has improved.”

We make our way back to Mount Overlord for pickup by boat, but because we have made such excellent time we are about two hours early. So we sit amongst the chaotic humming of mosquitoes.

So much has happened over the last few days, so much that it almost feels unreal. I feel at once humbled by the presence of this park and empowered by my experiences through it. There is no doubt in my mind that I may never see terrain like this anywhere else on Earth. But I kind of like it that way.

Text and Photo by Dan Puiatti

Aug. 20, 2013, 4:08 p.m.

The Saga Continues

Back to Will Allen’s quest for the Narwhal in Baffin Bay that has taken him deep into Nunavut's Arctic Sea in search of this elusive animal.

 

After a very chilly night, camped on the spooky site of an ancient Inuit hunting ground, complete with sod huts and artifacts, we decide to stay here another night until the wind works in our favour and the temperature climbs a little higher.

We climb a nearby ridge to try and scout for some Narwhal—to no avail. They are living up to their reputation as mysterious creatures of the North.

The next morning I wake to the Arctic air, crisp and cool, and struggle to crawl out of the comfort of my sleeping bag. I make my way to some Arctic pancakes, fried up by our incredible Blackfeather guides.

After breakfast we pack up camp and head north to a new site. Battling a strong current—we’re kayaking in Baffin Bay in the Arctic Ocean—we arrive at our new home for the night. Setting up camp quickly we notice the signs of years of Inuit hunting yet again, with a massive bowhead whale skull peaking out of the sand and gravel beach.

As I kayak through the cool ocean water, the shifting daily climate reminds me of the day-to-day struggles of living here, on this spot on the planet, and I often think how difficult it must have been to survive these incredible conditions.

Text by Will Allen  

Aug. 20, 2013, 11:38 a.m.

The All-father

I slip again into a trance-like focus. The next three hours are a blur of sand, rocks, water and grunts.

Then, as we round a pass, he appears.

Odin—known here as the All-fatherruler of Asgade. He towers above the riverbed, his distorted and scarred features a testament to his origins before time.

I stand in awe. Even the clouds seem to pay homage to this spectacular mountain, dancing around but never obstructing our view. Frigg, Norse queen of the sky and clouds, gives us a show.

At 7,044 feet, Odin is the highest mountain on Baffin Island, and towers above the tundra of Auyuittuq National Park. The mountain’s phenomenal composition makes it my favourite—by far.

“Wait till you see Thor,” says Matthew. “He is hiding from us.”

We press further, stopping momentarily at the Arctic Circle marker for a photo opportunity and more candy bars.

“There,” Matthew shouts, while pointing to a summit peaking through the clouds, “Thor!”

I can hardly believe what I am looking at, it seems as if someone has driven a knife through the centre of Thor and removed half of it. It is the most incredible vertical drop I have ever seen.

“That vertical drop is the greatest on Earth,” says Matthew.

“I believe it,” I reply.

Thor, at 5,495 feet, does indeed have the greatest vertical drop on Earth—it drops 4,101  feet!—and has an overhanging cliff that averages an angle of 15 degrees from vertical.

“People climb that,” I ask?

“Yes—some,” Matthew says. “But we should keep moving, it is getting dark.”

Text and Photo by Daniel Puiatti

Aug. 16, 2013, 3:19 p.m.

Mechanical Precision

We continue to press onward, deeper into the ever-changing Auyuittuq landscape.

My mind begins to shift to thoughts of moments past. The booming silence of our surroundings allows me an incredible level of focus on my thoughts. I fixate on a memory of some words I noticed scribbled on a whiteboard in the Parks Canada office before our departure: bear spotted on Auyuittuq east trail—our trail. To be clear, that’s polar bear.

But our Inuit guides are ever intent, constantly scanning the horizon. This puts me at ease; I focus again on the trail, and the churning thunder that grows louder with each step. We come to our first river crossing.

My confidence wanes slightly: I can see no way to cross, the water is deep and moving at an incredible speed—damn!

“I have never seen the river this big,” says Matthew, our Inuit guide. “The channels have all joined together—we need to go around.”

And so we do. We begin the detour that takes us toward the mouth of the river. But between the mouth of the river and our team is the sand castle: a series of stacked jagged rocks, mossy tundra and sand sitting atop an almost perpetual incline.

I grip my trekking poles tightly, wrapping the handle cords around my wrist.

“Don’t roll your ankle,” shouts Will, as we begin our ascent. I move with mechanical precision. Right foot steady, trekking poles planted, left foot forward. With every step, Will’s words ring in my mind, taunting me, challenging me.

Don’t roll your ankle. Don’t roll your ankle. Don’t roll your ankle.

I better not roll my ankle.

We reach the top of the sand castle and I pause to scan the horizon, spotting the waterfall near our destination.

“Looks pretty close,” I shout.

Our guides laugh.

“Looks can be deceiving,” Matthew shouts back.

Text and Photo by Daniel Puiatti

Aug. 16, 2013, 2:36 p.m.

Team Baffin in Search of Narwhal

Will Allen, videographer on Team Outpost Baffin, has broken off from Dan and Simon and is now searching for Narwhal by kayak with Black Feather and Polar Sea Adventures in Pond Inlet, Nunavut.

With over 15 years experience, Will has photographed everything from great white sharks in Guadalupe, Mexico, to fashion in Montreal and Toronto. He's also worked on several IMAX films.

Will will be sending us dispatches as often as he can as he seeks out the elusive Narwhal in the Arctic Ocean. Here is his first!

Camped at a rocky beach just southwest of Currie Island, after two days of hanging at Windy Cove just north of here, we now face the constant drizzle of cool Arctic rain.

Our outlook is good, and from this vantage point we can see quite far north and far south as we hunt (metaphorically speaking only!) for the great Narwhal.

We plan to get back in our expedition kayaks within the hour and to make our way north in the rain to another camp, in hopes of getting a glimpse of the majestic whales of these amazing northern waters.

Text by Will Allen / Photo by Daniel Puiatti

 
Aug. 15, 2013, 12:40 p.m.

Team Baffin: Our Trek Across Arctic Moss and Jagged Rock Begins

The boat moves at an incredible speed. Our captain knows these waters well. Many a prop has been lost to the rocks and shallows in this area.

As we move towards Mount Overlord in Auyuittuq, each member of Team Baffin grows silent, gazing in awe at the mountains that tower above on either side of the river. “This is it, no turning back now,” I think to myself, while eating a candy bar to fortify my constitution.

This is our stop, a series of giant boulders jutting out of the water—we need to jump from the boat to the boulders while donning our 50-pound packs. Thankfully we all make it, and more thankfully, so does our camera equipment.

Billy, our Parks Canada guide, is already moving like water over the rugged terrain. We have hardly finished checking our gear before he disappears behind a nearby boulder. We start off slow, taking a route where the Earth feels like it’s on a perpetual 45-degree slope.

Every step we take needs to be calculated as the ground alternates between soft Arctic moss and jagged rock. Getting comfortable with balancing my pack, I begin to pick up speed, eager to cross over the hill that separates me from the horizon; from seeing farther into the park.

But the hill is concealing more than just the view—behind it is a river, sitting about 10 feet deep, between piles of freshly fallen rocks from surrounding mountains. Damn, this is going to be messy! My first step sends a pile of rocks crashing into the river, and it’s only my right leg planted terra firmly and a stream of expletives that keep me from sliding down with them. 

I grab some nearby boulders and pull myself up and behold the view—it’s spectacular, and worth every grueling step.

By Daniel Puiatti

Photo courtesy of Markus Siivola, Hamlet of Pangnirtung

Aug. 13, 2013, 1:41 p.m.

Team Baffin: Odin Be Praised

I slept incredibly well last night and feel ready for anything. Odin be praised. Bring on Auyuittuq.

I use every bit of packing skill I have to get all my equipment into my 70L MEC backpack. Laptop, chargers, solar panels, camera, and food, to mention only a fraction of the items I am bringing into the park for the two nights. No doubt about it the pack is loaded to the brim with gear, but its design keeps the weight equally balanced and I’m thankful for this because I’m told we’ll be trekking across jagged rocks, ice rivers, shoreline, and in certain places, quicksand-like topography.

A Parks Canada truck picks us up from the lodge and takes us to the dock where our charter boat awaits. I hop in and help load everyone’s gear—each pack is unbelievably heavy. I shake hands with the captain, thank him for taking us, and ask him about the forecast. “Clear skies all day,” he says. Odin be praised.

By Daniel Puiatti 

Photo by Mark Siivola, Hamlet of Pangnirtung

Aug. 13, 2013, 10:02 a.m.

Team Baffin: Sizing Up Mount Odin

It is virtually impossible to take a bad photo here, the landscapes are out of this world and the light seems to embrace everything I shoot. 

So far, there hasn’t been even a hint of bad weather.

I meet a climber named Delano Lauigne in the lodge today. He has been climbing in Auyuittuq National Park for almost 10 days now, the same park we will be trekking through tomorrow. Delano looks absolutely exhausted, but he tells me that the hard work is worth the spectacular view.

I'm off to sleep early—tomorrow will be an intense 18 km trek to the base of Mt. Odin in Auyuittuq. I will need my strength. Odin willing, I will get it.

By Daniel Puiatti

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Aug. 12, 2013, 2:25 p.m.

Team Baffin: Exploring "Pang" and Its Natural Treasures

Pangnirtung lies just south of the Arctic Circle on Baffin Island. With a population of 1,300 people and covering an area of just 7.4 square kilometres, it’s a small municipality surrounded on all sides by huge beauty.

The town boasts a couple of large stores that sell everything from food to clothes to furniture, and is connected by a network of dirt roads. Children play outside until the wee hours when their infectious giggles and chatter are replaced by the squawks of giant ravens. Belugas and orcas are sometimes seen in the harbour; on occasion a polar bear wanders into town. Pangnirtung is flanked by the towering peaks of mountains and at the far end of the fjord lies the entrance to Auyuittuq National Park, one of Canada’s greatest treasures.

Pang, as it’s known to everyone who lives there and, eventually, by everyone who visits, is a popular destination with researchers and scientists, trekkers and photographers, wildlife buffs and Inuit art collectors—and anyone with an appreciation for clean air and natural perfection.

For us, Pang is our way to Auyuittuq, but after one evening spent wandering around the old Hudson’s Bay Company Blubber Station, visiting the interpretative centre and just chilling to the town’s vibe, we’ve already fallen in love with this special Arctic hamlet.

Words and Photo by Simon Vaughan 

Aug. 12, 2013, 10:11 a.m.

Team Baffin: A Lesson in Polar Bear Safety

Many people have a bucket list of things they want to do before dying. I have several. I have one bucket list for activities, one for places to visit, and one, believe it or not, for wildlife I want to see. Near the very top of that list is the polar bear. Tonight, I am in the realm of the beast, but I’ve suddenly gotten cold feet, and not just because it’s 1C out here.

Pangnirtung on Baffin Island sits just south of the Arctic Circle and is the starting point for visits to Auyuittuq National Park. We’ll be spending the next few days hiking and camping in the park, gazing at crater lakes and moraines, waterfalls and towering snow-capped peaks—and crossing the Arctic Circle. Before we can set off on the one hour boat trip to our drop-off point at Overlord, we had to register at the Parks Canada office in town, and while there, meet our guide Billy. Oh, and attend a polar bear safety briefing. 

As I said, I have long wanted to see one of the majestic beasts in the wild. Their sheer size, graceful gait, power and authority are all compelling. The fact that they are also one of the most serious of predators on earth cap them off perfectly. If I was in a tundra buggy, aboard a nice boat, or even a fast sea kayak, I’d be absolutely over the moon to see one. But for the next few days I am on foot and sleeping under canvas.

The safety briefing tended to suggest that the best way to avoid a confrontation is to avoid any contact with a polar bear at all. Make enough noise, and they’ll probably be more than happy to avoid you. But, if they don’t hear you coming, you have to determine whether they’re being inquisitive, predatory, or wanting to send your carcass to the local taxidermist.

Polar bears do wander into town occasionally and they are seen in the park, but Billy told us that none have done so recently. Which means that my fear of encountering one over the next few days will likely morph into regret of having not seen one at all.

By Simon Vaughan

Photo courtesy of the Government of Canada

 

Aug. 8, 2013, 11:48 a.m.

Team Baffin: We're off to Pangnirtung

It is our third day in Nunavut and we leave Iqaluit more eager than ever.

We board a roaring dual rotor First Air plane; there are about 16 seats in total. 

I have heard that only the most experienced of Arctic pilots fly in and out of Pangnirtung and I’m about to see why. 

Once again, we are aerial above the tundra, and once again the landscape is strange and incredible: endless blue, green, and white. Even the inside of the plane mimics the colour scheme. The flight attendant hands me a moist towelette and a local newspaper. A composite sketch of what looks like Sasquatch is on the cover. Apparently police want him for questioning. 

Our plane begins descent into Pangnirtung Airport. It is turbulent and people begin to applaud when we touch down.

Almost immediately upon disembarking, an exuberent man walks up to us asking, "Are you going to the lodge? Are you going to the lodge? Are you going to the lodge?"

This is Louis. He runs the lodge and almost every aspect of its functioning is administered by him. And he’s a damn fine cook.

As we tour Pangnirtung, I realize that nature is the supreme architect. 

We visit the co-op to pick up some last minute supplies before our trek into the park.

I turn in early. I need my rest for tomorrow 

By Daniel Puiatti

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Aug. 8, 2013, 10:55 a.m.

Team Baffin: Are Nunavut Mosquitoes Friendlier?

On the edges of Iqaluit Airport, there are five aircraft hangars used by the Royal Canadian Air Force to house CF-18s when conducting tests and training. The CF-18 is a large beast that makes a great deal of noise and packs a mighty wallop. Not unlike Iqaluit’s mosquitoes.

The mosquitoes arrived here about two weeks ago and they are hungry. And big. These are serious mossies. They aren’t the soft mossies that nag us while we sip beer on patios on in the summer. No, these guys take “adult-sized” bites out of your flesh. 

My first encounter with a Nunavut mossie comes the moment I step out of the First Air 737 and descend the stairs to the tarmac. It lands on my cheek. It may have been saying “hello,” like the guys in grass skirts who welcome you to South Pacific islands with floral leis. Remarkably, the bugger doesn’t bite.

As we make our way around town, the welcoming committee follows. As loud as chainsaws, they show us all the highlights and give us a bit of history. And they still weren’t biting. Are Nunavut bugs more hospitable than others?

Now, not for one moment do I want to become complacent. I have good mossie years and bad mossie years. The former is much rarer than the latter. Hopefully this is a good mossie year.

Either way, I shall be lathering on the repellent and possibly do a wind dance as we head out to see more of Iqaluit today.

By Simon Vaughan

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Aug. 7, 2013, 1:20 p.m.

Team Baffin: An All Terrain Adventure

Today we’re ATV-ing across the tundra with Arctic Kingdom

We meet Brian Beitz, 19, who will be our guide for this incredible adventure. Brian is originally from B.C. and is studying adventure tourism. Young, quiet, and an exceptional ATV pilot, he has a permanent grin plastered across his face. 

After a quick tutorial (this button makes the ATV go; this one makes it stop; don't press this one), we are off, tearing across this barren, alien like landscape, chasing a never-ending horizon.

We stop for a moment to take some photos and I notice giant shell casings scattered around an old fire. They are .338, likely for bears.

As we move deeper and deeper into the park, the terrain becomes more chaotic: deep pools of mud, jagged rock features, and nearly vertical inclines. The mud forces us to winch, the rock forces us to move slowly, and the inclines test our mettle. We manage just fine.

Words and Photo by Daniel Puiatti

Aug. 7, 2013, 9:54 a.m.

Team Baffin: The Beasts of Frobisher Bay

I saw my first muskox last night.

Albeit on a menu in the restaurant we chose for dinner here in Iqaluit, but unfortunately by the time I came to order it had got away. It’s a common occurrence—not muskoxen escaping from dining rooms overlooking Frobisher Bay—but food, and many other supplies, running out or becoming hard to get.

The majority of supplies are brought in to the city on enormous ships once the ice clears in July or August. The ships moor out in the bay where they are met by barges which carry the highly-desired goods to the city’s 8,000 people. If the ice conditions are bad, sometimes the ships don’t get in until September. In good years it could be as early as June.

After a long winter, there are some things that are hard to come by, but the situation never gets desperate unless you want diet cola and all that’s left is the grapefruit stuff. As for the muskox, that’s a more time-honoured example of supply and demand. Muskoxen go where the good grazing is. That could be on the edges of Frobisher Bay; it could be land miles away, accessible only by ATV or boat; it could be not at all.

Although there was no muskox in the restaurant last night, I am assured that there's plenty of it around, and I am further guaranteed to have a sample later in our travels...and maybe even some caribou too!

By Simon Vaughan

Photo courtesy of Government of Yukon 

Aug. 6, 2013, 11:05 a.m.

Team Baffin: Meeting A True Man of the North

After meeting our contact from Nunavut at the Frobisher Inn in Iqaluit, we’re told to rendezvous with local town expert Blondie, who is taking our team to various vantage points around the city.

Blondie has a penchant for riding Harley's and a firm handshake. Simply put: he’s awesome. 

Originally from small town Quebec, Blondie has been living in Nunavut for 20 years. He came to practice his English, but his love of the outdoors and free spirited nature were exceptionally suited to life in Nunavut—and so he stayed. 

Having a guide like Blondie offers certain undeniable advantages. For one, he knows everyone and everything that happens in this town. Being a natural skeptic I had to test him, so I start pointing to random buildings. 

"That one is AC/DC, the Arctic Circle Dentist Clinic. This one is the Coke factory, only one in a town of less than 10,000. That one is Nakasuk, the school, which I think translates to bladder. That road over there, that's the road to nowhere, we can't have a sign, as soon as it goes up it disappears."

As we exit the town, Blondie takes us up to an abandoned cold war military base with a spectacular view of Iqaluit on one side and the vast barren tundra on the other. 

"Listen, do you hear anything?" he says.

"No, nothing," I respond.

"Exactly," he says. 

Blondie hands me a Fresca, and we stand there in total silence, gazing off into infinity.

I can see why he stayed. 

Words and Photo by Daniel Puiatti 

Aug. 6, 2013, 10:29 a.m.

Team Baffin: Flying to the Great Beyond

For explorers like myself, departing from Ottawa, a right turn and a three-hour flight puts you in Florida—but a left turn and three hours in the air puts you in Iqaluit, capital of Nunavut.

Both are lapped by blue waters and boast pristine beaches, but that’s where the similarities end.

I left Ottawa early in the morning and was soon soaring above the clouds over northern Quebec. With Hudson Bay occasionally visible on one side and an endless vista of lakes and trees on the other, the clouds suddenly cleared as we crossed Hudson Strait. 

And the timing couldn’t have been better: beneath us stretched a perfect blue expanse dotted with icebergs. Explorers of an earlier age had sailed the strait seeking the Northwest Passage, but I was here for my own brand of exploration, discovering the heart of Nunavut: Canada’s northern-most territory.

I continued across the southern coast of Baffin Island and surveyed a land of rolling rock, gouged by glaciers, pockmarked by scratches of snow, streaked with winding rivers—some still ice-choked even in August—and decorated with breathtaking lakes painted in greens and blues.

Then Iqaluit appeared off the starboard side, a cluster of multicoloured buildings perched on rocky hillsides, tumbling down to the shores of Frobisher Bay, all illuminated by bright sunshine and clear skies that snapped the yellow-and-white Inukshuk territorial flag.

By Simon Vaughan

Photo by Daniel Puiatti

Aug. 5, 2013, 2:22 p.m.

Team Baffin: A Thousand Glimmering Pools

After rendezvousing with my teammate Simon Vaughan at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport we are finally en route to Nunavut, in Canada’s north.

As I gaze out the window at the landscape below, I am overcome with a profound feeling of awe. These landscapes are unlike anything I have ever seen; unlike anything I could have ever imagined.

The land seems to stretch toward an infinite horizon—scattered everywhere are thousands of glimmering pools, reflecting the sky nearly to perfection, almost as if someone had shattered a mirror into endless fragments across the tundra. It is simply breathtaking.

And yet I have still only sampled the beauty of this landscape.

Words and photo by Daniel Puiatti 

Aug. 5, 2013, 1:09 p.m.