7:00am… I woke up same as always. Cold clothes on, meandered over to my choice pee hole closest to the lounge and into the kitchen to begin the breakfast routine. Coffee on, hot water on, kerosene heater in the lounge on and then the start of breakfast. Today was different though, it was going to be a day full of firsts, unforgettable firsts. Memories etched into the forefront of my mind and yet I still had no idea what to expect. I knew what was potentially out there, but not what these eyes would take in this day. I guess that’s the gamble with wildlife. You can be in a prime location, with the best guides and equipment, but still have a long and fruitless day. Regardless of the sightings the adrenaline stays with you all day knowing that at any moment something could breach the water’s surface or show itself on the horizon. To the floe edge we go…
I packed up snacks, lunch, thermoses, equipment and got geared up myself for the ride. Iglootuks loaded, the tug of the snowmobile and camp slowly drifted behind us into the distance as the ice berg drew nearer. Seen on the horizon from camp, yet still an hour away at only 30 kilometers an hour while loaded with guests and gear, we closed in on the mammoth ice boulder and the crossing of our first crack. The sheer size of an iceberg is only truly known once standing right beside one and to think 90 percent of its mass or so is under the surface. I took advantage of the temporary stop to approach, jump a slight gap and touch the iceberg where of course I had to rip an icicle off. The cleanest water I’ve ever had.
The first crack crossing seems miniscule in hindsight. Only a couple feet wide, as the ice slowly retreats with summer temperatures becoming more and more apparent these would stretch to over a couple meters. Overtime the currents and temperature would shift the melting sea ice causing it to break away from the land in which it grasped on either side of the inlet sending the ice mass floating. This happened behind camp only a few years back leaving the camp floating astray on an island of ice. This scenario while not ideal, did seem interesting. The guides would test the ice at the edge of the crack, while we pushed the qamutiiks towards the precipice tossing the tow rope over. In a burst of speed they would hydroplane over the water like skipping a rock, then retrieve the rope, pull the quomatiik and continue on. All acting like it wasn’t one of the most badass forms of transit I’ve ever been on.
Coming to a random stop, I was left curious for a moment. Shortly after through the whisper train from sled to sled there was a polar bear on the horizon. I never had binoculars so instead I would borrow a rifle and observe through the scope. My first encounter with this majestic king of the north. Although brief I honed in watching, head held high smelling the air, it was more than aware of our presence. Before too long it was running away from us as a possible threat. At only a glimpse through the lens they seemed wise, cautious and peaceful. This just my first of many encounters of an animal I never pictured seeing in its natural habitat. Seal dotted the landscape in every direction resting within reach of their breathing hole for a quick escape if anything came to close for comfort.
The water was in sight as we pulled up along the floe edge and set up shop. Within minutes there was a pop up toilet tent and ‘kitchen’ tent for me to cook containing folding tables and Coleman burners. Don’t need much more when doing simple, good, warming lunches. The chairs came out and thus began what would be called the ‘waiting game’ in whale watching. While everyone got comfortable I set up a coffee/tea station, snack table with trail mix, dried/fresh fruits, granola bars and began preparing some eats. I thought I’d cooked in some interesting locations before but this takes the cake. Heating up some hearty split pea soup with shredded ham hock and grilling ham and swiss sandwiches while standing on ice looking out at the Arctic Ocean. An incredible experience as both a chef and traveller.
The day was coming to an end and so far only a tease. About mid-afternoon a single Beluga whale breached once directly in front of us. Where there is one there is others is what we were told but unfortunately wildlife cannot be predicted. Packing up, almost loaded to head back to camp for dinner the guides heard a low moan in the distance. Sure enough with their near spider senses when it comes to hearing and sight a huge pod of Belugas was only a couple miles down the floe edge. Dozens breaching the surface, the stark white backs gleaming in the strong sun with the odd grey calf swimming alongside their mothers. We all watched in awe for the two hours, never breaking eye contact with the surface trying to predict where they would breach next. Slowly the parade of whales dwindled out as they swam off into the sunset while we were camp bound, smiles all around. The adrenaline and excitement buzzed throughout the group still amazed by what just unfolded in front of us.
This was only the first of many floe edge trips while some of the best were yet to come…