The first week of guests had come and gone with the ever changing winds gusting across the frozen landscape. Signs of summer were slowly starting to become much more apparent. The cracks widening, patches of surface snow began to melt and the floe edge was receding bit by bit. The whole of the landscape was beginning its temporary transformation. As everything was changing around us, routine ensued as week two began. Lay out the welcome platters and here we go again as the qamutiiks came into view on the horizon.
The beluga and narwhal were in short supply the second week, but the Arctic experience doesn’t end with them. Since wildlife was lacking slightly we took to the water for another perspective on this edge of the world. Upon taking this job I had no idea I was going to be partaking in activities such as this. When I heard there was kayaks and snorkel gear it just added another level of excitement for this adventure to begin. While the kayaks compressed to the size of a briefcase were inflated, I quickly prepared lunch so as to enjoy the afternoon. These floe edge trips were the closest time to a few hours off but more than worth it.
We climbed into our bulky survival suits, sat down and with a gentle shove we slid off the ice. I’ve kayaked in some beautiful surroundings before such as the Muskoka Lakes and the mangroves of Krabi, Thailand to name a couple. What makes it so special for me here is the serenity of the Arctic being so far from the trodden path. A place of such undiscovered beauty. We hit the water bobbing ever so slightly. An iceberg to my left, a broken ice field ahead and a polar bear swimming to the right. Taking the first strokes of the paddles we headed for the ice field to somewhat hide and observe the bear. Before too long it was up on a large ice mass and hightailing it out of sight. We slowly weaved through the maze of floating debris towards the iceberg. I wanted to get up close and personal again. I was fascinated with its sheer size, the sharpness of its edges, the blue hue it emanates, it’s reflection in the still waters that surround it. It was simply captivating to be floating around its edges disturbing the odd fulmar (seabird).
We got back to ‘land’, or ice I guess and it was time to refuel on some snacks and warm up. I saw the snorkel gear out and I knew what I was doing next. I squeezed into a skin tight dry suit, probably the tightest thing I’ve ever worn almost choking off my airways. I went to the edge for a ‘Nestea plunge’ from the commercials except I didn’t exactly need refreshing. I knew they kept you dry hence the name but I was surprised at how my level of warmth was barely deteriorating. The only sense of cold is a chill on the face and a pin prickle sensation along the lips. I swam along the floe edge looking at the formation of the blue ice, the sharp edges and smooth curves for about 20 minutes. My gloves had leaked and the feeling in the tips of my fingers was virtually nonexistent although the rest of me still perfectly warm. I was hoping the seal that had been checking us out all afternoon would come by for a visit, but didn’t want to play, I suppose. Diving in this part of the world would be interesting to really see what is below that ice.
It was the third and last week, the final day at the floe edge and the most memorable to date. As we approached the fresh floe edge that overnight had broken away, narwhal were floating on the surface true to their old name, ‘corpse whale’. Stopping a ways from the edge, everyone creeped up so as to limit the noise on the ice. A solid four hour display of hundreds of narwhal relaxing, diving below the ice to feed. Then minutes later breach only feet in front of us, some displaying their unicorn like ivory tusk. I remember at one point I was still unaware of the existence of these mysterious marine mammals and now I had the privilege to watch them on their great migration through the Northwest Passage. As soon as the chance presented itself I jumped in a kayak to go on a bit of a solo mission. I sat in the slow drift relaxing in the absolute tranquility of my surroundings, narwhal breaching their communication sounds symphonic.
I knew my time here was coming to an end, so I sat in my kayak for an extended period of time reflecting on this experience. Remembering the memories in this open and unobstructed land, the people I have met who I’m happy to now call friends. In a mere day camp was disassembled and soon I’d be back on real land for the first time in 3.5 weeks. Riding on top of mattresses through the mass of puddles formed of melted surface snow made for a wet and unforgettable last ride on the ice. Everything strategically packed into two sea cans until next year’s expedition, which with any luck I’ll be on.
Have you ever been above the Arctic Circle? Tell me your experience!