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Adventure Arctic
Text Fred Vnoucek + e-reisewelt
Photos Fred Vnoucek, Brad Parker

The Northern regions of our globe - from the ice of the North Pole, the Russian Far East, the European "parts" of Greenland and Spitzbergen to the Canadian North - are that area which we describe as " the Arctic" . The first part of our travelogue leads us to the "high North" of America - the Canadian Arctic which reaches from the Yukon via the Northwest Territories and Manitoba to the newly established Inuit Territory Nunavut.

Every journey to Arctic regions needs thorough planning as well as answering the most important question: "What do I expect from a visit to the Arctic?" Tundra, snow, ice, icebergs, wild animals like polar bears, walrusses, whales and many more. The diversity of species is enormous. Though it is a rough region with little scope for romanticism due to lack of knowledge. Scarcely infrastructure, sudden changes of weather conditions, limited supply of essential goods and the next doctor is several hours away. The answer to these questions is to work together with a reliable operator and outfitter who is acquainted with the area, copes with every situation and can provide information, advice and equipment. It is important to choose the right time for travelling because not every event (polar bear migration) or species is around all over the year. This information also needs expert counselling.



For the first time our little group enters Arctic ground at the airport of Iqaluit - capital city of Nunavut Territory. Iqaluit connects Nunavut with "civilization" . Visitors spread themselves among different prop airliners, which reach even the most remote communities. Our flight leads to Pond Inlet which is situated at the North coast of Baffin Island. It is at the beginning of June, the ice starts to melt but it is still possible to use the sleds. The experienced Inuit drivers handle their snow mobiles excellently and draw the heavy slides carrying equipment and visitors right to the ice edge. Here, at the Floe Edge - already on open water - ends the sheet of ice and open water begins. Our tents are built within a respectable distance towards the edge. They will be displaced backwards nearly every day as the beginning summer and therefore 24 hours of solar radiation take its toll. It is the time and the location to watch beluga and narwhales. These mammals use the breaking ice in order to reach the nourishing coastal waters. We spend several hours at the ice edge by watching and photographing whales. Beluga and narwhales are "regulars" . Highlights are the appearance of orcas ("killer whales" ) or the "king of the Arctic" , the polar bears. More than once our Inuit friends had to scare off curious bears by starting the snow mobiles or delivering a warning shot. As there is 24 hours of daylight we only go to sleep when we are tired and activities permit it. We are living in spacious tents, warm sleeping bags are provided. Meals are taken in a separate tent and a hole in the ice with a windbreak around serves as a toilet. A stay at the Floe Edge is worth every strain and upon return to Pond Inlet a hotel with comfortable beds and a hot shower is waiting for us.



It is July and again a small group of Arctic enthusiasts are on tour. The destination is Igloolik, a small Inuit settlement located on an island in the Foxe Basin. There are 2 hotels in town. But we are leaving the little settlement behind and head towards a camp which is located very close to the drifting ice. Plain cabins serve as our accommodation for the next days. There is no shower facility but a comfortable main cabin where it is warm and we take our meals.

We patrol with small zodiacs along the ice edge. There are a lot of walrusses we can watch. They huddle together in small family groups on the ice floe. Bowhead whales pass by slowly and sometimes when you are lucky you can watch polar bears which jump from ice floe to ice floe always in search of something delicious to eat. On Manning Island which is located far out in the Foxe Basin polar bears frequently hunt for walrus. Unfortunately we are not lucky to see one. A documentarian who lived on the island for 2 weeks tells us fascinating adventure stories. But this shows that the Arctic is no zoo and wild animals seldom act as visitors would like them to do. The experience value and the diversity of species are enormous. In July there is always daylight and nature as well as wildlife determine our activities.



Our next "Arctic visit" takes place at the end of October. Departing from Winnipeg we are flying to the little village of Churchill which is located at the Hudson Bay. Churchill itself claims to be the "capital city of polar bears" and indeed it is! During October and November each year there is a huge gathering of polar bears waiting for the Hudson Bay to freeze up. For the bears it means the end of a starving period and they can start hunting for seals their favourite meal. Beforehand they roam the streets in and around Churchill. The local people barricade their homes and the "Polar Bear Patrol" is very busy. Cheeky bears will be anaesthetised and transported away by helicopter. In Churchill there are a lot of Motels and respective infrastructure. It is possible to go on day tours with the "Tundra Buggys" in order to watch the bears and many other animals. We decide to leave the village and visit the mobile Lodge at Cape Churchill. The Lodge is like a train and will be moved to convenient spots at the beginning of the season. The waggons are all securely linked with each other. There is a catering waggon, a sleeping waggon with shower and toilet facilities and viewing platforms on each side. Due to the delicious kitchen smells a lot of bears roam near the Lodge. The visitor can decide each day either to stay at the Lodge or to drive around in a buggy. Around this time of the year you can already see northern lights (Aurora Borealis). The arrival of the bears can be pinpointed more or less within a range of 10 days and on peak days we have seen 60 different polar bears. One of the highlights is to watch adolescent polar bears (so called bachelors) boxing in front of the lodge guests. Whoever wants to see Churchill and the polar bear spectacle from the air can book a helicopter flight. In Churchill there is a helicopter company which offers flights at different lengths. We booked a flight for half a day including several landings. These hours counted among the most unforgettable experiences in the Canadian North.

The next part of this travelogue will lead us to the volcanoes of Kamchatka and to the bears and salmon of Alaska.

Information:

Churchill
The first humans settled around 1700 B.C. Already at that time they spent the summer in the area around Churchill and the winter hunting on the ice. Tracks point to cultural live with shamans which developed around 600 B.C. Humans called Dorset used kayaks as a means of transport and hunted seals, whales and walrus with harpoons.
Since 1000 A.D. this tribe was replaced by the Thule which are the ancestors of the Inuit. Over the time different groups developed, the Inuit in the North, the Dene in the West and the Cree in the South. Around 50% of the current inhabitants of Churchill are members of these "First Nations" .
Europeans arrived around 1600 in order to trade fur and search for the North-West-Passage. A new population group, the Metis, emerged. They are descendents of residents and Europeans.

Iqaluit
Capital city of Nunavut Territory which was founded in 1999 after long negotiations between the Canadian government and the Inuit. Nunavut is the youngest Canadian territory. Iqaluit formerly called Frobisher Bay after Martin Frobisher who discovered this bay in 1576 during his search for the North-West-Passage. Not until 1861 it was Charles Francis Hall who detected that Frobisher Bay is only a bay and not the North-West-Passage.
Around 1900 commercial whaling started and people, ships and trade came to Frobisher Bay. In 1900 the whaling industry breaks down and fur-trade becomes more important. Both the Catholic and Anglican church evangelised. In 1914 the Hudson Bay Company opened a trading post around 40 miles from Iqaluit and expanded quickly. But the fur-trade breaks down in 1930 and trade and industry recover very slowly over the years. During the Second World War the US Air Force opened a base which existed until 1963. Not until 1980 when the Canadian government sent doctors, teachers and government employees to Frobisher Bay the Inuit began to settle permanently. In 1987 Frobisher Bay becomes officially Iqaluit.

Igloolik ("location with houses")
Igloolik which is located on a small island within the Foxe Basin is the cultural centre of Nunavut. There are archeological excavations at sites which are more than 4000 years old and reveal examples of the Dorset and Thule cultures.
Huge populations of walrus, seals, whales, polar bears, caribous, fish and birds form the basis for a traditional hunting community.
The darkness of the winter is followed by the "Return of the Sun Festival" which is organised every year in the middle of January by the Inullariit Society in order to celebrate the return of the sunlight. This celebration is rich in Inuit symbolism, traditional games and costumes.

Touristic Attractions:
The arctic coast and the islands of Nunavut with its cliffy fjords, tundra landscape and glaciers is a unique nature highlight. From Auyuittuq National Park you reach Baffin Island where the rugged arctic landscape in its most beautiful form can be admired. For tours in this rough and inhospitable land it is best to engage a local outfitter (provides guides and equipment) or book a package tour.
In Iqaluit you can book dog sledding tours with Inuit guides and an overnight stay in an igloo. Pond Inlet or Arctic Bay are popular destinations for visiting the pack-ice edge and watch arctic mammals. On a visit to Cambridge Bay on Victoria island you can either watch musk ox and tundra swans in their natural habitat or go on a arctic cruise in the North-West Passage.
In Sila Lodge there is a summer shelter for polar bears and near Arctic Watch Beluga whales are often seen.

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