Hit the Road: Arctic adventure takes unexpected turn

Hit the Road: Arctic adventure takes unexpected turn
Travelers on Adventure Canada’s “Heart of the Arctic” tour board the Ocean Endeavor just off the coast of Kangiqsualujjuac in northern Quebec. The 1982 converted Russian ferry was a welcome sight after a long, cold and wet trip that began in Ottawa many hours before. Photo by Jerry Ondash

Patience, flexibility and open-mindedness. 

Don’t leave home without these if you travel in the Arctic because no matter what the plans, they’ll change.

The locals in Kangiqsualujjuac helped move luggage to the Ocean Endeavor with their emergency rescue boat. The rest of the luggage was transported by Zodiac rafts, after 180 passengers had made the hour-plus raft trip to the ship. Photo by Dawn Bazely

Blame it on the ice, say those who know the territory; accommodating its fickle ways gives new meaning to “go with the flow.”  

We learned this on a trip to Northern Quebec, Baffin Island and Greenland with Adventure Canada during the last half of July. The 13-day “Heart of the Arctic” voyage on the Ocean Endeavor, a converted Russian ferry, took us to uninhabited islands, archeological sites and Inuit communities to learn about the wildlife, culture, and the human and natural history at the top of the globe.  

The original itinerary started with an easy two-and-a-half-hour flight from Ottawa to Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, Canada’s newest territory as of 1999. Here we were to meet the ship with an easy embarkation, but “when you travel in the Arctic, don’t expect everything to go smoothly,” expedition leader Matthew James Swan explained at the pre-trip briefing.

This proved to be true.

We learned that Frobisher Bay, on which Iqaluit sits, was jammed with ice. That meant re-routing a 12-ton ship, 200-plus people and all their luggage with only two days to make the arrangements in a largely uninhabited part of the world. Knowing the possibilities, the Adventure Canada staff began checking the ice charts in June, explained Alana Swan Faber, Adventure Canada’s vice president and person responsible for executing Plan Bs. “Then seven days out, we began discussing the options with the captain. The (option of last resort) was doing the trip in reverse. That would’ve been a nightmare.”

Four days out, Faber began getting quotes from alternate airlines. Two days out, it was clear that the ice in Frobisher Bay wasn’t going anywhere, so Swan pulled the trigger on Plan B. This made Kangiqsualujjuac (“very large bay” in Inuktitut), situated on the east coast of Ungava Bay, the point at which the ship and passengers would connect.

The airport at Kangiqsualujjuac was not a planned stop on the “Heart of the Arctic” itinerary (July 17-30). Sea ice had jammed the waters near Iqaluit, the original point of embarkation and the capital of Nunavut. This welcome sign is in English, French and Inuktitut. Photo by Dawn Bazely

This meant enlisting some of the 900 townspeople in this Inuit community to help get passengers from the small airport to the water’s edge, where they’d board Zodiac rafts that would carry them to the Ocean Endeavor. 

And so, a direct flight on one plane with 200-plus people became four airplanes, two small airports, a school bus, pickup trucks, an emergency rescue boat, a dozen Zodiacs and an assortment of private cars. Putting this new itinerary together meant a lot of last-minute, round-the-clock hustling, some fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants decisions, and a knowledge of the Inuit communities. 

When our group finally reached Kangiqsualujjuac, we hitched rides on various vehicles. Our small group climbed into the bed of a pickup truck owned by a kindly local for the ride to the beach.

A backup at the Zodiac departure zone meant a detour to the tiny headquarters of Torngat National Park to wait for the crowd to thin.

We eventually piled into a tiny car belonging to another gracious local for the rest of the trip to the beach. As we finally boarded the Zodiacs, I took a photo of the 400-ish pieces of luggage and backpacks sitting on the beach, propped up against a rocky breakwater, awaiting their turn for transport to the ship. I’ll never see the picture because my cell phone got soaked during the choppy, cold and wet ride to the ship. 

Expedition leader Swan later called the “confused water” in the bay a result of tides, currents and “wicked winds,” causing conditions that “we wouldn’t normally go out in.”  But when you’re in the Arctic, you do what you have to do.

Next: Inuit communities in the Arctic.

For more information, visit http://www.adventurecanada.com/. For more photos and commentary, visit www.facebook.com/elouiseondash.   

E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at eondash@coastnewsgroup.com

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