High Arctic

Day 1: Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Location:
Resolute Bay


Fact:

Time: 0600
Position: 74*00’N 94*00’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1014 mb
Air Temperature: +3*C
Water Temperature: +2*C
Wind speed and Direction: 3 knots from 295*


After our first night aboard Akademik Ioffe, we arose to discover that visibility had increased overnight to almost half a kilometer from near zero when we landed at Resolute yesterday. Some passengers had to take a second flight that was delayed more than our charter flight by further deterioration of the weather. Accordingly, passengers were offered the opportunity to go ashore in two groups via zodiacs during the morning, in response to the news that the arrival for this second flight would be no earlier then 3 pm. After being introduced to protocols for gearing up in the mudroom, as well as to safety procedures for travel by Zodiac, we had an opportunity to apply a multitude of new but essential procedures: wearing appropriate cold-weather clothing, donning gumboots in the mudroom, disembarkation via the gangway as well as on shore.

Our complement of nearly 100 passengers for the morning shore visit was almost equally divided, with one group being taken to a Dorset/Thule site west of Resolute, and the other landing east of Resolute to view birds, plant life and geology. While on land, radio notification was received to indicate expectation of a 3 pm landing for the delayed flight. The two excursions gave us a taste of what lies ahead: typical polar tundra landscapes with raised shingle beaches littered with large blocks of dolostone and limestone representative of nearby strata of Proterozoic and Paleozoic age. Those visiting the far north for the first time were overwhelmed by the diversity of plant life, including biofim coatings on dessicated ponds, black to brilliant orange lichens, domes of moss campion, clusters of arctic poppies, isolated blooms of saxifrage and scattered dwarf willow. Those checking ponds and the sky spotted Red-throated Loons, Short-tailed Jaegers and Glaucous Gulls. Whale and seal bones were abundant near the shore and around stone tent circles. Those with an interest in rocks found both Ordovician fossils and large domal stromatolites derived from the underlying Proterozoic strata. Shells of post-glacial age littered the raised beaches. Those who trekked to the prehistoric Inuit stone structures were additionally rewarded by the opportunity to view a reconstructed dwelling.

On our return to the ship, a lavish lunch provided us with a foretaste of gourmet meals to come. Martin provided sage advice on polar bay safety, followed by an overview by Peter of Arctic life and ecology. During these presentations, word came though that our overdue aircraft was in the air, and was scheduled to land by mid-afternoon. Zodiacs were once again launched, and the 14 latecomers were soon aboard, happy to discover that we had not departed without them. Ioffe cranked up its engines at 5pm, initiating our journey eastward into the ice-covered waters of our polar journey. Delighted to see that we were underway, passengers settled into checking the library, relaxing in the bar, or watching from the bridge as we were led though the ice by Canadian Coast Guard Icebreaker Des Groseilliers. To quote Barry Griffiths: “Let the adventure begin!”

Day 2: Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Location:
Lancaster Sound


Fact:

Time: 0600
Position: 75*35’ N 89*44’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1008 mb
Air Temperature: +*3C
Water Temperature: +3*C
Wind speed and Direction: 11 knots from 300*


With everyone aboard, a night’s cruising behind and a gentle awakening by Dutch, we found ourselves rising to a typical Arctic morning. Mist shrouded the sea while a low-set sun spilled a wan light that glowed incandescently. From the top deck, seabirds, including the elusive and enigmatic Ivory Gull, delighted those who got up early.

Following breakfast, it was into the zodiacs to visit the historic bay of Port Leopold, Sir James Clark Ross wintered here in 1848 while participating in the search for the lost Franklin expedition. The anchorage is enclosed by impressive ramparts of sedimentary rock buttressed by extensive scree slopes and ancient beach lines. As we entered the bay Black Guillemot and Black-legged Kittiwake punctuated the surface of the waters, feeding actively. An occasional Parasitic Jaeger cruised in search of likely targets. The waters teemed with tiny mollusks called Sea Butterflies. Approaching the head of the bay, the shallows suddenly came alive with roiling activity and visible exhalations – Belugas!

For the next hour, and more, we enjoyed the close company and fascinating behaviour of these enigmatic creatures. The group was made up of mothers, calves and immature animals. They cruised close inshore and made several memorable passes close to where we sat, spellbound. Why were they here? A possible explanation lay in the nature of the bay and its waters. Shallow depths, freshwater stream inflow and a gravelly foreshore provided an environment that was warm, protective and a site upon which to rub and remove molting skin.

Following our return to the ship and the enjoyment of a delicious lunch, we returned to the zodiacs for a cruise below the palisades of Prince Leopold Island. Here the ledges were crowded with thousands of breeding birds. Thick-billed Murre, Kittiwake, Fulmar and Black Guillemot were all here, accompanied by the ever – vigilant and opportunistic Glaucous Gull. The sound, aroma, and sheer volume of birds, sweeping over and around us, reinforced the bounty of these northern waters in an undisputed scene of biological abundance. Murre chicks began to drop from the ledges into the sea just before the end of our outing. The miracle of their immediate survival and the challenge of their future left us in awe. Finally, as the sun moved west, the fabric of the 260 meter high cliffs was etched in bold relief, adding drama and scale to the immense crags towering above us. It was a marvelous end to our cruise. We returned to the ship invigorated by two memorable Arctic experiences that marked our day. What a day with which to start our Arctic explorations.

Day 3: Thursday, 17 August 2006

Location:
Lancaster Sound


Fact:

Time: 0600
Position: 74*30’ N 83*19’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1003 mb
Air Temperature: +*5C
Water Temperature: +2*C
Wind speed and Direction: 5 knots from 040*


Today was a true expedition experience. With a basic plan in mind, we tweaked and twisted the schedule so that we could do even more than we had hoped. Our first tweak came with the sighting of a Polar Bear on the shore at some distance from us as we entered Croker Bay. Dutch asked Captain Poskonny to return to the bear and he approached it carefully indeed. In the meantime Dutch announced a Zodiac cruise and we disembarked as soon as we could. The bear had positioned herself defensively on the shore astride the remains of a Beluga Whale and looked uncertain about staying where she was. She looked right and left, down at the whale and then- perhaps thoughtfully- in our direction. In order to approach the shore and not disturb her, we lined up our Zodiacs and motored quietly in single file past her as she eyed the Beluga and moved tentatively over her prize. Soon she seemed startled and moved back from the whale and over the first ridge. There she waited. Some keen-eyed expeditioners spotted an Arctic Fox near the bear waiting for its share of this huge meal. Wishing to leave the bear- and the fox – to their private feast, we returned to the ship. Sighting a bear on the shore as we entered Croker Bay gave us a chance to sieze the day and get out in the Zodiacs to watch this bear protect its Beluga prize. An unexpected delight!

Then we returned to the ship and sailed to the ice face for a cruise along the glacier. On other occasions we might well have used the Zodiacs, but here we decided to use the amazing maneuverability of the ship and its high viewing platform to see the glacier face and the ice bergs up close in the bay. Very soon we saw a Polar Bear perched cumbersomely on a small floe watching- seemingly forlornly- as several Bearded Seals dived and surfaced tantalizingly close to him. As we sailed away he remained on his little bit of ice, maybe indecisive still.

Soon we sailed out of Croker Bay heading for Dundas Harbour. There we encountered not the walrus we had hoped for but rather a Canadian coastal cruiser and units of the navy and army cementing Canadian soveriegnty claims with their presence in Lancaster Sound and the Canadian Arctic in general. We enjoyed chatting with some of the officers and troops about their role in this sensitive exercise. For our part, we explored the landing area around the old RCMP outpost. When we left we sailed out of Dundas and briefly headed west so that we could leave dinner quickly to see 20 muskox on the slopes. We created a great day!

Day 4: Friday, 18 August 2006

Location:
Jones Sound


Fact:

Time: 0600
Position: 75*30’ N 78*11’ W
Barometric Pressure: mb
Air Temperature: +3*C
Water Temperature: +2*C
Wind speed and Direction: 25knots from 320*


We awoke to a brilliant morning and yet another face of the Arctic. Ahead in the distance lay Cobourg Island, home to a huge seabird colony. We tossed our morning presentations aside and went for a post-breakfast zodiac cruise along the base of the cliffs. We saw thousands of pairs of Thick-Billed Murres flying overhead. We also witnessed many young gliding into the ocean and waiting for their fathers to join them so they could begin their journey on the current toward Labrador. The sheer volume of birds was awe striking, and the ocean and sky were shining like gems in the sunlight. Once back on board we set our course for Grise Fjord, but were turned around by the volume of pack ice that we would be faced with crossing upon our return. It was an exciting prospect to get in to the settlement, but we can be sure that to be stuck there for three days would have been infinitely frustrating. We set sail directly for Greenland, and the afternoon was a blitz of educational presentations interspersed with time spent on the decks. Bob Taylor lent us his expertise on photographing things Arctic, specifically the wildlife. At the same time Stephen introduced us to the local culture of the Inuit, a culture that has managed to survive in these areas for hundreds of years depsite the harsh climate and the paucity of resources. And all the while in the background the vast talent aboard our ship was available to spot, identify, and edify any wildlife and terrain features that we passed, but the best deck time of all was Happy Hour on the bow, where hot toddies were served from a mobile bar as dancing music played from the stereo. Another terrific dinner was enjoyed by all, even as we passed a few beautifully sculptured icebergs in the distance. After dinner Margo gave her presentation on High-Angle Guiding down in the presentation room. By ten o’clock most of us were off to our berths for a well-earned rest.

Day 5: Saturday, 19 August 2006

Location:
Smith Sound


Fact:

Time: 0600
Position: 76*22’ N 75*24’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1004.8 mb
Air Temperature: +3*C
Water Temperature: +2*C
Wind speed and Direction: 12 knots from 12*


We woke up on the open ocean but fortunately we had virtually no wind and very nice, albeit cold, conditions outside. It was ideal conditions to celebrate Barry and Dee’s 45th wedding anniversary. Very soon after breakfast we encountered the southern edge of the sea ice and the captain took us very close to it so we could keep an eye open for polar bears basking in the sunshine. In fact we kept several hundred eyes peeled for bear, but they eluded us throughout the day. Seals were seen in the water in abundance and we saw the very cute little Dovekies for the first time.

In the late morning, Stephen gave us the second part of his talk on the complex and fascinating Inuit culture and legends. Then it was lunchtime and most of us headed for pasta, leaving a few staff on bear watch. David and Allan shared the bridge while rumours that Martin had ascended the mast with binoculars and kilt turned out to be a mercifully false alarm – the kilt anyway.

By the end of lunch the ship, ice and sea were all bathed in beautiful sunshine. Many of us enjoyed time on the deck, with the elusive bears merely an excuse. In the afternoon, the presentations continued. Peter informed us on the plants of this region and their techniques for survival. David was downstairs providing some tips on photography, illustrated with his images from around the world.

The sun was still shining high in the sky when Dutch announced that, after many hours of meandering along the ice edge, we had temporarily abandoned the bear search and had turned the bow towards Greenland. The destination was Thule, named by Pytheus almost 2000 years ago

Day 6: Sunday, 20 August 2006

Location:
Smith Sound


Fact:

Time: 0600
Position: 75*25’ N 69*32’ W
Barometric Pressure: 998.0 mb
Air Temperature: +5*C
Water Temperature: +2*C
Wind speed and Direction: 7 knots from 113*


The four leaf clover salad the cooks dished up for dinner seemed to work its magic: the fog cleared just as Dutch woke us. Clear above, visibility unlimted – or a KAVU day as they say in this part of the world. Stephen and David were sent to shore as our bargainers and to wake up the museum and shop owners while the rest of us tucked into a hearty breakfast. We departed for town and the ice cap hikers headed off at a swift pace behind Graham and Margo intent on touching the Greenland icecap. They had a stiff climb out of the town but the gradient eased as they crested the ridge and headed south chasing the retreating ice cap. Global warming had much to answer for as they eventually had to turn back toward the zodiacs with half a mile to go.

Town had a range of interest points for people. The museum had some great exhibits on Thule culture and Rasmussen, and of course the superette was open to satiate the retail therapy pangs some of us were having. Having slated our thirst for a cultural experience we finally managed to wrest the zodiacs from the local kids and head back to the ship for lunch. The Captain took us on a marvelous iceberg tour during the lunch period as Janet Foster was chaperoned on a filming excursion with David ‘the prop muncher’ McGonigal to film the ship moving through the ice in the gorgeous sunshine.

Ice cream buffet proved a more powerful stopping force than the staffs bear guns and laid everyone out for Dutch’s polar snooze after lunch. But it’s never enough up here and as long as Peter M is in the house the beat goes on and just as we were dozing off the call came that there were narwhal spotted off the port side competeing with protozoaic rocks for the attention of the wildlife team or the geology team. A soporific, ice cream, narwhaled calm descended over the ship as we lay down and made like the rocks before our next excursion. The Captain once again probed uncharted waters and took us in as close as possible to the entrance of Booth Sound, an untested, exploratory landing for us all. It turned out to be a bonanza of birdlife, geology and a great place for a leg stretch and kayaking. Sweeping into the landing place, Allan provided a seminar in the process: sedimentary rock being invaded by toothpaste-like material flowing between the layers. This created a spectacular sill which dominated the site. Once ashore, groups split to enjoy the unique tundra tapestry spread before us. Lush swards of grasses and willows filled the depressions, while superb tightly mounded campion occupied the wind-swept ridges. Snow Geese flew overhead accompanied by a squadron of Red-throated Loon. As the gropus returned to the beach, a flotilla of Long-tailed Duck floated offshore, set against the stunning panorama of Booth Sound and the amazing “sugar loaf” of Clarence Rock sitting dominating the mouth of the bay. We bounced our way back to the ship in some big swell and made it in time for a fabulous carvery buffet. David provided an entertaining reading in the bar before we all turned in quite replete with our day in the Arctic

Day 7: Monday, 21 August 2006

Location:
Pitugfik Glacier


Fact:

Time: 0600
Position: 76*09’ N 69*35’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1002.0 mb
Air Temperature: +3*C
Water Temperature: +2*C
Wind Speed and Direction: 1 knots from 15*


We awoke to the thickest fog encountered to date on our polar adventure, but just before breakfast were rewarded by glimpses of a rugged coastline on the port side of the ship. The Zodiacs were launched, and we set off into the ethereal fog, following the shore southward past striking cliffs of intricately folded black and grey gneiss intruded by a large pluton of diorite, a crystalline igneous rock rendered blocky by abundant joints. Birdlife included Glaucous Gulls, Murres, one Gyrfalcon and a Raven. On rounding a prominent point in moderate swells to enter a large bay, we were treated to impressive views of Pitugfik Getscher, a tidewater glacier that provides a constant supply to Iceberg Alley. Some were treated to displays of calving along the sheer ice front that rises as much as 25 meters above the sea, but radio messages soon drew us landward to view Arctic fox, plus several Muskox grazing behind a lateral moraine bordering the northern rock face of Pitugfik’s U-shaped valley. A shore landing permitted many to get within 100 meters of one Muskox, allowing acquisition of many great photos. On return to the ship, occupants of several Zodiacs and our fleet of kayaks were able to approach within 15 meters of two ringed seals riding on bergy bits.

In the afternoon, we cruised offshore among large icebergs, overwhelmed by the remarkable range of shapes and surface patterns created by erosional sculpting, gloriously enhanced by sunlight, shadows and reflections across a gently rippled sea. Our Captain circumnavigated the most spectacular ones, and then set course southwestward across Baffin Bay, bidding farewell to Greenland. In anticipation of our return to Canada, we polished off the afternoon with a deckside party attended by folks in polar beachwear, followed by a sumptuous barbeque!

Day 8: Tuesday, 22 August 2006


Fact:

Time:
Position: 76*09’ N 69*35’ W
Barometric Pressure: mb
Air Temperature: +*C
Water Temperature: +*C
Wind Speed and Direction: knots from *


How fitting that we should have Loren Eisley’s wonderful thoughts on water- fabulous water- setting the leitmotif for this review of our day’s activities. We saw plenty of it in solid as well as liquid form.

We began today with a chilly crossing from Greenland past Cape Graham Moore. The string of huge Greenlandic icebergs reminded us of the powerful currents moving along the Greenland coast from south to north where they cross over on the current that then takes them south down the Baffin coast past New Foundland. Moving into Eclipse Sound we saw a polar bear on the shore and admired the many glaciers coming down from Bylot Island into the sound. In our presentations we heard about the ill-fated Franklin expedition from Scottie, while Martin edified us in the identification of whales at sea.

Upon approaching Pond Inlet we readied ourselves for our landing and for a visit into the town. As we began the landing it became clear that the surf at the beach was high enough to warrant our bringing the Zodiacs in stern first in order to avoid excessive water on board. Staff members were in the water in their waders wrestling with the Zodiacs to spin them around as they approached the shore. Once on dry ground we were off to visit the community centre one group at a time to witness the cultural event while the other group headed for the Co-op. There we were able to look at carvings from local artists and visit the post office as well as the local grocery store. We were all impressed at the cultural center with the enthusiasm and skill of the of the young and older performers and with the variety and complexty of the Inuit performance arts. The two groups swapped places midway through so that everybody had a chance to participate. We returned wet and tired to the ship, having gotten splashed on our way back to the ship. An amazing dinner was waiting for us as the final cap to our terrific day.

Day 9: Wednesday, 23 August 2006

Location:
Lancaster Sound


Fact:

Time:
Position: 76*09’ N 69*35’ W
Barometric Pressure: mb
Air Temperature: +*C
Water Temperature: +*C
Wind Speed and Direction: knots from *


Today was the extra excursion we picked up by leaving Greenland a few hours early. We awoke to reasonably strong winds that were slowing our progress down so we weren’t to reach Maxwell Bay until late afternoon. But that was okay – breakfast was put back to the much-more-civilised hour of 8 am. Then we had a full morning of presentations as Bob gave a talk on polar bears and Peter spoke about the background and future of Nunavut. After lunch, Scott gave us some more background on tomorrow’s intended landing on Beechey Island as he detailed the astonishing feats of Dr John Rae who first found the true fate of the Franklin Expedition.

Meanwhile, David was taking those who wished to do a full tour of the ship, including the engine room, through some back ground on the vessel before Stephen took one group and David and Hayley took the other. Keeping things moving, our newly accomplished artists were setting up their art show in the dining room. About the time these tours and talks finished, Dutch announced from the bridge that a bear had been seen on a kill by the shore. In the next few astonishing minutes he relayed that there was not one bear but two, three, four, five, six – and finally seven bears, visible along the shore. So we all did a quick change and appeared at the gangway as the Zodiacs went over the side. The bear on the kill was huge and let us watch him as he promenaded along the shore. After we all had good chances to photograph him in all profiles, he led us to a walrus right at the water’s edge. Again, this creature posed majestically before taking to the water.

At this stage the Zodiacs split up. Some stayed to observe the walrus in the water, some returned to the bears and some went over to investigate large number of birds – mainly Kittiwakes and Fulmars but with some Ivory Gulls and Murres amongst them- in a feeding frenzy on squid. Hayley and David ventured furthest into the head of the bay and were rewarded with a very clear sighting of an Arctic Fox, just going through his colour change.

On the way back to the ship, everyone was appreciating the brilliant sun shining out of the blue sky and casting the beautiful cliffs into stark relief. There was time to visit the walrus again and most of us had a chance to see that the bear had returned to his meal. It was a joyful time at dinner as we prepared for our last full day in the Arctic.

Day 10: Thursday, 24 August 2006

Location:
Beechey Island


Fact:

Time:
Position: 76*09’ N 69*35’ W
Barometric Pressure: mb
Air Temperature: +*C
Water Temperature: +*C
Wind Speed and Direction: knots from *


In keeping with the style of our voyage, today was packed with excursions and a presentation even as we organized ourselves in finalizing the trip’s accounting details. Coswell Tower loomed above our first landing site, a sentinel in an otherwise relatively plateaued landscape. We were amazed at what lay on shore for us: not just the Thule sites that were quite well preserved, but also a surrounding area rich in plant matter, particularly moss, and correspondingly interesting sedimentary features in the landscape.

No sooner had we returned and had our lunch than it was time for the last excursion of our trip: Beechey Island. For two days now we had watched as the landscape metamorphosed into long, horizontal sedimentary cliffs, homogeneous in nature and reminiscent of the canyonlands of Utah. Beechey was the culmination of the advancement of this barrenness into complete and dramatic starkness. We could not help but to feel the vast emptiness of the site, and the weather cooperated in this realm by providing a cloudy blanket overhead combined with a noticeable wind offshore. The word “bleak” sprang into our miinds as we arrived at the famous Arctic graveyard. For many of us the story we had been hearing aobut since childhood came vividly to life before our eyes. Back from our last excursion, we wasted no time getting a hot mug of liquid into our wind-swept bodies. While in the lounge we partook of the settling of our onboard accounts and all of the attendant details, including a passenger address list so we can contact new-found friends and colleagues off the ship. Concurrent with this, Dutch ran the voyage recap in the presentation room where we got to see a photo collage of our successful journey.

The Captain’s dinner capped it all off. Not only did we enjoy our last evening of food and drink together, but we got to hear a speech from the Captain of the Akademik Ioffe as well as from our entertaining Ice Pilot. Dutch sent out many well deserved appreciations, and Hayley delivered the ultimate one back to him, to an expedition leader that we thought was incapable of sticking to a schedule but in reality knows that success is rarely attained with an inflexible itinerary.

Thanks to all for making this an incredible voyage!

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