Into the Northwest Passage: East to West

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Download Into the Northwest Passage: East to West Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

Sondre Stromfjord is one of the longest fjords in the world and boasts 168 kilometres of superb scenery! Kangerlussuaq, the town at its eastern mouth, means 'the big fjord.' Although the fjord crosses the Arctic Circle, like the oceans here, it does not freeze. Locals can thank ocean currents for this, making this part of Greenland a centre for whaling and fishing all year. The United States built an air base at Kangerlussuaq in WWII due to the relatively mild weather and strategic proximity to Europe. Although the military base closed in 1992, the strip is now Greenland's main international and domestic airport.

The area is distinguished by fantastic nature and rich biodiversity. There is nowhere else in Greenland where it is so easy to go so far into the interior and the world’s largest ice cap can be reached in less than an hour. The landscape features enormous glacier formations, which have ploughed deep into the dramatic tundra. On the plain between the fjord and the inland ice you may find Greenland's biggest herds of musk ox, reindeer, arctic foxes as well as the highest concentration of peregrine falcons in Greenland and more than 250 species of plants.


Day 2: Sisimiut Coast, Greenland

The west Greenland coastline is a rich mixture of fishing communities, various islands and complex coastal waterways. We will be making an expedition stop here to explore the Greenlandic landscape and our heading will be dictated by weather and sea conditions.


Day 3: Ilulissat, Greenland

Venturing 250 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle we find the stunning coastal community of Ilulissat. Ilulissat translates literally into "iceberg", and there couldn't be a more fitting name.

Our visit will include time in the colourful town and a chance to hike out to an elevated viewpoint where we can observe the great fields of ice. We will also cruise in our fleet of Zodiacs in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Ilulissat Ice fjord.

The Ice fjord is where we find the Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier, one of the most active and fastest moving in the world at nineteen metres per day and calving more than 35 square kilometres of ice annually. The glacier has been the object of scientific attention for 250 years.


Day 4: Karrat Fjord

Today we will cruise one of Greenland's most spectacular fjords, known for plentiful marine life and inspiring landscapes. Seals use the long leads created by high winds in this region to hunt the rich waters of the fjord. The cliffs and talus slopes within the fjord should give us good opportunities to see colonies of dovekies. Time spent on deck today should result in some good wildlife sightings, not to mention unbeatable photographic opportunities of the majestic rock faces.


Day 5: Upernavik Fjord

Upernavik or "the spring place" is populated by 1,100 people, most of whom make their living in the fishing industry; thus, a few small fish processing plants line the harbour. Part of the population relies on polar bear hunting and sealing.

Upernavik's location on the small island facing the open sea makes Upernavik unusual in comparison with other Greenlandic towns. Its location on the side of a hill provides a fantastic view of the Davis Strait.

Of particular interest in the town is the cemetery. Here permanently frozen ground has forced the villagers to bury their dead in raised graves covered with rock and concrete. Just down the hill, near the Old Town Museum and church, you'll find the grave of Navarana Freuchen who died on the fifth Thule expedition with Knud Rasmussen.


Day 6: Kap York

The rugged coastal environment at Kap York is rich in wildlife and is part of an extensive network of traditional hunting grounds.

During the spring and summer months the skies and cliffs are dotted with millions of birds, primarily auks and murres. This district boasts the largest seabird population in northwest Greenland.

Whalers and explorers often entered these waters and later Admiral Robert Peary's family raised a monument in honour of his achievements on the cape. Sailors' and ships' logs record multiple climbs of the cape in order to survey the ice conditions in Qimusseriarsuaq (Melville Bay).


Day 7: Smith Sound

We will spend a day exploring north into this fabled body of water that served as the main route for explorers and adventurers searching for the North Pole. Adolphus Greely, Sir George Nares and Elisha Kent Kane all travelled these waters with varying degrees of success.

The Sound was named by William Baffin after Sir Thomas Smythe, promoter of voyages to find a Northwest Passage.

Between forty-eight and seventy-two kilometres wide—and eighty-eight kilometres long—Smith Sound is often packed with ice and provides favourable conditions for wildlife viewing.


Day 8: Aujuittuq (Grise Fiord)

Aujuittuq means 'place that never thaws.' It is an apt name for this peaceful hamlet, 1,150 kilometres above the Arctic Circle—Canada's northernmost civilian community. We'll be welcomed by the population of about 165.

Our activities will centre on the school where we will have a chance to meet members of the community and learn about their way of life.


Day 9: Coburg Island

At the entrance to Jones Sound is Coburg Island, whose spectacular seabird cliffs are a designated National Wildlife Area. 30,000 pairs of black-legged kittiwakes and 160,000 pairs of thick-billed murres crowd the rocky ledges on this island, which is itself almost completely covered by an ice cap.


Day 10: Devon Island

The largest uninhabited island in the world—comprising over fifty thousand square kilometres—supports significant concentrations of wildlife, including twenty-six species of seabirds and eleven species of marine mammals. We follow the route of nineteenth-century explorers into Lancaster Sound, and on to the island.

The region supports significant concentrations of wildlife, including twenty-six species of seabirds and eleven species of marine mammals. Polar bears and seals may be sighted among the ice floes. We'll journey to Radstock Bay and Caswell Tower at Devon Island—an important archaeological site. We'll then take the Zodiacs ashore to visit the remains of Thule winter houses located beside a nearby lake. These ruins are suspected to date back to 1200–1400 AD. Two of the more recent houses date back to the 1800s.


Day 11: Beechey Island

In 1845 Sir John Franklin took his expedition of 129 men in two ships into the Wellington Channel. Not a soul returned from the fateful expedition. It was two years before search parties were launched. Aside from the bodies of three souls buried here, only relics were found as clues to the disappearance. The three graves found at Beechey island left no indication as to the fate of the rest of the British party—until recently. In the autumn of 2014, Canadian archaeologists discovered remnants of the HMS Erebus in the frozen waters of the Northwest Passage, a discovery that has re-galvanized interest in the fabled region.


Day 12: Bathurst Island

Good soil conditions and a rare wetland environment produce abundant vegetation here, making Bathurst a major calving area for the endangered Peary Caribou. Here we also find the Polar Bear Pass National Wildlife Area, a migratory route for polar bears from March to November. The north half of the island is the proposed Tuktusiuqvialuk National Park.

There is a long human history on the island, with evidence of Dorset and Thule habitation as early as 2,000 BC. Before there were any permanent buildings at Bathurst Inlet, the area was home to the Kingaunmiut, the "people of Nose Mountain". They constructed stone tent rings, meat caches, fox traps and drying racks, as well as hunting hides (taluit) and inuksuit (stone figures, "in the likeness of a man"). Few explorers reached this area—the first Franklin Expedition (1819-1821) came into Bathurst Inlet in the summer of 1821, travelling by large birch bark canoes, mapping the arctic coast and seeking the Northwest Passage. They were also seeking the local Inuit but found no one; everyone had gone inland for the summer. Our morning excursion to Arctic Sound is at the northern reaches of Bathurst Inlet.


Day 13: Melville Island

British explorer Sir William Parry first visited Melville Island in 1819. Not only did he discover the island; ice forced him to spend the winter in 1820 at what is now called 'Winter Harbour'. The island is named for Robert Dundas, second Viscount Melville, who was First Sea Lord at the time.

Melville Island is one of two major breeding grounds for a small sea goose, the Western High Arctic Brant. DNA analysis and field observations suggest that these birds may be distinct from other Brant stocks. Numbering only 4,000–8,000 birds, this is one of the rarest goose stocks in the world.


Day 14: Banks Island

In 1820, Sir William Parry named Banks Island in honour of British naturalist and botanist Sir Joseph Banks. Home to two thirds of the world's population of Lesser Snow Geese, two federal Migratory Bird Sanctuaries were founded in here in 1961. The island is home to Barren-ground caribou, polar bears, musk ox, and birds such as robins and swallows. The first grizzly-polar bear hybrid found in the wild, was sighted here in April 2006, near Sachs Harbour. Musk ox, numbering over 40,000, are the most striking of the abundant wildlife on the island.


Day 15: Prince of Wales Strait

Prince of Wales Strait is part of the Arctic Ocean, extending northeastward for 275 kilometres from the Amundsen Gulf to Viscount Melville Sound and separating Banks and Victoria Islands. It was discovered in 1850 by Irish explorer Robert McClure, who came within sight of Viscount Melville Sound before heavy ice forced him to turn back.

Named after Albert Edward, then the Prince of Wales, the strait was not navigated until the RCMP patrol of Sgt. Larsen in 1944.


Day 16: Ulukhaktok (Holman)

Found on the west side of Victoria Island, The Hudson's Bay Company post at Prince Albert Sound was opened in 1923, moved to Walker Bay in 1928 and finally to Ulukhaktok (Holman) in 1939. The large bluff that overlooks Ulukhaktok was the source that provided the slate and copper used to make traditional ulus—traditional Inuit knives—and gives the community its name. Printmaking is popular in Ulukhaktok, as are beautifully intricate pieces carved from the horns of the abundant local musk ox population. The musk ox also provide the community with qiviut, one of the warmest and most luxurious fibres in the world, used to make all manner of clothing and coverings.

Ulukhaktok is also the location of the most northern golf course in North America and hosts the "Billy Joss Open Celebrity Golf Tournament" every summer. Over the years they have managed to attract players from the Edmonton Oilers and the Edmonton Eskimos, as well as golfers from other countries.


Day 17: Kugluktuk (Coppermine)

Located at the mouth of the Coppermine River, southwest of Victoria Island on the Coronation Gulf, Kugluktuk is the western most community in Nunavut. Coppermine reverted to its original Inuinnaqtun name—Kugluktuk, meaning "place of moving waters"—on January 1st, 1996. The Coppermine River itself is designated a Canadian Heritage River for the important role it played as an exploration and fur trade route. Copper deposits along the river attracted the first explorers to the area.

Because the tundra is close to the tree line, a variety of wildlife can be viewed in the area, including grizzly bears, wolverines and moose, as well as tundra wildlife, such as musk ox, caribou, foxes, and wolves.

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