Northwest Passage West to East

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Download Northwest Passage West to East Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Kugluktuk (Coppermine)

Located at the mouth of the Coppermine River, southwest of Victoria Island on the Coronation Gulf, Kugluktuk is the westernmost 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.


Day 2: Coronation Gulf

Separating Canada’s mainland from the Arctic Archipelago is the Coronation Gulf. Named by Sir John Franklin in honour of coronation of King George IV, the Gulf receives the Coppermine, Tree, Rae and Richardson rivers. It is host to several hundred islands and small islets.


Day 3: Usqsuqtuuq (Gjøa Haven)

In 1903, explorer Roald Amundsen, while looking for the Northwest Passage, sailed through the James Ross Strait and stopped at an uninhabited natural harbour on the island's south coast. Unable to proceed due to sea ice, he spent the winters of 1903–04 and 1904–05 at Usqsuqtuuq (Gjøa Haven), While there, he learned Arctic living skills from the local Netsilik Inuit, skills that would later prove invaluable in his Antarctic explorations. He used his ship, Gjøa, as a base for explorations in the summer of 1904, sledding the Boothia Peninsula and travelling to the magnetic North Pole.

Amundsen finally left, after twenty-two months on the island, in August 1905. The harbour where he lived is now the island's only settlement, Gjøa Haven, which he called 'the finest little harbour in the world.' Today, the population has blossomed from 110 in 1961 to 1,279 in 2011.


Day 4: Prince of Wales Island

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.


Day 5: Bellot Strait / Fort Ross

Fort Ross was the last trading post built by the Hudson's Bay Company in Canada's Arctic. Established in 1937 it was meant to bridge the eastern and western Arctic fur trading districts through Bellot Strait, a narrow thirty-two-kilometre passage separating the northernmost tip of North America from Somerset Island. Rising out of the vast Arctic wilderness, Fort Ross had two buildings — a manager's house and a store — and was also home to a number of Inuit families. It was operated for some eleven years, but eventually abandoned because ice constantly choked the strait. When Fort Ross was finally closed in 1948, everything was moved some 250 kilometres south to Stanners Harbour, establishing the town of Spence Bay, now known as Taloyoak.

Bellot Strait marks the first meeting of the Atlantic and Pacific tides north of Magellan Strait. Surprisingly, the strait was missed by John Ross and wasn’t discovered until 1852 by William Kennedy, who named the strait after his second-in-command, Joseph-Rene Bellot.


Day 6: Prince Leopold / Beechey Island

The tall cliffs of Prince Leopold Island are one of the top bird sites in the High Arctic both during the breeding and summering seasons. It is a breeding site for thick-billed murres, black-legged kittiwakes, northern fulmars, glaucous gulls, and black guillemot. It was beneath these tall cliffs, that Sir James Clark Ross, perhaps the greatest polar explorer of the 19th century, was based in 1848–49. Ross's 1848–49 expedition in search of the Franklin expedition was not successful; they spent a frustrating winter locked by ice in Port Leopold on the northeast coast of Somerset Island and returned to England the following summer. It was also from this area that Sir John Ross (James's uncle) escaped in 1833 after abandoning the Victory and spending four harrowing winters in the Arctic.

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 7: 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.

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 8: Aujuittuq (Grise Fiord)

Aujuittuq means 'the 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: 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 10: Qaanaaq

Artistic talent runs high in this most northern community, and visitors are often in search of the distinct art pieces that are created here. One of the hardest places to reach in the Arctic, it is easiest to visit by ship. Not only is it the northernmost civilian habitation on Earth, Qaanaaq is also the most northern palindrome on the planet. A well-appointed store offers outstanding hand-carved jewellery and art pieces.


Day 11: 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 12: Upernavik Region

Just over a thousand people, most of whom make their living in the fishing industry, populate Upernavik (or “the spring place”). 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. This will be a new exploratory landing for Adventure Canada in a location well known for its deep and dramatic fjords. We can hope to experience the raw beauty of the Greenlandic coast and the possibility of getting out on the land for a day of hiking.

This region is where legendary Polar explorer Robert Peary began numerous expeditions; his base of operations was at Upernavik, and it was from here that his famous trek to the North Pole began.


Day 13: 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 14: Ilulissat

Ilulissat translates literally into "iceberg", and there couldn't be a more fitting name for this stunning coastal community.

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 through 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 thirty-five square kilometers of ice annually. The glacier has been the object of scientific attention for 250 years.


Day 15: Sisimiut Coast

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.


Day 16: Kangerlussuaq

We will make our journey down spectacular Sondre Stromfjord, and early risers will have a chance to experience its beauty. 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.

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