Northwest Passage, Canada:
Kayak expedition to Ellesmere Island (Nunavut)

August 2004

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Ellesmere trip itinerary
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| Ellesmere Pictures and travelogue
| Contacts and Copyright
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Nunavut and Ellesmere travel itinerary

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The main purpose of this expedition to Ellesmere island in the Canadian Arctic was to explore an area of ​​Kane Basin and Alexandra Fiord in the far north of Nunavut, across the 79th parallel. During the short Arctic summer, paddling is perhaps the ideal means of transportation, as it allows you to cover large distances without the need of carrying extremely heavy back packs containing tent, food and everything else. During the trip, a camp was set up in a different area every 1-2 days, moving by kayak between camps and exploring the land through hikes of 2-8 hours with only a light day pack (heavy equipment is moved between camps conveniently by kayak). The whole journey presented in this trip review was held from July 31 to August 23, 2004 (including intercontinental flights), staying in the Arctic from 5 to 19 August. The trip offers the opportunity to visit other cities in Canada, where passengers are usually required to overnight before catching connecting flights from and to Nunavut.


Although dominated by an ungrateful and sometimes violent nature, the island of Ellesmere is extremely interesting for the beautiful landscape, for the archaeological remains left by ancient Eskimos, not to mention the flora and the fauna represented by many different forms of life unique in the world, which manage to smile even at a winter that could never give up, neither in the middle of August. The midday sun present also at midnight, allows to optimise the time without the need to look at the clock, in fact it can happen not rarely that you will move at night and sleep during the day, depending on weather or tides. A trip to Ellesmere is therefore particularly suitable for lovers of nature and extreme landscapes, wishing to explore places off the normal tourist routes and visited annually by only a handful of particularly adventurous "explorers". The trips to Ellesmere island currently offered by very few operators, are generally 10-15 days long and focus on trekking or paddling among spectacular landscape dominated by majestic glaciers and polar ice caps.


If you are reading here, you are probably interested to go to some remote part of Nunavut, but you are asking yourself how to get to Ellesmere island or to the region in general. Getting to Nunavut is particularly complex and very expensive. At 2014, only two airlines offer scheduled flights: First Air and Canadian North. Generally, tourists going to Ellesmere island will gather in Resolute Bay (or Qausuittuq, "The place with no dawn", in the Inuktitut language) served by some flight per week via either Yellowknife and Cambridge Bay or Iqaluit and Arctic Bay. In turn, Yellowknife or Iqaluit can be reached by daily flights respectively from Edmonton (Alberta) and Ottawa (Ontario), with some additional link from other cities in southern Canada added from time to time. In any case, be prepared to pay many thousands of Dollars, just to get to Resolute Bay... and certainly not to fly first class! As a side note, since the flights to Resolute are not daily and are usually purchased on a separated ticket, it's a good idea to get to Edmonton or Ottawa at least a couple of nights before the connecting flight leaves, to create an extra buffer if you (or your luggage) are delayed. The final part of the flight to Ellesmere island is chartered on demand and is normally included with your kayak or trekking expedition package to the island (except for some flight to Grise Fiord, there aren't scheduled flights serving other areas of Ellesmere island).


Except for special expeditions, for example by skis, requiring snow and ice, the best time to visit Ellesmere are the months of July and August. Probably July is more suitable for hiking, while August is the most suitable time for the kayak tours, when the fjords are usually ice-free and there is lot of open water. During the summer the average temperature is around +5 degrees centigrade, with no significant variation between day and night, because the sun shines for 24 hours. However, freezing days are not uncommon, while the wind, almost constant, will cause to perceive a lower temperature than the actual. Clouds and light rain showers can be quite frequent. During the winter, the island of Ellesmere falls into an eternal night which sees the temperature falling down to -40 degrees (both C and F) and less, for several consecutive weeks.


If you are interested in going on Ellesmere Island and have already solved the considerable problem of the requested budget, maybe you're wondering if it is better to book a trek or a kayak expedition, in relation to your fitness. In case of a trekking expedition to Ellesmere island, it is strongly suggested to be physically fit, as you may be required to carry backpacks with all the camping gear, food and personal equipment, over long distances and on very uneven terrain. However, in my opinion, only this kind of expedition will let to access the most remote and spectacular parts of Ellesmere island. Some "softer" trekking expedition is however based on fixed base camps, from where daily hikes leaves. The equipment to be carried during a kayak expedition is obviously the same, but all the baggage can be conveniently carried inside the kayak itself, making the trip suitable for virtually anyone (day hikes will be made with very light backpacks). Paddling is easy, no previous experience is required, and it will not be particularly tiring.


The kayak expedition to Ellesmere described in this travelogue was organized by Whitney & Smith Legendary Expeditions, however their home page looks to be outdated. Very good alternatives are at time of this review offered by Black Feather. Given the impressive logistics required to organize the trip, for the distances and isolation, the prices of the tours are very high and increase constantly from year to year.

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Canadian arctic Flight to Ellesmere island via Yellowknife, Cambridge Bay and Resolute <<-- GO
Getting to Ellesmere requires a long flight, with one stop in Yellowknife, one connection in Ikaluktutiak (Cambridge Bay) and one layover night in Qausuittuq (Resolute Bay), before the final leg to Alexandra Fiord by chartered Twin Otter.
Kayak on Ellesmere island Camping on Skraeling island, off eastern coast of Ellesmere <<-- GO
The kayak expedition to Ellesmere island begins with a short introductory paddle from the airstrip in Alexandra Fiord to Skraeling islands, where the first camp is set up. Skraeling island is very interesting for the many archeological remains left by ancient Eskimos.
Camping on Ellesmere island Camping on Ellesmere island where Alexandra Fiord ends in Buchanan Bay <<-- GO
Back on Ellesmere to set up a new camp, approximately where Alexandra Fiord ends into Buchanan Bay. Time for long hikes on Ellesmere and for further observation of archeological remains from the ancient Eskimo.
Ellesmere island Ellesmere island trek to inland glaciers <<-- GO
After four hours kayak trip along Ellesmere island's coastline, we move southeast, where a new camp is set up on a suitable place. The following day, a spectacular hike to a mountain glacier ending into a frozen lake, awaits us under a perfect blue and clear sky.
Tundra Camping on Skraeling island after a kayak trip along Ellesmere island coast <<-- GO
After about seven hours of paddling, we go back to Skrealing islands, setting up the camp on a different island of this tiny archipelago just off the eastern coast of Ellesmere island. There are many birds and archeological remains here.
Nunavut, Canada Kayak trip to Ellesmere island along opposite side of Alexandra Fiord <<-- GO
We continue paddling north along eastern coast of Ellesmere island, close to the 79th parallel, on the opposite side of Alexandra Fiord, a nice spot for long hikes over moraines and paddles around the nearby tiny islands.
Papaver radicatum Ellesmere kayak expedition - going back to the airstrip, camping halfway <<-- GO
Our kayak expedition in Ellesmere island is about to finish and it's now time to retrace our steps back to the airstrip in Alexandra Fiord, with one night stop halfway to have some rest and to discover new places.
Twin Glaciers Camping near Alexandra Fiord airstrip on Ellesmere island <<-- GO
The last camp on Ellesmere island was located near the airstrip at Alexandra Fiord, where our chartered Kenn Borek Air Twin Otter will collect us the following day. From the camp, I've trekked to the beautiful Twin Glaciers, by a short hike over tundra.
Qausuittuq Day tour to Resolute Bay (Qausuittuq) in Nunavut <<-- GO
The Twin Otter arrives on time at Alexandra Fiord and brings the group back to Qausuittuq (Resolute Bay) where is necessary to stay one night, before continuing south. Pictures from a tour to Resolute Bay are included in this section.
Yellowknife Flying to Yellowknife and Yellowknife city tour <<-- GO
Flight from Resolute Bay (Qausuittuq) to Yellowknife, where I've spent two nights, before the connecting flights to my country. Having night stops between flights creates a safety buffer to better handle any delay and gives the opportunity to discover more places.
Pelican case Digital photo equipment used during the kayak expedition to Ellesmere <<-- GO
In a so adventurous trip, where no computer or recharging facility is available, it's necessary to bring appropriate equipment and to protect it from water and mechanical shock. Here you will find details on the equipment I've used back in 2004.

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