Ice floe edge expedition - camping over an ice floe
June 10-17, 2014
Getting to the edge of the sea ice at the beginning of the summer requires careful planning and the support of experienced guides who know the area more than well. No two trips are the same, since the exact point where the sea ice becomes actually the sea varies randomly from year to year, and even within the month, two groups of tourists departing on slightly dates, may experience totally different things. The ice floe edge tour presented in this travelogue takes place not far from Pond Inlet, along the northern coast of Baffin island, in Nunavut.
The expedition to ice floe edge presented in this trip review was organized by Black Feather
, a wilderness adventure company offering many unique itineraries in Nunavut and other remote places.
The journey to reach the ice floe edge starts from frozen Pond Inlet harbour, where the sled are loaded and prepared for the 8 days adventure in the wilderness.
Tourists are accommodated inside the traditional wooden sledge, called Komatik (or Qamutiq, Qamutik, Qamutiik and Komatic), pulled by snowmobiles driven by experienced guides. The three hours trip is comfortable enough, since the sea ice is very flat and there aren't lot of bumps (early in June, the sea ice may be still snow covered, so it is soft, but coming later in the season there may be less or no snow: the landscape will be impressive with lot of blue ice, but the drive may be slightly more bumpy).
The location of the ice floe edge varies from year to year and there are no two similar trips. Usually the distance from Pond Inlet can be covered with a few hours ride, but if the journey gets too long or the weather conditions are not favourable, an intermediate overnight stop may be made somewhere on the sea ice. Other times it may happen that tourists find the camp already set up (in any case all the work is done by guides, unless you enjoy giving some help)
On the left: the tents are anchored by planting large nails into the ice. In the picture to the right: a small crevasse in the sea ice. The thickness of the ice is generally greater than one meter, and can support the weight of a large passenger aircraft. The cracks do not pose a problem, since they are all well visible and the group is escorted by professional guides (accidents have never happened).
How to dress during a trip to the Arctic? Even if the air temperature in early summer is not extreme (usually it's just around freezing point) the perceived temperature will be lower while riding the komatiks (thanks to Bob for this picture!)
The tents can accommodate comfortably one or even two. It comes equipped with a sleeping bag suitable for such temperature, a mattress and a raised bed base, ensuring proper insulation from the sea ice. The average temperature inside the tent is not much different than outside if it's cloudy, but becomes hot if there is sunshine, due to greenhouse effect.
Komatic picture. A komatic can carry 2-3 passengers with their luggage and is comfortable enough even for trips of several hours.
Left picture: the toilet tent. Right picture: I liked so much the blue floor of the toilet: this happens because the tent is black, so no light can enter from top, but the only light penetrates from floor through the sea ice.
The next day the weather improves and we move toward the the ice floe edge, where the definitive camp is built by our guides. In the photo above, a GPS location of the base camp in the middle of the Arctic ocean (the seabed below has a depth that varies between 300 and 600 meters). It is quite impressive to camp in a place that a few weeks later can be visited only by ship.
The base camp under a 9pm sun.
The tents are less than a minute walk from the ice floe edge. Here you can relax watching flocks of birds, narwhals, seals, walruses and, with some luck, a polar bear strolling nearby.
This photo shows the proximity of the tents at the edge of the ice shelf, a very convenient location to better enjoy the Arctic wildlife.
The telescopes are ready to watch distant wildlife, however, it may happen that the animals, like the narwhals on the right picture, comes very close to the ice edge.
The large communal tent is spacious, comfortable, and can accommodate 10-15 people during meals, briefings, or if you just would like to warm up a little bit.
A series of photos showing the base camp and the tents.
Even in June, at the beginning of the summer, snowfalls are always possible at those latitudes.
The base camp is strategically located, so half-day excursions to other interesting places can be easily done by komatics. Possible destinations include Bylot island within Sirmilik national park, icebergs trapped into the sea ice and other floe edge areas.
While riding the komatics, our expert guides monitor the condition of ice, to determine the best path. The cracks in the ice are inevitably produced by the tides that create an unimaginable pressure, so the crack works as a kind of "swivel joint".
Where to find water when camping in the Arctic? The answer is very simple: it comes from a suitable iceberg trapped in the sea ice. The best ice, mostly totally free from salt water, is the blue ice deeply inside the iceberg.
During long rides by komatics, stops to stretch the legs and enjoy the place, are made from time to time.
A few photos from the trip back from base camp to Pond Inlet. Around mid-June, but still depending on weather and other unpredictable factors, the snow covering the sea ice begins to melt. This produces a wonderful landscape with lot of blues, but the drive may become bumpier.
Photo of our arrival back in Pond Inlet on the last day.