An Arctic adventure should always be properly prepared. You're heading into a region that is far from modern civilization. Far from the nearest town, city or department store, you need the right gear to keep you warm, dry and happy! At Arctic Watch, we're 800-kilometres north of the Arctic circle on an island called Somerset. At nearly 25,000 square kilometres, Somerset Island is the 46th largest island on earth and uninhabited. Pure Arctic, unspoiled.
This simple checklist below will help you prepare for your adventure to Arctic Watch. Before we begin, any good checklist necessitates the facts - why do I need this exactly?
1) Layering is key: You're always better to have multiple layers instead of one big layer. We use the three-layer system at Arctic Watch (see a previous post on this). Getting to hot? Shed a layer. Too cold? Add a layer.
2) Expect four seasons in a day: Summer is 6-weeks long in the high Arctic. Average temperatures at Arctic Watch range from + 8C to +13C. While we can experience temperatures as high as +20C on the tundra, we can experience +3C. Pack for 0C to +20C. We've witnessed a significant warming trend over the last several years.
3) 24-hour sunlight: Arctic Watch is located in a 24-hour sunlight environment. If you've never experienced this - it is so unique (blue skies exist at 3AM!). Don't worry about having issues sleeping; after your first day of adventure, you'll sleep soundly in our oh-so-comfotable beds.
4) Bring sunscreen! Arctic 24-hour sunlight is strong. A sun-hat is a great idea as well.
Arctic Watch Checklist
Rubber/neoprene insulated boots (Muck Boots): This is the most important item of gear; Sometimes the weather is cool (0 C to +15 C) even in summer. The ground can be wet and muddy in spots or it might be necessary for us to cross streams. That’s why a comfortable pair of insulated rubber boots is necessary. If you have a comfortable pair of rubber boots, you do not need hiking boots. Our friends at Quark Expeditions will supply you (on loan) with a pair of Muck Boots upon your arrival in Yellowknife. Muck boots are a combination between a traditional rubber boot and insulated walking/hiking boot. Lightweight, comfortable and easy to walk; they're perfect for the tundra.
Rain/wind coat and pants: This is primarily for protection against the wind while riding on ATVs. A rain/wind jacket is a necessity to wear when walking on cool days. Your jacket must be waterproof and seam-sealed. NOTE: Our friends at Quark Expeditions will provide you with the Quark Expeditions Parka (yours to keep) upon arrival in Yellowknife. Recently redesigned, this purpose-built parka is excellent for the tundra; it serves as an outer (water/windproof) jacket and insulating layer.
Light shoes and/or trail shoes: A pair of light shoes for around the camp are great to have. For those who enjoy a morning jog, bring your running shoes - the beluga congregate a short 1km walk/run from the lodge. Grab an espresso and head down to see them frolick in the shallows of the Cunningham River.
A light down jacket: This serves as your insulating layer (in the three layer system). The Quark Expeditions Parka has a great detachable synthetic jacket/layer that can be used on its on or with the shell. Bringing a second insulating layer is recommended. This is an essential piece of kit to have.
Fleece Jacket: A fleece jacket is always useful and good for wearing around the lodge.
Comfortable pants for hiking: Several comfortable pairs of pants are useful. Try to choose “quick dry” fabrics made from tightly woven, wind-resistant material. No cotton content please.
Hat: A wool toque (cap) or fleece hat made of a material that dries easily is necessary.
Gloves: Gloves or mittens with a wind-resistant outer fabric are good for cold days.
Long underwear: It is the Arctic, do bring a couple of sets of long underwear. Synthetic or wool material, no cotton or silk content please.
Socks: Several pairs of good wool or wool-synthetic blend socks are essential. Remember that socks are small to pack and wonderful to wear! We have Smartwool socks available for sale.
Daypack: You need this to carry your extra things, e.g., a camera and clothing, while on a day’s outing such as walking, rafting, sea kayaking (with waterproof storage compartments) or when riding the ATV. Bring your toiletries, camera, sunglasses and other personal items.
Fishing equipment: If you like to fish and prefer your own gear, please bring it.
We have the following gear available for you to use when doing the applicable activity: ATV helmets, fishing gear, paddling dry jackets and pants, life jackets (PFDs) and more. Please feel free to contact us for specific gear questions (Mail@ArcticWatch.ca).
The Weber family is pleased to announce that Richard Weber was recently awarded the Order of Canada.
Nominated by The Canadian Govenor General, Richard was inducted "for his pioneering acts of polar exploration and for his efforts to increase awareness of environmental threats to the North." Richard Weber has spent nearly 30 years across the polar regions and holds numerous firsts including seven record treks to the North Pole:
(Richard at the North Pole in 2006)
In 1987, along with teammate Brent Boddy, became the first Canadian to reach the North Pole on foot.
In 1988, became the first person to reach the North Pole from both sides of the Arctic Ocean.
In 1989, became the first person to accurately stand at the Geographic North Pole (first GPS to register "90" north).
In 1992, with companion Dr. Mikhail (Misha) Malakhov, became the first attempt to reach the North Pole with no outside help.
In 1995, Richard and Misha's expedition became the first unsupported expedition to reach the North Pole and return to land. The achievement has not yet been repeated.
In 2006, with Conrad Dickinson, became the first to trek to the North Pole using snowshoes exclusively.
In 2009, he completed an on-foot trek from Hercules Inlet on the Ronne Ice Shelf to the South Pole in a record time of 33 days, 23 hours and 30 minutes. He was accompanied by fellow Canadians Ray Zahab and Kevin Vallely.
In 2010, he organized and completed an on-foot trek from northern Canada to the North Pole with his son Tessum Weber, and two fellow adventurers, setting the fastest time to the North Pole (42 days, 18 hours 52 minutes for the 900 km trek).
Co-owner of Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, Richard started the safari lodge with his wife Josée Auclair and two sons Tessum & Nansen in 2000.
Arctic Watch is home to one of the last beluga nurseries on earth. For 5 short weeks every summer, Cunningham Inlet fills with beluga whales. At their peak in late July, nearly two thousand beluga whales call Cunningham Inlet home. Situated on the Northwest Passage, Cunningham Inlet lies on the north shore of Somerset Island. At 74 degrees north, the Island is located in the "high-arctic".
At only 8 kilometres long by 3.5 kilometres wide, with a maximal depth of approximately 100 feet, the inlet is by no means large. Sheltered by a peninsula at the north and fed by the Cunningham River at the south, the inlet provides a protected environment for belugas to nurse, socialize, calf and moult. The beluga whales visit the inlet to spend time in the warm waters of the Cunningham River. Nearly ten degrees warmer than the Northwest Passage, the river provides a natural spa like treatment for the belugas! They rub, roll and wiggle on the river stones while enjoying the warmth.
(Beluga mothers and their young, rubbing in the warm waters of the Cunningham River near Arctic Watch, photo credit: Nansen Weber)
Muddy beluga: a sub-adult rubbing in Cunningham Inlet. Photo credit: Nansen Weber
With nearly two thousand beluga whales in the inlet, there is little food available for the beluga whales. The question is therefore, what and where do the belugas eat? How can so many whales sustain themselves in the inlet? While we've witnessed the occasional school of Arctic char being devoured by the beluga whales, most belugas will require between seventeen and thirty kilos of food per day (approximately 2.5% - 3% of their weight per day)!
A beluga's diet consists of Arctic char, Arctic cod, octopus, squid, halibut, shrimp, sculpin, sea snails and more. Although most foraging activity takes place between 20 and 40 metres below the surface, belugas can dive nearly 700m to feed! Mothers feed their calves with a rich milk (on average: 28% fat, 11% protein, 92 calories per ounce) for nearly two years. As soon as a young beluga's teeth appear, their diet is supplemented with small amount of fish. Belugas are alloperental - this means that one mother may care for another's young! (Spontaneous milk production, nursing, foraging techniques and more)
Scuba diving sessions within Cunningham Inlet have revealed the presence of a beluga's natural food source: scalpin, char, cod, octopus and more (but not in large quantities). While small amounts of these creatures are present, there isn't nearly enough to sustain hundreds and/or thousands of whales. Research points to Cunningham Inlet being a protected living area though not a feeding environment. The belugas travel into the passage to forage. The waters of the Northwest Passage teem with life - crill, fish, invertabrates. Bowheads, narwhals, walrus, numerous species of birds and belugas all forage off the north shores of Somerset Island. Cunningham Inlet is their home, and the Northwest Passage is their grocery store!
See more images of beluga whales in Cunningham Inlet: http://www.arcticwatch.ca/photo-gallery/photoset/72157625550507232
See our recent drone video of the belugas at Arctic Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIaZaBdYXx4
This past summer at Arctic Watch, Sunday Times travel writer Oliver Thring visited us for a week of adventure. As a guest at our lodge, Oliver hiked, sea kayaked, rafted, went on wildlife safaris, fished for Arctic char and took in the sights of Somerset Island under the 24-hour polar summer sun.
We're pleased to share his article, published on December 13th, 2015.
A special thank-you to Discover The World & Quark Expeditions for their support.
To read the article, please click on the image below.
Nansen's newest video, filmed at Arctic Watch recently received international press by CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), Discovery Channel's Daily Planet, Canadian Geographic, Daily Mail, Telegraph and more!
The short film, entitled "Drone Art: Arctic Wildlife" showcases stunning aerial footage of the beluga congregation in Cunningham Inlet and landscapes of the Northwest Passage. This film was made possible by the latest drone technology, Nansen utilized a DJI insprire one drone to film the congregation.
Nansen's goal was to bring awareness to the beluga congregation of Cunningham Inlet. The stunning bird's eye shows the mothers and calves that congregate every season. For five short weeks every year, nearly two thousand whales visit Cunningham Inlet. The social environment is used as a nursery by the population - one of the last on earth.
"I think it's important that people know that pristine places like this beluga place, is one of a kind in the world," said Nansen Weber. "It's something that we should look into and hopefully save, because it might not be there in the future."
Nansen has spent over 15 years filming, photographing and observing the beluga whales of Cunningham Inlet.
Here's some of the press his video has garnered:
See the Weather Channel's mention: "Drone Footage of 2,000 Beluga Whales Near Arctic Circle"
See Yahoo Travel's mention: "A stunning congregation of beluga whales"
See Grind TV's mention: "2,000 beluga whales captured in a rare and stunning Arctic drone video"
See Indian Express' mention: "Dancing whales: Watch this beautiful drone video capturing Arctic wildlife"
See the NPR India mention: "Stunning Drone Video Provides A Rare View Of Beluga Whales"
Capturing spectacular wildlife moments takes hard work. One needs to take several thousand images to select three or four photographs. Video is even harder - the special moments require a dedicated patience! Mother Nature reveals herself only when she's truly ready! The right equipment is also essential; The right cameras, the right video equipment. Once you're in the Arctic filming, there is little opportunity for modifications!
This past summer, Destination Canada commissioned a video from Arctic Watch photographer Nansen Weber - one that would help showcase and share the Arctic Watch Experience for international travellers. A video that captured those special wildlife moments.
As part of The Canadian Signature Experiences, a Destination Canada brainchild, Arctic Watch is part of the collection of authentically Canadian experiences presented by the national tourism association. Only the best of Canada make up the Canadian Signature Experiences Collection, and we're proud to be members!
Armed with his best camera equipment, Nansen captured some pretty special moments on video! "This Land is Arctic Watch" shares that experience. We're so proud to share this adventure with guests from across the globe.
We're pleased to announce that Dr. Valeria Vergara of the Vancouver Aquarium will be returning to Cunningham Inlet this July, to continue her research on the beluga whales that visit Arctic Watch every season.
Every summer, nearly two thousand beluga whales call Cunningham Inlet home. An important nursery for the Baffin Bay beluga population, the whales spend the months of July and August within the inlet with their young socializing, nursing and moulting. The location, is a-one-of-a-kind environment for beluga whales, and one of the last on earth.
Valeria's research focuses on mother-calf contact calls. Utulizing a hydrophone, rugged field laptop, acoustic recording software, video camera and iPad to jot down the behavioural observations she's observing, her research is part of a multi-year study in the inlet.
As a behavioral ecologist, Dr. Vergara brings her curiosity for captivating beluga whale population at Cunningham Inlet, and will share a wealth of knowledge for guests witnessing the beluga whales.
We're proud to host Valeria at Arctic Watch, during the following experiences:
- July 9th, 2015
- July 16th, 2015
- July 22nd, 2015
The Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation, a charity dedicated to supporting longterm sustainable research within Cunningham Inlet, is delighted to be supporting Valeria again this season. A big thank you to our friends at Quark Expeditions for their support in making this a reality!
More information on the project:
A small group of five to eight adventurers out on the tundra with their guide for the day and only pristine arctic landscapes to explore and wildlife to find. That's what an Arctic adventure is all about! A gourmet meal awaiting your return, and a comfortable lodge to recharge. We're proud to give guests nothing but the best of Arctic adventure at Arctic Watch. Every day, guests are invited to sign up for an adventure of their choosing. Tailored to desires and abilities, daily weather and wildlife patterns, we craft that perfect adventure! We typically offer three excursions per day. No itinerary is set - remember; this is your adventure.
This week on our blog, we're showcasing one of Tessum's favorite excursions: "Polar Bear Point, Nansen's Ridge and Exploring the Northwest Passage".
This excursion leaves Arctic Watch on ATV, heading north to the mouth of Cunningham Inlet and to the shoreline of the Northwest Passage.
The first stop on this excursion is at the mouth of the Cunningham River. A short drive from the lodge and guests are invited to park the ATVs and wander down to the mouth of the Cunningham River. Here, where the Cunningham River meets the ocean, beluga whales congregate in large numbers to frolick, rub and socialize in the shallow, warm water. Generally the shallower waters are frequented by mothers and calves nursing - Cunningham Inlet is recognized as a unique beluga nursery! Standing on the shoreline, one can be no more than a few feet away from these highly social, and curious animals. Burps, farts, squeeks, tail splashes, "banannas" are all part of their behaviors! See the Arctic Watch Beluga Video.
(Aerial photograph of beluga whales in the Cunningham River, Image taken by Gretchen Freund)
Continuing along the shoreline by ATV another 3 kilometres, we stop at a local Thule site. These archeological sites dot the shores of Somerset Island. The Thule culture, the ancestors of modern Inuit came from coastal Alaska about AD 1000 and expanded eastwards across Canada, reaching Greenland by the 13th century. Evidence supports the idea that the Thule (and also the Dorset) were in contact with the Vikings, who had reached the shores of Canada in the 11th century. A whaling culture, the Thule lived primarliy off bowhead whales until the "mini-ice age" from 1400-1600 AD. With cooling temperatures during this time,the bowhead whales no longer came to the arctic. The Thule people shifted their hunting towards caribou, muskoxen and other species, becoming the "modern inuit". The Thule lived in sod, bone and stone houses, with tent roofs, and skin-tents during the summer. These beautiful houses, called Thule sites, remain unspoiled. Careful not to disturb the site, we continue onwards towards Polar Bear Point.
(Thule site, Image taken by Gretchen Freund)
We're now in polar bear territory. As we approach the shores of the Northwest Passage, we enter the realm of polar bears, icebergs and the fables of the european explorers. These shores are the very same where many a european explorer came past, in search of a route through the Northwest Passage to Asia! This is also a great location to scout for polar bears. During the winter months, poalr bears spend their time hunting seals on the pack ice. Upon the arrival of spring and the summer melt, polar bears head to shore, patrolling the shorelines while they await the return of the autumn sea ice in October. Keep your binoculars out, and cameras ready! A short hike to the local peak provides stunning views of the sea ice while we look for bears and marine birds (king eider ducks, eider ducks, pintails, long tailed jaegers, parasitic jaegers, guillemots, herring gulls, sand pipers, brant geese and more). Keep an eye out for the curious Arctic fox! By mid-july, adult foxes begin to scroung the shorelines in search of edibles for their young kits.
(A polar bear wandering on the shoreline at Polar Bear Point, photo credit: Nansen Weber)
Icebergs, birds, whales and more! Continuing along the coast by ATV, we stop along the shoreline to explore the pack ice. Belugas, eider ducks and polar bears are some of the animals we can spot along the way. Hiking up Nansen's Ridge, we get the perfect views of the Northwest Passage.
(Views from Nansen's Ridge, overlooking the Northwest Passage, photo credit Courtenay Oswin Risager)
(Souting for wildlife and exploring on the Northwest Passage)
A full day's adventure brings guests back to the lodge near dinner with a glass of wine and gourmet meal awaiting them upon arrival. Chef Justin, Josée and the Arctic Watch team create the perfect menu - fine dinning with a european flare. 5-star cuisine that you'd traditionally find at some of the best urban eateries on the globe. Recharge and get ready for the following day - the adventure continues!
Our friends at Quark Expeditions sat down with Arctic Watch Executive Chef Justin Tse to chat fine dinning in the Arctic:
When you think of the meals you might enjoy on your arctic expedition, what comes to mind?
Traditionally, arctic fare might include local meats like caribou, arctic hare, ptarmigan and fresh lake trout (if you could catch any of the above!). Hikers and those on expedition might enjoy the odd fish shore lunch, but would have packed a variety of canned and dried, easy-to-prepare meals.
At Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, 800 km above the Arctic Circle on Somerset Island, guests feast on the same fresh, chef-prepared 5 star cuisine you're just as likely to find in the best urban restaurants as at the top of the world.
Executive Chef Justin Daniel Tse finished up his third summer this year at Arctic Watch. He spoke with Quark Expeditions about what our guests might expect as they join us at Arctic Watch as our first land-based expedition in 2015.
Meet Executive Chef Justin Daniel Tse
Tse, a graduate of Culinary Arts & Management at St. Lawrence College, hails from the Kingston area in Ontario, Canada. His interest in culinary arts was piqued long before college, though. The son of a restauranteur (his grandfather owned several successful restaurants), Tse kicked off his kitchen career early in his teens.
An ambitious talent, Tse is a rising star in the Canadian culinary scene and takes his lead from successful chefs before him. He was recently profiled in an Ottawa Citizen feature, Go North, Young Man.
"My first real chef mentor was Michael Hay, former Chef at The Courtyard Restaurant in Ottawa – and now current Chef at popular Toronto restaurant Canteen, of the O&B Restaurant family," Tse shared. His most recent mentor is Kyrn Stein, of Ottawa restaurant Social.
Tse needn't worry about his employment with Arctic Watch being seasonal; he holds two chef titles, one in the Arctic and another in Ottawa. He is the Executive Chef at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge; Pastry Chef at the restaurant Social.
On his food philosophy, Tse said, "I typically like to prepare food that will please more than just your obvious senses such as taste. Of course, the most important factor in successful food is taste, but there are many other key factors that, if used correctly, can take food to the next level. From the smell of the food to the way it’s plated, food can be so much more than just tasty things on a plate. It can bring emotion and memories, and make connections to seasons and locations."
Dining at Arctic Watch
Arctic cuisine invokes thoughts of rustic, family-style fare. Not so at Arctic Watch.
Guests usually have the opportunity to enjoy fresh arctic char sushi (pictured above), prepared from the fishing daytrip catch. French Canadian cheeses are a staple; beef from Northern Alberta, B.C. greens and Quebec pork are also popular at the lodge. Arctic Watch takes pride in showcasing the best of what Canada has to offer, with a European influence. Prosciutto, for example, is flown in from Northern Italy.
"Guests at Arctic Watch are typically blown away that almost everything we serve is made completely from scratch," Tse said. "From the pickled veggies to the jams, hot soups served on the wild tundra, gravlax and pickled fish – even our desserts and snacks, right down to the ice cream and the freshly made breads – all are made with the freshest ingredients from across Canada and Europe."
People don’t expect these things to be created from scratch in an extremely secluded area like Somerset Island, where the only population outside of those staying at Arctic Watch are the many species of wildlife and its populous beluga whales. "Most restaurants in major cities don’t even make all these things from scratch," Tse noted.
The Perfect Pair: Gourmet Canadian Cuisine Alongside a World-Class Wine List
Arctic Watch works with select suppliers across Canada to provide out of this world dining experiences against the backdrop of the breathtaking arctic landscape.
Among its extensive Northwest Passage Wine & Spirits List (that's right, you'll find a better selection here than in many city restaurants!), you'll find cabernet sauvignon and more from Painted Rock Estate Winery, an award-winning Okanagan winemaker. The small family estate is located in Canada's most coveted wine region and was recently the recipient of the Lieutenant Governor General's Award for Excellence.
In its quest to bring the best Canadian beef to the table, Arctic Watch turns to Heritage Angus, a group of Canadian ranching families in Alberta and British Columbia. Its philosophy is that treating animals, land and water with great respect results in a savory, wholesome and ethical product. Heritage Angus is also the only beef supplier in Canada audited and certified by the Prairie Wise and Verified Beef Production national third-party programs for beef quality.
Another preferred Canadian supplier is Pine Haven Colony Meat Shop, producers of organic free-range beef, chicken and pork.
Quebec cheese is notable across Canada for its unique and distinct flavors, but Quebec is becoming a world-renowned cheese producer, as well. At Arctic Watch, you might enjoy Chemin Hatley Road, a firm, pressed cheese from Quebec's eastern townships, or Alfred Le Fermier, with its woodsy aroma and flowery hazelnut favor. Oka, Cendrillon and Pied-de-vent are other guest favorites at the lodge.
Dining at Arctic Watch promises to change what you think of arctic cuisine, and is also a fantastic opportunity to sample the finest foods Canada has to offer, prepared fresh and enjoyed in stunning scenery among friends and fellow travelers while on your arctic vacation.