Any Arctic experience necessitates proper equipment. If you're travelling in anyone of the four arctic seasons, you are simply at the mercy of mother nature. The Arctic is a beautifully untamed environment, one that offers sights unseen anywhere else on earth. Virtually every Arctic adventure necessitates much of the journey to be outdoors. I'm constantly surprised by how people do not properly prepare for travelling in the Arctic. You can't prioritize fashion forward clothing over practical and warm.
I've been extremely fortunate to spend the last 25 years exploring and living in remote parts of the Arctic. Here are a few tips I've learnt over the years:
Leave the cotton and silk at home: Cotton is difficult to dry when wet, doesn't continue to keep you warm (when wet), and has very little insulating value. Silk is not warm either. Focus on fabrics that are breathable, have insulating properties and dry easily.
Proper layering is key: A few thin layers will go alot farther than one or two big layers of clothing! Proper layering allows your clothing to wick moisture while on the move, stay dry and warm. I have a simple three step rule that I adopt:
1) Base-layer: thermal underwear that is made from merino wool or polyester blends are best. They keep your core warm, while wicking moisture. I'm partial to the outdoor research baselayer (Men's Sequence L/S Zip Top and Sequence Tights). Reasonably priced, well made polyester/merino wool blends. If one base layer isn't enough, add a second base layer, or increase the insulation value with a micro fleece top (try the Radiant Hybrid Pullover from OR). The important part is to make sure your base layers are fully breathable (avoid thin down or windproof).
2) Insulating layer: This is where your "warmth" is generated. A real insulating layer doesn't neccessarily need to be waterproof nor windproof. By keeping the final layer as your wind/water proof element, you'll have the flexibility to adapt to a greater range of weather conditions. My favorite fleece is the Patagonia R4 Regulator Fleece Jacket. The jacket uses what I call the monkey fleece; a fur-like fleecey fabric that is warm, breathes extremely well and dries quickly (it is not windproof whatsoever). Mountain hardwear also makes a similar jacket. For pants, equip yourself with a good fleece pant, or quick dry pant (depending on the temperature). Simple polyester fleece pants are great, such as the oh-so-very casual Synchilla Snap-T by Patagonia, or Outdoor Research's Radiant Hybrid Tights. You can also consider a light down jacket as an additional insulation layer - just keep in mind that if you're headed for wet weather, you best aim for fleece. I pack an OR Floodlight Jacket - warm, and can withstand a fairly high level of moisture.
3) Waterproof/Windproof layer: This is where you can buy that fancy Arcteryx shell pant and jacket you've been dreaming about. The goretex pro series fabric is best (great abrasion resistance); try avoiding packlite goretex as it tears easily. The Theta and Alpha SV line from Arcteryx is by far the best shell gear I've ever used. Abrasion resistant, great in huge downpours and the jacket cut allows for layering. Keep in mind that you don't have to spend $750 on a goretex jacket. There are many great brands out there that offer reasonably priced, reliable gear. Plan your gear in function with your specific adventure (length, temperature range) and your budget. Remeber to have a jacket big enough that will alow for layers underneath.
For pants, try the OR Furio or Mentor. Arcteryx also makes great bib pants, such as the Stinger bib. My biggest piece of advice is to make sure your pants aren't too tight - remember that you want to put atleast two layers underneath.
Yes, you need a pair of good gloves and a hat: More often than not, I see people buy very thin fleece gloves, or bulky gloves that don't breathe at all. If you're in an outdoor environment that is relatively dry, try the flurry glove from OR. They're probably the most versatile gove I've ever used (I even used them as a base layer to the North Pole!). For snowy environments, focus on gloves or mitts that are leather palmed and waterproof. Getting windy? Use a flurry glove with a shell. Down filled mitts aren't that great - as soon as you begin to move, your hands create moisture and the mitts get wet. In the tuque department, focus on windproof and insulated. Avoid down filled tuques (they don't breathe and are useless once wet) and acrylic based hats (poor insulating value).
Neck tubes: Neck tubes are great - they keep your face, ears and neck warm and also limit the amount of heat coming out the top of your jacket. Buff has a great selection of neck tubes - try the wool, neck warmer pro, or original series.
Socks: This is hugely important - a good pair of socks will keep your feet warm even when wet. Forget cotton and focus on merino wool socks such as the Smartwool hike medium crew. With proper footwear and good socks, you generally don't need more than one pair on your feet at any given time.
Remeber: this is just a guideline - don't be shy to add or shed an extra insulating layer, or base layer while outdoors. Always, always overprepare as you head outside - it's much easier to shed a layer if you're too warm, then suffer being cold or wet.
Tessum Weber, athlete and former ski racer, was born to be an adventurer. In the Arctic from the age of six weeks, he is now regarded as one of the foremost Arctic guides and experienced Arctic travellers. One of the world’s most eligible candidates for leading polar expeditions with international clients, his experience ranges from technical projects that include leading sea kayaking trips, ski expeditions and hiking/trekking trips to logistical projects such as working with film crews in remote regions.
At the age of 25, Tessum has recently graduated with an undergraduate degree in commerce and devotes his time to working in the family business, Arctic Watch and sister lodge Arctic Haven while maintaining a seat on the board of Nunavut Tourism. In 2010, Tessum became the youngest person to ever trek to the North Pole. He accompanied his father RIchard, Howard Fairbank and David Pierce-Jones on the speed-record-setting trek to the North Pole.
As the 14th season at Arctic Watch comes to a close, we're pleased to announce that Dr. Valeria Vergara, of the Vancouver Aqarium joined the team at Arctic Watch for four weeks this summer.
Dr. Vergara spent the four weeks at Arctic Watch, studying beluga whales; specifically mother-calf interactions taking place within the nearly two thousand whales that visit Arctic Watch. Located on the Northwest Passage, Cunningham Inlet is of unique importance for the density of beluga whales, and the non-presence of human disturbance (i.e. boat traffic, diving, etc..).
Dr. Vergara's field notes were recently published in the Vancouver Sun:
Dr. Valeria Vergara with Arctic Watch guests listening for beluga whales in early July, on the Northwest Passage
Beluga whales breaching in the midnight sun at Arctic Watch
A playful beluga whale breaches for the camera!
Photographing beluga whales at low tide in Cunningham Inlet
With the late departure of the ice this year and anxious arrival of the belugas, many ATV trips were made out along the Northwest Passage to spot the arrival of the Beluga whales. Trips were made out to Cape Anne to see if the belugas had arrived at in the passage. The first beluga sightings where made on July 21st. Some of the guest where rewarded with amazing shots! Not being able to enter into Cunningham Inlet, due to ice conditions, the belugas had moved on. We were rewarded with an other sort of wonderful encounter, to keep our minds of the fact that Cunningham inlet was still frozen. For a first time we had seen hundreds of Narwhals and even a bowhead whale, migrating up and down the shore of the Northwest Passage. A spectacular sight! Seeing an eastern bowhead whale is always a privilege. Its blow was first seen approximately 1km away. Truly an amazing creature. Bowhead whales are the worlds second heaviest whale and the olds oldest living mammal. Living up to 250 years old! Nansen was so excited about seing the bowhead, the following day he transported a kayak all the way to Cape Anne in hopes to kayak with the bowhead. However only a few Narwhal where seen. Nevertheless exciting. Due to extensive whaling in the early 1900's these are now very elusive creatures. Some guests also explored the shoreline of Somerset Island by aircraft and saw a bowhead swimming at the mouth of the bay. The belugas have since arrived in Cunningham Inlet and they are enjoying the warm waters of the Cunningham!
As part of our support towards research on beluga whales in Cunnigham Inlet, we are pleased to be hosting and supporting Dr. Valeria Vergara from the Vancouver Aquarium¹. Her work will help ensure a protected future for the nearly two thousand beluga whales that visit every summer! Here is the first part of her field notes :
At last the day arrived when I would fly from Yellowknife, to Nunavut’s High Arctic to begin the Cunningham Inlet beluga research project that had been exhaustively planned for months. Along with 20 Arctic Watch Lodge clients keen to experience a one-week long Arctic immersion, I climbed eagerly into a small charter plane that flew for hours over vast, frozen land to Cunningham Inlet, on Somerset Island.
The immensity of the unpopulated land we were flying over, hour after hour, took my breath away. We landed on a wide rocky plane in the middle of nowhere, and we could see the little white yurts of the Arctic Watch Lodge in the distance,. This is Canada’s most northerly lodge, opened in 2000 by Richard Weber, the renowned polar adventurer who has made more successful treks to the Pole than anyone in history, and Josée Auclair, a seasoned Arctic explorer and leader of the two all-women trek expeditions to the North Pole (2001) and South Pole (2007). Their oldest son, Tessum Weber (the youngest person to have reached the North Pole; “It must run in the family,” he told me a moment ago), and Richard greeted us at the rugged runway, guided us to two large yellow rafts at the edge of the river and paddled us all across to the beautiful main yurt of the lodge. Josée and the Arctic Watch staff awaited us with coffee, tea and biscuits, followed by a spectacular dinner. This was, hands down, the fanciest start to a research project in all my years as a field biologist.
After dinner, as Josée drove me across the land on an all-terrain gator to the “research cliff” which overlooks the beluga nursery grounds in Cunningham Inlet, I saw the red and white yurt destined to become my home and research base for the next five weeks. It sits about 50 metres back from the old research hut, which was used in the 80’s and 90’s by other researches and is perched at the edge of the cliff. In this vast, wild landscape, the little wood hut and my red and white yurt are the only two human-made structures that can be seen. Read more
¹ Vancouver Aquarium associate researcher Dr. Valeria Vergara is a behavioural ecologist now spending the summer in the Arctic. Based at Arctic Watch on Somerset Island, Dr. Vergara is using her knowledge about beluga calls, gained by studying beluga whales at the Vancouver Aquarium, to learn more about wild Arctic populations, and how their melting environment is affecting them. The study is funded by the Vancouver Aquarium and supported by the Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation.
Hosted on July 8th, from Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, the Northwest Passage Marathon welcomed 11 runners for the half marathon, marathon and ultra marathon on the Northwest Passage. The race, which is fully supported by the Arctic Watch team, is Canada's most northerly marathon, and the only one in Nunavut.
All courses departed from Arctic Watch, heading towards the Northwest Passage, along the shoreline. The unseasonably late ice remaining on the Northwest Passage allowed for a section of the course to be held on the sea ice!
We’re also pleased to announce that four polar bear sightings were made on course, safe and memorable! Shore birds, seals and polar bears were spotted on course!
Ultra Marathon (50km):
Kevin Johnson (Ireland): 4:52
Javier Suarez (USA): 7:07
Caren Della Coppa (USA): 9:13:52
Al Tingley (Canada): 7:05:08
Vickie McDonald (USA): 7:17:10
Jill Josselyn (USA): 7:49:11
MJ Josselyn (USA): 7:49:11
Michael Johnson (Ireland): 2:37
Paddy Johnson (Ireland): 2:37
Ryan Robb (Bermuda): 3:16
Laurie Tingley (Canada): 3:45
Eleven runners and race director, Richard Weber, at the start line, ready to begin!
Al Tingley leaping for joy on the Northwest Passage!
Javier - all smiles on course!
At the finish!
Photographing in the Arctic is challenging but very rewarding. It is very unpredictable and can often change drastically year-over-year. At Arctic Watch, I often find myself deciding my day’s photographic journey first thing in the morning. My summer’s activities are controlled by the harshness of the past winter along with current ice conditions and water levels. You have to patient with weather. There is always something great to photograph, from mammals to birds, to fabulous landscapes with amazing light! The belugas, bears and muskox are great but don’t over look little things, like birds and flowers. The variety of landscapes and terrain is amazing. A nice sharp wide-angle lens is an essential piece of equipment, to capture scenery.
Other gear I recommend is a fast shooting camera with a lens you are comfortable to hand hold and travel with. The canon 70-200mm f/2.8 II is the best all around lens for Arctic Watch. Most of the time it is plenty strong enough for the belugas. You don’t need a huge lens. When the belugas get rowdy, you are always spinning around and shooting heads and tails from side to side. They are usually in very close proximity. When there are lots of belugas it is hard to keep track of individuals. You have to be able to move fast!! The Canon 400mm is my favorite lens. I can hand hold it and I am comfortable swinging it around without a tripod. Often it is too big for the belugas. You wont get the nice foreground or group pictures. However it gets me closer to the muskox and polar bears. Most of the time I will I don’t find myself using a tripod, unless I am spending long hours at the whales or when I am shooting video or time lapses. A good solid backpack is something I highly recommend. Something you are comfortable hiking with but can also strap onto the front of the ATV’s. I don’t usually worry about rain. We do not normally get torrential rain. Don’t worry about having too many spare batteries. You can always charge them in your cabin at night.
On days when I am having a hard time photographing, I often like to take the time to enjoy the scenery. Sit on the Northwest Passage look at the ice floating by or look off muskox ridge and take the time to appreciate the remoteness and quietness of your surroundings. It is easy to let your thoughts drift off into endless landscape. The arctic is a land of opportunity - be ready for anything, there is something for every photographer out there.
More about Nansen:
At 23 years old, he has grown up in the arctic, spending every summer exploring the Arctic. Nansen Weber is Arctic Watch’s lead and professional wildlife photographer. When he’s not busy leading a private photography trip, or working with film crews in the Arctic, Nansen is a lead guide and makes sure guests capture their picture perfect memories of Arctic Watch on camera.
Nansen knows Arctic animals and environment - don’t be shy to ask him questions! Arctic wolves, caribou, muskoxen fights, sleepy polar bears, curious arctic foxes and playful belugas; with more than ten years of Arctic photography under his belt he’s witnessed fantastic wildlife. When he’s not photographing in the Arctic, Nansen devotes his time to photographic projects across the globe - recently with National Geographic. Be sure to visit his wildlife photography website - www.NansenWeber.com
A simple and tasty treat that is uniquely French Canadian; the maple sugar pie.
This classic dish was brought to Canada with French settlers during the establishment of New France. A similar recipe, using only sugar, was predominate in Belgium and France during the 17th and 18th century. The North of France is the largest sugar-producing region of in the country and the only region where people use brown sugar, or vergeoise, in desserts. As many of the French from this region emigrated to Canada, it is likely that they brought this traditional pie recipe with them. The wealthy settlers in the townships of New France imported brown sugar and molasses from the Antilles, but for most in the more remote areas of New France, maple trees were the only reliable source of sugar. Voila la création Québecoise: La Tarte à L'érable
Chef Justin Tse's Maple Sugar Pies
Quantity: Yields 12 - 4'' pie shells
I have made many different maple pie recipes over the years, and this is by far my favourite. In this recipe, the pie mixture is made in a dish and poured into a baked pie shell. One no longer has to worry about pie shells shrinking, oven temperatures, or even cooking of the pie itself. You simply cool your pie shell before starting, pour in the cooked maple mixture, and let it set. This is definitely one of the desserts you'll see this summer at Arctic Watch. These mini maple pies are great with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or chantilly. Their miniature sizes propel one to savour every bite; the rich maple flavour and soft creamy finish.
527g maple syrup
308g heavy cream (35%)
2 egg yolks
35g corn starch
1. Combine maple, egg yolks, and butter in a bowl. Whisk until yolks are evenly mixed and set aside.
2. Bring heavy cream to a boil, and then slowly temper into the maple and egg yolk mixture. Be sure to do this slowly so that you don't curdle the egg yolks.
3. Return the mixture to a medium heavy bottom pot over medium heat.
4. With a fork, scrape and mix the water and corn starch until smooth, then add to the potted mixture over medium hear.
5. Stir with a whisk constantly until mixture has thickened and started to simmer lightly.
Laddel this mixture into 4-inch pre baked pie shells. And allow to set at room temperature for 45-minutes before setting in the fridge for another hour.
Bake off the pie shells before making the maple mixture so that the pies have enough told to cool down, this ensures that your pie she'll does not become soggy when adding the hot pie mixture.
When baking the pie shells cut out a piece of baking paper/parchment paper larger than the shell and place in the unbaked pie shell and cover with raw beans before you bake the pie shells. Cook the pie shells with the "pie weights" for 15 minutes at 350F. Remove pie weights and parchment and return to oven to be baked for another 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Allow pie shells to full cool before filling with the maple pie filling.
The Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation, started by Arctic Watch founders Richard Weber and Josee Auclair, supports outreach projects in the Canadian North. The foundation, a registered Canadian Charity, supports beluga research in Cunningham Inlet, a recent youth leadership initiative, and more recently, the donation of hockey equipment to the community of Resolute Bay.
In partnering with Resolute resident Aziz Kheraj, Sport Central in Edmonton, Wilf Brooks of United Cycle and LandTran Express, the Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation helped to deliver 50 sets of hockey equipment to the community of Resolute Bay.
This was a collective undertaking. The hockey gear was graciously donated by Edmonton's sporting goods charity Sports Central. A special thank you to Wilf Brooks of United Cycle! From Edmonton, LandTran, the LTL specialists of serving Alberta, BC and NWT, trucked the equipment to Yellowknife, where it was received and shipped by Aziz Kheraj on aircraft, 1500km north to Resolute Bay!
The community of Resolute Bay recently had a rink built for the 250 people who live there - but there was little or no hockey equipment available!
Here's a great photo, from this past April - Olympic Hockey Team Members Caroline Ouellette, Genevieve Lacasse, and Arctic Watch founders Richard Weber and Josee Auclair pose with local residents from Resolute at the arena!
It seems that we can now say, without the fear of jinxing it, that Spring is making its long awaited appearance after a lengthy winter. With the extended hours of sunlight, spring showers, and winter thaw we are reminded of the soon to come seasonal fruits and vegetables we have missed in the winter months. One of my favourite dishes this time of the year is a Banana Beignet. Its perfect for those warm summer days served with fresh fruit and whipped vanilla Chantilly or on a chilly evening with warm salted caramel. Fitting for both breakfast with maple syrup or after dinner with coffee and tea. Its simplicity is beautiful, crispy on the outside and warm and fluffy on the inside. This is a small treat that I love to incorporate into the Arctic Watch Menu. Enjoy!
- Justin Tse, head chef at Arctic Watch.
1.5 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
butter for cooking
1 cup ripe bananas + additional 1/2 cup of sugar not to be mixed in with the dry mixture above
1. Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl and mix well and set aside
2. Scrap vanilla beans and whisk into milk and set aside
3. Roughly chop bananas to small bite size pieces
4. In a non stick pan melt the 1/2 cup of sugar set aside for the bananas over low heat
5. Once the sugar has melted and begun turn golden brown add your chopped bananas and remove from heat
6. Add your caramelized bananas and vanilla milk to the dry mixture
7. Stir mixture until just incorporated and the flour is evenly mixed, once batter is even do not over mix
8. In a non stick pan heat up a table spoon of butter until melted and add dollops of batter 2 inches in diameter, once golden brown flip the beignet and cook until both sides are the same. Finish in a 350F oven for 10 minutes.
Tips: To get perfectly circular shaped beignets use a spring handled ice cream scoop.
To save time beignets can be seared off in advance and set side to be finish in the oven when ready to serve.
These go great with fresh fruit and whipped cream, chocolate fudge, or salted caramel.
Justin Tse: Justin Tse has been in and around the restaurant industry since he was in diapers. He is a third-generation chef. Hailing from a Chinese restaurant family in Kingston, Ont., Justin moved to Ottawa, Ont., in 2010 after completing culinary school in his hometown. In Ottawa, he worked under chef Michael Hay at the Courtyard Restaurant, at that time known for an upscale French-influenced menu dotted with the best of molecular gastronomy techniques. At Courtyard, Justin rose to the position of pastry chef. In spring 2012, he joined the opening team at Odile, a renowned French Canadian bistro in Gatineau, Quebec. During Justin’s tenure at Odile, the restaurant was selected to participate in Gold Medal Plates, a prestigious culinary competition and fundraiser in support of the Canadian Olympic team. Odile also reached 56th place in Vacay magazine’s list of the top 100 restaurants in Canada. As head chef at Arctic Watch, Justin is interested in pursuing locality and seasonality – bringing the ingredients of the North to Canadian cuisine.
According to Justin, “Josée sources only the finest ingredients, making my job easy. The Weber’s have always had a passion for great cuisine. The kitchen becomes the heart and soul of the camp. When clients aren’t out on the land or water, it’s all about the food.”
When not wielding his chef’s knife, Justin can be found with a fishing rod in hand, eagerly fishing for Arctic char.
We're thrilled to announce that Quark Expeditions has joined the Arctic Watch family for the 2015 season at Arctic Watch.
Richard, Josee, Tessum and Nansen started Arctic Watch in 2000, as a family. For the past 14 years, we've welcomed guests from across the globe to one of the most unique experiences on earth. We're a small team that works hard to create the experience of a lifetime for our guests. We've decidated our careers to Arctic Watch, and will continue to do so, for many years to come.
The team at Quark Expeditions is an equally passionate group of polar adventures, and we're proud to call them partners for the coming 2015 Arctic Watch Experience.
As we head prepare for the 2014 season at Arctic Watch, we're looking forward to welcoming Quark Expeditions at Arctic Watch for the coming 2015 season.
Josee, Richard, Tessum, Nansen and the entire team at Arctic Watch.