Biking on the Arctic Ocean
The sound of ice gently crunching under the tread of my fat bike cuts the the otherwise silent landscape of Cunningham inlet. It’s early July, but we have spent the last few hours on an expanse of ice and snow. If you close your eyes, the sound of seven bikes moving over the frozen arctic ocean could be mistaken for the satisfying crunch of my hand-crank coffee grinder. My mind wanders from the rhythmic sound and lands on the surreal reality of what we are doing. Today, we’re among just a handful of people every year who can say they biked on the frozen arctic ocean. We're on the Northwest Passage near Arctic Watch.
Biking on the Arctic ocean ice near Arctic Watch - a unique way to explore the late spring floe edge. Guide Emilie biking with a guest.
For a week at a time, guests from all over the world leave the comfort of their known world and are dropped into the vast and harsh landscape of the high arctic. Of course, the experience is not without gourmet food and a family of polar explorers as hosts. Arctic Watch sits on the embankment above the Cunningham river and for the majority of the year, the inlet is chocked full of ice. During the eight-week guiding season, the ice melts away and thousands of belugas enter the bay to spend the remaining weeks of summer at the mouth of the river. The ice is still several meters thick but with warming temperatures and 24hr daylight, the pack ice will eventually begin to fissure and float out to the open water of the Northwest Passage. While we wait for our aquatic friends to arrive from Baffin Bay, the opportunity to explore the temporary and shifting landscape of the high Arctic captures the imagination of guests and guides alike.
The Cunningham River, gently flowing into the Arctic ocean, beneath the ice. The river brings warm water into the Arctic ocean, that slowly melts the ice away. Photo credit: Nansen Weber
Leaving directly from the lodge the fat bikes move across the rocky terrain of Somerset Island. The four and a half inch tires of the Rock Mountain Blizzards are designed for traction. We’re guiding a family of five out onto the Arctic sea ice today. The day is young and the energy is high. With each rhythmic push of the peddle the bikes gain speed and the two boys in the family hoot and holler as we zip down towards the shoreline.
Biking on the sea ice. Photo credit: Nansen Weber
Standing on blocks of floating ice, we pass the bikes over open water until we get to solid ice. Up until this point there was a tranquil sense of ease as we cruised along familiar terrain. Moving from terra firma to the ice is approached with trepidation excitement. The frozen expanse stretches far in the distance, a meandering pattern of white and blue.
Biking on the nearly two meter thick sea ice. Emilie leads a guest over the pools of water and along a crack where seals sun themselves.
We move comfortably over the solid white ice, but the stunning turquoise pools veil the thick ice hidden under a thin layer of slush. Although there is less than an inch of water, the opaque pools appear to be endless and pose a mental challenge with each crossing. Attempts at wheelies cease and everyone takes their place single file, not daring to deviate from behind our tracks. We have been leisurely biking for the past few hours and reach the opposite shore to the south of Gifford Point. The day is perfectly still and our reflections bounce back up to us in the rich turquoise pools. Curious ring seals poke their heads out of their holes to see what the excitement is all about and in the distance lumbering bearded seals lazily watch the scene. This sea ice is the home of polar bears, migratory birds such as king eiders, snow geese and more. In a few weeks’ time the ice will soon break up and make biking no longer possible. This adventure is for a lucky few - the Arctic landscape waits for no one and I am reminded how fortunate we are to explore this frozen world under blue skies and warm weather.
Beluga whales congregating at the edge of the sea ice. Photo credit: Nansen Weber
Emilie is a guide at Arctic Watch & sister lodge Arctic Haven. Heralding from the mountains of British Columbia, she's spent her entire life playing and exploring the wilds of Canada. Botanical specialist at Arctic Watch, keen hiker, mountain biker and wildlife tracker, Emilie brings a huge amount of passion, laughter and energy to the team at Arctic Watch!