Kayaking the Arctic Ocean near Arctic Watch - A Guide's Perspective
For many, the word arctic evokes images of frigid expanses of ice and snow. Meanwhile, the word desert conjures images of just the opposite. However contradictory these words may seem, they meet in a unique climactic zone called the Arctic desert. A region of the world where few have the opportunity to visit, the Arctic ocean remains frozen more than half of the year. Somerset Island sits in the heart of the arctic desert, but nevertheless, water plays a central theme in our operations at Arctic Watch. Whether it is fat biking on the frozen ocean in the early season, hiking into stunning canyons, fishing for arctic char, a polar dip or rafting the Cunningham river, water is always nearby.
One of our most popular excursions is the sea kayaking. For those who have sea kayaked elsewhere in the world, pushing off land generally involves a sandy beach, shorts and sandals. This is just not the case at 70 something degrees latitude. At Arctic Watch, an excursion on water begins with the process of sealing oneself into a drysuit. Drysuits are a waterproof onesie used for cold water kayaking - they keep you safe and warm! Once everyone is watertight and has received their cold water safety training from guides, guests hop in the front or back of the double kayaks. While the stunning colour of the water often gives the illusion of the tropics, the beautiful sculptures of ice peacefully floating nearby remind you otherwise. With one swift push from land, paddles slice the calm water and after a few tries, a rhythm is found.
A day out in the sea kayaks are as varied as the Arctic weather. During peak season, it is not uncommon to paddle alongside members of the resident beluga population that live in the bay for the summer months, to spot polar bears hunting on the pack ice in the distance, to explore ancient Thule artifacts on a lunchtime beach hike or possibly even go for a swim. One afternoon in particular, guides were kayaking with a family of four when a curious baby seal approached their boats. This baby seal had probably lost its mother and had never approached a human before - simply curious, the seal spent a great deal of time investigating the paddlers! The seal even tried to climb onto a guide’s kayak! Keeping calm and allowing the seal to investigate in a safe manner for both kayakers and marine mammal, the seal eventually swam off.
One very cute baby ringed seal Photo credit: Alexandre Deschenes-Philion
Thgis particular day was special, back at the lodge and the guides and guests alike were comparing notes on their adventures. It had been a beautiful clear day and the energy was high with everyone having packed a lot into the excursions. Guides were feeling especially good having caught Arctic char, watched baby foxes play on the hillside, muskoxen grazing and hiked to a lake yet to be visited that season. But what stood out were the once macho paddling guides who had been absolutely smitten by the baby seal and were reduced to mushy adoration. Their elation was another reminder that no two days are alike and the arctic environment is ever shifting. This is the Arctic beyond.