Cresting the ridge, a gravelly, barren abyss stretches beyond your sightline. Spring’s recent ice-melt has revealed deep canyons slicing through an eerie lunar-like landscape. It’s a shocking scene of rock and rubble that illustrates just how desolate and unforgiving Somerset Island is; even during the fleeting weeks of summer. Winter in this isolated, uninhabitable land – 800 km north of the Arctic Circle – is beyond comprehension. Yet somehow life prevails here and witnessing the magnitude of nature’s survival is a spectacle unto itself. Venturing to the world’s most northerly fly-in wilderness camp grants exclusive access to an otherwise unattainable playground; and the adventures available to you here are epic. From hanging with belugas to snorkeling with narwhals, Canada’s Arctic promises a transformative effect on your soul.
Explore the Canadian Arctic
Journeying to the far reaches of northern Canada is a multi-day trek, involving a stay in Yellowknife, small-winged aircraft and a brief river crossing. There are only 16 private guest cabins at base camp, made from a durable all-season fabric membrane and buried beneath a thick layer of ice and snow for more than 80 per cent of the year. Accommodation is simple, yet sufficient with thick duvets and hot water bottles to keep you warm after the generator-powered electricity is turned off at night. Your guides are a family of four polar explorers, who’ve spent the better part of their lives navigating some of the harshest landscapes on earth; all the while earning multiple world-record breaking titles. Adventures on Somerset are of your choosing. Paddleboard or kayak one day, fish for Arctic char or search for polar bears by ATV the next.
Playing with Beluga Whales
A stone’s throw from the riverbank, in the pristine shallows of Cunningham Inlet, anywhere from 800 to 2,000 belugas are having a pool party. The estuary is one of the last beluga whale nurseries on the planet and it’s a breathtaking sight. Every summer, mothers and calves migrate to the quiet Arctic waters to molt, feed and play. Part of the pods’ rejuvenation ritual includes rubbing against the inlet’s large smooth rocks to exfoliate molting skin. Hanging out on the shore watching the playful interactions is an intimate encounter that provides unique insight into beluga behavior, as well as outstanding close-range photo opportunities.
Time Travel with Muskox
After having travelled inland for almost an hour to claim your front row seat, you observe a herd of shaggy, prehistoric looking beasts from a safe distance. The the bulls’ clashing horns – dueling to secure a mate – drift across the beautifully barren tundra. The magnitude of these immense animals viewed from such a close vantage point solidifies just how the legendary bovine can withstand the Arctic’s harsh climate. On your quest in search of Arctic wildlife, you take a step back in time with a visit to 1,000-plus year old archeological sites. Long ago the Muskox shared this region with the nomadic Thule people, who built winter homes inland on high ground, and summer homes overlooking the Cuningham Inlet. Scattered across the rolling tundra, small reminders of the past remain today, including a whale bone dogsled discovered in 2016.
Snorkel with Arctic Narwhal*
Bobbing atop Creswell Bay’s glacial, emerald water you’re intently focused on the mythical-like creatures gracefully gliding in the far depths beneath. Following the guide’s cautious pace, you slowly swim farther from the boat, ready for a closer encounter. As foretold, youth’s curiosity has drawn two of the pod’s adolescents up for a closer study. Within moments, a handful more twisted spires appear from the depths to explore the waters a few feet below. It’s an enchanted scene that’s surpassed every expectation. You’ve been told that polar bears are often sighted prowling the shoreline, but for now you’re solely focused on these magical unicorns of the sea.
* Snorkeling with arctic narwhal is an optional full-day private add-on expedition that requires a minimum three-month advance booking. This exclusive package includes private air and boat transport from the Somerset basecamp to Creswell Bay.