Sondre Stromfjord is one of the longest fjords in the world, boasts 105 mi (168 km) of superb scenery and calm waters. Kangerlussuaq, the town at its eastern head, means ‘the big fjord.’ We begin our adventure by sailing down this dramatic fjord as the sun sets before us.
Blessed with an ice-free harbor year-round, Sisimiut has been inhabited for the last 4,500 years, first by the the Saqqaq, the Dorset, and then by the Thule (the ancestors of today's Inuit). Their descendants form the majority of its present-day population of some 6,000 inhabitants. It is the largest business center north of Nuuk and the fastest-growing community in Greenland.
Ilulissat translates literally into “iceberg”, and there couldn’t be a more fitting name for this spectacular place. Our visit will include time in the colorful town, famed for its handicrafts, cafes, museums, and picturesque habitation. We’ll have a chance to hike out along a boardwalk to an elevated viewpoint where we can observe the great fields of ice. We will also cruise in our fleet of Zodiacs in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Ilulissat Icefjord. The Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier is one of the most active and fastest moving in the world at sixty-two ft. (19 m) per day and calving more than fourteen sq. mi. (35 sq km) of ice annually. The glacier has been the object of scientific attention for 250 years.
Today we will cruise one of Greenland’s most spectacular fjords, known for plentiful marine life, plentiful icebergs and inspiring landscapes. Seals use the long leads created by high winds in this region to hunt the rich waters of the fjord. The cliffs and talus slopes within the fjord should give us good opportunities to see colonies of dovekies. Time spent on deck today should result in some good wildlife sightings, not to mention unbeatable photographic opportunities of icebergs amid mountain peaks.
Qikiqtarjuaq, a community located on Broughton Island, is known for its wildlife, whale watching, and as an access point for Auyuittuq National Park. It is one of the Nunavut communities closest to Greenland. Qikiqtarjuaq (fondly called “Qik”, for short) is known as the iceberg capital of Nunavut and was home to a NORAD military station that formed part of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line in the 1950s.
Qikiqtarjuaq also boasts a burgeoning traditional Inuit craft industry, and local craftspeople are eager to share their wares. Talented local artists produce Inuit carvings, with a particular focus on intricate ivory work and jewelry. The community is famously warm and welcoming of visitors.
Today we will explore the eastern coast of Baffin Island, or Qikiqtaaluk, in the region of Auyuittuq National Park. Named after English explorer William Baffin, Baffin Island is the largest island in Canada, and home to 11,000 people. Likely known to Pre-Columbian Norse of Greenland and Iceland during the eleventh century, the island is presumed to be the Helluland of the Viking sagas. The Penny Ice Cap and the Barnes Ice Cap are the largest ice caps on the island, both remnants of the Laurentide ice sheet that once covered much of the North American continent. Both are currently in a state of retreat.
Today will be an expedition day in the truest sense as we navigate the fjords of northeast Baffin Island. The Ocean Endeavour is the perfect vessel for exploring these hidden treasures of the north, as her maneuverability and shallow draft allow her to access regions that would be impassable to larger vessels. Moving through waters known to harbor belugas, narwhals, and other marine mammals, we will be monitoring at all times from the deck and bridge to maximize our wildlife opportunities.
Devon Island is the largest uninhabited island on earth and comprises over nineteen thousand sq. mi. (50,000 sq km). It was first sighted by Europeans in 1616, though they never set up a base here until the arrival of the Hudson’s Bay Company, three hundred years later—a short-lived endeavor now long abandoned. The island's geology consists of reddish Precambrian gneiss and Paeleozoic siltstones and shales; a landscape so barren in places that NASA has tested its Mars rovers at Devon Island. Substantial Thule sites are among Devon Island’s many treasures.
In 1845, Sir John Franklin took his expedition of 129 men and two ships into the Wellington Channel. Not a soul returned from the fateful expedition. The three graves found at Beechey Island left no indication as to the fate of the rest of the British party, but the island gradually became a touchpoint for those searching for survivors. A fourth grave on Beechey today holds a sailor from one such expedition. In the autumn of 2014, Canadian archaeologists discovered remnants of the HMS Erebus, and in 2016 Franklin’s second ship, the Terror, was also located.
Sailing Peel Sound, we get into serious polar bear country and will be on the lookout for good spotting opportunities. Parry Channel is named after Arctic explorer William Edward Parry who got as far as Melville Island in 1819 before being blocked by ice at McClure Strait. Depending on ice conditions, we may make expedition stops along the way among the spectacular landscapes, a perfect setting for hiking and exploring the geological diversity of the area.
In 1903, explorer Roald Amundsen attempted the Northwest Passage, sailing through the James Ross Strait. Unable to proceed due to sea ice, he spent the winters of 1903–04 and 1904–05 in the beautiful harbor he found—Usqsuqtuuq. While there, he learned Arctic living skills from the local Netsilik Inuit, skills that would later prove invaluable in his Antarctic explorations. He used his ship, Gjøa, as a base for explorations in the summer of 1904, sledding the Boothia Peninsula and traveling to the magnetic North Pole. Usqsuqtuuq offers a lot to its visitors, including the Northwest Passage Territorial Historic Park, and Canada’s most northerly golf course. Although Usqsuqtuuq is becoming more modern, many traditional Inuit activities are still being enjoyed, including throat singing, drum dancing, and hunting.
Sir John Franklin’s flagship, the HMS Erebus, was a Hecla-class bomb vessel, built in Wales in 1826. She was named after the dark region in Hades of Greek mythology and weighed 372 tons. The ship took part in the Ross Expedition from 1839 to 1843, and was abandoned during the legendary Franklin Expedition after becoming icebound during an attempt to locate the fabled Northwest Passage. Her sunken wreck had actually been designated a National Historic Site prior to being located in September of 2014 by a Parks Canada underwater archaeology team. Two years later, Franklin’s other ship, Terror, was located, spurring further interest in one of the great mysteries of polar exploration.
Located between Victoria Island and the Arctic coast of mainland Canada, the Coronation Gulf is an extensive body of water that is linked to the Arctic Ocean via the Dolphin and Union Strait on the west and by the Dease Strait and Queen Maud Gulf on the east.
The gulf was named in 1821 by John Franklin in honor of the coronation of King George IV. The environment and Inuit cultural history of the region was studied by Rudolph Anderson and Diamond Jenness in 1916 as part of the Canadian Arctic Expedition. We will be exploring the area scouting for an opportunistic expedition stop.
Located at the mouth of the Coppermine River, southwest of Victoria Island on the Coronation Gulf, Kugluktuk is the western most community in Nunavut. Coppermine reverted to its original Inuinnaqtun name—Kugluktuk, meaning “place of moving waters”—on January 1st, 1996. The Coppermine River is designated a Canadian Heritage River for the important role it played as an exploration and fur trade route. Copper deposits along the river attracted the first European explorers to the area. Today we will disembark the Ocean Endeavour and make our way to the airport to meet our charter flights home.
Note: This is our proposed itinerary. It is highly probable that weather, sea conditions, and unforeseen circumstances will not allow us to travel this exact route. Our expedition leader and the ship's captain will determine our exact route day by day.
* Itinerary may be subject to change