Canadian Arctic

For Jonathan

March 2007.

A quest for polar bears

Dear Jonathan,

While comfort is always a priority, you seem to be looking for a certain rugged authenticity in your journey. The trip combines stunning scenery, the exquisite northern lights, top-of-the-line, remote accommodations in the Arctic Igloo Dome base camp, delicious meals, and, most importantly, up-close and personal polar bear encounters under the professional guidance of local Inuit guides. You and your close friends will have an adventure you won’t easily forget. You will leave with experiential memories that will transcend simple visual ones.

Day 1: Arrival

Today, Klark will be waiting for you in Montreal. He will be your guide and compass on your journey. You will enjoy overnight accommodations to prepare for your early-morning departure for Nunavik. The following eight days will be spent in the foothills of one of Canada’s most remote and breathtaking mountain ranges—the Torngat Mountains.

Day 2: The George River

Departing this morning from Montreal, Klark will take you to Kuujjuaq and continue on to Nunavik. There, you will learn firsthand why the aboriginal people of Nunavik, the Inuktitut, named this place the “great land.” Kangirsualujjuaq, the easternmost village of Nunavik, stands in the shadow of a granite rock outcrop, yet despite its northerly location, the valley is rich with vegetation. For me, travel is about losing myself in the strangeness of a place in order to find myself again, and this area—rich with Inuit culture and stunning scenery of mountains and large sea ice formations—is a heart-stoppingly beautiful and transformative destination.

Most importantly, you will arrive in this region at the perfect time of year to experience the nature, scenery, and culture. The George River area is well known for massive Caribou herds that begin their northern spring migration during this time. Here, the polar bears also begin to move onto the sea ice and into the fiords near the Torngat Mountains of northern Nunavik from mid-March through April, searching for seal pups. Large male bears, mothers, and pups are commonly visible during this time.

Day 3: Torngat base camp

Wake up early this morning to depart from the George River community by snowmobile caravan. Based on your preferences, I have booked you at the Arctic Kingdom Arctic Dome base camp, located on a peninsula overlooking Ungava Bay in the foothills of the Torngat Mountains. A unique hotel, it’s comprised of heated dome structures and insulated habitats in a comfortable and remote setting. The base camp will be an ideal launching point for your day trips by snowmobile in search of polar bears. Without a doubt, Roger will be eager to try his hand at snowmobile driving—something he can become proficient at with the help of experts here.

Jonathan, some of my most vivid memories of this region involve its two distinct, contrasting landscapes: the George Plateau and the spectacular Torngat Mountains. The Plateau is a level bedrock plain cut by deep river valleys and sloping gently to Ungava Bay. Marcel and Roger will note the effects of glaciation are everywhere: drumlin fields, kame terraces—ridges of water-born sediments deposited by melting glaciers—erratics, and eskers that snake over the plateau. The Torngat Mountains are among the highest, most rugged mountains in eastern North America and comprise one of the world’s most beautiful, wild coastlines, providing a spectacular counterpoint to the gentle George Plateau.

Today Klark will take all of you to explore these mountains, part of the Arctic Cordillera, a range of high, glaciated peaks along the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The sights in this region, from the ice caps to the tundra, can be best appreciated with a local guide as experienced as Klark leading the way.

Day 4: Off the beaten path in Torngat

Today, Klark will allow you to gain access to a place that has rarely been seen by anyone other than scientists and local Inuit. A helicopter will pick you up at base camp to take your group over the Torngat Mountains, above the immense George River, and over the area’s newest national park to the sea ice floe edge, where polar bears are found in large numbers.

As you know, polar bears are becoming a rarer sight in the wild, thanks to habitat loss due to climate change. When I first caught a glimpse of this apex predator in its natural habitat, I remember being amazed that it could move with such grace and utter silence in spite of its size. The largest polar bear ever recorded, I am told, weighed over 2,200 pounds, and yet they move like ghosts over the ice floes. With any luck, your journey today will yield a comparable sighting.

Days 5-7: Arctic safari at Torngat

Jonathan, your appreciation for nature will take on new meaning as you continue to track polar bears across the untamed wilderness with the help of Inuit guides. You, Marcel and Roger will travel by snowmobile and qamutiq, a traditional sled built using ancestral Inuit knowledge, to cross frozen lands, snow, and ice floes.

Settling into a routine of exploration, you will fall in love with ferocious nature and timeless culture. When the sun sets at the end of each day, the darkness of night sky will revel in one of nature’s most inspiring sights: the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights. You will be in one of the best locations in the Arctic—and on all of the planet—to witness this natural spectacle.

Day 8: Foraging up the George River

Now, with several days of rugged arctic safaris under your belt, you will return to the George River community today by snowmobile and qamutiq. This leisurely journey will include rest stops, photo opportunities, and plenty of moments to savor the landscape and the wilderness. I hope this place will become as much a part of you as it has to me.

Day 9: Kuujjuaq and Montreal

After returning to Kuujjuaq, your final day will be spent in Montreal—a city that will feel almost foreign to your newly indigenous sensibilities earned by rite of passage in the untamed wild.

And so, Jonathan, there we have it. The sense of place is everywhere, in everything. I have learned by now that in travel, one must try to see with one’s emotions rather than one’s head. We have been so inundated with tricked-up photographs that the magic of a first meeting often pales next to the images one carries home. I’m truly excited to learn what images you will carry home from your journey. Please feel free to contact me at any time, should the need arise.