Arctic Watch

January 26, 2023 | Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, Somerset Island, Nunavut


For 20+ years we've welcomed families to the Arctic and believe that the Arctic should be for all ages. Arctic Watch guest Alison shares her experience and photos.

Donna grew up in a farming family in Saskatchewan. The land there was a prairie kind of wild that seeded in her an awe of nature. When she married John, the pair lived in Rainbow Lake on the northern edge of Alberta. They’d occasionally visit her brother even farther north in Yellowknife, an Arctic moonscape of muskoxen and polar bears and dancing aurora lights. Donna and John eventually moved down to southern Alberta where they raised their daughters Alison and Rebecca, instilling in them the same love of nature. One day, Donna vowed, she would bring her whole family to the North to see that most vast and pristine wild she’d ever experienced.

It wouldn’t happen until after she’d become a grandmother twice over. The summer of 2022, she booked a trip for the family at Arctic Watch. Alison recalls being “gobsmacked” when her mother told her that all of them—Alison, her husband Matt, and their ten-year-old son Evan; and Rebecca, her partner Ito, and their twelve-year-old daughter Abril—were going on the first trip they had ever taken with all three generations together. Plus, the ten days would span both Donna and John’s and Alison and Matt’s anniversaries. When the family landed on the runway of Arctic Watch, the tiny village of cabins and lodge structures glowing white on the tundra and nothing but sky and sea beyond, Alison knew this experience would live in their hearts long after they left.

Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, Somerset Island, Nunavut
Arctic Watch Lodge

The youngest generation got their own cabin and their own freedom, immediately skipping rocks on the river and discovering fossils. “It was a really peaceful place for them to have so much time in nature and never be afraid,” Alison said. The adults settled into their cabins and mulled what outings they wanted to partake in over the course of the week and a half. “We felt like we were being all wild and adventurous doing all these big, outdoorsy things at the very end of the planet. But then there were these gorgeous meals, hot showers and comfortable beds. If felt really relaxed and like we were taken care of.”

The first hike the family chose was Gull Canyon. In a magical cloud of mist, their guide led them up through Arctic cotton, past muskox bones and down into a river valley. Evan had brought his camera along, and he stopped often to take photos of the surreal landscape. At the bottom of the valley, a collected pile of fossils and archeological artifacts awaited. The guide spoke about each, allowing time for everyone to catch up. Then the gathered group rounded a rocky corner to a welcome surprise.

“The Unimog was parked there with a giant picnic spread out, in the middle of nowhere in this gorgeous green valley,” Alison said, in almost disbelief. After lunch, the group hiked further up the valley, where the guide spotted an Arctic fox nearly blending into the stones. Evan snapped a shot as it nimbly navigated the rocks. It was a fortuitous first full day at Arctic Watch.

A few days later, Alison and Matt took time for their own adventure together, just the two of them and a guide, Donny. They took the electric bikes out toward Polar Bear Point. “The experience by bike was... I have goosebumps thinking about it right now. Powering yourself across the land is just so special.” Alison joked that she’s not athletic, but the e-bike made her feel like a superhero. And the quiet nature of the ride, plus the slower travel that allowed them to take in the views, made it one of her favourite days. Even when the motor on her bike had mechanical issues.

Guests mountain biking at Arctic Watch
Alison and Matt heading out on ebikes

Donny handled it like a dream though—troubleshooting in such a remote place, after all, has to be like second nature—switching her his functioning bike and riding Alisons bike back to camp, where it charged while the trio ate lunch. Then they rode out the other direction from camp toward Google Canyon, where the rock formations looked like they’d been carefully and deliberately cut from the earth. On a stop, Alison dipped her bottle in a clean, clear stream and drank. Tears of happiness began running down her face. “I just felt so thankful for getting to go to this pristine place.”

From their ride out to Google Canyon, they could see Muskox Ridge, where Donna and John had taken Abril and Evan to hike with Josee in search of the giant beasts. Josee led a journey based on exploration and wonder: stopping to look at fossils, tracking animals, and then initiating an exciting army crawl up the slope with the children, whispering quietly together about what they might see. They topped the rise to find a scattering of muskox lazing in a field of cotton. After that, Donna and John surprised the kids with a helicopter pickup way out in the tundra, to sightsee from the air on their way back to the lodge. The helicopter hiking that afternoon ended with a beautiful sighting of a mother and two polar bear cubs walking the coastline of the Northwest Passage.

Quietly observing muskoxen near Arctic Watch
The army crawl that proved successful - observing muskoxen near Arctic Watch

While grandparents and grandchildren zoomed over the curve of the earth, Alison and Matt finished out their ride feeling accomplished and hot from the exercise. Alison decided this was the moment to polar plunge. She convinced Matt to go too, and they jumped into the cold Arctic Ocean. They challenged themselves to air dry under the northern sun, cleansed and thrilled.

Of all the rest of the trip—the hikes and ATV adventures and outings with the small guide-to-guest ratios, socializing with other guests at dinner, celebrating anniversaries over wine—one other experience particularly stands out in Alison’s mind. Donna and John also surprised their daughters and husbands with a helicopter flight one afternoon. The machine flew the four of them heli-hiking along the coastline of the Northwest Passage with icebergs, bearded seals, polar bears, a beautiful archeological site dating back nearly 800 years, and then over the serpentine rise of Limestone Island, a towering cliff on the northern end of Somerset. It landed there, and Alison got out to stand tiny and high above the ocean on the far north tip of the continent.

Atop limestone island near Arctic Watch
Atop limestone island with views of the Northwest Passage

“If felt like the edge of the Earth,” she said. “When astronauts talk about going to space and looking back at the planet, that was the closest I’ll ever come to that... that understanding of the scale of things. It was unbelievable.”

Alison's phone showing her location - the Northwest Passage!
Alison's phone showing her location - the Northwest Passage!

To have gifted the experience of the trip to her family was, to Donna, the feel of a circle closing. The eight of them may never take a trip together again, and likely never one like Arctic Watch that so nurtured their generationally shared reverence of the natural world.

To the entire Uncles family - it was a true pleasure hosting you! Thank you! - The team at Weber Arctic

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