December 14, 2021 | The Canadian High Arctic


Sometimes the best opportunities come out of the blue, and sometimes they change us in ways we can’t predict.

So it happened last summer when 22-year-old Weber Arctic guest Jamie T. got the invitation of a lifetime from her uncle Jim. Did she want to come along on a two-week private, bespoke Arctic adventure? Jamie had just endured the rigamarole of applying for (and being accepted to) a master’s program in clinical pharmacology, and she was ready for a big leap before she went back to school. “I’d never done anything like that before, and I thought—when am I ever going to get this chance again?” she says. Although her family had traveled a lot with her uncle as a child, she hadn’t seen him much since she was thirteen, so, Jamie says, “It was also an opportunity to spend time with family and learn more about him and see him in a different environment. He’s been up to the Arctic a lot. He’s very seasoned.”

Ice caves on the Northwest Passage
Ice caves on the Northwest Passage

The uncle-niece duo would have the first week to themselves based at Arctic Watch complete with a chartered Twin Otter and use of a helicopter, and then friends of Jim's would join for the second week. Flying into Somerset Island this past August, Jamie recalls, “To be honest, I had absolutely zero clue what I was walking into. I didn’t know if we were landing at an airport or what. So then we landed on the strip they made, and I thought, where are we?”

After being transferred to the lodge in high Unimog style, Jamie says, “My room was gorgeous, way more than you would ever expect up there. We had dinner—the best food I’ve ever had in my life. That night we saw the beluga whales, and I was thinking to myself that, seeing something like this on the first night, I can only imagine what this whole trip is going to be like. It ended up exceeding my expectations.”

Their itinerary (across the Canadian Arctic) over the next two weeks was epic. Within the first hours of their first full day, Jamie and her uncle visited an arctic wolf den and had the rare luck to glimpse pups. “The parents were trying to lead us away from their pups to protect them,” Jamie says. “It was so cool to see how those animals behave and interact. The guides did a really good job explaining everything, and I feel like I learned so much.” The wildlife encounters kept coming, as Jamie and Jim quickly added muskox, arctic fox, polar bear, and narwhal to their species list as they explored Somerset Island and nearby Islands and waters by foot, kayak, ATV, e-bike, zodiac, helicopter, and drone. Jamie ventured into a glittering ice cave, sea-kayaked in the Northwest Passage and, though she’d never fished before, landed her first Arctic char.

Narwhal on the Northwest Passage
Narwhal on the Northwest Passage near Arctic Watch; small drones are a great way to unobtrusively photograph these gentle animals.

On an excursion north to Devon Island, they had the chance to watch and photograph walruses. “It was this beautiful location where you could imagine camping,” Jamie says, “and across the water, there were all these walruses on a rock. You could hear them. You could get whiffs of them. We sent the drone up and photographed them from a distance. They’re not agile on land, but in the water they’re completely graceful. They’re big guys.”

Walrus on the Northwest Passage
Jaime's sighting of Atlantic walrus

Venturing even farther afield (and ascending into latitudes over 80°N), Jamie saw the mummified forests, coal mountains, and spectacular glaciers of remote Axel Heiberg Island, and reached her farthest north at Alexandria Fjord on Ellesmere Island. A short zodiac ride brought the group to Skraeling Island, an extraordinary archeological site that has yielded artifacts ranging from Pre-Dorset camps up to four thousand years old through the Thule culture all the way to modern Inuit camps from the past several hundred years, plus Norse artifacts. Jamie walked among the remains of a cluster of twenty-three Thule winter houses, their stone footprints, tools, graves, and middens still clearly visible after eight hundred years. “Everywhere you looked, you saw another,” she says. “Learning about the rich history up there was one of the coolest parts. The explorers and the Thule and the Inuit are hard to appreciate until you see the actual places they lived. You think, how did they ever survive like this?”

On the way home, dense fog necessitated an unplanned overnight stop in Resolute, but that’s all part of the adventure. “Sometimes when you tell people you went to the Arctic,” Jamie says, “their first thoughts are, one, why would you want to go somewhere so cold? And, two, what is there to do up there? So I try to convey it as, even though the landscape isn’t what you think of when you think of stereotypical beauty, the barrenness has its own beauty. And the feeling of knowing that there’s no one around you is so peaceful.”

Guests at Arctic Watch
Heading out to kayak on the Northwest Passage

Although she’d gone to an outdoorsy summer camp for ten years in her childhood and teens where she rock climbed and whitewater rafted, Jamie says that before her trip to the Arctic, her connection to the natural world had withered. “I hadn’t been doing those things. So, before this trip, I knew it was in me, I just hadn’t seen it for a while. In the Arctic, I feel like I got more in touch with who I am and what I like. And being removed from being on your phone and all that, you can just be. It was a really freeing experience. I think my biggest takeaway was becoming more okay with myself away from the facade of everyday life.”

The trip was also a wild success as far as family bonding. Jamie and Jim chat on the phone regularly now and are talking about traveling together again. Does Jamie hope to return to the Arctic one day? “I would definitely go back,” she says. “I saw a lot, but not everything.”

It’s true—there’s always more.

Devon Island
Exploring the surrounding islands near Arctic Watch

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