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  • Writer's picturePatrick Meier

The High Arctic

Updated: Feb 25

A Winter Expedition to Ellesmere Island, Canada

Growing up in Switzerland, our childhood winter holidays were filled with skiing, sleighing, extended hikes along the ancient water distribution system in Grächen, Switzerland, and building “igloos” in the snow. I knew what it felt like to head for my 06:00h ice hockey training, or walk to school on a stormy day in -12° C. The Swiss Army added to this with some winter exercises in the forests around the town of Thun, where I first served. Today, I still enjoy winter sports, but will avoid the slopes in exceedingly cold and windy weather, or on snowy days. Winter expeditions to Scandinavia and later to Mongolia provided my first experience of extended field time in temperatures around -25° C. Thus far, I knew how to deal with such weather. But when Ben Cranke called to talk about a potential winter expedition to Ellesmere Island in Canada’s Arctic Archipelago, I first had to conduct a bit of research about the arrangement, the conditions we were likely to encounter, and about equipment suitable to deal with winter temperatures in the high Arctic.


Tracks of a polar bear heading north towards Eureka Sound

 

We had planned to head out from the hamlet of Grise Fiord towards Eureka Sound by snow mobile and qamutiik, the traditional Inuit sled used to travel on snow and ice. The photographic objective was to find, observe, and photograph Ellesmere Island’s Arctic wolves, or polar wolves (Canis lupus arctos), and other arctic wildlife we would encounter along the way. A total of 12 field days were planned, and nights were to be spent camping in small tents, with no way to get out of the cold throughout the entire expedition.


At Ellesmere Island’s Eureka weather station, the polar night begins after a last sunset at the end of October and ends with the first sunrise at the end of February. We chose to embark on our expedition in the first week of March, just after the polar night had come to an end, when days were still short, and temperatures remained extremely low.


Left: a screenshot dated 27.02.2023 from Yr - the official meteo app provided by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.









End of the Polar Night

During polar night, the high Arctic will be wrapped in twilight and complete darkness. Let’s have a look at these interesting facts:

 

Twilight occurs when Earth's upper atmosphere refracts sunlight which illuminates the lower atmosphere. Astronomers define three stages of twilight, depending on how far the sun is below the horizon:

 

-       Civil twilight

-       Nautical twilight

-       Astronomical twilight

 

Each phase is defined by the position of the Sun in relation to the horizon. During astronomical twilight, the geometric centre of the Sun's disk is between 12 and 18 degrees below the horizon. To the naked eye, and especially in areas with light pollution, it may be difficult to distinguish astronomical twilight from night-time. Most stars and other celestial objects can be seen during this phase. However, astronomers may be unable to observe some of the fainter stars and galaxies while the sun is less than 18 degrees below the horizon - hence the name of this twilight phase.

 

During nautical twilight, the geometric centre of the sun's disk is between 6 and 12 degrees below the horizon. Both the horizon and the brighter stars are usually visible during this phase, making it possible to navigate at sea.

 

During civil twilight, the geometric centre of the sun's disk is at most 6 degrees below the horizon, so there is generally enough natural light to carry out many outdoor activities, including photography. In the morning, this twilight phase ends at sunrise; in the evening it begins at sunset. Sunrise and sunset are the moments when the sun's upper edge touches the horizon.



Winter air travel in Nunavut

Reaching Ellesmere Island can be quite a task year-round. Winter air travel in the High Arctic comes with its special challenges. Canadian North Airlines provide a service from Ottawa to Iqaluit, the capital town of Nunavut Territory, from where scheduled flights are available to various towns and hamlets across the North. Our flight route would take us from Iqaluit via Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay to Resolute Bay, from where a separate flight to Grise Fiord was planned.



We anticipated some delays and had planned for five spare nights between Ottawa and Grise Fiord, and an extra spare night in Grise Fiord before the expedition. Circumstances quickly turned against us when the first segment from Ottawa to Iqaluit was already cancelled and re-scheduled for four days later. In turn, this overthrew our onward travel to Resolute Bay. But the challenges didn’t stop there. We eventually made it to Iqaluit two days late and spent an extra two nights at the Frobisher Inn hotel.


Disembarking in snowy, cold conditions at Iqaluit airport (YFB)


Iqaluit

The Frobisher Inn is a comfy, modern hotel with a great and popular restaurant and bar. Bear in mind, however, that opening hours on weekends are limited and not even hotel guests will get breakfast on Sundays. A 15 minutes’ stroll in the cold, or a 3-minute taxi ride away you will find The Northerner Hotel whose friendly hosts will be delighted to welcome visitors. I went for a tasty meal of Eggs Benedict with smoked Arctic char, accompanied by a rather strong filter coffee and juice. If you are planning to spend a bit of time in Iqaluit, make sure to visit the Inuit Art Museum, the charming Inuit Arts & Crafts Shop, the famous expedition outfit called the Arctic Survival Store, and the town’s own craft brewery NewBrew Co., proud producers of Floe Edge Lager and other tasty beers!


View from the Frobisher Inn hotel


Our onward flight was scheduled for the following day, but at the airport we learned that it would be delayed by a few hours. As the afternoon dusk set in we eventually made it out to our aircraft in light snowfall an -26° C. The first segment would take us to Pond Inlet at the northern end of Baffin Island, where a short fuel stop was planned. However, during the approach, the pilot informed us about a technical problem with the aircraft and stated that it may not be possible to carry on to Arctic Bay and Resolute Bay. Once on the ground this was confirmed. All passengers had to disembark while their luggage was unloaded.


Final approach to Pond Inlet (YIO)


The end for now: our flight is interrupted due to technical problems


The airfield shelter at Pond Inlet was busy with locals making calls to book accommodation, but we had no access to mobile communication and eventually a representative of Canadian North told us to wait in front of the shelter, as someone would come to collect us. By now it was pitch dark; a windy -32° C. awaited us outside. Vehicles pulled up, passengers huddled inside, bags were loaded, and the vehicles headed off towards the village. After a while, a lone vehicle drove towards us. John Henderson introduced himself and offered the three of us one small room in his Black Point Lodge, at CA$ 450 for the night. This would include driving past the local Co-op for us to buy our own food and beverages we would need for supper and breakfast. Considering the situation, the offer was perfectly acceptable, and we headed off to the shop and then to settle in at the guest house.


Over microwave pizza, beef jerky, and chips, we decided that it would be best to head to the airfield very early the next morning and stay on site, as surely, many a stranded passenger would seek a place on any flight that might depart.


Left: a friendly young customer visits Pond Inlet Co-op for an evening snack.

















Getting ready to head back to the airfield


Pond Inlet Airfield Shelter

Spending a full day in Pond Inlet’s tiny airfield shelter was quite an experience. After a few hours, news dripped in that a plane with technicians and spare parts on board had left Iqaluit. Towards midday, a Canadian North representative indicated that a cargo aircraft headed for Resolute Bay might be re-routed to to collect some stranded passengers travelling further north. Heavy snowfall set in and turned into a blizzard, quickly covering the icy runway with 10cm of fresh snow. Two air ambulance King Air 200 touched down without any fuss, and eventually, the plane from Iqaluit with the repair crew landed. Our broken-down ATR 42-300 was fixed within minutes, but the crew informed us that the aircraft had to return to Iqaluit for additional repairs and wouldn’t be permitted transport any passengers.

 

Eventually, the rumours about the re-routed  flight firmed up and things started to look promising as we received boarding passes, could hand in our luggage, and were promised that the bags would be on the plane with us.


The aircraft carrying technicians and spare parts arrives in Pond Inlet


Right: Mrs Meeka Kiguktak, Mayor of Grise Fiord


It was after 20:00h by the time our cargo flight took off. I was placed next to a most charming lady with the keen spirit and energy of a person who had spent her whole life surrounded by great wilderness. The woman, it turned out, was Meeka Kiguktak, Mayor of Grise Fiord. We enjoyed a lengthy conversation about life in the high Arctic compared with life in Switzerland, all supported by showing each other photographs on our mobile phones. After a quick stop in Arctic Bay, the aircraft eventually reached Resolute Bay. From here it would be just one last flight to Grise Fiord the day after next… or would it?


Contrary to their promise, the Canadian North ground staff in Pond Inlet had not loaded all our bags. My mid and outer layers clothing, and further equipment, without which the expedition simply wouldn’t be survivable was stranded with no further flights planned. We contacted the airline again and after a day of emails and phone calls, we were eventually informed about yet another cargo flight being routed to Resolute via Pond Inlet and that our bags would be delivered by this aircraft late that evening.

 

Thus, after spending two nights at Resolute Bay’s only hotel, the comfy, cosy ATCO Frontec South Camp Inn, we finally headed to the airfield for our flight to Grise Fiord… or were we?

 

Before getting there, a note about Resolute Bay, Ozzy, and the South Camp Inn.


Resolute Bay

This only settlement on Cornwallis Island now counts a permanent population of about 190 people, a few dogs, and one cat (never outside in winter). The military is up here, as besides the hamlet of Grise Fiord, both the Eureka weather station, as well as the Canadian Armed Forces Station and the Global Monitoring Lab at Alert are supplied out of Resolute. At this airfield it is not uncommon to board a tiny Twin Otter which is parked next to a massive Hercules transporter from the US or Canadian Air Force.

 

When you are in Resolute and want to get anything done, ask for Ozzy, as 69-year-old local business legend Aziz Kheraj is called. Originally from Tanzania, Ozzy came to Canada in the early 1970es and settled in Nunavut in 1978. He founded the South Camp Inn, which he later sold to ATCO Frontec Ltd. Still today, the best way to describe Ozzy is that he’s the chap who makes things happen. “Basically, if you want to spend a dollar, come see me” he was recently quoted in an interview. We can only share the sentiment based on the great encounter we had with Ozzy over a coffee at the hotel.


There is a well-stocked Co-op market two minutes walking distance from the hotel, where you will be able to fill up on Beef Jerky and other snacks to your delight.

 

Staying at the ATCO Frontec South Camp Inn is horrendously expensive, but so is the cost of operating this place. This is the high Arctic, and everything that happens here requires a lot of energy and immense logistical efforts.

 

All the management and staff are super friendly and helpful, and the hotel rates include all meals and drinks throughout the day, and all airport transfers. Please remember that no alcoholic beverages are on sale anywhere north of Iqaluit. If, like me, you would enjoy a wee dram of Scotch every now and then in the evening, make sure to bring your own and always remain discrete about it.

 

If you spend some buffer days in Resolute Bay before your onward travel to Grise Fiord, make sure to enquire about day excursions on Cornwallis Island. Arctic wildlife and some impressive landscapes await!


Nunavut: Our Land

Nunavut (ᓄᓇᕗᑦ), translated as “Our Land”, is Canada’s largest and northernmost Territory covering an area of 2’093’000 km2. It is a permanent home to fewer than 40’000 mostly Inuit people. Nunavut makes up a major portion of northern Canada and includes most of the Arctic Archipelago. The earliest documented human presence on Nunavut territory was in 1576 when Martin Frobisher, a British explorer passed through the area.

 

The Inuit are adapted to a life of extreme cold winters and use the land for their sustenance. Caribou, walrus, seals, fish, and whales have traditionally been major food sources. In the past, dogsleds and kayaks were their means of transportation; today motorised boats in summer, and snow mobiles with qamutiik sleds in winter have largely replaced the dog teams.

 

The urban legend

Contrary to a popular urban legend, Inuit do not use over 50 words for snow in their language called Inuktituk, but they do have different words to describe snow in various states that is typical to their lives in the high Arctic. Below are some expressions that are used.

Inuktituk

English

Qanik

Snow falling

Aputi

Snow on the ground

Pukak

Crystalised snow on the ground

Aniu

Snow used to make water

Siku

Ice in general

Nilak

Freshwater ice for drinking

Qinu

Slushy ice by the sea

Qanittaq

Freshly fallen snow

 

On to Grise Fiord

Team South Camp Inn automatically arranges all transfers from and to the airfield. If you have a reservation, they will take care of you. If not, they will help you to get sorted out. The drive to the airfield takes about 10 minutes and Resolute Bay has a cute little airport hall.


Transfer to Resolute Bay (YRB) airport


Canadian North Airlines have subcontracted the scheduled service between Resolute and Grise Fiord to Kenn Borek Air, a specialist for flight operations and aircraft maintenance in extremis. Kenn Borek Air would also be the primary option for any private charters to Eureka, for travellers inclined to start their Ellesmere Island expedition there, instead of Grise Fiord. The standard fleet consists of DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft which I like for their ruggedness and the extra cargo/luggage capacity.

 

None of this would help us, though, as the airline had to fit skis to their planes, considerably limiting the passenger and cargo capacity. As we stood in the airport hall, the Kenn Borek representative told us that on today’s flight, only passengers, but no bags could be transported to Grise Fiord. What followed was a discussion with the pilots who analysed the weather conditions and calculated the absolute maximum weight they could take on to safely make it to Grise Fiord and have enough fuel to return to Resolute. At this point (and it will be the only time I mention this name), the guide who originally had “arranged” this expedition, Josh Holko, forfeited his seat and luggage allowance, which freed the total weight for Ben, Malini, and me to board the flight including our bags. Josh was supposed to follow the next morning on a cargo flight, but this never happened, resulting in an undignified drama about the question of why the guide was not present when the expedition finally took off.


Flight 5T 840: Resolute Bay (YRB) to Grise Fiord (YGZ)


As we had to spend a night in Grise Fiord anyway to wait for the “guide” who never arrived the next day, the delayed take-off from Resolute Bay around 14:15h resulted in the exquisite side effect of us crossing Cornwallis and Devon Island in golden hour light, and reaching Ellesmere in conditions that were spectacular for aerial photography. The only challenge being that the Twin Otter’s windows required regular cleaning as they would keep freezing over on the inside of the plane.


Crossing Devon Island on route from Resolute Bay to Grise Fiord


Dusk was setting in as we left the airfield shelter in Grise Fiord. Our real guide, Terry Noah, welcomed us and arranged the transfer to our hostel. More frozen pizza from the local Co-op, Coke, tea and instant coffee, a last update on social media, and then it was time to head to sleep in the world’s northernmost permanent civil settlement.


A quick turn-around for the Twin Otter in Grise Fiord

 

The cargo plane carrying Josh was supposed to arrive around 10:00h, but visibility at Grise Fiord prevented a safe landing and after circling for a short period of time, the Kenn Borek crew decided to abandon the attempt and return to Resolute Bay.

 

Into the Arctic wilderness

Being one participant down meant that we could reduce the expedition load by one qamutiik, redistribute fuel and food, and head out with a lighter pack. Fuel stashes had already been set up further north, to ensure we would not run out of petroleum for the snow mobiles and Jet-A1 for the heating and cooking equipment.


Packing the qamutiik in Grise Fiord

 

Leaving Grise Fiord and heading up north felt amazing. We followed a fiord surrounded by numerous nameless peaks, then turned into a maze of valleys which eventually took us to the foot of a massive glacier. Here the snow mobiles had to be tied together to pull qamutiik after qamutiik to the top, and eventually it was our turn. On top, each qamutiik was fitted with a snow mobile in front and one in the back to allow for a slow, controlled descent down the steep northern face of the glacier.


Heading north across the frozen sea


We were now standing on a frozen lake, surrounded by dark blue glacial ice. Darkness began to engulf the land. Near the northern shore of the lake, we found a small bay that would provide a bit of shelter for the night. Terry and team arranged the snow mobiles in a triangle, and we set up our tents, tying them to the qamutiik and the sleds for stability. The temperature had dropped to ca. -38° C. as I went out one last time, to make a long exposure photograph of this magnificent wilderness, now presenting itself in the velvet-smooth light of moon and stars.


Pitching camp


Moonlit winter landscape on Ellesmere Island

 

Moving and staying warm in these conditions consumes such a lot of energy that we were all exhausted and quickly fell asleep.


The carcass

Our plan for the next day was to push further north towards Eureka Sound, and eventually reach a little hunting shelter cottage (fuel stash 1) towards the evening. However, the plan changed when we first came across a solitary musk ox bull, and a bit later a relatively fresh musk ox carcass. Multiple fresh tracks immediately revealed that the animal had been killed by a pack of wolves. The wolves had disappeared, but two Arctic foxes were nibbling on the carcass, frequently checking from higher ground for any warning signs of returning wolves.


Camp near musk ox carcass

 

We decided to set up camp in the valley near the carcass, hoping the wolves would come back, as there was still quite a bit of meat on the carcass. At dawn we checked again and managed to sit for a while with the little fox. Once the guide team had produced enough water, we enjoyed some instant porridge and coffee, and eventually decided to abandon the kill site and press on.

 

Home of the musk oxen

Apart from populations that were reintroduced (e. g. Dovrefjell National Park, Norway), the wild distribution of musk oxen is so restricted, that photographing these animals in their natural winter habitat requires a special expedition on its own.

 

This prehistoric, shaggy-looking animal is more closely related to goats and sheep (caprinae) than to cows (bovinae). Musk oxen are ruminants that call the Tundra their home. In the Pleistocene Epoch about 2.6 million- 11,700 years ago, their distribution was circumpolar. As the Ice Age gave way to warmer periods, and in combination with over-hunting, ancient herds of musk ox were overtime confined to the northern parts of Canada and Greenland. Musk oxen survived the glaciation period most likely because they were in areas free of ice and far away from early humans. The 20th century saw reintroduction efforts in Siberia and Scandinavia.

 

During the short summers, finding food is easy enough but in winter, the land is covered knee-deep under snow and ice. Musk oxen survive on moss and lichen that they can dig out. In a beautiful example of symbiosis, ptarmigans are known to follow the herds as they move across the landscape, knowing that they can partake in the small amounts of food that are dug out. True to their nature, as we were observing this calm and supremely confident male, a pair of ptarmigans fluttered down near us and edged closer to where the musk ox was digging, hoping for a bite to eat.

 

In the polar winter, the musk ox coat comprises of two layers: an inner layer of short and fine wool called qiviut which is shed in summer and an outer layer of long, coarse, guard hairs that reaches their hooves and give their distinct bulky look. But their adaptation is not limited to their looks; the haemoglobin of musk oxen is three times less sensitive to temperature than that of humans. Moreover, being heterothermic, they have the unique ability to shut off thermal regulation in parts of their body allowing them to reduce the loss of heat especially in their extremities.

 

A unique behaviour of this species is its defence mechanism. When confront with a pack of wolves, musk oxen will hide their young within or behind the group and face outwards, forming a wall and presenting their broad horns. While this is an effective defence against their natural predators, this behaviour become their downfall once small firearms became widely used for hunting.


Musk oxen huddling up as a defense strategy against predators

 

Meanwhile their main natural predators, the Arctic wolves are also highly adapted to this unforgiving environment. According to a scientific publication in 1973 by Kenneth Swan and Robert Henshaw, there is an increase in the blood flow in the foot pads of the wolves resulting in an augmented input of heat as well as a concurrent heat exchange and therefore a lower risk of exposure to the extremities. Their foot pads are also covered with a thick layer of fur, while their ears are small to reduce the risk of losing heat.


Sheltering from the cold

The little hunting shelter provided a much-welcomed moment of comfort, as with our heaters and the cooking going on we managed to warm it up to about -10° C. This meant we could hang our outer layer gloves to toast above the kerosene stove. The door had been badly scratched by a hungry polar bear looking for food, but it hadn’t managed to break into the shelter. However, the poor animal must have found some lubricant bottles outside and had chewed them spilling some engine oil and probably got sick from it. The atmosphere cleared up for the first time after 15:00h and with the sun low over the horizon and some tiny ice crystals floating in the air, this high Arctic evening turned into yet another magic moment. I found tracks of a wolf overlapping those of a polar bear in the snow.


Tracks of a Polar bear and an Arctic wolf merging


Standing still, looking out north across the frozen sea towards Eureka Sound and Axel Heiberg Island, the only audible sound was that of my own blood circulation. Arctic winter was dead silent. Tomorrow would bring more decisions.


A night at the hunting shelter


Facing the facts

At this point we had simply lost too many days on the route from Ottawa to Grise Fiord. The snow mobile trek from the hunting shelter to Eureka weather station would take at least two more days, and two to return. As Terry and the team had the next group arriving in four days at Grise Fiord, we decided to head north, but in a more easterly direction, exploring the area Vendom Fiord. The area was indeed full of wolf tracks, but luck just wasn’t on our side this time regarding wildlife observations. It was, however, when it came to landscapes and moods. The wind had turned to a northerly direction, eliminating any last moisture from the air. The atmosphere transformed the frozen Fiord fringed by countless snow-covered hills into a fascinating scene filled with the colours of a crystal-clear sunset melting into pastels the way they only appear in the firm grip of deep frost. – The temperature stood well below -40° C. as we were pitching our tents for the night.


Travelling along Vendom Fiord at dusk

 

A day later we passed the musk ox carcass again on our way back to Grise Fiord. The wolves had been back. In fact, they had investigated our camp site and where we had produced yellow snow during our stay, the animals had covered it with their own marking. Would they have returned if we had stayed there? Or would they have felt pressured to abandon their kill?

 

Our last field day had arrived. We made it safely up to the mountains, across the lake, over the glacier, and down to the frozen sea again, before reaching Grise Fiord in the dark. Even with our excellent polar clothing equipment, I could feel the brutal cold slowly but steadily creep in. Plenty of chemical hand warmers in the gloves and warm feet kept me well and safe.


Terry Noah controlling the steep descent from the glacier

 

Returning to Ottawa

The return journey from Grise Fiord was almost comically easy. All our flights departed and arrived in time. Our lay-over in Resolute Bay worked like a charm, and from there it was a smooth ride via Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet to Iqaluit. With enough time to revisit this equally peculiar and fascinating town, we ended up at the brewery. It was Friday, 17 March: St. Patrick’s Day. Green beer and sandwiches for everyone, as the cosy brewery filled up with locals to celebrate, while a storm blew outside at -40° C. The time came for our flight to Ottawa, where we reached close to midnight, tired, but filled with fascinating impressions of one of the world’s last truly great wilderness areas.


Winter camping in the high Arctic

Winter camping in the high Arctic is challenging. Everything about it is challenging. Pitching camp in extremely low temperatures requires a team effort of 20 – 30 minutes. Once the heavy cotton tents are up and the bedrolls are unfolded on a layer of isolating cardboard and pieces of foam, small stoves running on Jet-A1 fuel (freezing point -47°C.) are filled, pumped, and lit. The tent has an exhaust opening which must stay open to prevent suffocation. One of the large cooler boxes storing food is placed inside the tent serving as a bench to take off and put on the heavy polar-graded boots and the outer layers. A washing line running along the length of tent serves to hang and dry caps, face masks, and gloves. The top few centimetres will heat up nicely, while the bottom of the tent, and thus, the sleeping area remains at temperatures well below freezing point. Anything left outside the sleeping bag, like contact lens stuff, toothpaste, your flashlight, mobile phone, and any camera batteries, etc. will quickly turn into a block of ice. Turning down to sleep, the outer layers are best spread out on top of the bedrolls. No item must ever touch the tent wall, as the temperature difference will quickly cause local condensation which freezes wherever a down jacket or pants touch the tent wall. Inside the bedroll I would wear my base layers, a woollen buff covering the mouth and nose, and a woollen cap to prevent loss of warmth via the head.

 

During our expedition, we spent about 2 – 3 hours per day to make drinking water. This is done by filling a tea pot with a bit of water, adding snow, then melting and heating it to boiling point on a kerosene stove and pouring it into thermos flasks. The flasks must be consumed within about 8 – 10 hours. Wait much longer and the water inside freezes, turning your thermos into a block of ice for the rest of the trip.


Silas Pijamini collecting snow to make water


Some tasty and nourishing food is easy to prepare. Instant porridge, for example, and any kind of noodle soup that simply requires adding hot water to a powdery substance. Terry, Nolan, and Silas often prepared more comprehensive meals, with fried veggies, pasta, stripes of steak, etc. They did very well, and I enjoyed every meal the team prepared. Once I made the mistake of stepping outside with my plate of pasta to observe the area. The pasta quickly froze to my plate and finishing it turned into quite a mission. I now understand why pasta-flavoured ice-cream never became a thing in Italy.

 

Calculate 15 – 20 minutes getting out of the bedroll, stepping outside for a very quick toilet (I used toothpaste tablets instead of toothpaste), and then adding your outer layers to get ready for another day in the cold.


Left: Ben Cranke taking off the outer layers to turn down for the night.
















A note about equipment

Suitable clothing is critical to survive a winter expedition in the high Arctic unharmed. The risk of serious injuries through exposure to the cold is very real. The key to success lies in creating a solid base layer and combining it with polar-rated outer layers and boots.

 

How to structure the layers

 

Bottom:

 

Base Layer 1

-       Underpants

-       Icebreaker Snow Liner knee socks

-       Icebreaker Merino 260 leggings

-       Icebreaker Merino tank top

 

Base Layer 2

-       Icebreaker mountaineer socks

-       Icebreaker Merino 175 short sleeve top

 

Base Layer 3

-       Icebreaker Merino 260 long sleeve top

 

Mid Layer 1

-       Icebreaker Merino Descender RealFleece

 

Mid Layer 2

-       RAB down vest

-       RAB down jacket

-       RAB down pants

 

Outer Layer

-       Mountain Hardwear 800 Down Jacket

-       Mountain Hardwear 800 Down Pants

-       Fjällräven Polar Bib Pants

 

Head and Neck

-       Icebreaker Merino Flexi Chute

-       Fleece Balaclava

-       Fjällräven Nordic Heater

-       Julbo Ski Goggles Aerospace (ventilation gap is essential)

 

Hands (get every item at least one size larger than your normal fit to add hand warmers)

-       The Heat Company, Inner Gloves Merino

-       The Heat Company, Photography Mitts

-       The Heat Company, Polar Hood

 

Feet (get every item at least two sizes larger than your normal fit to add extra socks and foot warmers)

-       Baffin Eiger, Polar-rated Boots

-       Baffin Cush Booty (wear these inside the tent and to step outside for a comfort break at night)


Ben and Patrick during a short break


Photography equipment

Although photographic equipment manufacturers such as Nikon, Canon, or Sony will only guarantee fully functioning products in temperature ranges of 0° C. to 40° C., modern mirrorless digital cameras fare quite well even down to -25° C. However, once temperatures drop to below -45° C., activating any camera becomes tricky.


With the Nikon Z9 cameras used on this expedition, batteries had to be removed from the camera and kept close to the body underneath at least two layers of clothing. Once inside the camera, batteries would last for a few minutes to maximum an hour before the cold shut them down. "The Heat Company" Photography Mitts would keep the fingertips from freezing but still allow handling a camera and lenses. LCD displays started malfunctioning which was problematic for touchscreen applications. Electronic processing on all devices slowed down dramatically. Photographers be warned: avoid the tip of your nose touching the back of your deep-frozen camera. Finally, camera equipment must never be exposed to quick temperature changes, for example by moving cold-soaked cameras and lenses into a tent. Even the slightest humidity from exhaling will cover optical elements, turn to solid ice outside the tent and render lenses and sensors useless.


Satellite communications

Bear in mind that at the time of writing, Iridium and StarLink are the only satellite networks that provide sat-based communications on Ellesmere Island. I used to have an Inmarsat subscription which worked well globally, but it does not work in the high Arctic. The guides team connect with the outside world via Iridium, and this is a vital connection to have in case of an emergency.


Further information

I hope this article provides valuable insights. If you are interested in travelling to Ellesmere Island, don't hesitate to contact me for further information. If you would like to get in touch with the Terry Noah and team, you will find them here:



Ellesmere Island expedition team March 2023



Patrick Meier, 2023








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