Over the last few years I've made a number of trips to the Far North and Far South – penguin spotting in Antarctica and South Georgia, searching for polar bears around Svalbard and taking more pictures than is sensible of the wildlife in the Falklands, and of the scenery and the icebergs in Norway and in eastern Greenland respectively
When I talk about the travelling north, once the “Have you been to the North Pole?” question gets out of the way and the “Are polar bears really dangerous?” query, (answers no and yes in that order), the next set of questions are often about the Northwest Passage.
Pretty much everyone has heard of the Northwest Passage, even if the grasp of exactly where it is and why it might matter are a bit vague.
To date, I've had to answer “not yet” when asked about travelling the Northwest Passage.
Tomorrow I fly west to Ottawa, then to Greenland, to travel through the Northwest Passage. I join my boat at one of the few places in Greenland with a full-sized airstrip. The airstrip at Kangerlussuaq (also known as Sondrestrom or, at one time, Bluie West-8) was primarily built by the US military as part of the DEW (distant early warning) Line in the 1950s. It’s now Greenland’s main transport hub, allowing visitors to fly in from Europe or North America before joining expedition boats moored in Kangerlussuaq Fjord. Pretty much everywhere in Greenland – and indeed along the Northwest Passage - seems to have multiple names reflecting local traditions, visiting explorers or their sponsors egos or military presence.
Once I join my boat (leaving a former US air base to board a Russian-flagged former hydrological research ship) I’ll travel down the fjord to the coast, then turn north, recrossing the Arctic Circle and heading to the Disko Bay area, then across Baffin Bay.
After that the planned itinerary (as always on these sort of trips, subject to change) takes us to Pond Inlet, and to Devon and Beechey Islands, then southwards into Prince Regent Inlet and through Bellot Sound and down Franklin and Victoria Straits. The final stop is at Cambridge Bay on the southern edge of Victoria Island. This route isn’t too different to the one that Amundsen followed when he first sailed the Northwest Passage between 1903 and 1907. From Cambridge Bay, Amundsen carried on west along the Canadian coastline, but I get to fly south to Edmonton to complete the trip by flying back to Heathrow. Amundsen took best part of four years to complete the passage, I'm only planning to spend a couple of weeks doing my bit of it.
I'm doing this trip on the Akademic Ioffe with One OceanExpeditions. The other travel arrangements have been sorted out by SteppesTravel in Cirencester.
I expect to have limited internet access over the next couple of weeks – pictures and words to follow later in the month.