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Across the Arctic

Hector Williams|June 1, 2015|Blog Post

At the end of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, the monster drifts away on an ice flow near the North Pole. In the real world, only a few people have the opportunity to visit one of the last frontiers of our planet.

Towering crystalline castles break off from the many glaciers of that “Mother of Ice” Greenland, whose hundreds of children drift south every year into the Atlantic Ocean. Fantastic curtains of shifting bands of color across the night sky, loudly trumpeting herds of walrus, elegant ambling polar bears, long tusked narwhals, swiftly dashing beluga, mighty phalanxes of musk oxen, and  millions of birds of every description—all these sights are the natural splendors of the Arctic and have been there for millennia.

But there is also the historic Arctic to experience, the land that ate ships and punished those bold enough to venture into its waters; and yet, the same land in which the Inuit have lived and thrived for thousands of years. Our expedition will touch on all these elements, following the passage of famous voyagers like Sir John Franklin whose ship Erebus was found only last September, preserved in icy shallows near King William Island—we’ll be sailing nearby— and Roald Amundsen, the first man to make it through the Northwest Passage from west to east as recently as 1905.

The building of the great Spanish and Portuguese empires in the southern parts of the western hemisphere initially sent the English off to the unchallenged and unexplored north in the late 16th century, in search for a passage across to the wealth of China and India. Martin Frobisher made three trips in the reign of Elizabeth I, even taking prefabricated houses to set up a mine for what he thought was gold. Fifteen ships set sail, likely the largest expedition ever to visit the Canadian Arctic, but the gold turned out to be iron pyrites—fool’s gold. Frobisher also seems to have been the first to meet the Inuit and even brought a family back to England as souvenirs!

Others from England sailed in soon after; most famous was Henry Hudson, an early explorer of New York’s Hudson River, who found the bay that took its name from him in 1611, only to be abandoned by a mutinous crew and to die an unknown death.

Expedition after expedition made its way north only to be forced back or to winter in the ice pack. Two Danish ships commanded by Jens Munk wintered in the estuary of the Churchill River in 1619-20; only three sailors, including Munk, survived scurvy and trichinosis, but they managed to sail the smaller ship back to Norway. English mariners like Davis, Button, Foxe, and James gave their names to northern waters in the late 16th-17th centuries, and the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1670 to trade with the natives led to even more maritime activity. We will be visiting an abandoned HBC post at Fort Ross and will perhaps even see a current one in Kugluktuk, our port of embarkation.

Our voyage is a remarkable one, pressing further north than many ships go, all the way up to 82 degrees north (ice conditions allowing) to the Kane Basin, named for US explorer and army doctor Elisha Kane who reached the area in 1853—the furthest north any explorer had reached. Kane was leading one of the many expeditions that sought the missing Sir John Franklin, his two ships, and his crew of 129, all of which were lost in the ice. Robert Peary later followed part of Kane’s route, in his controversial claim to have been the first to reach the North Pole in 1909.

It’s easy to see that along with stunning natural splendors, a fascinating history also awaits the adventurer who embarks on our expedition across the Arctic.

For more information our upcoming voyage to the Arctic, visit our Northwest Passage trip page.

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