Adventure Travel: Arctic Canada Greenland ScandinaviaThe Trips: Paddling Greenland >>
Difficulty: Trips are rated from 1 (easy) to 5 (difficult)
DIY Potential: Use this itinerary as inspiration for planning a do-it-yourself trip
First Ever: Exploratory trips, undiscovered places
Reindeer-Packing Sweden >>
Cruising Polar Scientist Territory, Norway >>
Arctic Safari, Canada >>
Path of the Explorers
Greenland 1 2 3 4 5
Outfitter: Black Feather (www.blackfeather.com) Editor's Pick
Length: 15 days
Far above the Arctic Circle, a huge protected fjord system slices into eastern Greenland, cutting west toward the ice sheet that blankets nearly 80 percent of the island. Named for English whaler William Scoresby, who first mapped the area in 1822, the Scoresby Sund fjords' inside edges are lined with calving tidewater glaciers that pepper the surrounding waters with massive floating icebergs. The area has long been irresistible to explorers. Norwegian Carl Ryder investigated the Scoresby Sund fjord system in the early 1890s and Dane Ejnar Mikkelsen rallied for a settlement in the area in 1924. And in 2006, northern destination expert Black Feather offers modern-day adventurers a chance to test the Scoresby Sund waters for themselves.
On a five-day paddle from the ice cap at Hjornedal, you'll travel northeast up a series of interconnected fjords to Sorte Island, following the path of explorers past. Scoresby Sund is home to snowy owls, peregrine falcons, white-tailed eagles, and killer whales, all frequent companions as you glide through the red rock canyons typical of the Rødefjord and past the sheer mountain walls of the Øfjord. Elusive narwhals, a rare Arctic whale with a long, spiraled tusk, swim through both of these channels, and you'll have a good chance of spotting their unicornlike tusks as you paddle. Long days in the boat are broken up by onshore hikes to lake valleys and high promontories. At day's end, you'll camp alongside the sod huts and stone remains of pre-European Inuit civilizations, the first humans to witness the area's wonders.
Pick This If: You're convinced the great age of polar exploration lives on.
Reindeer Games in the High Arctic
Sweden 1 2 3 4 5
Outfitter: Crossing Latitudes (www.crossinglatitudes.com)
Length: 9 days
The native Sami people, more commonly known as Laplanders, have been reindeer packing and trekking the distant lakes and highlands of the Scandinavian Arctic for thousands of years. With the help of local guides, Scandinavia specialist Crossing Latitudes, run by husband-and-wife team Tim and Lena Conlan, offers a handful of hikers the chance to accompany these nomadic tribes on their travels across the Swedish tundra. No other outfitter does anything like this unheralded trip, which provides travelers a peerless opportunity to experience the Arctic through both cultural immersion and
Reindeer carry the bulk of the expedition gear, a mode of portage that's close to the land and environmentally low-impact (the reindeer feed on lichen that grows abundantly on mountain slopes). The route moves through Laponia, a UNESCO World Heritage site about a hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, and some of the most unspoiled national parks in Sweden, including Stora Sjöfallets ("Great Waterfalls") where wolverines, moose, and mountain foxes range the rolling hills. Groups learn how to catch reindeer (with a lasso, Sami cowboystyle) and anglers can fly-fish for Arctic char and trout alongside the Sami in alpine lakes and streams. Impromptu lessons on Sami traditions—knifemaking, storytelling, seasoning your freshly caught dinner with native plants—all come just before dessert: handpicked blueberries and cloudberries.
Pick This If: You've always wondered how people live up there.
Cruising Polar Scientist TerritorySerengeti of the NorthCanada 1 2 3 4 5
Norway 1 2 3 4 5
Outfitter: Peregrine Adventures (www.peregrineadventures.com)
Length: 10 days
Move over Antarctica, there's another polar player in town. Spitsbergen, an island 690 nautical miles (1,278 kilometers) north of the Arctic Circle and smack in the middle of the alpine meadows, fjords, and ice plateaus of the Svalbard archipelago, is experiencing a boom—at least two outfitters are introducing trips to this region of the Scandinavian High Arctic in 2006. But it was Peregrine Adventures that started the trend last year, sending its Voyager, a former sonar research vessel, to the islands. The Voyager sails again next year, offering a high-tech base camp for Zodiac excursions to see polar bears, walrus, and bearded seals and for a visit to the remote scientific station of Ny ålesund, home of the northernmost post office on the globe.
Traveling aboard the Voyager allows passengers to see the Arctic through a scientist's eyes; an accompanying faculty of historians, ornithologists, and marine biologists provides expertise on the wildlife you'll witness from atop the ship's bridge. For intrepid paddlers, the Voyager also takes along kayaks and dry suits. There's good reason to make haste to this uniquely polar spot: This past July, researchers at Ny ålesund sported T-shirts and Bermuda shorts as they recorded the highest local temperatures in history.
Pick This If: You'd prefer to see the Arctic through well-trained eyes.
Departs: June, July, August
Outfitter: Natural Habitat Adventures (www.nathab.com)
Length: 9 days
On the western shores of Hudson Bay, where the Arctic tundra, southern boreal forest, and Canada's western plains converge, the mouth of Manitoba's Churchill River is a crossroads for Arctic wildlife: migrating caribou, snowy owls, polar bears, and the beluga whales who come to molt each year. Manitoba outfitter Natural Habitat Adventures has been visiting the hub for 17 years, but next year it's adding a new element to what director Ben Bressler calls its northern wildlife safari: a chance to jump right in and snorkel with the belugas. Since belugas that summer in Hudson Bay estuaries migrate north into the open bay come autumn, the Churchill River mouth, summer home to thousands of the whales, is one of few places in the world where you can hang out with a large (and characteristically playful) beluga population.
After traveling north from Winnipeg by sleeper train, the trip begins in the town of Churchill, the jumping-off point for hiking and tracking animals via Zodiac and tundra buggy. On the Churchill River, you'll have an intimate fish-eye view of the whales feeding on capelin, scratching themselves on the shallow gravel riverbed, and singing their characteristic song, a medley composed of equal parts chirping, whistling, and clucking. On land you'll watch from Natural Habitat's mobile Tundra Lodge as polar bears mosey around with their cubs, and you'll visit Inuit museums and the historic Fort Prince of Wales, where the Hudson's Bay Company established its original trading post to the northwest in 1689, long before it occurred to anyone that diving into a river to swim with whales might be fun.
Pick This If: You're seeking an uncommon wildlife encounter in an even wilder place.
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