Catching Arctic Fever In the Land of the Midnight Sun By Liz Fleming
Catching Arctic Fever
If you find it hard to sleep in the land of the midnight sun, it won't be the light keeping you awake. It'll be the excitement.
After all, when you clambered into the Arctic Kingdom convoy of snowmobiles and komatiks (wooden trailers on skis) to head off across the sea ice from Pond Inlet, enroute to its base camp at Sirmilik National Park on Baffin Island, you were launching yourself into life-changing adventures.
Riding in the well-packed komatiks behind the skidoos, you can feel the power of the stark mountains lie behind you while ahead lies nothing but an endless sweep of ice. No snow - just a crust on the ice that morphs from frosty white to shimmering blue. In places, melt-water lies on the surface in ponds through which we splash like water skiers. Sometimes, deep cracks stretch down to the ocean itself, but they prove no challenge for the imperturbable Arctic tour guides. After unhitching and pushing the long komatiks across, they rev their snowmobiles and leap the gaps like Cirque de Soleil acrobats.
Nestled at the feet of 15,000 year-old icebergs, our base camp is the point from which we make daily expeditions to the floe edge. The wild is waiting there to meet us wild, face-to-face. We wrestle into tight-fitting dry suits or zip on survival gear and hop into kayaks, frantic to be in or on the water when the whales come. One eerily white beluga is awe-inspiring but seeing dozens, cavorting just meters from you, is electrifying.
Like a boiling pot, the water churns with belugas and sleek brownish-grey narwhals that swim beside kayaks and slide between snorkelers.
“It's like a wildlife highway down there,” bubbles Jens, a German biology professor, as the belugas swim past him. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Days are indistinguishable from one another, with no darkness to divide them. We live surrounded by the wild, our soundscape filled with the breathing of mammoth bowhead whales and our landscape dotted with seals and polar bears. Poor Chef’s gourmet meals are bolted quickly so we can hurry back outside to watch the sun dance across the ice and climb the ancient icebergs. Each night, long past midnight, we reluctantly retreat to cozy tents and slip beneath downy comforters but sleep is elusive - Arctic fever has us firmly in its grip and we don’t want to miss a second.