A visit to the Northwest Passage

From whale watching to hiking there is a lot to do in this remote land

A view across the Northwest Passage
Walking the Northwest Passage: 'unique and precarious'
(Image credit: Arctic Watch)

The camp known as Arctic Watch lies at 74 degrees north on a large bay overlooking the Northwest Passage, said Ruaridh Nicoll in the Financial Times. Run since 1999 by the Webers, a family of polar explorers, it sleeps 25 in tents made of aluminium and canvas, and on beds "thick with fleece and blanket". The people who choose to visit this remote place are a mixed bunch: on my visit, I met a surgeon who had pioneered stent technology, a retired murder detective and an art dealer.

To reach the camp, you have to fly for three hours from Yellowknife, "the already remote capital of Canada's Northwest Territories", but it's worth the journey: I knew I was going to love it the moment the plane landed. A key draw is that every summer – "all seven weeks of it" – beluga whales turn the bay into their personal kindergarten. But there is much to do besides watch whales congregate. On a walk on the Northwest Passage itself, the icy route across the north of the Americas that has claimed so many lives, we search in the distance for "patches of yellow" – and one eventually resolves itself into a polar bear and its cub. Hiking through "ground-hugging" Arctic willow back on land, we spot muskoxen, and gather clumps of their qiviut, "wool so warm that it seems to heat the hand". A chopper is also available to fly guests south, to see icebergs and narwhals, and "fly-fish for sea-run Arctic char".

Before leaving this "unique and precarious" place, I go on a group kayaking trip. "We start in a gorge, the never-setting Sun making green glass of the water. But after several hours, a fog rolls off the passage and I become separated from the others." I happily thread my own way, safe in the knowledge that the camp and its "vast dinner and hot-water bottle" aren't far. "But for now, I am immersed in endless shades of silver – glistening fog, sparkling rock, mercurial water."

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