“You shouldn’t be out on the sea ice at night,” says a small man with his hood pulled tightly over his head. We’ve just climbed the snow bank at the edge of the sea ice when he appears. There’s concern in his voice. “The polar bears come into town at night you know. They’re hunting now.”
A blackness envelopes the community of Qikiqtarjuaq broken only by small yellow rectangles that punctuate the shroud. A handful of houses are scattered along the sea edge and it was through one of these windows of light that we were spotted on the ice. Our concerned local makes his way back to his home as we walk quickly back to the inn. The Northern Lights are on full display this evening and we were drawn out to see them. We had no idea the polar bears might be out as well.
We arrived in Qikiqtarjuaq yesterday afternoon and are now acclimatizing to our new Arctic environment. It’s everything we had anticipated: icy cold – it’s -25C now (-13F) and the temperature is dropping fast; barren and windswept – we’re above the Arctic Circle in a treeless ice-clad world that bears no resemblance to anything we’ve ever seen; and humbling as stink – we knew there’d be things we didn’t anticipate but polar bears in town!?
Tomorrow we head out onto the sea ice to test our equipment and ourselves. In two days we will travel 110 kilometres over the sea ice to the Southern end of the North Pangnirtung Fjord and begin our journey across the Akshayuk Pass of Baffin Island. The team is both excited and anxious. A big adventure lays ahead!