Story by Team Outpost
Photos by Simon Vaughan and Will Allen
In Search of Narwhal by Kayak
The northernmost community of Baffin Island is Pond Inlet. Sitting on Eclipse Sound, about 645 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, Pond is often referred to as the “Jewel of the Baffin” because of its spectacular scenery and abundant wildlife.
It has been a centre for hunting and fishing for thousands of years. Team Outpost Baffin came to Pond Inlet to join Black Feather Adventures on a kayaking expedition, on a kayaking expedition in search of the rather mysterious narwhal—which we were happy to focus on, now that the great polar bear sighting had passed.
Departing from town in the late afternoon, we sail west to Curry Island, slipping past mighty Bylot Island with its snowcapped peaks. We continue west through Baffin Bay in the Arctic Ocean, before setting up our first camp and packing our tandem kayaks with all the food and gear needed for the expedition.
The next morning, before anyone else has stirred, Team Outpost heads off on a solitary hike. Climbing to a nearby summit, we gaze out to sea and spy a lone narwhal, perhaps half a mile away. The legendary creature surfaces briefly amid choppy water, before continuing on its way. It bodes well for our Arctic quest.
“If the weather’s not good,” explains our guide Steve, “we’ll explore the land. We can take a look at some of the ancient campsites that are all over these islands.”
“Narwhals tend to steer well clear of kayaks,” Steve says.
“When we see them, it’s usually from the land.
But we’ve never had a trip without seeing one yet”
There’s a strong and silent beauty to northern Baffin. The Arctic Ocean can be a perfect mirror reflecting endless skies and snowcapped peaks one moment, or rolling white-tops the next. It is a humbling area of magnificent eloquence, and as we paddle we are accompanied by our thoughts on this, as well as by friendly seals that follow in our wake or swim by our kayaks.
Throughout our Nunavut expedition, our campsites are often neighboured by ancient sites that offer a connection to the past as well as an appreciation for the challenges of life here, both then and now. Bones are scattered around the ground: whales, seals and even human. Birdlife is plentiful and the silence is so profound that the exhalation of a surfacing seal carries far across the incredibly crisp air, and the sounds of bowheads even further.
Although no one complains, our narwhal expedition runs short of one thing: narwhals.
“Narwhals tend to steer well clear of kayaks,” Steve says. “When we see them, it’s usually from the land. But we’ve never had a trip without seeing one yet.”
We continue to paddle, the kayaks getting lighter as we use up our supplies. Clear skies are broken by gale-force winds and Arctic rains. Voluntarily emerging from our warm sleeping bags is at times tough, but only until we smell fresh pancakes and brewing coffee drifting from guide Bella’s campfire, and awake to yet another spectacular vista.
Eventually, the time comes to rendezvous for the boat trip back to Pond. All but one of the elusive narwhals has lived up to its reputation. (Stay tuned to Outpost for our full story on Pond Inlet by kayak.)
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