Fewer people, fewer trees, less fuss, more peace and quiet—an Arctic summer is a study in solace.
By Mikaela Ferguson | July 15, 2021
We hike along the glacially fed Sylvia Grinnell River, its water sparkling iridescent blue under lingering snowdrifts. When we have walked far enough, we build a campfire with timber purchased in town (there isn’t exactly an abundance of firewood north of the tree line); we cook dinner, sip drinks and laugh late into the evening. When I finally check my watch, it’s almost midnight—yet the sun continues to shine above.
Most of my summers have passed in a familiar fashion: canoe trips in Algonquin, barbecues on Sunday afternoons, weekends at the cottage. But my favourite summer, by far, was entirely different: For four months, I lived on Nunavut’s Baffin Island, working as a tour guide under a nearly constant midnight sun. For many Canadians, Nunavut doesn’t really register as a travel destination. Little is known about the territory besides polar bears and endless ice. But for those willing to take an unconventional vacation, a summer in the Arctic is unforgettable.
Hiking on the tundra
Much of Nunavut’s landscape is tundra, the land characterized by its lack of trees, which are unable to grow because of persistent low temperatures and a short growing season. But that doesn’t mean the tundra is devoid of life. Once the snow melts in June, the wildflowers grow quickly, taking advantage of the long days. On my favourite trail, the territory’s official flower, purple saxifrage, grows in abundance, as does pink-purple dwarf fireweed, yellow Arctic draba and the fluffy heads of Arctic cotton. Filling in the space between the wildflowers are dark-green mosses, orange and lime-green lichen and an assortment of berries.
Kayaking among the icebergs
While the snow melts off the tundra quickly, the sea ice needs a little more time. It isn’t until July that Frobisher Bay is largely ice-free and ready to be navigated by kayak.
Even in the peak of summer, I wear fleece-lined clothing under a Gore-Tex dry suit, without which an accidental tip in the barely above-freezing water would be fatal. I push off the rocky shore and paddle on the Arctic Ocean near Auyuittuq National Park. Monstrous icebergs tower above my little kayak, some so large that waterfalls of meltwater spill off their edges.
Some evenings, standing on my back porch, I can make out the faint patterns of northern lights dancing across the sky.
The end of endless days
By the time August comes around, daylight disappears at an alarming rate for those unaccustomed to life in the high Arctic, each day a full five minutes shorter than the last. Some evenings, standing on my back porch, I can make out the faint patterns of northern lights dancing across the sky.
Summer in the Arctic passes quickly—blink and you might miss it. But for those with open eyes and a yearning for an unconventional, unfussy and unforgettable experience, Nunavut is well worth a wide-open visit.