EXPLORING THE PLANET’S PENTHOUSE
From where I'm sitting and sweating in this five-star sauna, I’ve got a clear view straight to Greenland’s immense, otherworldly ice sheet. Well, a relatively clear view if you don’t count the sweat currently pouring into my eyes. As water hisses on the hot lava rocks beside me, I watch as a geological phenomenon unfolds—millions of tonnes of icebergs are calving away, falling into the Arctic Ocean.
Experiencing the Northwest Passage has always been a dream of mine, like any young modern explorer I wanted to walk in the footsteps of Shackelton, Franklin and Amundsen. Just a hundred years ago, teams of men would go boldly to the edge of this frozen continent, sometimes succumbing to death, madness or—even worse—cannibalism.
And yet here I am, on board Quark’s luxury exploratory vessel, The Ultramarine, eating a dinner of lamb smothered in Tuscan mushroom glaze instead of cold beans poisoned with lead. And I definitely wouldn’t change a thing.
And then there are the helicopters waiting for you on the top deck. Honestly, there’s nothing quite like jumping in a twin engine H145 chopper and getting Uber’d to places no human has ever stepped. Exploration? Adventure? This is as intense as it gets. As we slice toward the ice sheet, I watch from above as parts of it crumble into the ocean—the very same crumbling I’ve been watching from my sweaty sauna. Incredible.
When we land, I stand in awesome silence, with the great ice expanse at my feet. My eyes scan the piercing blue and white vastness; I listen as the ice buckles and twangs, like wet wood settling into a new house. Being in this place requires you to use all of your senses. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, or am likely to experience again. Any junky, be it for drugs, work or sports, is always pushing the limits of their addiction. For me, my drug is travel, and my limits are always defined by perspective; the greater the amount of perspective a journey can offer, the greater the trip will be. And this trip is definitely giving a berg’s worth of perspective.
Back in the lounge, I’m sipping on a perfect 50/50 martini—made by Jimmy the bartender who has remembered my name since day one— watching as two polar bears, sitting on an iceberg, are feeding on seals. There are no words. No words for what I’ve already seen, what I’m currently seeing, or what I will see tomorrow. I decide the only course of action is to continue to medicate myself, as elegantly as I can, as I wait for dinner.
Dinner is a special meal crafted by the ship’s chefs Mikki and Peter. Each night Mikki and Peter put together a hand-crafted menu, consisting of local recipes and regional fare, for a small group of passengers. Both chefs are natives of the high Arctic, and the flavours they command are those that have been passed down through generations.
Muskox risotto, beet cured reindeer tartare, and seared deep-dive Disco Bay scallops are some of the strange and wonderful bites you might encounter. But the truth is you can never truly prepare, as everything is sourced locally from stops we make along the way. The Arctic, at this point, is literally inside all of us. We are prisoners here, consumed by awe, incarcerated in a floating paradise. I’m loving it.
The next morning we take a trip ashore to visit a small Inuit town. Our zodiac captain navigates toothy icebergs with the skill of a surgeon to get us there. Locals come out to greet us, working sled dogs offer their bellies for rubs, and throngs of kids invite us to play games. We’re invited into homes for kaffemilk and conversation. A few of us peel off to hike a grey granite peak behind town and are treated to a view of a rainbow of Arctic moss. We see wild foxes, narwhal in the bay, and thick billed murres circling above us. I quickly realize I will need more than one martini to digest all I’ve seen today.
For some travellers, the journey needs to be difficult to be rewarding. I think mountain climbers and anyone who enjoys Eastern European art films are those types of folks. I’m not saying that a cold beer after a very long trek doesn’t taste good, but sometimes a place is so unbelievably phenomenal that there’s no need to make it more difficult than it already is.
I mean, the Arctic is already trying to kill you. Constantly. Whether it’s the freezing cold tundra or the animals that have evolved to assassinate you with the precision of a teenager playing Call of Duty. Experiencing everything the Arctic has to offer—all the sensory extremes—from the lap of luxury is still spine straightening, if you ask me.
I just wish Shackleton could’ve also known the wonders of an espresso machine.
Watch the full Arctic adventure
Taking the polar plunge!
What does it take to take a dip in sub-zero Arctic waters? And how many shots of vodka do you need afterward? We find out.
Quark will provide a transfer to Greenland where the voyage departs on a chartered aircraft. Flights usually originate from Toronto, Canada or Buffalo, NY and include an overnight stay both going and returning.
Included in the chartered plane fare to Greenland is hotel accommodations and shuttle to the airport. Once you are onboard, the vessel is your floating home for the entire trip so no need to worry about accommodations.
When the sun rises over the Arctic Circle in June, it doesn’t set for another 30 days!
Once you are onboard, Quark will take you everywhere you need to go. There are special excisions and experiences you can do at additional cost for each expedition like their ‘Tundra to Table’ dinners or sea kayaking.