It was my first visit to the Canadian Arctic and the land welcomed me just like Michelle Valberg — my fellow Nikon Ambassador, TraveLife contributor and avid Arctic photographer — said it would. We were there for seven days on behalf of First Air and Nunavut Tourism, creating imagery for the two organizations. Michelle was focused on taking pictures of the serene beauty and any close encounters we had with wildlife. I was looking through my lens to create images that connected people and planet.
I was just beginning to observe this part of the world and realize how fortunate I was to step foot here, so I could not have asked for a better travelling companion than Michelle. She told me that she’d been coming to this place for more than a decade and that this year she would complete her 50th visit.
Above: Neil's pictures capture the bone-chilling cold of the Arctic.
“It’s more than flat, white and cold,” she said. “The Arctic has so much to offer.”
On the occasion of meeting our guide for the first time, he introduced himself as Jimmy. I noticed his missing thumb first, then his smile. He was a gentle man, understated but you could tell he had some good stories. We first chatted about logistics — it seems you can never be too prepared for an Arctic excursion. But, it didn’t take long for our 63-year-old guide to tell me he was born in an igloo and many more tales followed.
This was the coldest I had ever been. During the trip I couldn’t expose any skin. My Nikon cameras frosted over, though they kept on working.
Nunavut’s Arctic landscape quickly reminds you of how well-prepared you need to be. But for those who come equipped, an adventure into the true wilderness awaits.
Above: Waves of snow.
After an eight-hour snow machine ride south from Cambridge Bay toward the horizon, I explored the area where we camped with endless curiosity. To stay on the safe side, I remained within sight of my guides but later that day, Michelle told me I may have wandered a little too far. I couldn’t help it, I was drawn by the texture of the snow, intoxicated by the possibility of seeing my first wolf or muskox.
Michelle often says: “I wish every Canadian could experience the Arctic.” Now that I am here, I wholeheartedly understand.
In this frozen environment, any sort of comfort becomes your safety blanket, so when Jimmy lit the lantern in his hunting cabin on the mainland, across from the frozen Northwest Passage, we found refuge in the simple things, and a place to call home. On the road, I’m constantly grateful for these little moments of comfort.
We camped for two nights on the tundra before a blizzard forced us back to Jimmy’s cabin again. My sleeping bag was good to -40C and, I must admit, I wasn’t cold. In fact, I unzipped the side to poke my toe out during the night. Inside Jimmy’s cabin, I watched the cold air come in the door each time one of us went out. When we weren’t out exploring, we were inside listening to Jimmy’s stories of wolverines, grizzly bears and caribou. The Arctic does indeed inspire.
Above: Venturing out into the frigid conditions takes skill and courage but the cold always claims its victims.
My first visit to the Canadian Arctic gave me a first-hand look at Nunavut’s beautifully rugged landscape and inspired countless incredible photos. It’s a trip I’ll never forget.
Arctic Photo Tips - Plan for the Cold
Power up: Bring extra batteries and expect your equipment to frost over.
Use the resources around you: The snow machine engine can warm up your mittens!
Tie your mittens together with a piece of string: You don’t want to lose them.
Bring foot warmers: Drop these packets of warmth into your boots and extend your day.
Remember to stay hydrated: Even in the Arctic, you have to drink water!