Ellesmere Island Expedition Update Part One 2023 – Canadian North Strikes

With all the travel difficulties over the last couple of pandemic years, the 2023 Ellesmere Island expedition report was one I wanted to start with positive travel news. Alas, Canadian North (the only airline that flies from Ottawa to Ellesmere Island) let us down so badly this year that I feel compelled to get the story and rant out of the way to move on to more positive news. I do not want to overplay the mess Canadian North made of this expedition. However, I want to emphasise that this is why I strongly recommend travel insurance for any trip you participate in, regardless of location. You never know what circumstance may curtail your travel.

The 2023 expedition saw us scheduled to fly from Ottawa in Canada to Resolute Bay in Nunavut on the 1st of March, overnight in Resolute and then onto Grise Fiord at Ellesmere Island on the 2nd of March. The plan was to have one night in Grise Fiord before we headed north into the field in search of wildlife on the 3rd of March. The best-laid plans often go astray, or perhaps more accurately, the best-laid plans are often torpedoed by Canadian North. After checking in at Ottawa airport, we were informed of a short flight delay. This delay was the beginning of our travel difficulties. Although to be truthful, two participants had already had significant flight issues with other airlines and nearly didn’t make it to Ottawa.

After a three-hour ‘mechanical’ delay, Canadian North cancelled our 2nd flight from Iqaluit to Resolute under the guise of questionable weather and left us stranded for the next four days in Ottawa. This sort of airline practice of cancelling flights under the dubious guise of poor weather has become all too common post-pandemic. With the flight cancelled, the airline immediately pointed to its six-point font clause that they are not responsible for weather delays and subsequent hotel costs are not at their cost. Thus Canadian North abandoned us in Ottawa for four days at our own expense.

Moving onto what I hoped would be more positive news, the rescheduled flight on the 5th of March from Ottawa to Resolute Bay (via Iqaluit, Pond Inlet, and Arctic Bay) did indeed get us to Resolute (minus some luggage Canadian North left behind, which mercifully turned up the following afternoon after many urgent phone calls).

The following day on the 7th of March, the team was rescheduled to fly from Resolute to Grise Fjord. After checking in at the Resolute airport, Canadian North informed us they could not fly our luggage to Grise fjord on the same flight due to plane weight limits. In short, they oversold the flight and could not accommodate passengers plus luggage. Thus a tough decision needed to be made. With no confidence, Candian North would fly our luggage to Grise the following day I decided, as the expedition leader, not to board the flight, which would enable all the clients to fly to Grise Fjord with their luggage. I thought I could at least send them out into the field with my local guides in Ellesmere so as not to miss any more of their expedition, given we were already six days behind schedule and counting. I had instructed my field guides to wait for me until lunchtime the following day before beginning the expedition without me.

With everyone else now on location in Grise fiord and myself stranded in Resolute, Canadian North scheduled a new cargo flight the following day to fly me and my luggage (along with other supplies for the small town) to Ellesmere to meet the team. The flight was scheduled for 8:00 am on the 8th of March but was delayed until 9:15 am and finally took off from Resolute at 9:45 am. The weather was excellent, with clear skies at Resolute, but clouds continued to build as we made our way toward Ellesmere. As we began to approach the small Arctic town, it quickly became apparent that landing would be impossible. Grise fiord nestles up against an Arctic mountain range, and the approach requires excellent visibility. Regrettably, visibility over the entire town and small airport was close to zero, and thus we turned around and flew an hour and a half back to Resolute Bay. At this point, I felt the universe had decided I was destined not to lead or partake in this expedition.

With the team still separated, I had to make another difficult decision and instructed my field guides to begin the expedition without me, knowing full well there was now no way I could catch up with the team – my expedition was at a premature end before it even began. However, my team would at least get the Ellesmere expedition experience, and they are now on their way north to search for the white Arctic wolf.

Stranded in Resolute and stuck at the only hotel in town at AUD 550 per night, I am now faced with another tough choice. I can either try to fly to Grise Fjord on the next available (the 13th of March, weather and luggage weights permitting) and stay at the hostel (at the exact cost) while I wait for the team to return or wait here in Resolute until the team returns and my next expedition begins on the 18th of March. Neither option is ideal, but something tells me this decision may be taken out of my hands.

Of course, I recognise that these are first-world problems and that our group is fortunate to be able to travel to the Arctic to photograph and have these experiences. My hope is these problems and experiences will eventually become barroom stories we can laugh and smile about with friends and family. In the meantime, I am scrambling for a local guide here in Resolute to make the best of a bad situation. My hope is to be able to head out into the field and out onto the sea ice in search of Polar Bears, Arctic Fox and other wildlife.

To be continued….


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