Ellesmere Island Expedition Update Part Two 2023 – Tough Decisions

If you have not read Part One of my recent experience with Canadian North airlines, please do so before reading this post. Part One covers the backstory of the expedition to Ellesmere Island.

Facing escalating hotel bills at AUD 550 a night in Resolute Bay and no option to even reach Grise Fjord before the 13th of March at the earliest (and that was weather and weight limits permitting at the mercy of Canadian North), no accommodation available in Grise Fjord even if I did make it there, and no local guide available in Resolute to make use of the expensive time this far North, I decided to cut my losses, abandon ship, and get back to Ottawa as soon as possible. An hour or so of phone calls later, I managed to get Canadian North to change my flight schedule and get me back to Ottawa late in the evening on the 10th of March. To be fair to them, they did offer to refund the Resolute to Grise portion of my flight schedule (after some not-so-gentle prodding), albeit at a tiny fraction of what I paid for the ticket. For those unaware, flights from Ottawa to Grise Fjord start at approximately CAD 7,500 economy, and there is no business class. Canadian North’s refund offer was less than 15% of this; to date, I have not yet received the refund. The above costs do not include my flight expenses from Melbourne to Ottawa or the supplementary hotel bills, all of which amount to more than AUD 20,000, flights included.

Keep in mind, at this point, I have flown from Melbourne, Australia, to Sydney, to Vancouver, to Ottawa; spent six nights in Ottawa (four of them thanks to Canadian North’s cancellation and then flown Ottawa, Iqaluit, Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay, and finally Resolute. In Resolute, I spent several nights at AUD 550 p/night due to three failed attempts to fly to Grise Fjord, including a cancellation, a bump due to the plane being overweight, and finally being turned around at Grise and unable to land due to low cloud cover. I also had to spend two more nights at Resolute before retracing the above steps to Ottawa.

Also, at this point, my team was out in the field, far from any settlement, cell phone coverage or contact. They were with my local experienced Inuit guides on the hunt to find and photograph the rare and elusive white Arctic wolf and would not return to the tiny hamlet of Grise Fjord until the evening of the 15th of March at the earliest. The 15th would be the first chance I would have to hear firsthand their experiences during the expedition. As the expedition’s leader, I felt very torn at this point. I was heartbroken I was not out in the field with all the participants but thrilled that they at least made it to Ellesmere, were in good hands, and could try for the white Arctic wolf. An update on their progress is included below.

The most angering aspect of this Canadian North disaster is that the company was quite happy to take our money for the seats from Ottawa to Grise Fjord and charge us for the extra luggage bags (at a high cost). However, it was not until we arrived at the airport in Resolute Bay, ready to depart for Grise Fjord, that the airline decided to inform us they could not take any of the luggage we paid for on our flight. Remember, these flights are north of CAD 7500 with the extra bags. Instead of allowing for luggage, Canadian North oversold the trip, knowing they could not accommodate anybody’s luggage on the flight (even the locals were told their bags would not be on the plane).

With dusk rapidly approaching and the flight window closing, the only solution was for someone not to board the flight and free up weight allowance on the plane. It quickly became apparent that there was no way any of the locals would give up their seats (disappointing), so I took the heartbreaking decision not to board. Not boarding was the only way I could get the team to Ellesmere with their luggage. Removing myself freed up the standard 216 pounds for a male person plus another 60 pounds of my luggage, plus the pilot kindly found us another 150 pounds in his weight calculations. This additional allowance was enough to get the rest of the team to Grise fjord with their luggage, but of course, it left me stranded in Resolute.

Had I not voluntarily removed myself from the flight (and as it subsequently turned out from the expedition), the entire expedition would have been sunk; since the plane could not land the following day (which would have had our luggage) and had to turn around and return to Resolute Bay. We would have all then been stuck in Resolute until the next scheduled flight (with space), which was the 13th of March (and that was weather and weight dependent). This late date would have landed us in Grise Fjord just two days before the scheduled completion of the expedition and a full eleven days later than Canadian North was supposed to deliver us to Grise Fjord.

The decision not to board the plane so the team could make it there with their luggage was the right one as the trip leader, but it left me gutted, knowing full well my expedition and the chance to photograph the white Arctic wolf was over. This decision was one of the toughest I have had to make in this business, but I would make it again in a heartbeat for the team’s sake.

The good news is late last night, I received an In-reach satellite message from my team that they had reached camp two and had already encountered Musk Ox, Arctic Fox and Ptarmigan. Fortuitously, my local Inuit guides have found a recent Musk Ox kill at camp two and lots of fresh Arctic wolf prints. I am thrilled that the entire team made it out into the field for the ‘Ellesmere Experience’ and has had some incredible wildlife encounters. Please join me in sending them lots of luck for the remainder of the expedition.

Since the team is currently still out in the field on Ellesmere Island (due back to the tiny hamlet of Grise Fjord in five days) and out of contact, I have no further update on their experiences but will revert as soon as I have contact with them with a further update.

Read PART THREE, End of the Dream

2 thoughts on “Ellesmere Island Expedition Update Part Two 2023 – Tough Decisions

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