To begin, here is an update from the team in the field via their in-reach Satellite: The group has been camped by a musk ox carcass (a recent wolf pack kill) for the last few days and has had photographic encounters with Musk Ox, Arctic Fox and Ptarmigan. There have been a lot of fresh wolf prints in the area, but the wolves have remained elusive as of my last received update. I expect the wolves have likely been coming to feed on the carcass during the dark hours. Tonight the team will return to the small village of Grise Fjord and conclude the expedition.
Again, I am so pleased that the team made it to Ellesmere and out into the field for the Arctic winter experience. Despite this fact, I still feel gutted at not being there. When you spend more than a year preparing an expedition and gearing yourself up mentally for the experience, it’s devastating to be denied the experience due to an airline’s selfishness and uncaring attitude.
At this late stage in the game, I have no reason to stay in Canada and continue incurring more expenses at a hotel in Ottawa. Therefore, I decided to advance my timetable, which meant changing my onward flights from Ottawa to Toronto, Warsaw, Poland, Oslo and Longyearbyen. All of which came at a not-insignificant expense. Not to harp on the financial impact of this Canadian North mess, but the snowball effect has been ongoing and highly significant (at least to me). I am dreading the inevitable fight all this is going to be with the travel insurance company.
As a result of Canadian North’s appalling logistics and laughable customer service, this will be my last expedition to Ellesmere Island in the high Canadian Arctic, utilising Canadian North’s commercial flights. The unreliable nature of the flights from Ottawa to Ellesmere Island makes planning impossible. With tight ongoing travel schedules, dealing with the many delays and cancellations that Canadian North (and the weather) inflict on its customers has become impossible. I do not have the time to add the additional week or more required at either end of an expedition to allow for these sorts of delays, and neither do the majority of photographers who travel. Thus the dream of photographing the white Arctic wolf will remain just that for me; a dream.
I am entertaining the ‘possibility’ of trying again at some stage in the future, but only with a full private charter flight from Resolute Bay direct to Eureka (bypassing Grise Fjord). This approach would facilitate flying to Eureka instead of four days each way from Grise Fjord on a snowmobile, a far more comfortable proposition. Not only that, but as a private charter, it guarantees all luggage on the same flight and a lot more time in the field for photography. The only downside is this charter flight plan comes at a very high financial cost (more than CAD 60,000 from Resolute to Eureka return). Nevertheless, I may look at this option in the future. Until then, Ellesmere Island and the white Arctic wolf will remain a desideratum.
From a more fiscal perspective, and as I wrote in Part One and Part Two of this abysmally expensive and disappointing experience, this is the perfect example of why travel insurance is an absolute must for any overseas travel. I don’t sell or facilitate insurance, but I always recommend participants take out sufficient travel insurance to cover curtailment and cancellations. Without it, you can be significantly out of pocket when things go awry.
Perhaps the worst part of this mess, from my perspective, is that I never even got the camera out of the bag. I did hook up with my friend Marc in Ottawa for a couple of hours photographing Snowy Owls, which went some way to salvaging something from the entire experience. Since I did not partake in the Ellesmere expedition, I cannot write a full trip report of the team’s experience in the field, but I will have one final update once I get a chance to catch up with the group and hear more about their experiences on Ellesmere.