The Magic of The Arctic and Antarctica
Natalie Gillis is a sea kayaker who has been professionally guiding for the past 12 years; while she spends most of her days paddling cold waters in the High Arctic, Greenland and Antarctica, some of her favourite kayaking destinations are found on the coasts of her home country of Canada. She has 4 seasons of experience in Antarctica and 10 in the Arctic where she has led over a dozen self-supported kayaking expeditions as well as numerous hiking, floe edge, white-water canoeing and sailing expeditions.
During the 1920s, Canadian artist Lawren Harris travelled to the Eastern Arctic where he fell in love with the stark and quiet landscape of North Baffin and all the contrast it provided to the industrialized and hurried life of the southern cities. The region, which has long been a homeland to one of Canada’s most innovative and resilient cultures, has since become a destination for artists, adventurers, and those with a healthy appreciation for exploring the natural world.
Kayaking The Arctic
There is incredible magic to the Arctic; from the 24 hours of daylight that spills over the land and seascapes at the high latitudes, to the remoteness of scarcely explored wild fjords and rugged islands that can oftentimes only be reached by sea, the Arctic is a true playground for adventurers and explorers alike. For sea kayakers, going to the Arctic is like going home; the sea kayak was born out of a necessity to survive off of the rich marine life offered by the cold and ice-choked waters of the North, and to this day remains the most intimate and poignant way to connect with the spirit of the Arctic.
Adding to the surreal nature of the frozen environment, the vast landscapes and enormous concentrations of wildlife are illuminated at every hour of the day by the unsetting midnight sun. The light in the Arctic falls like nowhere else on Earth; a special mix of atmospheric conditions tends to refract the light travelling through the bitter cold air, causing the landscape to become illuminated in a crisp, clear wash that words can hardly describe. While the spring and fall temperatures can shift slightly as the sun rises and falls on the horizon, the difference can be almost unperceivable at the height of summer. Free from any diurnal obligations, life on the Arctic waters under the midnight sun affords a unique freedom from our daily rhythms; time passes as it will and loses its own respect on the ice.
Depending on the year and location, polar bears can routinely be found wandering the expansive ice, endlessly searching for their next meal. The dark silhouette of a seal resting on the ice is a common sight, where the mammals claw tirelessly at the surface to keep a small breathing hole from freezing over for the duration of the winter. Foxes in their pristinely white coats can be found scavenging, while by early spring comes the return of over seventy species of birds to the adjacent Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary. The iconic polar bear roams the expanses entirely at home in one of the harshest and desolate environments that can be found on this planet.
My photographic interests gravitate towards the experiences of being in the wilderness that leave me in awe; whether it be the chilling howl of an Arctic Wolf, the cold stare of an encroaching polar bear, or the seemingly endless vast horizons that stretch across the northern landscape. I’ve always believed that photography has the power to move people to care about places that they might never know themselves.
What I love most about exploring the Arctic is the opportunity to feel like I am immersed in an authentically remote wilderness; not only does ship-based travel get me to some of the hardest to reach places on the planet in comfort and safety, the opportunity to experience those places by sea kayak is unparalleled.
In the absence of the noise pollution characteristic of more inhabited destinations to the south, there are places in the Arctic where you can experience an enormity of silence, where the only sounds that surround you are the slicing of your bow through the water and the gentle droplets of water spilling from your paddle. Even a short afternoon’s excursion on the water can be a profoundly powerful and moving experience by sea kayak.
Kayaking The Arctic
The Arctic Ocean remains frozen for more than half the year and the presence of sea ice largely dictates when and where humans can find themselves exploring in the far North; given the superior ice class of the vessel Wild Women will be travelling on, we’ve curated an itinerary which allows for ample opportunities for sea kayakers to paddle among wondrous iceberg sculptures that float peacefully upon the cold waters in a seemingly endless wilderness of ice. The hard-shelled sea kayaks and top-of-the-line polar kayaking equipment that comprise the on-board fleet make exploring and interacting with the sea ice that is so characteristic of the Arctic a safe and memorable experience for our guests.
Kayaking in Antarctica
Kayaking in Antarctica is an experience beyond all words; there is an ethereal beauty to the seascape that can only be accessed by the intimacy of a kayak. Being situated low to the water and relying only on your silent paddle strokes for momentum, you can escape the noise and allow your senses to become honed into the most minute details of what makes Antarctica so magical. It’s the sound of tiny air bubbles crackling out of the sea ice floating alongside you, the darting pattern of penguins porpoising ahead, and the freedom of controlling your own craft through a maze of sea ice that deeply connects you with the environment at the bottom of the world. If you’re lucky, a gentle Minke or Humpback whale might grace you with an appearance in the crystal clear waters, or an inquisitive seal might raise its head above the surface to investigate your presence. There is something so peaceful about the paddling in the cold silence; of feeling the salt air in your lungs and watching the clouds drift gently by that reminds you of the eternity of this place.
For avid photographers, the seat of a kayak provides a low angle just about as close to the water as you can get; being in control of your own craft means you’re more able to maneuver yourself to get just the right creative shot. The low angle makes for incredible reflections for landscape photographers and provides a unique wildlife perspective if you’re quick enough to catch a porpoising penguin or humpback’s fluke.
I’ve kayaked in destinations all around the world for over a decade and without a doubt, the most incredible place I’ve paddled on Earth is Fournier Bay on Anvers Island off the Antarctic Peninsula. From the wild spectacle of watching ice calving off the jagged glaciers in the back of the bay to the gentle sounds of breathing whales that frequent the area, it’s a place every serious kayaker should aspire to paddle at least once in their lifetime. There is a profound natural beauty there that has an ability to leave an impression that inspires awe for years to come; if I had the chance to spend an entire season exploring just the sheltered bay of this heavily glaciated island, I would do it in a heartbeat.
❝ There is an endless immensity to the ocean and the ice, very much magnified from the seat of a kayak; paddling along the ice and penguins its hard to believe places like this are real ❞.
When I was a kid, I used to dream about exploring far away lands…