It’s the land of Fata Morgana and kaamos — a pair of terms that can’t possibly express the surreal beauty of life at the edge of Hudson Bay in spring.
“What am I looking at?” I ask wildlife guide Jody Steeves as my eyes and brain attempt to make sense of what appears to be a row of intricate Greek columns on the horizon. “Fata Morgana!” she cheerfully replies, the words adding to my confusion. Upon further discussion, I learn it’s a mirage — and a very good one at that — a phenomenon caused by light and shadows across ice and snow. Some people liken it to a collection of fairy castles and that’s where the name comes from. Morgan le Fay was the famously nasty fairy trickster and half sister to King Arthur.
It’s just one of the wow moments during this newly available spring trip to the floe edge run by Churchill Wild. As the saltwater of the world’s second largest bay begins to melt, a strip of indigo-coloured water beckons all to come visit — mammals, birds and humans, too.
Churchill Wild’s proprietors Mike and Jeanne Reimer have been welcoming adventurers to the North for more than a quarter of a century, forever pushing the boundaries of the Arctic experience. Their latest offering is about looking beyond the typical bears, belugas and blooms the region is known for and seeing something new.
“I love the way the Arctic light paints ever-changing, mind-blowing icescapes — every hour is special,” says Mike. “That and the hint of warmth in the air, a harbinger of new life to come as the coast arouses itself from the cold sleep of winter. It’s really a beautiful time.”
And that’s what Nordic cultures call kaamos, a time when the entire landscape is painted with periwinkle light, transforming already stunning vistas into something otherworldly.
And while the visuals will move you spiritually, you won’t be standing still for long on this excursion. There’s a kayak paddle with an enormous ice floe as your backdrop and a curious bearded seal to keep you company. Then mush off into the sunset in a fur-lined sled led by a team of enthusiastic dogs. And for the truly intrepid, a saltwater dip in water that’s confusingly below the freezing point but not frozen is always on the schedule.
“My favourite activities are fat tire biking along the floe edge and cross-country skiing,” says Mike. “And while I’m certain folks enjoy jumping in the bay, I’ll be holding the safety rope!”
After all that exercise, refreshments are in order, so naturally, there’s an ice bar at the floe edge, created one day and swept away by Hudson Bay’s four-metre high tide the next.
“The guides use saws to fashion tables and benches out of the giant ice pans that get rammed up on the floe edge by tides and winds. It’s carpentry with ice!” says Mike.
There are charcuterie boards that rival the fanciest downtown restaurants and bright blue North Knife Nulifyers on the cocktail menu. And it’s right on brand with Churchill Wild’s culinary offerings at Seal River Heritage Lodge, the five-star accommodations for the trip. And the hosts apologize in advance for waking you when the northern lights are running wild, painting green and purple strokes on the endless Arctic sky. But the mid-night wake up is worth it.
The dawning morning brings a peachy pink sky complete with sundogs flanking the rising sun. The day brings a trip even further north to explore an ancient site where evidence of tent rings, graves and food caches remain. The tracks of apex predators are everywhere, signaling the return of the hunt by polar bears as they venture into open water in search of seals. Along the way there’s time to discover seal breathing holes, photograph the art made by wind on snow and witness a flock of eider ducks coming in for landing on open water.
The Reimers take great pride in sharing all these things with visitors.
“Running a ‘village’ successfully in the Arctic, completely off grid in the face all the challenges coming our way on a daily bases is really why we do it,” says Mike. “Also watching happy, satisfied, new friends get on a flight for their trip home feels pretty good.”
And perhaps there’s no better feeling that sitting quietly in a snowbank at the floe edge, listening to the haunting tone of shifting ice that sounds a bit like a descending missile. And then, visitor pops up no more than three metres offshore — a smiling, comical bearded seal and your new best friend.