The head rose out of the surf with deliberateness and intent, spying on us. The porcelain white form easily breached the water, its bemused expression and bulbous forehead unmistakable: a beluga whale. Our surprise at seeing it was likely matched by its surprise at seeing us, two guys dragging a boat through surf on the Northwest Passage.

The landscape here bespeaks an altogether different world than I know but it’s in moments like this, when a beluga surfaces a mere 20 meters away, that this reality hits home to me.

McKinley Bay moorage small

It’s difficult to discern one day from the next on this journey as our schedule has us moving 24 hours per day when conditions permit. We row for four hours, rest for four hours and repeat until weather or ice interrupt the process. There’s no darkness here either, the sun never sets. Evenings are colder and darker than midday but the ambient daylight even in the middle of the night is adequate to read by. It all takes some getting used to but after living it for the past couple weeks now, it’s becoming a routine.

We move up the coast and for the first time begin to see ice flows appearing on the oceanic landscape. They first appear as oddly shaped profiles on the horizon, elongated and stretched, seeming far bigger than they actually are. This is an example of an interesting phenomenon in the arctic that sees objects on a horizon becoming stretched vertically as if manipulated by a lens to peer over the visual plane. Islands can appear much bigger than they are and at times seem to float above the horizon, dark blobs suspended in space.

The ice first comes in small pans no bigger then 10 meters square but over the course of the day become more frequent and varied in size. We run into one partially submerged chunk the size of a dinner table that gives us an eye-opening thump.

We traverse McKinley Bay in a rare moment of calm, the sea smooth and reflective as a mirror. It’s a magical moment of calm in such an unforgiving environment.

“Ah but cares of tomorrow can wait ’till this day is done’ “.