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Top 5 Reasons to take an Arctic Circumnavigation Expedition

5 min read

In summer 2016, iconic icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov will depart Anadyr, Russia for an epic 75-day circumnavigation consisting of four back-to-back guided arctic expeditions.

The Arctic Icebreaker Expedition: Arctic Circumnavigation is comprised of four voyages: Arctic Icebreaker Expedition: Epic Northeast Passage; Arctic Icebreaker Expedition: Extreme Greenland; Arctic Icebreaker Expedition: Best of the Canadian High Arctic; and Arctic Icebreaker Expedition: Ultimate Northwest Passage.

Though travelers can choose just one leg of this monumental journey, many have already committed to the entire route, through the Northeast Passage, to northeast Greenland and Iceberg Alley, on to the Canadian High Arctic and back through the fabled Northwest Passage.

This arctic adventure is a polar explorer's dream come true -- and it's only available with Quark, as no other company on the planet can offer passengers this experience.

It's also a big commitment to spend over two months sailing some of the most remote regions on the planet. So why say YES to an Arctic circumnavigation?


1. Crush through multi-year sea ice on an authentic icebreaker

There are ice-strengthened ships, and then there are icebreakers, and Quark is delighted to welcome authentic Soviet icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov back to its fleet.

Designed for transport through rough Siberian waters and multi-year sea ice, Khlebnikov takes passengers where no other ship can. With its 24,000 horsepower engine and advanced ice-breaking technology, polar travelers in search of the ultimate Arctic Circle guided cruise can explore destinations and landings unreachable by any other means.

2. Explore by water, air and land

Khlebnikov is also the only passenger vessel equipped with two on-board helicopters, offering frequent aerial “flightseeing” opportunities throughout the circumnavigation. Passengers can witness polar vistas from high above the tundra, or watch in awe as Khlebnikov powers through the almost impossibly thick sea ice below.

Flightseeing opportunities in the Arctic - photo credit: Bart Sears
Flightseeing opportunities in the Arctic - photo credit: Bart Sears

Zodiacs are also employed throughout the expedition, getting passengers up close and personal with pristine landing sites, towering bird cliffs, and stunning icebergs.

On land, there are opportunities for hiking, and your Expedition Leader will advise the difficulty level of each trek. This is a popular option, as in the summer, the tundra comes alive with colorful ground vegetation and (depending on the region) polar bears, seals, muskoxen and other arctic wildlife.

3. Discover the most remote and untouched arctic sites

Some of the destinations in which we'll attempt to land (all weather dependent, of course) are rarely-visited, and include:

  • New Siberian Islands, home to ancient camping grounds and modern day polar bears.
  • Severnaya Zemlya, the least accessible islands in the Arctic, where we'll attempt to visit a camp of the nomadic Tundra Nenets.
  • Franz Josef Land, the most northerly islands in Eurasia, where we'll attempt to visit historical sites at Cape Flora, and view towering bird cliffs.
  • Longyearbyen, Svalbard, a 400-year old mining settlement you can explore before re-boarding to depart for Greenland.
  • Danmarks Havn, population of just eight, where we'll attempt to cruise Dove Bugt on the lookout for walrus and polar bear.
  • Daneborg and Eskimonaes, with a tiny outpost for the dogsled-driving Danish Navy unit Slaedepatruljen Sirius (the Sirius Patrol).
  • Blomsterbugten and Ella Oya (Ella Island), for a scenic hike. Bring your binoculars and camera for the summit overlooking five spectacular fjords.
  • Ittoqqortoormiit, East Greenland's most northerly community and an excellent point for viewing the Northern Lights.
  • Rypefjord and Rodefjord. One is a mecca for birders. The other, the home of Iceberg Graveyard, where 100s of icebergs are trapped in shallows.
  • Nanortalik Hot Springs and Herjolfsnes, where you may explore an excavated Viking-era farm, then enjoy a hike or soothing soak in a natural hot spring.
  • Kangerlussuaq, a former military base at the head of one of the longest fjords in Greenland.
  • Sisimiut, an authentic Greenlandic fishing village and birthplace of the kayak. You'll see kayaking demonstrations by Saqqaq, Dorset and Thule residents.
  • Ilulissat, Greenland's 34 mile (55 km) long and 3 mile (6 km) wide iceberg-littered fjord.
  • Cobourg Island and Grise Fjord, Nunavut, where you'll catch some of the best birding in the Arctic.
  • Eureka Sound, where you might have the option to view a petrified forest from high above in the on-board helicopters.
  • Beechey Island, a passenger favorite, for the Franklin expedition camp of 1845-46. View its Northumberland House supply depot, the HMS Breadalbane site, and small gravestones marking the final resting places of three of Sir John Franklin's ill-fated crew.
  • Herschel Island, Beaufort Sea, another top destination in the Arctic for birders and home to 100 bird species, including the largest colony of black guillemots in the Western Arctic.

These are just a few of the landings and destinations possible - see the full Arctic Circumnavigation itinerary for more.

Ilulissat - photo credit: Lorraine
Ilulissat ice fjord - photo credit: Lorraine

4. Sail the most remote shipping passages on the planet

Departing Russia, Khlebnikov will first take on the Epic Northeast Passage, journeying along the coasts of Russia and Norway by way of the Chukchi Sea, East Siberian Sea, Laptev Sea, Kara Sea, and Barents Sea. To date, there have been just 20 passenger transits of this daunting route.

Arctic Circumnavigation passengers will, at this point, have navigated one of the least traveled parts of our planet, where thick, solid sea ice typically prevents passage. It is only aboard Khlebnikov that we are able to make this journey that stymied so many explorers.

Photo credit: Lynda Chase
Photo credit: Lynda Chase

Adventure-seekers risked their lives for 100s of years attempting to cross the Northwest Passage, the infamous sea route between Europe and Asia. Today, the iconic route is still considered the “Holy Grail” for many arctic sailors; even today, with our advanced technology, there's no guarantee of crossing this channel. Spanning 900 miles (1,448 km), the Northwest Passage is just 1,200 miles (1,609 km) from the North Pole and sits 500 miles (805 km) above the Arctic Circle. Aboard Khlebnikov, we're able to power through ice that would stop “regular” or even ice-strengthened ships dead in their tracks.

A polar bear and her cub spotted in the Arctic summer in Spitsbergen by Quark Expeditions passengers.

5. Take a chance on reaching elusive Cape Morris Jesup

In the second leg of our epic journey, we'll attempt a landing at Cape Morris Jesup, the most northerly point in Greenland and one of the least-visited places in the Arctic. The Captain will send helicopters out over the Lincoln Sea and Kennedy Channel to determine whether ice and weather conditions allow for Khlebnikov to power its way through the ice over the northern coast of Greenland.

If we succeed, you'll become part of a select, notably exclusive group to reach this isolated, off- the-beaten-path haven along the very top of Greenland's north coast. Should we cross over the top, we'll explore Greenland's western coast. A true sense of adventure and expedition life is required for this journey, as we are entirely at the whims of the arctic climate.

If we are unable to traverse past Cape Morris Jesup, we'll explore Greenland's magnificent east coast, instead.

To learn more about the Arctic Circumnavigation itinerary, exclusive to Quark passengers, contact a Polar Travel Adviser at (888) 978-5792 (+1-802-490-7668 outside North America).

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