2015 Hudson Bay Expedition

Northern Lights above Expedition Boat, Nunavut, Canada

For weeks, I’ve been packing as if my life depends on it. Because, not to be a drama queen, it kind of does.

How do you prepare for six weeks alone on a boat in the Canadian arctic? Most modern explorers take the travel light and move fast approach. I’m more of a kitchen sink guy. Better yet, bring two sinks, because I’ll probably break one.

I can’t do much worse than last year’s trip. For the same six week expedition, I brought along enough food to feed the entire Franklin expedition with leftovers for Shackleton’s guys, but neglected to bring along something as simple and essential as a coat.

Six weeks in the frozen north. Without a coat.


But this year it’s going to be different. If only because I’ve become a man obsessed.  I can remember when I used to work as a photographer. Get up in the morning. Go out and take some pictures. Go to sleep a happy man.

Now, not so much.

But that’s about to change. Six different cases and duffels are packed, close to 400 pounds of gear. Everything from a leaky old zodiac inflatable to my version of the Twelve Days of Christmas:

12 Lenses a zooming

11 Books on tape a droning

10 Bear shells  a banging

9 Pocket Wizards a triggerng

8 Terrabytes  a storing

7 Cameras clicking

6 Waterproof cases a floating

5 Weeks of food

4 Overpriced Tripods

3 Bottles of whiskey

2 Drones a-flying

and a 12 gauge stainless steel shotgun

Instead of Santa, I look like a survivalist hoarder. All the same, the truck is loaded and I’ll soon be on my way.

First there’s an 1800 mile drive, leaving Seattle’s unnervingly beautiful summer behind for the end of the road in Gillam, Manitoba in the Canadian interior. Then it’s a two hour flight to Rankin Inlet to uncover the boat and see what damage nine months of winter and a bored population of unsupervised youth have wrought.

If she floats, I’ll put her in the water and motor north to the ice pack, looking for polar bears, walrus and anything else that catches my eye. This will be my third summer on Hudson Bay, the vast inland sea that’s home to one of the world’s most southerly populations of polar bears and a vast, marine wilderness. More than 500 miles wide, the waters are poorly mapped, plagued by uncharted rocks and reefs and offer precious little shelter against notoriously stormy weather.

No roads reach the Bay. I got there by floating my 22-foot C-Dory 75 miles down the Nelson River, at one point wading out to push her over a gravel bar, then traveling more than 1000 nautical miles to cross the Arctic Circle at Repulse Bay, Nunavut. I spent days and weeks slowly cruising at the edge of ice floes, struggling to find the white on white shape of a polar bear. As often as not, the bear will flee at the sound of an outboard motor.  Bear encounters with humans tend to end badly for the bears, so most are cautious. But every so often one will grow curious enough to come check me out.

Last summer I struggled against massive ice floes and howling winds. This summer doesn’t look much different. Checking the Hudson Bay ice charts, it looks like more of the same.  A bitterly Canadian cold winter means lots of ice.  Good for polar bears but not so good for polar bear photographers, at least those without an icebreaker and helicopter and suitcase full of cash at their disposal.

The arctic summer is short, so I have until Labor Day to capture whatever magic I can before scurrying south for home. I’ll try to keep the dispatches coming through the summer, so stay tuned…


4 Responses to “2015 Hudson Bay Expedition”

  1. Mike Coleman says:

    Paul – I enjoyed reading your maiden blog post! I can’t imagine, “no coat”?….. you are one tough dude. As forgetful as I am, I think I would self insure myself with a minimum 1:1 Bottles of Whiskey to Bearbangers ratio :). I look forward to following your journey. Capture the Magic!


  2. Jann Glisson says:

    Travel safe, Paul … I look forward to seeing what you capture on this journey.

  3. Katie McVicars says:

    ummmm… 5-weeks of food? ~ maybe consider 6? 😉 JK
    Have a great trip Paul!!!! Can’t wait to see your pictures.
    BE SAFE enough.
    Seattle Loves and will miss you!!!!!!

  4. Meg Gordon says:

    We really look forward to reading your blog, Paul. Go well. Stay safe. Hugs Tom and Meg
    P.s. You really should write a book

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