Win Bear Prints and a Trip for Two!

Posted on

Do any of you feel like hanging one of my beautiful 20″ x 30″ bear photographs on your wall? How about spending a full day in the field with me photographing bears, wolves, and whatever else we can find here in the Canadian Rockies? Or perhaps you’d rather enjoy an exclusive weekend being whizzed up from Vancouver or Calgary on a flight with Hawkair to help feed and care for all of the baby wildlife at the Northern Lights Wildlife Society’s (NLWS) shelter in Smithers, British Columbia?

Would this look good hanging on your wall in a 20″ x 30″ print? Then keep on reading for a chance to win it!

If any of those three things sound like they’re up your alley, then read on for all the details on how you can win these prizes in the next ten days as part of the second half of the Northern Lights Wildlife Society fundraiser I began in June 2013 to help raise money for the world’s only grizzly bear cub rehabilitation facility and one of Canada’s best orphaned wildlife rehabilitation shelters.

As I just mentioned, we started this fundraiser last June and fully intended to wrap it up by June 30th, 2013. However, Mother Nature had other plans: at 3:21 a.m. in the early hours of June 19th — a week into the contest/fundraiser — my wife and I got a knock at our door from the Canmore fire department and were asked to evacuate our house immediately. For the next two days, we watched in horror as the tiny, meter-wide creek behind our house turned into a raging torrent that tore out the Trans-Canada Highway and caused over fifty million dollars in damage to our town (you can watch my videos of the event as it unfolded here and here and here on my youtube channel).

Now that things have finally settled down on the flood front and the first bears of the year are starting to appear after a winter’s worth of sleep, I thought now was as good a time as any to revive the final ten days of the fundraiser and start doling out some pretty cool prizes to those of you that choose to donate to the shelter to help them add to their amazing legacy as the world’s premier rehabilitation facility for orphaned black and grizzly bear cubs (and baby foxes, beavers, otters, raccoons, mountain goats, deer, moose, and a host of other big and small creatures!).

I was extremely fortunate last May to get a chance to visit the shelter firsthand (the shelter is closed to the public) on a private tour from owners Peter and Angelika Langen to learn what this amazing operation is all about.

Founded in 1990 by the Langens, the Shelter has rehabilitated and released more than 300 bears back into the wild in British Columbia (check out the video I took of the shelter last year).  And in 2007, they became the first and only wildlife shelter in the world to begin rehabbing and releasing orphan grizzly bear cubs back into their home ranges!

The Society has rehabbed and released more than 300 bears back into the wild since 1990!

When I was there last year, I got to spend an incredible four hours touring the facilities and seeing their 2012 bears (32 black bears and 3 grizzlies) just weeks before their 2013 releases back into the wild.

The visit quite literally moved me to tears.  I was astonished to see how much the Langens have accomplished with their limited resources, and I was buoyed beyond belief with the countless success stories that have come and gone from the Shelter over the years.  But throughout it all, I continuously had a feeling that the Shelter could use an infusion of funds, that they were operating at near capacity and that they were getting dangerously close to having to reject baby bears in the near future if they weren’t able to expand soon and upgrade some of their pens and buildings.

So I asked Angelika what was on her wish-list and I resolved to do my best to help her raise some of that money.

Here is a list of what the Shelter needed as of June 2013, with notes for this year accompanying the list:

– a completed volunteer staff accommodation building.  The current staff accomm is in Angelika’s house and is wearing on the entire operation as they require more and more volunteers to keep things running smoothly and they’re running out of room in her house to do so.  Fortunately, the framing is already in place for a real staff accommodation building, but it still requires finishing inside (drywall, paint, etc) before anyone can move into it.  Projected cost: $30,000 [Angelika says this remains one of the shelter’s biggest needs in 2014]

– funding to help with bear releases and captures.  This is one of the shelter’s largest ongoing costs, as they have to ship the current group of black bear cubs back to their home ranges across British Columbia and collect new cubs as they are called in [the shelter currently has 10 black bear cubs that will need to be released back to the wild in Spring 2014]

– a new grizzly bear pen.  The current pen is great for grizzlies, but the adjoining black bear pen was at maximum capacity this year with 32 black bears.  If Angelika can raise enough money to build a new grizzly bear pen beside the current one (there is already land set aside for this), then the old grizzly bear pen can be joined up with the current black bear pen, effectively increasing the size of the black bear pen by almost 400%, greatly enhancing its ability to take on more black bears!!  Projected cost: $50,000 [this is now under construction in 2014, though additional funding is still required]

– an upgraded vet clinic/building.  The current clinic building is run-down and rough.  Angelika would like to completely clean it out and refinish the interior so that it is easier to maintain and more presentable when media visits to film or photograph new baby animals arriving at the Shelter (these media visits and original photographs from Angelika’s staff of the new babies are critical in fund-raising efforts for day-to-day operations). Projected cost: $10,000

– new radio collars for bears.  The Shelter would love more money to pay for radio and gps collars for released bears so they can continue to track the success records of their released bear cubs. Projected cost: $10,000 [this continues to be a cost that the shelter needs help with in 2014]

The Prizes
And here is how we’re going to raise money for the Shelter (this is where you win the prizes!):

1. Donate $25 or more for a chance to win prints

The fundraiser is set up to be as simple as possible.  Between now and midnight on the night of Friday, May 9th, if you donate $25 or more to the Shelter (donate here and make sure you select the ‘John Marriott Fundraiser’ from the drop-down menu), you will automatically be entered into a random draw to win one of three 20″x30″ archival display prints (valued at $395 each) from my collection of more than 6,000 bear photographs, including grizzly bears, black bears, polar bears and white kermode bears!  The best part?  You get to choose the photo you want and I’ll ship it anywhere in the world!

How would this one look on your wall at 20″ x 30″?

2. Donate $100 or more for a chance to win a weekend trip to the Shelter this summer!

But that’s not it for prizes.  In fact, the best one in my opinion is a full weekend volunteering at the shelter helping with baby foxes and moose and so on in July 2014.  Between now and midnight on the night of Friday, May 9th, if you donate $100 or more to the Shelter (donate here and make sure you select the ‘John Marriott Fundraiser’ from the drop-down menu) you will automatically be eligible to win a full weekend at the wildlife shelter volunteering with the baby wildlife, everything from beavers to otters to foxes to deer fawns (depending what they have on hand – note that you will not get to help with the baby bears because in order to avoid habituation to humans, the bear feeding is done by just one person throughout the year).  Thanks to the generosity of the flight specialists over at Central Mountain Air and Hawkair, we’ll fly you over to Smithers, British Columbia from Vancouver or Calgary, and then thanks to Chez Josette B&B in Smithers, we’ll put you (and your partner if you’re willing to share a bed) up for two nights so you can spend your weekend helping the baby animals (Angelika says she’s hoping the lucky winner will get to feed baby moose and deer with bottles!). This is an incredibly unique opportunity; normally you have to volunteer for SIX months to get to go into the shelter (which is not open to the public), so I really think that this is a fantastic prize for one lucky donor, a once-in-a-lifetime trip! Note that this is fully transferable, so if you win it and want to gift it to someone else, you can!

A huge thank you to Central Mountain Air and Hawkair in BC/Alberta for donating flights!

3.  Donate for a chance to win a full day in the field photographing with me!

And the final thing in the prize pot is a full day in the field photographing bears with me in BC or Alberta (depending on the time of year and where you are located or where I will be traveling).  Normally a day in the field with me costs $1195 a pop (and I very rarely even offer it), so this day with me is going to go to the highest donation received before midnight on the night of May 9th, 2014 (make sure you select the ‘John Marriott Fundraiser’ from the drop-down menu).  Donate $250 and you’ll have a pretty good chance. Donate $500 and I’d say you’ll have a really good chance.  Donate $1000 and I’d say you’ll probably win! Note that this is also transferable as a gift to someone else.


The highest donation during the fundraiser will win a full day in the field with me chasing wolves and bears

I really hope many of you will consider donating by midnight on the night of May 9th.  The Northern Lights Wildlife Society is a charitable organization in Canada, so as an added bonus, Canadians will receive a tax receipt for any donations you make.  But perhaps the best part of your donation for each of you will be the knowledge that your money is going to be helping baby wildlife from BC get rehabilitated and released back into the wild for years to come, particularly if we can raise enough for some of the Society’s larger projects.

Thank you very much to all of you that already donated in June 2013 in the first half of this fundraiser (you are of course eligible for all of these great prizes depending on how much you donated).  We’ve already raised a substantial amount of money and I’m excited to see if we can beat our totals from last year in the next ten days.



Spirit Bears and Other News

Posted on

Hello everyone, it’s been quite the long and winding road for me and my wife this summer and early fall as we’ve spent the majority of our time dealing with the aftermath of the Alberta floods which ravaged our house (quite literally — if you haven’t seen any of my flood videos, check out my youtube channel at john660).  As a result, my blog has been left in the dust for a while, so I thought today, a week after my Spirit Bear Photography Tour ended and a day before my Chilcotin Grizzly Bear Photo Tour begins, was as good a time as any to revive the ol’ blog and let you know what I’m up to.

For starters, I’ve added a few new items to this year’s and next year’s tour, workshop, and seminar calendar, including a Polar Bear Photo Tour to Cape Churchill which sold out almost instantly (within a week).  I’m hoping to add this trip to my list of 2014 tours, so stay tuned for details in early December to see if it does get added.  I’ve also added a new February wildlife photography workshop in beautiful Jasper National Park and a wildlife photography seminar in Calgary in late November, you can check out all the details over on my Canwild Photo Tours website

I’m hoping to add a few more seminars in other locales this winter, including Vancouver, and I’m also hoping to have my tours for next year finalized in mid-October.  You can expect another Khutzeymateen grizzly bear trip, as well as the Spirit Bear tour, the Chilcotin grizzly tour, and at least one northern experience in search of caribou/muskox!  Sign up for my newsletter now if you haven’t already so you’ll have an early crack at getting a spot on one of these trips.

In terms of gear news, I’ve just received the new Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 lens (version II) to test out on my Chilcotin bear trip, so I’ll be posting a full review when I get back.

I think that’s it for an update, so here’s a few pics from my recent spirit bear photo trip in the Great Bear Rainforest.  Enjoy!

Our first white bear of the trip!

A baldie surveying her terrain

Backlit blow from a humpback whale

Beautiful big black bear male in a mossy canyon

‘Peek-a-boo’ bear from behind the rocks

Caviar, anyone?

Thanks for looking and reading, everyone, wish me luck on my next adventure in the Chilcotin!

Happy shooting,


Khutzeymateen 2013 – Grizzlies and Wolves

Posted on

As we wind down towards Christmas and the start of a new year, I thought I’d throw out a quick note about what’s left for those of you interested in joining me on a wildlife photography tour or photo workshop next year in 2013.

I currently have one spot that’s just come available (due to a cancellation) on one of my most popular photo tours, the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Photography Tour from May 8th-16th in the world famous Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary.

Now I would love to show you the thousands of amazing images I got on last May’s inaugural trip to this magical valley of grizzlies and wolves, but the truth is that every time I look at the folder-upon-folder-upon-folder of images to edit, I get bogged down trying to sort through all the gems.  I have managed to edit one measly folder from the first two days of shooting, so here are a few that you may not have seen yet:

A grizzly digs for clams on the intertidal flats near the Khutzeymateen in the Great Bear Rainforest

A wild coastal grey wolf walks the shoreline at low tide in the Khutzeymateen in the Great Bear Rainforest

A cute grizzly cub eyes us warily near the Khutzeymateen in the Great Bear Rainforest

I think this is one of the most spectacular trips I offer, so if you’re interested in scooping up that final spot for May 2013, please let me know right away.

I also have a few spots still available on my August 2013 landscape photography workshop in the stunning Bugaboo Mountains of British Columbia with CMH Summer Adventures.  If flitting about in a helicopter with me taking photos of beautiful mountains, hiking in flower-filled meadows, and relaxing back in a 5-star luxury remote mountain lodge is your idea of a good time, then I’d highly recommend you grab a spot on this trip while they’re still available.  Both 2011 and 2012 sold out.

Pretty terrible scenery to photograph on the Bugaboos landscape photography workshop

And finally, I’ve still got a few spots available on next October’s Jasper wildlife photography workshop.  This year we had a ridiculous amount of snow (it snowed every single day), but in normal years we usually have a combination of snow and no-snow locations where we can go to try to photograph bighorn sheep in their rut, as well as elk, moose, deer, mountain goat, and even bears and wolves.

An October 2011 participant in the Jasper Wildlife Photography Workshop photographs a calf moose

If any of these spots interests you for next year, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly. 

Have a wonderful holiday season everyone!


He’s Alive, He’s Alive!

Posted on

While it may be disappointing to many of you, I am finally back here on my blog to report that I am indeed still alive, debunking once and for all the rumours of my demise at the jaws of a pack of ferocious wolves (or was it under the crushing weight of 50 kegs of patio beer?).

So what the heck have I been doing since my last blog, so so long ago (June 30th to be exact, ulp!)?  I would claim to have been scaling snow-clad peaks, but those who know me personally can attest to the fact that I haven’t been scaling anything other than my wife’s patience the past five months due to a wee stress fracture in my foot that was a present from the paved streets of San Diego (why was I dumb enough to run on pavement for an hour and a half in trail shoes?!).

And I could say I’ve been out doing tour after tour after tour, raking in my millions, but my last workshop was just a weekend in August and the last one before that? The 1st of July.

What I have been doing is two-fold: one, I’ve been working on relaxing in order to somehow magically heal my foot.  Trips to the sunny Okanagan and the Shuswap without a camera in tow, that kind of thing. Unfortunately, the second thing I’ve been doing is not relaxing, in fact, really not relaxing…getting up at 5:00 am and going out working on a new project that may or may not see the light of day in the coming year.  Lots of hobbling about in the dark pre-dawn hours, lots of fruitless days, and a few true days of glory where it’s all been worth it.

Anyways, in the meantime, I’ve got some News & Notes to pass along regarding a host of subjects:

First of all, while I’ve been terrible at updating my blog lately, I haven’t been nearly as bad at updating my Facebook page for John E. Marriott Wildlife and Nature Photography.  So if you’re on Facebook and want to stay up-to-date with new images and such, please check it out.

A grizzly family eyes us up on my 2012 Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Tour (2013 dates coming next week)

 Canadian Wildlife Photography Tours News

My 2012 Workshops and Tours are now officially all sold out, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you that took part in one of this year’s tours.  I’m absolutely thrilled that Canadian Wildlife Photography Tours has become so successful so quickly, and many of you that read this blog are responsible for that, so thank you!

A coastal wolf sneaks a peek at us on my 2012 Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Photo Tour (2013 dates coming next week)

Expect several of my 2013 dates to be announced next week, including the 2013 Spirit Bear Photography Tour and the 2013 Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Photo Tour.  I’ll also be announcing next year’s dates for my popular CMH Heli-hiking Landscape Photography Workshop in the Bugaboo Mountains of British Columbia.

The Camera Store News

As part of The Camera Store’s 16th Anniversary Celebrations in Calgary, Alberta, they’re showcasing some of the work of photographers that they’ve been working with for a long time in a Gallery Show at Resolution Local Art Gallery at 233 10th St NW.  I’ve got a framed canvas piece in the show that is the only North American wildlife piece for sale, so please drop by sometime between now and September 30th to check it out.

I’m also pleased to announce that I’m teaming up with The Camera Store for a great weekend wildlife photography seminar and field session in early December.  Stay tuned for further details and block off the weekend of December 1st and 2nd if you’re interested!

Paul Zizka

A quick shout out to one of Canada’s newest and brightest shining landscape and adventure photographers, Paul Zizka.  Paul is a Banff photographer that has really picked up the pace of his amazing photography in recent years, as is clearly in evidence on his site, Paul Zizka Photography.  Check it out and prepare to be wow-ed!

Lake Minnewanka and the Northern Lights (copyright Paul Zizka)

Thanks everyone, stay tuned for several more updates in the coming days.

Happy shooting!


The Great Polar Bear Photo Adventure

Posted on

He’s going to come right at us!

And just like that, a 500-kilo polar bear hurled himself up and over the bank and bee-lined straight for us in a cloud of snow and seaweed.

When he was fifty meters from us, he put on the brakes and glanced behind him nervously, watching to see if his nemesis, the little 250-kilo white ball of fury that had chased him towards us, was still in sight.

Seconds later, the mother polar bear marched up the bank with her two big cubs in tow and glared furiously at the male, completely ignoring the two armed guides and the two photographers in front of her.

As the big male lumbered closer and closer towards us (and away from her), I tried desperately to fit some part of him in the frame with my 500mm lens, finally giving up when he got within twenty meters.  In perhaps a final test of what the boundaries might be, he took a hesitant step towards me and was instantly rewarded with a loud boom from one of the guide’s rifles.  The crackerjack shell sent him running off across the tundra for a few hundred meters, where he lay down on the hardpack and cautiously eyed us on his left and the mother and cubs on his right.

The big male came flying over the bank right at us in a panic to escape the female


Two days earlier, I had packed my bags in Canmore and headed for the polar bear capital of the world, Churchill, Manitoba, to begin my adventure.  However, unlike previous years, my trip this time wasn’t going to be confined to the Churchill environs, where tourists crowd out onto the tundra on giant bus-like buggies to view and photograph the polar bears from high above in the safety of the buggies.

Instead, I was heading into the Arctic almost 200 kilometers north of Churchill for a true adventure in Nunavut into the heart of polar bear country along the famed polar bear alley on the west side of Hudson Bay.  I was on a mission to scout out a new location for polar bear photography for my Canadian Wildlife Photography Tours company that would give me a unique product not offered by any other photographer; so I’d flown into this tiny cluster of cabins in the absolute middle of nowhere hoping to photograph polar bears on foot at eye level!

I had been to Nunavut once before, as many of you know, on my moderately-successful Arctic Ice Floe Edge trip in 2009.  We had been promised bears and whales galore, but got up there to find ourselves in a landscape where the wildlife lived in constant fear of running into an Inuit hunter; as such, we never got within 150 meters of a bear.

So when I heard that a well-respected Canadian Arctic tour operator was opening up a very small, new polar bear viewing operation in a different part of Nunavut where they promised close encounters on foot with these magnificent animals, I was skeptical, but hopeful.  When the company heard I was interested in checking them out, they extended an invitation, and voila, I was off and running at the start of November.

The adventure began with a thrilling, hour-long flight over the tundra in a Twin Otter Turbo plane from Churchill.  I love small planes that hug the landscape, and this one provided a spectacular view of the coastline and of the Barrenlands.  I spent the entire hour scanning the horizon feverishly for wildlife and was rewarded with five different bear sightings!

We arrived at the tiny Arviat Polar Bear Cabin complex at noon on November 1st and despite the noise of our plane landing on the flat tundra, a polar bear was laying there having a snooze on the seaweed no more than 100 meters from the complex’s electric fence.

The tiny cabin complex (6 cabins in total) is surrounded by an electric fence to keep the bears out

For the next three full days, we watched as eleven different bears wandered by the windswept complex, with many spending hours checking us out.  For the most part we stayed inside the fence and photographed them as they circled around us nosily, but we also ventured outside the fence regularly for forays onto the tundra in search of more bears (we saw five in total on our short hikes) and other arctic wildlife. By the end of the trip, I’d seen arctic hare, arctic fox, willow ptarmigan, snowy owl, and gyrfalcon.

An arctic hare eyes me warily on the edge of a frozen pond

Willow ptarmigan on the tundra

From a polar bear perspective, the trip was a fantastic success — while we didn’t see as many polar bears as I was used to seeing on my Churchill trips (where you can often see 10-20 bears in a day), I was like a schoolkid in a field of candy whenever a polar bear approached us. The level of excitement was palpable, as was the thrill I got from standing on foot face-to-face with these beautiful animals in non-threatening situations (the bears seemed to know that the fence and that the armed Inuit guides meant business and they either stayed back 30-50 meters, or they got a warning crackerjack shot fired at them once or twice, which kept them back).

Being on foot with these polar bears was an experience of a lifetime and I would try to put it more eloquently, but suffice to say that it’s as close to indescribable as wildlife photography gets for me.

A huge polar bear checks us out at close range

A polar bear portrait

I was so impressed with the photography opportunities that presented themselves (and with the glorious ones I envisioned that didn’t present themselves this year), that I began planning my trip back before my November adventure was even over!

So I’m excited to announce that I am going to be leading two polar bear photography adventures to the Arviat Polar Bear Cabins next year with this company, from November 9th-14th and from November 14th-19th.  The trips will include a full extra day at the complex (so a total of two half days on either end, with four full days sandwiched in between) and I’ve secured a deal that absolutely knocks the socks off of other similar photography adventures for polar bears!

It’s a true adventure into Canada’s hinterland, so if you’ve ever dreamed of photographing polar bears from ground level and wanted to do it with a fun group, then check out the rest of my pictures and if you’re still interested, then go read about what the Polar Bear Photography Tour entails for November 2012.

A curious cub walks by us at close range

Polar bear tracks on the tundra just meters from the electric fence

Sunshine and -10 never felt so good!  A scenic view of the coastline at low tide.

A polar bear rolls around in the snow on a windy day

Another polar bear walks the beach by the complex

A polar bear mother and cub

The peek-a-boo polar bear!

My favourite shot from the trip, taken during a blizzard on Day 2

How close do we get?  Pretty close!

Our guides, Jason and Graham, checking out tracks with fellow photographer, Kevin

Eye level and gorgeous!

A mother and cubs trying to decide whether or not they should come visit us

Another one of my favourite polar bear photographs from the trip

Thanks for looking everyone!

Happy shooting!


Photographing in the Canadian Arctic – June 12-22, 2010

Posted on

“I am sitting on six feet of ice on the Arctic Ocean. To my south and east is Baffin Island. To my west is Bylot Island. And to my north, too far for my eyes to see, is Greenland. Welcome to the Canadian Arctic. Welcome to the ice floe edge.”

Journal entry, June 14th, 2010 from 72 kilometres northeast of Pond Inlet, Nunavut

View the Canadian Arctic Photo Gallery here

My first trip to the Canadian high arctic was fraught with adventure, joy, and disappointment. We saw polar bears, watched Inuit hunters kill narwhals, marveled at the size of towering icebergs, and kept vigil throughout the day/night at the ice floe edge, waiting…and waiting…and waiting.

Our small group of photographers was comprised of John and Sherrill Knight, friends of mine from Calgary, Alberta, and John Lowman, a friend from Vancouver, all three excellent amateur photographers, along with full-time professional nature photographers Bernd Roemmelt and Florian Schulz, two superb young photographers from Germany working on books on the Arctic region.

Five of us, excluding Florian, met up in Ottawa on June 11th and embarked for Iqaluit and the first leg of our northern journey on the morning of June 12th. For an entry point to the Canadian Arctic, Iqaluit can best be described as being dismal. Flat, boring, and dirty could also be added to the list of adjectives to paint an accurate picture of one of Canada’s most troubled locales, where a simple flat of beer (24 beer) costs a whopping $105, yet doesn’t seem to quell the town’s insatiable thirst for alcohol and drugs.

After a brief tour of the town, we were all glad to leave and continue northward across Baffin Island on a smaller jet bound for Clyde River and Pond Inlet, our final destination by air on the northern coast of the island, some three hours by plane from Iqaluit (from the southeast tip of Baffin Island to the northwest tip is almost the same distance as flying from Vancouver to Toronto!).

We got our first true glimpse of the glory that awaited us on our adventure about 100 kilometres out of Pond Inlet, when the clouds began to melt away beneath the northern sun and John, John, and I suddenly noticed a spectacular glaciated landscape unfolding far below us. Towering snow-capped mountain peaks glistened in the afternoon sun, framing glaciers and frozen lakes that snaked and twirled across our windowed views.

We arrived in Pond Inlet at 8:30 pm under brilliant sunlight, not a cloud in the sky. And while the town itself was not much cleaner than Iqaluit, the setting couldn’t have been more magical. Every direction we looked were mountains and snow and ice, exactly what I imagined the arctic would look like.

And so, like good sensible people about to embark on the ice for nine days of 24-hour sunlight on the adventure of our lives, we all went to bed early and got a good night’s rest. Or maybe not quite…ha-ha! Bernd spun off in one direction, John and Sherill in another, and John Lowman and I bumped off into the tundra in a rickety old truck we’d borrowed from our guide. By 4 a.m., John and I had completely exhausted ourselves and limped back to the only hotel in town for a quick nap before our final packing and departure onto the ice.

We left Pond Inlet at 2 p.m. on the 13th aboard qamutiks (pronounced ‘coma-ticks’), flexible wooden sleds, pulled by snow machines, and at 30 km/hour, fired off down the inlet towards Baffin Bay and our temporary tent camp on the arctic ice floe edge, 72 kilometres distant.

Arrival at the ice edge was a bit of a shock on two counts: one, it was stunningly beautiful, with mountains on our left and right and behind us, and the pack ice and open ocean just 100 feet in front of us. And two, we weren’t the only ones there. While I had been warned and had warned the others on the trip that we may see Inuit hunters in action, I hadn’t realized they would be camping all around us and that in fact our area was a bit of a tent city, full of tourists and hunters alike, with more than 25 people along the ice floe edge.

That first evening we were treated to our first sights of narwhals and their unique unicorn-like tusks, as well as to a host of seabirds, including common murres, northern fulmars, snow geese, common eiders, king eiders, and glaucous gulls.

For the next eight days, we settled into northern camp life on the ice floe edge under a variety of weather conditions, with ‘night’ trips in search of icebergs and polar bears, and late, late nights spent waiting for narwhals to appear at the ice edge. We had brilliant sunshine for the first four days/nights, then a cold, damp fog settled in that didn’t lift until an hour before we left four days later! Even though average temperatures for those final four days weren’t much below zero celsius, we all slowly began to get colder and colder as our gear got damper and damper and as our bodies slowly cooled from sitting outside and travelling in the qamutiks. I think everyone was VERY happy to see the sun on our final day for the long trip out.

In total we travelled about 600 kilometres on snow machines with our qamutiks both to and from camp and in search of bears and new terrain. We also hiked around a fair bit in our bulky parkas carting our gear along with us in search of great landscape images and on the occasional ‘sneak’ on a polar bear in an attempt to get closer to it.

The trip was a raging success in two of three categories: landscape photography and a plain ol’ adventure. It doesn’t get much better than photographing icebergs with mountains behind them at midnight in the sunshine on the arctic ice. It was truly a spectacle that will stay with me the rest of my life.

Similarly, as far as adventure goes, other than climbing Everest or doing a solo backpack for a month, this rated right up there with anything I had ever done (neither of which includes Everest OR backpacking for a month!). Bombing out onto the arctic ice with an Inuit guide and then stalking polar bears on foot is again, about as good as it gets in my book.

Where the trip did let me down, though, was in the wildlife photography. You could literally see the potential there, for there were indeed lots of polar bears (see below and in the Canadian Arctic Photo Gallery I put together) and lots of narwhals and there certainly must have once been lots of arctic fox and so on at one time.

But the Inuit culture is vastly different from our own, and they tend to shoot everything in sight, edible or not. So there are vast stretches of the arctic, particularly surrounding towns, almost completely devoid of wildlife, as they’ve shot it all.

This makes wildlife photography in these areas particularly difficult. It’s extremely hard to sneak up on a polar bear that gets hunted ruthlessly from October to May by snow machines and high-powered long-range rifles. So for most of our bear photography, we were too far away to get useable shots.

And it’s almost impossible to photograph narwhals when each time they come up to breath they are shot at, whether or not it’s a good opportunity for a kill. In total, we witnessed at least 9 narwhals get shot, yet just 2 were recovered. The other 7 were injured or killed, never to be recovered (National Geographic photographer and writer Paul Nicklen, a friend of mine, covered this story in depth in the August 2007 issue of National Geographic).

It was a complete shock to see how this hunter-gatherer society had such a lack of respect for nature in general, at least from the viewpoint of someone like myself that values wildlife as more than just a food source. Every time we came to land, we constantly found carcasses of birds and foxes laying about — uneaten and untouched — obviously target practice for someone. And the Inuit towns are littered with garbage. It’s everywhere you look, even though in Pond Inlet there is a garbage dump just three kilometres away. I think for myself, it deromanticized the notion that the Inuit had lived for thousands of years in harmony with nature. The harsh reality of it is that, just like us southerners, when given the opportunity, they rape and pillage the environment just as we do elsewhere in Canada, just in a different way.

I was also shocked how little respect was shown for visitors to the north. On one occasion, three hunters entered our camp and came up beside me and shot the whale we were trying to photograph. Needless to say, the intelligent whales were soon figuring out to stay away from our area of the ice edge and we went days without even seeing narwhals.

It was an eye-opening experience and immediately cast into doubt, in my mind, the Inuit’s recent calls to government to expand the polar bear hunt in Baffin Bay due to their own personal accounts that there are more bears than ever.

So all in all, it was a grand adventure and a spectacular landscape photography trip, but a very tough and frustrating wildlife photography experience.

Would I go back? Yes and no. If I knew that things were going to be different and we were going to be afforded some room on the ice floe edge to do our photography and if I knew the guides were not going to be Inuit hunters, but rather actual guides skilled at finding and viewing wildlife, then yes, I would go back in a heartbeat. But otherwise, I can’t say that I would.

View the entire Canadian Arctic Photo Gallery here