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HEADING TO THE ARCTIC - Lisa Young and David Reid
Monday March 27, 2017 - Email this article to a friend

Early this month a team of explorers is heading to the Arctic for the Bear Witness expedition.

Scotsman David Reid moved from Glasgow to the Canadian Arctic in 1989, when he was hired as the last Scottish recruit for the Hudson's Bay Company.

After living and working in several Arctic communities, he moved to Pond Inlet in the north of Baffin Island in 1991.

In April 2017, Reid will lead an international team of four explorers in circumnavigating Bylot Island across sea-ice by ski.

The twin goals of the Bear Witness Arctic Expedition are to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday and bear witness to the changes taking place in the Arctic.

For over 20 years, Reid has been involved in Arctic expeditions, with more than 300 Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, trips and projects under his belt.

Bear WitnessA curious, yet dangerous, presence on the entire expedition
















Bylot Island Bird CliffsBylot Island Bird Cliffs















Reid has been involved in many film and TV productions, including the BBC series Planet Earth and Frozen Planet.

He is regularly called upon for logistical help, his consulting expertise, and other services related to Arctic exploration and tourism.

Reid's intrepid team includes Ingrid Ortlieb, Eric Brossier, and Martin Garcier, all of whom are leading figures in polar exploration and avid adventurers who have led their own expeditions in the past.

The expedition will include travelling through the eastern entrance of the fabled and historic Northwest Passage.

"The team is highly experienced, and we bring together a wealth of polar travel knowledge. Given the mostly mountainous topography of Bylot Island, the intention is to stick to the sea ice as we circumnavigate the island," he said.

Bylot Island (known as Akia in the local Inuktituk language) is located off the northern end of Baffin Island in Nunavut, Canada, and will be the largest island in the world ever to be circumnavigated on skis.

At 11,067 km2, it is the 71st-largest island in the world and Canada's 17th-largest island, and lies at 73 degrees north - more than 700 km above the Arctic Circle.

The island was given its name after the Arctic explorer Robert Bylot - who became, in 1616, the first European to sight it.

The island measures 180 km east to west and 110 km north to south, and is one of the largest uninhabited islands in the world.

While there are no permanent settlements on Bylot Island, Inuit from Pond Inlet regularly travel to the island.

The expedition will let Bylot Island tell the story - one that is rich, compelling and fascinating - and will look forward and ask important questions.

Given the changing Arctic climate and environment, will such a journey even be possible in the not-so-distant future?

With sea ice conditions in certain areas becoming less predictable, the challenge is not so much whether the expedition can succeed now, but whether it will be possible 50 years from now. 

"The team will arrive in Ottawa on April 7th 2017. There will be a couple of hectic days buying provisions, packing and prepping for the expedition before heading north to Pond Inlet on the 10th April. The plan is to start skiing on the 12th April," Reid told me.

"The challenge in putting together a major expedition like this is to maximise its reach and at the same time keep things focused and simple."

"The exact route will be determined by the sea ice surrounding the island," Reid explained.

Every day, Reid checks at least two ice satellite charts to gauge what the ice is doing and how it is developing.

"In the end, there is nothing we can do about it; we control what we can control - the ice, the weather and the animals are out of our control and yet we have to plan for many eventualities," he said.

"I'm also in touch with local residents of Pond Inlet and friends who are now out travelling on the ice, hunting, who update me on the ice conditions."

In such harsh conditions, equipment must be tried, tested, reliable and the best available.

"The team will use Fischer touring skis for the expedition, with NNN bindings, and we will be taking at least one pair of spare skis with us," Reid explained.

"This expedition is a serious undertaking and we want the very best equipment out there".

"Our outer gear is by Canada Goose, our sleeping bags by Fjallraven (Polar -30 bags), tents by Hilleberg (Keron 4 GT (2)), Costa sunglasses, and Nikon camera gear."

"We'll also carry inReach communication devices, two Iridium satellite phones, and Goal Zero solar charger/panels," he said.

When it comes to footwear, the team will of course have their ski boots, as well as Steger mukluks and down-filled booties.

Each of the team members will be pulling two hard plastic sleds that have been slightly modified for this project.

The entire Bear Witness Arctic Expedition will take place within the boundaries of the proposed Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area.

Lancaster Sound is an incredibly rich Arctic ecosystem; polar bears, narwhals, bowheads, belugas, several species of seals, walruses and hundreds of thousands of seabirds call it home.

At this time, the area remains unprotected.

An accompaniment to the coast of Bylot IslandAn accompaniment to the coast of Bylot Island















The entire Bear Witness Expedition will take place in the realm of the polar bearThe entire Bear Witness Expedition will take place in the realm of the polar bear













Polar Bears

One big factor of travelling in this part of the world is polar bears.

The north coast is known as a major polar bear denning area.

"For safety reasons, we will be taking a 12G shotguns and another firearm (possibly a .308) with us."

"In addition we will have at least two sled dogs (bear dogs) with us and we'll be setting up a tripwire perimeter fence each night and a manual system using 12G bear bangers."

Angilaaq Mountain (the highest point on the island at just over 6,400 ft), Malik Mountain, Mount St Hans, and Mount Thule are the most prominent mountains.

Tay Bay (made famous by Alvah Simon's book North to the Night) is located on the northwest coast.

Just south of Tay Bay is Canada Point.

It was here in 1906 that Captain Joseph-Elzéar Bernier claimed the island for Canada (see above photograph).

The most famous visitor to Bylot Island was the renowned Inuit leader Qitdlarssuaq, who, in 1850, spent time on the island during his epic polar migration.

The journey started in the Cumberland Sound area of Baffin Island and ended in the Thule area of northwest Greenland.
Almost all of Bylot Island is contained within Sirmilik National Park.

Sirmilik is an Inuktituk word meaning "Place of Glaciers". 

The island's north shore faces Lancaster Sound, across to Devon Island and the eastern entrance to the famous Northwest Passage.

The north coast of Bylot Island is rarely visited by anyone, and only relatively few photographs and videos exist to show both its topography and character.

Narwhal, beluga and bowhead whales, and harp, ringed and bearded seals frequent the area during the spring and summer.

On the northwest coast is Cape Hay, one of the most important breeding and nesting areas for a variety of birds, including thick-billed murres and black-legged kittiwakes.
Important components of the expedition include science and education.

Eric Brossier will be heading up the science side, by conducting ice thickness and snow measurements.

Daily updates will be sent to both the Expedition Website and Facebook.

Local schools in the Ottawa area will also be following along, and talks and presentations are planned for both before and after.

The expedition will be documented, photographed and filmed.

With a comprehensive social media strategy in place and the intention to fully document the expedition for book and film components, the Bear Witness Arctic Expedition will reach an incredibly large audience.

Adventurers throughout the world will be able to follow along, experience and feel part of this celebratory and important journey.

The expedition team


David Reid moved from Scotland to the Canadian Arctic in 1989.

He was the last Scottish recruit for the Hudson's Bay Company.

After living and working in several Arctic communities, he moved to Pond Inlet in North Baffin Island in 1991.

For over 20 years he has been involved in the Arctic expedition and travel business.

To date he has led, organised or participated in more than 300 Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, trips and projects.

In that time he has travelled thousands of miles by dog sled, ski, snowmobile, boat, kayak, ship, foot and most recently by bike, becoming the first person to cross Baffin Island by fat-tire bike.

He has completed fourteen successful expeditions through the famous Northwest Passage and guided over fifty trips to the polar bear capital of the world, Churchill, Manitoba.

Eric Brossier







Eric Brossier: Captain of the Vagabond and an ocean engineering expert.

His experience and commitment to improving our knowledge of the Arctic and its challenges has made him a leading figure in the polar world.

After working in Egypt, Botswana, Venezuela and South Africa, he has travelled across the Far North with his family in the Vagabond since the 2000s.

Collaborating with several universities and science laboratories, Eric spends his time studying climate change and biodiversity in the Arctic, a key indicator of our planet's health.

After spending five winters in the ice with Vagabond in Svalbard, Eric, his wife France and daughters Leonie and Aurore moved to the Canadian Arctic.

Where better to over-winter than Canada's most Northerly community Grise Fiord.

Between Grise Fiord and most recently Qikiqtarjaq, the "family crew" have now spent another five winters living aboard Vagabond.

In addition to his Arctic work and experience, Eric was also Head of the Observatory of Magnetism and Seismology in the Kerguelen Islands in the French Southern and Antarctic region for the Earth Physics Institute of Strasbourg and Geophysicist consultant Nenets Territory in Russia.

Eric will be heading up and leading the science component of the Bear Witness Expedition.

Ingrid Ortlieb







Ingrid Ortlieb:  Originally from Germany, she lives and works in Spain.

An avid adventurer, she started her expedition career more than thirty years ago.

Ingrid has lived, worked and traveled throughout Europe: Germany, Switzerland, Holland, England, Scotland, France, Italy, Greece, Ireland and Croatia.

Her first visit to Canada came when she was 28 years old.

An expedition through the fabled Northwest Passage signified the realisation of a dream.

Since then she has lead and participated every year in some incredible expeditions in Greenland, Lapland and in the Canadian Arctic.

Among these expeditions; ski crossings of Akshayuk Pass and the Penny Icecap on Baffin Island, skiing across Svalbard in 2015 from East to West and most recently crossing Greenland from West to East.

In 2011, Ingrid was a member of the Thule dogsled expedition, a 300 km dog sledding trip with Inuit hunters through North Greenland to Siorapaluk, the Northern-most village on Earth.

In 2006, she crossed on skis the frozen Gulf of Bothnia off the coast of Finnish Lapland.

Ingrid has become one of the Arctic's most accomplished explorers and is excited to be heading back to the Baffin region and being part of the Bear Witness team.

Martin Garcia







Martin Garcia was born and raised in the Basque Pyrenees, and grew up jumping in mud puddles and fishing in the local rivers with his father.

He started mountain climbing at the age of 15 and his life long love affair with mountains continues to this day.

He spent his mandatory years in the Spanish army at a high altitude centre in the Pyrenees and spent two years training and competing in ski mountaineering races.

Martin immigrated to Canada in 1981 because, as he told his mother, "I was born in the wrong country".

He started in Quebec and over the years moved west, where the mountains of Jasper were his backyard for many years.

He finally came to rest in Nelson British Columbia.

He has climbed mountains and ice in North and South America and of course Europe.

In 2012 he moved to Yellowknife as a way of seeing and experiencing the north, and lived on an off the grid houseboat near Yellowknife for 3 years.

Memorable Arctic trips include kayaking off northern Baffin Island, and his high Arctic 2012 dog sled expedition, an attempt to travel from Tuktoyaktuk to Kulgluktuk with a team of 11 feisty Canadian Inuit sled dogs and two men on skis.

He presently divides his time between Nelson and Yellowknife, with his lovely wife Tandi and a beloved Golden Retriever.

Expedition training shots:

Martin is training on a frozen lake near Yellowknife, Canada.Martin is training on a frozen lake near Yellowknife, Canada.
















There was no snow in France, so Eric had his pic taken in SwedenThere was no snow in France, so Eric had his photo taken in Sweden












Ingrid lives in Spain so she's training on the beach!Ingrid lives in Spain so she's training on the beach!













Ingrid lives in Spain so she's training on the beach!



















Keep up with the expedition news by checking the website here.

And on Vimeo and Facebook.

Check the blog from April 9th.

Lisa YoungLisa Young














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