There is one element of High Arctic life that never fails to amaze and mystify -- the weather.
Although I'd packed my long johns, I went to Resolute Bay with the notion that 24 hours of sunlight in July, combined with the fact that this part of the Arctic is classified as a desert, had to be some guarantee of good weather. This theory collapsed upon our arrival. We stepped out of the plane to a driving, cold drizzle and were immediately forced to pull on coats, hats and gloves.
And the summer season is never long enough -- I discovered -- to erase the evidence of the Arctic's hard winters. Even during days of the highest temperatures, in the 70s, snow can be found on shaded hillsides and the straits are still partially frozen.
During our week's stay, the weather went from goose-bump to shirt-sleeve and back again with an alarming unpredictability. Arctic temperatures, we found, vary considerably -- not only from day to day, but from location to location. The visitor is at the mercy of the elements. Rain can arrive without warning, fog can swoop down to reduce visibility to a few feet, and winds can blow with an unexpected strength.
TOURS: A High Arctic journey is for the adventurous, but it is inadvisable for travelers to take off on their own unless they've had Arctic experience.
There are several companies that offer group tours in the Arctic with prices ranging from $1,700 to $5,000 (U.S.) per person, not including air fare to Resolute Bay and back. They include:
*High Arctic International Explorer Services Ltd. This company offers snowmobile/sledge expeditions to the magnetic North Pole, Beechey Island and Grise Fiord during the spring season and, during the summer, a camping tour on Ellesmere Island and an Arctic char fishing vacation. Costs for winter tours usually include a complete outfitting in the proper Arctic clothing. P.O. Box 200, Resolute Bay, Northwest Territory, Canada XOA OVO, (819) 252-3875.
*Grise Fiord Inuit Co-operative Ltd. Seven-day package tours include a stay in 15-bed Grise Fiord Lodge, hikes to nearby glaciers, mountain climbing and outings with Inuit guides by snowmobile or boat, depending on the season. Grise Fiord, Northwest Territory, Canada X0A 0J0, (819) 980-9913.
*Ecosummer Canada Expeditions. Programs designed for those with a specific interest in photography, archeology and wildlife include two-week sea kayaking and hiking tours for a maximum of eight people. The routes are different each year with itineraries adapted to the special interests of each group. Cost includes radios, tents, kayaks, survival kits and food. 1516 Duranleau St., Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6H 3S4, (604) 669-7741.
*Special Odysseys. Programs include two trips in 1986: "Discover the Worlds of the High Arctic Odyssey," a 12-day summer trip with stops at Resolute Bay, Grise Fiord and other Arctic locations, and an eight-day spring trip, "North Pole Odyssey," during which participants celebrate their visit to the geographic North Pole with a champagne toast. Trips include travel by boat, snowmobile and Twin Otter plane. 3430 Evergreen Point Road, P.O. Box 37, Medina, Wash. 98039, (206) 455-1960.
Individualists who can't abide tours have several options, among them:
*High Arctic Explorers Services and Grise Fiord Inuit Co-operative both offer lodging and customized tour services.
*Narwhal Arctic Services Ltd., P.O. Box 88, Resolute Bay, Northwest Territory X0A 0V0, has no specific arrangements for tourists but has an 88-bed facility ($120 per person per day, including all meals) and will rent four-wheel-drive trucks for $75 a day including gas and insurance.
GETTING THERE: From Montreal to Resolute Bay, Nordair (800-361-3680) has one 6 1/2-hour flight that leaves on Tuesdays and Fridays and includes a stop at Frobisher Bay, with return flights on the same days. The round-trip cost is $1,356 Canadian (about $950 U.S.). A cheaper flight (about $535 U.S. round trip) is available but seats are very limited, you must spend one Saturday night in Resolute Bay, and bookings must be made at least 14 days in advance. From Edmonton, Pacific Western Airlines (800-663-8394) flies on Wednesdays and Saturdays to Resolute Bay in five hours, stopping at Yellowknife (in the Northwest Territories) and returning on Thursdays and Saturdays. The fare is about $675 U.S. round trip, or $396 U.S. with the same 14-day advance booking requirements.
GETTING AROUND: Since there is no regular air service to any destination from Resolute Bay except Grise Fiord, visitors will have to hitch rides wherever possible. Both Bradley Air Services and Kenn Borek Air, both of Resolute Bay, charter planes for group tours and will take on extra passengers if there is room.
INFORMATION: Tourism Canada, 1771 N St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036, 785-1400, ext. 331 or 332; or TravelArctic, Government of Northwest Territories, Yellowknife, NWT, Canada X1A 2L9, (403) 873-7200.