Me and my daughter Bekky O'Neil proudly posing on a floe.
Fashion editor and TV host Jeanne Beker trades her stilettos for muck boots and steps out of the spotlight and onto the Arctic Tundra for a mother-daughter journey they’ll both be reminiscing about for years to come.
With our suitcases stuffed with long underwear and hiking boots, my 29-year-old daughter and I took off on an epic adventure last summer: a Quark Expeditions excursion to Canada's Far North. It was a far cry from the glam trips we've taken together over the years, but considering my girl's passion for the environment, love of wildlife and summers spent canoeing in Algonquin Park, I figured the remote Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge on Somerset Island in Nunavut would be an irresistible lure for a week of mother-daughter bonding. I couldn't imagine a more exhilarating journey to take with my feisty Bekky.
Located 800 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, the lodge is made up of several white tentlike cabins complete with a plush bed, fleece sheets and a hot water bottle, to boot. It's glamping at its best, with gourmet meals, fine wine, great company and spectacular surroundings: turquoise water and a vast expanse of land dotted with jagged rock walls and cliffs—reminiscent of a Lawren Harris painting. My daughter and I spend the first evening at water's edge, Bekky with her paintbox and me with my laptop, trying to capture in images and words the splendour before us.
At this time of year—July—the sun never sets completely. It was surreal to wake up in the middle of the night and see the sun still shining.
The next morning is spent learning to drive an ATV, and we're soon hooked, happily navigating rocky terrain. The fretful mom in me worries whether Bekky will be able to handle her motorbike-style vehicle, but she does it with skill and I marvel at her fearlessness. On this trip, she surprises me again and again.
Here I am, looking ATV-chic en route to find some musk oxen. Image by: Bekky O'Neil
The next day, as we're readying ourselves to brave the Arctic waters in kayaks, I struggle getting into my unforgivingly tight rubber dry suit, but Bekky steps in to help me gear up. I flash back to helping her into her snowsuit when she was little. Now, she's in charge, and I'm welcoming it. Worried I may not be able to handle the full three hours of kayaking, Bekky assures me she'll do all the paddling if need be. We spot a pod of belugas bobbing in the bright blue sea and push our kayak into the sparkling water, me up front and Bekky steering from the stern, dipping our paddles into the salty water in perfect sync. It's magical, and made better by the comforting fact that my girl has my back; when my shoulders ache from all the paddling, Bekky cheerfully picks up the slack.
On Day 3, a successful mission to find primeval-looking musk oxen—with their imposing stature, shaggy coats and huge horns—leaves us in absolute awe. On a seven-kilometre hike the following day, we pass a desolate stretch of land, akin to the desert in Arizona, where we're in awe again as we pass a prehistoric whale skeleton comprised of large bones jutting out of the ground, estimated to be 8,000 years old.
Rafting through the incredible canyon on the Cunningham River. Image by: Bekky O'Neil
An inflatable raft takes us on the next leg of our journey—two hours down the Cunningham River, through a spectacular canyon where I'm astounded by the dramatic drop of the cliffs and the ruggedness of the sky-high rock walls. There's no need to paddle since our guide is doing the work, and it's a relaxing time for most of us on board. But Bekky, an avid paddler from way back, good-naturedly pitches in to give us some speed.
On board the Unimog, excited to go whale watching. Image by: Bekky O'Neil
After dinner that evening, we all board Unimogs to go out as far as we can to watch whales. Countless black babies, grey juveniles and white adults frolic in the glistening waters, tails flaying, heads bobbing, jumping like they're trying to show off, and through my binoculars, their gorgeous faces smile back at me. Bekky and I are transfixed by this grand floor show and the air is filled with nothing but love and wonder for these beautiful creatures.
Beluga whales bobbing up and down in the distance—an incredible sight on our second-last day. Image by: Bekky O'Neil
As a last hurrah before departure on the last day, Bekky decides to take a dip in the Arctic waters—undaunted by the (albeit distant) presence of whales and 10°C water—and strips down to her bathing suit. Despite her efforts, I can't be convinced to join, but I'm happy to watch my wonder girl take the plunge. She stays in for a shocking few minutes—the perfect way to cap off an extreme and invigorating adventure.
All packed up, standing on the windy tarmac awaiting our plane to whisk us back to the real world, I reminisce about our amazing week. Discovering the Canadian Arctic was incredible enough. But to have shared this adventure with my adult daughter, seeing things through her eyes and witnessing how generous, brave, knowledgeable and spirited she is, has been the most precious gift of all. It's a journey I'll never forget.
Jeanne Beker's perfect packing list for the Arctic Tundra
- A fleece jacket
- A fleece or merino-wool pullover
- A thin down-filled vest
- Long underwear
- Lightweight hiking boots
- Waterproof pants
- Waterproof mukluks
- Gore-Tex gloves
- Heavy socks
- A neck warmer
NOTE: Quark Expeditions supplies its adventurers with great waterproof parkas (they have a thin puffy inner jacket you can zip out if you're too warm) and waterproof muck boots (which you'll practically live in, says Jeanne).