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Biting wind batters the exposed part of your face while snow collects on your parka like dust. The dogs keep pace as your sled slips across the ground. You are in the Arctic, Nunavut to be exact, the northernmost territory of Canada, and you are on your way to Nettilling Lake, led by a friendly Inuit guide.
The Arctic is an adventure like no other and is not for the easily frostbitten or weak-kneed. Nettilling Lake is not anywhere close to civilization, unless you count Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut that, though separated from the lake by miles of nothing but tundra, whipping cold, heavy snow that falls at any time of the year, polar bears and unexpected dangers, inhabits the same southern part of Baffin Island. Most of the island, known to be the fifth largest island in the world, is beyond the Arctic Circle and near the North Pole, which means months of constant day when the sun never sets, and alternatively, in the winter, months of constant darkness.
Nettilling Lake is the largest lake on both Baffin Island and in Nunavut and is touted as the world's largest lake on an island. Though it is frozen for most of the year, it is very much alive with the Ringed Seals, ninespine and threespine stickleback that live in it and the fighting Arctic char that pose an exciting challenge for any action-loving angler.
The majority of the lake shoreline is flanked by Precambrian rocks that were formed billions of years ago. Around the lake, you will find herds of caribou and wandering polar bear that roam freely on the wild splendor of Baffin Island. Nettilling Lake is in the Great Plain of the Koukdjuak, an extensive lowland tundra that is a prime spot for many migratory birds and that makes up most of the western shore of the lake. The plain has the largest colony of geese in the entire world, which helps classify it as a globally-recognized "Important Bird Area."
Officially established in 1999, Nunavut, Canada's newest territory, is largely populated by Inuit, an indigenous people who have inhabited the Arctic for thousands of years. Most of Baffin Island's population is concentrated in the Nunavut capital of Iqaluit in the southern part of the island. There you will find many chances to immerse yourself in Inuit culture, art, history and customs. But you will also have the best of both worlds: Iqaluit is surprisingly modern for a city in the middle of the Arctic. Equipped with commonplace modern conveniences, you can taste a palette of Inuit favorites or opt for pizza or burgers with fries. Shopping is just as convenient as in any other Western city and a trip to art galleries, museums and jewellery stores will reveal Iqaluit's treasures. You may also use the city as a base to experience the island's wild outdoors. Imagine yourself watching the float of icebergs, camping by a sanctuary of birds or caribou herds, sea-kayaking through ice drifts, or hunting walrus.
There are a few outdoor parks on Baffin Island that are largely untouched and undeveloped. On the 75-mile Itijjagiaq Trail, traditionally used by Inuit travelling to the Nettilling area, there are emergency shelters that provide protection against polar bear encounters, difficult weather, or injury. In very wild terrain that can become dangerous quite quickly, only visitors with backpacking experience, knowledge of first aid and map reading ability are encouraged to venture out into the wilderness on their own. But many outfitters and guides are available to make your unique Arctic adventure happen the way you envision it, as you will need help getting near Nettilling Lake.
A journey to Baffin Island and the Arctic wild will be the most exciting thing you have ever done. On your way to Nettilling Lake, experience the vibrance of Iqaluit, the awe of the aurora borealis, the tundra oases and wildflowers that bloom only for a short while. Feel the honor and adrenaline rush of witnessing, from safety, one of the island's white bears, hundreds of other sea animals and the grace of birds. This land will touch you forever.
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