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Ellesmere Light

John Dunn and Clive Rubens
A challenging journey — a two-person hiking traverse from the north to the south of Ellesmere Island during the Arctic summer.

Photo: John Dunn

Trekking lightly

Ellesmere Light
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Clive and John display the RCGS flag
(Photo: © John Dunn / Arcticlight)
While seasoned trekkers like to travel light, John Dunn took that mantra to a whole new level last summer. The wilderness traveller and photographer set out with Clive Rubens to complete a lightweight hiking expedition using minimal equipment to traverse Nunavut’s Ellesmere Island. Some of their gear had to do double duty a hiking pole helped prop up their “palatial” 2.7-by-2.7-metre tent while a converted hiking pole served as a paddle for their tiny inflatable raft.

Of course, there was nothing lightweight about the journey itself. With the assistance of an expeditions grant from The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Dunn and Rubens spent 50 days covering 750 kilometres of spectacular High Arctic landscapes, from the shores of the Fosheim Peninsula on the island’s west coast, past deep fiords and across rough terrain and rivers to their final destination, the tiny community of Grise Fiord, at the island’s southern edge.

A veteran adventurer, Dunn had already completed a pioneering ski traverse of Ellesmere and a six-month skiing, kayaking and hiking expedition along the length of Baffin Island. He drew on those experiences to help him plan for this journey.

Ellesmere Light
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John & Clive (Photo: © John Dunn / Arcticlight)
“I love the whole environment up there,” says Dunn, explaining what keeps pulling him back to the Arctic. “It is a place where one can do a really long human-powered journey that requires total self-sufficiency.”

Bathed in 24-hour sunlight, Dunn and Rubens started out in 18°C weather, wearing shorts and T-shirts. But the experience was not always that balmy or relaxing. On some days, the pair hiked 25 kilometres with cold, wet feet across squishy, boggy ground. And then there was crossing the Augusta River. Filled with fast-moving glacial meltwater and an abundance of ice chunks, Dunn likened it to “some sort of giant Dairy Queen product.”

Over the course of the expedition, the pair had many close encounters with wildlife, including muskox, Arctic hare, Peary caribou and a pack of wolves trotting across a beach. But Dunn notes that they could have done without wildlife of the buzzing winged variety. “The combination of mosquitoes, endless sun and a tent that was bugproof only when fully zipped up meant that sleeping was insufferably hot on a few occasions,” he says. “While mossies are not a new addition to the High Arctic, Inuit at Grise Fiord later told us that for them, mosquitoes are definitely increasing in numbers.” Even the most northern Canadian summer vacation, it seems, is not complete without a few bugs.

— Mary Vincent

John Dunn will give a public lecture on his Ellesmere Island expedition on Feb. 2, 2011, at Prince of Wales Secondary School in Vancouver. For more information, visit

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