Arctic Journey: Ghosts of the Northwest Passage - August 23, 2018 - Atlas Obscura Trips


Arctic Journey: Ghosts of the Northwest Passage

In 1845, Captain Sir John Franklin departed England for the Arctic aboard two ships, the H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Terror. The expedition was Franklin's fourth—and to the world's dismay, would also be his last.

The doomed Franklin expedition never returned, and in the years to come, multiple search parties would be launched. Evidence of Franklin and his men eventually turned up, but one attempt after another yielded no signs of the two ships themselves.

It was not until 2014 that the H.M.S. Erebus was at last discovered, and two years later, in 2016, the wreckage of the H.M.S. Terror. Still in excellent condition and preserved by 80 feet of cold water, most of the Terror's windowpanes were still intact.

On this once-in-a-lifetime expedition, we'll trace the routes of the early explorers who first navigated these waters as they sought out the fabled Northwest Passage, learning more about "the man who ate his boots" and his extraordinary wife, Lady Jane, an intrepid adventurer who sponsored a total of seven expeditions to track down her  husband's ships. The writer Paul Watson describes it as “the longest, broadest and most expensive search for two lost ships in maritime history.” 

There is so much to explore for polar history buffs and wildlife lovers alike. Our itinerary includes a visit to one of the largest migratory bird sanctuaries in the world, and we hope for frequent sightings of seals, beluga whales, polar bears, and even the rare narwhals. You'll have the chance to meet expert mariners as well as scientists and historians as you share an experience unlike any other.

This trip is not exclusive to Atlas Obscura. Our tight-knit crew of 10 Atlas Obscura explorers will be joining a group of 96 adventurers from all across the world. We look forward to delving into the history and science of the Arctic, learning its unique stories and mysteries, and getting to know our shipmates.


  • Grave markers on Beechey Island: Set foot on one of the most significant locations in the history of Arctic exploration. 
  • Fort Ross on Somerset Island: Visit what remains of the last trading post to be established by the Hudson's Bay Company, now used as a shelter for Inuit hunters.
  • Beluga whales and polar bears: The seas, islands, and tundras of the Canadian arctic are alive with incredible wildlife, and throughout our voyage, we hope to catch glimpses of a range of rare creatures, from narwhals to black guillemots.
  • Peel Sound, the heart of the Northwest Passage: Travel through Peel Sound, an area so thick with ice that it is only navigable for a short window each year.


The Akademik Ioffe is modern, comfortable, safe, and ice strengthened. From small group sessions to briefings for all passengers, there are public spaces onboard ideally suited for each and every need. A separate lounge and bar, as well as a library provide ideal places to sit and relax or catch up on some reading. A selection of movies and documentaries can also be enjoyed in the lounge. The sumptuous meals prepared for you by the ship's culinary team are enjoyed in the dining room, which can host all passengers in a single seating. Additional facilities include a theater-style presentation room, gift shop, fitness room, massage room, hot water spa, sauna, and plunge pool. There’s also a dedicated expedition "mud room" where you will prepare for your off‑ship excursions.


Because of the exploratory nature of these voyages, we do not have a set itinerary. The final decisions on our daily program will make the best use of local ice and weather conditions, spontaneous opportunities, and wildlife. The notes in this itinerary are designed to give you a good idea of our intentions, and what your days will look like. 


A deposit of 25 percent of the per-person cabin cost plus charter flight from Edmonton to Resolute is required to confirm your berth. This deposit is non-refundable after three days, and we recommend you take out travel insurance at the time of booking. The remainder of your payment for the cabin cost and flight is due April 16, 2018. 


Email us at or give us a call at 1-855-596-6237 anytime between 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. ET.

Day 1
Edmonton to Resolute
  • Meet the group in Edmonton for our early-morning charter flight to Resolute. Please note: Since the group departs for Resolute early this morning, you'll need to arrive in Edmonton the previous night, the 22nd. 
  • We'll arrive in the later afternoon in Resolute, a remote outpost above the Arctic Circle. Located on the southern shores of Cornwallis Island, the town is named after the H.M.S. Resolute, a British ship that was trapped in the ice and abandoned here in 1850 while searching for the lost Franklin Expedition. Years later, during the Cold War, the town of Resolute was turned into a strategic outpost and outfitted with a weather station and airstrip.
  • Upon arrival in Resolute, we'll meet our expedition team and prepare for our ride out to the ship, the Akademik Ioffe.
  • After a welcome cocktail and chance to start meeting some of the other passengers, we'll weigh anchor and settle in for our first night aboard.
World Expeditions
Day 2
Beechey & Prince Leopold Islands
  • Wake up to your first morning at sea! There's nothing else quite like it. We'll gather for breakfast and compare our new sea legs. 
  • Today we'll be checking out Beechey Island, a place that holds great historic importance in the story of the Northwest Passage. It is here that Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition spent its last "comfortable" winter in 1845 before disappearing into the vast expanses of ice, sparking an incredible series of search expeditions. The mystery of what happened to Franklin was partially solved in September 2014, when a joint Parks Canada and Royal Canadian Geographic Society expedition found the H.M.S. Erebus in the Victoria Strait.
  • We'll embark on a trip ashore to visit the grave markers on a remote and windswept beach. Here, we'll have the opportunity to learn more details of the lost expedition that soon became a mystery known around the world.
  • Through the afternoon, we'll sail across Barrow Strait and approach the towering cliffs of Prince Leopold Island. This is an important migratory bird sanctuary, home to thick-billed murres, black guillemots, northern fulmars, and black-legged kittiwakes. Home to several hundred thousand birds, Prince Leopold Island is one of the most significant bird sanctuaries in the whole of the Canadian Arctic. The sea ice around the island is also a great place for spotting ringed seals—and where one finds ringed seals, polar bears are usually not far behind.
Day 3
Fury Beach & Somerset Island
  • Overnight, we'll sail south into Prince Regent Inlet and wake up along the southeastern shore of Somerset Island. Much of the shoreline of the Canadian Arctic, as you'll see on our journey, is marked by low, rocky tundra.
  • Today, our objective is to go ashore at Fury Beach, named after the H.M.S. Fury, a Royal Navy sloop used in two Arctic expeditions by Commander Edward Parry. Parry made one of the first attempts at the North Pole and became a key Arctic pioneer, setting long-standing distance records and spearheading the use of canned foods. During Fury's second expedition, she was damaged in the ice while overwintering and was left abandoned here in 1825. Her stores were unloaded on the beach and left as a supply depot for future Royal Navy expeditions into the Arctic.
  • Our time contemplating Parry and Fury will open up a better understanding of the timeline of Arctic exploration and developments in knowledge and technology over the course of the 19th century.
World Expeditions
Day 4
Fort Ross & Bellot Strait
  • Continuing to the southern end of Prince Regent Inlet, we'll encounter the historic site of Fort Ross on Somerset Island, a former Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading outpost. The area's fascinating archaeological sites tell a story of more than a thousand years of habitation by the Inuit and their predecessors. Somerset Island itself is covered by an ice cap in the cold season, but in the summer months we'll see canyon-like terrain uncovered by the ice melt.
  • Traversing the Bellot Strait is a thrilling experience, as the currents roar through this narrow channel. We are now in the heart of the Northwest Passage. The mixing of waters in this strait provides an abundant food source for numerous marine mammal species including harp seals, bearded seals, and even polar bears. The skill of the captain and officers and capabilities of our ship become particularly evident during this exciting day of Arctic navigation.
U.S. Geological Survey
Day 5
Conningham Bay & Prince of Wales Island
  • Today, we'll cross the Franklin Strait and arrive at Conningham Bay on the shore of Prince of Wales Island.
  • This is a known hotspot for polar bears who come to feast on beluga whales, often caught in the rocky shallows at the entrance to the bay. You can spot the beluga adults and infants by their lighter white and mottled gray coloring. It is not unusual to find the shoreline littered with whale skeletons—and very healthy looking polar bears!
Day 6
Victory Point & King William Island
  • As we push farther to the south, the mystery of Sir John Franklin and his lost expedition will begin to further unravel. Prior to the recent discovery of the Erebus in September 2014, very little was known of how the Franklin and his crew spent their last months in the frozen Arctic. Thanks to the ongoing efforts of Parks Canada’s marine archaeological team and the recent Victoria Strait Expedition, the abandoned vessels are just now starting to come to life. On Victory Point, you'll spot a lifeboat left abandoned, bits and pieces of metal, cutlery, buttons, plus a skeleton here and there, all of which tell a silent story of a desperate race south in the hope of a rescue that never arrived.
  • Today, conditions permitting, the Captain will try to steer our ship very near the location of the wreck of H.M.S. Erebus and pay tribute to the mission that ended here in 1846.
P J Hansen
Day 7
Pasely Bay & Boothia Peninsula
  • It's not just any day that you wake up to a 360-degree view of water and ice. We encourage you to try and get up early enough to catch sunrise on a clear morning.
  • Today, we'll be passing by Pasely Bay on the Boothia Peninsula, which is yet another fascinating historic location. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police vessel St. Roch spent a winter here in 1942, frozen into the sea ice. The ship was the first Canadian vessel to ever transit the Northwest Passage. One of the ship’s crew died while in this location and was buried by shipmates along the shoreline.
  • There will be opportunities to learn more about the geopolitics of this new and unknown frontier. Major world powers have started closely eyeing the Arctic for its resources, sea routes, and strategic significance. Notably, a universally accepted definition for what exactly constitutes the Arctic does not currently exist. Over dinner, we can brainstorm some proposals.
Heinrich Klutschak (1848-1890)
Day 8
Peel Sound
  • Today, our vessel tracks northwards through the Franklin Strait and into Peel Sound. This area is known for its heavy sea ice concentrations and is only open to vessel navigation for a short period each year. The high ice rating of our expedition ship means we are well equipped to take on the challenges of this route through the heart of the Northwest Passage.
  • We'll have a chance to learn more about the role of icebreakers in both research and military capacities as we gaze at the dramatic frozen landscape. We now know that Franklin sailed his two expedition ships through Peel Sound in the summer of 1846 before becoming paralyzed by the ice. Luckily today, we aren't at risk of the same fate. 
World Expeditions
Day 9
Aston Bay
  • We have an exciting last day aboard the Akademik Ioff planned in Aston Bay. A deep inlet of Peel Sound, this area often features heavy concentrations of ice and is known as a hotspot for wildlife activity.
  • We'll spend some time exploring and aim to make a shore landing to search for wildlife.
  • This evening, settle in for a special dinner with a distinguished guest: our ship captain. Over warm food and drink, we'll have the chance to reflect on our 10 extraordinary days of exploration in this pristine Arctic landscape.
U.S. Geological Survey
Day 10
Resolute Back to Edmonton
  • By morning, we'll have anchored in Resolute, at the harbor where our ship set off a week ago. We'll make our way ashore and bid farewell to our trusty crew.
  • We'll board a charter flight back to Edmonton, where our Arctic expedition comes to an end. From here, catch flights home or onto your next destination.
  • Until the next adventure!
The Fine Print

Arrival & Group Rendezvous

Please note that you will need to arrive in Edmonton by the night of August 22. The group will convene in Edmonton in the early-morning hours for a charter flight from Edmonton to Resolute. 

Your Arctic Expedition includes

  • All meals aboard the ship.
  • Comfortable cabin accommodation and use of all public areas on cruise.
  • Services of expedition leaders.
  • All sightseeing and shore excursions from the ship including presentations and guide services.
  • Service charges and port fees.
  • Reading packet and pre-departure information.
  • Compulsory Canadian GST tax
  • A tight-knit group of Atlas Obscura adventurers, excited for all that the Arctic has to offer!


Excursions off-ship are optional, but they're often the most exciting part of the day. Anyone can come aboard the inflatable boats we use for on-shore excursions, but for any kayaking, basic kayaking experience is required and physical fitness is essential. All final decisions on excursions will be made by the Expedition Leader. We will provide kayaks and neoprene wet suits, but kayakers will need to bring their own personal gear. Kayaking is subject to weather and prevailing ice conditions.


There are multiple accommodation options available onboard. These vary in cost and include:

  • Triple cabin: $7,135
  • Semi private cabin:$8,185
  • Twin private cabin: $9,865
  • Superior cabin: $10,600 

Akademik Ioff: SPECS

Launched: 1989 — at Hollming Shipyards, Rauma, Finland
Length: 117 meters
Beam: 18.2 meters
Draught: 6 meters
Gross Tonnage: 6230
Speed (Max): 14.5 knots
Cruise Speed: 13.5 knots
Passengers: 96
Staff & Crew: 65
Zodiac Inflatable Boats: 10 Zodiacs on board
Electrical Supply: 220 Volts/European Pin
Hull Classification: Ice Strengthened
Ice Class: Lloyds 1A
Vessel Stability: Internal 450t water ballasted stabilizer system
Bow Thrust: Bow thrusters + multi‑directional stern thruster


You will be charged a 25 percent deposit to hold your space. This deposit is non-refundable after three days. The final cost includes the cabin (varying based on size) and the $2,095 charter flight from Edmonton to Resolute. Arctic prices are subject to 5 percent GST. Your final payment will be due by April 16, 2018. All reservations will be final after this date and subject to our cancellation policy. 


  • Transportation and flights to and from Edmonton, Canada, arriving August 22. 
  • Personal travel insurance (required).
  • Baggage charges.
  • If applicable, applying for a Canadian visa.


Email us at or give us a call at 1-855-596-6237 anytime between 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. ET.

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