Arctic Journey: Ghosts of the Northwest Passage

In 1845, Captain Sir John Franklin and his crew 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. Two years later, the wreck of the H.M.S. Terror was found in excellent condition and preserved by 80 feet of cold water, most of its windowpanes still intact.

On this once-in-a-lifetime Arctic cruise, 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 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 rare narwhals. You’ll have the chance to meet expert mariners, scientists, and historians as you share an experience unlike any other.

This trip is not exclusive to Atlas Obscura. Our tight-knit crew of 12 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.


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 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. 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.


DAY 1Edmonton to Resolute
Sunday, August 11

  • 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 10th. 
  • 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.
  • 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.

DAY 2Beechey Island & Radstock Bay
Monday, August 12

  • 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 expanse of ice. 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 an international mystery.
  • Continuing to Radstock Bay in the afternoon, we’ll visit the imposing Caswell Tower. This huge rock headland was the site of a Thule settlement dating back 800 years. The archaeological remains of homes that were made of rock, whale bone, sod, and animal skin can still be found here.

DAY 3Cape Charles Yorke and Elwin Inlet
Tuesday, August 13

  • As we cross the broad expanse of Lancaster Sound, look out for wildlife from the ship’s bridge or outer decks. The Sound has been called a wildlife super highway for the Arctic. A confluence of water from the Atlantic and Pacific, and from the archipelago of islands to the north, results in a rich source of nutrients for all kinds of Arctic wildlife. 
  • Approaching northern Baffin Island, we’ll marvel at the spectacular Arctic landscape that seems to stretch on forever. 
  • At Cape Charles Yorke, we’ll choose from several nice walks, all of which provide the possibility of spotting polar bears. 
  • Back aboard the ship, we’ll cruise into nearby Elwin Inlet, a breathtaking, well-protected fjord. Here we can take a cruise around the fjord in a zodiac, or head to shore for a hike. 

DAY 4Prince Leopold Island
Wednesday, August 14

  • Having crossed Prince Regent Inlet overnight, we approach the towering cliffs of Prince Leopold Island.
  • Leopold Island 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, this is one of the most significant migratory 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. 
  • At nearby Port Leopold, we’ll explore the site where, in 1848, English explorer James Clark Ross wintered during his search for the missing Franklin expedition. In addition to its historic interest, Port Leopold’s shallow gravel beds attract beluga whales which come every summer to molt.

DAY 5Fort Ross & Bellot Strait
Thursday, August 15

  • 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.
  • Cruising through 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.

DAY 6Conningham Bay, Prince of Wales Island
Friday, August 16

  • 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 that 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 7Victory Point
Saturday, August 17

  • 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 1848.

DAY 8King William Island
Sunday, August 18

  • Traveling toward King William Island, we find ourselves in an area that’s especially rich in both wildlife and expeditionary history. 
  • Conditions permitting, we’ll explore the island where two of the men from the Franklin expedition are buried, at Hall Point. It’s just to the northwest of the island where Franklin’s ship became stranded in the frozen sea ice in 1846. We’ll also learn about King William Island’s role in the Ross and Amundsen expeditions.

DAY 9Royal Geographic Society Islands
Monday, August 19

  • Today we travel toward the Royal Geographic Society Islands. It’s in this area where the wreck of the HMS Erebus was found in September of 2014, followed by the discovery of its sister-ship the HMS Terror in 2016. 
  • Landing ashore, we’ll cross islands that must have felt doomed to Franklin’s men, when they abandoned their ships knowing there was virtually no hope of rescue. 
  • Returning to the ship, we’ll meet in the presentation room and enjoy a memorable voyage recap by our expedition leader. 
  • 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.

DAY 10Cambridge Bay to Edmonton
Tuesday, August 20

The sky over the Arctic Ocean Sep. 1, 2009.
  • By morning, we’ll have anchored in Cambridge Bay, our final destination. Today this remote outpost on the southern shores of Victoria Island is a center for hunting, trapping, and fishing.
  • 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. Please note that your flight home should depart Edmonton after 9 p.m. 
  • Until the next adventure!

The Fine Print

Arrival & Departure

Please note that you will need to arrive in Edmonton by the night of August 10.The following day, the group will convene in Edmonton in the early-morning hours for a charter flight to Resolute. 

On August 20, the final day of the trip, the group will return to Edmonton in the evening. Your flight home should not depart Edmonton any earlier than 9 p.m. on August 20. 

Our 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

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