We first met the 40-something couple from Switzerland on the Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River in 2018 and they returned in 2019 for both the Den Emergence Quest at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge and the Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River Heritage Lodge. This year they’re coming back for both the Den Emergence Quest in the spring and the Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.
“A friend of ours recommended Churchill Wild,” said Christoph Jansen. “So we decided to take that first trip to Seal River and it was perfect. It was our first time there and we didn’t know anyone, but it felt like we were coming home, which we thought was just amazing. It was just like a big family. That was special.
“The camaraderie among the group was also very, very nice. The groups on all our trips with Churchill Wild have been like that. And the staff at the lodges is the same way. So after that first trip, we immediately decided to come back for Den Emergence, and then for more trips.”
The couple experienced two of the most emotional wildlife encounters we’ve ever had at our lodges, the first being when they met an old polar bear named Warrior Pete, who spent his final days with us at Seal River Heritage Lodge in 2018.
“Those were some touching moments,” said Jansen. “Because he looked so old and so vulnerable. He must have been a huge animal during his best years, because he was still big, even in his old age, you could see it in his paws, which were just enormous. We really had tears our eyes when we looked at him.”
The second emotionally charged encounter for the couple was a face-to-face meeting with a wolf on last year’s Den Emergence Quest at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.
“That was amazing,” said Jansen. “It was just gorgeous. We’d met the wolves before on several mornings and they were always beautiful, but in that moment, when that wolf was just looking at Fabienne, it was just wonderful. She still gets tears in her eyes thinking about it.”
National Geographic photographer and master storyteller Jad Davenport, who has been on numerous assignments with Churchill Wild, is the photo leader for Den Emergence, and he wrote a beautiful story about the encounter with the wolves at Nanuk.
Davenport uses his exceptional photography, video and writing skills to help tourism-related organizations, nonprofits and corporations tell their stories, but he also has an excellent rapport with guests, and he very much enjoyed the company of the Jansens.
“The Den Emergence Quest was their second trip with Churchill Wild and returning guests always feel like family,” said Davenport. “They also have more Arctic-wide experience than most folks and they’re skilled photographers, which is a great combination. They embraced the search for wildlife and were always active, glassing the landscape, searching for tracks, coming up with wildlife sightings before the guides and I did.
“They were very friendly, and had good humour under difficult conditions, always pitching in to dig out snow machines, help build fires and keep spirits up on long days. We could easily have given them guide jackets and sent them out on snow machines. And they both had incredible relationships with the wolves. Often, I would see them not shooting, but just watching, soaking up the precious moments.”
The Jansens are not professional photographers, and they don’t sell photos, but they do post their photos and trip reviews on their website at ArcticWild.net.
“We’re trying,” said Jansen. “We usually carry quite a bit of camera gear. It’s just our personal project, and our website is in German. It’s a hobby, but a very nice hobby. It’s fun, and we enjoy going through the photos. They bring back so many memories.”
“They have a clear passion for the Arctic,” said Davenport. “And they’re better photographers than they know. They’re very patient, they have educated themselves on the Arctic and the environment, and the cold weather doesn’t bother them.”
“There were probably a few days that were -35 to -40 with the windchill,” said Jansen. “It was pretty cold, but we didn’t really have a problem with it. We just wore a lot of layers and covered our faces. But we honestly had to use quite a few foot and hand warmers.”
“They were very concerned about ethical approaches to wildlife and never pushed guides to get closer,” said Davenport. “Their concern first and foremost was with the welfare of the wildlife. I really liked seeing that. Sure they were disappointed they didn’t see bears on that particular trip, but they had the veteran’s worldview, ‘wildlife is wildlife and does what it does. We gave our all. It’s the adventure that makes the search for wildlife so exciting.’ They really embraced the whole journey.”
“The entire trip was a lot of fun,” said Jansen “Running around in the komatiks and building and lighting the igloo. The northern lights were out. And we also saw many snowy owls. They were gorgeous. We saw them almost everyday, which I think was kind of unusual. We had many wonderful moments there.”
When the couple isn’t travelling, Christoph works full-time as one of the owner-managers of their family-owned steel business in Switzerland, while Fabienne runs the household and tends to a large and reportedly magnificent rose garden.
“Fabienne keeps things organized so we can do the things we like to do,” said Jansen. “We don’t travel constantly, but we do two or three trips for a few weeks every year. We’ve been married for 17 years, but we’ve known each other for 25, and we always travel together. I guess we’re kind of fortunate. We really enjoy travelling to the same destinations and we both actually enjoy going to cold places.”
The most enjoyable part of their adventures with Churchill Wild?
“That’s a good question,” said Jansen. “It’s really hard to pinpoint any one thing in particular. Part of it is just the setting at the lodges, the remoteness of the locations, which makes it really special to us. And because on our different trips we have seen quite a few polar bears. On Den Emergence we saw the wolves, and on our last trip to Seal River we saw a lot of Arctic foxes.
“The food is delicious. It’s one of our favourite parts of the trips. We might put on some weight this spring at Den Emergence. So I basically can’t pinpoint what has really been the best part of the trips. It’s just the remoteness of the lodges, the scenery, the light, the entire setting that we enjoy so much.”
The Jansens have been on quite a few trips through the Arctic on expedition cruise ships, which have taken them to Greenland, Svalbard, Nunavut, the Northwest Passage, Northeast Passage and Russia. They enjoyed the scenery on the cruises, but said it was more difficult to get to know people when travelling in a group of 150-200 people.
“Those were exciting trips too,” said Jansen. “But you don’t get the intimate encounters with the wildlife like you get at Churchill Wild, where you’re a lot closer to the animals. I mean, you get so close to the wildlife at Churchill Wild, the polar bears, the wolves, the Arctic foxes, you’re basically a guest in their environment. It’s very unique.
“I would say it’s probably the trip of a lifetime.”
Late Update: There is currently only one spot available on the Den Emergence Quest, which takes place from March 4-17, 2020 at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. This is a rugged trip for serious adventurers and wildlife photographers in search of mothers and cubs as they emerge from their dens. If interested, please email us at [email protected], call 1.866.UGO.WILD (846.9453) or 1.204.878.5090, or send us a message here. See you there!