The Swiss couple have been on 16 different departures with Churchill Wild including the Den Emergence Quest, the Polar Bear Photo Safari and the Hudson Bay Odyssey at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, and the Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River Heritage Lodge.
They’ll be at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge for the next three weeks on the Polar Bear Photo Safari and two departures of the Cloud Wolves of the Kaska Coast safari. They’ve traveled extensively throughout the Arctic and first discovered Churchill Wild in 2018 through Sylvia Stevens, while on a cruise. They’ve been coming back ever since.
“Silvia was a lecturer on an expedition cruise we were on,” said Christoph. “She recommended Churchill Wild to us. We knew about Churchill, but not Churchill Wild, and she said if we were enjoying the Arctic that much, we should be doing a trip with them. She had organized a trip that year to Seal River Heritage Lodge, so we joined her, and we just fell in love with it.
“We met Mike (Churchill Wild co-owner Mike Reimer) at Seal River, and he told us about the Den Emergence Quest, so we booked that trip too. After that, we were completely hooked.”
Married for 19 years, the couple met at a local fair and they’ve been together ever since. Their schedules also allow them the time to travel. Since 2018 they’ve celebrated most, if not all, of their birthdays in March (Fabienne, 47) and November (Christoph, 50) together at the Churchill Wild lodges.
Christoph is a one of the co-owners of Jansen AG, a family business which “creates tailor-made and innovative system solutions for windows, doors and facades made of steel and stainless steel.” Fabienne formerly worked for local government and is now retired, but she does love her garden, and taking photos!
Both Christoph and Fabienne are excellent photographers, as evidenced on their ArcticWild.net website and Instagram profile, and both use Sony Alpha 1 cameras, most often shooting with a 400mm lens, and other times with a 600mm.
“Sometimes you’re too close,” said Christoph. “Which is a luxury. Getting a close-up of the face of a wolf or a polar bear is something very special, even if you can’t get the entire animal in the picture.”
And “sometimes you just have to enjoy the moment” agreed the couple, who recalled the following favourites from the Churchill Wild lodges.
She Just Wanted to Say Goodbye – Wolf Encounter at Nanuk
“We had just come back from a whole day trip,” said Fabienne. “It was already getting dark. The breeding pair was lying on the edge of the coastal flats and the sun was setting. Jad (Nat Geo photojournalist Jad Davenport) took us out for some photos.”
“On the way back, they were lying next to the runway,” said Christoph. “You could tell they were headed back to the lodge, and they were already there when we got back.”
“Then female started howling,” said Fabienne. “We turned off the skidoos and just started listening,” said Christoph.
“Then she just stopped, stood up, and walked behind our Komatik,” said Fabienne. “She turned around and looked right in my eyes. For a few seconds, we just gazed at each other. And then she disappeared into the dark. It was an emotional moment. She just wanted to say goodbye.”
“That was a very special moment for me, as well,” said Christoph.
Polar Bear Family Fun – Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge
“That photo is on the Churchill Wild water bottle,” said Christoph. “It was taken last November on the flats at Nanuk, near George’s pole. Pretty close to the lodge.
“There were two cubs. One was behaving and the other one was always acting silly, trying to push the pole over, fooling around, walking on his hind legs. Mom was trying to calm him down. She grabbed him by the neck, bit him on the leg, and put her paw on his back.”
“We always said that must be the boy,” said Fabienne. “And the other one was the girl. We weren’t sure, but it was so much fun watching that family.”
Warrior Pete – Seal River Heritage Lodge
“He was a true king,” said Fabienne. “He looked really old when we met him, and that was sad, but you could tell what he had once been.”
Estimated to be 20 years old at the time, “Warrior Pete” had lived life to the fullest, won many an Ali-Frazier battle over the years, and outlasted all his rivals, while fathering numerous offspring. He had lived a full and fabulous life and was well known by the guides. You could understand where he was at with nature, by looking in his eyes.
“You could tell how he had lived his life,” said Christoph. “You could see it in his face. We were very fortunate to see Pete very close to the lodge. It was one of the most touching wildlife encounters we have ever had. It was an honour to meet him.”
Wolverine Escaping Wolves – Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge
“We had never seen a wolverine,” said Christoph.” We were on the Den Emergence Quest and were really hoping to see one.”
“That was the first wolverine we ever saw,” said Fabienne. “We had already spotted him a few mornings, always before breakfast.”
“And then the wolves and the wolverine showed up at the same time,” said Christoph. “And the wolves chased him up a tree. When we came out the wolves left, but the wolverine stayed up there. We saw him getting down eventually, but it was not his day.”
“We probably saved his life,” said Fabienne.
Christoph and Fabienne have taken thousands of photos at the Churchill Wild lodges, and while they’re not competitive, they do love to compare photos. We asked them if there was anything they were still hoping to see.
“We appreciate whatever we see,” said Christoph. “You have to be open minded when you travel in the Arctic, because you just don’t know what you’re going to see. We remember one trip we did to Svalbard where we just had fog for two weeks. It happens. But it was still a beautiful trip.
“I think you just have to appreciate what you get. If you’re hoping to see polar bears and instead you see snowy owls, you can complain that you haven’t seen polar bears, or you can enjoy the fact that you’ve seen snowy owls. You should never be disappointed by what you didn’t see.
“We’ve been able to come back many times, so we’ve been privileged to see all the animals already, which probably makes it easier to say that. But from our very first trip to the Arctic, we’ve always just tried to enjoy whatever presented itself, and the experience itself.
“Sometimes it’s being able to put your feet on a remote island that probably no one has ever visited before, sometimes it’s a wildlife encounter and sometimes it’s the northern lights.”
And what keeps them coming back to the Churchill Wild polar bear lodges?
“For me, it’s just the entire package,” said Christoph. “It’s the wildlife, the nature, the northern lights, and the lodge and staff. You feel very welcome there.”
“I still remember the first time when we were at Seal River,” said Fabienne. “When Ben (lodge manager Ben Lawrence) opened the door to the lodge.
“It just felt like coming home.”