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Apr 10, 04 - Bear stories....  Global SchoolNet
 Apr 12, 2004 10:57 PDT 

Apr 10, 04 - Bear stories....

Here in the arctic, you have to be careful what you say and/or think.
Until today, I had experienced every aspect of an expedition to the
North Pole - except for one thing.

I started the day out late. Woke up a bit late, and spent a good deal of
time repairing more gear, mostly my sledge. I was able to fix it, and
get rid of a couple of pounds as well.

The ice was mostly really nice today. Large flat pans, with about two
dozen leads and a dozen or so pressure rides. The leads varied, from
frozen, to open water.

I have some bear stories/experiences, dating back from when I was just a
baby. All of them true. Once, on my first solo trip to Yosemite Valley
for a month of climbing at age 13, I had a bear poo on my sleeping bag,
while I was sleeping in it!

Timing is everything. Around 5pm, as I was working hard and pulling my
sledge, something was moving off to my left, facing into the sun. I
stopped and looked, and there were three polar bears! A mother and her
two cubs. They had been walking the same direction as I, and were only
about 50 feet away.

As soon as I stopped, they stopped. I quickly grabbed my camera inside
my sweater and took a picture. Then I went to my sledge, to get my -
videocamera! I wasn't afraid based on the polar bears body language. As
I got my videocamera and better digital camera the bears slowly
approached me.

The bears had positioned themselves directly downwind, and mother was
taking in big whiffs of my scent. The cubs stayed at moms back legs as
they came closer.

Meanwhile I'm trying to get my camcorder battery warmed up, and am
blowing on it with the warm air from my mouth.

When the bears were about 25 feet away I figured I better let the mother
know I'm not a potential dinner for her and her cubs. I let out a
'wu-wu-wu-wu-wu', which sounded like a broken children's toy. The bears
stopped, and the cubs hid behind mom's legs. Slowly mom backed away from
me, but never taking her eyes off of me.

I finally got the videocamera running when the bears were about 70 feet
away. Then I started talking very sweetly to them. I told them I
wouldn't hurt them, and they had nothing to fear from me. I also told
them I was going to the North Pole, and I pointed towards north a couple
of times.

Then I started calling the bears back to me, slapping my leg and
encouraging them to come closer, just like you would a dog. And they
came! They stopped about 50 feet away and listened to me talk. I was
trying to film them, and also get high-res digital pictures.

After a few minutes mom backed away, but always kept here eyes on me and
walked backwards away from me. I guess she understood that I was going
north, and she and the cubs began walking south.

I continued to take a few more pictures, and said goodbye to them. I do
carry a shotgun, but have been keeping it buried at the bottom of my
sledge, I often don't bring it in the tent at night. I never thought for
a moment I would need it.

I wasn't afraid of the mother polar bear and her two very cute cubs. I
can't say I'd feel the same way about an encounter with an aggressive
male polar bear.

When the bears were out of sight, I felt excited, warm, and peaceful. I
also knew for sure that I will reach the pole, and felt even better.

Today's update is dedicated to Bettina Aller, another polar explorer
making her way to the North Pole this very moment. She had relayed many
polar bear stories to me, and after hearing them I felt less afraid of a
possible encounter. I hope you and Jean-Gabriele are well.

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