Trouble with a playful polar bear

Published 04.03 in category North Pole 2006

We reached the 86th latitude today – and that feels great! Our position tonight is N86?00’42” and about E96?. It’s been another cold day, the thermometer shows –32?C after it warmed up a little toward the end of the day.

We had an astonishing start today. The two of us were ready to go outside when something tugged hard at the tent. Mike insisted that it wasn’t him – so it had to be an unexpected visitor, and there are not so many possibilities…

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A polar bear was standing right outside. It had torn apart the cover on Mike’s pulk. You see, we fastened the pulks to the tent to anchor it last night, as well as to warn us if a bear tried to steal our food. Well, our system obviously worked perfectly this morning.

The bear withdrew a little, but soon came back. Finally I had to shoot it right in the chest from 5 metres’ range, with my signal gun. Only then did it retreat. It must have been a shock to be hit with great force by a flaming projectile, but it’s not harmful to the bear. Evidently it wasn’t bothered that much, because it kept an eye on us from a few hundred metres away.

We broke camp, packed our pulks and continued our journey northwards. I suspect we got a visitor because we camped close to a lead. Polar bears apparently follow these leads of water when they hunt.

After only 15 minutes or so, the bear came back, heading straight toward us. This time Mike shot it with the signal gun, hitting it in the back from ten–twelve metres. Once again it ran off.

polar

As if that wasn’t enough, he returned to stalk us in the middle of the day, this time keeping a safer distance. He seemed more curious and playful than threatening, rolling around in the snow – but he kept following us. When he disappeared, it was evening, two hours before we called it a day. We haven’t seen him after that and hope he doesn’t return. Polar bears destroy equipment and they can be dangerous, too.

There are many small leads in this area. Clearly a lot of movement in the ice. We have seen seals come up to breathe in the open leads, which of course explains why the bears are here. Probably many of them. We saw the fresh tracks, probably a cub and a mother, as well as faeces. There are also lots of older tracks strongly indicating that we’re right in the middle of one of their favoured territories.

Unfortunately we left the pepper spray behind after Mike gave us a dose in the tent a week ago. But we do have the signal gun, and a revolver as a last resort. We’re hoping the polar bear that stalked us has had enough, that he’s found food, and that he finds no reason to come looking for us again. Actually he didn’t seem very aggressive. It was a young bear, perhaps three or four years old, with beautiful pale golden fur. Beautiful to look at – but even so I prefer to keep him at a distance. Hopefully he is more than happy to hunt seals at the edge of the ice floes.

We feel safer now that we’ve moved away from the leads.

My ski repairs seem to be holding up well. The ski that I had to reinforce is bending a lot more, so today I used some steel wire to make the joint even tighter. Funny thing is I found this wire on a mountain on my 1997 expedition to the Antarctic, and kept it figuring it would come in handy one day. Well, now it’s proved handy.

We had a good day, moving forward 23 km in ten hours, and getting two free kilometres last night. That was just enough to push us beyond N86? today. This is Børge Ousland signing off.



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