While it was to be expected after yesterday’s sighting of paw prints, today our Polar Experience North Pole team had a persistent uninvited guest.
Vulnerability took on an entirely new dimension this afternoon for Dixie and our three remaining North Pole participants. At around 12:15, Pavel experienced a relatively minor equipment glitch and Dixie stopped to assist him. Marin and Evelyne continued ahead for about 30 meters, then stopped and saw that the two men were paused with an unknown problem. Both women unhooked themselves from their respective sleds and began to walk back toward Dixie and Pavel to assess the situation, when suddenly Marin shouted, “Dixie! There’s a polar bear!”
At that moment the bear, a 5-6 year old male polar bear named Jeff … just joking about the name … it may have been George … began to pounce upon Marin’s sled and agressively toying with it. The sleds are black and the smells inside of it contain food and other items that make a hungry bear curious. While a polar bear has notoriously poor eyesight, it could be that the solid black figure was enough for the animal to think that he had a seal in front of him.
Dixie raised his firearm to his shoulder and Pavel immediately took out his gun. Pavel is a highly skilled marksman and avid hunter in his native Czech Republic and Dixie always carries his Mauser rifle (an old German weapon known for its ability to withstand freezing conditions) when guiding in the Arctic. The women were by this time together with Pavel and Dixie and everyone was making noises to try and scare off the bear. The bear was briefly distracted by their wild sounds about 30 meters away, but then it left Marin’s sled (luckily not heavily damaged) and began to pounce upon Evelyne’s sled in the same manner. Once again, the group made noise to frighten the bear away, but it only caused the bear to have curiosity about the loud and unfortunately heavily scented beings in the distance. The bear began to raise his snout in the air and immediately started to follow its nose toward our now extremely frightened team.
Out of respect for the generally accepted rules that no one may shoot at a bear unless the bear is within close proximity or is clearly charging for attack, Dixie asked Pavel to wait to see what the creature would do. It became abundantly clear that the bear was not stopping, so Pavel fired one warning shot. The bear stopped briefly but continued toward them, this time within 10 meters. Pavel then fired a second shot at the ground near the bear’s paw. Thankfully, that explosion near its foot alarmed the bear and it took off running away from the group.
Dixie chased the animal a short distance to make certain that it was definitely on its way (hopefully for good) and then returned to the completely stunned participants. Dixie was just as startled as the others, even though he has had several bear encounters in his long polar expedition career. It is a situation that terrifies a person every time, but luckily everyone stayed cool enough to keep the encounter as brief and safe as possible. Cheers to Pavel and Dixie for their steady hands and appropriate reactions!
Once they examined the sleds and each other, the team did what one would expect from such a determined bunch: they got moving in the direction of their goal and ended their day with a total progression of 17.5 kilometers.
Tonight’s campsite – one with a “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging at the entrance – is located just 22 kilometers from the North Pole:
N 89° 48′ 11
E 133° 04′ 06
Temperatures were on the warm side with a high of -21°C, and while the day started in near white-out conditions, the skies cleared by the time they set-up camp.
It will take some time for the adrenaline to stop pumping through their veins, but Dixie admitted that the team would have no trouble sleeping due to their heavy physical accomplishments of the day. They will however remain on high alert, since today’s bear is clearly differerent from the duo who left paw prints in the neighborhood yesterday. To be fair, it is our team who represent the uninvited guests in this part of the world. Dixie, Pavel, Evelyne and Marin are travelling through Bear Country and are doing so with absolute respect for the beast that rules there.