Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Crazy Arctic Guy: Fun With Bears

Three Days of reports from Mike Horn...two including the word Bear. They are making decent progress and still might manage to pull this off yet...but the next couple of days are going to be tough ones:

Sat, 4 Mar 2006 // 19:35

Latest position : N86°00'42' E96°
Distance to go: 445km
Temperature: -32°C
Days of food left: 27

After another good day, Mike and Borge have now reached the 86th degree of latitude, advancing 23km in ten hours (2km thanks to the drift) with ski repairs holding well. Borge explains: 'It feels great! 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.

A polar bear was standing right outside. It had torn apart the cover on Mike's sled. You see, we fastened the sleds 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 sleds 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.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 of a small bear and a female, 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.

Sun, 5 Mar 2006 // 20:25

Latest position : N86°14' E95°09'
Distance to go: 420km
Temperature: Extremely cold, -35°C
Conditions: Very strong easterly winds
Days of food left: 26

Update from Mike: 'It was another exciting day for us and probably one of the most difficult yet! We advanced 25kms with very strong easterly winds. The temperature has once again dropped. It's very, very cold and we are taking precautions to protect or hands and feet. I am taking a vasodilators and aspirin for my aching fingers. My thumb is alright, or at least it is not getting any worst at this stage, but these temperatures certainly are not helping it to improve.

The bears were everywhere today. Our friend from yesterday came to greet us in the morning and once again ripped the cover of my sledge. At one stage he was only about 3 metres away. We fired a flare to tell him politely that he was just a little too close for our liking. This made him leave. Later on, a mother with her two cubs came to visit. The cubs, being curious, came very close while she stood by watching. No aggression has been shown yet and we don't think we will be harmed in any way. These bears are beautiful, healthy beasts and are obviously not hungry, just inquisitive which is perfectly normal.

We followed a lead for two and a half hours today. It was perfectly flat and the ice was solid enough to walk on. We came across open patches of water, which are where the bears are also heading to by the looks of the numerous tracks that we passed. It amazing to see that there are so many bears at this latitude. It is usual to see one or two but never in these quantities. It must be the global warming that is pushing the bears further north every year.

We hope that the temperatures will rise again. It is virtually impossible to do anything in this extreme cold and the presence of the polar bears is not helping us at all.

We are going well. The food rations should be enough to get us to the end of our trip. Our only big worry at this stage, are the skis. Lets hope they'll hold out!!

Bye for now!'

Mon, 6 Mar 2006 // 17:32

Latest position : N86°28'59' E94°20'30'
Distance to go: 392km
Temperature: -30°C
Conditions: Southeast wind
Days of food left: 25
Average daily distance required: 16km (to complete expedition)

Mike and Borge have been surprised to see so many polar bears at this latitude (N86°): 'It is usual to see one or two but never in these quantities. It must be the global warming that is pushing the bears further north every year.'

Whilst the durability of their ski repairs remains their biggest concern, the extreme cold is an ever-present issue that can bring devastating results. With temperatures dropping to -35°C, without taking in to account the wind chill factor, the risk of frostbite is ever high on the list of dangers. The latest wind statistics shows they are experiencing easterly winds of around 5 metres per second, which is 11mph. With wind chill this equates to around -50°C posing a huge risk to Mike and Borge - any exposed skin can be frozen within 30 seconds. Even activities in the tent are often impossible due to the extreme cold: 'Simple tasks can be complicated by the extreme cold of metal surfaces; even talking on the satellite phone is difficult.'

Forecasts predict that the winds may come from the north for the next few days. This is not so good for us as it will mean that we'll once again have a southwards drift and winds in the face.


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