Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pack Ice, Latitude 80° 40', Svalbard, Norway

In life, there's the hard way and the easy one. The path of noble purity, and just getting the job done.

In our quest for the perfect polar bear image, the noble white lord of the arctic on the pristine polar ice pack, we spent long hours on the righteous path, sailing to the edge of the pack ice, then motoring slowly for more then 50 nautical miles of constant critter hunting.

I climb 35 feet up the mast, straddle a cold, metal slat half a butt cheek wide, then tie into a safety line and scan the horizon through my binoculars from a uniquely uncomfortable perspective.

The trick to spotting polar bear on the ice is looking for their subtle color difference. Sea ice is white and blue. Polar bears fur shades toward cream or yellow. Under the high arctic midnight sun though, every patch of snow and ice within a hundred miles was bathed in a golden glow. Lovely to be sure, but it lent every hump, nook and hollow a distinctly bear-like appearance.

It made for a very long night, and by seven we were all bleary eyed and hallucinating. And the total bear count? Zero. Nada. Zilch.

We turned to each other, shook our heads and said "Screw this," and headed for the dead whale.

Sometimes you just need to get the job done.

August 16, 2009 - Latitude 80° 40', Svalbard, Norway

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