Monday 3 September 2012

Bear with me!

A journey that is named "In the Realm of the Polar Bear" puts quite a bit of pressure on everybody who is on the delivering side of the trip: The officers on the bridge slowly get red marks around their eyes from the binoculars they use all the time, keen sea men are scanning the shorelines, and the expedition team uses every free moment to watch the area, be it from the bridge, from every possible window or ashore. So far it was a dashing trip with wonderful wildlife, but now everybody wants him - the King. Where is the Bear...?!! Please...?

At 7:20h in the morning, a BingBong goes into all the cabins (everybody who has traveled with us ever knows what I mean). This can only mean one thing! And really, Karin's voice is full of excitement when she announces from the bridge - Polar Bear!
OK, in the distance, not so close, but a bear!
Just before we go back to our cabins, or to breakfast - BingBong! This time it's two bears, mother and a cub, much closer, too. Only now the relief sets in, the Realm of the Polar Bear has actually Polar Bears to offer. It is a totally different thing to know that they are there, and to see them.

This also creates a new sensation ashore: Now everybody feels the presence of the animals, they are literally just around the corner. We are feeble humans in the presence of the strongest land predator, and the fresh vigilance of the hikers is tangible as we set out to climb up the ridge. However, there is one obstacle on the way, the mud fields that have gained a reputation of being a boot grave. And apparently the last couple of days have seen plenty of rain, which is not only unusual, but also turned the already muddy plains into a big swamp. Fast, tiny steps, don't stop, don't help, this is the recipe to get across. The thing with all recipes in the world is that they might go wrong the first time. The swamp is taking its toll. A bit later we are a lot muddier, some boots are wet from the inside, but we are still happy and relieved, and we certainly have learned the pitter-patter walk...
In the meantime Manuel found Polar Bear No. four...

It is a very, very skinny fellow,  about a mile away. So there is no need to abort the hike at all. On the contrary, once we reach the first plateau we actually have prime seats to watch the animal ambling in the far side of the wide valley beyond, across the deep green of the tundra mosses. A beautiful sight, which we enjoy in awe, before we return to the mountain walk.

Up and up it takes us, until we reach a cairn in lofty 260 metres above the departure point, sporting a huge tripod with a webcam. This rather unexpected arrangement belongs to the Norwegian Polar Institute and provides valuable data about weather and ice conditions. Today it probably sends a quite surprising image to the far away screens; happy hikers assembling for a group picture, in front of a splendid overview over the bay and FRAM out at anchor.

The way back is downhill all the way, so we make it in no time, all hikers are steeled after almost a week of daily exercise. Just before we git the plains again, we literally stumble across a big fat male reindeer, antlers red from shedding the protective skin at the end of the season. They have to be ready for winter soon, and they do look in very good shape.

Without getting stuck, we make it back to the landing site, definitely time for lunch now. All are hungry like, well, like a bear...

The rest of the day is a welcome mix of lectures, relaxing, and the staff's Fashion Show in the evening. Many had been on a hike every single day, so a little break won't hurt, will it?