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30 May 2012

Journey 2012-Part 4

Our journey route regularly ran over and beside the huge footprints of polar bears. Some were sow polar bears late out of hibernation with their cubs but more often than not they were lone males. In the 1940s and '50s Greenlandic hunters provided many a zoo with polar bears cubs. I detest zoos and thankfully now the practice of providing them with polar bears cubs no longer exists. That said, I understand the importance as to why polar bears are shot and eaten. Shortly after our return, the 35th polar bear of the season was shot filling Ittoqqortoormiit's bear hunting quota for the year. We get a lot of polar bears here.

The morning before reaching the furthest depot from home Mikkey raised the alarm that a bear was close. Mikkey does not lie. His warning is unmistakable and it means only one thing: incoming bear. It was a foggy morning. I could not see the bear but knew its direction and pace from the way Mikkey pointed and slowly moved like an agitated weather-vane.

Suddenly Mikkey pointed motionless. Mikkey sniffed the air for more clues. He waited. I watched half expecting a charging wall of white to appear. But Mikkey soon relaxed and I knew it to mean that the bear was moving away. I praised Mikkey and went back inside the tent to eat breakfast.

Once the fog cleared and we were on the move the bear's movements were clear to see in the snow. It was a big lone male. The week before I had seen many seals on top of the ice, ringed seals, the only species that keeps its breathing holes open in the ice all winter. This time of year their blubber reserves are at their thinnest from the work of rearing pups. They are also shedding their old fur for new. All this makes them want to spend less time in the water so out they pop, looking like black pepper corns scattered on a white tablecloth. I had also seen plenty of fox tracks giving away bear presence. Foxes follow polar bears because they eat what bears leave. Polar bears generally eat only the blubber from their kills leaving the rest to scavengers.

Polar bear tracks beside Mikkey (rear left-hand black dog)
Photo: Gary Rolfe
All was quiet that morning after our visitor. There was no wind. The sun was out which made for a pleasant day if it was not for the fact that we were heading for a re-supply depot less than a day's travel away. And it might have been plundered by polar bears. I tried to put the thought out of my mind.

As it worked out all three depots I had laid out last summer remained intact. The picture below also highlights our good fortune with the weather. I am wearing and loved the Rab Baseline Hoodie and Guide Pants. Under my Hoodie I wore a Rab AL Pull-on and regular Vapour-rise Trail Pants underneath my Guide Pants. Dressing this lightly was not the norm despite temperatures not dropping much below minus 15 degrees Celsius. A new layering favourite of mine is the Vapour-rise Guide range that includes the Guide Jacket. The entire system breathes which means my sweat is drawn away from my skin keeping me dry and warm. Vapour-rise Jackets and Pants are also hard-wearing, fit well, and are windproof. The Jacket hood is a great cut enabling all-around visibility and stays up in the wind, brilliant qualities to help me watch out for bears and keep warm and safe. Don't expect the same qualities from other brands of adventure clothing.

                                       Intact depot               Photo: Gary Rolfe
The picture above was taken mid-afternoon on reaching this depot, at the start of May and 19 hours of daylight. The crate would not be opened until the following day, a planned rest day. In my book rest days are for my dogs. There is always work to be done that might include equipment repairs, alterations or time taken up making things. When I was up and about at 5.30 am. Phil said that I sounded like a little boy opening presents on a Christmas Day morning. But what I really felt when I opened the lid to the depot crate was more like Howard Carter opening Tutankhamun's tomb. I stood over it and looked within. These were not presents. It was treasure: dog food, human food and fuel. But there was more. It was the smell of wood that had me think of home (Ittoqqortoormiit) where a single egg costs one pound, bananas one pound fifty each and where nothing is taken for granted.

I remembered making the crate (picture above) and the 36-hour boat journey it took to get it there and to fill it with the essentials. Worrying if those supplies were still going to be there eight months later was a stupid waste of time. But it didn't stop me. The worry I kept to myself and so too the time it had taken, effort expended and money spent to get it there, enabling us to keep moving forward.

Journey 2012 - Part 5 will follow....

For more about Gary and his dogs go to www.garyrolfe.com


  1. Amazing adventures Gary, my son and I really enjoy your bloggs, and always look forward to the next instalment. Safe travels x

  2. Well done Mikkey. Interesting to read how much forethought and planning is constantly required, and how far ahead it must go.