11/27/2012 6:00:00 AM
Cold and Hot
Our first morning at Cape Churchill 2012 brings back memories of Cape adventures from the 80s and 90s. The wind howled the entire day. Temperatures in the buggy were cold enough to freeze my water bottle sitting on the seat between my camera bag and the metal wall. For those shooting without gloves, frostbite attacked the flesh, proving to be painful for photographers with unprotected hands. Nearly the entire day I was wrapped in my Canada Goose Snow Mantra parka.It was finally as frigid as I remembered and it felt fantastic.
For over twenty years I've been coming north for the Tundra Buggy Adventures ultimate photography excursion to photograph the icon of the Arctic, the polar bear. Having come this many years I've had the benefit of a mental and visual record few people acquire and it's been disheartening the past 10 years to see how drastically the weather has changed. On my first trip to Cape Churchill, we started on or very close to the 4th of November. This year's trip didn't start until November 17th. Each annum since my first journey in 1987, the company has moved the starting date of the trip further into the month of November due to temperatures that refuse to plummet. The reason? We need a frozen path to drive the camp the nearly 15 miles from Gordon Point. to Cape Churchill. Without ice it's impossible to achieve our goal. Without ice, polar bears will starve.
It was our first day at Cape Churchill. The day before proved difficult though the slow and methodical trundle from our camp up the coast wasn't to blame. The ice along the shore proved stable but when we arrived at camp we were greeted with a flat tire on one of the lodge cars that had been moved out two days prior. The mechanics worked until 4:00 a.m. to replace the flattened rubber, and sometime between 3:00-4:00 a.m. we finally crawled into to the amazing new bunkhouse for a short but restful sleep.
The day started cold and clear. Sun provided the wonderfully warm, orange colored light, the Arctic is known for. Our first subject of the day was what seemed to be a young female, curious and slim, she posed as if on contract. Later in the morning we moved out to the point of Cape Churchill and found three older males. Two gave a fabulous show, sparring off and on, resting, then sparing again. We ate lunch near the coast. Ice clinging along the waters edge, greenish blue colored water just feet beyond the land. Further out was more ice, formed over the past week of normally cool temperatures.
All seemed more like normal, until this morning. At 4:00 a.m. I rose to freezing rain. Making my way out to the buggy, spitting spray pelted my face. Seems the south winds have returned and the ice has turned to water. It's another unusually warm day in the Arctic but thankfully we still have plenty of bears.