An Endless World of Ice & Snow

3/4/2011 3:45:36 PM

An Endless World of Ice & Snow

Endless world

I couldn't get over the eeriness of the drifting snow as it eddied and swirled across the ice road on our way to the Colville River delta. This was a part of the slope our team had not previously visited. Traveling on a road made totally of ice was pretty exciting, if not a little unnerving. The teal-blue road seemed to stretch forever, but eventually lead us to the Alpine facilities where we met our supporters for the trip. As has been the case since we arrived on the North Slope, everyone welcomed us warmly and expressed interest in our project.

I have heard quite a collection of polar bear jokes by now.
Most of which have a punch line involving me running for my life (or at least outrunning my team members). I assure them we do not plan on having to run. Besides, our gear is designed to keep us warm, but top speed in such an outfit would be limited to a hurried waddle. I have never worn so many clothes at once in all my life.

Traveling to site by snow mobile

After gearing up, we made our way up the winding delta just as the crimson sun slowly settled on the horizon. I thought of Robert Frost's contrasting poem, "Fire and Ice," as I watched the smooth, pink sunset against the cold, jagged landscape of ice. However, with temperatures near 20 below zero, we could have used a bit more fire. For those who have never been on the tundra in winter, the snow is not the same kind we have down south. It has a consistency that falls somewhere between Styrofoam and cement. Sculpted and turned by wind, it makes for a fairly rough ride by snow machine, but is perfect for creating the large drifts which polar bear mothers use for their maternal dens.

The inside of the hidden camera case

We arrived at the site and quickly set up our camera. Even with some of the best technology available, identifying dens under the snow is very challenging. However, somewhere hidden beneath the deep drifts, a mother polar bear is bunkered down, caring for her cubs till they are old enough to venture onto the ice. I feel relatively safe riding along the coast where I can see the lights of civilization in the distance, but looking out across the frozen Beaufort Sea, I am definitely intimidated by the endless ice world, stretching for thousands of miles. Viewing the bear's world, even from the edge, I can't help but marvel at the sheer audacity of a creature that makes this harsh, lonely wilderness its home.

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