Olly Sanders dodges polar bears in his sea kayak in an amazing trip to Greenland from Canoe & Kayak magazine...

 The tent fabric was rustling and I was dozing on and off, simon was obviously in deep sleep as his slight snoring was the only other sound' Then came a change in the sounds I was hearing, it was enough to make me sit up in my bag and look, through half shut eyes, at the bell end of the tent at my feet. A head, a very big head was a just few feet from my feet, sniffing the air and looking at me with dark black eyes. A bloody polar bear!

I grabbed the gun that was lying between Simon and l. There were two rounds in the gun, but it was a pump action shotgun with solid lead slugs and I still had to pump it to put one up the spout' For some reason I shook Simon awake, who took a minute, and whispered, "There's a bear in the tentl' Then I let out a big bellow at the big face peering in! lt backed out and moved off. I grabbed the gun and looked out of the tent. Three bears were loping off, a large female and two cubs. We grabbed our jackets and, gun in hand, moved outside to check that they really had gone and, if not, help to persuade them to do so.

Bear Necessities
We were stormbound on a beach at 71 degrees north in the remote area of Liverpool Land ln northeast Greenland and it was only the second night of our trip! The aim of our expedition was to explore this area by sea kayak, while taking our climbinq kit with us as well, to do some new routes if possible. I had been to the area before, but had explored the fjord area before, and this time we were out on the open coast going north. We would have the big ocean swell to deal with as well as the ice.

Cutting Loose
The next day we went in on a long snow slope, which lead up to the start ofthe climbing, and the next eight-hours were spent weaving a line up the buttress. The climbing was full of big, loose, rattley block and eventfully, a pitch before the angle eased, the rock had got worse and the descent of the ridge looked horrendous. I had had enough of the 'adventure climbing' that you get on loose granite, not to mention that we were miles from any help and had no way of summoning any anyway, so we decided to abseil into a snow gully and get out that way.The only flaw in this plan was that we had left crampons and axes behind, in the boats, to save weight, so this then meant some exciting abseils off snow bollards.

We arrived back in camp later that evening and watched the sun dip in to the horizon, the advantage of being on the islands was that you had a fantastic view of the mountains of the mainland.

Passion and Luxury
We moved off once again and paddled to Cape Hoeg and a research hut. This was a nice hut and used to study the little auk population that breeds in the area. The sign above the door said 'Welcome to the Land of Passion and Luxury'. lt was the end of the season and the research team had left, but there were still a few late breeding pairs of auk around, maybe this was the passion? I had never seen these little birds before and wondered at their long journey to get here. Again we spent a few days exploring the area, rewarded with stunning views of the islands we had visited and walking out onto the sea ice, but always with our gun just in case. We also had a visitor, a young Arctic fox in his summer coat, who amused us, and himself, by following us around the area around the hut, and when we left he sat on the beach and watched us paddle away until we were along way off.

Close Encounters
We thought of going further north, but the idea of the trip had been to explore and we felt there was still a lot to look at on the islands, and so headed offto Rathbone lsland. Thankfully there was an old hut here too, to keep our hairy white friends out, although the door was broken. We began fenying gear up to the hut from our kayak when Simon suddenly let out a shout. I ran back down from the hut, towards the boats, to catch sight of a polar bear running off down the beach.The repair ofthe door was suddenly of great importancel Adrenaline pumping we finished unloading and set about the repairs. Once this was done I wandered off to get firewood, and noticed something in the water, coming towards the lsland. lt was another bear, and this time a young male.

The young males are always the ones who cause problems, as they're not savy enough yet to exploit natural food sources fully and are always ready to attack if hungry. I called to Simon to get the gun and watched this magnificent beast come out the water and walk straight towards us. We were behind some boulders but still fairly visible but he still carried on coming, seemingly oblivious to our presence. Then he caught the scent of us on the air and stopped in his tracks. We began to shout, at the top of our lungs, and, thankfully, he turned around and ran back to the water and started to swim off. I reckoned it was at least 1Okm to nearest land, which meant so much for our theory about safety on the islands.

Rocking & Rotting
We summited the peak of the island the next day, probably the first ascent, and again the scenery unravelled itself as we climbed through an area of mist to see a blanket of cloud beneath us with the peaks of the surrounding islands sticking out. lt was simply breathtaking. Next we headed back to Raffles lsland to try climbing the ridge there, but the sea ice had gone to be replaced by the long ocean swell, it was like paddling in a different location, the tidal movement around the headlands and the crash ofthe swell was like being back at home in Wales, except the for the big icebergs lolling around in the swell! Another exciting day followed, climbing on the ridge, with magnificent views maned only by the not so magnificent rock. There were a few scary abseils and that ever-present thought of 'don't bloody hurt yourself or you're screwed!' Brought on by our remote location.

A Feeling in Our Water
We knew that the exposed coast on the return leg of our trip would be the crux part ofthe sea kayaking and we were keen to get this done in one hit. The weather conditions had remained good so far, but there seemed to be a change in the air and with no access to any form of weather reports we had to rely on our instincts and they were telling us that it was time to be heading back. All the sea ice had now gone, and we were getting no shelter from the swell. lt was tough going and it was relief when we eventually reached the shelter of the fjord. The weather was getting colder now and the nights getting darker We completed the last paddle back into Scorsby and our intuition was proved right the following day when a week of stormy weather, 100km winds and rain hit the settlement and the first snow of the season also began to fall! We shuddered in our beds that night thinking about that outer coast if we'd left it a day or two later, and of big black noses poking through the door. But we'd had am amazing trip with some awe-inspiring experiences and Greenland had delivered once again.



An article from Canoe & Kayak March 2010.