The Tale Of The Bear Who Went To The Sauna: The Adventures Of Ivan Kutasov

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In this article Russian explorer Ivan Kutasov describes the climax of the expedition to the Svalbard archipelago, and how the travelers reached the Arctic Ocean, how they walked on glaciers, and how they hid from a polar bear for two days.

We reached the northernmost point of the Archipelago – 80°50′ north latitude. Since weather conditions were favorable, we tried to move farther north and conquer the 81° north latitude, thus achieving a kind of personal record of proximity to the North Pole.    

 

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Photo by Ivan Kutasov

Having made a preliminary request for satellite data regarding weather conditions, we set course straight to the north. After a lapse of approximately eight hours, monolithic ice appeared on the horizon. We spotted a block of ice which looked solid and disembarked on it in order to make a joint photo. It was the northernmost point of our expedition – 81 09.079 north latitude.


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Photo by Jon Grantangen

It wasn’t safe to stay there for a long time, because the ice was constantly moving; and, as a result, it could have blocked our yacht, which wasn’t made of steel. Nevertheless, we had a chance to walk on the ice for about half an hour, and I even managed to climb up the mast to observe whether there were any bears nearby; and, certainly, to cast a glance in the direction of the North Pole, which was situated almost 9 degrees, in other words, 540 nautical miles, away from us. All in all, I didn’t spot a bear…we were surrounded only by the white stillness and the boundless ice….It was a bit sad to leave this place, but we had to go back.  


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Photo by Jon Grantangen


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Photo by Ivan Kutasov

We planned that our return trip would lie through the Hinlopen Strait (Norwegian: Hinlopenstretet), which separates the Nordaustlandet (the North East Land) island and the West Spitsbergen island, and is considered to be a part of the Arctic Ocean in terms of location. Since there was a strong current in the gulf, and it was often filled with pack ice, we had to bring our vessel to anchor in one of the bays nearby in order to request data on the ice conditions in this particular sector. We chose the bay where an abandoned Polish meteorological station is situated, in hopes that it would have a sauna. This was the place where an amusing incident happened to us.          


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Photo by Ivan Kutasov

After we sailed into the bay, lowered the anchor, and prepared the boat for a landing, we saw a white bear walking lazily and aimlessly among the buildings of the weather station. The weather forecast was unfavorable, so we had to stay in the bay for the next three days no matter what, and the bear was disappearing and reappearing every now and then. However, we had to intention of giving up so easily. After so many days spent on the yacht, we wanted to feel solid ground under our feet, and just the word “sauna” made our hearts pound. We scouted the shore tirelessly, and on the third day the bear finally disappeared.   


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to by Ivan Kutasov

Another member of the expedition and I took our rifles and made a landing. We quickly singled out the sauna by its exterior appearance, and went straight towards it, while looking around incessantly, because the bear could have appeared at any moment. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew stayed in touch with us over the radio, and were constantly inspecting the shore. The stove in the sauna was barely functional, but we managed to light it up, and at that moment the voice over the radio warned us that the bear was heading straight towards us.


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Photo by Ivan Kutasov

In the heat of the moment, we grabbed the first available stick (it was a shovel) and a rifle, closed the outer latch lock and began to observe. Much to our surprise, the bear walked a meter away from our fire, looked in our direction and went on his way without any sign of surprise. Being no less astonished, we exchanged looks and went on with warming up the sauna. Such was our second acquaintance with the local welcoming committee.

 

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Photo by Ivan Kutasov

The next morning we headed to the southern end of the archipelago, through the strait.


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Photo by Ivan Kutasov
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