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Walking where the white bear prowls

Walking with polar bears at Churchill Wild

Polar bear saunters by guests at Churchill Wild.

Safaris

Walking where the white bear prowls

This story originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Up Here Magazine.

In Churchill, a wildlife-watching company steps into daring territory.

When it comes to ferocious carnivores, Ian Johnson’s seen it all. The veteran safari operator from Johannesburg, South Africa, has walked among lions, leopards and rhinos; he’s had narrow brushes with nasty ways to die. But nothing could prepare him for Churchill Wild’s polar bear walking tours last year, when he got within shouting distance of the largest Arctic predator.

“It was mind-blowing,” says Johnson. “I mean, they’re the biggest, most dangerous carnivore on land.”  And yet – though they came as close as 50 metres – Johnson says he felt perfectly safe.

Churchill Wild is the only outfitter in Canada, and perhaps the world, that trots tourists this close to polar bears. How do they get away with it? Andy Macpherson, one of the company’s lead guides, says they’ve got it down to a science.

“It’s all about interpreting behaviour,” he says. Guides read bears’ posture and body language, looking for sign the animals are agitated. And of course, they carry bear bangers and shotguns – but they boast that they rarely use the bangers, and have never shot a bear.

“The guides are so good, you fall into a sense of security,” says Johnson. “You carry on as though there isn’t a large carnivore who hasn’t eaten since June.”

To take your own walk on the wild side, visit their website: ChurchillWild.com.

 

Interested in having your heart beat a little bit faster?

Our Great Ice Bear Adventure takes place in October and November when the bears are congregating in large numbers on the coast of Hudson Bay waiting for freeze-up and anxious to get back to their hunting grounds. This is prime polar bear season!

One of the most diverse and holistic fall wildlife viewing packages offered anywhere in the world, the Great Ice Bear Adventure combines four days at Dymond Lake EcoLodge, where many of the Arctic’s most famous residents are seen and photographed on foot or from the Lodge, as well as on one day in Churchill on a buggy tour. We’re also expecting some spectacular Northern Lights this year due to the Solar Max!

If you would like more information on the Great Ice Bear Adventure, please call 1-866-UGO-WILD (846-9453) or e-mail us at info@churchillwild.com.

We would love to hear from you!

Our Guests Say It Best!

It was amazing! I had really high expectations and the experience lived up to them. All of the staff were very friendly and the logistics were well coordinated – everything went very smoothly. The guides were extremely knowledgeable and really added to our experience. I’m so glad I opted for Churchill Wild rather than the typical polar buggy tour. Seeing a polar bear on foot was unforgettable!

~ Debra Hartsell & Michael James

Memories of the Great Ice Bear Adventure at Dymond Lake Lodge… and more to come!

by Nolan Booth

Terri, Steve, Rob and the girls and I really thought we had bit off more than we could chew last year at Dymond Lake Lodge when it came to upgrading, but in the end it all worked out beautifully!

The new lake shore cabin with four guest rooms, two staff rooms and an amazing lounge were just a shell eight days before our first guests of the season arrived for the Great Ice Bear Adventure, but everybody stepped up and the new cabin was ready before the first bed was needed. In hindsight, this just showed what a dynamite crew we have. Everybody pulled together and got the job done when it counted! The rooms are spacious and the décor is beautiful for a remote lodge in northern Canada.

Once again we had a great season! We were very happy to have a young polar bear around all season and we nicknamed him Scarbrow. He came and went as he pleased, but he spent a fair bit of time at the Lodge fence throughout the season, and on more days than not he would put on a show. There were days when he would he play in the snow on the edge of the lake, and others when he would follow us around the compound. And on numerous occasions he would follow the guests out to the Bay for some exercise.

It was amazing! I had really high expectations and the experience lived up to them. All of the staff were very friendly and the logistics were well coordinated – everything went very smoothly. The guides were extremely knowledgeable and really added to our experience. I’m so glad I opted for Churchill Wild rather than the typical polar buggy tour. Seeing a polar bear on foot was unforgettable!

~ Debra Hartsell & Michael James

We also had an amazing weasel experience for the second year in a row! Our little short-tailed weasel lived inside the compound for the entire season. He probably felt safer in the generator room than out in the open with that Gyrfalcon overhead. Two wolverines also stayed near the Lodge and were in focus on many occasions. And we had many foxes all around camp and up and down the coast. They were mostly cross foxes. The arctic foxes seemed to be scarcer last year, probably due to the presence of the wolverines.

Our polar bears were amazing, but we all agreed that their travel patterns were different than we ever remember seeing. I personally saw more bears in 2012 than I had in previous seasons, but many of these were a ways out from the shore and heading north. On most days we managed to get some nice face time with a polar bear in good light.

After 40 years, my heart still skips a beat, whether it be while I’m watching polar bears though my binoculars or walking step by step with them down the trail, but there is also nothing better than polar bear watching through the safety of the fence at the Lodge, with the sun high in the sky and crystals sparkling in the snow.

I’d like to thank everyone involved in helping to create my wonderful memories of Dymond Lake Lodge. Looking forward to more of the same this year!

Great Ice Bear Adventure - Polar bear mom with cubs at Dymond Lake Lodge

Polar bear mom with cubs at Dymond Lake Lodge

Life is good in the land of the Great Ice Bears!

Polar Bear Photo Safari - Churchill Wild - Seal River Heritage Lodge

How's that for an unscripted polar bear pose?

Ahhh… life is good in the home of the Great Ice Bears! A 9-bear day! Plus multiple colored foxes, gyrfalcons and a fine finish with a gorgeous wolverine on the runway.

Peek-a-boo bear was part of the troupe that came by to check out our fuel drums and ensure that they were all stored safely. Due to multiple bear interruptions today, numerous false starts were made to leave the Lodge on our ground level walking excursions with polar bears.

Poor Andy kept chasing all over the coastline trying to get eager cameras within range of two different sets of mothers and cubs. He succeeded in tiring out his big lens hikers but did manage to get in close at ground level for another round of great shots.

We have had some spectacular light with clear sunny days and temperatures down to -18 C. The high number of silver, cross and colored foxes is surpassed only by the spectacular number of pine martens here this year.

All makes for busy days out on the land with many active shutterbugs!

Polar Bears Sparring at Churchill Wild on the Polar Bear Photo Safari

Sparring polar bears made for some great photos!

Great start to 2012 Polar Bear Photo Safari

This message came in today from Mike Reimer at Seal River Heritage Lodge, where our Polar Bear Photo Safari is in full swing!

Polar Bear Mom with Cubs at Seal River Lodge - Missi Mandel Photo

Polar Bear Mom with Cub at Seal River Lodge - Missy Mandel Photo

This week guests from the US, Netherlands, Germany, France, the UK and Russia are finishing up as a group, and guests from France, Hawaii, Thailand and Taiwan are about to settle in.

Hey all you Polar Bear lovers out there!

Our bear season is once again off to a “roaring start” with wildly variable weather wreaking havoc with flight schedules but nonetheless offering visitors some incredible wildlife opportunities.

Freeze up appears to be right on target as our bears wait patiently for the coming ice, which will once more usher them out to their hunting grounds. The bears are all in excellent condition, no doubt due to the late ice breakup this past summer which gave them good access to seals and continuous hunting opportunities all the way through to the end of July.

Missy Mandel has been kind enough to share some of the fantastic ground level polar bear shots that our ecolodges have become famous for.

 Photo credits to Missy Mandel.

Extreme Polar Bear Marathon in Churchill first of its kind, will help remote communities

Polar Bear Marathon, Churchill, Manitoba

An extreme adventure marathon.

If you think walking with polar bears at one of our lodges might get your heart racing, how about running with them? That’s just what 16 elite athletes from around the world will be doing in Churchill, Manitoba on November 20, 2012, when they compete in the Polar Bear Marathon at a distance of what could be 50 km.

Why would you want to run 50 km in -40 degree temperatures surrounded by polar bears, wolves and other less dangerous and assorted arctic wildlife?

Charity is the first reason, as the runners will be supporting the Native (First Nations people of Canada’s North) ministry work of Athletes in Action (AIA) Baseball camps. The second reason would obviously be the remote location and adventure and the third would be bragging rights to doing something that’s never been done before.

The run will support the work of the Athletes in Action (AIA) in the Sayisi Dene First Nations community of Tadoule Lake, 250 km west of Churchill. AIA has done baseball camps in two different First Nations communities for the past eight years. The work is based on volunteers and donations and this isolated group of people is served with contributions of sports equipment and various community events that let them know they are loved and not forgotten.

The remote location of Churchill is well known as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World” and Manitoba’s beluga whale watching hotspot. And besides being a birder’s paradise, it is also one of the best places in the world to view the Northern Lights, especially as winter approaches. The Polar Bear Marathon will take place just as the polar bears are getting ready to move out on to the ice for the winter, which of course will add more than ample adventure to the trek.

The adventure seekers and marathoners who have signed up to participate in the Polar Bear Marathon hail from Germany, the USA and both Steinbach and Churchill, Manitoba, and include Eric Alexander, an amazing athlete and mountain climber who not only climbed Mt. Everest, but also escorted and helped a blind climber summit Everest. Also among the participants are a marathoner from San Diego who has run in a 100 km event at the South Pole, another from Germany who has run in over 150 marathons, and an extreme event specialist.

Due to the harsh environment and the weather conditions, the Polar Bear Marathon will be run in tight groups as a “gentleman’s run” and runners will have to stay together due to the presence of polar bears, foxes, wolves and weather. Vehicles will accompany runners from both behind and in front for safety reasons and to serve as mobile aid stations. The exact route is yet to be determined.

Mother Polar Bear and Cubs - Dennis Fast

We'll be watching you.

“It looks like we’ll being going with four runners per group right now,” said organizer Albert Martens. “We might have room for a few more participants but they would have to contact me very soon. Right now we have four vehicles lined up to go with the runners. There will be a dinner with medal presentations and a polar bear slideshow presentation by Churchill Wild’s chief professional photographer Dennis Fast after the run. There will also be a German journalist covering the event.”

Every summer, Albert Martens flies into remote and isolated First Nation communities to do sports camps. These remote communities have included Pauingassi and Tadoule Lake in Manitoba and Poplar Hill in Ontario. Martens and up to eight volunteers help the children and youth with baseball and bible classes, while also serving the adults with Men’s Breakfasts, Ladies Teas, and other community events. All work and expenses are covered by personal donations and volunteer staff.

“Convinced of good support, reliable vehicles, and a small, slow group of runners, I have agreed to do this event and run my first marathon,” said Alexander on his Higher Summits Web site. “Running in the realm of the polar bear, I suspect I have a good shot at a world record. Well, this is not just a fun run to sightsee and avoid predation; this is a benefit for Athletes in Action and their commitment to helping the indigenous people of the far north. I will be speaking at a fund-raising dinner after the run (provided I survive the run) and am thereby pledging to help Athletes in Action. This is where you can help – please consider a donation to Athletes in Action to reach a group of people that you may never otherwise get to meet.”

The Dessert Night Fundraiser Alexander was speaking of will take place on November 22, 2012 at Canad Inns in Winnipeg in support of the AIA First Nations Ministry. Alexander will be the keynote speaker at the event, which will feature highlights and images of the Polar Bear Marathon along with the premier showing of the AIA – Grand Canyon running documentary.

A renowned speaker and the author of The Summit: Faith Beyond Everest’s Death Zone, Alexander is a person who embodies a picture of hope and possibility for all of us. For more information, please visit his Web site at www.HigherSummits.com. For additional information on the Polar Bear Marathon, please contact Albert Martens by phone at (204) 346-1345, via email at aemart@mts.net or visit his Web site at www.AlbertMartens.com. There are bound to be questions, and for good reason.

“It’s never been done before,” said Martens.

Related Story: Steinbach Man Organizing Polar Bear Marathon

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Winter Running - Albert Martens

There's just something exhilarating about a winter run!

Donations towards AIA First Nations Ministry may be made by issuing a cheque in USA or CDN currency  payable to Athletes in Action and mailed to Eric Alexander or Albert Martens at the addresses below.

Eric Alexander
Higher Summits
PO Box 6102
Vail, Colorado 81658 USA

Albert Martens
408-2nd Street,
Steinbach, Manitoba
Canada R5G 0V5

USA or CDN tax receipts will be issued to the donor.