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Posts Tagged ‘Great Ice Bear Adventure’

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

Churchill Wild celebrates 20th Anniversary! Thank You!

by Mike Reimer, Churchill Wild

Seal River Heritage Lodge 2013

Celebrating 20 years! Seal River Heritage Lodge 2013.

20 years? Say it isn’t so. Wow!

Seems like just yesterday we were flying north up the coast from Churchill to have a look at a couple of old tumbled down shacks near the mouth of the Seal River, with hopes of finding a spot for a polar bear lodge.

Dennis Fast shook his head in disbelief when he first spotted the site.

“You better buy it quick before Jeanne sees it!”

Seal River Lodge in 1993

What we saw from the plane in 1993!

Well, we made the plunge, and as they say, the rest is history.

The first few seasons were “interesting” to say the least, and thank goodness we had Jeanne’s parents Doug and Helen Webber backing the program with their years of experience in the fishing and hunting lodge business.

Our first summer (1993) was spent cleaning up the site and making the existing building habitable. It had been used previously as a whale research station and for some goose hunting, but had sat abandoned for many years. All the windows and doors had been knocked out by marauding polar bears; the swallows were nesting in the light fixtures; and the Arctic foxes had found it a convenient spot to get out of the wind for a bathroom break.

With much elbow grease, lots of paint, new beds, plumbing, electrical, roofing and some new doors and windows, we eventually had a place to call home. Of course, just to remind us of whose turf we were on, a curious polar bear smashed out one of the new windows in the first week before we had a chance to get some bars up.

That first season was not a real money maker to say the least, with only one client, but the adventure level was very high. We had an endless supply of new routes and trails to explore and establish!

Like most small businesses, Jeanne and I ran the whole show for a few seasons while we got our feet under us. Jeanne was chef/housekeeper/bear guard/hostess/expeditor/berry picker (with our kids as helpers) while I did all the other stuff, none of which I can seem to remember right now!

I do remember that our first bedroom, which eventually became the laundry room, was five feet wide by 14 feet long with Jeanne and I at one end and our girls — Rebecca, Karli and Allison — stacked three deep like cordwood at the other end. When Adam came along he slept on a shelf above our bed! All very cozy, the kids loved it and thought it was all one big adventure, though Jeanne had some other ideas at times.

Dining Room at Seal River Heritage Lodge

Dining Room at Seal River Heritage Lodge today. We've come a long way!

We discovered, much to our delight, that Seal River had an incredible array of flora and fauna. It was going to be a spectacular choice for an ecolodge! The mechanics of building and operating the lodge came naturally (mostly!) as we had both gained a wealth of very valuable experience working together with Doug and Helen at their lodges. They were pillars of much needed support in those early years.

Operating any sort of lodges or remote camps in the Arctic has its share of challenges, as the source of all supplies is usually hundreds of miles away. And they are being purchased from people who really do not have a clue as to how difficult it is to get anything to us.

Everything must be ordered weeks and sometimes months in advance, to be shipped by train from Winnipeg to Churchill where it can be flown to the lodge, or, in the case of building materials, dragged over the sea ice during the winter with our old 1956 D6 Cat. If anything breaks down you can measure in days and weeks the amount of time it takes to get a replacement part, and sometimes the season ends before the new parts arrive!

Our environment entirely dictates our activities, and on this type of jobsite you might find yourself stuck offshore on an ice flow; broke down in a howling blizzard on Hudson Bay; or sitting in the floatplane on a lonely stretch of river waiting for the fog to lift so you can get much needed groceries to the lodge.

Inside Seal River Heritage Lodge

Interior of Seal River Heritage Lodge today. It wasn't always this nice!

Occasionally you might find yourself whacking an overly curious polar bear on the nose for sticking his head through the shop door, or crawling under the lodge at 3 a.m. to thaw out frozen pipes. There’s a whole host of weird and challenging things at all kinds of crazy hours, in all sorts of weather. Never a dull moment in this business!

There have been many, many adventures and challenges over the years. Maybe someday we’ll find the time to write them all down in a book. At present we continue to add new destinations and safaris. Along with Seal River Heritage Lodge and the Birds, Bears & Belugas summer polar bear experience, we also operate Dymond Lake EcoLodge, home of the Great Ice Bear Adventure, and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, home of Mothers & Cubs, as well as North Knife Lake Fishing Lodge, the Arctic Safari, Polar Bear Photo Safari and Black & White Adventure. Our growth has resulted in the need for more staff. Luckily, we have been blessed with the best. Those little kids we used to stack up on the shelves are now our chefs, managers and admin staff!

Jeanne & Mike

Jeanne & Mike Reimer

Of course, we couldn’t have done any of this without you, our guests. A big polar bear hug goes out to all of you, for spending your hard earned dollars and time with us. We have thoroughly enjoyed your company and made many lifelong friends.

Thank you for making it all possible.

Mike Reimer, Churchill Wild

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

Wolverine provides rare photo op for guests at Dymond Lake Lodge

by Terry Elliot – Lead Guide for Churchill Wild

Wolverine at Dymond Lake Lodge - Great Ice Bear Adventure 2012

Wolverine at Dymond Lake Lodge - Great Ice Bear Adventure 2012

What an amazing day at Dymond Lake! Woke up this morning to a beautiful sunrise, crisp and cold with wind sculpted snow drifts everywhere. Went for a walk across the lake and then out to the coast. We saw one bear on the lake (we call him One Ear) and another on the road (Scar Brow). Two pine martens provided some amusing entertainment chasing each other around in the snow and when we got to the coast we spotted a wolverine!

Two years in a row now we have seen him here. He’s big and absolutely beautiful. The guests were able to get good photos and video! He sauntered down the road towards the Lodge and we followed him behind one of the buildings, where we were able to get within 10 meters of him! We got some really nice photos before he saw us and ran away. A truly spectacular, once in a lifetime experience! I’ve got my batteries on charge.

Because tomorrow is another great day at Dymond Lake Lodge!

Guest captures elusive Wolverine on film during Great Ice Bear Adventure at Dymond Lake Lodge

Dymond Lake Lodge has been a hot spot for wolverines over the past few years but these solitary predators are often difficult to spot during the day. Amazingly we’ve had regular sightings of two wolverines this year.  Kim Spragg, one of our guests at Dymond Lake Lodge this year for the Great Ice Bear Adventure, was lucky enough to get some video of one of these elusive creatures this week. Thanks Kim!

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Armed with sharp claws and crushing jaws, wolverines are the largest land-dwelling species of Mustelidae, better known as Weasels. Well known for their ferocity, wolverines have been documented not only killing prey many times their size, but also fending off much larger rival predators including polar bears! Learn more about Wolverines.

Keep your distance!