Jan. 29, 2005

Up North again

So; shotguns in the Arctic... In the summer of 1987 I was part of a government team mapping the geology of the northern part of Devon Island. Waaaay up in the Arctic Archipelago. It was an amazing summer of adventures, here's one from the very end of our field season.

At the beginning of the season we prepared our equipment, tested radios etc. And we familiarized ourselves with the shotguns we carried for defense against polar bears. We all blasted off a few rounds (we loaded them with slugs) at a target, and it turned out I was the best shot. I'm pleased to report for our and the bears sake that we never had to use them for real. So I strutted about for ten minutes afterwards, pleased with myself, and then we all forgot about it.

Cue the story to our final day in the field. Our base camp had been dissembled and loaded back into our transport aircraft. There was only one thing we didn't want to take with us: the "honey pot". Working in the wilderness with permafrost conditions you can't dig a regular outhouse. We had to use a steel barrel in a tent. (Girls! Come back!) So the question became: how to dispose of it? The expedition leader decided that we would pierce it's sides with an axe (yuck), and then sling it offshore beneath our helicopter and drop it into the Arctic Ocean.

This was done, but the damned thing wouldn't sink! It required some convincing... Suddenly everyone remembered that I was the camp marksman. I was told to load my shotgun and get into the helicopter. The pilot dropped me on a nearby ice floe and I gave the sh*t barrel the coup de grace. Of course this was a source of great entertainment, and the copilot had to bring everyone's cameras and snap pictures while I stalked my unsuspecting prey.

So who will be first to guess how I was praised on my return to camp?

Listening to: Look What You've Done by Jet from Get Born.


  1. I have to say that's one of the more interesting blog stories I've read!

  2. Um, did they tell you that you were "the sh*t?" That's my guess. *giggle*

    Georgeous photos! That place is beyond beautiful. And you're quite the cutie in your photo too. Did you have to fight off the women and the polar bears? I bet you did.


  3. This gives new meaning to the term "shooting the shit"! : )

    This was a really funny story. And I love the pictures! What a fantastic opportunity to see an area of the world few people are able to see—as you can probably tell from my blog, my husband and I love to travel, especially to relatively unusual places, so I love hearing about where other people have been. So did you ever actually SEE any polar bears? (I'm glad you didn't have to shoot any of them.)

  4. Funny story and awesome pictures. I like the first one.

  5. l.a.h. wins... My calling card became "No-one shoots the shit better than Ben!" I loved getting to these wild places because they were so unspoiled and "intensely natural". Civilized travel destinations are so interchangeable now that it seems all you return home with is a list of meals eaten and the photos to prove it. I'm glad to hear that you try to get off the beaten track too.
    Susan: I suppose this was a bit out of the ordinary! :-)
    Gweny: Glad you like the photos. I have to say that they are photos of beautiful places, not beautiful photos. I still have a lot to learn about photography, even all these years later. I did see some polar bears from pretty close range, but combat was not required. We were usually the only people within literally hundreds of miles, so the opportunities to mingle were limited. But not out of the question...
    Mary: I do it all for you! :-) The coastal photography was amazing. Such spare landscapes and enormous vistas. The total lack of trees made it so hard to judge distance that every time I looked toward the horizon my mind interpreted a different landscape! The far shore of that bay was about 10 miles away.

  6. I read the article about glaciers disappearing. Good thing I went to Portgage Glacier like 30 times when I lived in Alaska.

  7. The only problem with traveling to places off the beaten track is that you generally come home from vacation ... needing a vacation. : ) My husband couldn't lie on a beach for more than ten minutes even if you paid him, so he pushes us to take very active vacations to more unusual places. And even when we're not so much "off the beaten path," he's very adamant about taking local mass-transit, not staying in "American-style" hotels, and basically traveling in a way that allows us to experience more of the culture first-hand. Travel like that can be exhausting, but I've always come home from our trips feeling like it was entirely worth it. : )