North Pole 2012 ExWeb interview (Part 3 of 3): Timo Palo and Audun Tholfsen: “We were hunted by a polar bear from the water like a seal that’s lying o

North Pole 2012 ExWeb interview (Part 3 of 3): Timo Palo and Audun Tholfsen: “We were hunted by a polar bear from the water like a seal that’s lying o

Posted: Aug 22, 2012 11:52 am EDT

(Correne Coetzer) “I feel like someone was taking care of us on that day,” says Timo, as they were shocked and scared after a polar bear attack on them while skiing and kayaking on the melting Arctic Ocean ice from 90°N to Svalbard. This was only one of several encounters with the bears.

Also today, as in the previous parts of the interview exclusive to ExplorersWeb, more first time published photos of the expedition courtesy of photographer Timo Palo.

The team continues, telling about the caches they left on land and what the bears did with them; why the two of them make a good team, and what lessons they have learned on the Arctic ice.

Despite the strenuous expedition Audun concluded, “If you ever get a chance to experience the Arctic drift ice, take it.” Timo expresses his gratitude towards their home team for their work behind the scenes.

ExplorersWeb: When you got to your cache, was it still in good order. How did you secure it against polar bears? How long was the cache out there?

Audun: Caches were all good. They were 10 mm plywood boxes glued and screwed. They were moved and had some tooth/claw marks. Content was still unharmed.

Timo: We had three depots all together. Two of them were put out by us and one by our friend on sailing boat. They all were in good order and we used all of them.

The one in Seven Islands was put out year earlier and all the content was untouched and edible. A Polar bear had tried to get it but the box was made of thick plywood so he couldn’t break it. We saw some tooth marks on it and it was replaced 9 meters from its original location.

The second depot on Low Island was hidden in a cairn and covered with rocks. That was put out about a week before we picked it up. Luckily no bears in the area were able to find it.

The most miraculous was to find the third one, the biggest one and the very first one at Kinnvika in North East Land. This one was placed out by a Dutch sailing vessel< Noorderlicht, already three years ago when we started with the planning. I made it with a double wall of plywood so it was rather polar bear proof.

A year later when we postponed the trip, Audun was taking it in and replaced some of the things that could get bad otherwise. After the second time of postponing we decided to put out the Seven Island cache and didn’t do anything with this Kinnvika one. Actually we were told that it doesn’t exist there anymore and it has been removed by someone.

So now after three years we really didn’t put much hope on this one anymore. But as it finally came to be on our route anyway we decided to check it out. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw it already from a distance. It still existed there.

One can just imagine our happiness and excitement when we opened it. That evening we had a feast, a real Christmas Eve. We used everything from it despite that most of it was two years old and some of it was still from the first placement three years ago. At that moment “Best before” markings are something you don’t care about anymore!

ExplorersWeb: What encounters did you have with polar bears?

Audun: Swimming attack, mothers with cub, and a male following us.

Timo: On our way we met 9 bears on pack ice and one on land. We started to see them around at 83 degrees north. Several times they were rather hard to scare away and it had taken us some flares and revolver shots to do it.

They showed a great interest and were persistently following us. Particularly one young male did it, but also it was rather hard to get rid of one female with two first year cubs, which normally is not supposed to be like this. That female was probably stressed because of the hard times feeding her cubs. Three times we had bear encounters in the camp when a bear had approached close to the other side of the tent and we jumped out to scare it away.

Our most exciting and probably once in a lifetime experience was with the one young male. We were hunted from the water like a seal that’s lying on the ice floe. We spotted that bear from the distance when approaching a lead. When we prepared for the kayak crossing we decided to wait a little, take out the camera and see how the bear will react. In fact in the beginning it seemed more like it was running away. But then it appeared at another side of the lead, slides down into the water and started to swim.

We expected it to come out of the water on our side of the shore and then probably, if curious enough, approach us slowly. Thinking that way we didn’t realize the situation. We didn’t know that bear had already decided to hunt us down. It was swimming slowly doing maneuvers and hide behind the floating ice pieces. Occasionally we saw it. We stood next to the lead with the revolver and flare pencil ready and waited.

Suddenly just some meters before the last floating ice floe it disappeared. We looked at each other and wondered for a while, when suddenly realized that it was diving and doing it for one certain purpose. At this time we were standing on the shore of the lead and stepped back behind the kayaks. That might have saved us, I think now.

Next moment the bear jumped out of the water just at the place we were standing before. It would have been some 2-3 meters but now it was about 5-6 and gave enough time to trigger a shot from the revolver to scare the bear, who was in a in the middle of a jump, to turn back into the water. We were shocked and scared.

I we didn’t notice the bear before, we would have prepared there for the lead crossing like any other day knowing nothing about the danger from the water. Also the bear could have been a bit smarter and made a jump from the side of us where we didn’t expect it so much.

I feel like we had someone who was taking care of us on that day.

ExplorersWeb: What did you learn from this expedition?

Timo: Although we both had very good experiences from the Tara drift, it was much different this time to be out there on your own. I learned things about traveling in and adapting yourself to such variable conditions. How you need to behave according to the terms that the Arctic Ocean puts in front of you.

Nothing can be sure up here. Live in the moment and do not stress yourself so much thinking ahead. Things can be so changing and unpredictable that it drives you crazy. During hard times all you need to do is to think that there must come better times; it cannot go like this forever.

You need to inspire yourself and think that as long as you are still moving towards your goal, everything is fine and possible. As long as you can walk, you still can make it. No need to think “what if…” These times I like to keep one thought in my mind: “everything that goes up has to come down in some point.”

After all I learned how good it is when, after weeks on unsafe drift ice, you finally feel solid ground underneath of your feet. It’s so different to travel on the sea ice than traveling on the solid surface. A big part of the unsafe situation comes just from this fact. Sea ice is in continuous movement, the surface changes and melts and even if you have an idea you really never know where you might end up ultimately.

During this trip I also felt a real hunger. I got to know that heavenly taste of whatever edible thing you get after such long time out there, and how your hunter instincts can rise.

ExplorersWeb: You have been friends for some time. What makes you a good team? During this expedition, what were each one’s strong points?

Audun:Timo is the born athlete and expedition skier. You will not find a stronger guy; you can’t break him either mentally or physically. On top of this he is a patient planner and a hard worker. He is without limitations.

Timo: First of all comes the sharing of the same attitude. We both needed to be really fascinated with the frozen world. Otherwise it wouldn’t work. You need to have such a passion what makes it possible to stand for the hard times when they come. And they will come anyway! We love the pack ice and after the Tara drift we had a great will to return. It’s a wonderful world out there!

It’s also very important to be flexible and try to listen what the other one has to say. There were times when one of us felt weak and an inability. During these bad days or hard moments it was important to stand by the other one and then the stronger one needs to take the initiative and give encouragement.

We all have our hard times, and getting support from someone is the main advantage of the non-solo trips. This knowledge gives some extra feeling of safety. It’s important to know each other at this level where you more or less can expect some kind of behavior of the other one.

Audun has long experiences in the Arctic. He has many skills which became very helpful during the trip. He has a good ability to improvise and find a solution. He is good with polar bears. He spots them early and knows quite al lot about their behavior.

I think we both have strengths and weaknesses but putting them together we quite nicely fill the gaps.

ExplorersWeb: Anything else?

Audun: If you ever get a chance to experience the Arctic drift ice, TAKE IT!

Timo: Expeditions like the one could never done by the one single person or team who’s out there. There is always way more people behind the story. These people, who do their work with the same passion as we do ours, put a lot of effort into the project to bring us back healthy and alive. They are part of our warranty for the success! These people usually stay behind the curtains whereas we get all the highlights. But they must know one thing – without them we never would have made it. In our hearts we are very thankful to all of them!

In our case we didn’t go to the North Pole like many others before us. Therefore we have been asked many times “Why?”. We wanted to try something different, to be little more original. Inspired by the great polar history and beloved books we wished to have a small connection with them. And yet, the most we wanted was to be back on the pack ice what we both love so much. We wanted to be out there again and see how far we can go.

It’s all about the happiness – how do you feel yourself alive. You don’t have to climb Mount Everest, or go to the North Pole, or be the richest person in the world to feel happy in yourself. Do whatever you love to do, but do it the best way you know! Pushing the limits is just the one way to measure yourself, but there are many other ways.

After 72 days and around 1600 kilometers, on the July 3rd, 2012, Timo and Audun arrived back home in Longyearbyen from 90°N. They set off from the Geographic North Pole on April 23rd and touched land on Svalbard 54 days and 1039km later.
Their landing location was Trollodden, N80° 42.3', E021° 0.96'. From there they continued across the archipelago to LYB. Timo and Audun were the first to complete this route on foot (human-powered, unassisted and unsupported ). They were the only skiers to complete a full distance North Pole ski during the 2012 season.

Audun Tholfsen is a Norwegian, born in 1972 in Lillehammer. Since teenager times he has immersed himself in the outdoors. He worked as a white water river guide and photographer for several years. After that Audun moved further north to Spitsbergen, Svalbard, where worked as snowmobile guide and dog musher. Previously he has done several ski trips in Svalbard and Norway.

Together with Timo, they crossed the Greenland icecap on skies. Audun spent ten months as a crewmember on French sailing vessel Tara. She froze into the Arctic pack ice close to New Siberian Islands and drifted across the entire Arctic Ocean. Currently, Audun works in Longyearbyen to provide logistic solutions and field support in Arctic regions. Audun is not married yet but has a Finnish girlfriend and they live in Longyearbyen.

Timo Palo (born 1979) is an Estonian. He has two boys named Nansen (7), who goes to school this year, and his younger brother, named Audun, is 3. Katre, whom we got to know during the expedition as she kept ExplorersWeb up to date with the team’s progress, is Timo’s wife. They live in a town called Tartu in Estonia. Timo tells ExplorersWeb he is originally from a small place called Võru, “in the hilly part of South-East Estonia where I started my career as biathlon athlete. That's how skiing became my lifestyle.”

After years of practicing biathlon and doing adventure sport, he is now fully concentrating on the polar regions. Working and studying in polar meteorology as a PhD student at University of Tartu, Timo has participated on several scientific cruises and in fieldwork campaigns in the Arctic and lately also in Antarctica.

Timo has previously done several ski trips in Svalbard, Norway and the Khibiny mountains. In 2008 he and Audun crossed the Greenland icecap. Previously Timo had crossed Estonia and the Hardangervidda mountain plateau in Norway. He also worked as a crewmember on board the schooner Tara during her transpolar drift. Seasonally Timo has been working in Spitsbergen on logistic and field support in the same company as Audun. For some years now Timo has a passion for outdoor photography, focusing on the polar world.

#Polar #Oceans #topstory #interview

Timo: “Confrontation with one young male. Audun fired a shot in the air. This bear kept following us for hours and we couldn't get rid of him before camping. So while camping we were forced to keep eye on him and scared him away when his approach became too close.”
Image by Timo Palo courtesy Timo Palo, SOURCE
“Nansen has been very inspirational for both of us. We talked about him a lot. We had his book and on special occasions we read it loudly. That comparison also reminded us that what we are doing now is nothing compared to what Nansen and Johansen went through. Their journey was all about to survive. How safe we could feel nowadays with all the high tech gear and communication. They were heroes, we were admirers!”
Image by Timo Palo courtesy Timo Palo, SOURCE
“The land is ahead (long awaited Seven Islands), but how to get there! We continuously had to climb the hummocks to scout the road ahead and find a way through the problematic areas.”
Image by Timo Palo courtesy Timo Palo, SOURCE
“We also had some glacier and mountain crossings on the way back through the Svalbard archipelago. Here is the ascent to the passage what takes as to the Mossel valley and Wijdefjord. It was hard work with the kayaks in a soft snow.”
Image by Timo Palo courtesy Timo Palo, SOURCE
Norwegian Audun Tholfsen and Estonian Timo Palo.
Image by Timo Palo courtesy Timo Palo, SOURCE