Part of producing these stories involved a lot of road miles. Sean and Andrew learned the hard way to be careful on picking their roads.
Once we arrived in Point Hope, Alaska we were given a driving tour of the village by Steve Oomittuk. I had chatted on the phone a lot with Oomittuk before arriving, so it was nice to put a face to the voice.
Point Hope is small, around 900 people so driving around did not take long.
We did get in to some great discussions about the array of wildlife in the area, whales, walrus migration, and of course polar bear.
It was interesting to me that there was a polar bear patrol that was on duty all night. Oomittuk told us as climate change continues to affect the sea ice, hungry polar bears would often wander in to town to forage through trash looking for an easy meal.
Point Hope extends out in to the Bering and Chuchki Seas, –a spit of land that looks like an index finger. Oomittuk drove us down close to the very end of the point where pressure ridges from the frozen ocean push their way up, making an amazingly beautiful, but incredibly rugged backdrop.
The next day, photographer Andrew Smith and I were on our own –and we wanted to drive to the very end of the road in Point Hope, just a bit further than Oomittuk had taken us the day before. Driving on the permafrost toward the point, suddenly the terrain got really mushy and we realized instantly why Oomittuk didn’t go any further the day before.
The permafrost ends –and we were suddenly on a snow-covered, sandy, pebble-filled beach. Stuck. Up to the frame in our SUV.
Ok, it wasn’t that bad we can call for help, get out and take some pictures. We were told, it would be a couple of hours before anyone could get to us so we decided to walk around.
About 100 meters from the vehicle, I saw them first. Big, big, paw prints of a polar bear. They were fresh, and on top of other tire tracks. Suddenly the two-hour window to help seemed like an eternity.
We took more video, looked at our watches – a lot – tried every way imaginable to dig our way out with no success. Finally help.
Of course the “guys from outta town that got stuck” made for some good laughs –until they saw the size of the paw prints then all the locals broke out their cameras and took pictures. It was a big bear, they say, 10-feet maybe.
And, after that –every time we drove near the point we saw someone with a rifle looking for that bear.