Kayaking the Arctic: one man encounters 39 polar bears

Jaime Sharp's 71-day kayak journey in the Arctic started with a bear who came too close for comfort

Jaime Sharp's 71-day journey in the Arctic started with a bear who came too close for comfort

Jaime Sharp paddled past these two polar bears in the summer of 2015. (Jaime Sharp)

Jaime Sharp will never forget the time he woke up in the middle of the Arctic, to find a polar bear sitting on his legs.

The New Zealand adventurer was three days into his attempt to kayak around a group of Arctic islands, a trip that would ultimately take 71 days and yield 39 polar bear encounters.

This was encounter number one.

"Up until that point, we had been sleeping behind a trip wire fence and relying on that to alarm us if any polar bears came in," said Sharp.

He woke up the next morning to one of his friends, Tara Mulvaney, talking in her sleep.

"I thought well, she must be having a bad dream," he said.

"Then I rolled over on my back and prepared to go back to sleep when suddenly this immense weight just lands on my legs."

'Get the gun!'

At first, Sharp thought it was a reindeer that had stumbled into their campsite, but a reindeer probably wouldn't have been able to avoid the trip wire, he said. The only other thing it could be was a polar bear.

"My first thought was to yell at this polar bear and try to intimidate it away," he said. But he knew he had to be prepared.

The bear had apparently made itself feel at home by sitting on the tent, and Sharp was worried what would happen if he protested.

Jaime Sharp and two fellow paddlers completed a 2,200 km journey in the Arctic and saw 39 polar bears along the way. (Jaime Sharp)

"Get the gun!" he whispered to his other paddling companion, Per Gustav Porsanger.

"He grabs the gun and he racks this gun and suddenly the weight comes off my legs," said Sharp.

The bear was leaving.

Sharp's friend poked his head out of the tent window and confirmed,

"It was a polar bear!"

Lessons learned

New Zealand adventurer Jaime Sharp was determined to complete his goal of paddling 2,200 km, knowing that previous attempts from others had been thwarted by injury and polar bear attacks. (Jaime Sharp)

Sharp says last summer's 2,200 km trip left him with the determination to never give up.

"Dreams are achievable … I think people often give up on their dreams because they give it a couple of years and it doesn't happen."

It took six years of planning to realize his dream of kayaking in the Arctic, said Sharp. But ultimately it wasn't about success or glory.

"It's taking that first step to strive for those dreams or that achievement, that's what life's really about."

Sharp is speaking at the centre of Performing Arts at Capilano University Wednesday night.

People can buy tickets here.


To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: Kayaker's 39 close encounters with polar bears.

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