What a special morning. Expedition leader Stefano Pozzi woke us gently from our slumber with the news that we were approaching a mother polar bear with two cubs. The question became whether to stop for breakfast or head straight for the spotting scopes. Fortunately, there was time for both. Carefully, the captain brought us closer to the family on the ice, and we enjoyed watching the cubs at play near their mother. Occasionally, the family hid behind an ice floe, challenging even the most patient among us. Sure enough, the mother raised her head and clambered out, followed by the cubs tussling together in their mother’s footsteps. Our polar bear count is up to four so far, with two adults and two juveniles. After spending a good amount of time with this family, we were all filled with the joy of the wildlife encounter.
With all that excitement before breakfast, who knew what the rest of the day would bring? We ventured farther north into Nordaustlandet, breaking through the remaining patches of drift ice across our path. At 79°35’ north, our journey farther north was blocked by ice. With the wind filling in the trail behind us and the way forward blocked by fast ice, it was time to turn around and head back, traveling clockwise around Spitsbergen. We watched in awe as the X-Bow of National Geographic Endurance crashed through ice mounds. But there was even more excitement in store. After spotting wildlife from the bridge for most of the day, a patch of flat drift ice came into view, and with it, the potential for an ice walk. Our scouts went ashore to check that the ice was firm and that no polar bears were hiding behind any of the mounds. Once the area was deemed safe, guests followed for the surreal experience of walking on frozen water floating above a very deep sound. To add to the otherworldly experience, we had to crunch through 8” of snow and crushed ice on top before hitting a firm, frozen layer underneath. After a few steps and the chance to watch as others walked on water, guests soon embraced the support of the ice below as they ventured to the edges of the safe travel area.