The Outside Blog

Adventure

This Is How We Roll on the Tundra

Polar-bear-buggy_639

Tundra buggies resemble a kind of double-wide, offroad school bus, with plush suspension, a massive 460 International Diesel engine, and tires that run at 12psi to float over mud and snow. They're jacked up about 10 feet, partly for clearance, but mostly to prevent any curious polar bears from climbing aboard.

We spent Saturday riding on Frontiers North Adventures' Buggy One, a wired-to-the-teeth expedition vehicle that Explore.org and Polar Bears International use to run their roving webcams. It carries two high-definition Sony cameras mounted at the front and rear, which can be aimed and focused from an onboard terminal or remotely controlled from PBI's Churchill office; another camera on the inside makes it possible to broadcast live video chats with researchers in the field. With two bunks, a bathroom, and a propane stove in the back, Buggy One can stay out on the tundra of the Manitoba Wilderness Management Area anywhere from a day to several weeks at a time.

BJ-control-center_639

Our driver for the day was BJ Kirschhoffer, the director of field operations for PBI. BJ fixes Explore's cameras, and he owes his job partially to the fact that they aren't impervious to Churchill's weather, or its fauna. During one stop, he showed me an iPhone video he had shot of a bear tearing out one of his tail lights and sticking its nose through the resulting hole. "Maintaining that stuff with large carnivores on the ground is a challenge," he said. "You have to be careful."

Mesh-of-man_639

Bears would approach us when we stopped and lean their bulk against the side of the buggy, standing on their hind legs to peer inside. (The drivers call this "buggy love"). One young bear crawled under the deck and sniffed at us through the metal grate in the floor, getting close enough at one point for me to stick a handheld microphone by its snout and record its muffled snorts. We saw a few pairs of male bears sparring, a kind of play or training fighting that gets them ready for the real, often bloody, battles that take place during mating season.

Churchill is far north enough that during the late fall and winter, the entire day seems like one long twilight. A pinkish-red sheen hangs around the horizon from morning until night. By the time we got to Frontiers North's lodge, a line of five buggy-like cars sitting in the middle of the tundra like a stranded train, it was actually getting dark.

The guest portion of the lodge consisted of a kitchen car, a lounge, and two wood-walled sleeping cars with rows of bunks done up in matching Hudson's Bay point blankets. Explore keeps two additional webcams there, and it's not hard to see why: during the night we spent there, bears roamed constantly around the lodge, pacing around the kitchen and sticking their faces into the gaps between the cars. We wouldn't set foot on the ground again until the next afternoon.

—Adam Roy
@adnroy

Explore-logoOutside is in Churchill, Manitoba, with Explore.org following the annual polar bear migration. You can see Churchill's bears for yourself on Explore's live cams.



Subscribe
to Outside
Save Over
70%

Magazine Cover

iPad Outside+ App Access Now Included!

Categories

GUIDES

Find the Best

Previous Posts

2014

2013

2012

Blog Roll

Recent Comments

  1. John Morris commented on

    The Top Five Tips on...

    Thank you very good and a healthy...

  2. CJ commented on

    The Top Five Tips on...

    This is great information, although I...

  3. Pedro commented on

    Hydrate or Cry: Make...

    Is this a 6% drink like Gatorade? How...

Current Issue Outside Magazine

Subscribe and get a great deal! Two free Buyer's Guides plus a free GoLite Sport Bottle. Monthly delivery of Outside—your ultimate resource for today's active lifestyle. All that and big savings!

Free Newsletters

Dispatch This week's featured articles, reviews, and videos. Sent twice weekly.
News From the Field The most important breaking news from around the Web. Sent daily.
Gear of the Day The latest products, reviews, and editors' picks. Coming soon.
Outside Partners Outside-approved deals and special offers from select partners. Sent occasionally.

Ask a Question

Our gear experts await your outdoor-gear-related questions. Go ahead, ask them anything.

* We might edit your question for length or clarity. If it's not about gear, we'll just ignore it.