ExWeb interview with Erik Boomer: walrus attack scarier than polar bear attacks

Posted: Sep 08, 2011 08:50 am EDT

(By Correne Coetzer) Being attacked by a walrus was his scariest moment during the circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island, says Boomer to ExplorersWeb; much scarier than the encounters with the 20 Polar bears.

26-year-old Erik Boomer spent 104 grueling days around the island with his 65-year-old team mate, Jon Turk. The recipe for their successful teamwork was communication and keeping their sense of humor, stated Boomer. Read more how he experienced the expedition and what advice he gives.

ExplorersWeb: How did you feel the last day(s)? Physically and mentally?

Erik: Physically I felt strong; mentally my thoughts started to turn towards home. Yet the environment we traveled through constantly reminded us that we were still on expedition, cold strong winds combined with open water crossings kept us in the moment.

ExplorersWeb: What happened with the polar bear attacks? It must have been most scary when a bear bites though and many looking on? What did you do? How did you feel?

Erik: On several different occasions curious bears wandered into our camp. Our closes encounter, we woke to discover a bear had stuck his head through our open vestibule door, and put a rip in our inner tent door.

To scare them off we screamed at the bears, telling them verbally and with our body language that they were invading our space and needed to leave. We also fired off bear bangers when needed, and had a shot gun as a last resort. As soon as we put up a fight, the bears would sauntered off leaving us alone.

ExplorersWeb: How big is the danger of polar bears on the Island? What precautions did you take?

Erik: While traveling in the Arctic there is always a danger of meeting polar bears, especially as our route led us through bear habitat and hunting grounds. We encountered at least 20 bears during our trip, most of which were on the southeast side of the island where the broken ice provided prime hunting for the bears.

We had a shotgun and bear bangers for protection, yet found that yelling at the bear worked better than anything else.

Even more dangerous than the bears however were the walrus. Just south of Pim Island, on the eastern coast of Ellesmere Island, I had a very close encounter with a walrus while kayaking. Without warning, a walrus aggressively porpoised itself out of the water and towards me. The wake and waves created from the two thousand pound beast made it difficult to stay upright and stable in my kayak.

His head and tusks were within arms reach, so I hit him between the tusks with my paddle, pushing off the walrus to maintain a little space. He immediately came out of the water at me again, and I pushed off him with my paddle to keep my distance.

After the second charge he submerged long enough for Jon and I to paddle away, out of his territory. The encounter probably only lasted 10 to 15 seconds but felt much longer, and left my heart racing. We decided not to talk about the encounter until we were home safe and sound.

ExplorersWeb: Where there times that you felt like giving up?

Erik: Never, even when bad ice conditions in the Robson channel halted our progress for 16 days, we were both optimistic and prepared to wait another three weeks for the ice to clear if we had to.

ExplorersWeb: You seem to get along well. What made you a good team?

Erik: Communication and keeping our sense of humor.

ExplorersWeb: High points of the expedition?

Erik: The high points of the expedition were numerous. Arriving at our Ward Hunt food cash was a relief that we had made it half way, and every time the ice would clear enough for us to paddle was encouraging, especially the first day we were able to start heading south after waiting 16 days for the ice conditions to improve. The Arctic wildlife was also appreciable.

ExplorersWeb: Low points?

Erik: Being attacked by a walrus was my scariest moment during the expedition, not to mention we had to continue to paddle through walrus habitat for the next 10 days before ending our expedition.

In the Nares Strait Jon and I hopped on a baseball diamond size ice floe, with hopes to ride the flow south through the Robson Channel. We pitched camp, only to be blown 4 miles north, the opposite direction, waking up surrounded by blender ice.

ExplorersWeb: If you could give advice to anyone who wants to circumnavigate Ellesmere Island, what would you say?

Erik: Skis are essential during the first section of the expedition, a good wind forecast helps with the long crossings and to predict the ice movement, wait for the southwest winds to push the ice away from shore to create a water channel throughout the Nares Strait, and allocate plenty of time to work through the break up season.

ExplorersWeb: If you think about the more than 100 days out there, what comes to your mind?

Erik: Every day the expedition would provide more excitement and uncertainty than a week of normal life. In Jon's words "it's like real life on steroids".

ExplorersWeb: Have you been to Ellesmere Island before?

Erik: This expedition gave me my first opportunity to travel in the far north. I would love to go back!

Erik Boomer and Jon Turk traveled 1485 statute miles in 104 days, skiing on rigid fast ice, jumping from flow to flow on moving pack ice and finally paddling through ice choked water. They started out from Grise fjord on May 7; pulling 220 pounds and fished on August 19, 2011.

Erik Boomer, 26, from McCall, Idaho, has been white water kayaking for the past 17 years. He accomplished the triple crown of expedition kayaking at age 18, descending the Alsek, the Susitna and the Stikine rivers in the same season. He has numerous first descents to his name, and has appeared in award winning whitewater films such as Haymaker (http://vimeo.com/10736337), Wildwater (http://www.wildwaterfilm.com) and Frontier (http://vimeo.com/18556134).

Erik works as a professional photographer. Voted Photographer of the Year by fellow paddlers for the 2010 Rider of the Year Awards, Boomers talents extend beyond the river to portraits and documentary work, including living as a homeless person last winter in Washington, DC.

Jon Turk, 65 years old, lives in Darby, Montana. Over decades, Jon have kayaked across the North Pacific and around Cape Horn, mountain biked through the Gobi desert, made first climbing ascents of big walls on Baffin Island, and first ski descents in the Tien Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzia among many other adventures. He has written 25 environmental and geoscience textbooks and several books related to his adventures. His latest is The Raven's Gift, which outlines five expeditions to northeast Siberia and my deep friendship with Moolynaut, a 100 year old healer and shaman who lives in the small village of Vyvenka. For more, see at http://www.jonturk.net/About-Me.


FRONTIER MOVIE TRAILER from Rush Sturges on Vimeo.



HAYMAKER Sneak Peak from Huckin Huge on Vimeo.



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Erik Boomer: "Allocate plenty of time to work through the break up season."
courtesy Š Jon Turk and Eric Boomer
"Without warning, a walrus aggressively porpoised itself out of the water and towards me. The wake and waves created from the two thousand pound beast made it difficult to stay upright and stable in my kayak."
courtesy Š Jon Turk and Eric Boomer

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