A good paddling: Trio overcomes aggressive bears, ice-filled waters in first kayak trip around Spitsbergen completes first circum

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Three kayakers completed what they say is the first circumnavigation of Spitsbergen by kayak, returning to Longyearbyen on Saturday after paddling 2,200 kilometers in 71 days.

“I had dreamt of doing a trip like this since I was a kid,” wrote Jaime Sharp, a New Zealand native who first envisioned the trip six year ago, in an essay summarizing the expedition. “Arctic exploration in my mind is the plateau of any pursuit and of course every adventurer dreams of claiming a ‘world first.’ Even after watching the failed attempts previously over the last six years, I was still drawn to do the trip, and this year it all fell into place as if it was meant to be.”

Tara Mulvany, also of New Zealand, and Per Gustav Porsanger from Norway also participated in the trip.

Numerous attempts to circle the island by kayak have been made. The most recent was in 2010 when two Norwegian paddlers were forced to abandon their quest after one was injured by a polar bear that dragged the man out from his tent.

The trio this summer spotted about 40 bears, several which had to be scared away with rifle and signal pistol shots, according to Sharp.

“The most intense encounter required 13 rifle rounds and six flash bangs to repel a single bear, only to have yet another one come at the group only a minute later,” he wrote.

Another major challenge was a 180-kilometer uninterrupted glacial front, which took more than two days – including 26 hours of continuous paddling at one point – in the ice-choked waters.