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Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Further Unplugged: Polar bear prank

By Seth Lightcap
ESPN Action Sports

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Chapter six of Jeremy Jones and Teton Gravity Research's "Further Unplugged" series details a close encounter with a 'man-eater' that had TGR cinematographer Dan Gibeau running for his life. After Gibeau accidentally sets off the polar bear alarm surrounding the camp in Norway, Jones and the TGR crew trick him into thinking a polar bear is actually coming to eat him. Gibeau's desperate reaction to the prank is classic basecamp comedy.

Despite the 'down day' humor, the premise of the polar bear prank is based upon a reality that's not so funny. The island of Svalbard where Jones and Terje Haakonson filmed for "Further" in April 2011 is home to over 500 polar bears and has been the scene of dozens of polar bear attacks. Six people have been killed by polar bears on Svalbard since 1973. The most recent was in August 2011 when a starving bear attacked a British youth group, killing one student and injuring four others.

During the Further crew's three week stay in Svalbard they were accompanied by an Austrian guide named Gigi who took the lead in protecting their camp from intruding polar bears. Gigi's two lines of defense were a rifle that he carried with him at all times and a rigged trip wire surrounding camp that blew off a flare when tripped. Gibeau mistakenly set off the trip wire not once, but twice in their first two weeks at camp, inciting Gigi, Jones and TGR production director Jon Klaczkiewicz to plot revenge on him.

The prank unfolded with Gibeau dead asleep in his tent. The bear wire was tripped on purpose and Gigi began screaming about a bear in camp. Gibeau woke suddenly to Gigi's yelling, only to hear what he thought was a polar bear scratching at his tent walls. The bear was actually fellow TGR camerman Chris Edmands, down on all fours, scratching and snorting around next to Gibeau's tent.

What happened next is the stuff of basecamp legend.

Further Unplugged
Polar bear tracks, and the "bear alert" wire surrounding the Further crew base camp rigged to blow off a flare when tripped. Snow camping in Svalbard is no joke.

"The night before this all happened I had a vivid dream that a polar bear was at my tent," explained Gibeau. "I escaped the bear in my dream by cutting my way out of my tent and running away. So when the bear alarm went off the very next day and I heard scratching at my tent, I thought this was definitely real. I started to panic so I went with what had worked in my dream. I grabbed my knife, cut my way out, ran as fast as I could in my long johns and socks across the snow and dove head first into the group tent."

Photographer Dan Milner witnessed Gibeau's mad dash to safety.

"I don't think I ever saw eyes that wide when Dan burst into the group tent, Leatherman in hand, having slashed his way out of his own tent," said Milner. "Of course he was pretty spooked and soon came round to cussing us all when he realised it was a prank. It took him a little while to calm down, days I think, which made us feel a little guilty, but we all admired the way he actually dealt with the perceived threat, both slashing his way out of the safe side of his tent and going for the guns when he got to the group tent."

Gibeau was indeed bent out of shape by the prank, but has since found some humor in it.

"In retrospect it's pretty funny, but at first it wasn't at all," said Gibeau. "I knew that a polar bear wouldn't be coming into my tent looking for food. It was coming in looking for me. Edmands is lucky he didn't get hurt actually. One of my first thoughts was to stab towards the polar bear with my knife. But then I thought that might just piss him off. It definitely wouldn't have been such a funny webisode if Edmands had been stabbed!"