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Table of Contents "On the road to Kabul and other short stories of treks"

Chased by a musk ox, June 1983


"Fred", the musk ox bull at Whitsunday Bay, Eastern Axel Heiberg Island.

When I came back to the camp at Whitsunday Bay, Steve was proud of his “jackass” stunt. He got a picture being chased by Fred, the lonely musk ox bull living in the valley. I was not amused, to put it mildly.


Whitsunday Bay, Eastern Axel Heiberg Island

We finally managed to land at Whitsunday Bay on Eastern Axel Heiberg Island a week later in late June, see [1].  The Whitsunday Bay area is a large North-South valley in front of a North-South mountain range.


Fred, the lone musk ox bull, was always in the same area.

"Fred", the musk ox bull, at a save distance.

He barely looked at you when passing at a distance and didn't mind his photograph being taken. We quickly discovered how close we could get to him on taking a close up. Being the size of a yak, Fred was an impressive animal. At 50 m he would look at you, closer he would start snoring, and even closer dig his front paws in the ground, a clear signal to go away and “don't mess with me, I can handle a pack of wolves”.


Musk ox herd forming protective half-circle, Eastern Axel heiberg Island.

A musk ox herd is more shy. The cows form a half-circle protecting the calves and the big bull and master stands in front ready to defend and attack the intruder and choosing the right moment for the herd to run away, preferably up a steep hill at high speed.

Steve secretly planned the ultimate picture with Fred.


Some Canadian and Americans are attracted by bulls that could attack. In Yellowstone a bull buffalo that was known to go after people, got a clear paint mark but now some daredevil tourists would always try to approach it.

The picture

Steve had a plan. He would approach Fred from a snow filled gully, slowly move up to him and ignore the snoring and stamping until Fred would attack. This would happen at close range, hopefully more than a 10 m distance. At this point Steve would run for the snow gully and jump in  and assume Fred would not follow. Martin would take the pictures.


Probably to his surprise, what was planned is precisely what happened.


Steve chased by a musk ox bull


Looking back, Steve is lucky he did not get thrown in the air by the horns. I have seen a picture once of a less fortunate approach. Such a stunt could kill you or at least could give some bad injuries.


I was furious, this was totally irresponsibly, he jeopardized our expedition. Also, the nearest doctor was 3000 km South in Frobisher Bay, a 3 day trip from the High Arctic Islands. A typical “jackass” stunt so common among students.


 For this reason, I always kept a close eye on our shotgun by keeping it in my possession and would veto any “playing”.