I still haven't seen a polar bear in the wild in Nunavut, land of Nanook of the North, and they definitely roam hereabouts on Baffin and Broughton islands near Qikiqtarjuaq, just north of the Arctic Circle.
Broughton and Baffin islands from the frozen sea
So it's off for another day's snowmobiling. That way we can skedaddle quickly enough if the largest living land carnivore on earth should get excessively aggressive or amorous with us, without having to test Auyuittuq National Park's polar bear advice: If it thinks you're food, don't run; fight for your life, arm yourself with stones if you don't have a gun, and try to hit it on the nose. If you have a gun, shoot to kill.
Now we can speed off with a mighty engine roar, a plume of toxic diesel fumes, and all will be well -- I hope.
Broughton Island from the frozen ocean
My Inuit guide Maurice is not free today but his brother Alan turns up astride the tracked metal beast, and I ensconce myself atop a plastic ice-cooler at the back of a sled behind a little on-board hut-type contraption.
Alan with snowmobile, sled and hut
And we're off.
In no time we're speeding past the tower-cum-phallus of the ice-marooned iceberg.
Whizzing past the marooned iceberg
Now, the frozen sea might look like a snow-covered pancake of ice stretching out to eternity, but it's mainly corrugated like an unending succession of frozen wavelets. The sled bucks up and bucks down, the wood strains and groans, and Yours Truly is scrambled into a nice fluffy omelet.
We jounce past more icebergs ensnared by winter's ice near the coast, traverse the narrow frozen strait between Broughton and Baffin, and coast north along Baffin's shore. It's more than cold enough to freeze the knackers off a brass polar bear, let alone brass-less me.
Coasting along Baffin Island
And now a thought from your sponsor: what if Alan's frigging snowmobile decides to conk out here, frozen miles and frozen hours of walking from anywhere.
Even better -- what if the Day After Tomorrow film scenario happens today in a sort of reverse, the Gulf Stream changes course due north in the batting of an at-least-not-now-frozen-thanks-to-goggles eyelash, the ice melts instantaneously, and we all plumb-line down to Davey Jones' locker?
Baffin coast close-up
These idle but merry thoughts are interrupted by a stop. Alan has found a cave opening leading from jagged-block ice into the mountain wall. We dismount and plod through calf-high snow into the icy murk. One more enchanted landscape.
Alan at entrance to ice cave
Outside again, we struggle to pee -- I'll never win an Olympic gold for fastest whipper-outer with all these layers of extra clothing. Alan pours a cup of steaming hot tea and smokes a cigarette.
View from inside
And we're off.
My goggles have all frosted up and there's no defrost button. How remiss! Alan turns round and is shouting like mad, his arms flailing like a crazed windmill. He's pointing to the snow next to us.
A series of depressions, some large, some much smaller, march off into the snowy wastelands. Polar bear tracks! A mother and her two cubs, he says.
Bear paw prints
We follow the deep paw prints across the frozen ocean towards the snow-covered crags of Broughton Island; then back again; then back towards the mountains.
'We'll find them,' Alan says. 'These are fresh, made today.' It sounds as if he's selling bread rolls.
On the paw print trail
We're describing a figure eight and half a dozen other numbers in major ice skidding. Polar bear prints, but no bears!
Could Mother Nature be playing another nasty on me -- spending the night to freeze wind-blown snow driftlets to mimic bear paws even as she turns off the Aurora Borealis, denying me a sighting of the iridescent green veils and electric purple waves of the vaunted Northern Lights? Now Alan's lost the tracks.
We lose the tracks
Alan looks for the tracks again
He finds them again. And we're off.
Paw prints close-up
Off on a wild polar bear chase! Nada! Zilch! Niente!
The magnificent white creatures have found invisibility in their endless white background or in some well hidden shore cave.
Still, it's a fantastic freezing five hours, even if I've clocked as much success with my polar bears as with my Aurora Boreanus.
By the same author: Bussing The Amazon: On The Road With The Accidental Journalist, available with free excerpts on Kindle and in print version on Amazon.
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