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Monthly Archives: July 2014 − News & Stories

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Isfjord

The road was a bit bumpy last night. Well, these things happen.

There is so much on these small islands in Ekmanfjord. Admittedly, I tend to mention a few words about geology more or less every day, and suddenly, it is all there around you. And the tundra is the finest anywhere in Spitsbergen. Really! The result of thousands of years without disturbance. An amazing carpet with an endless range of colours. Lichens. Mosses. A sea of Tufted saxifrage. Little peat towers that took thousands of years to grow one foot high. And so on.

And a Red-necked phalarope for those who know to appreciate it.

In Skansbukta, we could nicely observe the different ways to appreciate Spitsbergen. While we were crawling around on shore for almost two hours (not all of us managed that long), Langøysund, on a day trip from Longyearbyen, made a circle in the bay at 8 knots and left again. End of story.

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

Now we hope that the polar bear that is hanging around in Pyramiden does not enter the ship while we are alongside tonight.

See you tomorrow.

Bellsund

Some days fall into shape by themselves, starting a bit vague in the morning (or the day before, when I am developing ideas) and then becoming amazing days which have their own dynamics. Sometimes, things just happen.

I had to consider other ships and mixed weather, so I had been thinking for quite a while about different options for the morning, before Midterhukhamna crossed my mind. And it turned out to be the ideal choice, even without Grey phalaropes. Other than that – pure pleasure in one of Spitsbergen’s most friendly areas.

What was supposed to be a hike turned out to be the trip’s shortest landing later. It was all the fault of this lazy polar bear that was sleeping behind some stones. It was only later that we found out that it was actually a good thing: it saved us from a rainy afternoon. Instead, we went to Akseløya, where we enjoyed sunshine for most of the late afternoon, apart from a few raindrops. Great, warm evening light on the northern slopes of Midterhukfjellet with its amazing folds. This mountain is really unique amongst all mountains in this world. The same holds true for the island.

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

Dozens of Grey phalaropes, and it felt like a billion of Arctic terns who didn’t like us at all, for what reason one might only guess. A pair of Arctic skuas, dark morph, both of them. What else? As if all this wasn’t quite enough already. A shame only that the last days started to have an effect on many; not everybody had enough energy left for this landing.

Polar bear freed from nylon noose

A polar bear being observed some weeks ago in Northern Spitsbergen with a thin nylon rope around its neck was now located and freed from the noose by members of the Norwegian Polar Institute. The case illustrates the danger for arctic wildlife occurring by the increasing amount of plastic waste floating in the sea and being washed ashore.

It was in the end of June as the polar bear was seen and photographed for the first time in Woodfjord by members of a boat trip on the »Arctica II«. The sailors informed the Sysselmann, who started to look out for the bear and asked for report in case of anyone seeing it. Presumably the thin rope around the animal’s neck originally was part of a trawl net. It was tied to a solid noose and the loose end hang about one meter to the ground. Fortunately the noose was not too tight so that the bear was not directly hurt or handicapped in breathing. The Sysselmann´s experts saw the greatest danger for the polar bear in taking much food in a short period of time, when for example finding a cadaver or hunting a seal. In this case it could gain weight quickly and the noose would get tighter and strangle the bear’s neck and cut into the skin.

The chance to find a single individual in such a large, deserted area usually is very low. So it was a lucky incident as on 22nd of July the Sysselmann got the report of the bear being seen close to the trapper station on Austfjordnes in inner Wijdefjord. On the same day members of the Norwegian Polar Institute arrived there with a helicopter. They could find the bear and anesthetize it. After removing the noose and examining the bear, the researchers made sure that the animal woke up and started moving again.

The polar bear was lucky being found and being a polar bear. Such an extensive operation would not have been started for a reindeer or for a single bird. Especially some sorts of birds face another thread from the plastic waste: They swallow small plastic pieces which will not be digested and can lead to the animal’s death. A recent survey among northern fulmars on Spitsbergen has shown that 90% of the birds have small plastic pieces in their stomachs.

Stranded plastic waste can turn into a trap for wild animals

n_f6m_Mushamna_07Aug13_060

(On the plastic pollution problem see also »The Ocean Cleanup: solution for the global plastic pollution problem« Spitsbergen-Svalbard.com news from June 2014)

Source: Norwegian Polar Institute

Hornsund

Good luck remained with us (do we have to pay for it?). A day like in paradise. Or, better: a day in paradise. One of Spitsbergen’s most impressive sceneries under a bright arctic sun. A long, lovely hike in the middle of Hornsund. Hornsundtind and Bautaen ahead, the mighty glaciers of Brepollen to the left, Gnålodden and the rest of it to the right. You could put the view on paper and sell it without doing anything to it.

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The big glaciers in Hornsund’s deepest corners were arctic show time. Big time! There was so much ice near the glacier, you could hardly see the water anymore. The glacier was in good mood and added even more to it. The icing on the cake was the polar bear, sitting on an iceberg sometimes like on a throne and sometimes hanging there like on a sofa, lying on his back, yawning, stretching his arms and legs. A bit too far away, otherwise he would for sure have been the cover of the next photo book or calendar, something like that.

Sørkapp

Hooray! What a day! South Cape, usually a term for many unpleasant hours in rough seas, covering many painful miles to get around the shallows, while too many on board are eating reverse.

And this time? We started the day consequently doing nothing. That’s what everybody had been asking for. Breakfast until noon, no presentations, no landings, no whales. Well, almost no whales.

And then, a calm and even pleasant passage around Spitsbergen’s southernmost point. You could have played billard on board!

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Of course we took the rare opportunity to make a landing later, in Stormbukta. I had not been there in 10 years! It was obviously about time again. How often do you get to Sørkapp Land? A forbidden coast. Hidden behind bad weather and many shallows. But almost inviting today. Spitsbergen’s largest spring, Trollosen, is in good shape, against rumours saying something different. And the polar foxes, almost tame. Earlier „never again“ memories from this often so unpleasant coast are now overlain by impressions from a first class landing in Stormbukta. Cheers!

Barentsøya

A dark landscape, and dark weather. It fits nicely together, in a way. A Sunday morning on Barentsøya. We paid a visit to the local gospel choir, which produced an arctic symphony from thousand beaks with a lot of gusto.

There is hardly a more lush tundra than here in the southeast, on Barentsøya and Edgeøya. You could probably keep sheep here. Someone is already doing it. The sheep have got antlers here.

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And if these sheep-reindeer have really got bad luck, then their antlers get entangled in plastic ropes and nets carelessly thrown away from fishing vessels. Such as the 3 or 4 reindeer whose antlers we found as a big knot wound up with green plastic rope. Parts of the skulls were still attached to the antlers. Shame on zivilisation! The idea that most likely a polar bear shortened the suffering from weeks down to days (only … only days! We are talking of really terrible suffering!) does not really make the thought more bearable.

Heleysund

Damn technology! Right now I start to enjoy writing for the blog, and of course the satellite phone based email stuff is breaking down. I could not send anything for days, and now it looks as if I can at least send text again. No pics, but at least. So I hope it’s worth starting to write again.

Heleysund is one of Spitsbergen’s most fascinating and beautiful places. I am fascinated by currents, that’s one way nature is displaying her great forces. And the tidal current in Heleysund can be amazing. Today, it was moderate, but enough for some nice eddies.

A long, nice hike over tundra and hills of basaltic bedrock. Some fog adding atmosphere to the views down to Heleysund between columns of rocks, standing out on their own from the cliff. A polar bear having a nap on a little island in the strait, not doing much else.

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

It was quite grey and foggy as we continued going south. Not bad at all. One has to sleep a little bit, every once in a while.

Nordaustland

The idea was to find walrusses. And we had found them, on a flat peninsula, in the middle of the night. Dropped the anchor in a safe distance only to find out next morning that almost all of them had left. Only two of them were still there. Probably 2 outsiders. Those guys nobody wants to have anything to do with.

Annoying that they just disappear! They could well have waited for just another couple of hours. Well, maybe it was the wind. It was admittedly bloody cold and unpleasant out there.

A few miles away, the next walrus peninsula. And there they were. Maybe also the guys from the first island? Might well be. I can imagine Wally saying to his fellow walrusses: „damn it, tourists! Not for me today. Let’s get out of here. Anyone who wants to join me?“ And then, the tourists show up again just a few hours later …

Well, they did obviously not mind. They were, as usual, completely busy with themselves, with scratching, fighting and making indecent sounds.

Later, frutti di mare from another time. More than 270 million years old. Silent witnesses from tropical seas of a very distant past. In unbelievable amounts. You could have filled trucks. And now, they are just lying here amongst all the the frost shattered rocks: corals, brachiopods, sponges … you name it. In the neighbourhood of a glacier, more than 8000 square kilometres large. You know which one I mean.

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

Of course, we paid a visit to its famous glacier front later. Again, bloody cold. And bloody impressive.

Hinlopen

Again, a day like a whole week. Actually far to much to digest it properly, that will come later. It started with 2 Fin whales feeding lazily around the ship at 6 o’clock in the morning, no more than 6 hours after last night’s bear sighting. A good night’s sleep is a good friend who is rarely visiting under the midnight sun.

Some exercise helps to forget that, and we got plenty of it in Lomfjord. Who would mind a few raindrops if you can have the view over Lomfjord and across Hinlopen Strait?

Discovering „new“ places is the salt in the soup for many travelers, certainly for me, and the opportunity came in Lomfjord. Just some time left before dinner to jump ashore on a little peninsula that nobody knows, where nobody ever goes ashore, as far as I know. The water near the shore was so deep that Captain Joachim parked the Antigua in the gravel to keep the ship stable for a while, we could have jumped down onto the beach from the bow.

The ruin of a trapper’s hut, exactly 90 years old now. Built of driftwood and stones, it must have been nice in its early days, small, though. Now, the wind is blowing through empty window frames.

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

Several hundred thousands of Brünich’s Guillemots for dessert, served on amazing vertical basalt cliffs, a good smell of guano and a lot of fresh salty air. An amazing place!

Ice – Murchisonfjord

After the colourful tundra in northwestern Spitsbergen, the drift ice in the northeast is a completely different world. Hard and tough, you feel clearly, that we are not made for this world, we wouldn’t last too long here without warm clothes and some other useful things. A good ship and a hot cup of tea certainly make life better here. Cold and windy, waves are breaking over the blue edges of ice floes. The wind is pushing the ice together to form a compact, endless field of pack ice with a sharply defined edge.

For the wildlife, it is the place to be. Lively Harp seals are swimming near the ice edge. Two walrusses are resting on an ice floe. A mighty bull, the ends of his huge tusks are almost touching each other, and his younger friend.

We leave this fascinating, but quite hostile world of the ice. A few hours later, we have entered yet another, again completely different, fascinating world: the polar desert of Nordaustland. Barren polar land in the deepest corners of Murchisonfjord. Colourful stones, colours from the days before there was life on land.

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

And then, a female polar bear on a little island, holding a siesta on a snow field. Remains of a seal not far away on the shore. She is resting in the most beautiful light of the midnight sun, watching us occasionally with a slightly tired view, yawning, eating some snow. Making 28 polar travellers and some guides and crew very happy.

Woodfjord

Already the first sunshine day. We are getting spoiled. High summer in the arctic! I may have mentioned it before, but: there is nothing more beautiful than such a day up here, just under 80 degrees. We have been out for many hours today and hiked quite some kilometres over barren tundra in northern Woodfjord. And some hundred metres up. A „new“ mountain, it worked well and the reward came in shape of grand views over Mushamna and Woodfjord.

Now I know why I always leave the GPS on so it can save a track. This way, I am able to find my sunglasses again quite some time after I have left them somewhere on the tundra. Very useful.

Coming to the „Ritter hut“ at Gråhuken is almost like getting back home. It just gives me this feeling. Not only because I have been there quite a few times. Hilmar Nøis hit the nail on the head when he named the hut „Kapp Hvile“ in 1928: Cape of Rest, Cape of inner peace. Something like that. I can’t really translate it. A place where you find peace of mind, that soothes you, that makes you feel at home.

Especially after spending hours on the tundra to get there.

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Now we are heading northeast, towards Verlegenhuken and the drift ice. Still bright sunshine and calm waters. I am very curious about the ice, where it will stop us, what we will find there. But for the moment, to be honest, I’d be quite happy about some hours without whales …

Liefdefjord

There are these simply unbelievable days, when things just happen. Well, we can’t control nature anyway. This morning, I was quite curious what the day would bring, as it was really pretty windy.

And, what happened? A lovely hike up a moraine ridge and over some rocky hills in Liefdefjord, with the greatest view you can imagine. From Monacobreen to Reinsdyrflya. Just long enough, the hike, to make me feel I had been out for a good walk.

Then, an afternoon at Monacobreen. Blue ice under a warm sun. A piece of ice falling down and into the water with a thunder every once in a while. A wall of ice, 5 kilometres long.

On the way out of the fjord, between some small islands, suddenly white backs appearing on the water surface. Belugas! We couldn’t do much between the islands, but further north, Captain Joachim pulled his great Beluga trick off again. Get ahead a bit, as close to the shore as possible, anchor down, engine, generator and echolot off, no noise and no talking on deck. And then, the came. More than 50 of them, and they took hardly any notice of our silent presence. We could hear every noise, their breathing, everything. The creamy-white bodies completely visible in the water. The calves dark grey.

A stunning experience. Touching, really.

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

Finally, a little polar bear family on one of these small islands in Liefdefjord. They were the icing on the cake. A big, sweet cake.

I wish I could send more and better pics through this satellite thing.

Raudfjord

What a day, what a life! Bright sunshine and a clear blue sky in Raudfjord. A day like a postcard. A nice hike, not too much, just enough to make you feel that you have been out for a couple of hours. And this view over Raudfjord from 325 m height. You don’t need more for a stunning panorama!

The sailing was the only bit that didn’t really work out. So far, at least. As soon as the canvas was up, the wind tends to die or even turns against you. Typical Spitsbergen!

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

P.S. who said it didn’t really work out with the sailing? We went up to 9 knots, most sails up … 🙂

The northwest

18th & 19th July, 2014 – Two days from Kongsfjord to Raudfjord, from the west coast to the north coast. Two days west coast weather (west coast weather …) with a lot of wind and rain. But that got us under sail from Kongsfjord to Magdalenefjord, with 7-8 knots. Good sailing! There, it was just as cold and wet yesterday as today in Virgohamna. So much polar history everywhere around us. From the whalers to the trappers. They certainly froze more than we do today. And nobody prepared some warm food for them before they came back to their ice-cold little cabins. A tough life.

Here and now, it is still very comfortable. Also from a Jan Mayen perspective. No sand, and life on Antigua is very good.

Now, we are anchored in Hamiltonbukta in Raudfjord and enjoying some evening sun, something we have been missing for some days now. Hope for a longer hike again tomorrow, but we’ll see how windy it still is then.

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Oh yes, it was very nice to sign a book for the Sysselmannen field police in Sallyhamna. It just felt well. And I do think my Spitsbergen book belongs into every hut in Spitsbergen, and anywhere else, for that sake!

Kongsfjord

The night had been a bit rougher than expected, but a piece of cake after my training between Iceland and Jan Mayen! Possible, however, that some on board may not agree with me on this 😉 but this was all quickly forgotten after some good hiking over the hills of Blomstrandhalvøya, with grand views over the glaciers in Kongsfjord. Polar fox, Long-tailed skua and their friends, they were all at home.

Ny Ålesund has been a construction site more than anything else for years and does currently not have the charme it used to have in the past. A shorter stop only. But nice to see my books back in the shop, after years where the management thought books are no good. (Is this so? Are shot glasses and key hangers preferred above good books?)

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The evening entertainment was great: the Ny Ålesund water ski amateur club in full action. With a bit of trial and error on the way to success 🙂

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