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Monthly Archives: August 2014 − News & Stories

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Arctic season 2014: photos, blog

The arctic season 2014 ist not over yet, but a good number of photo galleries are already online, and so is my arctic blog, of course. The recent trips in Spitsbergen with SV Antigua and SY Arctica II have both been amazing. Both yielded a wealth of impressions and memories, some of them captured with the camera, and you are welcome to join these trips now online.

More stories from the icy road in my arctic blog (click here).

Within a few weeks, I will add slideshows of the individual trips on the respective sites, and there is still one more trip to come in September.

Enjoy some virtual travelling in the Arctic!

Arctica II in August with a visitor.

Arctica II with polar bear

Hiorthfjellet

My original plan was to be lazy. Spending the day with the newspaper, friends, and hanging out in Fruene – the best Café in town. And pretty much the only one. No matter how beautiful and exciting it is to sail around Longyearbyen, it is also quite energy-demanding. Especially on such a small boat, without a colleague who could occasionally take over. Well, no complains, but a day to relax sounded like a great thing.

But the time of the midnight sun ends in such a grand way that doing nothing was simply not an option. To start with, the campsite panorama project was number one on the to-do-list. Directly followed by Hiorthfjellet. The problem with this mountain is that you need a boat to get there in summer, something that is not always at hand, but available today. Another good reason to do that today. Getting up to the plateau on top, viewing across Adventfjord to Longyearbyen. The other way around is an everyday thing. 900 metres up over loose scree, yeeha! Two steps up, one down. But the view is worth every single step. You have Adventfjord to your feet, from Adventdalen in the east, Longyearbyen with the well-known mountains and glaciers around it, Platåberg and Hotellneset with the airport and campsite and finally the western half of Isfjord.

And a good part of Nordenskiöld Land is stretching far, far into most directions. Countless brown plateau-shaped mountains, ridges and peaks, small glaciers and valleys. This is the part of Spitsbergen that I got to know first, at times when Edgeøya was a far dream, as easy to get to as the moon.

Visiting the old coal mine of Hiorthhamn on the way back added a completely different, but comparably interesting aspect to the excursion. The mine is more than 600 metres high on a rather steep slope. Not far from it, there was Ørneredet, the eagle nest, where 40-50 workers had accommodation, and they had to stay there during the polar night, as the steep slope down was deemed too dangerous in the dark time. Darkness inside the mountain, darkness outside.

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

Darkness is looming just around the corner here these days, too. Today will be the first sunset this summer. A day of four months is coming to an end.

Adventfjord

Friday, 22nd August (still) – Highlights until the last minute. After it had been blowing quite a bit off the west coast, it was nice to be back in Isfjord where the water was flat calm and the sun was shining again. We met a whale briefly in Adventfjord, just off the camping site. And on the shore under Hiorthfjellet, just opposite Longyearbyen, there was even another polar bear walking around, would you believe it? That doesn’t happen every day. Heinrich wasn’t too happy as he has got a hut in that area, one of the windows was damaged so the bear may have been inside and in that case, it might need more than just a little bit of cleaning to make it a cosy place again.

We finish the day and the trip with a nice last evening and a good meal on board. More than 1100 nauticla miles around Spitsbergen are behind us now, with about 26 landings in many possible and some impossible places. Not to mention all the landscapes and the wildlife we have seen from the boat. The photos will tell the story, soon there will be a gallery online together with the trip report.

e-a9m_Adventfjord_21Aug14_24

There is more to Spitsbergen than „just“ polar bears and wild landscapes, there are also good people living here. Seeing some of them will be amongst my next tasks.

Greenpeace-ship ‘Esperanza’ violated new pilotage regulations on Spitsbergen

The Greenpeace-ship ‘Esperanza’ which is currently sailing in the waters around Spitsbergen has repeatedly violated the new pilotage regulations, being step-by-step established since July 2012.

The ‘Esperanza’ is present around Spitsbergen this summer to call attention to the impact of climate change to the arctic and to protest against the expansion of oil exploration to the Barents Sea. As a prominent supporter for this campaign amongst others the British actress Emma Thompson was aboard.

In the end of July it was noticed that the ship violated the new pilotage regulations on Spitsbergen for several times. For a round-trip which was accompanied by the actress Emma Thompson therefore a pilot was taken aboard. In the Middle of August the captain of the ‘Esperanza’ then again acted against the regulations as he led the ship towards Longyearbyen without a pilot. As before, the incident was reported to the Sysselmannen and this time the captain had to pay a fine of 50.000 Kroner.

The Sysselmannen and the Norwegian Kystverk regret that it was just Greenpeace who violated a regulation which actually is supported by the organization. In the same spirit Greenpeace expressed their regret. Greenpeace appreciates the establishment of pilotage regulations on Spitsbergen and, environmental protection in mind, generally supports regulations that contribute to safety in the maritime traffic. In the incidents in the end of July Greenpeace was not aware of the fact that their ship was already affected by the new regulations, especially as they had an own ice-navigator aboard supporting the captain. In the recent incident in August the captain had, as he said, waited 1.5 hours for the pilot who was delayed. After that he decided to sail towards Longyearbyen without a pilot.

Compulsory pilotage gets step-by-step established on Spitsbergen since the 1st of July 2012 (see also Spitsbergen-Svalbard.com news from July 2012). Currently, for the season 2014, it affects vessels with a length of 70 meters or more and passenger vessels with a length of 24 meters or more, except expedition cruise vessels. In the season 2015 there will no longer be such exceptions and the regulations will be the same as on the Norwegian mainland.

The ‘Esperanza’,
currently sailing in the waters around Spitsbergen.
 
Copyright:
Glen via Flickr,
CC BY 2.0

Esperanza

Source: Svalbardposten, Kystverket

Guide breaks leg on Sarkofagen

Not just in winter the glaciers and mountains surrounding Longyearbyen (some known for their crevasses) pose danger. Also in summer it is very important to pay close attention; for example, to the partly steep and rocky subsurface tunneled by melt water.

Just recently when descenting (from) the Sarkofagen (which is situated at the westside of the Larsbreen/Lars-Glacier), a 21 year old norwegian guide broke her leg. Because there was no cellphone service available at the site of the accident, members of the group had to hike back up the mountain to call for help by informing the Sysselman. The hurt tour guide and her entire group of tourist from various nations were then flown out to Longyearbyen, where she got a cast at the local hospital and was later transported to Tromsø.

Sakrofagen (on the left hand side) view from Lars-Glacier

Larsbreen-mit-Sakrofagen

Source: Svalbardposten

Again explosives have been found

As last year explosives of he Word War II have been found arround Longyearbyen this time on the mountain Platåberget. Due to the finding traffic in the area is banned. The grenade could been deactivated.

Platåfjellet

Platafjellet

Source: Sysselmann

Eidembukta

Last night we sailed down Forlandsund, heading for Prins Karls Forland, but the wind was so strong that the anchor didn’t really hold, so we decided to go for Eidembukta instead, hoping for better shelter there. Which worked well. After all these miles and maneouvres, I went to sleep after 5 am. It may have to do with that if I am a bit tired now. Almost a bit sad, or melancholic. West Coast Blues. The trip is coming to an end, there is no way around it. Everybody has grown into a tight group now, knowing each other, the routines are all working well, we could so easily continue for another week or two. But zivilisation is not far anymore. Dates, flights, business, family … are all demanding their rights.

But we are not there yet. First, we spend a precious couple of hours on the west coast tundra again. After all the ice and cold of the far north, the rocky landscapes of the northwest and the mighty glaciers of Krossfjord, you might almost feel at home here. This landscape is not so harsh, not so inhospitable, almost inviting. Well, in comparison.

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

I have been in Eidembukta just a few weeks ago, in early June. It feels like ages ago! Back then, we had snow down to sea level. Almost the whole, wide-open coastal tundra plain was white, where autumn colours are stretching now between the sea and the mountains and glaciers. No trace of snow anymore today. Back then, almost every snow-free tundra patch was occupied by geese, now there is just a group of female common eiders paddling in the bay, the stress of the breeding season is already history for them. The world has changed incredibly quickly, within less than 7 weeks! The arctic summer is coming and going so quickly.

Krossfjord

I don’t mind repeating this again: A day taken directly from an arctic fairy tale. The sun remained with us, and with this kind of weather, Krossfjord is unbeatably beautiful. Bluegreen water, mighty glaciers, dark, wild mountains, green slopes. I know, I have already written similar sentences similar elsewhere. I can’t help it, I am simply not a great writer, I have never pretended anything different. But nature can everything up here, and it’s that what counts.

The glacier hike today has best chances to be very high on the list of the greatest hikes this summer. The photos will tell it all, I hope, as soon as they are online in a couple of days from now.

To add icing on the cake, we were welcomed with a BBQ on the beach. How good can life be!

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

We could happily have called it a great day, but there is always something exciting going on here as long as you can keep your eyes open. Another fjord another glacier, another world. Perfect mirror images on the water. A polar bear on the shore, with the sun from behind, surrounded by pieces of glacier ice shining like diamonds. An arctic wonderland.

Danskøya & The Seven Icebergs

A day taken directly from an arctic fairy tale. Well, it was about time to get to see the sun again, and we got a lot of it today. Who would then mind the endless rocks over which we stumbled while hiking across Danskøya, when you can enjoy this amazing view over the mountains and glaciers of northwestern Spitsbergen at the same time? The drama stories from past times from Danskøya can’t diminish our pleasure, they just add some flavour.

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

Almost hard to grasp on such a day that the whalers had such a respect for that wild coast which the called „The Seven Icebergs“, referring to seven large glaciers, of course. The coast is still just as wild, but the weather is simply lovely today and it seems to be a pure pleasure place, an arctic Riviera. Amazing colours, dark green slopes near bird cliffs between shining white glaciers with blue crevasses, and all this under a blue sky. Pure pleasure, without any hardships. Extremely enjoyable.

Raudfjord

Time for some exercise, which we got while hiking a good 10 kilometres along lagoons and a big lake in a silent valley. Later, the world disappeared largely behind a grey curtain, which wasn’t too bad, some rest was needed by most on board. Having been on watch last night may have played a role here.

Nevertheless, sitting outside on deck around the BBQ, spotting a polar bear family in the fog … again, one of these days!

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

The high north

Actually I thought I shouldn’t write anything. The pictures tell the story, don’t they?

But I can’t really keep my fingers off it. This lovely little bay at North Cape (not the one you are thinking of) was completely unknown and uncharted. It was a masterpiece of navigation by Heinrich to take the Arctica II in there, finding a safe anchorage for the night. And it was even more of a masterpiece to get her (and us) out of there again next morning, after the ice had settled down in the entrance.

Who would have thought 2 weeks ago that we would make it to Sjuøyane, the furthest north up here in the far north? The arctic, here at least, is really arctic this year, with a lot of ice. Out of reach. This is how it should be. But our calculation, to start the trip going south, getting later to the north to give the ice more time to loosen up a bit, was quite right. Perfect timing! It was just the right day for a dash up to Sjuøyane, which presented themselves really the arctic way, with snow and ice-cold wind. The last winter hasn’t really left, the next one is already well on its way. A place forgotten by the summer.

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

A free ice cream who can tell me where Nordlysøyane are without a look at the map (the ice cream is to be picked up on Nordlysøyane, just in case). I can tell you that there is a rather curious sub-adult polar bear there.

Northwestern Nordaustland

Amazing what kind of ideas you can have while walking around between the old buildings in Kinnvika in dense fog: I have to have automats with my books at popular landing sites in Spitsbergen! If they don’t want to sell them on the ships here – some of the companies even pretend their guests don’t read. What do they think of their clients?! – then I have to meet them somewhere else. So I need automated selling points with automatic refill. I could see myself being content with one each at Gravneset in Magdalenefjord and in the harbours of Longyearbyen and Ny Ålesund.

That’s the kind of thoughts that can cross your mind when you are walking around in fog. Crazy, of course, but funny.

We couldn’t see much of the low shorelines around Lady Franklinsund either. A bit of a shame, as you don’t get there too often. It is very shallow and completely uncharted. Heinrich is one of the few skippers who are taking their small boats through there.

All this doesn’t bother you if you are a walrus. Then, almost nothing will bother you. This became pretty clear with this mighty fellow on an ice floe in Lady Franklinfjord.

The names are interesting: Brennevinsfjord, translates as booze bay or something similar. I guess that centuries ago some whalers had a wild party there, but nobody knows for sure. Barren rocks, a wild, rough country. Not the friendly tundra of the west coast, where it is lovely to hike for hours, where you have the feeling to be in a living country. Here, you are a guest for a short while, no more. If you stay too long, like Schröder-Stranz in 1912, the land may take you. Who knows. But anyway, we dare to go ashore in Booze bay for a few hours.

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

You usually don’t see tabular icebergs in the Arctic. They just don’t do them here. Only in Antarctica, there they are very common. Nevertheless, we saw one today, not the biggest one, but nice. Probably from the Russian Arctic, there are a few ice shelves there. As a consequence: Russia is Spitsbergen’s Antarctica.

Southwestern Nordaustland

(Thursday and Friday, 14th and 15th August 2014) – How often do we see glaciers from the boat or from the tundra? Every day. How often do we view down from glaciers to fjord and coast? Exactly.

This trip was meant to be an opportunity to do things that you don’t normally do on ship-based trips here. Even more so than otherwise on the trips that I do. One of the things that you would not normally get to do on a Spitsbergen cruise is a glacier hike. There is this nice little glacier in Augustabukta, they called it Mariebreen in 1868. It is actually part of the ice cap Vegafonna, which again is connected to Austfonna, more than 8400 square kilometres large and Europe’s largest ice cap. Dive into this weird icy world of glaciers for a few hours. Meandering meltwater rivers with blue water, shining white ice under a heavy grey sky that is merging seemlessly into the ice cap on the horizon. A step out of the world of leaving things. There is nothing alive here. Ice and water, some stones, that’s it.

Crossing something has always something fascinating about it. It does not have to be an inland ice of continental scale. A peninsula can be enough. You are dropped off and you see your boat sailing away. That makes you feel a bit like Nansen, who was dropped off at the East Greenland coast in 1888. His choice was simple: reach the west coast of die. The rest is history.

Of course, it isn’t quite like that in the 21st century anymore. In case of any unexpected real difficulties, you grab the radio or the sat phone and ask the boat to return. But still, it is an exciting thing.

21 kilometres of tundra and polar desert, ridges of basalt rocks and fossils older than the hills, frost patterned ground and meltwater rivers. A day long enough to really get lost in this amazing country, mentally, I mean. Listening to the water running in rivers and to the wind (there was more than enough of the latter, to be honest. It was freezing old at times.

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

At the end of the hike, on the shore of Palanderbukta, there was an old trapper hut, where the wind was blowing through holes that were doors and windows many years ago. Weird story. The two trappers who built the hut probably managed to blow themselves up in January 1934. One of them was hit while he was in for serious business in the outhouse. Not a nice place to die. He was found there months later, still sitting, frozen solid. Weird story. They never found out in details what had really happened.

But for us, the day had a very happy end when we came back to the boat and salmon was almost ready 🙂

Barentsøya

The southeastern islands are really polar bear country. Bears everywhere, it can be difficult to find a place where you can go for a walk. In Freemansund, everything is occupied by these creamy-white polar sheep. And of course, you might ask, why. The question „what are they doing here? There isn’t anything they can eat?“ is one that I hear about 100 times every day. One easy, but nevertheless true, answer is because it is their home, after all. They are living here. They want to be here. They could go somewhere else, if they wanted to, including the pack ice in the north. They would be there within a few days, but they stay here.

But of course it remains a valid question what they find to eat. Some bears here are quite fat, the blubber has to come from somewhere.

I’d quite like to find out, so I have developed a habit that might help me to learn more about it: I have started to take pictures of polar bear shit. Every time I find some droppings on the tundra, I grab the camera and press the button. Unlikely that this collection turns into a photo book some day. You may find it strange that I walk around here photographing shit. As you wish, I don’t care. I find it interesting. You just have to take a close look. This morning, I found smashed reindeer bones in one pile of shit. Teeth in another, also reindeer. Many times, I see feathers, and vegetation remains are very common. Here you are, that’s an answer getting shape, isn’t it? So I am more than happy to keep going with this shit photography business, whenever the opportunity arises.

Change of subject (anyone still with me?). Today has been the coldest day of the summer up here so far, just 2 or 3 degrees. Quite cold, when you include the fresh easterly breeze. Where is the summer? The flowers loose their colours, the leaves of the polar willow change their colours on large areas now.

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

The tundra over which we are walking is a real whale cemetary. Several thousands of years ago, when this used to be the coast, dozens of whale carcasses must have drifted ashore here.

Ryke Yseøyane

Some places have got fascinating names, they keep just sounding in my mind, vibrating, generating a drawing power almost like a magnet. Maybe it helps to spend evenings with maps instead of books sometimes, to get a perspective on the remoteness of some of these places. Or to hike around in Spitsbergen. It takes four days on foot from Longyearbyen to the east coast. So that is the end of the world. From this end of the world, you can see Edgeøya on the horizon. Sitting there, on a moraine hill on the east coast, with tired legs, looking across Storfjord to Edgeøya, makes you dream of getting there one day. You know it will probably never be in reach, but who knows. Then, it means something different to you, it is something very special to get there one day, compared to just being there suddenly, another place on a cruise where you are suddenly to go and see some animals, without ever having heard the name of the place before, without remembering it beyond the evening of the same day. Anyway … I am drifting away. So, imagine the east coast is the end of your world at some stage, and from there, you can see Edgeøya. And you know, there are still some small, very lonely islands behind it. Ryke Yseøyane, the Ryke Yse Islands.

In short words, they are far away from everything.

Dark, bleak basalt islands, rough and wild. And as mentioned, this name: Ryke Yse! Nobody could think of a name like that. Ryke Yse was probably a Dutch whaling captain, 17th century. Thank God his name was not, say, Fred Clever. I don’t think I would be interested in going to the Fred Clever Islands. But so … wild place. Only two dared to winter there. Only one survived. A rough landscape. Edgy dolerite rock, falling apart into sharp blocks, covered with lichens, steep cliffs, a home for Black guillemots.

And we even made it on 2 out of these 3 little islands!

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

Time to get on, then. Many kilometres of glacier front on our port side during the later afternoon. A wall of marble, all shades of blue and grey you can think of, sea, ice, sky. Hard to believe this is the same island that has such a colourful, friendly tundra on the other side. But well, it is beyond the end of the world. What do you expect.

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