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Home → August, 2014

Monthly Archives: August 2014 − News & Stories


Edgeøya

(Sunday and Mon­day, 10th and 11th August 2014) – Time is fly­ing. It feels as if I have not writ­ten anything in a week, but has been 2 days only. But the­se were qui­te busy.

Going ashore on »unknown« islands is one of the grea­test plea­su­res of a polar tra­vel­ler. Ama­zing how much you will almost always find, espe­cial­ly on tho­se small islands around sou­thern Edgeøya. Hun­ters have been the­re for cen­tu­ries, they have left their traces and some­ti­mes their own remains in the now autumn-colou­red tun­dra.

Sou­thern Edgeøya was the main area of the polar bear hun­ters deca­des ago. The backy­ard of the polar bear king’s palace is now occu­p­ied by wal­rus­ses. Their curiou­si­ty equals ours. Man and beast – who is more exci­ted about the other one?

A wal­rus was play­ing a minor, but important rule then on Halvmå­neøya. Some hap­py polar bears were the focus of the atten­ti­on of some hap­py humans. No zoo could arran­ge a more impres­si­ve fee­ding event. And this is not a zoo, this is the real thing. Without luck, you won’t see anything. With luck, ever­ything is pos­si­ble.

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

A visit to the legen­da­ry trap­per sta­ti­on Bjør­ne­borg com­ple­tes an exci­ting visit to the realm of polar bears, wal­rus­ses and their human stal­kers in the old adven­tur­ous days. Good sto­ries. Good they came to an abso­lu­te end in 1973.

Kval­vå­gen

Lea­ving our ancho­ra­ge under sails and sun, pas­sing lar­ge ice­bergs, that meant star­ting the day in a lovely way.

I wasn’t qui­te sure if we were able to keep it like that; this gent­le swell on the rocky, expo­sed east coast might be trou­ble. But going the­re and having a look is always the best thing to do. It tur­ned out to be sur­pri­sin­gly easy.

An excur­si­on to Juras­sic Park, or rather Cret­ace­ous Park. I have heard that the­re is even a report about the famous dino­saur tracks in the latest edi­ti­on of Sval­bard­pos­ten, from last week. Good timing. Now we want to see the real thing. Big foot­prints of big, evil, meat-eating dino­saurs, who left the marks of their big, sharp claws in the mud­dy sand more than 100 mil­li­on years ago (some­ti­mes, exc­tinc­tion of spe­ci­es isn’t such a bad thing at all …). The­re are qui­te a few of the­se tracks here, but most of them qui­te wea­the­red. But one or two are still well visi­ble. It took us some time, but we found them in the end.

But this rocky coast, the lovely flowers and the view over the wild east coast would be worth a day alo­ne! You have to take such an oppor­tu­ni­ty. How often do you get to a place like this, on such a sun­ny day? Even on a calm day like today, the surf on the shal­lows is qui­te impres­si­ve.

And the per­spec­ti­ve from 250 metres doesn’t lea­ve anything to be desi­red. Also the spor­ti­ve aspect was final­ly satis­fied. Viewing over almost the who­le of Storfjord, to Edgeøya and the east coast far to the south, and Nor­we­gi­an cho­co­la­te. What a place, what a life!

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

Later, time to relax while we cross Storfjord over to Edgeøya. The sies­ta is inter­rup­ted by some Fin­wha­les and dol­phins.

Isbuk­ta

Some­ti­mes, 200 metres are more than enough to have the world below you. And if this world is Sør­kapp Land with its wide gla­ciers and some of Spitsbergen’s finest moun­tains, under a blue sky and a bright sun, then it is one of life’s bet­ter moments.

Stel­lingfjel­let has one of the archipelago’s lar­gest guil­lemot colo­nies, high up on the cliffs. Ten thousands of them. It would rival famous Alkef­jel­let in Hin­lo­pen Strait, but the first floor is unin­ha­bi­ted and the visitor’s lounge a bit more distant.

High surf on the beach. A polar bear is roa­ming around, loo­king for birds that have fal­len down from the colo­ny. Our first bear.

The­re is one gla­cier after the other on the east coast, sepa­ra­ted by steep, dark cliffs. Inhos­pi­ta­ble and wild.

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

We find a silent ancho­ra­ge in a bay that does not even exist. Vir­gin land, which appeared just very recent­ly under the retrea­ting gla­ciers. We don’t miss the chan­ge to explo­re it a bit just befo­re mid­ni­ght, fin­ding ammo­ni­tes and polar bear tracks with sur­pri­sin­gly lar­ge ice­bergs in beau­ti­ful evening light in the back­ground.

Horn­sund, Süd­kap

Last night, we sai­led the west coast down to Hyt­tevi­ka, just north of Horn­sund. A calm ancho­ra­ge, what else would you want?

Trap­per legends like Wan­ny Wold­stad and Odd Ivar Ruud all had their good rea­sons to make Hyt­tevi­ka their home for their arc­tic hun­ter lives. On a nice day like today, it is an arc­tic para­di­se. A cosy hut, hid­den behind quar­zi­te rocks. Rein­de­er on mos­sy tun­dra, screa­ming Litt­le auks high up on the slo­pes.

Horn­sund, howe­ver, was not in good shape today. Win­dy and most­ly grey and rai­ny. Not a place to be today. So we left quick­ly from the­re, hoping for more luck on the outer coast. Still, win­dy. But our fearless skip­per Hein­rich took Arc­ti­ca II through Mesund, bet­ween the islands off the sou­thern tip of Spits­ber­gen, saving us from many uncom­for­ta­ble miles.

e-a6q_Hyttevika_07Aug14_001

A calm ancho­ra­ge was all we wan­ted at the end of the day, and we found it in Isbuk­ta. Mid­ni­ght rein­de­er stew roun­ded the day nice­ly off.

Bellsund

I’m afraid that I will pro­bab­ly wri­te more again than anyo­ne will want to read. Well, that’s life. Not my pro­blem, any­way, I am only wri­ting it, I don’t have to read it.

A lovely gla­cier in sunshi­ne as „ear­ly“ morning exer­cise.

Then a trip back into the past. A tour that I alrea­dy wan­ted to do in 2011, but some­thing was in the way back then, a polar bear on the beach, or bad wea­ther, or both, I don’t remem­ber. Back then, the­re were peop­le with me who are now again on board. Ano­t­her good rea­son to get back to this idea to hike from Van Mijen­fjord to Van Keu­len­fjord. 12 kilo­me­tres in some hid­den val­leys of Nathorst Land.

For me, a trip back into my own past, as we went through the­se val­leys ages ago on a ski trip. Back then, we mistrea­ted every one of the nume­rous small water­falls in the­se val­leys with ice clim­bing equip­ment, roping our­sel­ves and all our stuff up rather than wal­king around the water­falls on the even slo­pes. That would have been boring. So the who­le thing took 3 days for a few kilo­me­ters. Today, we hope to be a bit fas­ter.

And a trip back into the very distant past of Earth histo­ry. Moon­like land­s­cape of rocks from the midd­le ages of our pla­net. Weird impres­si­ons. Colours most ship-based tra­velers wouldn’t know from Spits­ber­gen. And then the­se beau­ti­ful water­falls car­ved into even older rocks. Now, in August, we wouldn’t get very far the­re with ice screws.

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

If I finish now, may­be some of you have read the way through it. So. End of sto­ry for the moment. Thank you for rea­ding this far.

Alk­hor­net, Rei­ni­usøya­ne

It is nice when Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties do some­thing use­ful, just for the chan­ge, such as char­ting the fjords here. Until recent­ly we thought that you can walk rather than sail in the inner­most part of Trygg­ham­na. Now it has sud­den­ly tur­ned into a lovely ancho­ra­ge for a calm night with a bril­li­ant gla­cier view, which could even get us out for a short mid­ni­ght walk at a time when most of us 12 here on board were actual­ly alrea­dy slee­ping.

Alk­hor­net is a clas­sic. Spits­ber­gen in a nutsha­le, you could sell it like this. May­be some­thing for tou­rists from the far east, who never have enough time. Direct flight to Lon­gye­ar­by­en, speed boat to Trygg­ham­na, 2 hours walk at Alk­hor­net. And you have seen it all. Real­ly! Well, almost. That’s why we keep going now for ano­t­her 16 days. I am sure we will find some­thing we haven’t seen this morning.
But the tun­dra at Alk­hor­net is a green mea­dow. The bird cliff, high up, brings fer­ti­li­zer and back­ground music. Down on the tun­dra, the rein­de­er are doing what they are good at: eating. Qui­te suc­cess­ful­ly so, as the dia­me­ter of the big ones makes unmistaka­b­ly clear. Spitsbergen’s nicest and stron­gest rein­de­er, and the cutest cal­ves, trea­ting their mothers’ bel­lies with a lot of gus­to to squee­ze every drop of the rich milk out that the cows have pro­du­ced from the tun­dra.

Ano­t­her Nøis hut at Alk­hor­net, built in 1920, now just a ruin. It was used during 5 win­ters by Ewald Schmutz­ler from Thu­rin­gia bet­ween 1923 and 1941. Old sto­ries.

Whe­re has the wind gone? But rather a calm after­noon with some engi­ne noi­se than thro­wing up under sails.

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

A late evening walk on some tiny islands in nort­hern Bellsund rounds the day nice­ly off. Wild coas­tal rocks, bea­ten by waves most of the time, rare­ly seen from clo­se distance, but nice and calm tonight.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en, Isfjord

Final pre­pa­ra­ti­ons. Packing again, try­ing not to for­get anything. From sun­creme (always being opti­mistic!) to the ever-gro­wing pile of tech­ni­cal gear to a good selec­tion of warm and wea­ther­pro­of clot­hing. Some last shop­ping, emai­ling and so on.

Arc­ti­ca II, a 60 feet yacht, is rea­dy to sail. A lot of space insi­de for a yacht, ever­ything will fall into place somehow. Even if not ever­y­bo­dy belie­ves it, initi­al­ly at least.

„Advan­ced Spits­ber­gen“ is star­ting. Here we go ☺ !

We take our time to stow ever­ything away, and Hein­rich, skip­per and boat owner, is taking care of some remai­ning small things. We get an updated ice chart and piz­za for tonight. The ice is still den­se around the north coast of Nord­aus­t­land. Unusu­al, com­pa­red to the last few years, but won­der­ful. „Inac­ces­si­ble“ sounds good, but it means that you can actual­ly not alway get ever­y­whe­re. That’s what it means. Some­ti­mes peop­le love to go to inac­ces­si­ble pla­ces and then they are sur­pri­sed that it is not always pos­si­ble. Sur­pri­se, sur­pri­se.

May­be the ice will loo­sen up a litt­le bit over the days to come. To give it some time to do so, we deci­de to start sou­thwards, get­ting to the far north a litt­le bit later. After din­ner, we are star­ting, sai­ling to Trygg­ham­na to anchor the­re for the night, may­be a litt­le hike tomor­row, befo­re we set cour­se for Bellsund.

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

On the icy road again ☺

Again polar bear caught in fishing net

In July, a polar bear was seen on the north coast of Spits­ber­gen with a plastic fishing net around its neck. The bear was found again later, it could then be anesthe­ti­zed and freed from the poten­ti­al­ly dead­ly debris.

Not much later, ano­t­her polar bear, again a fema­le, was found ent­an­gled in a fishing net. In this case, the bar had a small trans­mit­ter in its ear, pla­ced the­re by sci­en­tists to track migra­ti­on move­ments. The net was ent­an­gled around the trans­mit­ter.

The bear was found in Sorgfjord by vol­un­te­ers of the governor’s beach cleanup trip. Experts of the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te (NPI) were flown in by heli­co­p­ter to tran­qui­li­ze the bear, but just befo­re the NPI bio­lo­gist fired, the trans­mit­ter fell off tog­e­ther with the net and the polar bear was free of the its bur­den. The­re were no signs of inju­ry, and the bear seems to be fine.

Nor­we­gi­an fishe­ry is now facing cri­ti­cism for the amount of dan­ge­rous fishing nets and other debris found in the north Atlan­tic and shore­li­nes the­re. Fishing ves­sels are obli­ged to report loss of fishing gear at sea, and the fishe­ry aut­ho­ri­ty (Fis­ke­ri­di­rek­to­rat) has, sin­ce 1980, the respon­si­bi­li­ty to retrie­ve lost nets and other dan­ge­rous debris if pos­si­ble. Sin­ce 1980, more than 17,000 nets have been retrie­ved. The num­ber of fishing nets found on beaches in Spits­ber­gen and else­whe­re indi­ca­tes, howe­ver, that the num­bers of nets actu­al lost must be hig­her. Sin­ce 2008, dama­ged nets can be dischar­ged in Nor­we­gi­an ports free of char­ge.

This fema­le polar bear had got a trans­mit­ter in her ear by sci­en­tists, which got ent­an­gled in a hea­vy fishing net. © Chris­ti­an Nico­lai Bjør­ke.

polar bear with fishing net

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

SAR mis­si­on becau­se of pro­blems with satel­li­te com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on

Many pro­vi­ders of satel­li­te-based com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on ser­vices had tech­ni­cal pro­blems in late July for several days. This led, amongst others, to delays of my arc­tic blog on this web­site.

Other con­se­quen­ces were more serious. World­wi­de, ships were not able to down­load updated wea­ther infor­ma­ti­on. In Spits­ber­gen, a French sai­ling yacht was mis­sing for several days; the fami­lies of the crew had not recei­ved messages as agreed for 6 days. The Sys­sel­man­nen sent a pla­ne out to search for the yacht, which was found near Smee­ren­burg with ever­y­bo­dy on board in good con­di­ti­on.

The tech­ni­cal pro­blems were deep in the com­plex sys­tem, far out of reach of and unfo­re­see­ab­le for the indi­vi­du­al user. By now, the pro­blems seem to be sol­ved.

This com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on device is almost unde­st­ruc­ta­ble, but unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly not mobi­le. Pyra­mi­den, near the port.

communication

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Isfjord: Pyra­mi­den, Gips­huks­let­ta

It still feels as if the snow melt was just yes­ter­day. The first flowers in the tun­dra. The birds just occu­p­ied their nests and cliffs. And now, it is sud­den­ly august. The first autum colours have repla­ced many flowers. The first fresh snow on the moun­tain tops. Young birds ever­y­whe­re on the tun­dra.

This voya­ge is com­ing to an end. It feels as if we have been tra­vel­ling for mon­ths now, the days have been so full and inten­se. At the same time, it is as if we have left Lon­gye­ar­by­en just yes­ter­day. Time is just fly­ing. A bit of both.

We haven’t seen anything of the polar bear in Pyra­mi­den, alt­hough they say it has been wal­king around direct­ly next to the hotel just yes­ter­day. Pyra­mi­den is always exci­ting. No mat­ter how many times I have been the­re, I keep dis­co­vering some­thing new every time I am the­re. I have to get back the­re with some more time …

And of cour­se we went back to the tun­dra again later. Views into Gips­da­len and over Sas­sen­fjord, and to Dia­ba­sod­den, whe­re I saw my first polar bear in 1997, in the midd­le of the night, just out­side our tent … I’ll never for­get it, and I’ll think of it every time I see the place, even in the distance. Spits­ber­gen is full of memo­ries.

Now, a bunch of very hap­py polar tra­vel­lers is about to finish their trip. It was real­ly, real­ly good. So full of polar impres­si­ons, varia­ti­ons, inten­si­ty.

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

And now Lon­gye­ar­by­en again. To start with, that means stress. Far too much to do in far too litt­le time …

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