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Home → July, 2015

Monthly Archives: July 2015 − News & Stories


Hornsund – 13th Juli 2015

Hornsund can be nasty, and it can be friendly and beautiful. Today, it was wonderful. Silent, clear weather, calm water with mirror images of the surrounding mountains. And there are some beautiful mountains arranged at the shores of this fjord. Characterful peaks that are unique, you will always recognize them on a photo once you have seen them. Hyrnefjellet with its beautifully curved and colourful sedimentary layers. The rugged double peak of Hornsundtind. The jagged ridge of Luciakammen. Bautaen which can appear sharp as a needle.

The tour along the ridge of the Treskelen peninsula rewarded us with great panoramic views of this scenic spectacle and interesting insights into the events of Earth history that had created it. Devonian Old Red, Permocarboniferous carbonates and the dark, petrefied wadden sea from the Triassic. In this order from bottom to top, elegantly curved as a huge fold bent upwards. Our landing site was clearly marked as the fold axis by some distinct coastal rocks. Everybody had the overview at the end of the hike. And those who stayed a bit further down in the terrain, enjoyed reindeer and a family of Barnacle geese which was attacked by an Arctic skua within short range.

Photo Treskelen – 13th Juli 2015

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The glacier-surrounded bay Brepollen delighted us not only with its long glacier fronts, but also with the sighting of a polar bear mother with a first-year cub, which had found a warm and comfortable place on the back of its mother.

Photo Storbreen – 13th Juli 2015

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And later in Burgerbukta, there was so much glacier ice drifting in the bay that we could not resist the temptation of a late-afternoon Zodiac cruise in iceberg alley. The final highlight was the sighting of a Bearded seal on a growler (a small piece of glacier ice).

Southern west coast – 12rd Juli 2015

The day started exactly in the same way as yesterday: calm, almost mirror-like water, but dense fog. Apart from the poor visibility, conditions were again ideal for landings at unusual places, exposed, difficult to reach, usually ignored. But as calm as it was today, there should be opportunities.

Initially, the visibility threatened to make landings in polar bear country impossible, but after some careful exploration, the fog lifted at Kapp Borthen, so soon everybody was ashore in a wide, flat coastal area, an alluvial meltwater plain covered with wet tundra dominated by algae in many colours. And in the middle of this strange landscape, an even stranger artefact: the wreck of a German fighter plane, a Ju 88, that was forced to land near Kapp Borthen after having received damage during attacks on an allied convoi in September 1942. A very strange impression, this desctruction machine with a bleached-out swastika in the middle of the peaceful arctic tundra.

Photo Kapp Borthen – 12rd Juli 2015

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Our weather luck functioned equally well later a bit further south in Hyttevika, at Wanny Woldstad’s famous old hut, which is so nicely hidden between some big rocks. The sun was shining on a tundra that is so green that it seems almost unreal. And ten thousands of Little auks just a few metres further up the slopes. An immense spectacle, on the rocks, in the air.

Photo Hyttevika – 12rd Juli 2015

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The fog has disappeared completely as we are now entering Hornsund. The bright evening sun is shining on beautiful, famous mountains such as Hornsundtind, Luciakammen, Hyrnefjellet. Small and medium-sized icebergs everywhere in the water. Soon the anchor will fall in Adriabukta.

Forlandsund & Whales – 11th Juli 2015

The water was calm as a mirror, the wind somewhere else on the planet, but not here. A good opportunity to visit exposed places, which are usually hard to reach and well off the trodden path. Such as the west coast of Spitsbergen just north of the Isfjord entrance.
 
 

Photo Daudmannen – 11th Juli 2015

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The fog was covering huge areas and we had to search for suitable conditions. The first bay wasn’t any good, all we found was an uncharted rock next to the anchor position (we found it by Zodiac, no problems). But around the corner, there was a lovely little bay, narrow and deeply cutting into the otherwise very rocky coastline. And behind it, there was a wide coastal plain with tundra and some rocky hills and quiet hidden lakes.

Photo Whalewatching – 11th Juli 2015

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Later, we tried to escape from the fog by going south and then out to open sea, as the coast was completely hidden in a grey cover. So we had time to have a look at the continental shelf area, where the depth contours on the chart indicate waters 500 metres deep and more. And quite right, soon backs of White-beaked dolphins, Fin and Humpback whales were breaking through the calm water surface. It turned out to be an unforgettable evening with Humpback whales feeding near the ship.

Sailing along the north coast & Virgohamna – 9th/10th Juli 2015

Admittedly, it wasn’t really high performance sailing yesterday evening. But at least, we were moving under sail, even into the right direction, roughly. That changed today in the early morning. We were still slow, but then going towards north Greenland. Also an interesting place, but not in our plan for the time being. But then the wind came, and we were heading with up to 10 knots into Smeerenburgfjord.

Photo Verlegenhuken – 09th Juli 2015

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Amazingly, the wind died down at the right time, as we wanted to make a landing in the afternoon. Virgohamna, the arctic version of Cape Canaveral, open air museum of aeronautical north pole expeditions.

Photo Virgohamna – 10th Juli 2015

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Harbour seals are not exactly animals one would associate with the high arctic. The ones here kind of got stuck here. Leftovers from a time, several thousand years ago, when the climate was a bit warmer. They thrived and got well established. Then it cooled down again, but they stayed. Probably not living the greatest harbour seal life anymore, but they at least. An unusual sight in Spitsbergen. Often, they don’t like people getting near them on shore, but they don’t mind small boats too much, and so we could make a nice visit. Funny how they are resting on stones. Doesn’t look too comfortable …

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is visiting Svalbard

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is currently on an official trip in Svalbard. The visit is part of the UN´s campain in preperation of the upcoming UN Climate Change Convention in December 2015. Ban intends to get an overview over the local effects of global warming in the Arctic and to use the publicity of his visit to primarily inform about the alarming extend of glacial melting.

On Tuesday Ban arrived at the airport in Longyearbyen, accompanied by the Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brede. The guests were directly taken to the Norwegian research vessel ‘Lance’, which had recently returned from a research operation in the ice, north of Svalbard. Onboard the ‘Lance’ they were brought to Ny-Ålesund where scientists of the Norwegian Polar Institute informed Ban about the situation in Svalbard. Afterwards they took a boat trip to the edge of the glacier Blomstrandbreen, which had melted significantly since Ban’s last visit in 2009. The next stop on the tour is again Longyearbyen.

Ban Ki-moon,
CC BY-SA 2.0 by
Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Ban-Ki-moon-CC-BY-SA-2_0

Source: United Nations

Sorgfjord – 9th Juli 2015

The fjord of worries was a place of pleasure today, under the bright arctic sun at 80 degrees north. Here, where 40 Dutch whaling ships were sunk, burnt or captured by three English battleships in 1693, we enjoyed relaxed walks and long hikes. The mountain goats went into back country and up a mountain to enjoy great scenic views. The friends of more relaxed arctic walks observed Red-throated divers in remarkable numbers, burnt in the sun next to a decaying trappers’s hut, examined a whalers’ graveyard, examined the remains of a Swedish polar station which made an important contribution when they figured out the shape of our planet in some detail and listened to dramatic stories of failed arctic expeditions from more than a century ago.

Foto Eolusneset – 9. Juli 2015

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Hinlopen – 07th Juli 2015

The southern Hinlopen Strait is full with ice, no thought of getting through. Ice, ice, ice! Including plenty of icebergs. The southern part of Austfonna, the large ice cap on Nordaustland, has been surging in recent years, pushing a lot of glacier ice into the sea.
 
 

Hinlopen – 07th Juli 2015 – Photo Vibebukta – 1/2

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Almost 80 walrusses are lying on 3 ice floes, most of them young animals, some just beyond the baby stage. The largest group alone is near 50 walrusses on one quite overcrowded ice floe, hard to believe that it did not already break under those many tons of huge seals. The walrusses are very busy with themselves, fighting playfully, very active, some going into the water just to get out onto the ice floe again. We watch the magnificent display for a while from a careful distance and disappear again.

The long glacier front of the ice cap Austfonna is in dense drift ice, out of reach. Captain Joachim maneouvres the Antigua as far into the drift ice as possible and then stops the engine for a while. Ice, ice, ice anywhere. Drift ice, icebergs, glaciers. High arctic.

Hinlopen – 07th Juli 2015 – Photo Vibebukta – 2/2

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An evening visit to a group of walrusses resting on the beach rounds a wonderful Hinlopen day off.

Lomfjord – 07th Juli 2015

After a long evening yesterday with Fin whales and countless Brünich’s guillemots, we started a bit later into the day today. The famous erratic boulder in Lomfjord, a gigantic specimen placed with admirable precision by ice age glaciers on a narrow ridge a good 330 metres above sea level, only came out of the fog when we had actually reached it. But the wind kindly blew a hole into the fog, so we could enjoy the views on Hinlopen Strait, Lomfjord and the large glaciers and wide moraines in the neighbouring valleys, which set us mentally back into the pleistocene.

Lomfjord – 07th Juli 2015 – Photo Faksevagen

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Alkefjellet – 06th July 2015

Several hundred thousand Brünich’s guillemots, served on basaltic cliffs, rounded the day off.
 
 
 

Photo Alkefjellet – 06th July 2015

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Nordaustland – 6th July 2015

Nordaustland: barren polar desert, stony tundra with rich details in a big scenic vacuum. Lonely little flowers
 
 

Nordaustland – 6th July 2015 – Photo Sore Russeoya

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Woodfjord – 5th July 2015

The lagoon in Mushamna is a piece of art by nature. A beautifully curved, narrow gravel bar is separating the lagoon from the fjord. The entrance is 10 metres deep and hardly much wider. Ideal to spend a sheltered night at anchor.

And to land in almost all kinds of weather. Today it is completely calm, not a problem anyway. Still a lot of snow, but the land is inviting to walk around and explore.

But the landing came to an end after already a few minutes. The place was already occupied. This polar bear, which appeared out of nowhere just a few hundred metres from us, it clearly had the right of way.

What followed was quite incredible. We spent most of the day on board Antigua inside the lagoon, moving just a few hundred metres here and there. The polar bear – a lady, equipped with a satellite sender from the Norwegian Polar Institute – walked around and then laid down on the ice. A second bear came along and went over the ice to the fjord one, scaring it to death so it ran away so the water was splashing on the rotten ice.

Woodfjord – 5th July 2015 – Photo Mushamna

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Later, a third bear came around the mountain in the south, an impressive male. He walked past bear number 2 on the ice of the lagoon, but they did not pay much attention to each other. Meanwhile, bear no 1 had disappeared to the south. Bears 2 and 3 walked here and there over the ice and along the shore, much to our great pleasure on board. So the sunny hours went quickly, one after the other.

Velkomstpynten – 4th July 2016

How often do you have the chance to go ashore on the north coast of Spitsbergen? Not in a well sheltered bay or fjord, but on a shore which is neighbouring the North Pole? Not too often. And when you have the opportunity, you have to use it.

The whalers did so already, looking out for whales and ice from these hills. Broken pieces of clay pipes near an old, large cairn may well date back into the 17th century. The land is still largely snow-covered. Big snowfields, wet, heavy snow. Best to make some detours to walk around them. So the kilometres are adding up quickly.

Photo Velkomstpynten – 4th July 2016

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The coastal rocks separating small bays, the hills, the whole country – everything is red. Desert sand, more than 350 million years old. Eroded debris of a mountain range washed into the sea ages ago.

Raudfjord – 03rd Juli 2015

Raudfjord: Fog lecture polar bear bird cliff polar fox trapper hut snow reindeer graves sun beach silence chocolate polar bear ice fog
 
 

Raudfjord – 03rd Juli 2015 – Photo Alicehamna

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The Northwest: polar bear country – 2nd July 2015

As yesterday, I am sitting to write my little blog late in the evening. These days are so full, the landscape in northwestern Spitsbergen is so densely packed with so many things. So many islands where one could go to have a look to see what is there. And you are glued to your binoculars here. Behind every point, on every slope there might be a polar bear. And on one slope, there was a polar bear, sleeping on a snow field. On many beaches, there could be walrusses. And on a little skerry, there were two walrusses. Which is quite unusually. Normally, they are lying on beaches or ice floes, not on rocks. Someone said these ones were probably raised by Harbour seals. They like to lie on rocks.

It was a bit of whalers’ weather in these old whaling waters. Grey, a bit windy, the occasional bit of snow and rain in the air. In the late afternoon, the sun came almost out, casting light on the little peninsula where Waldemar and Sally lift a long, long time ago in their lonely hut, which they had once built on a whaler’s grave.

The Northwest: polar bear country – 2nd July 2015

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

We saw two more polar bears during the later evening, both making their way on steep, rocky slopes. The first one, equipped with a collar with satellite tracker from the Norwegian Polar Institute and thus obviously a lady bear, was busy making herself unpopular amongst the owners of various birds’ nests on an island. The second one was stalking a reindeer for almost a kilometre in Raudfjord, before it gave up.

Kongsfjord – 1st July 2015

It is late in the evening after a long day, so it won’t be a long blog entry, although books could be written about the day. Although it is just the first full day, after a smooth start yesterday, with a sunny, calm passage out of Isfjord.

Ny Ålesund made the start, with the whole lot from older and more recent stories, the numerous Barnacle goose families with their little chicks feeding on the tundra in the middle of the small settlement, a morning full of varied impressions. In the afternoon, a first but deep dive into Spitsbergen’s arctic nature away from any civilisation or even traces of it. Brünich’s guillemots and kittywakes at their breeding colony at close range, surrounded by colourful flowers. The families cinquefoil, draba, saxifraga, buttercup and others are all present with aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews.

The Kongsvegen glacier had obviously been busy recently, decorating the fjord with lots of bergy bits and some large icebergs, including some very impressive specimens. And a very impressive specimen of a whale is rounding the day of in grand style not far from Ny Ålesund. A Blue whale circling around, diving very regularly – you could set the clock by it – for four to five minutes, then breathing three or four times, finishing the last breath by showing its mighty fluke. There must be plenty of food in the water, the depth meter shows a very colourful array of colours in the free water column.

Gallery – Kongsfjord – 1st July 2015

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

A lot f food for polar travellers with a good appetite for arctic impressions.

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