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Monthly Archives: November 2015 − News & Stories


Svalbard winter 2016: photo trip and a balloon adventure

Some new ideas for exciting travels to Spitsbergen in winter 2016: together with Spitzbergen Adventures, we are doing a photo trip into the arctic winter. In March, the regular change between sunlight and darkness is bringing constantly changing light and colours into the arctic winter landscape. Based in Longyearbyen and Barentsburg, we will spend a full week to enjoy and explore the scenic beauty of Spitsbergen, mostly using snow mobiles for transportation, at a time when the light is often at its best, from glacial ice caves to wide valleys and the cold coast (literally: “Svalbard”). Click here for more information about this trip.

By snow mobile into Svalbard’s winter landscape. Sunsets can create stunning light in March.

photo trip Svalbard winter

Additionally, Spitzbergen Adventures has come up with something really new and special: the arctic balloon Adventure. Arctic scenery enjoyed from a bird’s eye view. Since flightseeing using motorized aircraft including planes and helicopters is completely banned, this is a unique and environmentally sound opportunity to see amazing scenery from a totally new perspective. The method has proven to work spectacularly during the solar eclipse in Svalbard in March 2015. Now, Spitzbergen Adventures is offering several departures for those who are keen on this adventure (click here for more info).

The Spitsbergen balloon adventure: A new idea by Spitzbergen Adventures.

Spitsbergen balloon adventure

Hiking to Pyramiden in the polar night

Hiking from Longyearbyen to Pyramiden in the polar night does not sound like a good plan. Not having serious equipment does not make it better. If you start such a demanding journey without at least a good sleeping bag, solid winter hiking boots and a weapon (and a lot of other stuff), then you are either crazy or suicidal.

So nobody would even think of this? Wrong. Yesterday (November 23), the Sysselmannen (police; search and rescue agency) had to go out by helicopter to search for a tourist from England who had left Longyearbyen and told people before that this was exactly what he intended to do – on his own. Some locals he had been talking to had contacted the Sysselmannen.

As it turned out, the many warning the man had received had already been enough to make him change his mind: he had already abandoned his ideas of a hike to Pyramiden, instead opting for a much more reasonable walk to mine 7.

The distance to Pyramiden is 50 km as the crow flies, but the distance over land is well over 100 km, especially as the fjords are still open. There are several crevassed glaciers on the way: altogether, an impossible task in darkness for a single person.

The last part of the overland route to Pyramiden: Nordenskiöldbreen and Billefjord (frozen).

Route to Pyramiden

Source: Svalbardposten

Tougher border controls between Norway and Svalbard

While Europe is debating tougher border regimes, the Norwegian government has implemented stricter border controls on flights between Norway and Svalbard. Passport controls in Oslo or Tromsø have to be expected now, where ID cards had been sufficient so far for non-Norwegian Europeans.

It is important to make sure that the name on the ticket is exactly the same as it is in the passport, otherwise airline website will not allow online check-in. Staff at check-in counters may deny check-in and boarding if the name on the ticket deviates from the one in the passport.

Svalbard is under Norwegian sovereignty, but with limitations as defined by the Spitsbergen Treaty of 1920. Due to the treaty regulations, Svalbard is not treated as part of Norway by customs. Flights from Oslo to Longyearbyen start at the international part of the airport Oslo Gardermoen. Norway is part of the Schengen treaty area, Svalbard is not, and this means that you are crossing a Schengen boundary when traveling to or from Svalbard.

The recent tightening has probably little to do with the current debate about Schengen borders, refugees and security. It is more likely that the surprise visit of the Russian vice premier Rogosin in spring made the Norwegian government take these steps. If Norway would legally have been able to deny Rogosin access to Spitsbergen is controversial.

No check-in for flights to Longyearbyen without passport now. This applies also to moose.

Pass control

Polar night – mid November

By now, the polar night has come to the high arctic, the sun remains below the horizon 24 hours a day. Even mid day there is just a bit of twilight, far from sunny brightness.

As so often at this time, Longyearbyen is a bit uncomfy: it has been quite warm recently and the snow had been thawing. As a result, it is slippery, and not just a little bit. You could ice-skate to the supermarket, and a walk to the café without spikes is a bit of an expedition.

This is obviously not the time for long trips out in the field, but that is not necessary. It is about the light, about darkness, which is so much more than just darkness.

And about the quietness and the peace of the arctic at this time of year. Spring and summer are always hectical, there is always so much to do, all the days seem to have 30 hours. During the polar night, people are not so much under stress, everybody is more relaxed, they have time, they meet.

Gallery – Polar night – mid November

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

Many people in Longyearbyen say that the polar night is their favorite season. There is something about it.

Skrova, the Polar Light Centre in Laukvik and Svolvær – 05th November 2015

Today was the day! We started by hiking over the island of Skrova in the most beautiful weather, many went up on top of Skrovafjellet, 285 m above Vestfjord, with a view that is just great.

The same applied to the passage into the port of Svolvær in the early afternoon. Sunset at 3 p.m. Liquid gold over boats, houses and mountains.

The Northern Light Centre in Laukvik on the northern side of the island Austvågøy (which has Svolvær on the southern side) was next on our plan. Rob and Therese from the Netherlands have chosen this lovely, silent spot for their own private northern light institute, with little light pollution and a free view to all directions, especially to the north. Their passion for the aurora polaris (a collective term for the polar light in north and south, does that term actually exist or have I just made it up? I don’t know) is impressive, and so is Rob’s collection of technical instruments, which he is using constantly to make „direct contact with the sun“, as he puts it. And indeed, his short message info service has been very useful over the last couple of days, keeping us updated about solar and magnetic activity and our chances to see northern lights.

Indeed, Rob’s connection to the sun is good and direct enough to prompt a northern light there and then. But maybe he has forgotten to pass the message on also to the weather God, who is promptly pushing some clouds between us and the beloved aurora. But a bit later, during the bus back to Svolvær, we get a splendid northern light show above nice mountain ridges; I guess more than one was thinking about hijacking the bus, stopping instantly and jumping out onto the road with camera and tripod.

Gallery Skrova

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

But that was indeed not necessary. Later that night, we got an impressive and beautiful display of the northern light which could be perfectly seen from Svolvær.

By the way, for those interested in the matter, have a look at these links to sites within my website:

And of course you should visit the Polar Light Centre in Laukvik on the internet or – much better – in real life, in Laukvik.

All in all: the day today was our day, it was important and great! ☺

Trollfjord and Skrova – 04th November 2015

The weather needed still some time to get a bit more friendly, Raftsund was still a rather wet affair. But the famous Trollfjord is always impressive, and so was the Sea eagle show. Three of these majestic birds were circling in the sky! Well, next time I have to bring a longer lense also for the trip to the northern lights 😉

Gallery – Trollfjord and Skrova – 04th November 2015

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

But then it cleared up. After a lovely sunset at the best early to mid afternoon time, we entered the harbour of Skrova, which was quite exciting in twilight, with rocks sticking out of the water to all sides of the ship. And it was to become even more exciting in the evening. Our first northern lights! What a delight, what a relief 🙂

Harstad and Trondenes – 03rd November 2015

It turned out that we managed to escape quite well from the storm. Further south, harbours had been closed and ferries were cancelled. In comparison, it was quite allright further north.

Gallery – Harstad and Trondenes – 03rd November 2015

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

At least it is dry enough today for a walk through Harstad. The historical-touristic highlights are, however, not in Harstad, but a few kilometres further east in Trondenes. Next to a historical museum and north Norway’s oldest stone church, there is a WWII gun battery which is indeed known by the bizarre name Adolf Gun. It was part of Hitler’s fortification of the Atlantic coast. The Adolf Gun was a mighty thing, with a calibre of 40.6 cm and the capacity to shoot shells that were more than 1000 kg heavy over more than 40 km. And they would even have been able to hit a ship, as the Norwegian military found out later. Luckily, the battery never fired in anger, that is the only positive aspect of this history. But we must not forget the terrible fate of those Russian prisoners-of-war who had to build the fortress. Hundreds of them died during this slavery work.

Lyngenfjord – 02nd November 2015

Nice light on the surrounding island, at least for some time, while we are waiting for the wind to calm down a bit. As soon as we are sailing again, we are confronted with an unexpected nautical highlight: The crossing of the 70th degree of latitude is not the crossing of 70°N, but of 69°60’N. Really! At least according to the GPS screen on the bridge, at least for a moment. A dime for the GPS’s thoughts that moment!

Another nautical-astronomical challenge are the celestial mechanics behind polar night and day. No problem with the aid of a tropical fruit and a torch. And just in case anyone wants to read again why polar night respectively polar day are not equally long in the northern and southern hemisphere, the arcticle polar night – polar day on this website is recommended.

Gallery – Lyngenfjord – 02. November 2015

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

Not much else to say about this day, otherwise. Rain, rain, rain.

Manndalen – 01st November 2015

Instead of sailing southwest, towards Lofoten, we headed northeast, trying to escape from the weather. Who needs force 9 winds? So off into the fjords, behind the mountains, away from the coast. Deep in Kåfjord, there is Manndalen in the area that was traditionally inhabited by the Sea Sami people. As we learnt in the culture and handicraft centre, there is not much left from the traditional Sami culture due to forced Norwegianisation in the earlier 20th century. Few people speak the Sami language still today, but even young people are interested in learning the language of their grandparents in courses that are offered by the centre. Handicrafts are also enjoying increasing popularity.

A little trail leads along places of Sami opposition against suppression from outside. Incredible what the people here had to endure. Not just that they could not speak their own language in public. Those who could not pay their debts were deprived from their last belongings which were to be auctioned away then. No surprise that at some stage the locals gave the Norwegian lensmann a good beating with fence poles and chased him away. At the end of the war, the German army burnt the place down as the last one in north Norway – as mentioned before, these people had to endure all hardships of a minority in the 20th century.

There is still a small hut. Its owner was supposed to pay dues on the building materials after rebuilding it after the war, as was common. He refused this with a letter which can be summarized briefly, but correctly, with the words „go to hell“. He was left in peace after that.

We were also not saved from some hardships when those who were still with us on the 8 km trail in rain and darkness found that the last part of the small road had given way to a steep, slippery, muddy slope at a road construction site. But the motivation to find a way after more than 6 km is considerable, in contrast to the willingness to turn around and go the same way back.

Gallery – Manndalen – 01st November 2015

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

There was not much to see for the rest of the day, just rain and darkness. No chance for the northern lights that everybody came for, which is especially tough as the sun activity is currently said to be considerable. Without coulds, we would probably see northern lights all over the sky!

Oil and gas from the Arctic? Test drillings northeast of Svalbard

During September and October the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (Oljedirektoratet) arranged seven test drillings northeast of Svalbard. The financing for these drillings was approved by the Norwegian Parliament (Storting).

Such activities are highly contentious, particularly because Norway clearly defined that there should be no drilling for oil or gas beyond the sea ice edge, the line of maximum sea ice expansion in spring. This time the drillings were done along Svalbard´s east side, up to the island Kvitøya and were going down to 200 meters below the seafloor. This area lies outside the protection zone of the archipelago but it lies far north of the sea ice edge. In accordance with this fact, the Petroleum Directorate declared that the drillings had nothing to do with the oil and gas industry. They were just surveys of the geological structure in this area.

The dissenting opposition parties in the parliament, the social liberal Venstre and the green MDG, condemned this operation sharply. If so far in the north, oil and gas extraction is not intended anyway and is not even allowed, at least so far, this operation was simply a waste of money, a speaker of the Venstre said.

In recent years Norway pushed forward the exploration of oil and gas fields in the North Atlantic – off Lofoten and Vesterålen – and in the Barents Sea. But not even there extraction is approved everywhere, and it is still controversial. It is rejected among others by parts of the local population, environmental associations and by the fishing industry. However, when large oil and gas fields are discovered and explored continuously, as recently happened in the Barents Sea northwest of Hammerfest, this will obviously create facts, regardless of the current legal situation. Political decisions will be influenced by the prospect of economical profit. In 2012 the former foreign minister Espen Barth Eide of the social democratic Arbeiderpartiet already made clear that economic considerations are prioritized when it comes to the Norwegian oil and gas resources. Environmental politics can be adjusted, if necessary (see also Spitsbergen-Svalbard.com news Norwegian foreign minister about arctic oil and gas from November 2012).

Northeastern Svalbard: a place for polar bears, ice and wilderness, not for oil and gas.

Northeastern Svalbard

Source: TV2

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