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Home → July, 2016

Monthly Archives: July 2016 − News & Stories

Bell­sund – 28th/29th July 2016

28th/29th July 2016 – The thin lay­er of fog that had cast such magi­cal light effects over Horn­sund yes­ter­day had grown over night into a solid, low lying cloud cover, making the world appear much more grey than it had been yes­ter­day. But both the litt­le impres­si­ons of the colourful tun­dra as the views from ele­va­tions are as beau­tiful as we had been hoping for.

We go sepa­ra­te ways at least for a while in the after­noon. While one group is visi­ting a bird cliff, making fri­ends with litt­le auks, polar foxes and reinde­er with huge ant­lers, ano­ther group is crossing Nathorst Land from north to south. Yel­low and red frag­ments of clay­stone are lying on the black and soft ground, while we are working our way up the hill, enjoy­ing wide views over Van Mijenfjor­den with Akseløya, Fri­dt­jov­breen and Reind­a­len. Small, but deep­ly incis­ed tri­bu­t­a­ry val­leys requi­re extra effort and sweat, until we have rea­ched the hig­hest part. Down a steep slo­pe, and soon the tents are stan­ding on a bit of tun­dra, exact­ly whe­re each and every rain­drop has to make his decis­i­on: north to Van Mijenfjord or south to Van Keu­len­fjord. We enjoy a nice evening in beau­tiful sur­roun­dings and with good atmo­sphe­re while the coo­kers are hum­ming.

We awa­ke to the sound of rain­drops on the can­vas. The rain is not strong, but enough to make the world around as grey and wet. We fol­low a litt­le val­ley, fre­quent­ly chan­ging from one side of the litt­le stream to the other, while it is get­ting big­ger with every tri­bu­t­a­ry wea­ther.

Gal­lery Bell­sund – 28th-29th July 2016

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

A litt­le gla­cier on the side has a huge sur­pri­se for us. A litt­le hole of a small melt­wa­ter river turns out to be a huge cave insi­de. Ice is glit­te­ring far abo­ve us and to our sides, a won­derful world. We go 20 met­res, 30 met­res, the end is in dark­ness. An impres­si­ve place.

Out­side, it remains wet and grey. We find some waters­falls along our way and final­ly we are hap­py as Antigua’s masts appear from the fog.

Horn­sund – 27th July 2016

The famous fema­le trap­per Wan­ny Wold­stad wro­te about Horn­sund that it is too beau­tiful to descri­be, you have to expe­ri­ence it yours­elf. This is cer­tain­ly true on a day like this.There are no words for this, I lea­ve it up to the pic­tures.

Gal­lery Horn­sund – 27th July 2016

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

Storfjord – 26th July 2016

The wide-open Storfjord, often a very unp­lea­sant stretch of water, is lying like a mir­ror around us. After a late break­fast – the polar bear show kept us busy for a good part of the night – we rea­ched Spitsbergen’s east coast and drop­ped the anchor. When you have the rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to step ashore on this expo­sed coast­li­ne, you just have to use it! The rocky coast­li­ne is a land­scape very much on its own, it looks as if someone had built a wall, but it is all natu­re. Some of the huge blocks show tracks of dino­saurs that were roa­ming here when this was still a wide, wet del­ta area in the lower Creta­ce­ous. Other rocks have been tur­ned to mush­rooms and colum­ns by ero­si­on.

Gal­lery Storfjord – 26th July 2016

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

We con­ti­nue over flat­calm sea, the water appears oily, ful­mars are mir­rored, wha­le blows are going up, long backs are brea­king through the sur­face. Spitsbergen’s east coast is stret­ching all over the wes­tern hori­zon, moun­ta­ins and gla­ciers, gla­ciers and moun­ta­ins. The clouds are back­ing out, and the sun is cal­ming warm evening light over the who­le sce­n­ery. What a night!

Heley­sund & Free­man­sund – 25th July 2016

Com­pared to the bar­ren polar desert of Nord­aus­t­land, the lush-green tun­dra around Heley­sund is a dif­fe­rent world. The rock colum­ns of basalt remind of wild west coun­try. Inland, flower car­pets with saxif­ra­ges and Sval­bard pop­py are stret­ching bet­ween the rocky hills, while strong tidal curr­ents are rus­hing though the chan­nels. We hike around Straums­land and then we crui­se through Orm­ho­let; at slack tide, it is just calm enough.

Some hours later, we reach Free­man­sund. A polar fox is ste­al­ing eggs and chicks from nests in a bird colo­ny. The coun­try around it turns out to be a polar bear hot spot: more than 14 bears are lying or wal­king around on slo­pes, most of them on one sin­gle moun­tain side. A true polar bear para­de!

Gal­lery Heley­sund & Free­man­sund – 25th July 2016

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

The­se Free­man­sund-polar bears are a phe­no­me­non and a mys­te­ri­um. Samples of their drop­pings may help to ans­wer the ques­ti­on what makes this area so unu­sual­ly attrac­ti­ve for them. My cla­im for fame in polar sci­ence.

Brås­vell­breen, Vibe­buk­ta – 24th July 2016

A big advan­ta­ge of cir­cum­na­vi­ga­ting Nord­aus­t­land clock­wi­se is that you have to sail along the long gla­cier front, the lon­gest one of the nor­t­hern hemi­sphe­re. This ice cliff is a phe­no­me­non even if you just fol­low it for just a few miles. But for more than half a day, that is a dif­fe­rent kind of expe­ri­ence, some­thing very uni­que. It just doesn’t stop, it is just going on and on and on. Part of the ice cap has sur­ged in recent years, the­re are still lar­ge num­bers of ice­bergs drif­ting in the­se waters.

Gal­lery Brås­vell­breen, Vibe­buk­ta – 24th July 2016

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

We found ide­al con­di­ti­ons for a landing in Vibe­buk­ta, which was espe­ci­al­ly nice as we have seve­ral peo­p­le on board who had been with us befo­re, for exam­p­le in 2011 when we had to can­cel a landing the­re becau­se of a polar bear on shore or in 2015 when the who­le area was blo­cked by ice. Nice to get the­re now, for a short walk and a bit of a hike, on lower and hig­her hills, enjoy­ing views over the coas­tal plain, the ice cap and some insight into earth histo­ry.

Storøya & Kvi­tøya – 23rd July 2016

We were alre­a­dy far north and the wea­ther was on our side. So we set cour­se around Nord­aus­t­land and to Spitsbergen’s remo­test are­as. It tur­ned out a day not to be for­got­ten. It star­ted with calm seas, no wind and suns­hi­ne. The wide ice­cap of Nord­aus­t­land was glit­te­ring in the sun on star­boardsi­de, the smal­ler Storøya, also lar­ge­ly cover­ed by an ice cap with a typi­cal hour­glass pro­fi­le. North of it, some squa­re kilo­me­t­res of ice-free, bar­ren land.

But it was not unin­ha­bi­ted. It did not take long until we found the first polar bear. It was not to be the last one for today. To be honest, I lost the over­view in the end, we saw some­thing like 13 or 14 polar bears on Storøya. Some were just slee­ping, others wal­king around on the shore, some che­wing on bones of a wha­le that must have stran­ded here some time ago. An ama­zing spec­ta­cle, which I can’t descri­be in all detail now, it would take a lot of time. But we spent an unfor­gettable mor­ning in their near neigh­bour­hood, wat­ching them from the Zodiacs, how they were res­t­ing near the shore, wal­king around, play­ing with each other, occa­sio­nal­ly curious­ly coming towards us, even swim­ming into our direc­tion … stun­ning, unfor­gettable.

Final­ly, the bears went for a sies­ta and so did we, all tho­se impres­si­ons nee­ded to sett­le down, be pro­ces­sed and stored. Mean­while, we set cour­se on Kvi­tøya, Spitsbergen’s remo­test island. A good 30 miles, calm hours, a chan­ce to relax a bit.

Gal­lery Storøya & Kvi­tøya – 23rd July 2016

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

In the evening, the anchor went down near André­e­ne­set, whe­re Andrée, Fræn­kel and Strind­berg made their final land­fall on 05th Octo­ber 1897 after their famous bal­loon flight and the long jour­ney across the ice. Step­ping on solid ground was a plea­su­re that was not meant for us tonight, the­re was one polar bear just too clo­se for that, and it even came a bit clo­ser. So we went out into the Zodiacs to have a good look at the memo­ri­al from a litt­le distance, a simp­le con­cre­te block mar­king the site of the Andrée-expedition’s final camp. And of cour­se to have a look at the polar bear that was wal­king around on the near­by beach not far away, loo­king quite meag­re and che­wing some sea­weed. A bit fur­ther north, ano­ther polar bear scared a lar­ge herd of wal­ru­ses into the water.

Sjuøya­ne – 22nd July 2016

We made it up to Sjuøya­ne, the Seven Islands, the nor­t­hern­most part of Spits­ber­gen! That is just around the cor­ner from the north pole. We could almost see it from a litt­le hill on Phippsøya, it was just hid­den behind a cloud. But we could see that bar­ren, very cha­rac­te­ristic high arc­tic land­scape all around us.

Gal­lery Sjuøya­ne – 22nd July 2016

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

Some­thing else that we could see was the ter­ri­ble pla­s­tic was­te, which is drif­ting into the remo­test cor­ners of the pla­net with sea curr­ents. At least, the­re are now two cubic-met­re bags less of it on Phippsøya.

Wahl­enberg­fjord – 22nd July 2016

We did get wind, today in Wahl­enberg­fjord. This did not keep us from making a nice litt­le landing in a hid­den cor­ner some­whe­re in Pal­an­der­buk­ta.

In the after­noon, things got inte­res­t­ing. Nice sai­ling wind to move under sails into Wahl­enberg­fjord, until the incre­asing den­si­ty of ice­bergs and ber­gy bits from Bod­ley­breen forced us to maneou­vre more and more. We did nevert­hel­ess mana­ge to get into the inner­most bay, just to find a beau­tiful spe­ci­men of a strong polar bear wal­king around in a morai­ne the­re.

Not just one, a fema­le with a first-year cub ran up on the gla­cier and away from the strong one, most likely a male. Three polar bears are three good reasons for not going ashore, much to the reg­ret of the hiking group who were rea­dy to go ashore and start the hike across Nord­aus­t­land to Rijpfjord. It was not meant to hap­pen today.

The wind deli­ver­ed an impres­si­ve dis­play of force. To begin with, it cal­med com­ple­te­ly down, giving way to beau­tiful reflec­tions of the migh­ty gla­cier Bod­ley­breen and the ice­bergs on the water. But this was lite­ral­ly just the eye of the storm. Soon, the wind retur­ned with increased force from the oppo­si­te direc­tion. The ancho­red drag­ged hope­l­ess­ly and had to be lifted soo­nest.

Gal­lery Wahl­enberg­fjord – 22nd July 2016

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

Maneou­vring the ship out of the way while the anchor was still in the water gave Cap­tain Joa­chim gre­at fun on the bridge. Altog­e­ther it was a very impres­si­ve dis­play of both the beau­ty and the powers of natu­re in the arc­tic.

Hin­lo­pen – 21st July, 2016

Mira­cles of Hin­lo­pen Strait. Important part of today’s plea­su­res: the wea­ther, in terms of no wind. Not­hing you should take for gran­ted in the­se waters, as we were to find out a day later. The pho­tos will do the tal­king for today 🙂

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

Mos­sel­hal­vøya – 18th/19th July, 2016

A tent night just under the 80th par­al­lel, sounds like a dream, doesn’t it 🙂 and that was exact­ly our plan, at least for a part of the group. While landing, the thought of spen­ding the night in a camp was a slight­ly mixed one, as we had a stiff bree­ze and the occa­sio­nal litt­le rain coming from low clouds straight into our faces.

At least the­se clouds were quite impres­si­ve, real storm clouds. Seve­ral steams forced most of us to chan­ge to some kind of sui­ta­ble foot­wear for the occa­si­on. A strong wind kept blo­wing out of Mos­sel­da­len, and I sen­sed it wouldn’t be a good place to put up a camp, so we used the first and last nice oppor­tu­ni­ty befo­re we got that far.

After a while, the tents were stan­ding, reason­ab­ly well shel­te­red from the wind, a litt­le stream with crys­tal clear water just a few met­res away. Love­ly place! After a simp­le but good din­ner, the wind fell asleep and so did we, apart from the polar bear watch who stay­ed out­side, wal­king around and kee­ping a watchful eye open for any traf­fic, while enjoy­ing some beau­tiful light and the occa­sio­nal bird or reinde­er.

Next day, the wea­ther was slow­ly impro­ving. Mos­sel­da­len tur­ned out to be a very arc­tic rou­te with scree slo­pes and a river plain with seve­ral chan­nels. Very scenic and impres­si­ve.

The next exci­te­ment was the ques­ti­on if the­re was a good way over to Sorg­fjord. Accor­ding to the map, which isn’t exact­ly very detail­ed, this should be the case, but in rea­li­ty ..? Steep rocky slo­pes to both sides of the val­ley, a nice gla­cier, Tåb­reen, on the sou­thern side, but that was not our way.

Behind the final bend, howe­ver, as expec­ted and hoped for, a nice snow field and then a slo­pe that we could nego­tia­te rather easi­ly. Gre­at views over upper Mos­sel­da­len and Tåb­reen, then some low hills and snow fields and soon a litt­le val­ley lea­ding down to Sorg­fjord.

An easy snow field, fee­ding a tor­ren­ti­al melt­wa­ter river coming out of a snow cave at the lower end, a walk through the lower val­ley and then it was just a few final kilo­me­t­res across the low-lying tun­dra to reach the shore, whe­re good old Anti­gua was at anchor, wai­ting for us. Calm atmo­sphe­re an board, ever­y­bo­dy had com­ple­ted their various landings and we just in time for din­ner 🙂

Gal­lery Mos­sel­hal­vøya – 18th/19th July, 2016

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

It is still impos­si­ble to say if this is the rou­te used by various mem­bers of the Schrö­der-Stranz-expe­di­ti­on in 1912 and 1913, as they tra­vel­led bet­ween Sorg­fjord, whe­re their ship was trap­ped in ice, and Wij­defjord, try­ing to get through to Lon­gye­ar­by­en. It may as well have been a bit fur­ther north, which is also pos­si­ble, as I could try a cou­ple of years ago.

I guess it will never be pos­si­ble to iden­ti­fy their exact rou­te, just as their lea­der and 3 more com­ra­des got lost on Nord­aus­t­land, most likely fore­ver.

West coast – 16th and 17th July 2016

16th and 17th July 2016 – Feels like ages ago that we were on the west coast – less than a week, actual­ly, but it feels like a month, and inde­ed the time was so ful­ly packed with end­less acti­vi­ties and impres­si­ons that I did not mana­ge to wri­te any­thing. After the won­derful day in the sou­thern For­lands­und, we work­ed our way step by step to the north.

Ny Åle­sund is obvious­ly a must, and we went to Vir­go­ham­na (who knows, may­be we get to Kvi­tøya on this trip, as ever­y­thing is ice free up the­re, then having been to Vir­go­ham­na is a good start, thin­king of the Andrée expe­di­ti­on).

Gal­lery West coast – 16th and 17th July 2016

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

For­lands­und – 15th July 2016

Some­ti­mes being a bit late is good thing. It is easy to keep the rou­ti­ne, fal­ling asleep in Isfjord and waking up in Kongsfjord. This time, we had a cou­ple of important things to do befo­re we could take off from Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

As men­tio­ned, the­re were some advan­ta­ges in that. Nor­mal­ly, ever­y­bo­dy is just pas­sing by Daud­manns­od­den, but it is such a beau­tiful place. This time, we just drop­ped anchor the­re. The sea flat­calm around this expo­sed shore, whe­re it can get pret­ty wild in wes­ter­ly or sou­t­her­ly winds. They say this does hap­pen here some­ti­mes.

Love­ly coas­tal land­scape and wide tun­dra. Huge bea­ches, lots of drift­wood, wide series of old beach rid­ges, litt­le bays hid­den behind coas­tal rocks.

It went on like that. Ins­tead of hea­ding straight north, we went loo­king for wha­les in sou­thern For­lands­und. And – we were lucky. A Blue wha­le was slow­ly swim­ming around, fee­ding. Fol­lo­wing him careful­ly for a while, we hap­pen­ed to get clo­ser to the sou­thern tip of Prins Karls For­land, we we just took the oppor­tu­ni­ty and went ashore. We had sai­led past it 1000 times, and admi­red the stron­gly struc­tu­re coast­li­ne just as many times on the map. Now it was time to see it in rea­li­ty, which tur­ned out to be even nicer than on the map, which was no sur­pri­se.

Gal­lery For­lands­und – 15th July 2016

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

After lea­ving Prins Karls For­land, we saw even more wha­les, ano­ther Blue and one or two Hump­back wha­les. Yet ano­ther Blue wha­le was seen quite clo­se to the ship around mid­night, but the long day had alre­a­dy taken its toll and most peo­p­le did not see it any­mo­re.

Fema­le polar bear and cub shot at Aus­t­fj­ord­ne­set: case goes to Trom­sø

The sad shoo­ting of a mother polar bear and her first year cub has been the mat­ter of the last news pos­ting on this web­site. A trap­per wan­ted to sca­re the polar bear away with a rub­ber bul­let, but by mista­ke he took a sharp car­tridge and fired a lethal shot at the bear. The cub was later on the same day shot by the poli­ce, as it did not have a chan­ce for sur­vi­val on its own in the arc­tic wil­der­ness.

Now the aut­ho­ri­ties in Lon­gye­ar­by­en have deci­ded that the case will not be nego­tia­ted local­ly within the insti­tu­ti­on of the Sys­sel­man­nen, which would be the nor­mal pro­ce­du­re. Ins­tead, the case will be for­ward­ed to the public pro­se­cu­tor in Trom­sø. It was said that this is becau­se of the lar­ge public inte­rest in the case. Addi­tio­nal­ly, the trap­pers are using a hut owned by the Sys­sel­man­nen. It may be that the Sys­sel­man­nen wants to pre­vent any cri­ti­cism of being pre­ju­di­ced at an ear­ly stage.

The hut at Aus­t­fj­ord­ne­set in Wij­defjord was ori­gi­nal­ly built pri­va­te­ly as a trap­pers hut but has now been sta­te pro­per­ty for a num­ber of years. Out of the many huts owned by the Sys­sel­man­nen, this is the only one which is lent to pri­va­te per­sons who want to live the­re for a year as trap­pers. The pur­po­se is to keep the tra­di­ti­on ali­ve. It is a con­di­ti­on that the trap­pers have to hunt actively, which does of cour­se not include polar bears. The­se are strict­ly pro­tec­ted. Spe­ci­es that are hun­ted include main­ly reinde­er, polar fox, ptar­mi­gan and seals.

Polar bear fami­ly at Nor­dens­ki­öld­breen (archi­ve image from sep­tem­ber 2012).

Spitsbergen: polar bear family

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

Fema­le polar bear and cub shot at Aus­t­fj­ord­ne­set

A fema­le polar bear and her first year cub were shot at Aus­t­fj­ord­ne­set (inner Wij­defjord) in Spits­ber­gen on June 13 (during the sea­son, news are updated with delays. The focus is curr­ent­ly on the tra­vel blog). Two per­sons are curr­ent­ly living at Aus­t­fj­ord­ne­set to win­ter the­re as trap­pers.

The bear had been in the vici­ni­ty of the hut for a while, pro­ba­b­ly becau­se of nests of Com­mon eiders in that area. It is com­mon that polar bears eat eggs and chicks of tun­dra bree­ders during the bree­ding sea­son. It is, howe­ver, uncom­mon that a mother bear with a cub comes clo­se to human pre­sence.

One of the two inha­bi­tants of the hut was insi­de, the other one was on the roof to sca­re the bear away with war­ning shots. While doing so, it came to a fatal mista­ke: rather than with a rub­ber bul­let as inten­ded to sca­re the fema­le polar bear away wit­hout inju­ry, the shoo­ter loa­ded his gun with sharp shot. This pro­ved to be lethal on a distance of 8.5 met­res.

On advice by a polar bear spe­cia­list of the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te, the poli­ce shot the cub on loca­ti­on the same day. The cub, being about 6 months old, did not have a chan­ce for sur­vi­val on its own.

As all cases of polar bears kil­led, the inci­dent is now mat­ter of legal inves­ti­ga­ti­on at the Sysselmannen’s office in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Polar bears are com­ple­te­ly pro­tec­ted in Spits­ber­gen. Only in cases of self defence, a kill is exempt from punish­ment.

The two trap­pers, Nor­we­gi­ans 28 and 29 years old who had stu­di­ed at UNIS and work­ed as gui­des in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, retur­ned to Aus­t­fj­ord­ne­set after poli­ce ques­tio­ning in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

The case of the group of ski tou­rists from Fin­land, who had inju­red a polar bear at Ver­le­gen­hu­ken north on Spits­ber­gen which then had to be shot by the poli­ce, has been clo­sed mean­while. Accor­ding to the Sys­sel­man­nen, it was not a cri­mi­nal act.


Hap­py litt­le polar bear fami­ly in Kongfjord. The mother is che­wing on remains of a dead wal­rus, while her first year cub is play­ing with a pie­ce of drift­wood. Nor­mal­ly, fema­le polar bears with off­spring stay away from human pre­sence. Unfort­u­na­te­ly, the­re are excep­ti­ons to this rule.

Polar bear family, Spitsbergen

Sources: Sys­sel­man­nen, Sval­bard­pos­ten


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