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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Photo

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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