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Home → July, 2017

Monthly Archives: July 2017 − News & Stories

Dei Sju Isfjella – 31st July 2017

There is nothing you could call wind and weather here at the time being, fjord and sea are calm as a little lake. So we could anchor close to Kapp Mitra in outer Krossfjord, close to the open west coast. The famous polar bear hunter Henry Rudi built a hut here in 1910 which was later also used by scientists. Lots of stories in this lovely landscape, which has almost a mediterranean appearance, with its great beaches and little rocky capes. You might have thought we had taken a wrong turn last night if it had not been for the walrus skull on the beach …

Gallery – Dei Sju Isfjella – 31st July 2017

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

The passage further north along the outer coast is often a rough ride. But today, „the seven icebergs“ (Dei Sju Isfjella) is a lovely trip under blue sun and a sea so calm that we take the rare opportunity to visit a bird cliff or two and we even make a landing in one of the few places there the terrain gives us the chance on this otherwise rather hostile coastline.

Kongsfjord – 30th July 2017

We want to take things as they come, and that is really the way to do it. It couldn’t be any better. It remains calm in northern Forlandsund, so we make a little morning walk on Prins Karls Forland, enjoying some great views on the wild mountain and glacier scenery from a moraine ridge.

Later, we make a stop in Ny-Ålesund, for some sightseeing, shopping and to fill up the diesel tanks. Now we are ready for whatever is waiting for us!

Gallery – Kongsfjord – 30th July 2017

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

The day is not yet old enough to call it a day, so we make another landing, the third one today, to climb up to a bird cliff in Kongsfjord. Admittedly, it is a bit hard after dinner to climb up, but it is all worth it, as we have several hundred Brünich’s guillemots and kittywakes close to us in the end. Not to mention the polar fox family who are enjoying their good summer life just in front of us!

Forlandsund – 30th July 2017

The weather could not have been better as we steamed into Forlandsund. And while we were following the coastline, keeping a look out for a place for a potential afternoon walk, we saw a polar bear walking over the tundra between some reindeer! The first polar bear sighting of this trip, already on the second day! It was actually not a very fotogenic polar bear, quite distant and mostly hiding behind a beach ridge, but fully and clearly visible for everybody for some lovely moments. Good stuff!

Gallery – Forlandsund – 30th July 2017

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

And while we were already at it regarding the big animals, we visited a little group of walrusses in the evening. What a day! The hike across Erdmannflya (see previous blog), that was also today …

Erdmannflya – 29th July 2017

We had spent a somewhat late, but beautifully calm night in Borebukta, where we started a hike across Erdmannflya in the morning. Low-lying, wide tundra, where reindeer are grazing. A beautiful, peaceful land! It is hard to describe the impressions with words. How do you describe wide-open spaces and timeless beauty?

Gallery – Erdmannflya – 29th July 2017

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

After a couple of hours, we reached Ymerbukta, where Heinrich was already waiting for us with Arctica II. The remains of yesterday’s dinner were very popular upon arrival!

Now we are leaving Isfjord and we are eager to see what the next days will bring.

Bohemanflya – 28th July 2017

Today is the day to start the next tour, „advanced Spitsbergen“ with Arctica II. Another highlight of the ongoing arctic summer season!

The sun is smiling as we gather on bord, skipper Heinrich, my colleague Timon and 9 brave travellers. We have got 18 exciting days ahead of us to explore Spitsbergen together.

The water is flat as a mirror as we move out into Isfjord, so we do not want to miss the opportunity to make a landing at Bohemanneset. This wide, flat peninsula is so exposed in the middle of Isfjord, surrounded by shallow waters, that it takes some luck with the weather to get here. And of course we do take the opportunity as we have it today! So we make our first landing just about 2 hours after departure from Longyearbyen, and it turns out to be quite a long excursion of several hours. It is as if nature had created a botanical garden here, a theme park „flora of the tundra“. So many species, including some unusual ones. What a colourful abundance!

We walk to the huts of Rijpsburg, where the time of commercial coal mining in Spitsbergen was started in 1899. Some years later, Hjalmar Johansen wintered here, Fridtjof Nansen’s famous comrade and sleeping bag mate from the Fram expedition, together with the German journalist Theodor Lerner. Hilmar Nøis, who became a local legend as a trapper, followed in later years. So great to be here, where all this happened – I have told some of those stores in my new book about arctic christmas stories, which I sent to the printer today! How great is that? How appropriate to get to the scene of these adventures a couple of hours later?

Gallery – Bohemanflya – 28th July 2017

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

Longyearbyen – mid July 2017

Between the trip with Antigua and the upcoming one with Arctica II, I have got a couple of days to get some writing done. Soon, the Spitsbergen calendar 2018 and my new book about „Arctic christmas stories“ will be ready to print!

Of course, there is still time for a little tour every now and then. You don’t always have to go far to see a lot. To be precise, I don’t even have to leave the sofa (but I still do, occasionally) to see arctic skuas and Barnacle geese on the tundra. The chicks of both are also around. There are at least two leucistic (mostly white) Barnacle geese around, an adult and a chick.

If you are a common eider, then this is a dangerous area to be. The arctic skuas feed on eider duck eggs, and their contents were certainly almost ready for hatching by now, just to be torn to pieces by ferocious birds, who resemble T-rex’s during that process, just a bit smaller. Well, also the arctic skuas and their chicks need to feedn on something, but not being a common eider is a good thing.

A bit further into Adventdalen, there is a red-throated diver with chicks on the nest. I have never before taken a family foto of a red-throated diver! And in this great light!

Gallery – Longyearbyen – mid July 2017

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There are flowers everywhere now in Longyearbyen. The Svalbard buttercup, quite rare in the past, is spreading now in some places in town; it is actually quit abundant now in some locations. And the famous cotton grass is ready again for its role as a popular, postcard-proof photo object.

Polar row: In a rowboat to Spitsbergen

If you want to travel to Spitsbergen in an environmentally friendly way, perhaps you should join these five men: the Norwegian Tor Wigum, the Welshman Jeff Willis, the American Carlo Facchino, the Indian Roy Tathagata and the Icelandic Fiann Paul want to row from Tromsø to Spitsbergen today!

Fiann Paul is the leader of this expedition named “Polar Row”. There is no doubt about his qualification. He has already crossed the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean in record time in a rowing boat. Fiann Paul has prepared the expedition for one year. Since the oarsmen can not expect any help from sea currents, they will have to row continuously 24 hours a day. In doing so, the team changes with the tasks: Some will row for two hours. During this time, the others may eat, sleep or inspect the boats or their own injuries.

It is planned to travel the almost 1000 kilometers long route in 9 to 13 days. The expedition will arrive in Longyearbyen at the latest in the beginning of August.

Plenty of equipment and strong nerves

Expedition leader Fiann Paul doesn’t worry too much about the physical effort or the cold. All participants are physically and mentally very strong, he told the newspaper Svalbardposten. An accompanying boat is not included, but safety equipment such as survival suits, rescue vests, a rescue boat and a satellite phone. Only if the equipment fails or there are problems with the boat, it could be difficult.

If the expedition succeeds, it should be the first registered rowing tour of this kind. However, there are stories of people who have traveled the route between Tromsø and Spitsbergen (or a part of it) in a rowing boat due to a shipwreck.

The Barents Sea, also called the devil’s dance floor, on a sailing ship – that is one thing. It is another thing on a rowing boat.

Barents Sea

Rowing for a good cause

The expedition also pursues two further goals: the University of Cambridge will investigate how the extreme tour affects the participants psyche. In addition, 20,000 British pounds (around € 22,600) are to be collected via a crowdfunding platform. With this money a school will be built in the Himalayan region in 2018.

And Longyearbyen is not yet the end of the expedition. After a few days break, they will continue to the northernmost city of Iceland Siglufjörður – about 2000 km, also in the rowing boat.

To the expeditions homepage.

Sources: Svalbardposten, Polarrow-Homepage

Svalbard reindeer is doing well

The Norwegian Polar Institute counted 1374 Svalbard reindeer in the Adventdalen around Longyearbyen this year. Many calves were observed and only a few dead reindeer found. This is a trend that has been observed for years: The reindeer population has been growing slightly in this region for years.

Well-fed Svalbard reindeer, an endemic subspecies of the reindeer

Svalbard reindeer

The reindeer have been counted since 1979 on Spitsbergen by the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Sysselmannen – the Governor of Spitsbergen. At that time only 457 reindeer were counted in Adventdalen. It is estimated that a total of 10.000 to 11.000 reindeer live on Spitsbergen.

Climate change has variuos effects

Up to now, it has been assumed that reindeer suffer from the increasing rain. In winter, the rain forms a layer of ice on the ground and the reindeer have more difficulties approaching the lichens and grasses. Higher temperatures in the autumn seem to compensate for the deterioration in the living conditions for reindeer. Last year, high temperatures in October and November made it possible for the reindeer to build fat reserves so they could survive the cold winter.

The situation is a bit different for reindeer north of Spitsbergen: on the Brøggerhalvøya peninsula/ Kongsfjorden, the stock remains stable. Here, the fjords have remained free of ice in recent years, so that the Reindeer can hardly migrate to avoid bad feeding conditions.
Global warming could therefore have different effects in the different climate zones on Spitsbergen.

Less dead reindeer in the Adventdalen could mean bad news for another species: The polar fox feeds from reindeer carcasses. Less dead reindeer means, he must switch to other food sources.

Sometimes curious: Svalbard reindeer

Svalbard reindeer

More articles about the Svalbard reindeer

Source: Nordlys, Svalbardposten

Isfjord – 12th July 2017

The last day of this great, beautiful voyage. We woke up alongside in Pyramiden, the Russian ghost-town. A strong and fascinating contrast after so much nature during the last days, and of course we can not ignore all the history that came with the 20th century, the Spitsbergen-treaty and so on.

As a relatively recent development, the school building is open for us. Amazing impressions! Alex and I are looking forward to a more extensive visit to Pyramiden in September.

But the last experience during this trip should again be in the arctic nature and not in bizarre remains of mining and political history. It cleared up a bit, and we greatly enjoyed a long, quiet landing in Skansbukta, including many lovely flowers. Amongst them was a northern Jacob’s ladder (?) (Polemonium boreale?) with white flowers – have you seen or heard of that before?

Gallery – Isfjord – 12th July 2017

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

Some hours later, we went alongside in Longyearbyen, after 1313 nautical miles, including about 24 landings (including an ice floe) and all those whales, polar bears, sailing … big thanks and warm regards to all involved! It was great!

Forlandsund-Isfjord – 12th July 2017

The best days are often those ones where you don’t follow plans, but things just happen. One more good reason just to follow the wind sometimes!

To begin with, we were a bit late, as we had spent quite a bit of time last night with the bird cliff and the blue fox in Krossfjord. So we were not in Isfjord when we woke up, but still in Forlandsund. Which was not bad, it is a beautiful area, and we set course for a landing site after breakfast, entering a lovely, little natural harbour with the Zodiacs. We enjoyed the beauties of the west coast tundra for a while, the colourful flowers, the wide-open tundra, views from little hills, the rugged coastline, until we spotted a polar bear in the distance. It turned out to be a mother bear with two cubs!

Gallery – Forlandsund-Isfjord – 12th July 2017

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

We moved out, but later we managed to get some stunning views of the polar bear family from the Zodiacs. The three were feeding from the carcass of a walrus. An unforgettable moment and an unexpected highlight of this voyage, which is slowly coming towards its end! It was – still is – a great trip, something that we celebrated in the evening, after another, little landing on Erdmannflya, without polar bears this time, with our traditional Captain’s Dinner. Cheers!

Krossfjord – 11th July 2017

It was a long night yesterday, on the way out of Woodfjord with all that ice and stunning evening light. And a long way to Krossfjord. So we could enjoy a relaxed morning today, and I think everybody quite liked that after the intense days that we had had.

Mid-day, we entered Krossfjord and bit later, we went ashore in Signehamna. Lichens and mosses, frost-patterned ground and frost-shattered shale. Remains of an old German war weather station from the mad days of the second world war.

We made a hike to a mountain ridge with a great view to the west coast and a walk along the lake Hajeren. The lake was in a remarkable state of thawing: the winter ice consisted of needle-shaped crystals, but the ice cover had largely disintegrated and fallen apart to release those crystals or to form smaller blocks of such crystals. Which fit perfectly together, so it was impossible to pull them apart, you could only slide them alongside each other, like a three-dimensional puzzle. And the sound that was created with these ice crystals by the wind was even more unique!

Gallery – Krossfjord – 11th July 2017

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Even more than the blue fox that we saw later in the evening on the top of a seabird colony.

Liefdefjord – 10th July 2017

It was one of these magical arctic nights. Unforgettable. Drift ice glittering under the midnight sun, warm colours, rugged mountains everywhere around the fjords.

We woke up in Liefdefjord to be greeted by perfect mirror images on the water and ventured on a long, lovely hike to enjoy grand vistas of the whole area, from Reinsdyrflya to Monacobreen all in one great panorama.

Gallery – Liefdefjord – 10th July 2017

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Later, we had a good look at Monacobreen from a closer distance, before we cruised through the drift ice in Woodfjord again. We went closer to the shore near Gråhuken to see Christiane Ritter’s hut („A woman in the polar night“), where we also fished a huge bit of garbage out of the water. A flotation device from a buoy which broke lose somewhere. Good to get it out of nature.

80 degrees north – 09th July 2017

Who would have thought a week ago that we would make it up to 80 degrees north? Back then, we were still somewhere in the far southeast, facing a long passage around the south cape. And now, we are suddenly on the north coast 🙂

Even on 80 degrees north. Moffen is not far. It is not allowed to make landings there until mid September. Conditions would be perfect today. Flat-calm waters, open drift ice. We celebrated the 80th parallel duly and enjoyed the magic of the ice. We just escaped a wintering on an ice floe 😉

We made good use of the calm conditions on the north coast by making a relatively rare landing at Velkomstpynten, on the north coast of Reinsdyrflya. A nice hike over the tundra took us to Velkomstvarden, just 95 metres high, but that is higher than anything nearby, hence providing an amazing view over Reinsdyrflya, Woodfjord and Liefdefjord.

Gallery – 80 degrees north – 09th July 2017

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After our landing, there was a lot less plastic on the beach east of Velkomstvarden. Enough to fill several large bags. Good thing! So the great polar BBQ that Sascha, Jana & Co had prepared for us on deck was well deserved and greatly enjoyed, while Antigua was making her way south through the drift ice, deeper into Woodfjord.

Smeerenburgfjord – 08th July 2017

Today was our day. We have been traveling for a while now and we have been to a lot of good places, and it is almost a bit strange that we have not yet seen any polar bears. I want to emphasize again that we do not run a polar bear safari here, but of course a sighting would make everybody happy, no doubt about that. The weather: polar bear like. Not bad, not unpleasant, but arctic.

Admittedly, it is not a secret anymore that the carcass of a whale has been washed ashore in Smeerenburgfjord. So it was not only coincidence that we had a very good look around here. And indeed, there it was. And we were at the right time at the right place! A female bear with a first-year cub went down to the whale for a hearty breakfast. We were close enough with Antigua to watch it perfectly well and far enough to leave them undisturbed. Perfect! Another bear was also around, we saw it briefly before it disappeared again behind some rocks.

And yet another bear sighting later. Captain Joachim anchored the Antigua in a perfect position to give us a great viewing opportunity. This bear was not exactly super-active, but it stretched like a cat. Sweet!

Gallery – Smeerenburgfjord – 08th July 2017

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

A visit to Virgohamna, the arctic Cape Canaveral, rounded the day nicely off.

Kongsfjord – 07th July 2017

We continued into Kongsfjord – last night, as we went into the fjord, we made a little evening landing at Kvadehuken. We had sailed past it 1000 times (well, almost), but had never gone ashore. Interesting place! Not just because of the remains of the geophysical observatory from the early 1920s, but it is also an interesting bit of landscape.

We started the next day in Ny-Ålesund, with a guided town walk, a shopping session in the famous Kongsfjordbutikken and the mandatory pilgrimage to the anchor mast of the 1926 and 1928 airship expeditions of Roald Amundsen and Umberto Nobile.

Later, we went to Blomstrand. Starting from Ny London, we went for a mountain hike to the top of the island, a coastal walk that went as far as to one of the caves and an excursion dedicated to the flora.

Gallery – Kongsfjord – 07th July 2017

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

Finally, we spent a long evening near the glacier front of Blomstrandbreen, which was making a lot of interesting noises.
Oh yes – not to forget the blue whale shortly before leaving the fjord again 🙂


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