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Monthly Archives: November 2017 − News & Stories


The hut in Foxdalen – 21st November 2017

As mentioned before, November is not exactly the time for long trips out in the arctic wilderness. But that does not mean that you can’t go out on tour. Even a few kilometres can be interesting and even challenging in darkness, wind and drifting snow. Under clouds and snowfall, darkness is darkness is darkness. As long as you have got the wind in your face from the left side, the direction will be roughly ok. Fintuning is done later with help of the GPS. How did Nøis, Ritscher and all these guys do it in the old days? No idea. Well, they were not wimps as we are today. The just went for it and kept searching for the hut for some hours, if necessary. And if they did not find it at all, they were son food for the foxes. Good these days are over! It is still challening enough. The heavy pulk is pulling behind me, a strong sledge dog is pulling in front of me and under me, the skis are gliding over young snow.

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

Finally, we have reached the hut in Foxdalen. Just in time, the sky is clearing up and the courtain is lifting for a northern light of the more impressive sort, to put it mildly. I did not have the camera ready to capture the most amazing moment, sometimes there are more important things to do. But we did enjoy it, not just a little bit! And soon, the fire was going in the ovn …

Santa Claus’ Letterbox – 20th November 2017

If you have been to Longyearbyen since December 2013, then you have seen the huge, red letterbox just upon entering town, as you came from the airport. This was the Santa Claus Mailbox, and here you could post your letters to Santa Claus.

The letterbox was an idea from Po Lin Lee from Honkong, but she did not just send an idea and money from far away. She was and is in Longyearbyen and puts a lot of effort into hear postal project. But – the permission to have it standing there was only temporary. It ran out on December 2015, and then, the letterbox was to be removed again, or a new permission had to be obtained.

Neither of this happened, until Monday. What happened, was a fight that took a lot of time and energy. Letters, admonitions and warnings were written, bureaucrats and lawyers did what bureaucrats and lawyers do. Neighbours would have to be contacted to give their consent to a renewed permission for the letterbox to remain in place, but is is said that this never happened. Language difficulties seem to have played a role.

Then, the local administration (Longyearbyen Lokalstyre, LL) set a deadline: the letterbox was to disappear on Monday, November 20, 2017. The order to remove it had already been given by LL to a local construction firm. The invoice about the substantial amount of 129,000 NOK (about 13,300 Euro) was in the end to be paid by Po Lin Lee.

Who reacted by ordering a company from the mainland to take the letterbox down in a more carefuly way, so it could be re-built again later somewhere else. Before that happened, Po Lin Lee gave visitors a last chance to visit the letterbox, only to find out that the door had been firmly locked with big screws – without her, the owner, knowing about it. Also, there were traces of forecul break-in on the door, possibly from a local company who had already removed the electrical system on behalf of the local administration.

Gallery – Santa Claus’ Letterbox – 20th November 2017

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

Meanwhile, the discussion in local social media group had gained some momentum. Some were happy that local democracy had won a victory and the letterbox was now about to disappear, while others expressed sadness. There are different opinions regarding the question if Longyearbyen should be presented to the global public as a Santa Claus Town. The local legend actually says that Santa Claus lives in Mine 7b, above Nybyen. During the Christmas period, there is light up there, and there is a letterbox (of more conventional dimensions) next to the road below it, where children can send their letters to Santa Claus as part of the local christmas happenings.

The big Santa Claus letterbox was now removed by a company on behalf of Po Lin Lee. According to her, there are several interested parties that might step in and take over the letterbox to put it up again elsewhere in Scandinavia. And Po Lin Lee has not given up hopes that she might actually be able again to put it up somewhere else in Longyearbyen.

Happy Christmas time to everybody!

More arctic Christmas stories? – Click here to check out my (German) book with historical Christmas stories from high latitudes.

Historical
Christmas stories
(German)

Arktische Weihnachten - Rolf Stange

Picture frames made of Spitsbergen-driftwood available for the first time in limited edition

During a walk on any of Spitsbergen’s beautiful beaches, you can’t help it but be amazed about the impressive amounts of driftwood. Not only does it add a aesthetical aspect to the otherwise rather sterile shoreline, but it does also have a fascinating history: Just as Fridtjof Nansen did with his famous ship the Fram, did the wood drift all the way from Siberia with the pack ice across the Arctic Ocean and all the way to the north Atlantic, where it was thrown onto an arctic beach in Svalbard, Greenland, Iceland, Jan Mayen or Frans Josef Land.

Treibholz bei Wigdehlpynten - Spitzbergen

Driftwood at Wigdehlpynten – Woodfjord, Spitsbergen

And there we have it. If you are a trapper, you can use it to build a hut (that was rarely done, too much effort) or as firewood (that was very common). I am not a trapper, but a photographer, so it was an obvious idea to use the driftwood to make picture frames. Can you imagine a more appropriate picture frame for arctic pictures than one made of driftwood from Spitsbergen?

Turning driftood into picture frames required more effort than we expected to begin with. We made the first serious attempts several years ago, when master carpenter Wolfgang Zach opened his carpenter’s workshop in Longyearbyen. He called his little company “Alt i 3”, which is a play of words: “3” is “tre” in Norwegian, which also means “tree” or “wood” at the same time. So it translates to “Everything out of wood”. We found also out that you do actually need a license to export driftwood from Spitsbergen, so that was another thing we had to take care of.

So I started collecting driftwood in small amounts. The first project was a bookshelf for our flat in Longyearbyen, and at the same time we started making the first prototypes of picture frames. We just had to find out what works well with this very special material. One of the discoveries that we made was that if you cut and sand it, it looks as fresh and new as a wooden board that you just bought in the building supply store. Which is of course not the idea with picture frames made from arctic driftwood. So I started looking for pieces of wood that had a good shape to start with. Most pieces of driftwood are not natural, but rather trees cut in forestry in Siberia or even ready-made boards. Completely natural driftwood – trees with roots – are actually quite rare.

Treibholz Hiorthhamn - Spitzbergen

Rolf Stange transporting driftwood to Longyearbyen.

I took this driftwood in small amounts to Longyearbyen, were it had to be stored and slowly dried over longer periods of time. Then, Wolfgang and I could start making the first picture frames in his carpenter’s workshop. After some experimenting, we had a prototype that we both liked, so the master carpenter could start to produce the first set of 16 picture frames – all of them were made by Wolfgang Zach in Longyearbyen.

Spitsbergen driftwood picture frame

Now, these had to get to Germany. If you know me, then it won’t surprise you to read that they travelled from Spitsbergen to Franeker in the Netherlands on the good sailing ship Antigua and from there via Münster and Dresden to my shipping department in northeastern Germany.

After this long journey from Siberia, down a river, with the ice across the Arctic Ocean to a beach in Spitsbergen, from there to Longyearbyen to Wolfang’s carpenter’s workshop, from there on a sailing ship to Europe. And there they are now, the very first series of 16 picture frames from Spitsbergen driftwood, available for the first time since November 2017.

Every single picture frame is a unique specimen. This has to do with the history of the wood, the natural character of the material, the manual production. So I took photographs of all frames, which you can see on this page (click here), which also has all the technical information (dimensions, price etc.)

Picture frame of Spitsbergen driftwood

Ugledalen – 16th November 2017

A small valley, not too far from Longyearbyen. But not too close either. Compared to the polar night far away from any artificial light, Longyearbyen is still bright as day – well, almost.

With these 3 images, I try to give a more or less realistic impression of what the polar night actually looks like. I guess that is hardly possible, with a photo on a screen. The photos are still too bright, but when I make them even darker, then you will probably think that I have photographed black squares … when you are out in this landscape for a while, then your eyes are getting used to it to some degree and you can still see a lot! Certainly enough for general orientation.

Gallery – Ugledalen – 16th November 2017

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

Things are different when it is cloudy and windy, with drifting snow. Then: darkness is darkness is darkness.

Polar night – 14th November 2017

Back in Longyearbyen. Spitsbergen in mid-November may not be your place if you love sunshine. You have to appreciate the polar night to enjoy being here now. The last time the sun made it above the horizon was in late October, but today, November 14, the sun remains at least 4 degrees below the horizon even at noon. That is the beginning of the polar night, officially. There is some twilight around mid-day, so-called „nautical twilight“ for a couple of hours. Not even „civil twilight“, which most people would describe as „not completely dark“, but we don’t even have that anymore. There is not much to be seen of the moon either. It is going up in the middle of the night and down again in the afternoon, but it stays so low that you don’t really recognize that it is actually there.

Still, it is fully possible to have orientation while out on tour mid-day. The stars give some light, so that works well at least when there is snow. There is not much snow, but there is some, at least.

Gallery – Polar night – 14th November 2017

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

These photos give some impressions from a little hike during the „brightest“ hours. They are actually too bright, more so than in reality. No photography anymore without a tripod! It is still fun to be outside, but this is obviously not the time for very long trips out in the nature. You do a walk, and you get your work done in town, you spend time meeting friends …

There is, by the way, an info-page on this website dedicated to the polar night and midnight sun.

New 360° panorama: Ballstad, Lofoten

A new panorama on this site gives a 360 degree view of Ballstad on Vestvågøy, one of the Lofoten islands in north Norway. I shot it freehand and the weather was quite typical November.

Spitsbergen-calender 2018: the east coast

In February, the Spitsbergen-calendar 2018 takes us to the east coast. In the winter season, this is a popular destination for snowmobile day-trips, enabling relatively many people to see this grand winter scenery. Storfjorden is frozen to fast ice here in Mohnbukta, and some smaller bits and pieces of glacier ice are stuck in the ice. They broke off last summer from the combined glacier fronts of Königsbergbreen/Hayesbreen/Heuglinbreen, of which we can see a small part in the background.

It is quite common that polar bears are roaming through this icy landscape. We will see if we are lucky enough to spot them somewhere later …

The sun is just starting to rise above the horizon in Spitsbergen in mid-February, and the days are still short. It is still too early for longer trips. But the light can be breathtakingly beautiful!

Spitsbergen-Calendar 2018: February. Ice-landscape on the east coast

Spitsbergen-Calendar 2018: February. Ice-landscape on the east coast.

Vestvågøy – 08th November 2017

Today, we explore the large Lofoten island of Vestvågøy. The sun is above the horizon from 8 to 15 hours, but it remains hidden behind a thick cloud cover, so there is not too much light. That does not hamper the beauty of the scenery, actually it fits this rough landscape pretty well. But we limit our hiking activities to a little ascent of a slope next to Ballstad for a great view over the settlement and the coastal landscape (have a look at the 360 degree panorama of Ballstad that I shot on this occasion. Then, we follow a small road to explore the stunning coastline. We also have time for a short visit to the famous viking museum Borg. The museum is quite impressive. There is the 1:1 reconstruction of the huge long house of a viking chief. The museum was opened in 1995, and I happened to be there on the day of the opening. I was impressed back then, and I am still impressed today. The modern exhibition house with cinema and souvenir shop and everything that is part of a museum today did not exist, but the long house was there, and that was and is great fun. You can dress and feel like a viking. But to spend the polar night here, which is several weeks long, without any light source that we found find acceptable, from our 2017 perspective? There are no windows. Glass was as expensive as its weight in gold, and that was too much even for the powerful viking chief of Borg. And it was dark anyway outside during large parts of the winter. So they spent the winter in darkness.

Gallery – Vestvågøy – 08th November 2017

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

Kvalvika – 07th November 2017

Once again we chose the route southwards, to Flakstadøy and Moskenesøy. The scenery on these southern islands is just too impressive. Even on such a rather grey and not completely dry November day.

The outer side of the Lofoten islands is constantly beaten by weather, wind and waves of the north Atlantic, but it is famous for some beautifull white sand beaches. There is one in Ramber directly next to the road (and just on the other side of the same road, there is a very recommendable café, as we learn later the same day on the way back).

Gallery – Kvalvika – 07th November 2017

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

And there is another, really stunning beach, in a dramatic scenic setting, further south on Moskenesøy, in Kvalvika. There, you have to do something before you can enjoy the beach, it is quite a walk up the mountain and down on the other side. A lovely hike! And in November, you can even have the feeling to be the only person in the world in this amazing place, for a short while, and watch the waves washing up the white sand.

From Ballstad to Å – 06th November 2017

After a lot of goodbyes and farewells, everybody was going his or her way after leaving from or with Antigua in Bodø. For most, the voyage went southwards. For us, it went northwards. Back to Lofoten. It is actually possible to travel there without a ship 🙂

Ballstad on Vestvågøy was to be our Basecamp for a couple of day to discover Lofoten from another perspective. We want to see a lot of places that are quite easily reached over land, rather than with a ship. We want to take time to let the sub-arctic weather (it continues to be quite sub-arctic, November-style) and the nordic light touch the eye, soul and memory card without any rush. We want to enjoy the rugged Lofoten landscape without a tight schedule. A landscape of steep slopes and alpine peaks rising straight up from the shorelines. I try to imagine what it might have been like here maybe 12000 years ago, during the last ice age. It is a mental journey to northwestern Spitsbergen. That’s how it must have been like here back then! Today, Lofoten is an open air museum of previously glaciated landscapes, like a picture book.

Gallery – From Ballstad to Å – 06th November 2017

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

For a first overview, we travel down to Å, all the way south on Moskenesøy. It is a mental journey not only back to the ice age, but also 22 years back for me, when a stay of several months on these islands gave my own connection to the far north a strong boost. I find it easy to understand why, looking at this landscape today.

Vestfjord & Bodø – 04th November 2017

The wind had calmed down a bit, but it was still strong enough, coming from the south, so we decided to set sails and course to the west, rather than motoring against wind and waves southwards. So we waved goodbye to Lofoten when we left the pier in Svolvær after breakfast (better to be on the safe side!). The islands gave us a lovely farewell, with some sun, a rainbow above the famous „Lofoten wall“ (of mountains, rising straight up from the sea) and fair winds.

We spent the next couple of hours sailing in good style across Vestfjord, straight towards the mainland, before we reached the skerries at the Norwegian coast. A stunning coastline indeed! It is always great to see new land.

The last afternoon of such a voyage goes always quickly by. There is something to see as long as there is light. The sun is currently going down here close to 3 p.m. The final presentations, the triplogs needs to be finished, some preparations for departure tomorrow. The usual logistics. Still, different this time. It is the last time for this northern season.

A big circle closed when we went alongside in Bodø in the evening. We left from here on May 19 to sail via Lofoten and Bear Island up to Spitsbergen. It was the same place where we left, but it feels like a galaxy away. Back then, it was 24 hours of daylight. We had a long arctic summer ahead of us. Now, the sun is hardly making it above the horizon. And we have got a long arctic summer behind us. So many adventures with all the good crew of the Antigua and all the polar travellers who joined us on the various journeys.

Gallery – Vestfjord & Bodø – 04th November 2017

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

A big „thank you“ to everybody who was part of it for a great time, full of amazing adventures, impressions … you have never seen everything in the Arctic, you keep learning forever. The way there, to have seen and to know everything, is infinite. Yet, we got a good bit further. It is the purpose never really to get there, rather to spend as much time as possible on the way. It would be a shame to have seen it all, you have to have some dreams left … there will alway be plenty of it. The journey will never end.

Those thoughts aside – the spirits were high on this last evening. The last week had not given us any whale sightings or northern lights really worth mentioning, but other than that, actually quite a lot. Many impressions as they are typical for this landscape of coasts and islands in north Norway at this season. Good atmosphere on board. Good to have been part of it!

Russian helicopter wreck lifted

The wreck of the Russian helicopter that crashed into Isfjord close to Barentsburg previous Thursday was lifted last night. The special ship Maersk Forza was brought to Spitsbergen for this task and completed the work successfully on the night from Friday to Saturday. There were 8 persons on board the MI-8-helicopter when it crashed, including 5 crew members and 3 scientists. One body had already been found some days ago about 130 m away from the wreck. There is no trace so far from the other crew members, and the search for them will be continued.

The cockpit voice recorder could secured together with GPS units which are expected to have the actual flight track saved. They will be brought to Moskva for further investigations.

Meanwhile, questions are raised regarding the cause of the crash and the circumstances of the flight. The data recorders that were secured are likely to shed light on the actual crash. It seems that the flight was not legal according to applicable Norwegian legislation. The Norwegian flight permit issued to the operator covers only flights in direct combination to the operations of the mining company Trust Arktikugol, for example transport of company employees between Longyearbyen and Barentsburg. Commercial flights and transportation of tourists and scientists are explicitely excluded.

There were 3 scientists on board the helicopter when it crashed.

The wreck of the Russian helicopter, which crashed on October 26 close to Barentsburg into Isfjord, on board the ship Maersk Forza (photo © SHT).

helicopter wreck lifted.

Source: Svalbardposten

Kabelvåg-Svolvær-Laukvik – 03rd November 2017

The wind had become even stronger during the night, so we were quite happy to be already in the harbour of Kabelvåg. It is much nicer to go for a little walk and to visit the Lofotmuseum or the Lofotaquarium. Hats off to the group who went for the hike from Kabelvåg to Svolvær in wind, rain, very wet terrain and approaching darkness!

Unfortunately, the harbour master had ordered us to a remote corner of the industrial harbour of Svolvær, for reasons unknown to me. The way to Svolvær downtown, following the E10 over a bridge and through a tunnel, is not exactly what I consider northland romantic. Considering the rather poor weather, many preferred the cosiness of the ship above a walk anyway.

But in the evening, we went to the northern light entre in Laukvik to enjoy the hospitality and the presentation of Rob and Threes in cosy atmosphere (inside; the atmosphere outside was rather unpleasant). Everybody knew everything about coronal holes, solar wind, magnetosphere, activity levels etc. after the lecture, without any doubt!

Gallery – Kabelvåg-Svolvær-Laukvik – 03rd November 2017

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

It did actually clear up a little bit later on. The bus ride back to Svolvær was a scenic pleasure, with the light of the full moon on mountains, fjords and lakes. It would have been nice to stop to put the tripod up. But just enjoying it was also nice! No northern light showed up during that evening, unfortunately. Well, we were obviously not up for that bit of luck.

Trollfjord-Skrova – 02nd November 2017

The wind in Raftsund, where we had anchored for the night, was really strong, but it became a bit less in the early morning. The combination of the fjords and islands, rugged mountains, wind and snow made a very true and scenic impression of this harsh nature: wild and beautiful. This is how nature often is in the far north. Of course, there is sometimes a blue, sunny sky and calm water. But this here is normal life. Wild and beautiful.

„Wild“ and „beautiful“ changed in Trollfjord by the minute, as the snow squalls came and went. From zero visibility to clear views of the mountains, from calm waters to screaming winds within moments.

We were just about to leave when a whole family of 3 sea eagles came along. Several times, they flew past the ship in close distance. Good fun to have a fast camera now 🙂

Gallery – Trollfjord-Skrova – 02nd November 2017

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

The attributs „wild“ and „beautiful“ were also an appropriate description of our afternoon visit to Skrova. Entering the harbour between all those rocks and skerries is always impressive, and then we were alongside. Soon we were ready for take-off to explore this lovely little island, walking through the little settlement around the harbour, across the island to some beautiful little bays with white sand beaches. Wind, cold, snow and approaching darkness could not keep some brave hikers to ascend Skrovafjellet. The reward came in shape of stunning views over the sea and islands.

We made the short passage to Kabelvåg in the evening. The forecast for tomorrow promised more wind, so it was good to get there today.

Harstad – 01st November 2017

The history of the area goes back thousands of years, and it has got many chapters, most of them rather unpleasant. We had a look at some of that during the morning’s excursion to the Trondenes peninsula.

The Adolf gun (they really use that term in public) was part of Hitler’s fortification of the Atlantic coast. The sheer dimensions and the technology of this large cannon are as impressive as its background: people do obviously not save any effort or money when it comes to destroying something. If they only put a fraction of that effort and money into making things better … well. At least, the Adolf gun was never fired in anger, only for testing and practising.

Nearby Trondenes Museum took us through centuries of local history. Stone age hunters and fishers, vikings, early Christians, stockfish trade and so on.

Gallery – Harstad – 01st November 2017

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

Directly upon leaving, the sails went up. Soon we thought we might have to take them down again after no time, as we were almost stationary in the straits northeast of Harstad. But then, the wind came back, more sails went up, and we got a lovely and exciting bit of sailing, I mean real sailing, up to a good 10 knots. A quick turn – the coast just did not want to move, so we had to – and finally the wind died down again and the took the sails down. Just in time for the bridge at Risøysund, which is always good for an interesting passage (bridge height 30 metres, height of Antigua’s main mast: 31 meters. So that works!).

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