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Home → January, 2018

Monthly Archives: January 2018 − News & Stories


Ant­arc­tic Crui­se with SY Anne-Mar­ga­re­tha – tra­vel blog on antarctic.eu

The­re is a blog for our cur­rent voya­ge to Ant­arc­ti­ca with the two-mast sai­ling ship SY Anne-Mar­ga­re­tha. Plea­se click here to visit the blog on antarctic.eu! Reports will start in the next few days and will be trans­mit­ted via satel­li­te to the web­mas­ter (so the tech­no­lo­gy works) and publis­hed by him and lin­ked in Face­book the next day.

Antarktis - Ushuaia

2017, Octo­ber to Decem­ber: polar night

Octo­ber brought the ter­ri­ble crash of the Rus­si­an heli­co­p­ter that fell into Isfjord, not too far away from Bar­ents­burg. All 8 on board peris­hed tra­gi­cal­ly. This sad event touched ever­y­bo­dy in Spits­ber­gen and many peop­le else­whe­re deeply.

For me, it was time to return to the office in Octo­ber (more about the results later), befo­re we set sails one last time in the Arc­tic for this year to enjoy the beau­ty of the approa­ching polar night in north Nor­way. Cer­tain­ly a rather unusu­al time for tou­rists to come to the­se lati­tu­des, but beau­ti­ful. Light, snow, sce­ne­ry, pla­ces. Oh yes, and Sea eagles!

Sea eagle

Sea eagle in Troll­fjord.

In Spits­ber­gen, the polar night had set in for real. A good time to relax a bit. If you have too much time, you can always remo­ve someone’s let­ter­box.

No long expe­di­ti­ons, but still, impres­si­ons of silent beau­ty, and time to meet friends – and yourself, after many mon­ths of inten­se tra­vel­ling. And we could enjoy some nort­hern lights!

Northern light above Foxdalen

Nort­hern light abo­ve Fox­da­len.

And then the year was almost over. Befo­re we repla­ced the old calen­ders, the­re were some weeks of inten­se work for the finis­hing tou­ches on a new edi­ti­on of the Eng­lish ver­si­on of the Spits­ber­gen gui­de­book (the very last bit of finetu­ning hap­pen­ed actual­ly in Janu­a­ry – doesn’t real­ly mat­ter, does it?). The most com­pre­hen­si­ve (608 pages!) and up-to-date ver­si­on of this book that exists (I know, the latest ver­si­on is always the most up-to-date one. And it does not yet exist, phy­si­cal­ly, it is in print as I am wri­ting this in mid Janu­a­ry). It is actual­ly the 10th edi­ti­on, if I count all lan­guages, star­ting with the first Ger­man edi­ti­on in 2007, the 5th edi­ti­on of which is cur­r­ent­ly avail­ab­le. In spring 2017, it came out for the first time in Nor­we­gi­an. And now a new Eng­lish edi­ti­on. By the way, the third book that I finis­hed and got into print in a year. So I do say without hesi­ta­ti­on that I am actual­ly a bit proud! The Spits­ber­gen gui­de­book is appre­cia­ted by many rea­ders, I know that. That inclu­des pro­fes­sio­nal expe­di­ti­on lea­ders and gui­des, which makes me even more proud. Now, if the­re is one thing that I’d be allo­wed to wish, then it would be some of the appre­cia­ti­on of rea­ders and col­leagues also in some offices, ship owners and tra­vel com­pa­nies as well as dedi­ca­ted muse­ums in Nor­way (main­land). Wouldn’t it be good if you could buy this book on board your ship in Spits­ber­gen while you tra­vel the­re? Or, say, at Pola­ria in Trom­sø, a museum/exhibition cent­re dedi­ca­ted to Spits­ber­gen? May­be one of them hap­pens to stumb­le over the­se lines … may­be the word of the appre­cia­ti­on of rea­ders and expe­di­ti­on field staff spreads into tho­se offices. That would be my wish for this book and for me as a polar book wri­ter for the upco­m­ing year.

Spitsbergen-Svalbard 4

This is what the new gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard (4th edi­ti­on) will look like.

When this blog is online, then I am alrea­dy off and far in the south, in Ushua­ia or alrea­dy on board SY Anne-Mar­ga­re­tha to enjoy Ant­arc­ti­ca under sails. An ama­zing thought, and now it is about to beco­me rea­li­ty! So come back to this site to check the blog!

Thank you for rea­ding this far. Best wis­hes for the new year!

Sep­tem­ber 2017 review­ed: arc­tic light, polar bears and an Ita­li­an lost and found

Public atten­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en in Sep­tem­ber 2017 was for some time lar­ge­ly attrac­ted by several polar bears who see­med hap­py to stay around in the neigh­bour­hood. Of cour­se, also the locals love to see a polar bear, but not whe­re they live, go for a walk and let their child­ren go to school.

An Ita­li­an tou­rist mana­ged to get lost big time on Fuglef­jel­la, west of Lon­gye­ar­by­en. That kept the local branch of the Red Cross and other SAR for­ces pret­ty busy for a very long night, so it was hard to say if one should laugh or cry in the end. The man was found and saved in good con­di­ti­on, and that’s the most important thing in the end, doesn’t it?

Kongsfjord

Evening crui­se in Kongsfjord.

We spent a cou­p­le of real­ly lovely days in Pyra­mi­den. You will pro­bab­ly know that this is inde­ed a very spe­cial place, and if you are open for the part­ly pret­ty bizar­re impres­si­ons that the place has to offer, then you can just keep dis­co­vering fore­ver! That’s just what we did – not fore­ver, but for a cou­p­le of days that I real­ly don’t want to miss. I guess my per­so­nal high­light was the hike over Ygg­dra­sil­kam­pen, the moun­tain south of Pyra­mi­den. Just stun­ning views! Click here to check it out as a full 360 degree pan­ora­ma. It would have been even more fun without a cold, but still … and of cour­se, the­re is always some­thing new to dis­co­ver in Pyra­mi­den its­elf. And a group of nice peop­le. What else could you ask for? In the end, nobo­dy real­ly wan­ted to lea­ve.

Yggdrasilkampen

View from Ygg­dra­sil­kam­pen over Mimerda­len and Pyra­mi­den.

What else did Sep­tem­ber bring? Light, light and light. That’s what this tran­si­ti­on time bet­ween mid­ni­ght sun and polar night is famous for. Never-ending sun­ri­ses and sun­sets, ski­es that can be anything from oran­ge and pink to red and blue, a dark-green shi­ne on the gla­ciers … we got all of that, and much more. The only light phe­no­me­non that was a bit scar­ce was the nort­hern light. Not that the­re were none at all, but we had bet­ter nort­hern light sea­sons in the past.

Tre Kroner

The famous moun­tains Tre Kro­ner (“three Crowns”) in Kongsfjord in evening light.

But what else do you need of you are sur­roun­ded by such sce­nic magic?

Yes! A fire on the beach! 🙂

Fire on the beach

Cosy fire on the beach in Woodfjord.

August 2017 review­ed: Lady Fran­klin­fjord, Ros­søya and fur­ther high­lights

The poli­ce raid on the local drug sce­ne – which is not the world’s big­gest one – was pro­bab­ly the big­gest public exci­te­ment in August in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. They have to show every cou­p­le of years that drugs are not tole­ra­ted in such a small and remo­te com­mu­ni­ty. This appears not to have been a gre­at suc­cess this year, as they had to release tho­se again who were initi­al­ly taken in cus­to­dy. But on the other hand, if you find out in the end that not­hing much had hap­pen­ed (at least as far as you have evi­dence for), then it is not a bad thing eit­her, is it?

As far as I am con­cer­ned, I con­ti­nued around Sval­bard on board Arc­ti­ca II (“advan­ced Spits­ber­gen”; the­re is still, by the way, an empty seat on this (Ger­man spea­king) trip in 2018). In that sen­se, August star­ted in late July, as that’s when we left Lon­gye­ar­by­en again. And on the very same day we could ven­ture for a lovely walk on Bohem­an­flya. Which is real­ly not far away from Lon­gye­ar­by­en, but you have to have the right wea­ther for a lan­ding the­re, and we did!

Bohemanflya

Gra­ve on Bohem­an­flya.

The wea­ther con­ti­nued to be fine for some time. I don’t know how many times I had sai­led up and down the nort­hern west coast of Spits­ber­gen, bet­ween Kongsfjord and Mag­da­le­n­efjord, that bit of coast that is known as “Dei Sju Isfjel­la” (“the seven ice­bergs”) sin­ce the 17th cen­tu­ry? And I had never been ashore on this expo­sed, wild coast­li­ne! Obvious­ly a situa­ti­on that could not be tole­ra­ted fore­ver. In bright sunshi­ne and ama­zin­gly calm seas, we went ashore in Kve­dfjor­dbuk­ta and enjoy­ed life the­re for a while, fee­ling that we might be the first peop­le the­re in many years. And that may actual­ly have been pret­ty clo­se to the truth. A good fee­ling that we could enjoy yet ano­t­her cou­p­le of times during this trip!

Kvedfjordbukta

Kve­dfjor­dbuk­ta: rare oppor­tu­ni­ty for a lan­ding the­re in per­fect con­di­ti­ons.

This inclu­des the ama­zing days in Lady Fran­klin­fjord and – a geo­gra­phic high­light in the tru­est sen­se of the word – the lan­ding on Ros­søya, the nort­hern­most bit of land in the who­le of Sval­bard. Not that it is a very signi­fi­cant island bey­ond its fur­thest north posi­ti­on. But it is the nort­hern­most one. That’s alrea­dy more than good enough, isn’t it? 🙂

Rossøya

The­re is no land in Sval­bard north of Ros­søya.
Hein­rich Eggen­fell­ner is put­ting us ashore.

In this way I could con­ti­nue, raving on about many lovely lan­dings, but we did cer­tain­ly not igno­re the wild­life eit­her. Nobo­dy of the small num­ber of peop­le who were the­re will for­get that polar bear sigh­t­ing on Edgeøya. And the same is true for the wild pas­sa­ge around the south cape and the adven­tur­ous lan­ding that fol­lo­wed on the west coast.

Polar bear, Edgeøya

A wal­rus (dead) and a polar bear (very much ali­ve) on Edgeøya.

Oh yes, and then we still mana­ged to finish the Spits­ber­gen calen­dar 2018 in late August. We are get­ting bet­ter every year, even though it was not avail­ab­le in July, as I had been hoping for. But as you can see, we were not lazy in the book (& rela­ted) publi­shing depart­ment eit­her!

Spitsbergen-Calender 2018

The Spits­ber­gen calen­dar 2018 came out in August.

July 2017 review­ed: the south cape, polar bears and arc­tic Christ­mas

Con­si­de­ring public news, July was a rather calm mon­th in Spits­ber­gen. Which is gre­at. No news are good news. Of cour­se, the­re is always some­thing, but all wit­hin rea­son. The rein­de­er were doing well, the­re were no avalan­ches and no extre­me wea­ther situa­tions. We could pret­ty much just enjoy!

And so we did, most­ly with SV Anti­gua. We star­ted actual­ly alrea­dy in late June, and the first high­light – I am com­ing to my per­so­nal per­spec­ti­ve – came quick­ly in shape of a rare lan­ding near Spitsbergen’s south cape (Sør­kapp).

Sørkapp Land

Lan­ding clo­se to Sør­kapp (the south cape) of Spits­ber­gen.

Other peop­le who were the­re with me will pro­bab­ly rather remem­ber the Blue wha­le that we saw clo­se up later the same day, or the polar fox fami­ly a day later. And no doubt, the­se are all pre­cious memo­ries. But for me per­so­nal­ly, well, I just love rare lan­dings, the­se hid­den pla­ces that almost nobo­dy knows and even fewer peop­le ever get to. But the­se pla­ces to all have their secrets. More often than not, the­re is some­thing exci­ting to dis­co­ver!

Blue whale, Storfjord

Blue wha­le in Storfjord.

But still, the wild­life is a big chunk of Spitsbergen’s beau­ty. And the sigh­t­ing of a fema­le polar bear with one cub who were feas­ting on the remains of a dead wha­le on Dans­køya were amongst the high­lights of the­se weeks!

Polar bears, Danskøya

Hap­py polar bear fami­ly and an unhap­py wha­le on Dans­køya.

And if you ask anyo­ne who was on board, then I am sure most will tell you that the lan­ding on an ice floe is one of the most pre­cious memo­ries that they took home from this gre­at trip. How often do you have the chan­ce to stand on drift ice on 80 degrees north? Feel like Nan­sen! But not for 3 years … we left a bit ear­lier.

Ice landing on 80 degrees north

Ice lan­ding on 80 degrees north.

Back in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, I could final­ly finish my arc­tic Christ­mas book (Ger­man only, sor­ry). The second book that I could finish and get prin­ted this year, after the Nor­we­gi­an ver­si­on of my Sval­bard gui­de­book! Final­ly, con­si­de­ring the arc­tic Christ­mas book, as I have to admit. It took me a good 10 years sin­ce I star­ted with this one! Making a book does always take time, but in this case one of the main pro­blems had been someo­ne who would be able to crea­te the drawings that I had on my mind for this book. Until I saw last year – also on Anti­gua, by the way – what Nor­bert Wach­ter could do with a pen­cil and a sheet of paper. So we went, and here we are! Done! 🙂

Arktische Weihnachten

The arc­tic christ­mas book: final­ly in print in late July.

Mel­ting sea ice makes rese­arch on polar bears more dif­fi­cult

It is beco­m­ing incre­a­singly dif­fi­cult for the rese­ar­chers on Spits­ber­gen to stu­dy the migra­ti­ons of polar bears on the Bar­ents Sea bet­ween Sval­bard and Rus­sia. The­re are about 3000 polar bears living in the area, but only about 300 polar bears can be stu­di­ed by the rese­ar­chers. The rea­son is the with­dra­wal of sea ice, which cau­ses that the migra­ting polar bears can no lon­ger reach Sval­bard.

Migra­ti­on of polar bears can be traced by a GPS col­lar

Polar bear with GPS collar

“The situa­ti­on has chan­ged drasti­cal­ly,” says polar bear rese­ar­cher Jon Aars from the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te. Sin­ce 1987, the polar bears on Spits­ber­gen have been sys­te­ma­ti­cal­ly exami­ned. Until the 1990s, not only polar bears living all year round on Spits­ber­gen were obser­ved, but also tho­se who migra­te over long distan­ces on the sea ice on the Bar­ents Sea bet­ween Rus­sia and Spits­ber­gen. A lar­ge part of this stock could also be found on Spits­ber­gen for some time of the year, so that the migra­to­ry move­ments could be well stu­di­ed.

Today, almost only bears are tag­ged, who spend the who­le year on Spits­ber­gen. Only two or three out of 20 tag­ged bears migra­te to Rus­sia. The result is less data about the migra­to­ry move­ments of the polar bears. The data is nee­ded to orga­ni­ze the con­ser­va­ti­on of polar bears.

Sin­ce the bears can no lon­ger reach Spits­ber­gen, rese­ar­chers try to find ways to approach the polar bears. But it is much more dif­fi­cult to approach the polar bear on sea ice. The ice must be sta­ble enough for a heli­co­p­ter to land on. At the same time, the open sea should not be too clo­se so that the polar bear does not jump into the sea and drown the­re after being tran­qui­li­zed. Whe­ther this data is actual­ly nee­ded to orga­ni­ze the con­ser­va­ti­on of polar bears, remains controversial.The nega­ti­ve effects of tag­ging has been repor­ted on this web­site several times (“Polar bear found dead in Petu­nia­buk­ta had been ana­es­the­ti­sed for sci­en­ti­fic pur­po­ses” or “Male polar bear inju­red by sci­en­ti­fic col­lar”)

Jon Aars also appeals to the rus­si­an sci­en­tists to show more effort in rese­ar­ching the polar bears, for examp­le on Franz-Josef-Land.

The ice is get­ting thin­ner for the polar bears of the Bar­ents Sea…

Polar bear

Source: NRK

2017 review­ed: June, Jan May­en – the lava caves on Bee­ren­berg

I have to start with a con­fes­si­on: I for­got the main exci­te­ment in Lon­gye­ar­by­en in April: the town was run­ning out of toi­let paper! Peop­le in arc­tic Lon­gye­ar­by­en seem to a sur­pri­sin­gly lar­ge degree be wil­ling to accept cli­ma­te chan­ge, they keep cool when the Rus­si­an mili­ta­ry sup­po­sed­ly exer­ci­ses attacks on their home, who cares, some loss is part of the game. But no toi­let paper any­mo­re? That’s serious busi­ness!

The exci­te­ment about the sup­po­sed floo­ding of the seed vault / “dooms­day vault” falls into a simi­lar cate­go­ry. Inde­ed, in Octo­ber 2016, during a peri­od with a lot of rain, the­re was some water com­ing into the ent­ran­ce area of the vault. That should not have hap­pen­ed and tho­se who were con­cer­ned with it were not hap­py and some money was to be spent to get things right, but what had actual­ly hap­pen­ed was far from being any real dra­ma. But that came more than half a year later in inter­na­tio­nal media. Someo­ne hap­pen­ed to pick up that mar­gi­na­li­um, spi­ced it with some dra­ma, tole­rant­ly over­loo­ked that it had all hap­pen­ed more than half a year ago and blew it out into the world, whe­re it was picked up by sur­pri­sin­gly many media, inclu­ding some serious ones. Nobo­dy came on the idea to check what had real­ly hap­pen­ed, the­re was a lot of recy­cling of copied infor­ma­ti­on and that is usual­ly not a good idea. Che­cking the seed vault’s web­site would have been enough, but that was obvious­ly too much to ask for. Well, I am hap­py that this web­site did not fol­low the hype.

Regar­ding my own polar per­spec­ti­ve, Jan May­en was the main event in June. For the fourth time, I went to that vol­ca­nic island in the north, 3 days of sai­ling from Ice­land, on a small boat across a big sea. Jan May­en is an extre­me­ly fasci­na­ting place. The more time you spend the­re, the more you rea­li­ze how much the­re is to see. As usu­al, we made a lot of kilo­me­tres during our various hikes. Next to many other impres­si­ons, the lava caves on Bee­ren­berg were the main thing for me this time. While a group of moun­tai­neers clim­bed up to the peak of Bee­ren­berg (whe­re I had been in 2015), I took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to explo­re a cou­p­le of lava caves in Schmelck­da­len on the south slo­pe of Bee­ren­berg. Stun­ning! It is a bizar­re fee­ling to be actual­ly insi­de Bee­ren­berg, in the guts of this arc­tic vol­ca­no. I pro­bab­ly don’t have to men­ti­on that it is a hard-to-get-to place. That was my high­light in June.

Bäreninsel: Perleporten

Lava cave in Schmelck­da­len on Bee­ren­berg, Jan May­en.

Reviewing 2017, May: Bear Island – Per­le­por­ten

In May, we star­ted the arc­tic sum­mer sea­son a.k.a. sai­ling sea­son on good old SV Anti­gua. We took off in Bodø in north Nor­way and spent a cou­p­le of lovely days in Lofo­ten and Ves­terå­len, befo­re we ven­tu­red north across the Bar­ents Sea. I have to admit that I did not expect too much from this year’s visit to Bear Island (Bjørnøya), based on the wea­ther fore­cast that we had when we left Trom­sø. But it was so good that we ended up spen­ding two days rather than just one at Bear Island!

After a first lan­ding, we made a record-brea­king Zodiac crui­se of several miles around the south tip of the island. Usual­ly a pret­ty rough place, but friend­ly today and always spec­ta­cu­lar with its immense num­bers of sea­b­irds, towe­ring cliffs, rock stacks and coas­tal caves. We mana­ged amongst others to do the stun­ning pas­sa­ge of Per­le­por­ten, a coas­tal cave that is said to be about 170 metres long – yeah! And on the next day, we even got a sur­pri­se invi­ta­ti­on to visit the wea­ther sta­ti­on 🙂

Bear Island: Perleporten

Coas­tal sce­ne­ry on Bear Island: pas­sa­ge of Per­le­por­ten.

Of cour­se we still had some gre­at days fur­ther north in Spits­ber­gen, but Bear Island is real­ly some­thing spe­cial and it did defi­ni­te­ly not disap­point this time.

2017 review­ed: April in Spits­ber­gen – Sveagru­va

After the big Ant­arc­tic Odys­sey, I went strai­ght up to Lon­gye­ar­by­en. One long trip from the sou­thern­most regu­lar air­port in the world to the nort­hern­most one, from the Bea­gle Chan­nel to Isfjord, for a cou­p­le of weeks of arc­tic win­ter befo­re the sum­mer sea­son was about to start. The atmo­s­phe­re in Spits­ber­gen is stun­ning in ear­ly April, when the­re is still “warm” light. Sun­sets that turn into sun­ri­ses, no night in bet­ween, just a bit of haun­tin­g­ly beau­ti­ful twi­light. The blue-red hour is lon­ger than 60 minu­tes on 78 degrees lati­tu­de. “Warm” in inver­ted kom­mas, obvious­ly 🙂

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

A high­light that remains a vivid memo­ry was actual­ly the trip to the coal mining sett­le­ment of Sveagru­va, becau­se it tur­ned out to be a uni­que oppor­tu­ni­ty. Coal mining was on stand­by at that time, the­re was only main­tain­ce going on, but no pro­duc­tion des­pi­te the ope­ning of a brand new coal mine at Lunck­ef­jel­let in Febru­a­ry 2014. It never went into pro­duc­ti­ve ope­ra­ti­on. So the Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni had deci­ded to open Sveagru­va for limi­ted tou­rism. It was even pos­si­ble to visit the coal mine, Svea Nord.

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

As the decisi­on was made in Oslo in Octo­ber 2017 that the days of coal mining in Sveagru­va are over, the place and asso­cia­ted coal mines will be clo­sed. It seems qui­te unli­kely that the­re will be tou­rism or any other acti­vi­tiy the­re in the future. So it is good to have used that oppor­tu­ni­ty to visit Sveagru­va and the mine, Svea Nord and to get a good impres­si­on of coal mining, which was the domi­nant acti­vi­tiy in Spits­ber­gen for a cen­tu­ry. And a coal mine is a fasci­na­ting place, inde­ed!

But then, it is good to get out and back to the sun, does not set any­mo­re. To get back to the end­less snow plains, to our beloved east coast, whe­re the sea does still free­ze in April, whe­re you can find beau­ti­ful ice …

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

Tal­king about fjord ice: a Rus­si­an group made a tra­gic expe­ri­ence with fjord ice in Tem­pel­fjord in late April, when their snow mobi­les bro­ke through the ice. Several peop­le went into the water and could only be saved under dra­ma­tic cir­cum­s­tan­ces by the Nor­we­gi­an SAR for­ces. Tra­gi­cal­ly, one gui­de died later in the hos­pi­tal.

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