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Monthly Archives: December 2019 − News & Stories


Lance out of the ice, Ousland-Horn-expedition finished

The adventurers Børge Ousland and Mike Horn are back on solid ground. The research ship Lance has reached Longyearbyen on Saturday and Ousland’s and Horn’s recent crossing of the Arctic Ocean is thus finished. They started in September at 85 degrees north in the Bering Strait sector of the Arctic Ocean, which they had reached with Horn’s sailing boat Pangaea. Horn and Ousland passed the north pole in October. They spent 87 days in the ice, not including the ship-based parts of the expedition.

The original plan was to pick them up from the ice edge north of Spitsbergen with Pangaea, but the operation turned out to be more challenging than expected. As it turned out, the ice-going Lance went into the ice to meet the adventurers. Lance had to move quite far into the drift ice and a helicopter had to be used for the pickup. Even Lance was then not able to leave the ice: the arrival in Longyearbyen, originally expected around 10 December, was finally last Saturday, 28 December, after about 3 weeks of being stuck in ice. A lot of manual work with sawing and carrying ice was done during attempts to get the vessel free. Out of 22 persons originally on board, 3 were evacuated by helicopter. Medical reasons played a role in this. Dynamite was requested to blast the ship free when the helicopter was scheduled, but the transport was finally refused for safety reasons.

Lance stuck in ice

Lance in the ice. Photo © Etienne Claret.

The expedition has drawn considerable media attention, both locally and beyond. Svalbardposten was one of many media that covered the expedition in some detail.

Polar bear back in Longyearbyen

The polar bear that had been in Longyearbyen on Thursday morning was back back early Saturday. On Thursday, it was pushed out of the settlement by the Sysselmannen with the helicopter to the south and towards Fardalen and Colesdalen.

Also this time, the Sysselmann was soon alerted and out with available forces. Again, the helicopter was used to scare it away to the south. This time, the plan was to push it as far south as Van Mijenfjord, 40 km south of Longyearbyen as the crow flies.

Polar bear, central Longyearbyen

Polar bear in Longyearbyen (Thursday morning). Photo © Sysselmannen på Svalbard.

Also this distance, from Van Mijenfjord to Longyearbyen, is not much of an obstacle for a polar bear in case he (she?) decides to return. The Sysselmannn asks the public to remain alert, especially during late night and early morning hours (it is dark now 24 hours anyway, but there is little traffic at those times) and to stay inside in case a bear is seen in the area.

It was considered to anaesthetize the bear and to fly it away to an island more remote within Svalbard such as Nordaustland, but according to an official statement, the capacities for such an operation are currently not available in Longyearbyen due to the Christmas holidays.

Polar bear in Longyearbyen

Spitsbergen is polar bear country, even more so in recent years as the species has seen a remarkable recovery since full protection in 1973 after years of intense hunting. In recent years, it has become pretty normal again to see bears on the west coast of Spitsbergen, also close to the settlements. All of them had polar bears in their vicinity or even in the settlement areas in 2019.

Longyearbyen has now had a Christmas polar bear in town on Thursday morning. The bear was seen at about half 7 in central Longyearbyen. It was walking in the pedestrian area near shops, restaurants and dwelling houses.

Polar bear, central Longyearbyen

Polar bear in central Longyearbyen, Thursday morning near 06.30.
Photo © Marie Lørup Stenshøj.

The Sysselmannen (police) was soon on site and used a helicoter to push the bear out of the settlement to the south, up Longyearbreen (Longyear glacier), through Fardalen and into Colesdalen to be as certain as possible that there is no more immediate danger.

The incident shows that it is important to take the risk of meeting polar bears seriously. This is true anywhere and at any time in Svalbard, but especially during the dark season and in the early morning hours, when there is little traffic that would be likely to see a bear near town before you happen to meet it.

Dark season in Longyearbyen: culture, polar bears, storm and icy adventures

The dark season (polar night) began in Spitsbergen more than a months ago. Last sunday, the Advent season was opened following good tradition: the children went to the postbox under mine 3 (near Nybyen, the “father Christmas mine”) and left letters with their Christmas wishes. Then the lighting on the Christmas tree in Longyearbyen centrum was turned on, of course accompanied with a happy little ceremony where many people join.

Christmas tree, Longyearbyen

The Christmas tree Longyearbyen.

The dark season is traditionally often a calm period – finally, you have some time to enjoy culture, such as the “Kunstpause” with various events within arts and literature over a couple of days in Longyearbyen.

Kunstpause: Literatur in Longyearbyen

Literature event in the old coal cableway station in Longyearbyen as part of the Kunstpause:
Elke Morgner reads in German and Norwegian from “The Terrors of Ice and Darkness” by Christoph Ransmayr.

The Polish station in Hornsund had a rather aggressive polar bear around for a while. Despite of various attempts with noise etc., the bear just did not want to leave. It actually attacked a dog that was so severely injured that it had to be euthanised later. Altogether obviously a pretty tough experience for the Hornsund crew.

Yesterday (05 December) a winter storm moved through Spitsbergen, bringing days of poor weather with a lot of wind and rain also to mainland Norway. There was enough snow and wind in Longyearbyen to make houses shake and push the avalanche warnings up the scale. But nothing worth mentioning happened in the end. Winter weather.

The adventurers Børge Ousland and Mike Horn are about to return from an expedition of several months across the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. The have achieved a position north of Spitsbergen where they are about to be picked up soon, according to the plan. The expedition sailing boat that had dropped them off north of Russia does not seem to be involved in the pickup, but the Lance is in the area to get Ousland and Horn on board – they are keen on the term “rescue” NOT to be used. Well. Anyway, the Sysselmannen’s helicopter is always ready when it is needed. The adventurers can be sure to receive a lot of public attention, not the least in the local newspaper Svalbardposten which has covered the story already a couple of times.

It is mostly office season in the spitsbergen-svalbard.com publishing house. What I am doing these days while I am not travelling? Well, last week I had my annual short run of public presentations, which was good fun – thanks to all who came!

There is often the question why I don’t publish my books, at least the Spitsbergen guidebooks, as ebooks. Well, this is actually an idea that I have been going around with for several years now. And I have already spent quite some time with the technicalities that are connected to such a project. It does require some work and know-how if you want it to be good in the end, and obviously, nothing else would be acceptable. I am not going to bother you with any further technical details. Just one: if you want to publish an ebook on the large platforms, something that is critical for any such project, then you need a US tax number. In theory that should not be too much of a problem. In reality, I just got my second application turned down, altough I even had a specialised lawyer to help me. That is also a way to waste time, money and motivation …

So I rather spent some time to develop another couple of polar panoramas. Start here if you want to discover some new places in Svalbard:

  • Andréeneset on Kvitøya. The place became famous when the remains of the Andrée expedition were found there in 1930. In 2018, I finally managed to shoot a panorama here. It is not a place where you get too often, and then there is usually a polar bear hanging out there somewhere …
  • Bratliekollen and Irgensfjellet on Blomstrandhalvøya. Great views over Kongsfjord!
  • Seligerbreen (next to Monacobreen) in Liefdefjord. New land “thanks” to retreating glaciers and thus due to climate change.
  • Hamburgbukta on the northern west coast. A beautiful bay and obviously not unknown to the early whalers.
  • Kvedfjordbukta south of Hamburgbukta. A rarely visited but beautiful part of Spitsbergen’s west coast.
  • Dunøyane and Isøyane are little arctic paradise islands on Spitsbergen’s west coast, north of Hornsund .
  • Diesetsletta is a lovely, wide-open coastal plain north of Kongsfjord. It takes a bit of luck with the weather to get to such places.
  • Have a look at Finneset if you are interested in the history of Spitsbergen. This place had a whaling station and Spitsbergen’s first whaling station in the early 20th century.
  • Some more history, this time from darker periods: the wreck of a German fighter plane at Kapp Borthen.
  • Does anyone feels like joining me on a long tour with great views of arctic winter landscapes on the mountain Operafjellet?
Panorama Isøyane

Panorama (Screenshot) of Nordre Isøya, on the west coast north of Hornsund. Click here to find the real panorama that you can turn around.

And there is of course alway work going on with new books, updates of existing books, translations and so on.

Soon I will have more Longyearbyen kitchen slats and Spitsbergen driftwood picture frames in the online shop! It does take some time for things to arrive, especially stuff that does not fit easily in the pocket … the new picture frames are not yet available in the shop, but they will soon be there.

Longyearbyen kitchen slat

What is the bearded seal doing in Longyearbyen? 🙂

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