General: Magdalenefjord in northwestern Spitsbergen is a very scenic, historically interesting fjord. It is regularly visited also by larger cruise ships, as the peninsula Gravneset (“grave point”) has a nice beach, relatively well sheltered and thus good for easy landings in most conditions except strong easterly winds, surrounded by a spectacular panorama of pointed mountains and glaciers. More tourists are visiting Gravneset than any other site in Svalbard outside the settlements, but this may change to some degree as from 2015 no ships carrying heavy fuel on board may enter the large national parks and nature reserves in Svalbard anymore. Magdalenefjord is inside the Northwest Spitsbergen National Park. The weather is influenced by the north Atlantic and accordingly often rough with wind, low clouds and precipitation.
Scenery in inner Magdalenefjord. Waggonwaybreen to the left, Brokebreen to the right.
Geology: Basement rocks. Metamorphic rocks (Gneiss, phyllite, mica schist) dominate the area. Inland northeast of Magdalenefjord, Caledonian granite, the “Hornemanntoppen granite”, build up the Hornemanntoppen mountain area. Strongly uplifted following north Atlantic rifting in the upper Cretaceous and lower Tertiary. This is why the scenery is so spectacular.
Landscape: Alpine scenery with jagged mountain peaks, to which the island of Spitsbergen (“pointed mountains”) owes its name. The highest mountain of the area is Hornemanntoppen east of Magdalenefjord with 1115 metres. Apart from Gravneset, there is little even land at sea level in Magdalenefjord. The land is mostly very rocky, shorelines are covered with stones and walking is mostly demanding. Further inland, the area is strongly glaciated.
Waggonwaybreen (centre) and Miethebreen (left) in inner Magdalenefjord.
Flora and fauna: The topography does not allow for much vegetation, which is limited to mosses and lichens near bird colonies. Little auks are breeding in large numbers in scree slopes everywhere around Magdalenefjord. Amazingly, a few reindeer are occasionally roaming around on mossy slopes. Polar bears and walrusses are seen more or less regularly.
Little auks in Magdalenefjord.
History: Magdalenefjord is in the northwestern part of Spitsbergen, about the first part of the island that was discovered by Willem Barentsz during his famous voyage in 1596. It is possible that Barentsz took the land in possession. Wether or not he did this, this exercise was executed by the Englishman Robert Fotherby in 1614, followed by English whalers who established a whaling station at Gravneset in the 17th century, including blubber ovens and a large cemetery. All of this is strictly protected by now and on Gravneset, the historical sites are, against usual habit in Spitsbergen, fenced off.
In the early 20th century, Norwegian trappers built a little hut on the north side of Magdalenefjord, which is still visible as a ruin. It was only used during traveling.
The first ascent of Hornemanntoppen was made in 1931 by members of the “Austrian Spitsbergen expedition” with G. Machek and R. Untersteiner.
In 1977, an Austrian mountaineer was killed by a polar bear in a camp on the north side of the fjord, near the mountain Alkekongen. The group did not have any firearms or suitable deterrents.
Cross for the Austrian mountaineer who was killed by a polar bear in 1977.