An Arctic Adventure – A day on Svalbard at Longyearbyen
Svalbard formerly known by its Dutch name Spitsbergen is in the Arctic Ocean. Situated north of mainland Europe, it is about midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. The group of islands range from 74° to 81° north latitude. Longyearbyen is the largest town. It is 78° north
I met my guide and another family who were accompanying me on my hike. My guide also had a friendly polar dog.
Svalbard is known for having lots of Polar bears, so it is mandatory the guide is brings a rifle or gun, and a flare but the polar dog is one of 4 in Svalbard that has been especially trained to sniff polar bear scent. It howls when it smells a bear to warn us and hopefully scares away a polar bear, if one is approaching.
A boy was killed here 2 years ago by a polar bear and two women hiking where we are going were attacked and was one killed by a polar bear, so I have high regard that he is a good polar dog !
It was a 3 kilometre hike, mainly uphill. We started on a path that lead to the old husky kennels then it was across the stones in the plateau valley.
The high plateau valley was full of rivers flowing really fast carrying glacier water that had melted, so it was very cold and carried lots of brown dirt so it was muddy freezing water.
The glacier melt rivers were flowing fast and were fairly deep in some spots so we had to build bridges to cross it.
When things are delivered to the town the people save the pallets and pile them up on the edge of the plateau , so people can use them as bridges.
We had to go back and get 8 pallets.Some parts of the rivers took two across, some took one on top of the other to get across.
After you cross you have to lift the pallets to high ground as they can wash away and you’d be stuck
This is our group building bridges.
Walking was slow as you’re walking on large boulders, small stones and everything in-between, it all moves under your feet.
We finally made it out of the valley, and climbed shale mountain to the next area. As fast as you walk the shale slides back under your feet, so you take a step and slide half a step backwards.
We were near to the next flat area and the dog suddenly started sniffing the air then he howled very softly.
I was beside myself, ohhh my gosh, a bear ..should I run before or after I take the photo ?
The guide told us to stop while she went around the corner of a boulder to see what it was. She had her gun out. She called out it was ok . It was just a herd of reindeer.. but the dog didn’t usually do that for reindeer so we have to keep our eyes open.
Then we had to start climbing up frozen ice flows, This didn’t look too bad and then we got to the top of one section Wow, this was a hard climb
I was having trouble ,slipping on the ice,so my guide said to follow in her footsteps only.We were walking for 10 minutes up the ice then she stomped her foot down for the next step .I was standing behind her. Suddenly a section of the ice broke off and we both starting falling into the hidden river under the ice. I threw myself sideways and only got one leg stuck in the river up to my knee, the other leg was ok just my foot got wet. The guide grabbed the dog and he pulled her up, then she helped me up, the other family was behind me and luckily they didn’t go in , but they had a hard time getting around the caved in area My feet and trousers were soaked with ice cold water and we still had two hours to go
Crossing a glacier always has an element of risk. Water doesn’t always flow on top of it, it can flow under, then gush back on the surface and underground again. The “bridge” of snow covering it can be thick enough to block the sound of water, but too thin to support your weight. Beyond getting wet, falling in a crack can mean a drop of unknown height and getting someone out alive is far from certain. Another good reason to go with a guide. Sediments fall on the ice and, being dark, absorb the heat from the sun, melting the ice. Once a few centimetres deep, they become protected from the sun and cool, allowing the water to freeze again over them. This leaves even flat areas weak and you can suddenly go up to your hip in ice
We finally made it to the top and the edge of the glacier. This is where the fossils are found, but you have to be lucky to find any.
There were some boulders with fossils on them that the scientists come up here to study The rocks in the shade were still covered in frost and ice , it was so cold there. It was freezing cold and my sock had frozen in my shoe , We spent an hour looking for fossils with rock hammers and putting them in our pockets.
I was lucky and found 6 different sized fossils, even if some were small .The other family only found 3 between the 5 of them.
Suddenly the polar dog started howling quite loudly. We all laughed and said ‘ha ha more reindeer’, then we spotted a few reindeer walking on the edge of the glacier.
Then our guide spotted something in the snow around us. Polar bear foot prints
They were recent, as they hadn’t melted at all, so in the last hour or so a bear had been here. As we had been here for half an hour we must have just missed it.I guess that’s what the dog was howling at earlier.
We walked, following the footprints, for 15 minutes, to the edge of the other valley There in the distance blending into to the boulders , a polar bear, I had to zoom in and you have to study the picture to see it, but its there.
I was so happy I saw a polar bear, even if it was in the distance, but I suppose it was better than seeing one too close !
Then it was time to head back.
It was very hard walk back down the ice and shale especially as I was staring to lose feeling in my right foot. It had started to get cloudy and I hoped it wouldn’t rain, we had a long way to walk We saw more reindeer, they are a unique type to the area, their coats were malting
It was an excellent Arctic Adventure, instead of just looking around the town or going on a cart pulled by huskies I really felt as though I did something more adventurous. No one else from the cruise ship was there, just a Norwegian family, the guide and me.. ohh and the polar dog and a polar bear.
I can only imagine what the first explorers to arctic felt like.
I was exhausted from the hike and was glad when they dropped me back at the ship (after souvenir shopping) Mum was pleased when I got back to the ship without any polar bear bites, she does worry when I’m off doing my own strange adventures.
My poor toes were frozen and I was advised to see the ships medical team. The nurse on the ship said they hadn’t gone black yet so they didn’t have frostbite ..so they shouldn’t fall off!! They were really white for 2 days and didn’t have much blood going to them, but they recovered and I still have all my toes.