Thursday, March 25, 2010

Homeward Bound

So that's it. The end of my Arctic adventure. After six weeks, I'm home, but I'm not the same. I don't think Svalbard will ever leave my mind, my being. I am privileged to have been able to go, to study in the Arctic, to explore this amazing place. Hopefully, I will get to go back.  

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The last day

Today marks the last day here in Svalbard. We decided to go for one last walk locally, and to go for coffee and cake. We made it as far as the polar bear sign near the airport before heading back. The sea ice was amazing along the shoreline, broken up into curved blocks, and yet again the light was amazing.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Around Longyearbyen

To get a break from revision we took a walk around Longyearbyen to see a bit more of it, again in beautiful sunshine. We even managed to find the most northerly sundial in the world!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Our fourth excursion was to Bakaninbreen. This glacier lies at the head of Van Mijenfjorden, near the mining settlement of Svea (or Sveagruva). It was our longest drive yet, and involved a lot of driving on sea ice which was slightly unnerving. As we were travelling on sea ice, with the potential for bears, we had rifles evenly dispersed along our caravan of skidoos.

We all wore ice picks around our necks in case of catastrophe, and stopped when we reached the start of the sea ice to be shown what to do and how best to get back out if we did fall through the ice. Driving across the sea ice is more uncomfortable than over snow, as the ground is much more rigid, and so after a while you felt a little as if your brain was being worn loose. It was a cold drive, and I constantly had to break the ice off the nose holes on my face mask to allow me to continue to breathe.

Bakaninbreen is another glacier with a beautiful blue calving front, although we didn't stay long near the calving face as bear prints were discovered in the snow where we had stopped. Instead we gathered closer to the ice wall, a stunning curve of ice covered sediment and rock.

Before reaching Svea on our way home, we spotted a lone polar bear, walking across the sea ice some distance away. It was amazing to see a polar bear in the wild, in its natural habitat. Although we were a good distance from the bear, for safety reasons we were not allowed to stop and had to keep driving at a steady pace so we didn't alarm it. It didn't appear to notice us.

The light as we passed Svea was beautiful. I have the dark silhouette of the mine against the sky forever emblazoned on my mind. As we got closer and closer to home, the sun sinking, the sky became more and more purple.

On our return to the University, each of us was checked for frostbite on our hands and faces, and instructed not to put any warm water on any suspect areas. A few people had frostnip, particularly on their lips and noses. I thought I'd got away with it, until taking a hot shower later when I discovered that one toe in particular was cold and white and wouldn't warm up. I may have some permanent damage there. This is the one area I have really struggled with out here, keeping my hands and feet warm. With reynaulds, I have poor circulation anyway, so no amount of layering seems to keep me warm. I have also discovered that using heat pads has no effect as they don't seem to activate in the cold, and only start to warm up when I get back inside.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ta Sjansen (Sled Race)

Saturday morning was the annual sled race across the fjord from Longyearbyen. It is part of Solfestuka, the sun festival, celebrating the arrival of the sun over the mountain in the town for the first time this year.

Getting to the festival involved a fairly long walk of about an hour and a half, down into the town and then across the fjord on the sea ice to the valley opposite. It was a beautiful day, with the sun lighting the tops of the mountains as we headed across. We steered well clear of the broken edge of the sea ice, tending to walk where people had skiied or scootered before. Parts of the walk were very slippy, but a lot of the ice had a shallow covering of snow which made walking easier. However, we were very glad when we got picked up by a snow cat, and driven the rest of the way. It was a bumpy ride but fun, especially as it would cost a lot to do as a tourist!

The sled race itself had competitors from both the town and the University. There were some great sledges, some strange sledges, some drunk and scantily clad competitors, a giant banana split, some smoke and light effects, some sledges that made it down in 50 seconds, and some that careered straight off the run! Some people ended up running down and gave up with their misbehaving sledges. All in all it was good fun. We had some interesting looks from the locals as we were colder than them as we had no scooter suits on, so warmed up by inventing a 'keeping warm dance' and drinking lots of tea!

Of course we had the equivalent of the red cross there, albeit with a rather different vehicle, and had polar bear guards with rifles stationed around the area. Just some more of the oddities of a village event in a town in the Arctic!

The event was also a great way to people watch the 'locals'. They all arrived on snow scooters, some with kids riding in front or behind them on the scooter, others towing sledges with the rest of the family sat on them. The place was full of people in scooter suits, even babies. The children looked so sweet all puffed up in their warm clothes with little red cheeks. Lots brought little sledges or ran around in the snow to keep warm. A scooter park appeared as more and more people arrived, a crazy array of more snow scooters in one place than I shall probably ever see again!