Some reindeer were passing just in front of us as we were reaching Isfjord Radio. The wind was picking up, with a bit of snow in the air. We had completed 160 km on ski, across valleys & Glaciers, from East to West of Spitsbergen/Svalbard, in the Norwegian Arctic. It had been an adventurous week, learning new things along the way.
A week ago we arrived in Longyearbyen and found our way to the Trapper’s hotel where we spent our first night. Information meeting was held at the hotel, last check and packing of the equipment done, a few things to buy at the local shops and a get to know each other dinner at restaurant “Kroa” just next door.
I woke up early next morning, exited to get started on this week of adventure, not really knowing what to expect. It was my first time camping in a tent surrounded by snow, also knowing we had to play hide & seek with polar bears. We started our skiing from Agardhbukta, so transport by a vehicle was arranged to get us there. It was a Bandvagn 206 (BV 206), a tracked articulated, all-terrain carrier. 3 guides, 2 dogs and driver in the front and our group of 12 squeezed in to the back. Quite the interesting experience, but not very comfortable. Knowing it would take at least 6 hours to get to the east coast it was just to start thinking about something else and get used to the bumping up and down.
Arriving at the east coast I was happy to get out of the car and move my legs again. We organized our gear, got our skies on and were ready to start. It was windy and a bit snow in the air, so I was eager to get going.
It was my first time skiing with a sledge, but it went well the first day as there was not much up and down. Arriving at the campsite, the next step was to put up our tent. We got some tips from our guides, to use the ski to prepare the ground to be as flat as possible, make sure to secure the tent before starting to put it up for it not to be blown away with the wind, dig a hole inside the outer tent to have head room to stand and make a wall in front of the tent in the wind direction to avoid snow to blow and get stored on the tent. Quite a lot to think about but after a few days it got easier. We also learned the trick of using our ski and poles as tent plugs.
It was agreed that we would sit up during the night on shift to watch out for the polar bear, so with 2 groups we would have to sit for an hour each every 2nd night. An introduction how to use the signal gun was done. I think we were all exited about the fact that it could happen that we would spot a polar bear. We had to look out for something moving and in case a Polar Bear would come and we had to use the signal gun to scare the Bear and wake up the guides. Sitting up for an hour during the night was like being out during the day as the midnight sun makes the night as bright as day.
I shared the tent with my 2 friends, Arne and Eva. Arriving at the campsite with wind and cold, we spent the evening inside the tent, eating our dinner, a snaps glass with cognac to make a toast for the day and get our sleeping bags ready for a good night of sleep after a long day skiing.
The wind was blowing quite strong during the night. We had our breakfast, Rice porridge with Cinnamon and Sugar and some raisins or nuts added to it. Then it was down with the tent, packing the sledge and get ready for a new day. We crossed over the glacier, Passbreen, down Kjellsromsdalen, passing the mining town, Sveagruva, and put up our 3rd campsite at the end of Gustavdalen. The days continued with wind and not much to see as it was all white around us. We kept walking, with a 10 min break every 50 min, to fuel up on some chocolate and snacks.
At lunch we had our daily supply of “drytech Real turmat”. Just put hot water, shake the pack and wait for 5 min and it was ready to eat.
Being all white around me and not much to see, I just keep skiing, following the group, most of the time in my own thoughts, thinking about everything and nothing. I got a sense of peace being surrounded by nature. Just skiing listening to the poles touching the snow. Like a kind of meditation.
At day 4, Arriving at Stormyra the wind stopped. It had been a hard day as most of the day had been skied with a slight slope down on one side as we where skiing along the mountain side. It was difficult to control the sledge not tipping over as it was sliding on the side of me, so I had to try to get a pace that would allow the sledge to follow but not slide down and stop as then it would tip. As we where turning around the mountain we where facing a quite steep uphill followed by a steep downhill before entering down at Stormyra. One of the guide fell and cut his hand on a stone so urgent attention was put to that to see that he was fine to continue. Then it was the challenge to ski down with the sledge as it was sloping both down and to the side, so I chose as some of the others to take the ski off and carry them down. Better be on the safe side to avoid ending up in the fjord and the ice cold water.
The first part of Stormyra went quite easy and as the wind had stopped and the sun started to show itself between the clouds, so I enjoyed it and just kept walking. Around half way across the ice it became more difficult as the snow started to be more wet and it was like the snow was sucking me down. Every step was heavy, so when we finally stopped at the other side having a break and the guides decided we would camp, it was the best message I could have had. We still had to put up the tent and get organized with our things so when that was done I just sat down in my sledge, found my coffee, having a moment of rest. Totally exhausted.
Being in the middle of a dream, I heard the words, breakfast in 5 min. Opening my eyes I realized i must have dozed off after my watch during the night. I heard people talking outside in a joy full tone, enjoying the nice weather. I could see when I was up during the night that the weather would be good as it was no wind, just a few clouds on the sky and cold. Showing -9 Deg C on the Thermometer. I had experienced and learned a few things during the first days. Keep everything you want to not be frozen inside your sleeping bag during the night. So wet napkins, my bottle of milk for my coffee (Had to bring a bottle of milk as they where sold out for milk powder in Longyearbyen), my clothes to change for next day, and any other things I wanted to stay warm.
We all enjoyed the beautiful weather, skiing along the fjord. A few uphill parts but mostly flat until we where turning around the mountain side and was facing the side way slope again. My sledge was not very cooperative and kept turning over. The luggage kept shifting to the side so I had a few stops along the way to re-organize and try to get the weight to the right side.
We found a nice spot for lunch and where surprised by the guides serving us Cheese and cured meats. During lunch we could hear some birds in the background. Getting up on the hill we saw some rock ptarmigan walking up the hill.
We continued in the nice weather, passing some reindeer along the way, enjoying the sun and the nice view as we were skiing along the fjord and entering fridtjovhamna. From here we could see Akseloya that is almost crossing from one side of the fjord to the other. just leaving a small pass for the boats to enter.
It was a beautiful day and even with my sledge not being on my side, this day could not have been more perfect. Entering Fridtjovbreen we put up our camp for the night. Some went with a few of the guides up on the glacier before dinner and some of us just stayed at the tent and relaxed. This evening the guides prepared dinner for us, Salmon with mashed potatoes and vegetables. Being Saturday we had a few shot glasses of whiskey cheering for a fantastic day. Chatting and laughter from the other tents where a sign that they where enjoying the evening as much as us.
I woke up early next morning and stepping outside the tent all was quiet. The 2 dogs was sleeping. One of them had made himself comfortable in one of the sledge. It was cloudy and a bit of snow in the air, but looked like it might clear up during the day.
We started off with a few steep uphill parts when entering up on the glacier, Fridtjovbreen, and this morning my sledge was not one with me. I wanted to get up and the sledge wanted to stay down. Looking at the others getting up the slopes without problems I was wondering what they had eaten for breakfast that I did not eat. Maybe it was just that I was tired from the other days of skiing, but with a little support and some push on my sledge from the others i managed to get up the first part. After the first part struggling it became easier. During lunchtime some took the opportunity to have a nap and get some rest for the next part up the glacier.
The weather kept changing from cloudy to sunny so It was difficult to dress correct to not get cold and not get to hot and sweet, so I kept putting my jacket on and off.
Arriving at the top of the glacier the weather gods where on our side and the sun where shining. We where facing a stunning view on both side of the glacier and the feeling standing on the top, enjoying the view, felt amazing.
To ski uphill was quite hard but the downhill with the sledge for me was more challenging. I had to find a techniques to ski with the sledge on the side so it would not overtake me. It took a lot of energy to keep control of the sledge and myself with the ski at the same time.
We all managed to get down. Some easier than others and some tried the option on sitting on the sledge down. With blue sky and no wind we decided to continue out the valley before setting up the camp. The distance did not seam far and we continued ski, with 50 min ski, 10 min break. Just keep going. It felt like there was no end to the valley. We where on day 6 and the following day we would reach Isfjord Radio, so we all agreed to continue until reaching the sea to get a shorter leg the next day.
Reaching the sea the sky started to be cloudy and we had a nice light. Almost like a sunset.
Our last evening sleeping in tent. We had become quite good at setting up and packing down the tent and it felt a bit strange to know that this would be the last time on this trip that we would have to put it up and take it down. I was looking forward to sleeping in a bed again, but still would miss this atmosphere you get when sleeping in tent out in the wild nature.
Getting organized inside the tent we heard some snowmobile arriving outside. The guides asked us to come outside and again we where surprised with the cook and worker from Isfjord Radio showing up with waffles. What a fantastic surprise. We where all happy, eating and enjoying, until there where no more left. The guides had called them to get some supply of food for the dogs and had not mention anything about waffles. Waffles and Norwegian goat cheese and as Eva still had some crackers left we enjoyed Crackers and cheese for our coffee. And with a shot of whiskey we all forgot that we where exhausted after a long day of skiing. We had done 30 km on ski that day, up Fridtjovbreen, down on the other side and out the valley reaching the sea, enjoying the beautiful weather making us able to enjoy the scenic landscape surrounding us from all angles.
The Arctic region of Svalbard is incredible and a fantastic location for seeking out wildlife and we where lucky to see a group of bloated walrus laying on the beach. One of them more gray and pale, so we where sure he had seen his last days, but there was still some life in him as he was moving his head.
Continuing along the coast with the view of Isfjord Radio in front of us.
Arriving, it was a group of blissful, tired but happy, tanned faces toasting with hot wine, beer and champagne. It was an emotional moment shared with friends and people I got to know during this week that went by way to fast.
We spent the afternoon enjoying and toasting over some beer and wine, having a well earned shower and was served a 4 course dinner that tasted heavenly. A good night sleep in a bed and then our transport, the sailboat, Noorderlicht, was ready to take us back to Longyearbyen.
A week together with a fantastic group of people, learning new things along the way was over.
The trip was booked via Hvitserk: http://www.hvitserk.no/
Guides where from Basecamp Spitsbergen: http://www.basecampspitsbergen.com/
Our hotel in Longyearbyen was the Basecamp Trapper’s hotel