Svalbard Day 1. 26.07.2012

Posted: August 8, 2012 in Hiking
Tags: , , ,

Sitting out on polar bear watch, there is time to think over the last 24 hours. I am sitting on a log on a rise above a beach on Svalbard. Svalbard is a rocky archipelago with massive fjords and steep, black mountains rising up into the clouds from the blue waters. Licks of snow fall down the steep slopes. Occasionally a jagged peak is visible through the clouds.

View from basecamp

View from basecamp

Svalbard is way way up north. It is an archipelago where, in the summer, the sun just rotates around the sky, never approaching the horizon, but also never parting the warmth it does at lower latitudes. I will be spending the next 8 days here as part of the High Places hiking tour of Svalbard.

In the tents 30 metres behind the mess tent are my 4 fellow trekkers: Ben, Gordon, Steve and Lisa. In the mess tent next to me is our guide Sam: a hardened outdoor type from France. All are sleeping as I scan the area for polar bears.

At our first meal we are told of the polar bear watch. Polar bears roam the islands and are dangerous. Sam is armed with a rifle.

Polar bear protection

Polar bear protection

Our nights are 10 hours long with 8 hours of sleep each. At rotating times each night, each of us is woken to do our duty. To pace back and forth, keeping an eye out for the white, fluffy bear. Tonight my shift started at 03:30.

The group had gathered in Longyearbyen: the only town of any size on Svalbard, this morning and yesterday evening. We had a morning briefing and then a boat trip to our camp, all wrapped up to be as snug as a bug in a rug.

Ready for departure

Ready for departure

It was a beautiful boat trip along the fjord. Puffins flew around us, batting their wings frantically as they skimmed the water. Seagulls followed us as well as arctic terns. The mountains rolling past made me excited. I was going to be in amongst all of this for the next week.

It was too windy, and the tide was too low to drop us off at our planned base camp, so we were dropped off on the other side of the fjord, in front of a czech research station. We lugged our battery of big supply boxes around the next ridge to our home for the next week: base camp.

Base camp

Base camp

In this land of 24 light, we made our first decision as a group. We would put away our watches and not keep track of the time. Only Sam would do this to ensure we don’t miss our return boat trip. We would eat when we are hungry and sleep when we are tired. The night would always start at 22:00 and end at 08:00. 22:00 would be defined by us as a group each ‘night’.

The beaches are strewn with logs, even though there is not a tree anywhere on Svalbard. The logs are washed ashore from Siberia. This was confirmed by DNA testing apparently. This means we have convenient fire wood. A fire is wonderful to keep up spirits during a bear watch. We cut up some wood. Unfortunately the fire didn’t last until my watch.

Chopping the firewood

Chopping the firewood

Base camp is set up. We are all briefed. Tomorrow the hiking begins!

Comments
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