Svalbard Day 2. 27.07.2012

Posted: August 13, 2012 in Hiking
Tags: , , , ,

The day was grey and the cloud was low. We walked through many different terrains today. We traversed the flatlands next to the fjord, crossed braided glacial streams, passed over moraines – the rocky, muddy slush spewed out at the end of glaciers, ascended up snowy valleys, steep muddy slopes and steep icy, snowy climbs. We were all testing our equipment on this new terrain, and the group dynamics was being set.

The flatlands would be traversed multiple times in the coming days. An old road, probably used for the now ceased mining made for easier going. We followed the road for a way, and then made our way across the plains more as the crow flies (if such a bird would come here).

Snack break

Snack break

Streams running into the fjord are fed by the glaciers oozing down from the ice sheet above. The streams open out on the flats by the fjord shore into a network of braids. What is deep and fast flowing near the glacier becomes wide, shallow and braided further out. Traversing the stream means looping away from the glacier across the braids, wearing neoprene socks for the cold, and hard soled footwear for the pointy stones. Lisa, Ben and Steve had rented neoprene socks, but didn’t have a hard sole layer, and it was painful going passing over the rocky steam.

Crossing the braided glacial stream

Crossing the braided glacial stream

We crossed our first moraine. A glacier is a beautiful and majestic expanse of white and turquoise blue ice. A moraine is the vomit of rock, mud and sludge at the bottom. It is a boggy, wobbly scramble, up and down little mounds no bigger than moguls on a ski slope. Coming out from an icy mouth in the moraine was the icy river. The mouth beckoned exploration. Sam told us of caving under glaciers – hundreds of metres of cave under the huge mass of ice. Something for my to do list.

The river emerges from the icy mouth

The river emerges from the icy mouth

Skipping along the river up the valley, Lisa rolled on a wobbly rock and splashed into the river, drenching her clothes and shoes. Taking this as a signal, Sam called for lunch there and then. Such things can be the first signs of fatigue that can prelude a more serious event. Lunch and rest was called for. It was bleak there. A bit of drizzle. It was cold. It was cloudy. The valley ahead rose into the clouds. It looked even colder there. Our goal was to see a strange rock configuration on the top of a hill called Tarantallen. We doubted we would see anything. But, we were still up for the challenge.

Then it was on up the valley.

Looking down the valley

Looking down the valley

The way ahead

The way ahead

Then we hit the clouds. It was damp. It was windy. It was cold. We couldn’t see anything. We reached a pass, and looked out into white on both sides. I felt there was an amazing view over an ice sheet shrouded from my eyes. This place should be spectacular. Instead, we were buffeted by the elements, and saw white nothingness.

And then the ascent reached its crescendo. Steep up. Up a rocky narrow ridge that fell away into the white on both sides. We scrambled up a gooey rocky sludge that gave way as we climbed. Three steps up and two slides back. Then steep, hardened snow. With each step we kicked a hold into the snow, making a stairway into the heavens.

The last climb to Tarantallen

The last climb to Tarantallen

And then it emerged from the mist. An amazing natural rock sculpture, looming giant above us. Tarantallen.

Tarantallen

Tarantallen

A well deserved snack at Tarantallen

A well deserved snack at Tarantallen

And then the fun really started. Sam checked for safety, and we rocketed down the snowy side of the ridge. I bounded down through the snow in gigantic leaps. Lisa slid down. Others a combination. All were laughing with joy. It was an incredible experience.

Bounding down from Tarantallen

Bounding down from Tarantallen

The way down the valley was easy going, and it was a beautiful view looking down.

The way down the valley

The way down the valley

After reaching the moraine, it became grueling. It was lousy weather, we were tired, and the camp was still a long way away. We tried to take a shorter route across the braided glacial stream, but were forced to loop around like we did earlier as the flow was too high further upstream. The trudge back to the camp was long, and we were ready for bed by the time we got back. The day was made longer by the fact that our camp site was not where planned (due to the wind and tides yesterday). This fact would repeatedly haunt us, secretly adding two hours to each day trip.

But now it was time for bed, punctuated by bear watch. I like bear watch. A time for peace and tranquility, watching the birds in the night light. The arctic turns would circle around and then suddenly plunge into the water. The wind would come and go. The clouds would swirl around the mountains. The light would change. And all slept. Except for me. I am here on Svalbard – at the end of the earth. I love it.

Comments
  1. valerievolk says:

    Fascinating account Matthew, and great photos. I read it with real interest.

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