Day 2: Saturday, 16 May 2015 Ny Alesund

Svabard-SS-14

Having sailed north overnight in relatively bumpy seas, we stopped at Ny Alesund, the scientific community on the southern shore of Kongsfjord that developed from the mining operation at Kings Bay after 1967. In 1926, Roald Amundsen and Umberto Nobile successfully piloted the airship “Norge” from Ny Alesund, over the North Pole to Alaska. In the same decade, three other attempts were made to overfly the North Pole from Ny Alesund, including that of Nobile, in 1928, aboard another airship called Italia, which crashed on the sea-ice with a loss of 8 crew members and several rescuers, including Roald Amundsen. From 1992, foreign countries were permitted to build research facilities at Ny Alesund, and today, is has a summer population of around 300 that dwindles to around 35 in winter.

 

We walked around the community, looked at the dog-kennel area, the old telegraph house and the bust of Roald Amundsen. The museum was being renovated, but it was possible to visit the shop, where post cards could be sent home stamped with the furthest north post mark in the world. We also walked out to the tower where Amundsen’s airship, Norge, had been tethered prior to its trans-polar flight.

 

We sailed north out of Kongsfjorden and were briefly exposed to the choppy seas of the previous night before entering the sheltered waters of Bjornfjorden and Smeerenburg. As we will soon be approaching the sea ice, we had a bear safety talk from Rupert, after dinner.

Advertisements

Day 4: Kongsfjord – Ny-Alesund

Svalbard - Stockholm, May, 2014 05217

We lowered a Zodiac after breakfast for a landing at a small cliff on the southern shore of Kongsfjord, a little east of Ny Alesund, where we could see kittiwakes and Brunnich’s guillemots on ledges relatively close to the ground.  The shoreline where we landed was littered with hundreds of ‘icebergs’ of varying sizes, from a few centimetres across to some comprising several square metres of ice and weighing 10-15 tonnes.  The myriad shapes of all these pieces of ice presented a wonderful opportunity for creative photography.

After returning to the ship, we sailed to Kongsbreen (king’s glacier) the head of the fjord, arriving just in time to see a spectacular calving in which a very large section of the ice face broke off the face of the glacier, isolating a 25 metre-high pinnacle of ice that remained for several seconds before slowly collapsing.  As it did so we had a clear impression of how icebergs pitch and roll and find their equilibrium, and of how much of them is beneath the water.

After the glacier, we went to Ny Alesund and spent a few hours learning about the cluster of science stations that calls itself the world’s northernmost community.  We visited the shop, where several people bought some of the legendary and very cheap woollen socks, and postcards that then have the northernmost postal stamp put on them.  After that, we walked through deep snow to the pylon that had been used for the launch of the ‘Norge’ in 1926 – the airship in which Amundsen, Nobile and Ellsworth made the first trans-polar flight.  The snow began to fall quite heavily on the way back to the ship – the beginning of a weather system that we were going to have to go through on the way north.  In the so-called Town Square, we passed a bust of Roald Amundsen protruding from the snow, showing only the face shrouded by the hood of a parka.  Although the bust is mounted on a plinth, and stands two metres above the ground, it seemed apropos to Amundsen, as well as to our own journey, to see it half-buried and framed by the snow.

We had intended to wait out the weather front in Ny Alesund but decided that it would be better to leave immediately and get ahead of the worst of it.  When we left, Gerry and Andrew gave part of an ongoing presentation on the use Adobe Lightroom, which was enthusiastically received.

Day 3: Kongsfjorden

DSC02024

We woke up to find the boat surrounded by thousands of ice floes of all sizes. We sailed along the impressive calving front of Blomstrandbreen before stopping by Ossian Sarsfjellet Nature Reserve. Arthur and Benoit kept us company which made it possible to make two groups for a longer and a shorter walk. Ossian Sarsfjellet is located between two large glaciers, and is a great viewpoint in the Tre Kroner or “Three Crowns”, the mountains dominating Kongsfjorden, and the most emblematic mountains of Svalbard. We got the chance to see reindeers and their youngs, foxes, and hundreds of guillemots and noisy kitty wakes nesting on a cliff. What a great walk!
After lunch we sailed northwards through Sjubre Flakket. Heidi gave us a lecture on the geology of Svalbard. A couple of hours later we entered the most famous Magdalene Fjorden. The Sysselmannen’s boat Nordsyssel had just left two guards in the small cabin at Gravneset. The place is one of the most visited fjords of Svalbard, as it is home to the largest graveyard for whalers of the archipelago. The area is highly sensitive, and the guards make sure that the visitors do not disturb the wildlife and the site. During dinner we got entertained by the Captain and Benoit who went skiing on the glacier right above the boat.

Day 2: Prins Karls Forland – Poolepynten

DSC01954

Our two favourite birders Steven and Andrew spotted a flock of King Eider Ducks on the sea ice in front of Esmarkbreen. We took the zodiacs out and had plenty of time to photograph the birds with the beautiful morning light. After this first excursion, Rupert gave us a talk about polar bear safety, and explained in great details the “bear protocol” that we will follow every time we get onshore.
We then sailed to Poolepynten along the 86km long island of Prins Karls Forland. Only small boats such as the Polaris I are able to sail between the West coast of Spitsbergen and Prins Karls Forland as the water gets extremely shallow (<1m in places!). Poolepynten is a great spot to observe walruses. It consists of a peninsula pointing towards the East and Spitsbergen. A haul out of 9 specimens was lying on the sandy beach. Behind us, the alpine peaks of Prins Karls Foreland, and in front of us we could see curtains of rain falling onto the west coast of Spitsbergen. But the sun was right above us! The shore was covered by driftwood coming from Siberia. A trapper’s hut surrounded by whalebones was the only inhabitant of this hostile place, along with all the little swamp birds.
After such a nice encounter we headed east towards Kongsfjorden, the King’s Fjord. We were greeted by the massive and chaotic glacier Blomstrandbreen, and anchored the Polaris close to the island of the same name, Blomstrandhalvoya.

Day 2: Prins Karls Forland – Kongsfjorden

ElCaptain

We sailed along the northern half of Prins Karls Forland and traversed East towards Kongsfjorden, originally called King’s Bay, at 79°N.  While sailing, Rupert gave us the first instructions regarding polar bear safety and the protocol to follow in case of an encounter on land.

We anchored by the broken-up glacier Blomstrandbreen, which finished surging in 2012. Surging is a phenomenon by which some glaciers have a bi-polar and cyclical behaviour. The surge phase is short (up to a few years) and is defined by high flow velocities that stretch the glacier and break up its surface in a chaos of seracs. The quiescent phase follows and the glacier flows abnormally slowly, allowing it to regain its pre-surge mass and geometry. We were able to observe the consequence of a surge during a hike along the true left side of Blomstrandbreen. The walk turned into an interesting experience as some of us got stuck in very sticky mud! In the evening we got the chance to experience the midnight sun and meet many of Svalbard’s inhabitants during a walk in Ossian Sarsfjellet Nature Reservet. Reindeers, foxes, kitty wakes and Guillemots, they were all there! A party looked at the bird cliffs from below from the sea with Rick while the rest of the group hiked along the cliff from the top of the hill. From there we could see the Tre Kroner or Three Crowns of King’s Bay and their unique pyramidal shape. A great and sunny walk with the Captain.