Thursday, 27 August 2015

Last round


Thursday, August the 20th
Into the Mining Towns
Arriving in time and after the safety drill MV FRAM starts towards our first destination: Barentsburg, east of Longyearbyen. It was a wonderful sunshine and blue sky; the mountains along Isfjorden were glooming! Our Russian guides in Barentsburg expected us on the pier. Barentsburg is a Russian Mining town since 1932, when the Russian company Trust Arktikugol took over. During the time of the Soviet Union Barentsburg was a flourishing town and many workers tried to work here. The living conditions were excellent; they had their own farms producing the meat and also fresh vegetables. The payment was better than in mainland and most of the workers lived together with their families here. Still nowadays the infrastructure is quite good for the 400 inhabitants. The most beautiful building is the school (40 pupils) and the kindergarten (20 children), decorated with lovely paintings by young artist from St. Petersburg. The most important building is the huge cultural- and sports-center where we visited a wonderful show performing Russian dancing and singing. Leaving Barentsburg at 10 PM all of us agreed, it was a long day, but a wonderful start of the voyage.

Friday, August the 21st
Into the History
Announcement in the early morning: two polar bears ashore a mother and a cub enjoying a walrus carcass. We spotted them on our way to Ny-Ålesund in Kongsfjorden. Ny-Ålesund is the famous town in Arctic region, because in former times it housed the most northern post office. The building is still there but we could only stamp our cards for decoration. In the beginning Ny-Ålesund was a coal mining town from 1916 to 1929 and again from 1946 to 1962 when the mine was finally closed after several serious accidents. In the 1920s the place became an important starting point for the small aircrafts and airships heading towards the North Pole, and of course the most famous man during that period was Roald Amundsen. He became very much interested in aircrafts and therefore he started with two Dornier-Wal flying boats N-24 and N-25. The six men didn’t reach the pole - only 87°41’N where they had an emergency landing - but they managed to survive and returned. The next try flight to the North Pole started in 1926 with the airship Norge constructed by the Italian Umberto Nobilé. Nobilé, Amundsen and the American sponsor Lincoln Ellsworth were on board the successful drive. The mast which held the airship before starting is still standing outside Ny-Ålesund. Today the town is an important research place with around 20 international research stations.
Our next landing was at Gravneset in Magdalenefjorden. Beside the historical traces of the former whale-hunting time, four blubber ovens and a huge graveyard, which were in use for 200 years from the 1614, we enjoyed the wonderful view direct towards the glacier and the icebergs. Some of us refreshed themselves in the sea; the water temperature was 4° C. We ended up around 9 PM and again an exciting day around Svalbard.

Saturday, August the 22nd
Into the Ice
What a start in the day! In the morning we spotted two Blue Whales, probably a mother and her young one. We stayed with them around FRAM, seeing the blast, the huge back part with the small fin and the tail. Blue whales are the biggest animals alive up to a length of 30 meters. After this exciting encounter we headed forward to the ice-edge of the drift ice. We reached it at a degree of latitude of 80°59’. Shortly after hitting the first ice floes the polar circle-boat cruising started. We got close enough to pick up some pieces, we admired the different colors and forms build up by pressure during their drifts. 
On our further voyage we enjoyed the magic light which painted the mountains in an impressive way and showed clearly their sharp edges.

Sunday, August the 23rd
Into the New
The most eastern islands of Svalbard are Storøya and Kvitøya. Approaching the islands we couldn’t see very much, most of the landscape was hidden in fog, but shortly before arriving Storøya we saw the coast and two polar bears.  Very exciting, but no chance for a landing. Again a cruising was started to watch the walruses. Storøya is well known for its big walrus population mostly females and calves. They are not only laying on the shore they are mostly swimming around and of course the spotted out who we are: small red boats with blue creatures. It was really exciting, because they came quite close to us. Walruses are not the most beautiful animals onshore but when they swim and you can see their eyes and listen to their “talking”; you might fall in love.
Storøya means “Big Island”, this must be a joke, because it measures only 40 km². Totally different our second landing on Kvitøya, much bigger but nearly 99% of it are covered by a glacier. That is not really surprising, the name means “White Island”. We tried to find a good landing side, where we found two carcasses – one of a walrus and the other of a polar bear. These gave us finally the opportunity to get closer to these animals. It was a young walrus that might have just recently died. The carcass of the polar bear has started to mummify. The bones jutted out and the fur lost its hair.  Kvitøya is also from the historical perspective a sad place, because all the three men of the Salomon Andrée expedition - the balloon drive to the North Pole in 1897 – died on this island. There is a memorial-stone close to the beach.
Nevertheless, this was an exciting day, because Fram has visited these islands for the first time. The evening ended with the fashion-show.

Monday, August the 24th
Into the fog – nearly
In the morning – fog, but never give up your plans. Again we were lucky and started our landing operation on Barentsøya at Sundneset just in time. Because of the cloudy weather the staff had to check the surrounding very carefully. There were three polar bears in a good distance around so we had to keep an eye on them. It is a nice spot with plenty of vegetation, still some flowers in bloom but the “forest” on the ground had started to change its colors to autumn. A little bit further from the landing side is a hut, called Würzburger Hut, named by a German scientist. Today it is used as an emergency hut.
Only small groups of passengers were called out, so the landing lasted for six hours. Meanwhile the clouds were coming down and going again a little up. A wonderful atmosphere, everyone enjoyed the place with a lot of driftwood on the beach.
In the afternoon we could visit some lectures in English and German. Again a wonderful day.

Tuesday, August the 25th
Into the activities
Hornsund is a beautiful fjord and we stayed in Burgerbukta. Today is the day of activities: Kayaking, Glacier-Hike, Polar Cirkel Boat Cruising. There are two bays: Austre and Vestre Bukta. In the end of them are the glaciers Mühlbacherbreen and Paierlbreen. They produce a lot of icebergs which ware floating around. Some of them look like sculptures and they have an intensive blue color.
The area of Burgerbukta was well known through all times starting with the whalers in the 17th century. There are also some remains from the Norwegian trapper period, a hut close to Gnålodden. One of the most well-known female trapper was Wanny Wolstad, who spent there several years, two together with her young sons.
Hornsund is one of the most beautiful fjords in Svalbard with all these glaciers and bays. In the dead end is Breepolen with a huge glacier-front.
The evening of this wonderful day ended up with some whales around “Egga” and the famous MV FRAM Crew-show.

Wednesday, August the 26th
Into the sunshine
Yes, sunshine, an amazing view and again a full day of activities in Isfjorden. We set anchor at the landmark of the fjord, the mountain Alkhornet and started again with Kayaking, glacier-hike, Polar Circle Boat cruise and of course landing. This is really a popular area, a tent stood close to the place where we landed and further into Tryghamna there were some kayakers. Again we spotted some white-yellow dots, polar bears in a far distance. In the neighbor bay Ymerbukkta close to Esmarkbreen we saw seals lying on the ice, even the Polar Circle Boats didn’t disturb them.
The last excursion was a visit of the ghost town of Pyramiden. In the former Russian mining town lived more than 3000 residents, mining workers and their families.  Nordenskiöld glacier with its magnificent beauty was a perfect last stop before we sailed towards the harbor of Longyearbyen. At least a wonderful last day which gave us a lot of good memories.


Thursday, 20 August 2015

The adventure continues

Day 1
All aboard and even those unlucky with lost luggage set of towards Barenstburg with a smile. The expedition cruise had started.  With the clear blue sky Barentsburg was bathing in sunlight. We enjoyed a culture show and a guided trip in the Russian mining town before set out towards the mouth of Isfjorden and the start of our expedition.
Day 2
Bright and shiny we encountered a nice meeting with four Polar bears two females and two cubs in the Kongsfjord. Arriving Ny-Ålesund, the northern most settlement we got a good overview of the old mining town which is now a research town. Stories of old explorers succeeding and failing were told and still visual like the Amundsen mast. Leaving the Kongsfjord we met two Polar bears cooling down in the waters nearby land before we sailed into the ocean fog. In the Magdalenafjord the clouds made the scenery moody and thrilling. We set out on a hike and got to walk all the way to Gullibreen were we could enjoy the forces of nature watching the glacier calving and creating small tsunami waves. Those still awake at 2am got to see the most popular sand beach in the north – Moffen. Right after we got company of several whales whereas two of them were confirmed to be Blue Whales, the biggest animal that has ever lived.
Day 3
We reached our northern most point the sea ice edge 81.50 north. Here we met with the king of the Arctic and some ringed seals while cruising in and near by drift ice. The ivory gull, pomarine scua, guillmot, puffin, fulmar, arctic scua and little auks was flying around the ship. We cruised passed the northern most Island at Spitsbergen, Rossøya and headed towards Phippsøya. The smelly walruses lied on the beach stuffed with bivalves and clams. The beaches here was full of plastic that has arrives with currents up to the pristine arctic and everyone contributed to clean as best as we could.
Day 4
Alkefjellet – The New York of birdcliffs was the sight we woke up to on day 4. To get really close to this amazing place we had a cruise for all guests. We got close enough to both see and smell the thousands and thousands of Brunich`s Guillmots nesting there. It’s a truly fantastic experience to get this close to the hectic life in the birdcliff. Just the sound from all the birds is enough to take your breath away. Later that day we did a landing at Torellneset. The welcome commity was in the form of a big group of smelly walruses. The Walrus is a fascinating creature that always puts on a good show. Some of the guests were lucky enough to get onto the Mariaglacier, a part of Vegafonna. It was a cold hike with hard winds, but the view up there is world class and made it all worth it.

Day 5
This morning we woke up to a white world outside. The plan was to make a landing at Kapp Walburg in Freemannsundet, but when we couldn’t even see land it looked quite unlikely for a while. This being an expedition cruise we sent our expedition team on shore and after making sure there was no Polar bears around we started our landing. After a while the fog lifted and we could enjoy this beautiful place together with the Kittiwakes, polar foxes and some even found droppings from the white king himself.
Day 6
Austre Burgerbukta welcomed us with high mountain peaks and remains of Polar bear lunches. A dead fox could show us how long decomposing takes in the high arctic being almost intact after already two years. Here we stood and felt the arctic weather and the pure and ruff wind coming down from the two beautiful glacier fronts, Mühlbacher glacier and Kvalfanger glacier. We cruised in the beautiful Brepollen area and stood on deck imagining the vastness of the glacier connecting to each other only 50 years ago. Sailing out of Hornsund heading northwards on the west coat the Gulfstream collaborated with the winds to make in a bit bumpy, but the show must go on and the crew show put a lot of smiles onto our faces.
Day 7
Arriving Alkehornet in Isfjorden the fog was dense and the wind speeding at 17m/s. We sailed forwards to Ymerbukta and the Esmark glacier. Here we were sheltered from the rough seas and could set out on our expeditions. Some were kayaking and some took on crampons and went hiking on the glacier. The rest of us hiking up the moraine and some found beautiful fossils of ferns. After we got the wet clothes off and had a warm shower and lunch we had a farewell cocktail with the captain and his crew. The last expedition was the ghost town of Pyramiden, once holding over 3000 residents. Nordenskiöld glacier with its magnificent beauty was a perfect last stop before we set sailed towards the safe harbor of Longyearbyen.