Wednesday 10 August 2011

Gravneset & Ny-Ålesund

View on the hike in Gravneset

This morning at 08:00 we landed at Gravneset in Trinity Bay at the head of Magdalenafjord. At one time Bowhead Whales and other species of whales were very numerous in this area.  Two centuries of intensive whaling depleted the whale stock to the point where whaling was no longer practical. The landing site at Gravneset (grave headland) is beside a large ancient cemetery where 130 whalers from that epoch are buried. I wonder if the whalers that came here two or three hundred years ago appreciated the beauty of the region, or were they more intent on their arduous tasks and staying alive?  From archeological evidence and historical records it seems  the most common cause of death was disease and scurvy. Now, in the age of the computer when an interval of five years produces miraculous changes in technology it is difficult to contemplate what a whaler’s day-to-day life might have been like.
Death and discomfort were not strangers to them.
Statue of Roald Amundsen
We had the option of going on a long hike or a shorter walk.   It was a cool morning with overcast skies.  Excellent weather for a hike.  We passed by the hillock of graves and four poorly preserved try-works where the whalers rendered the blubber into oil.  We continued on over a ridge of moraine and hiked along the water’s edge until we came to the edge of a glacier at the head of the fjord.  The scenery here was really special with several glaciers tumbling down to the sea.  En route we spotted a Ringed Seal close to shore.  The little fellow seemed quite curious and followed us for a short distance as we walked along the shoreline. The long hike took a little longer than planned, but after about two and a half hours we were back at the landing site.

In the afternoon at 16:30 we visited Ny-Ålesund.  The wind had picked up considerably.  There was a noticeable drop in temperature, especially when you factored in the wind chill.  We strolled through town in four language groups; German, Scandinavian, French and English.  The Expedition Team informed us of the fascinating history of Ny-Ålesund including the heroic and tragic attempts by Roald Amundsen and Umberto Nobile to reach the north pole by hot air ships.  On the outskirts of town still stands the tall mast where Amundsen and Nobile tethered their hot air balloons.  It seems a monument to the end of the heroic age of Polar Exploration and the race to the poles.

The mast for tethering Amundsen's and Nobile's
airships in 1926 and 1928.