Saturday 6 August 2011

Monaco & Mushamna

Blue iceberg at Monacobreen

Trapper's cabin at Mushamna (photo ©Karsten Bidstrup)
Our stop at Monaco Glacier means cruising with the Polar Cirkel boats along a 5 km wall of ice.  Yippee!  At 09:00 we dropped the anchor and soon thereafter the Polar Cirkel boats were whisking people to the glacier.  Monaco is very active, calving huge chunks of ice on a regular basis.  As always on Fram, safety is our first priority.  Our precautionary rule for a minimum safe distance when approaching a glacier is about four times the glacier’s height.  This still allows for spectacular views of the glacial wall (terminus). The sea was crowded with icebergs and bergy bits.  We went from one iceberg to the next.  Each iceberg was completely unique.  We oh-ed, and ah-ed and photographed and admired the many shapes and the many saturated shades of translucent blue. There is nothing like cruising in ice in a small boat.  It is a lot of fun.
Old fox trap at Mushamna
In the afternoon we had a pleasant surprise.  Karin Strand, the Expedition Leader, announced an unscheduled landing at Mushamna deep in Woodfjorden!  We landed by a beautiful hunter’s cabin.  The landlord of the cabin is the Govenor of Svalbard.  The tenants vary from year to year.  Each occupant is only allowed to stay for one year with a possible option to extend for another year.  This year’s tenant’s had just vacated about three weeks ago. 
There was plenty of avian wildlife in the immediate area which included Eider Ducks, Bryants Geese, Arctic Terns, Purple Sandpipers, Red-throated Loons, Kittiwakes, Glaucous Gulls, Ivory Gulls, Parasitic Jaegers, Black Guillemots and Northern Fulmars.
Dwarf Birch at Mushamna already showing fall colour
August 6 and the wildflowers were already past their peek but here and there were bright splashes of pink Moss Campion and dashes of white Arctic Chickweed. The summer season is short and intense. The Dwarf Willow was changing colour from bright green to yellow, red and orange. It seemed like the fall was already approaching.
We also found two old fox traps.  One of them still had most of the parts.  It is a very simple device.  Heavy rocks are piled on a wooden platform which is propped up on a stick.  When a fox grabs the bait, the heavy platform falls, killing the fox and leaving the fir intact.
As we prepared to leave the beach at Mushamna, the low grey cloud cover began to drop even lower.  We lifted the anchor and sailed into the mist.  Our next stop, Ny-Ålesund.