Sunday 21 August 2011

Ny-Ålesund & Fjortende Julibukta

This cone of silence works!
Amazing scenery at Fjortendebukta!
Ny-Ålesund is fascinating for all sorts of reasons.  The first man to successfully reach the north pole by air left from here.  It was probably Roald Amundsen who was also the first person to reach the south pole.  I say probably because on May 9, 1926 Admiral Richard Byrd flew out of Ny-Ålesund in a small aircraft on a mission to be first to fly to the north pole.  He returned 15 hours later claiming that he had achieved just that.  Today historians are somewhat doubtful that Byrd could have been successful. Two days later Roald Amundsen & Umberto Nobile left in a giant airship also hoping to reach the north pole.  The sad thing was that they both thought that Byrd had already beaten them to the pole by air.  Amundsen and Nobile were quite possibly the first people to fly over the north pole making Amundsen the first person at the north and south poles.
The glacier calves very often at Fjortendebukta.
There are more fascinating stories forever connecting Ny-Ålesund with heroes and victims of polar exploration.  There are also sad stories linking Ny-Ålesund to the deaths of many coal miners in the 1950s and the early sixties.  It was after the last terrible mining accident where 21 miners died that the coal mines in Ny-Ålesund were shut down forever. 
Since 1964 Ny-Ålesund has been a site of world wide importance in terms of Arctic research.  There are ten nations with permanent research facilities and several more nations join in the Arctic science party in the summer.  The populations swells from 30 people in the winter to 150 in the summer.  Today we increased that number by about 230 people.  The Expedition Team guided us through the science village in small groups.  It was really great to hear about the stories of polar exploration.  Most of us walked out to the 30 metre tall mast where the giant airships were once tehered.
Many people chose to buy some souvenirs in the gift shop or to explore the museum and the information centre.  Still others went to the northern most post office in the world to put a stamp on their cards.
At 11:00 everyone was back on board and we set sail for Fjortende Julibukta.
Fjortende Julibukta is one of my personal favourite landing sites.  There is lots of wildlife with Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Puffins and Guillemots nesting high in the cliffs.  There are often Reindeer roaming about.  There Arctic Skuas and Glaucous gulls which often predate upon the other bird life. The scenery is fantastic.  There is a large, beautiful glacier at the head of the bay.  The glacier calves regularly, so there is often the booming sound of falling ice.
It has an easy beach to land on and a nice flat area to explore.  There is even a neat geological feature often referred to as the cave of silence.  A slight indentation in the slope below the seabird cliff cuts out all of the sound from the noisy birds high above.  It was like shutting a sound proof door.  Amazing!  Lots of people chose to walk right down to the glacier and up on the lateral moraine where they had excellent views of the river of ice.  I doubt that there was anyone that didn’t enjoy this landing site immensely.