Tuesday 23 August 2011

Ytre Norskeøya and Gravneset

The cloud layer was so low and substantial this morning you felt as if you might bump your head as you walked about the shore at Ytre Norskeøya.  Ralf, our tallest Expedition Team member was convinced it was fog and not cloud.  All a question of perspective I guess.  Nevertheless the air was damp and chilly.  The pervasive low cloud rendered the rocky landscape in soft shadowless tones of greys, greens and browns.  The heavy atmosphere seemed fitting for this particular location.  The northwest corner of Svalbard  saw some of the heaviest whaling activity in the archipelago. At Ytre Norskeøya there are the remains of nine blubber ovens and 165 whalers.  While there weren’t any shadows walking the land today, one could feel the presence of the whalers still stirring their giant copper pots of boiling whale oil.  It took little imagination to picture an industrious scene of slaughter and hardship driven by commerce. Still, it was difficult to identify with the lives of men from 300 years ago.  I couldn’t help wondering what will people think of us 300 years hence? Undoubtedly we will appear vastly more primitive to future generations than the whalers do to us.
The visibility improved slowly throughout the landing. We enjoyed a great hike to a prominent view point where we could overlook the whaler’s final resting point.  Far below we could see the Polar Cirkel boats busily shuttling people to and from the ship.  While we were on shore the wind picked up.  It was a wet and bumpy ride back to the ship.
Beautiful evening light at Gravneset
While we cruised towards our next landing site, rays of sunshine punched blue holes through the cloud.  What a difference.  In the morning everything was cold and wet.  In the afternoon it was cheery blue skies and warm sunshine for our landing at Gravneset.
Trinity harbour at Gravneset
Gravneset is also the final resting place of many whalers.  With warm sunshine and grand scenery, the atmosphere here was not as oppressive as in the morning.  We could see the Expedition Team set on the perimeter of the landing site keeping a watchful eye out for wayward bears. We were free to wander about a very large area.  Over the years visitors have disturbed the graves, taken artifacts and have left important messages such as “so-and-so was here”. To protect further damage the entire gravesite is now a protected area.

Behind the graveyard at Gravneset