Friday 31 August 2012


This morning we met in language groups on the quay in Ny Ålesund.  Once everyone was assembled, the Expedition Team led us on a tour of one of the very most northerly settlements in the world.  The wind ripped down from Kongsbreen and Kongsvegen glaciers. It picked up sea spray as it tore along Kongsfjorden and then nagged and pushed and shoved us through the small settlement.

This was definitely not a day for launching zeppelins but the Expedition Team told us of the historic moment in 1926 when Roald Amundsen, Lincoln Ellsworth and Umberto Nobile did that very thing.  The first flight over the north pole  embarked from this very spot.  At the time it was the most newsworthy event in the world.
We walked out to the 30 m tall mast from which Amundsen and Nobile launched their zeppelins 87 and 85 years ago respectively.
After the walk we had the option of picking up Arctic souvenirs in the gift shop or to explore the museum and information centre or to just kick about town on our own..

Just before 12:00 we cast off our lines and were treated to some scenic cruising deep in Kongsfjorden.  We then headed north west, exiting Kingsfjorden and made our way towards Magdalena Fjord.  We weren’t due to land at Graveneset until 17:30 but we had plenty of activities scheduled in the afternoon.
Starting promptly at 12:00 we offered everyone the chance to try on a pair of our sturdy, warm and waterproof Muck Boots.  We have the boots available for rewnt and it seemed that just about everyone decided that the Muck Boots would be a good idea.
AECO briefings were scheduled throughout the afternoon and there was even time for a couple of lectures.
At 15:00 wer were invited to the Observation Lounge for the Captains Welcome speech and cocktail.  We were introduced to key members of the ship including many of the officers and the entire Expedition Team.. For some inexplicable reason the chef got the largest round of applause.  Come to think of it, he gets the most applause every week.

17:30 we landed at Gravneset in Magdalena Bay. The wind from the morning had not abated but our anchorage was sheltered providing excellent conditions for Polar Cirkel boat operations. The first people on shore were all of those wanting to go on a hike to Gullybreen Galcier at the head of Gullybukta.  By the way, saying or writing Gullybreen glacier is a bit redundant as breen means glacier in Norwegian.  Kinda like saying Gully glacier glacier.

While the seas were calm at our anchorage the wind continued to ravage us on shore. Willywaws picked up sand and sea alike and spun like mini tornados over the landing site.

Despite the wind, numerous people braved the icy water and went for a swim.  To say they went swimming is perhaps a bit generous as for most it was a very hasty in and an even hastier out. Nevertheless, we give credit where credit is due.  Everyone that braved the frigid sea will get a certificate signed by the Captain testifying as to the date and location of their plunge. 

By 20:45 everyone was back within the warm and windless confines of the ship.

Thursday 30 August 2012

Last round.

It is pretty dark when FRAM goes to pier in Longyearbyen long after midnight. This is quite a statement, telling us that the Polar Night is drawing near and our time up North is slowly coming to an end. 

Our last circumnavigation, even our last trip to Svalbard is about to start today. This should leave nobody with the impression of jumping on the last train or taking what’s left - just the opposite: This is the time when the light is perfect for photography, when the feeling gets truly Arctic and everything seems to be more private, belonging more to us with each single day. So the incoming crowd is fairly excited as they board and go through the necessary formalities with a patient smile. And to our great pleasure there is a whole bunch of familiar faces arriving; sometimes it feels rather like a family reunion than the official reception…so let me slip into our guest’s shoes for the rest of the narration! … 

On time we cast the lines, and with the last announcements of the safety drill we head into Isfjorden, for the first short leg to Barentsburg. The morbid charm of this place feels oddly out of place, here where we expect a wildlife paradise, but the inviting hospitality of the Russians feels good, especially if spiced with one of their self-made vodkas. So, here we are, almost at the northern end of the world, we walk under a bust of Vladimir Ilyitsh Lenin - and they are singing “Kalinka”…hm. But they sing it with enthusiasm, so somehow it is touching and tells the positive part of the story about the strange life in the otherwise grim surroundings of this village. Well, time to ponder this over a drink in the luxurious Bar Lounge, but the eyes are getting heavy. A long, long journey comes to an end, and ahead of us lie seven days of - how Captain Hårvik put it - “real experiences in unique waters”. Good night then, tomorrow we start exploring!

Wednesday 29 August 2012

The Last Landing

This morning’s landing started at 09:30.  The skies were completely overcast and there was a threat of rain in the air.   A damp wind gusted over the mountain, down the hills and across the verdant fields at the base of Alkehornet.  A herd of Reindeer grazed placidly, impervious to the biting wind.   
 The Reindeer here are habituated to ship-born visitors.  They tolerated our presence to a degree but as more and more people advanced across the plain, they slowly moved to quieter pastures.
Traversing a broad expanse of grass and moss, we could see the scattered red dots of the Expedition Team marking the huge perimeter of the landing site. 
Amongst other wildlife, Alkehornet has a resident population of Arctic Foxes.  We never fail to see at least two or three.  There are plenty of places for the foxes to den and a very large colony of seabirds including Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Black Guillemots provides a ready food supply for the foxes in the spring and summer months.

Kittiwakes and Fulmars circled high up on the cliff tops.  We could hear the Kittiwakes calling out their name, “Kittiwake!  Kitti-wa-ake!”  But now they were very few compared to previous weeks.  Most of the chicks have fledged. The majority have already headed out to sea, not to return until they are of an age to breed and raise chicks of their own. 

At 13:00 the last people left the beach and Fram readied to move towards the next landing site at Skansebukta.

At 15:00 we joined the Captain, Officers, Crew and Expedition Team in the Observation lounge for the Captain’s traditional farewell speech.  Following the speech, the crew sang a touching farewell song that was written specifically for MV Fram.
And then at 15:30, the Expedition Team hosted a charity auction. The funds of the auction go to support worthy students wishing to attend the Arctic Guiding program in Longyearbyen and other Arctic environmental concerns.   

Skansebukta.  The last landing of our Arctic holiday.    One person confided that the last landing was very sad.  Ah, but that’s a good thing isn’t it?  If we weren’t sad to leave then that would mean that it wasn’t a great trip.  So a little bit of sadness is good.
Puffins whirred their way back and forth along the soaring cliffs of Skansebukta.  Occasionally you could see that one of these endearing sea birds had a beak full of fish.  With the aid of binoculars you could spot Puffins and Fulmars sitting on cliff ledges. 

Many people took the last opportunity to wear off some of the calories they had accumulated in the dining room by hiking up a very steep hill to a beautiful waterfall at the base of the cliff.  The view from the top was truly inspiring
Upon arrival at the lofty waterfall, two brave souls cast off all of their garments and took a shower in the glacial water at the top of the world.

All too soon the final landing of our Arctic adventure was over.  Arrival day in Longyearbyen seems so long ago.  It seems like we packed a summer of experience into one week.  It will take some time for many of us to review our photos and to reflect back on everything we have done.  One thing is for sure, we all have unforgettable memories of our voyage in the high Arctic.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Hikes and History in Hornsund

OK, let's start with the name - the Horn Sound is actually a fjord, i.e. a dead end, whereas the Storfjord which we crossed during the night is actually a sound. Why? Unsolved mystery.
But who cares, when the morning reveals the great beauty of high, snow-capped peaks and immense valleys. Hornsund is definitely one of the most impressive areas of the whole Svalbard archipelago.
And the widest valley of them all is Gåshamna, the bay of geese. A couple of kilometres wide, it stretches so deep inland that everybody feels dwarfed to ant size who goes ashore here. And on the eastern flank of this vastness people have stayed several times in history. The most distinct remains are bright and red and belong to the Pomors, a people of hunters from Siberia who came to Svalbard as early as the beginning of the 17th century. They used bricks for their buildings, quite an advanced way of construction. In this place a lot of the bricks are still intact, like they have been left there only a few days ago.

But they were not the only ones: A plethora of whale bones indicates the presence of - mostly Dutch and English whalers over nearly 200 years.

But the biggest structure looks decidedly more modern, a wooden cabin with a lot of appendices, sporting a lot of rusty tools around it, chimneys made of - yellow, so not Pomor - bricks. A look inside reveals a tea kettle and many other things that look, well, youngish. One thing is clear: This place was not inhabited only for a week-end. And in fact it was manned for three years in a row, serving as one of the main camps for a scientific enterprise of large proportions - the measurement of the Earth. Towards the end of the 19th century many countries set out to answer a strange question: Is our planet a lemon or an orange…? What they meant was the debate about Earth's shape at the poles, them being elongated or flattened. For that purpose there was only one solution in these pre-GPS times, the length of the meridians had to be determined more precisely than ever. The normal distance between two parallels is 60 nautical miles. Proving that this distance is a little bigger or smaller towards the poles means lemon or orange. This required a huge amount of measurements, not only here in Svalbard, but also - for reference - in more equatorial areas. High up north it was Russia and Sweden who took on the task. To make a long story short - the orange won. Funny twist: With this huge endeavour the world did nothing else but confirm Galileo Galilei, who had calculated exactly the same thing in the early 17th century.

Today was also the last option for a long and exciting hike on this trip. But what a hike it was…! The brave bunch was dropped first thing in the morning far away from the ship, next to a pretty little glacier. Some even spotted a polar fox, already sprouting parts of its winter coat. And then we followed the probably most scenic coastline on this whole voyage. Gurgling rivulets, impressive waterfalls, shining green carpets of moss, labyrinths of gargantuan boulders, on our left the flanks of the mountains towering above us, on our right the sun casting the shadows of clouds onto the emerald green waters of the fjord. Gosh, if I only were a painter!!

Well, maybe a few images can convey the story, too.
On arrival many voices, like "best hike of all Svalbard", "THE highlight!", or "beau-ti-ful!!!" - well, if that isn't a good last exercise…

Over lunch we proceed deeper into the fjord, and in the afternoon the spontaneous decision is announced to do a Polar Cirkel Boat cruise at the very end of Hornsund, Brepollen. And who didn't get at least a couple of amazing shots of icebergs and glacier fronts at their best simply didn't have a camera along. As if the sun and the clouds wanted to spoil us on our second last day.
With a delicious BBQ - out on deck! - a wonderful day comes to an end? Hell, no! Meet the crew on deck 7 for the crew show, they show us what they got.