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 GĂ„shamna, 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.