Into the Arctic

Have you ever felt like being alone in the world, without communications and the comfort of our daily life? Well I have a word for you, the Arctic.

Ever since I first set my foot up at Svalbard a couple of years ago, I have been longing to go back there. It is difficult to put into words, but there’s something about being so far up north. This winter I came across an ‘explore the east coast expedition’ and I just couldn’t hold it anymore, so I took the opportunity and booked both the trip and flight tickets. The weeks before departure I spent many hours going through what type of personal equipment I should bring with me. And I’m glad I did. Even though the expedition was carried out during Svalbard spring time, the temperature stayed around -10°C. Driving the snowmobile in chilly winds without freezing your fingers off is worth the effort of good planning.

Snowmobile. I have never driven one before, and now I see why people enjoy it so much. Driving through an untouched landscape as majestic mountains and blue glaciers pass by gives you an indescribable and calm feeling inside. Everything is white and all you left behind you is a small track which is soon to be covered with fresh snow. Being out here makes you see how fragile and wonderful nature really is. Per today 65% of Svalbard consists of conservation areas and there are little traces after human activity to be found.

We make a few stops now and then, either to take a quick leg stretcher or just to watch the breathtaking sceneries. At our first target, Temple fjord, there is a Dutch ship frozen in the ice. It is being run as a business for tourist to come for a night out in the wild looking for the northern lights. Together with a cup of tea we discuss with the owners about polar bear sightings. Just the day before there had been a mother with her two cubs passing by, but probably they had moved on already. And as the weekend was just about to start (the fjord would be filled with one-day-trip tourists) we saw no point in staying in the area.

We continued towards our goal for the night, and surrounded by the sound of nesting Northern Fulmars we put up our tent camp. Out here in the Arctic one needs to have a polar bear guard during the night and fortunately for us we brought the best guards there is, sled dogs. And I must admit there is quite exciting sleeping outside knowing there might be a polar bear right around the corner.

For the rest of the trip focus was at finding the majestic white bears, and we were lucky. The second night we reached our main goal, the east coast. Here we found our first sighting, a mother with her cubs. They stayed very far out on the ice so we stood for a few hours observing them through our binoculars before we returned to our tents for another night’s sleep. Per now it looked like this trip could turn out quite successful.

Looking for polar bears requires time, a good guide and especially a pair of good binoculars. And most of the days are spent looking for these amazing creatures. It is easy to forget what’s around one self but as soon as you stop the scooter there is an opportunity for good landscape pictures. We had in total ten polar bear observations and a few of them came up quite close to us.

But the best sighting we had our last night. We had been working with a big male for a small hour before he walked up towards a hill. And as we were about to pack the scooters for our last trip back to Longyearbyen through the night, we saw a mother with her two cub running down a steep slope. It turned out that the big male tried to track her down, most probably to kill off the cubs.
So we are standing there watching the mother with her small ones with only hundred meters between us, running away from our direction, this great photo opportunity just disappearing in a matter of seconds. After watching them running away over the fjord we start to discuss about the last trip home again. But as we are about to start the motors we see that the mothers suddenly makes a sharp turn. She stops running and she and the cubs start to walk towards us. So we are standing there again just waiting to see what will happen. What is happening is maybe one of my greatest experiences in the nature ever. The mother and her two cubs get up to us as close as 40 meters before she stops and lies down. The small ones looks really exhausted and probably in the shelter of us three people the three bears decided to rest for almost half an hour. It didn’t take long for the small one to recover and only a few minutes later they were already squabbling. This short moment felt like an eternity and when they finally walked away from us again we had to drive home to catch the flight back to mainland.

Do I really have to say that it won’t be long before I go back to Svalbard again!