On Top Of The World

“Keep focused on that tiny ray of light because that is the beginning of magic”- My wonderful mother

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We made it! A journey which included 4 take-offs in only 16 hours (London, Stockholm, Oslo and Tromsø). We managed to cause drama before even reaching Svalbard, by getting slightly confused in Oslo airport and turning up at the wrong baggage collection point when we only had 1 hour to find our bags, check them in again and get on the next plane. Turned out the flight was already slightly delayed, but the whole plane was informed of a delay also caused by some late luggage (which I then spotted arriving on a truck straight after the announcement and recognised my bags on the top, oops). 

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Ready for take off from Tromsø!

From Oslo, we flew to Longyearbyen with a stop at Tromsø on the way, where we had to get off the plane for a passport check and reboard in half an hour. It was then onto Svalbard. During this section of the flight, we plunged into 24 hour darkness and arrived at Svalbard at about 2:30pm in complete darkness. See my full time lapse video of us flying into the darkness 24 hour darkness of the arctic circle at about 1pm (local time) on 8th January here.

We were now in Longyearbyen and were taken to our accommodation. On the way over I had found out I had been temporarily moved our of my original block to a different block in the same accommodation. This is only for a week due to water damage in the flat. The barrack I was moved to is lovely and spacious, it’s unfortunate I can’t fully unpack and settle down until I’ve been moved back.

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Welcome to Svalbard!

We had the weekend to get settled and work out where everything was and began to meet other people we were living with. On Saturday night, the group of us along with one of my new flatmates went across the road the “Coal Miners Bar & Grill”. It was absolutely incredible food and a lovely relaxed atmosphere (plus the local beer is only £1.80 for half a litre). The food prices at the supermarket are very high, something we’re all still struggling to deal with. But meals out seem to be similar to prices at home. 

On Monday, we began our safety training course. Monday consisted of a day of lectures which were from 9am – 6:45pm with short breaks dotted about the day. We learnt a lot of theory which will be applied later on in the week as we do rotations on the practical side of the safety training. We were told that we will have to face a few mental battles this week, so much truth. I have been struggling with the constant darkness here, my first mental battle (which I still don’t feel I’ve come out the other side of yet). I can’t pinpoint exactly what the problem is, I just want to see the Sun during the day! It’s just normal. Every day, at about midday (lasting for about an hour), there is a faint ray of light emerging over the mountains. This light is getting ever so slightly brighter each day as we edge towards the first sight of the Sun on the 16th Feb.

On Tuesday, my first course was the rifle training. I managed to cause a scene by going into (and coming out of) my second mental battle. I won’t go into full detail, so the short story is that I worked myself up about the rifle training (having never held a gun before and being nervous for the test) into such a that state I nearly passed out. (I also had very cold toes after seeing a number of graphic photos of frost bite the day before, not helping the situation.) 10 minutes later I stood up and passed the rifle target test allowing me to carry a UNIS gun. The rifles are, of course, a last resort. We have also been taught all about how to scare the polar bear with flares. After lunch, we had emergency camp training. We learnt how to light the gasoline stoves provided in the emergency boxes and set up the tents and trip wires outside in the snow. During the session outside, we managed to spot a beautiful and very clear aurora over our heads.

Wednesday was the first aid training followed by a lecture on UNIS general information and tours. The first aid training is something I was a bit on edge about, being slightly squeamish in some situations. Overall it wasn’t that bad, and we practiced some of the emergency situations outside in the dark and cold for two hours. I was lucky enough to be a demonstrator for the hypothermia wrap, and so I was cocooned in a sleeping mat, blizzard blanket, sleeping bag and windproof bag. (Photos below from Miriam Hogg). 

Still to come this week, I will be learning about avalanche and glacier safety, GPS equipment and I’ll be jumping into a pool of water in the ice. Saturday will be an early start to travel up to the glacier to practice all of our new skills followed by an exam to complete the AS-101 safety training course (also followed by drinks). 

Unfortunately, I also have two exams next week and so have been attempting to try and fit in revision every evening after a long, tough day out on the course. This time next week, it’ll all be over and I’ll be beginning my new modules here in Svalbard, and heading closer to the Sun reappearing over the mountains. 

Skål!

Author: Lucy Hoskin

23 year old student from Aberystwyth University about to complete my Masters in Astrophysics in the arctic.

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