Breathe Life

My first post dedicated to the lessons of Svalbard and tips for future Svalbarders.

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To make for a fun filled two week field work special next week, I thought I’d make a blog of all about arctic life and lessons, with some tips thrown in for any future Svalbarders.

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Barrack 9 pictured from Barrack 11 window. Do not leave without appropriate clothing.

Lesson 1: Arctic life is tough. It is not possible to simply ‘pop over’ to the shops, or even to a friends barrack without having to fully coat up. You can’t (or at least, you should never) leave town without a rifle and flare gun along with people who can safely and confidently operate the two guns. For any trip, no matter how close to town, you have to think about avalanche rescue kits, spare clothing, food, first aid kits, headlamps, mats to sit on, hand and feet warmers, and the list can go on as the hikes can get more challenging (and all this is after you’ve fully assessed the weather and avalanche forecast.)

Lesson 2: Food is expensive. The daily struggle of trying to buy good but affordable food is not that achievable. It’s not completely impossible, but you have to pick and choose from time to time. Trying to get a weekly food routine going at fixed prices is also made more difficult by the massive price fluctuations here over short periods of time. Also, completely random items are actually cheaper here than in the UK, example: Philadelphia. Tip from personal experience: eggs are good, get some fruit every day and cereal is reasonably priced. If you eat crappy food every day, you’ll hate life. This is a place you definitely don’t want to be hating on life in.

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I’d managed to crawl in snow before this picture in only glove liners (stupid) and got them wet. So when I took my gloves off to do something (like here), my hands froze immediately. Photo credit: Miriam Hogg

Lesson 3: Glove liners are life. There are a number of times in these cold conditions that it is necessary to take off your gloves to do adjust clothing/operate a rifle/find something in your bag/take photos (and the list goes on). Doing this completely bare handed can be incredibly cold and painful. Glove liners (as well as making your hands warmer under the outer gloves) also allow you to perform these more awkward tasks with your hands still covered. Tip from a friend: buy glove liners from field and trek before you come out here, apparently you can pick them up for only £6!

I miss trees.

And all things green.

I meant the countryside, obviously. Don’t be gross.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful here. It’s just very, very white

Lesson 4: Looking out the window and seeing that it’s snowing is still magical. Or at least, it still is for me one month in. And the views never get old.

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A photo which includes family, Sun, heat and blue and green views. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love it here. It’s just the little things.

Lesson 5: A “lovely day” is about -5 degrees C, little to no wind, and either a beautifully clear day, or a day of big snowflakes (like the childhood dreams). These are the days we live for, the days that make life feel spectacular, without even having to leave town.

Lesson 6: Good headlamps for camping don’t necessarily make good headlamps for the arctic. It is pretty dark here during winter, headlamps with the ability to see quite far are particularly important (especially if you find yourself on a trip out of town in the dark, don’t want the polar bears sneaking up on you).

Skiing to university is normal.

Lesson 7 (for all Aberystwythers): We thought the Aber bubble was bad, try the Longyearbyen bubble. A town of just over 2000 people (as if 2013).

Lesson 8: Even though you’re only here for a few months, you’ll find yourself wanting to invest in certain things that will most likely only be useful here. Having spoken to my American friends, I know they use a lot of this stuff back home, but in the UK, it’s not so necessary. I have invested in some microspikes this week. They were about £25 so not too bad, and I will get a lot of use out of them here. But, once I leave here I probably won’t wear them again. However, this week I considered buying cross country skis. They were on offer for £200, but cross country skis are not the skis I would normally use on family ski trips to the Alps. They’re not so great for going downhill and so, beyond Svalbard, will not be so useful. I managed to talk myself out of that one…

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Welcome to the Arctic. Photo credit: Kieran Davis

Lesson 9: Frost bite and hypothermia are every day worries of life.

General tips for possible future Svalbarders:

1) You have an incredible variety of adventures right on your doorstep. Make the most of it.

2) Thermal layers and buffs are your friend. Wear them, always.

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Wind chill on the face. Frozen hair. It’s all part of the Svalbard charm. (Notice the buff – Friend). Photo credit: Kieran Davis.

3) It’s a great idea to buy some stuff at home (your standard ski jacket, sallopettes, hiking boots, thermals, etc) and it’s also a great idea to add to your wardrobe in Svalbard. You need some stuff for when you arrive, be prepared and all that. But there are some fantastic clothes shops here and UNIS students get good discounts, so I feel it’s worth topping up your wardrobe here as well. Especially when you’re here for a number of months. (Other people may well disagree with this. I like clothes and shopping.)

4) Wind proof outer clothing is key.

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5) Take lots of photos. You may get some gems in there. And everyone loves a selfie (but make sure it’s safe, a surprising number of deaths happen whilst taking selfies.. this shit’s serious). Don’t worry about people who may judge you, you don’t want to regret not having a photo to show people later.

6) Bring your speakers. Big regrets for not bringing mine. Decision was made to leave them when I was struggling for weight and the speakers on my laptop are okay (when I invested in speakers, I had a laptop with pretty bad sound quality). But sometimes it’s just nice to have speakers.

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These are the kind of photos you miss out 0n without a proper camera. Starry sky, aurora and the domes of the KHO observatory. Photo credit: Jack Jenkins.

7) Bring a proper camera. Same as above. Although, I did make the decision not to bring mine because of the good camera on my phone and the fact that I had the gopro. I also decided that, along with my laptop, that was enough expensive items for one trip. The camera would have probably been able to get some good aurora photos though.

There’s a few of my lessons and tips following my first month and a bit in Svalbard.

You may notice I added a new name to the list “Team Svalbard”. One of my American friends, Noel. Check out Noel’s blog 🙂

Also, Jack has cool photos. And if you want to hear other peoples stories about KHO before next week, check out the other blogs on the list!

Next week, get some actual detail about KHO this week. We’ll also be working in EISCAT as of tomorrow night!

Skål!