Ocean Drive

“Everything is fine”

I’m now in my last two days here on Svalbard. It’s been pretty quiet recently, the snow is melting and I have exams to sit before I leave. The exams are the only contribution to this semesters results, and they make up 60 credits of a total of 120 for my final year at uni – stress levels are extremely high!

On Monday, I sat one of these two exams. Since I have 10 days until the next exam, this called for a celebration. A number of us went down to the fjord to take a nice, refreshing dip in the freezing water. It was quite something! This was then followed by burgers and drinks, of course! Tuesday was a relaxed day, we were taken to see KSAT, a ground satellite station service for polar orbiting satellites.

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Now that the snow is melting, there isn’t really any opportunity for the usual trips. However, 4 of us decided it was a good idea to drive over to the east coast for one last big trip and stay in a cabin for two nights. I was very nervous about the trip before the departure and nearly bailed last minute because I was panicking, but I knew once we got going this would be a fantastic trip and I wouldn’t want to miss out. The snow conditions were quite bad close to Longyearbyen, but somehow we made it out of Adventdalen! Just as we were clear of the water and slush, the visibility dropped very rapidly. We were driving through a hideous storm – strong headwinds and lots of snow. It continued nearly the whole way, and we had a couple of nervous stopped as scooters got stuck in deep snow and we had to dig them out. Keeping polar bear watch in this low visibility was very challenging!

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Slightly low visibility…. Photo credit: Daniel Nilsson

5 hours later (10pm), we made it to a beautiful (and reasonably clear) east coast! About 100m from the cabin we crossed some polar bear tracks coming from the sea ice, and then we saw more around by the cabin. I did get slightly worried that the bear might be sheltering from the wind behind our cabin, but we were safe! As it was snowy and windy, it was clear these tracks were very fresh. We unpacked the scooters and got the fire going in the cabin. We had a small room on the way in for firewood, scooter kit and boots and then the rest of the cabin had a small stove, a small fire burner, a single bed and a bunk bed. For the more mathematically able of you (i.e., not my mother), that is 1 more person than available beds – Katie and I spooned for two nights (it was glorious). We had a late dinner and eventually went to sleep, falling asleep to the sounds of the fire burning and the wind hitting the from of the cabin as it came off the sea.

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Our beautiful east coast home.
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Relieved we survived the storm!
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Our first stop to hunt for the invisible polar bears.
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Cabin and scooters
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Taken from the window in the cabin – our east coast sea ice view!
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Complete view – cabin, scooters and sea ice.

We woke up late the next morning (probably afternoon) and had breakfast. We then went out for a walk along the coast and saw yet more polar bear tracks, again very recent due to continued snow. We walked up higher and looked out on the sea ice but there was no sign of the bear. After taking the scooters for a short drive along the coastline, we headed inside for some lunch and revision. It was quite something, 4 of us revising in a small cabin in the arctic looking out onto the sea ice, no electricity or running water, no towns nearby, occasionally checking for polar bears, only heat source was the fire burning in the corner of the cabin. During this revision period, we did spot a Walrus on the sea ice! It was a fair distance away, the camera doesn’t show it very clearly but I can promise you that is a Walrus (or at least a seal). The binoculars showed it more clearly, we could see the animal moving around and decided it was probably far too big to be a seal.

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That little black dot is a Walrus!

When we arrived, we had a few litres of water with us. This ran out reasonably quickly with 4 of us drinking and cooking. We had to start boiling snow for drinking and cooking instead. This was quite something, being out in the arctic filling up my water/cooking pasta etc with boiled snow.

That evening we had another late dinner, had a few drinks and played cards. It was a pretty late night, and meant a very late late start the next day. We didn’t get up til gone 1pm, so by the time we’dΒ eaten and packed up to head back to Longyearbyen, it was already nearly 5pm. We had a particularly long route planned for the way home as well in an attempt to both make the most of this trip and avoid driving back through Adventdalen.

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Whisky served on glacier ice.

We began making our way South along the coast to find another area of coast line and sea ice. It was absolutely stunning, and after finding a pretty great spot to sit and eat, we went for a drive along the coast line. At one of the stops along the coast, Kristian and I decided to chill on a floating block of sea ice. It seemed like a good idea at first, the ice was stationary and seemed perfectly safe. Soon after the smiles quickly went, as the wave picked up and we were suddenly moving out to sea at a fast pace. We both managed to jump off it quickly and get back to the safe ground, but I was pumped full of adrenaline by then. We continued along the coast and found yet more polar bear tracks which we could see getting fresher as we followed them before they disappeared down onto the shoreline. Once again there no sign of the bear, but we did spot more walruses out on the sea ice!

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Views from our lunch spot
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Views from our lunch spot
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It’s all fun and games until you start floating away on sea ice. Photo credit: Daniel Nilsson

After this, we headed for Svea. But in our way stood a wind tunnel filled glacier. This was quite terrifying, we were travelling very slowly carefully trying to stay on Kristian’s track and it was just continuous sudden drops into wind tunnels. Kristian got stuck at one point, and we jumped off the scooter to grab spades, but as soon as we stepped off we were knee deep in snow. It was horrible! Soon after, the bearcat got stuck as we drifted away from Kristian’s track. After that we were managed to keep going and made it off the glacier and on to Svea.Β Once we reached Svea, we had phone signal to get hold of people that might have been worrying about us. It was now midnight, we were supposed to be back by 6pm…

Just past Svea and we saw yet more polar bear tracks, and still no polar bear (there’s a theme to this trip…). Reindalen was an interesting (and also fun) drive – a lot of slush in the valley mean we had to keep the speed up. And then it was pretty much straight back to Nybyen! There were a few moments of difficult driving again thanks to bad snow conditions, but by 2am we made it back to Nybyen with the same number of scooters and people as we left with. As we drove over Longyearbreen, there was a ray of sunlight shining down on Longyearbyen welcoming us home. It was pretty amazing that we did manage to make it to all the places we intended to see and get home okay. We risked it storms, high avalanche risk and polar bear territory but it was an incredible trip and we all made it home. Maybe not the smartest trip to have taken, but no regrets! I enjoyed every minute of it (even when I was quite scared).

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Photo credit: Katie Herlingshaw

I have now finished my exams and hence finished my entire degree!! I have partied and I’m now in my last 2 days on Svalbard. It’ll be a bitter-sweet moment when I leave – I am leaving behind this wonderful place and the wonderful people I have met, but I will be reunited with my family and boyfriend, and I’m ridiculously excited to see them all again.

Oh yeah, I’ve also seen a Bill Bailey gig and swam in the fjord twice since the last post (it has to be done whilst you’re here!)

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Front row seats!
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Team fjord dip day 1. Photo credit: Kieran Davis

There will be at least one more post on surviving up here on Svalbard, do not panic πŸ™‚

SkΓ₯l!

 

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

“I don’t even know if you have a tweet account” My technologically challenged mother

I’m still having to pinch myself, this place is incredible. And it just seems to keep getting better.

Thanks to my nocturnal sleeping pattern during field work, I wasn’t always in town during the middle of the day. It came to a rifle collection day and I had to be in UNIS by midday and during the walk down, I suddenly noticed the street lights had been switched off! This wasn’t the first day of this happening, but it was the first time I had noticed it. It is finally light enough for a few hours during the middle of the day to switch off the street lights.

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Ice cave fun!

During my last two weeks of field work, I’ve also kept pretty active at the weekends. The first weekend, I revisited the ice cave with a few different friends. It is such a remarkable place to be! And a beautiful hike not too far from town.

The following weekend, we went all out and hiked both days. The first day was the Trollsteinen hike. About 820m in altitude (with a small horizontal distance, making bits of the hike quite steep). Tuesday 16th Feb was the day the Sun officially crossed the horizon, but thanks to Longyearbyen being surrounded by mountains, we won’t see the Sun for about 3 weeks. The aim of the Trollsteinen hike was to see the Sun, but it was a bit cloudy by the time we reached the top at about midday. It was still a beautiful hike up and we had a lovely, still day so weren’t hit my freezing cold winds as we made the last bit of the hike to the top.

The trip down Trollsteinen was where all the fun began. Β Time for ultimate sledging!!! UNIS lend out those fantastic little bum slides (or bum shovels, as the Aber-7 like to call them).Two of the group (Heather and Noel) were on skis and a few of us walkers had the bum slides.Β On the way down the ridge, we hit a massively steep section which was also powdery snow making all the snow collect right underneath you as you slid down. I also managed to sadly lose my bum slide after stopping once. Luckily it flattened out so the slide stopped, but I missed out on half a slope. Decision made, lets walk back up and slide down again! Me and Jack headed up for another slide whilst Heather and Noel headed up to ski again. The rest of the group went to visit the ice cave which we’d passed on the way up. I wasn’t too fussed about visiting it for the third week in a row.

Before the second slide began, due to the speed of the last run I decided I needed to kit up better for the next run. I had an ice climbing helmet which I decided was necessary considering the speeds we were hitting on the way down, and the ski goggles were absolutely necessary due to the amount of snow flying around. The next run down was much more successful, the extra kit meant I could continue sliding the whole way down and I didn’t lose the bum slide this time!

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Post bum slide round 1 when fully kitted up. So much snow!

Now to continue on down… Two weeks ago, after our first trip to the ice cave, this section of the walk was not bum slideable. No matter how much we tried, the snow was far too powdery and the slope wasn’t steep enough. But after two weeks of tourist trips picking up and people skiing more now that it is possible to see without a headlamp in the middle of the day, the snow was much more compact. This made for pretty perfect sledding conditions, and we had an absolute blast whizzing down the glacier on the bum slides. I even ended up sliding down one section and hitting an ice lump so hard it chucked me off face first into the snow (luckily a very soft and hilarious landing). As you approach the bottom of Larsbreen, the channel gets steeper and narrower, with high rocks either side (helmet = good call!). This was quite intense, but still so much fun! I also managed to slide off at one point and I just continued sliding down the slope on my stomach thanks to the steep slope and compact snow.

As if this day wasn’t already good enough, Heather then let me hitch a ride on her skis along the last, slightly flatter bit back to the barrack. It had just started snowing big beautiful snowflakes.

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Ski for Two. Photo credit: Noel Potter
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At the bottom, high on life after an epic day skiing and bum sliding.

I then got to watch Wasps win away at Bath and then go and get an amazing burger from Coal Miners Bar & Grill. This is definitely in the running for best day ever!

And this was all on Saturday…

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A reindeer looking suitably fabulous.

Sunday was a trip to Adventdalen. We headed out the front of town and straight across the valley. We passed the fjord (but didn’t go fully around the other side of it). It was a pretty laid back hike following the mad Saturday. We went via one of the husky kennels and admired them for a distance. Just as we walked passed we got to see a group getting ready to go out on a trip and saw them setting off down the valley. We also got to see quite a few reindeer out on our trip! They are regularly spotted in town, but there were a few more out in the valley. Ryan also found some antlers! We reached the other side of the fjord and wondered around for a little bit before heading back across. From the bottom of the valley, we managed to spot the EISCAT radar which we also saw on Saturday from the top of Trollsteinen. We could also see the top of Trollsteinen from the other side of the valley.

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The valley we crossed, Longyearbyen town on the left. Trollsteinen can be seen left of centre of the picture, the mountain with the little peak.

Did we take another group photo?

Of course we did!

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We got to revisit EISCAT in the daylight last week week and also went to see Sousy and SuperDARN, that’ll all come in the next blog post πŸ™‚

SkΓ₯l!