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!

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.

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

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’d 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.

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!


Views from our lunch spot
Views from our lunch spot
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. 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!)

Front row seats!
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 🙂



Breathe Life

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

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.

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.

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.

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…

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.

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.


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.

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!