Ocean Drive

“Everything is fine”

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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!