Other Sides Of Svalbard

Among the land-based activities available on Svalbard, glacier hiking and ice climbing are perhaps the most challenging — and rewarding. Just watch where you put your feet and your ice axe.

Starting 7+ years ago, each previous mention of Svalbard in our pages has focused on the vault until an article two years ago got us to look up and around. Now again this week we have good reason for looking beyond the vault. Marcus Westberg wrote an article, with stunning photos he took, Bearing Witness to Svalbard’s Fragile Splendor:

The strong summer sun melts the top layer of ice on Austfonna, Svalbard’s largest ice cap and Europe’s third-largest glacier, creating myriad gushing waterfalls.

A never-setting sun very quickly muddles one’s ability to tell time. This photograph was taken just before 11 p.m.; without a watch and regular mealtimes I could have easily mistaken it for any other time of day.

To visitors, the Norwegian archipelago can seem both ethereal and eternal. But climate change all but guarantees an eventual collapse of its vulnerable ecosystem.

Mesmerized, I would lean against the railing at the front of the ship, alone, for hours on end. Over the course of 10 days, no two moments were the same. The Arctic world was constantly shifting and changing around me as we slowly made our way through ice and open sea, past whales, walruses, birds and bears.

Except to keep track of mealtimes, watches were irrelevant; in the summer, this far north of the Arctic Circle, the sun never goes anywhere near the horizon.

And yet Svalbard, though seemingly timeless, is perhaps the closest thing we have to a ticking clock.

I visited the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in 2017, having ended up on the M/S Stockholm, a classic ship built in 1953 and refitted in 1998, through sheer luck. (A last-minute cancellation and a chance meeting with a South African dentist somehow got me a closet-size cabin.) I stepped aboard, excited but without any particular expectations.

With a population of around 2,400 people, Longyearbyen is the archipelago’s largest settlement. It is a decidedly quirky place. Named after an American mine owner, John Munro Longyear, the town is home to a mostly dismantled coal-mining industry, a university campus, a global seed bank and a small but thriving tourism industry that’s focused almost exclusively on Svalbard’s natural beauty.

Viewed from the sea, Svalbard seemed to be the very epitome of wilderness: a vast expanse of largely untouched water, ice and islands, free from human habitation and infrastructure, aside from the occasional passing boat. This, of course, was why I was unable to tear myself away from the deck, wolfing down meals and sleeping as little as possible…

Read the whole article here.

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