2010 -Trekking Spitsbergen

After almost 2 years of preparation and planning, the 2010 expedition along Spitsbergen's length was finally underway!

Travelled from Kjøllefjord 22nd of March. Our exit to the national park boundary to the south was set for March 26th. We had a couple of days in Longyearbyen to make final preparations. Hiring firearms, purchasing and preparing sleds and equipment to be sent out ahead of us, dealing with the district governor, provisioning depots, familiarising ourselves one more time on the conditions of both the sea ice and the glaciers we would be crossing. All the time, followed by a documentary film crew.

March 26th, and under glorious sunshine, a 3-hour snowmobile trip delivered us to our start point. Then we were on our own.

We started from Ljosodden and headed south towards South Cape, turning from there to walk the whole way to Verlegenhuken, the northernmost point of Spitsbergen. The first couple of weeks were pretty cold. March is generally the coldest month in Svalbard. The coldest temperature we measured was -28.3C degrees. Camp life went very smoothly. We quickly got in to routines, with tasks and jobs to do. We were not seasoned expeditioners, and we had no experience of such long and challenging hikes, but things went very well.

We used a Helsport Spitsbergen 4 tent. A spacious tent that withstood the wind. It was stable and safe in bad weather. This is a tunnel tent, so it’s important that it’s pitched according to the prevailing wind direction. The vestibules were nice and spacious, and using one of them for the toilet on stormy days worked well. In the other vestibule we had two burners for melting snow, plus plenty of room for other gear. Before we left, we’d drilled a hole in the end of some of the poles, and made a small hole in the equivalent pole channel. Then we inserted the poles and fastened them there. When dismantling the tent, we’d pull the tent halfway along the pole, then fold the pole (we’d taped the other joints together) and bundle the tent together. It fitted perfectly on our 186cm-long sled. We did this to avoid having to take the poles out of the tent and dismantle it completely each time. This also made pitching much faster too.

We used Tempelfjorden sleeping bags. Stayed warm every night. Three bags to crawl into was a little hassle to begin with, but no big problem. Once everyone sorted out their own technique, getting in to the bags was easy. Thought for a while about choosing the Polheim, a down bag and which is considerably lighter, but we concluded that the combination Tempelfjorden bag would insulate better if the bag became wet. We did get some ice in the outer bag, but it was superb inside the down bag itself. With all the different conditions we experienced, we are very happy that we chose the Tempelfjorden bag.

After a few days we realised we weren’t covering enough ground to reach the South Cape, given our fuel supplies. The depot needed to be a bit further north. We were forced to turn around at Sykora Glacier. On the return trip we experienced several snowy, windy days, and actually lost 2 days, weatherbound in the tent. The wind tore at the tent, but we went out and checked the guylines and weather conditions regularly. We felt confident, the tent easily withstood the weather we experienced.

The decision proved to be the right one. When we arrived at the depot at Rabot Glacier we had only 2L of fuel remaining. We’d estimated about 1L of fuel/day.

We walked the same route up to Ljosodden. The challenges with the weather, fractured ski poles, cold trips to the loo, frozen outer shell clothing and no showers all went amazingly well. We froze occasionally and were homesick at times, but giving up was never an option. Ljosodden was a milestone, and a new stage had started.

It was getting warmer, such that we could take off our jackets whilst walking. At Persei Glacier we had our first and only encounter with a polar bear. We’d seen a lot of tracks earlier. Three bears lay and sunned themselves at the foot of the glacier.  We stopped, loaded the “cannon” and slowly took a breath. They saw us, stood up and sniffed, but we weren’t of interest, so they lay back down. We were about 300m away. Soon after the glacier calved, with the roar of tons of thundering ice. We kept a good distance and were never in danger. A mighty sight.

Now we were up off the sea ice and on the glaciers. There was a bit more snow up here, but we rotated who skied first to make it a little easier. We had some white out conditions, but it could suddenly clear and we got to see amazing mountains and glaciers.

After 14 days we came across other people for the first time. There were three guys on the same trip, but travelling from north to south. It was nice to see them. We had met them before they started out from Longyearbyen, so it was like catching up with old friends. We got good tracks to ski in, so we set a new daily record of 22.5km.

On we went, just a little bit more on the sea ice again, and over Agardhbukta. Once crossed we were completely finished with the sea ice, and celebrated with a small flash from the flare pen. Now it was up Væringsdalen to Dunerbukta, with a view across to Edgeøya and Barentsøya. We met two girls traveling southwards, but they took a slightly different route than us. We put the skins on our skis and it was back up on the glaciers again.

We experienced gales and snow as we crossed Nordmannsfonna, and had to use the GPS and compass constantly. But we reached the depot at Rabotbreen without incident. The wind increased, and we had to build a sturdy windbreak before attempting to pitch the tent. We rested here for a day, to dry some gear and repack the sleds.

We continued up Rabotbreen and on to the Fimbulisen. We were now much higher up, and noted the cooler temperatures.

One of the expedition members had been unwell over the past week, with symptoms that were of concern. Medication wasn’t helping, so we decided to call an end to the expedition there and then. There were too many uncertainties, and we were only going to get higher up and farther away from help. We could not expect to be rescued under bad weather, even if someone became acutely ill.