• No Sunsets

    As our trip came to a close on Ortelius, I was kind of sad to leave the boat that had been home for the past 9 days. It was a magical adventure and as crazy as it sounds, I would highly a trip to the Arctic in the middle of the summer. Oceanwide Expeditions provides a unique travel experience for trips of a lifetime to see one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

    Travelers can witness wildlife only found in these regions and see first hand the impact of climate change as you sail to the polar ice cap. Take some time off and go to the land where the sun never sets on your next holiday!

    Total distance sailed: 1,445 Nautical Miles
    Most northerly position 82°28‘N, 017°30‘E

  • Walrus Beach

    Our last morning of arctic excursions started with the anticipated welcoming 7:30 am a wakeup call from Expedition leader Ali. We had now fully circumnavigated the Svalbard archipelago and we arrived at Poolepynten. Good news came over the ships address system that the walrus that we had been looking forward to seeing were home at their expected location on the beach.

    This point of land is a favored site for these marine mammals as it is easily accessible and the location provides a plentiful supply of nearby food, soft sand and relative shelter. We split into two groups for the landing. This allowed for premium viewing in smaller numbers, as well as not to overwhelm the walrus with our presence.

    Once ashore we walked with our guides to the animals, at a certain distance beyond the minimum 30 meters we were instructed to form a line and slowly walked in unison towards the herd, stopping periodically to observe and appreciate these giants of the Arctic without disturbing them. At one point a few of these giant animals took a swim and came up on the beach right next to us so we had to quickly move back to keep the 30 meters distance.

    As our visit on land was coming to a close, a Humpback whale appeared and passed by, very close to shore. Day 9 and it’s the first whale we had sighted.

  • Goose Bay

    Back onboard after our morning trip to Paierlbreen glacier, Captain Mikka set a new course to Gåshamna (Goose Bay), a scenic bay surrounded by high mountains, with the highest peak in Hornsund – Horsundtind at 1429 meters.

    The afternoon brought some of the best weather of the trip so the expedition staff was able to offer us a landing with several hiking possibilities. I chose to hike for the first time with no camera and only iPhone in hand for the first time throughout the trip.

    Those who took the long hike profited in a  breathtaking view from the top. With almost clear skies on the summit, we could see the whole of Hornsund up to Brepollen.

    We also had time to explore the historical Pomor sites as well as the English land-based whaling station in the bay. Remnant whale bones and blubber deposited in the ground still lend nutrients to the soil, thus creating small satellite biospheres of flora to the stark glacial outwash landscape. There were amazing rock formations along the jagged coastline and stunning views on the sea wall.

  • Paierlbreen Glacier

    Overnight on the Ortelius, as we headed into Day 8, we sailed around the southern tip of the archipelago and up to Hornsund, one of the most spectacular areas of Spitsbergen. Named by Jonas Poole, an English whaler in the 1600s after his crew returned to the ship bearing a deer’s horn, it is a place of deep, high sided fjords, active glacier fronts, and rocky ridgelines.

    When we woke there was low-lying fog and mist in the air, but the weather forecast suggested that it was meant to improve so we wrapped up warmly and the zodiacs were lowered ready for our morning cruise. Our destination was Paierlbreen, a huge valley glacier at the end of the Burgerbukta fjord. We spent two hours cruising in and around the glacier and it was by far one of the most spectacular glaciers I have ever seen. The zodiac boats full of red coats of cruise mates made the most spectacular photo opportunities of the day.

    On the way back to the boat we found two more polar bears at the entrance to the fjord but they were positioned in a way that made photographing them difficult.

  • Austfonna

    After our exciting time with the guillemots, we headed to see the expansive ice wall called Austfonna. Austfonna is an ice cap located on Nordaustlandet in Svalbard archipelago in Norway covering an area of 8492 sq kilometers.

    Just as we approached the massive wall of ice, the sun came out and an old sailing ship made its way into the photo frame. It captured a scene that looked like it was from a different time in history.

  • Alkefjellet – Mount Guillemot

    Day 6 of our Arctic journey sent us to Akerfjellet, which is known for the guillemot birds covering the cliff side all summer before taking their heroic journey south. These little birds are a tough species. When the birds reach adolescence at only 20-21 days old they must jump off the high cliffs into the arctic waters joined by their fathers for a swimming migration in the rough seas to travel away from the breeding ground to areas around Iceland and Greenland. They travel back to the same breeding area each spring.

    As we entered the zodiac boats to take a closer look at the birds, gone are thoughts of framing that perfect wildlife shot. Rough seas and swells were crashing against the small boats. Instead, hastily taken photos to be cropped later are snatched between sheltering one’s camera from sea spray and the ever-present risk of aerial excrement.  It was definitely a risky boat ride with a boat full of photographers with expensive cameras. Giant zip-lock plastic bags were the saving grace of the day.

  • Arctic Ice

    Late on Saturday evening, Ortelius had entered the fringes of the pack ice; I stayed up in anticipation of this moment. Around 1 am, a patchwork blanket of ice covering the ocean started to appear. We were moving at a steady able continuously northward. By 6 am we had reached 82° 23’2 N, which was much further North than the trip was planned to reach. The ice was 400 miles more north this year than in previous years.

    It was cold but all guests seemed to stay on deck as long as possible to enjoy the spectacular views before warming up in the lounge area with hot coffee and warm hot chocolate. This is a vista uniquely arctic and one that is sadly in decline. It is a pleasure to enjoy the expanse of such a landscape and be in the moment.

  • Karl XI Part 2

    The visit to Karl XI was a little heart-wrenching. The bears on the island had clearly missed their ride on the Arctic ice and were stranded on the island until the freeze would come back. The bears had limited food supply and most likely they would all not make it through the long summer until the ice returns. One of the bears was injured and we also witnessed the saddest scene of a mother carrying her dead cub around. The cub had died at least a month before based on reports and she was still grieving.

    The week before our visit there was a large controversy after a polar bear was shot by a crew on a German tourist ship after one member was attacked on land. This brought up the debate on whether this type of tourist excursion to the area where there is the risk of human interaction with the vulnerable status bears should be continued.

    This particular German expedition did not participate in information sharing about bear locations as part of the treaty in the Svalbard area with 99% of boats in the area. This could have likely resulted in preventing this incident where this bear was known to be on land for several weeks. The crew has strict guidelines and share information daily on the locations of all bears in the area to avoid these types of interactions.

    My personal opinion is that the more people see and learn first hand about the effects global warming and the retraction of polar ice caps have on the environment maybe they will do something to prevent further climate change issues. My eyes were opened on this trip to the realities of the shrinking of the Arctic ice by seeing first hand the impact on these amazing animals.

     

  • Karl XI Part 1

    On Day 4 of our Arctic adventure, we headed straight into the clear skies towards the green mystical mountain kingdom of Polar bears and wily walrus called Karl XI. As we headed toward the island in the zodiacs it looked like we were heading straight into a missing scene from the TV show Lost.

    We saw six polar bears on the island as we cruised around that showed off their personalities as we came by in the boats circling the small island. Polar Bears are listed as Vulnerable Status by the World Wildlife Fund due to the shrinking amount of animals that are left on the planet. In the Svalbard archipelago, the 3000 polar bears actually outnumber humans according to the Norwegian government.

  • Ny London – Svalbard

    We woke to our first morning on Ortelius entering Kongsfjorden under blue skies and sunshine. The relatively calm waters overnight had made for a restful sleep and we were all eager to head off for our first excursion in the Svalbard archipelago. Onshore there was one guesthouse where visitors were having a holiday far from the comforts of city life.

    During the course of the day, we learned a little about the history of Arctic exploration and the attempts to reach the North Pole from Ny Ålesund. One amazing thing about this trip was that the expedition leaders are trained in safety for our tour but also in history and science. They conduct lectures daily on a variety of topics on wildlife and arctic expeditions.