Longyearbreen glacier walk...

Trip Start Jun 13, 2006
Trip End Jul 07, 2006

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Flag of Norway  ,
Friday, June 30, 2006

***For some reason Svalbard isn't on the TravelPod map, but rest assured it's between the northern most point of Norway and the North Pole (which is a mere 600 miles away)***

I checked in at Tromso's airport a good 6 hours before my 11.50pm flight in order to ensure that I got a window seat. The Lonely Planet describes the descent to Longyearbyen, the main settlement in Svalbard, as "otherworldly" provided the weather's clear. Unfortunately it was quite cloudy for me, but there were enough gaps to get an idea that the scenery was unbelievable, and my first glimpse of the archipelago left me open mouthed as the mountains were covered in snow, and there was a huge amount of ice in the sea.

Sometimes I can be a bit obsessive about checking the weather forecast, and I was a little disheartened when I saw that clouds and light rain were predicted for the entire duration of my stay! Still, I was hoping for at least a day or two of clarity so I could see the scenery at it's best. Certainly, the weather at 2am wasn't great as the tough looking bus driver took us to our respective accommodation, with the low clouds covering the mountain peaks. I tried to stay positive though, and eventually nodded off to sleep in my triple room at the Spitsbergen Guesthouse (that only had me in it), hoping I'd wake up to clearer skies...

I actually slept through my alarm but luckily woke up at 8am, enough time to get some breakfast before departing on my first organised trip. The first thing I noticed was that the weather was indeed better, so I ate my cereals/toast/fruit/yogurt in good spirits, then waited outside to be picked up ready for my guided walk.

In Svalbard, there are more polar bears than humans, so it is a requirement that you carry a rifle outside of Longyearbyen. At this time of year, the risk is relatively small because the bears have followed the ice and are much more likely to be seen in the north. However, there had been recent sightings in the area, so it was much safer to do organised trips where the guide has the gun, and you can enjoy the scenery...

The first walk I'd booked was a trek up to the top of a local mountain, before returning to town vai the Longyearbreen glacier. As it happened, there were only two other people doing it so it was a nice small group, and our Norwegian guide was very friendly. he told us stories about polar bear sightings, and recounted the events of ten years ago when a Swedish girl was killed by one not too far away from where we were standing...it was exciting to know that there could have been a polar bear just around the corner, although in reality the chances were very slim.

It is predicted that the polar bear population is between 3000-5000 on Svalbard, which sounds a lot, but when you consider we're talking about land that roughly covers the same area as Ireland, it certainly puts the mind at ease...

The walk to the summit (550m) only took about an hour and a half, but it was quite steep to begin with and I got my feet wet whilst crossing a river! We walked by the side of the Lars glacier on the ascent before a short but steep climb in the snow, followed by an easy section that led us to the tip and a superb view out over Longyearbyen and the surrounding mountains. Here we stopped for a drink and biscuits, and of course I had my photograph taken with the gun, though I must say I'd hate to have had to use it.

As ever, the descent was more difficult because the snow was slippy and again it was steep, as we made our way towards the Longyearbreen glacier. I'm not sure if it was totally necessary, but at this point we were roped together as we were about to walk down the middle of the ice, but I suppose it's better to be safe than sorry. The ice was covered in snow and was quite flat so there wasn't much cause for concern, but some of the melted areas left me with ice cold feet, although I really didn't care because I was walking on a glacier, just a few hundred miles away from the North Pole!

We spent some time looking at the fossils at the bottom of the glacier which was interesting, and we all managed to find one small enough to fit in the hand luggage, before we completed the last stretch back towards town. As an added bonus, I saw a couple of reindeer up close for the first time after returning to the guesthouse, and I enjoyed watching them mooch around for a good 20 minutes.

It had been a nice start to my trip, and there was more to come on what was a really busy first day in Svalbard...
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