It took me some time to start writing this post. The main reason for this delay is my new job which I’ve started just after the return from Svalbard.
On the fifth day, we had to get up at about 6 a.m. We packed most of our gear the day before. Unfortunately, we had missed breakfast, as it was served between 7 and 10 a.m. At about 6:55 we left our room. At the corridor, I saw two people wearing yellow jackets. In an instant, I knew that those were our guides.
We approached them and I was proven to be right. The first of our guides was Vladimir, the second one was Sofi. Vladimir was born in Russia and has been living in Svalbard for a few years. Sofi was a student, and she was doing her student practices at the company. After a short introduction, we took our gear and we headed to the bus. At the bus, we waited for another two guys participating in this trip – Mark and Reno. The first one was Englishman taking a longer trip, after Svalbard he was taking a cruise to Greenland and he was going to visit Iceland on his way back home. Reno was Frenchman living in Sweden. We departed from the hostel and on our way to the company’s headquarters, we picked up the last two participants – a couple from Germany.
Finally, we arrived at the warehouse area near the shore, where the company’s base was located. There we had a short introduction and we talked about the trip plan. We also tried dry suits and life vests which we were going to take on the kayaking trips. Next, the gear was packed into the metal boxes. At the warehouse, we also met our third guide – Veronika.
After packing the gear, we took a short ride to the Port of Longyerbean. There we boarded a vessel (MS Polargirl) that was going to take us to the west side of Esmarkbreen glacier where we were going to camp for the next four days.
At the ship, we met a group from France that was going to camp in the area as well. Similarly to us, they also had a huge amount of gear with them. The boat departed from the port of Longyearbyen at about 9 a.m. A short time after leaving the port, we had a meeting. During the meeting, we were introduced to the safety rules. Especially to the polar bear guard, which we were going to take during the nights.
This was a duty that we were expected to take every night. Each of us was going to walk outside the camp for an hour during the night with a pair of binoculars. If we saw a polar bear or something suspicious our task was to walk slowly to the camp and wake up Vladimir.
Feeling The Arctic Cold
After the meeting, we had about one and a half hour of free time. I went outside to observe the landscapes but soon I got really cold. I had to put on additional clothing, including two caps and a hood. I’ve also kept life vest to stay even warmer. What I was seeing from the deck had a real arctic spirit. It was windy and cloudy, also some seagulls and other birds flew around our ship. Far from the shore, we saw white glaciers, and one of them was our destination.
Finally, we arrived near the Esmarkbreen glacier. First, the French group was dropped. Next, it was our turn, we had to divide our group and luggage to get to the shore with a small boat. I have traveled in the first group with Vladimir, Szymon, Mark, and Reno. On our way, we hit many small pieces of ice which floated in the waters of the fjord.
When we reached the shore, we had some problems with getting as near to the shore as required to not get wet while leaving the boat.
When setting out feet on the dry land, we helped with moving equipment to the camp. During this task, I had this exciting and scary filing of being in an area ruled by polar bears. After the second part of our group got on the shore the ship left us and continued its cruise to Barentsburg.
Just after entering the camp we quickly experienced arctic wilderness as we were attacked by arctic terns nesting in the area.
These birds were really irritating, and to avoid being hit in the head by them, we carried paddles over our heads (the birds always go after the highest point).
The camp consisted of a kitchen tent, five slipping tents, and a toilet tent. From the camp, we had a breathtaking view of the glacier. After leaving the equipment Vladimir gave us a walk outside the camp and he provided us with more tips on the polar bear guard. During this tour we heard a loud noise resembling a thunder – it was Esmarkbreen glacier craking followed by a huge lump of ice falling into the bay.
Next, we put our gear into the tents, and we had some rest. I had some snacks and Simon was having a lot of fun with the birds…
Kayaking In The Arctic
Then it was time to prepare for kayaking to the glacier front. We put on the drysuits, life vests and neoprene shoes. Then we were given poggies, paddles, and some kayaking tips. As it was my first kayaking experience, those had proven really useful. We used double kayaks, and with Szymon, we decided that I was taking a spot in the back. It meant that I had to adjust the steering. After this, we were pushed into the water by Vladimir.
In the beginning, I had a large problem with controlling my kayak. I have also lost the left steering pedal due to bad adjustment. After some corrections, we were ready to go. We started paddling to the glacier front. In the water, we saw many small ice pieces of floating. We also had to maneuver a lot to avoid hitting large chunks of ice.
As we were getting nearer to the glacier the noise of cracking ice got even louder. The view of ice pieces falling into water was incredible. Some of these were large enough to generate nice waves. The front of the glacier was about 40 meters high and it was more than impressive. This was for sure one of the best views I had ever seen. And the weather got much better, as we finally saw some sun.
After some time at the glacier front, we landed on a small island where we had a short break and we ate some snacks. In the meantime, we saw a larger boat getting near to the glacier front.
After the snacks, we returned to our kayaks and we paddled to the other side of the fjord. There we had a short walk and we kayaked back to our camp.
At the camp, we were again nicely welcomed by arctic terns ;). After our return, we took of dry suits and we had a short break (I took a nap). I woke up after about an hour and it was supper time. We had this meal inside a large green tent, which was located in the middle of our camp. Inside there was a table, two benches, a kitchen and propane powered heater. For the main course, we had awesome reindeer stew which was prepared by our guides. We also had some snacks.
After the meal, Vladimir took out his small notepad and he prepared a list for the polar bear guard. My watch was planned to be held at 3 a.m. As the meal ended at about 10 p,m., I washed my teeth and I went to my tent. Though it was 10 p.m. it was really bright, I was trying to cover my eyes with a cap to fall asleep and it partially solved the problem. But there was another issue. When someone was having a guard the arctic terns attacked him and made loud noises. To make it even worse, these birds loved to sit at the top of our tent!
The Polar Bear Guard
Finally, I was able to fall asleep around midnight. I woke up probably 15 minutes before my guard and I’ve started putting on my clothes as it was freezing cold outside my sleeping bag. Then I had some snacks and I stepped outside the tent, where I met Simon who was holding a guard before me. I took binoculars and a list of guarding people and I started walking outside the camp.
It was probably the most peaceful scenery that I have ever seen in my life. The camp looked awesome with the glacier in the background, but it wasn’t time to contemplate the views – my job was to look for polar bears. I walked to the spot which was presented to us by Vladimir a short time after our arrival at the camp. From there I had a good view of the camp and the coastline.
Time on the watch was passing really slowly. I was walking on the hills and It was really silent. I was thinking, will I be able to get to the camp before a polar bear, what happens if miss it?
Then I was attacked by arctic terns. I have probably entered other nesting spot, hence I decided to retreat back to the main observation point.
In the meantime, the sun came out from behind the hills located on the other side of the fjord. This created many light reflections in water and made a bear watching much harder. The night was still peaceful, and the silence was broken only a few times by glacier cracking…