Day 5 |
Aug 26, 2010

Nordaustlandet, Svalbard

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist


Co-ordinates: N 79º 42’ 13”, E 026º 40’ 01”
Weather: All four seasons in a day…
Air Temperature: 2º C
Sea Temperature: 1º C
Pressure: 1012 hPa
Wind: Thirty knots (near gale) in the morning, to calm breeze in the afternoon, to windy again in the late evening.

The “Far East”. The wild, wild east of Svalbard! I love coming here; this is by far - in my humble opinion - the most interesting and beautiful part of the archipelago. I have been lucky to come to the east side of the island of Nordaustlandet twice, and both times have taken place this season. An exceptionally poor sea ice summer has made it possible for us to venture this far north and east into the less frequently visited, usually ice-locked areas of Svalbard.

The isolation and the wild character of this area make it a box full of surprises. It is Svalbard on steroids. The glaciers are huge, the ice abundant, the polar bears numerous, female walruses with their calves, the weather cold and moody. A true display of natural Arctic beauty.

This morning we got up at six to be on deck as our Captain skillfully navigated the Prince Albert II along a section of the 190 km-long ice front of Austfonna, one of the largest glacial systems and the longest glacier front in the northern hemisphere. The weather was a bit overcast and the wind was blowing at 30 knots, I then knew we were in for an adventure-packed day. There was lots of ice in the water and only a few people around to admire the stark beauty of the glacier.

By 8 am Captain Aleksander Golubyev dropped anchor in front of Isispynten, a small island that gained the status of “island” only in the mid 90s when the retreat of the glacier exposed it. All bundled up, we all got in Zodiacs and got ready to take our guests on a Zodiac cruise to have their first close encounter with a Polar Bear!

After a rather choppy and wet ride to the island, we all enjoyed the views of 2 Polar Bears, one of them rather sleepy and a second one that walked around the rocks, sometimes going out of sight for a while and coming back to full view, to the delight of our guests. A few people saw a couple of walrus in the water and the arctic terns and eider ducks were numerous.

After a successful morning in Isispynten, the Prince Albert II sailed north towards Storoya. The ice conditions were quite good and while Sue Flood was delivering a most interesting lecture on behind the scenes of the award-winning Planet Earth documentaries, a bear was spotted. Sue had to postpone for a while because polar bear beats lecture, hands down, no matter how good the lecture is…

The sights were a bit difficult as the animal was quite a distance away and we didn’t want to get too close and disturb it. It did not matter as we were in for a far better sighting later on. We sailed on and at 5 pm the Expedition Team hosted a recap, followed by a briefing on the plans for tomorrow in Kvitoya.

As a result of the delay caused by the bear and the ice conditions, the Zodiac cruise had to be delayed until after dinner. The hotel department moved dinner forward to 7 pm and at 8:30 we were taking half of our guests on Zodiacs to the north shores of Storoya where a mother and her cub were walking around the ice edge. The sights were spectacular as both bears were extremely cooperative and relaxed. Mom stood on an ice floe right in front of us while she sniffed the air and stared at us. It made us wonder who was watching who.

It was remarkable and everybody had a good look at the “king of the Arctic” from quite close. By 10:30 everybody was back on board ready for a well-deserved night of sleep.

Bear dreaming.