Day 5 |
Aug 26, 2011

Hornsund, Spitsbergen, Svalbard

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist

Co-ordinates: N 77º02’37”, E 015º58’06”
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: 2ºC
Sea Temperature: 1ºC
Pressure: 1016 hPa
Wind: Calm

Since quite early this morning, a good number of guests were out on the open decks taking in the breathtaking scenery that Hornsund has to offer. Majestic peaks and dramatic fjords made our visit to Hornsund very special. The highest summits are often shrouded in mist, however we were lucky to get a few glimpses of Hornsundtind, peaking at 1431 m.a.s.l over low clouds. Hornsund is the southernmost fjord in Svalbard, located in Sør-Spitsbergen National Park.

The Hornsund area displays large variations in landscape and geology over short distances. The mountains, the valleys and the fjords combine to create huge local weather variations in the Hornsund area. There can, for example, be a strong easterly wind in Hornsund, while along the west coast of Spitsbergen, it is dead calm.

The Silver Explorer sailed into Hornsund at 6:30, and from that time on the whole Expedition Team was up at the Bridge scouting for polar bears. Having seen no bears, we got to our anchorage at Burgerbukta and by 8 am, we were heading out in the Zodiacs for a tour of Burgerbukta, a fjord within a bigger fjord.

During the last ice age, approximately 13,000 years ago, the whole of Svalbard was covered in ice. Hornsund itself was filled with ice, and Burgerbukta and Samarinvågen were outlets for subsidiary glaciers. Hornsund is a very good example of how glaciers form the landscape and how the landforms depend on the composition and the structural framework of the bedrock.

The Zodiac cruise this morning was remarkable, with calm conditions, lots of blue icebergs and great reflections of the glacier in the water. By the end of the second cruise, Captain Alexander Golubyev brought the Silver Explorer into the fjord for a most awaited activity, the polar plunge! Once we had everybody on board, we prepared the Zodiacs and many of our guests and crew alike took the opportunity to plunge into the frigid waters of the Arctic. Good fun indeed!

We then came back on board, and at 1:30 pm our two bear guards, the Expedition Leader, our historian and myself -armed with rifles and flare guns- went ashore in Gnalodden. The intention was to scout the area for polar bears before bringing our guests in at 2:30. We got there, inspected the hut and the surrounding area and headed over to our posts where we were to stay all afternoon keeping a watchful eye to guarantee a polar-bear-free landing.

A few minutes passed. I was not far from Chris Srigley, standing on a rock scanning the water and the land around us, when I heard Chris on the radio telling us to clear the area because there was a bear ashore. What we didn’t know, was that he was walking along the beach and almost ran into a bear sleeping between some large boulders. It was only a few meters away from him! They looked at each other, the bear ran for the hills, and Chris ran for the landing site! Luckily for us, the bear went up a small hill and lay down so that we could all come out and see him.

Back at the ship, the Zodiacs were being lowered and we started bringing all our guests to see this beautiful beast that was placidly napping in the sun, all stretched out in the green grass. What a sight! All our guests were very happy to have an opportunity to see this bear from such a close distance.

Once back on board we sailed on towards Isfjorden and tomorrow’s destination, the town of Longyearbyen. In the late afternoon we held a Recap & Briefing, followed by dinner. What a day, I see happy faces all around!