Day 5 |
Jul 10, 2013

Faksevagen, Zeipelodden and Alkefjellet, Svalbard, Norway

By Christian Walter, Historian

Co-ordinates: 79° 38’ N, 18° 27’ E (noon position)
Weather: overcast, snow in the morning, sunny in the early afternoon!
Air Temperature: 0.6° C (Faksevagen)
Pressure: 994 hPa
Wind: 46.7 kmh

Silver Explorer had covered the distance from Lagoya to Faksevagen in less than 7 hours, but we seemed to have crossed the equator! It was not snowing anymore and small patches of blue could be seen at 06:00 a.m. A short night had come to an end, and the anchor-chain went rattling down at 06:40 a.m.

Tea and cornflakes for breakfast and off we went to check the conditions ashore. We were definitely “south of the equator” as it was now getting quite chilly.

Today’s landing-site was closer to the path leading up the hill than on former occasions; the trail was a bit muddier, but both groups doing the hike with me managed well. Flowers were quite prominent on the lower slope, and Claudia had positioned herself on a little plateau to explain some of the plants to those who did not climb all the way up.

Kika, our Polish bear-guard, had her look-out point close to a Snow Bunting’s nest –protecting the little songbird from our interference- while Srigley had taken his position at the top of the hill, his usual point at Faksevagen. He was able to point out the Rock Ptarmigan which has a nest close to the top. The females are so well camouflaged that it is very difficult to spot them, but the male with his white plumage was clearly visible.

The last zodiac was at 11:00 a.m., and while some (including yours truly) thought bouillon seemed like a good idea, others prepared themselves for the presentation on Polar Bears to be given by Robin Aiello. Aiello (as she is normally called by her colleagues) displayed her own photos and footage of Polar Bears while sharing a few surprising facts about the range of these great creatures: they can cover up to 50 km per day and have a range of thousands of square kilometers! Unfortunately Polar Bears are threatened by the decrease in sea-ice. With less sea-ice around Polar Bears have less “territory” on which to hunt, and at the same time the seals have less areas of ice on which to breed. The Polar Bears rely on the seals as their main food resources, and with less seals in the area, the vicious cycle continues.

Silver Explorer relocated to Palanderbukta, named after Baron Palander who had been captain on the “Vega”, the first ship to traverse the North-East-Passage in 1878-79. Here we would have our second hike of the day on the northern shore, at Zeipelodden.
Crossing the Hinlopenstrait again we seemed to cross some sort of weather equator: the sun was shining and the temperature rose by 1° C!

The landscape at Zeipelodden can best be described as ‘Polar Desert’. From the ship it appeared as though there was hardly anything except the rocks and stones, but on closer observation several flowering plants and whale bones could be seen. My first walk with Aiello and our group led closer to the slope of the hill where six Reindeer were grazing. We observed many plants and geological features – the most impressive being the stone rings. We also visited Karolina who stood guard next to a Polar Bear skeleton which had been there for several years. The second group guided by Juan, walked a longer loop, passing some whalebones closer to the shore.

At 5 p.m. the last zodiac was getting ready to leave the shore, and once back on board we prepared for our recap and briefing. Kara presented tomorrow’s plan, a visit to Storoya, an island east of Nordaustlandet. There we would embark on a zodiac cruise, hopefully to see some walrus and Polar Bears. After the recaps, it was time for an English dinner.

The conversation at my table was centered on the things and animals we had seen so far and would see during the remaining days of the voyage. I was also asked about Easter Island, the Pacific, life aboard expedition-ships, and what I would like to do once I retire. Apart from writing a few books I had not given this much thought - why stop traveling?

During dinner Captain Adam took the Silver Explorer once again across the Hinlopenstrait, and even before we had arrived at Alkefjellet we were rewarded with spectacular views of the fascinating geology of Svalbard: here a basaltic intrusion had caused the calcareous layers above and below to morph into marble and the ledges that had been created by erosion held thousands of “nesting” guillemots.

Kara made an announcement at 21:45 to come out onto the outer decks and observe the thousands of birds flying about. Captain Adam guided the Silver Explorer closer until we were approximately 100 meters away from the cliff and the birds. While we observed the Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Glaucous Gulls, one of our guests had spotted a Polar Fox running down the near vertical cliff-side.

Eventually it was time to continue our voyage, for tomorrow we would search for more Walrus and Polar Bears…