Day 5 |
Jul 04, 2008

Longyearbyen, Svalbard & Alkhornet

By Christian Walter, Historian

This Fourth of July started off with a very low cloud-ceiling and our morning stop at Longyearbyen was a little fresher than the days before. The Prince Albert II went alongside at the ISPS terminal with several other ships at anchor or tied up, among them the Polarstar, Polarstern, and Polargirl

While we were waiting for the busses to be ready, a special visitor was received on the bridge: Mr. Oliver Kruess, the former captain of the World Discoverer, who was now commandeering one of the other ships in harbor. Captain Kruess was exchanging information regarding landing sites and wildlife with Captain Demel and Staff Captain Heslopp.

When the busses were ready, we were able to leave via the side gate, although low tide made it a steep exit. A short drive into town brought us first to the SAS Radisson hotel, then the UNIS building with the northernmost university and the very interesting and modern museum. The town center was just a short walk away. Many shops were about to open, and to send a postcard from the northernmost post office seemed like a good idea. Longyearbyen’s original name was Longyear City after J. Munro Longyear, an American engineer who recognized the potential for coal mining in Svalbard. The settlement had started out with a few American and Norwegian workers, but now, out of the 2,000 inhabitants of different nationalities, some 200 are schoolchildren. Not too many were seen today – perhaps because of summer vacations?

The tide had risen by the time we were leaving, and the fog was still with us. While we enjoyed our lunch, we made our way towards Alkhornet, a mountain on the northern side of the entrance to Isfjord. The clouds gradually disappeared and an overwhelming view of the Trygghamnafjord and Alkhornet promised an interesting afternoon. Alkhornet’s surroundings are considered to be a small version of Svalbard, with numerous animals and many wildflowers – plus all the geological features Stefan would explain to his followers.

After Geir and Jan, our bear guides, had set up the perimeter for a safe landing, those who wanted to do a long hike were sent off first, accompanied by Brent and Chris, while Tony, Stefan, and Claudia did shorter hikes. Camille and Christian stayed close to the Norwegian hut set up during the 1980’s (to spy on the Russian settlement of Barentsburg on the southern side of Isfjord), with Camille giving a class on portrait and landscape photography. Unexpectedly, Oliver Buehler, the hotel manager, showed up with a few members of the hotel department, setting up a table, serving hot chocolate with a little extra taste (Cognac or Baileys) added to it.

Back onboard, Conrad gave a briefing on tomorrow’s activities at Poolepynten, the walrus haul-out, and St. Jonsfjord and its glacier before it was time for the special Fourth of July Dinner. While dinner was still in progress the American guests got together agreeing to sing “America the Beautiful” as a tribute to this very special day.

In the meantime, the Prince Albert II had reached the vicinity of Prins Karls Forland and at 10:30 p.m., the anchor was dropped, permitting everyone to enjoy a calm night.