Day 10 - July 5, 2013 - St. Johns Fjorden, Svalbard
By Peter W. Damisch, Historian, General Naturalist, Cartographer, Master Mariner
Co-ordinates: 78º 32' N, 012º 58' E
Weather: Overcast with occasional heavy fog
Air Temperature: 3ºC
Pressure: 1005 hPa
Wind: 5 knots
This expedition has had a series of extraordinary days from having a polar bear approach close enough to place its paws on the ship all the way to observing the farthest North settlement in the world, filled with a series of international research stations.
Today I was up quite early as the Silver Explorer entered the long, narrow St. Johnsforden. The fog was unusually heavy and the Expedition Team was initially quite concerned about having sufficient visibility. Of course we always need to explore the local area to ensure that no polar bears are in the vicinity of our planned landing site.
We decided to launch a zodiac to allow the Expedition Team to scout the site and during that time frame our good luck continued as the fogged began to lift just enough to allow us to go ashore, complete our scouting and establish a safe perimeter. Soon thereafter we could begin landing our guests in one of our favorite locations for Arctic wildflowers.
As one of the polar bear guards, my assignment was to cover the beach area and terrain East of our landing site. While scouting the location and hiking out to my post I was also able to observe that we had arrived at just about the peak period for our flowering plants.
Purple saxifrage were just about everywhere with yellow and white Mountain Avens literally covering a South facing slope, just above a beautiful shale formation. The purplish Moss Campions were just starting to blossom and I could also observe and point out to guests the Arctic Bell Heather just completing its primary blooms.
Once along my end of the beach I soon saw a Bearded Seal swim by. These graceful creatures only haul out on ice and never land due to polar bear predation and so I was quite pleased to see one in the fjord dotted with small pieces of ice. Perhaps that seal was genetically related to a seal skull that I found just about the high tide line. I was able to discuss this link with guests as they hiked along the designated trail.
Often this location is focused on the beautiful vegetation along with a bit of mass wasting / slow landslide geology but today was special. I looked up the mountain slope just in time to see a reindeer slowly crossing the area between two groups of our guests! They had a great view of an animal that always seems quite regal to me and one that survives quite well in this harsh Northern environment.
All too soon it was midday and time to leave this wonderful location. We headed back onboard and were surprised once again that today French cuisine was featured, specifically crepe suzettes, one of my favorites.
Over lunch, the Silver Explorer headed west out of the fjord towards our planned afternoon landing to observe walrus at Poolepynten. Of course we had already had great sightings of a large haul out earlier in the voyage at Kapp Lee and today would have added another chance to see these huge and magnificent creatures.
Unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans. Upon arrival, the landing site was covered by dense fog. We decided to wait for several hours at anchor but unfortunately the fog never lifted sufficiently enough for us to establish a safe perimeter against the possibility of polar bears.
Of course flexibility is always key to expedition cruising in remote areas. During the wait for clearer conditions, the Expedition Leader asked me to give a presentation on the numerous attempts to reach the North Pole. It’s a bit serious fun that I have sub-titled ‘Fake for the Pole’ since it is now clear to most historians that the first 3 people who claimed to have reached or sighted the Pole all lied about it. This is a strange, whimsical story about unique personalities, emotions and motivations in the high Northern Arctic.
Advection fog is based on warm, moist air over a colder environment and the unusually warm temperatures did not abate and we were thus reluctantly forced to raise anchor late in the afternoon and begin our journey towards Longyearbyen.
Just before dinner, Richard Sidey, our brilliant on board videographer and photographer, premiered his nearly one hour DVD featuring the highlights of the voyage. It brought back great memories of polar bears on ice, sleeping on the side of the mountain and right next to the ship in full sunshine. There was also the superb zodiac cruise at Bear Island with literally one million nesting sea birds, the visit to the research stations at Bear Island and Ny Alesund. Additionally, we couldn’t forget fabulous hikes, reindeer, flowers, polar desert, lichen, seals, geology, walrus, ice, glaciers, history and so much more.
This has been a stunning trip in a truly amazing location.
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