Svalbard - Spitsbergen 2008

Where do I go?

The archipelago Svalbard: former home of polar explorers, adventurers and discoverers. Far away from Central Europe. Just a dream. In younger age I only read from Spitsbergen. In August 2008 I was there for twelve days and twelve bright nights.

From the area of Longyearbyen 32 photos
in the large picture gallery 1 ->
Picture gallery 1 - Spitsbergen 2008
From distant places of Spitsbergen 40 photos
in the large picture gallery 2 ->
Picture gallery 2 - Spitsbergen 2008
the arctic

Since many years expensive cruisers go already far to the north to the icy polar cap - and also to Spitsbergen. For such a tour it was necessary to save a lot of money. In summer 2007 I saw incidentally that flights to Spitsbergen and tenting at the campsite (next to the air field, 90 NOK in 2008) could be a surprising affordable combination for having a great time near the end of the world. A word (an idea) and a blow.

It was bright. It was cold. It was an adventure.

Airfield near the fjord Campsite building Bird's eye view Frost splitting Glacier 35 km away Isfjord at night
Airfield Tent Bird's view Frost far away Isfjord

There are different names for the archipelago. Sometimes it is called "Spitsbergen". The Norwegians who have the sovereignty of the islands say "Svalbard". (Vest-)Spitsbergen is actually the largest and the only inhabited island.

The most important settlemet is the Norwegian city Longyearbyen which is situated inside the Longyeardal and along the Adventfjord. And this fjord is the flooded end of the Adventdal. It flows into the large Isfjord. Apart from Longyearbyen you find two more Norwegian settlements and one of former two Russian cities.

Adventfjord the settlement Hiorthhamn Coal harbour Longyearbyen shopping street Old Longyearbyen and its church View down the valley
Adventfjord Hiorthhamn Coal harbour Longyearbyen Districts the valley

At the turn of the second last century many mining companies were in search of mineral resources on Spitsbergen. They builded the first coal mines into the mountains.

The coal seam was 80 to 120 cm thick and in about 300 to 400 m above the sea level of the fjords. Therefore the mined coal only needed to be transported from the mountainside down to the harbour. That has been done by aerial cableways for centuries. Still today the wooden pillars characterize the view of this place.

good coal old Mine no 1 at the mountain Mine 2 / Gruve 2 Longyeardalen Aerial cableway head Coal transportation 100 years ago
good coal Mine 1 Mine 2 Longyeardal Cableway Coal transport

The risk of meeting a polar bear outside of Longyearbyen is the reason to take a proper gun with you on hiking tours. On guided trips the guide takes the necessary technical equipment and experience with himself. Meanwhile many tour organisers offer you hours, day and longer tours in and around Longyearbyen.

wide Adventdalen Svalbard poppy on the Larsbreen (glacier) Trollsteinen Svalsat in the distance old snowfields
Adventdalen Poppy Larsbreen Trollsteinen Svalsat old snow

The weather was somewhat colder and wetter in August 2008 than on average. The temperature was all the time below 10 degrees. In the mountains we had sometimes frost at night. Precipitation in a kind of drizzle or steady rain was not rare. One morning there was snow around and on the tents. And the word "night" means in summertime "sunshine somewhat over the horizon". Darkness you just find inside the coal mines.

On the one hand Spitsbergen in general is pure wilderness, on the other hand Longyearbyen is a small village like every other in Northern Europe: with a supermarket, a post office, restaurants, schools, some outdoor shops and a library.

View on to the glacier put on for winter time Hiorthfjellet one more coal mine at the top inside the snow clouds Advent river delta
Ice view Reindeer Hiorthfjellet Coal mine at the top Adventdelta

Different ships offer day trips to fjords and glaciers in the surrounding. On the way to the Russian settlement Barentsburg for example the ship stops first at the glacier edge of the Esmarkbreen. Not expected and therefore very surprisingly I saw one polar bear at the shore near the glacier.

on board of Polargirl Esmarkbreen at the Isfjord Ship size in front of glacier the Polar Bear Barentsburg Russian settlement
Polargirl Esmarkbreen Ship size the Bear Barentsburg Russian

Having seen the bear a moment ago we (five persons) started a four days hike across the wilderness from Barentsburg back to Longyearbyen. If everything goes right...
And at night we had the "relaxed" feeling that the signal wire around the tents and the rockets make this place saver from polar bears.

It was a nice tingling after had been crossing knee-deep the hardly more than 0 degree C cold river. And the blood circulation was activated again inside the naked feet.

Mind the polar bear on and on Tents Signal wire cross the river at nearly 0 degree C
Warning on and on Tents Wire Crossing

When waking up after the second night in the wilderness everything seemed so bright. Opening the tent is showing the result: it had been snowing for hours. The deep rutted mountains with its endless pebble deserts are for themselves hardly describable or subsumable. But with a fresh white snow cap at the tops they appear in a totally different way. It is August.

Snow in the morning Hiking group wide Colesdalen Synndalen Snow mountains all the day Grumantbyen at the shore
Snow night Hiking Colesdalen Synndalen icy mountains Grumantbyen

During the four hiking days we did not see any more polar bears. Also at night nobody was apparent around the tents. On the last of the four days we saw new footprints of a bear on a snow field. Later I heard that a young polar bear had to been shot not far away from us while he had attacked a person.

August in 78 degrees north Svalsat on the plateau NASA ball Lighting effect on the Isfjord
August Plateau NASA Lighting

The second boat trip led me into the east to one end of the Isfjord and the Russian settlement Pyramiden and the eponymous mountain beyond it. But this time without a following hiking tour for myself. For a long time Pyramiden was the second Soviet settlement on Spitsbergen. Some years ago it was abandoned. Today it is a ghost town.

2nd tour by ship Pyramiden Soviet arcitecture Gull city respectively ghost town Coal inside the mountain
2nd tour Pyramiden Soviet Gull city Coal inside
Arts and leisure centre old times nearly 80 degrees North Logging-path on water pipes
History old times near 80 deg Water way

After the guided tour through Pyramiden the boat trip continued to the large glacier Nordenskjøldbreen. During this trip I reached my (temporary) northernmost position in 78 degrees and 40 minutes North. Most of the discoverers and explorers just started in these latitudes in the last centuries. And this without the today's technical equipment.

to the glacier End of fjord at the glacier Nordenskjøldbreen different types of weather Snow caps on the tops
Course Fjord end Nordenskjø. Weather Snow cap

On the way back to Longyearbyen I saw one of the most beautiful and formidable mountain landscape in my life. From the ship I admired Bünsowland with its snow covered craggy rock faces. When will I come back to Spitsbergen?

When will I come back to Svalbard? For how long Spitsbergen will still look like today?

If you want you can correct my English because it is not my native language.
Just send me an e-mail:

Billefjord Snow ridge at the head striking Bünsowland steep downhill craggy rock
Billefjord Snow ridge Bünsowland steep craggy

» Links

... my second travel to Svalbard   2010

... more artic adventures: 2x Iceland   2002    2010  and Faroe Islands   1998

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