Polar Bear Quest: A Voyage through Svalbard, 2011
Over thirty guests joined expedition staff members Kevin Clement, Mats Forsberg, and Rick Price for what was described as a “long walk” up to the North Cape (Nordkapp) Center. As the Sea Adventurer dropped anchor in a gorgeous sunny bay, all eyes were facing what appeared to be a luscious green, sheer cliff. Except for the appearance of a switch-back trail leading directly from the shoreline to the top of a cliff, one would not naturally assume that this would be a way to walk, short or long. To give us a sense of perspective, Kevin pointed out that indeed, a large herd of reindeer were using the trail while we watched.
Once ashore we switched out of our waterproof boots and into our hiking boots and began the hike. Back and forth, left and right, we carefully maneuvered along a narrow path composed of slippery rocks, wet grass, Arctic flowers, and fresh reindeer manure. While soaking in the sun, peeling off layers of clothing, heaving, sweating, and taking photographs, our group successfully made the ascent and arrived about an hour later at the North Cape center. Shortly thereafter two motorcoaches arrived with our fellow guests and we all enjoyed the memorable panoramas and sculptures found on and around the cliffs of this northernmost European outpost. Some of us were even treated to an up-close visit by a small herd of domesticated reindeer. On the way back to the ship, we stopped at a roadside attraction and met a Sami reindeer herder, his wife, and their reindeer ambassador for photos and conversation. Some of our guests, led by Jim Wilson, spotted both a white-tailed sea eagle and a red-throated pipit nearby. We had achieved Arctic expedition gold. I never in a thousand years thought that I could have completed a hike like that, and I also never thought it could get so hot here that a person would get down to a base layer of T-shirt and shorts. But Arctic Norway can be like that.
Arctic Norway can also be very, very windy, foggy, dark, and wet. The next day, we arrived in the morning at Bear Island below a dense, low cloud of fog. Burning off slightly, the fog granted us glimpses of steep cliffs and beautiful geology—and birds. Arctic skua, kittiwakes, guillemots, and the occasional puffin swooped and soared close enough for our contingent of photographers to document their presence. We cruised on Zodiacs among seastacks, sea arches, and sea caves, and in and out of amazing coastal crevices and cliffside roosts. Kittiwakes in the thousands joined guillemots and the occasional eider duck and Arctic skua, while we took photographs and watched through binoculars as our drivers interpreted for us just what we were seeing. Thoroughly satisfied, we made the five-mile Zodiac ride back to the ship before lunch and an invigorating walk to a pair of lakes closely guarded by nesting skua. With interpretation by Kevin, we even had the pleasure of seeing skua nests and skua eggs at close range. We took in a massive cliff vista on the return walk before riding Zodiacs back to the ship. Shortly thereafter we enjoyed afternoon tea and learned just about everything regarding polar bears from our onboard bear expert, Rupert Pilkington.
Who knows what tomorrow will have in store for us? More sun? Snow? More wind? Walrus? Day-in and day-out, the Arctic does not disappoint.