Arctic Travel Adventure - Expedition September 2011

Spitsbergen - Sept 4, 11 - posted by Sharon Keating

Joining me on my voyage to Spitsbergen, East Greenland, and Iceland was a group of 22 high school students from Hong Kong along with their eight instructors, and eight of the sponsors for their trip. It was a drizzly gray afternoon as our bus pulled up to the pier. The Expedition's bright red hull was a splash of color in a monotone environment. Yet our spirits were high and full of anticipation as we embarked the ship. Friendly staff welcomed us, and before long we were in bulky life vests, touring lifeboats and completing our mandatory safety briefing before we had even set sail. Then there was time to go out on the aft deck and watch Longyearbyen disappear into the mist as we made our way North around the island.

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Journal page by Clara Fung HK Discovery Student Group

Soon came the dinner bell and conversation with new friends around the table. After dinner it was still light (even with overcast skies) to go out on deck and watch the scenery and the Northern Fulmars soar around the ship.

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Sept 5, 11

Another misty morning filled with breakfast and more safety information before our first off ship activity. Our mandatory zodiac briefing ended with a call to action - a Polar bear had been sighted near our cruise site, and all zodiacs were launched to get a closer look! Not far from the 14th of July Glacier a large male bear was resting (to conserve energy waiting for the ice to return). As we made our approach in the zodiac we were treated to a rainbow that cut through the gray morning sky. Floating beneath the bear we were able to see his large head and massive front paws. His creamy color was a sharp contrast to the green vegetation beneath him. He lifted his head to get our scent and seemed unconcerned with our presence. While we observed him we could hear Hundreds of black legged kittiwakes calling on the cliff face above.

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 After a time we made our way along the glacier's face as Northern Fulmars flew above us and kittiwakes fished at the glacier's edge. This tidewater glacier with its towering, sculpted walls was an amazing pallet of blues ranging from light turquoise to deep cobalt blue. Our expedition leader allowed us one last pass by the Polar bear before returning to the ship and our afternoon adventure.

Our next landing site was quite a sail so Frank Todd our resident animal authority offered us a more in depth glimpse into the life and behavior of the Polar bear with a lecture filled with outstanding photography. Then it was out on deck in search of marine mammals. At one point I had a brief glimpse of a dolphin before it was gone. Later we had a small pod of white beaked dolphins join us along the port side of the ship. 

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Finally we entered Magdalena Fjord where at one time five glaciers flowed into the sea. Now only one tidewater glacier remains. The fjord was used by the British as a whaling outpost back at the height of the whaling era. Gravneset with its sandy beaches was also the third largest sailor's graveyard. Buried in the permafrost the coffins began to return to the surface through the natural freezing and thawing of the tundra over time. The area is now a historical site.

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The expedition staff set a perimeter where we could walk freely and explore the area without having to stay in groups. The high school students had a brief history and geology lesson on the beach before breaking into their small groups to make observations and take measurements for their research projects. It was late for flowers however the Arctic willow still had a hint of bloom remaining and there was an abundance of mosses, lichens, and fungi to see. Leaning against a large dark colored rock covered with lichen was a full reindeer skull with antlers of pearly white still intact.

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All who dared had the opportunity for a Polar plunge before returning to the ship to continue our Arctic adventure. I'll have more posts to follow so stay tuned. If you are interested in this Arctic adventure check out the link below.