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6/17 When to come?


sunny 32 °F

It was difficult for me to decide what time of year to visit Svalbard. If you wish some input for your own trip, here is some insight I can offer.

The “Northern Lights Winter” lasts from October 1st until February 28th. The middle of that period, November 11th until January 30th, is totally dark here while the edges of that timeframe are twilight. It is cold. That does not appeal to me at all.

“Sunny Winter” follows from March 1st until mid-April when “Midnight Sun” begins, lasting until mid-May. It is still cold and there is a lot of ice blocking one’s path. That didn’t appeal either.

“Polar Summer” takes over and lasts until late August. That is “Now.” I chose this for all the reasons made clear as I write this blog. These are the things that happen during this time—June 12-19.

“Golden Autumn” runs from late Autust until the end of September and the cycle repeats itself. Too late for bright snow, the place has turned black and grey.

During “Midnight Sun” and again in “Golden Autumn” the ice tends to close up making navigation difficult if not impossible.

So, for me, it is “Polar Summer” that sounded best. But, one must decide when during that three month period is “really best.” Early on the snow has not yet melted and everything is pristine white, unsullied by bird droppings which taint the landscape. Later, the snow melts and what was white becomes an unsightly brown—the color of the rocks. There is precious little vegetation and no trees whatsoever. We did see, on spots where the snow has melted, tiny blue flowers.

All that means that there are six “sub-seasons.” Each lends itself to a different reason for a visit. I have opted for mid-June when the “Midnight Sun” shines, the colors are brighter, the shadows create a greater contrast adding depth to the glaciers, mountains and tundra. It’s when longer cruises around Svalbard are most active around the remote parts of the archipelago’s pack ice where polar bears hunt seals for food. Simply put, the light is better, the air is warmer and the water is navigable. Will you see polar bears? It’s the luck of the draw. They don’t make appearances for the sake of tourist satisfaction. My sightings—amazing ones—are just plain Russell Luck.

Today begins as each day does, bright as you open the curtain. However, the same scene would have presented had I opened the curtain at 1:00am or 3:00am or 5:00am as it is when I finally do open it at 7:00am. Overnight, the difference was not the light but the sea. At about 2:25am the wind came and with the wind came waves and with waves came a rock and roll party aboard the relatively small M/S Quest. I thought of Edward who does not much care for rough seas as I slept fitfully. By 6:00am, we were in less choppy water. Rough seas are quickly forgotten when calm waters are one's new home. We are in Alkhornet and will later head for Ekmanfjord.

My brain fries trying to get acclimated to the lack of darkness, reminding me of the old commercial where the close up is of an egg saying, “This is your brain.” Then the shot shifts to cracking that egg and dropping it into a frying pan saying, “This is your brain on drugs.” My brain is on Arctic drugs—24 hours a day, every day, of light. Weird and difficult to comprehend as it functions much as might Daylight Savings Time on steroids.

The sea terrain from our morning stop (not anchorage because the water here is too deep) lacks sea ice. To our port side—I don’t know whether that is east or west because the sun does not rise to give you a reference point—is a plateau flanked by a mountain. From experience that tells me that this is a hiking day.

“Good morning, good morning, dear expeditioners!” It is expedition leader Elke’s voice, bright and happy as it always is. She confirms that this is a hiking day, looking for animals. “There are reindeer and geese about. Breakfast is at 7:30 and we will be ready for you at the Zodiacs at nine o’clock.” Then she repeats in Swedish. We depart for Alkhornet Isfjorden.


Far from being a geologist, I do lay claim to loving contemporary art. Here I find rocks that I would happily submit as commission inspiration to the artist who painted our Kansas City living room canvas. These are, to me, fine art.

This is the hike of reindeer and foxes, one of which, having stolen a barnacle goose egg from a ground nest was making an escape when another fox determined to steal the egg from the thief. The thief won out and made a burglar’s escape. The goose? It lost its egg either way.


Reindeer could not care less about our appearance here unless we make a sudden movement which we are cautioned to avoid. Good learners we are as coexistence became the status quo. The water here is pristine as evidenced by our expedition leader refilling her water bottle at a stream.


The morning weather was perfect. Not hot, not cold, not windy; in all ways that which, if you could, you would order up. This afternoon we are down the nonexistent road at Nordfjorden. We’re off as always aboard Zodiacs but this time there is fast ice to our port side. Seals lie on fast ice so we go in search for them. Only one bearded seal is near the edge but he slips into the water on our approach so we abandon our seal hunt.

large_12BeardedSealOnIce.JPGlarge_0baaf520-926b-11e9-bf13-992889f3708e.jpeglarge_15BirdsLaunching.jpeglarge_14BirdsLeaving.jpeglarge_16HikeBigStag.JPGBeluga whales appear so we watch them for a while. Beluga’s don’t pose well for pictures, preferring to keep both their heads and tails under water--revealing to trekkers only their backs--so the best I could get are these; one with a mom (white) and two calves (dark). Birds are everywhere using ice flows as waypoints between dives for tasty fish.

Next, my favorite, a hike. We beach the Zodiac and set out seeing a big reindeer stag along the way to a waterfall of ice melt making its inevitable way to the sea. There is much snow and thawing tundra and muck to get through and get back but we do and it’s worth it.

Back to M/S Quest, there is a Bar-B-Que on deck four aft with everything you could want and more. Music blares, food is served, people dance; it’s a fitting next-to-the-last-night aboard ship. I extend my thanks to the crew of M/S Quest as they have gone out of their way—sometimes way out of their way—to make this voyage perfect for their guests. I extend my thanks to the guides (Malenthe, Rutger, Manda and Erik) as they have done the same. Did I mention that Malenthe and Rutger are newlyweds? GuidesAtBBQJPG.JPG18SternBBQ.JPG

Elke is a tight-rope walker, pushing when she needs to, backing off for a bit when that is called for, but all the while getting the guides to work together, getting the guides to work with the ship’s crew, getting the Captain to work with her; she is very good as what she does. Were someone of a mind to write a leadership profile, Elke would be a subject worthy of examination. She reminds me a bit of another inspirational leader I know and with whom I am privileged to live.

Posted by paulej4 16:26 Archived in Svalbard

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Thank you for your writing, Paul. I really enjoy this

by Therrsa

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