Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Skiing Over Diamonds in the Land of White Mountains - Svalbard April 2019 - Part 3

Camping on Van Mijenfjorden

Friday 26thApril

Another day heading down the Van Mijenfjorden.  Only around 4:30pm did we turn a corner onto the delta of Stormyra.  The sun shone most of the day and the sky was a piercing light blue.  The only clouds were white wisps that clung to the mountains on our right at the summits, like white gossamer blindfolds.  An exception to this was a series of loose wisps that glided down the fjord beside us like a train; actually they looked like a Chinese Dragon, changing shape as it moved.

We are back skiing on diamonds which was so nice after all the dirty snow yesterday.  Just after lunchtime, we came upon a stilted lighthouse on a spit of land.  You could climb up two ladders to the top of it; the elevated view made a lovely change.   Regaining the sea ice we had to cross broken ice lumps which was both challenging and funny. Two more hours of slog over sticky snow, we pitched our camp around 6:30pm.  

Sea Ice Breaking Up at by Blåhukhytta

I’ve realised how good it is to have all this mental space: shuffling one ski in front of the other for 50 minutes at a time without changing scenery allows for the mind to wander. I love not having distractions and demands on me.  It’s just me, slogging and thinking.  I’ve realise how much I love my family and how much I love the whole immersion of Nature. Challenges are not my goal. It is the holistic, synesthesic experience of wild Nature and the Earth that compels me to explore it.

View South West along Van Mijenfjorden towards Sea

Saturday 27thApril

I’m sitting in the tent trying to write this, absolutely exhausted.  I’ve been running on empty for the last few hours (I cannot bear eating all the nuts and bars so much, it messes with my digestive system in the worst way).  I am paying the price for thinking I could eat less.

I cannot even remember what we did today.  Skiing over 8 hours with descents and rough ice and snowmobile tracks to ski on I think…

It’s next morning now. Richard kindly gave me hot water for my meal first to allow me to go straight to sleep afterwards.

I now remember we crossed the last of the wide frozen delta of Stormyra and were off the sea ice.  We passed a small herd of reindeer and skied for miles over undulating ground and ice into the Semmeldalen valley.  The snow was incredibly sticky at times; all you can do is grind your ski along the lumpy snow and hope it scrapes off.  It was hard work and got harder as I realised I hadn’t eaten enough.  By 6:30 pm I was utterly spent.

Light Plays over Van Mijenfjorden

Bear Watch was 4-5am. It was very still and quite misty. A pair of reindeer ambled passed the camp and the female came over towards me curious.  A beautiful pair of ptarmigans also waddled through the camp, gurgling.  They are charming and I adore them.


Sunday 28thApril

It is still quite misty and is turning into a white day.  It is featureless; all white cloud, white mountains, white snow in exactly the same shade.  It is hard to get any sense of scale or perspective, except when snowmobiles on day trips clatter passed and soon become dots in the mid distance.  Only then do you realise how far the eye can see. We pass more reindeer and ptarmigans.

White Day in Fardalen

We follow shallow valleys all morning and then mid-afternoon realise we have gone up the wrong valley to get back to Longyearbyen.  We headed up Bødalen rather than Fardalen, which was a little disheartening, as we had to make up the time lost.

We climbed up a bluff of Finnesaksla and headed towards a pass.  I ate more nuts today which meant more energy.  The downside to this was major stomach cramps for the last 2 hours of skiing.


Monday 29thApril

The last day; a toughie as it turned out.  We climbed several hundred metres to a pass, zig-zagging for many hours whilst trying not to be run down by snowmobiles.  I was carrying the tent which was hard work on the corners.  I found it hard to grip to move forward and up and managed several impromptu ‘moon-walks’.

After the pass it was downhill but before it started properly we had the opportunity to explore the inside of the Longyearbreen glacier.  We crawled through a snow hole into a snow cave which had a hole in the floor and a ladder descending down into the ice.  It was fabulous and I loved it.

Under the Longyearbreen Glacier

Back on skis we then started the descent towards Longyearbyen.  Having Ronin rearrange the weight distribution of my pulk made the ski descent much better but after a while, I found the snow pack inconsistent and started a series of falls that led me to lose my temper with myself completely. Skiing in that frame of mind was never going to work so I reverted to Plan B and walked down.  Further down the slope we all had to walk anyway.  Finally it was just skiing over frozen ice ridges made by countless snowmobiles and then arrive back at the expedition store. 

We had done it.  Around 160km shuffled, muscles well and truly exercised, hearts and souls filled.

After an hour and a half of kit sorting we were free to shower and lose the 10 days of ming. Ah, simple pleasures.

What an amazing, wonderful expedition.  Thank you to Helen Turton, Kjell Erik, Ronin and my fellow team mates.


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