Trip Report
Arctic Dreams
Tuesday August 5, 2014 6:06am
Longyearben, Spitsbergen
Longyearben, Spitsbergen
Credit: KabalaArch
Longyearben is the capitol of Svalbard. It is also the only settlement on the entire archipelago. Getting this far was easy enough; relatively inexpensive too, if you're willing to work the red-eyes and are given to bohemian inclinations. Bottom line is you can make Spitsbergen from San Francisco for about $1,000 or so, R/T. One overnight layover was a waay inexpensive hostel in Oslo's redlight district – but that digression can wait.

northern Norway
northern Norway
Credit: KabalaArch
Our small group flew from SFO to Logan, Boston, where we were joined by Robert, Chicago; John coming up from New York New York. SAS to Oslo, with a short stopover at Reykjavik; SAS then runs up to Longyearbyen International Airport thrice weekly, with a touch and go at Tomsk.

Renatto, Holly, John, Dennis
Renatto, Holly, John, Dennis
Credit: KabalaArch
Main Street offers One Stop Shopping, but if Scotch is on your shopping list, be sure to have your return plane ticket in your pocket. Sales to local residents ist verboten. Policies vary between Arctic destinations (except Russian ones), so a man could grow thirsty if he hasn't done his homework in advance.

Italian journalist Renatto had flown up from Naples to an Oslo rendezvous; contributing his share of expedition cost in cash – one million lire – which he'd carried on his person across Europe, remarkably. This added an international tone to camp, so we'd added an exotic sounding name to our Permit paperwork: “2007 EuroAm North Pearyland Expedition.”

Not certain if this official title was ever manifest to Renatto, as he spoke no English, nor any other language but his native tongue. Dennis, fluent in 7 languages (including hard ones – Russian, Norwegian...Inuit!), couldn't communicate any better than the rest of us, but for Holly's Spanish.

polar logistics shipping/receiving at the airfield
polar logistics shipping/receiving at the airfield
Credit: KabalaArch
SAS owns and operates a Radissun Hotel here, which looked nice from the outside looking in. For about $3.50/night you can dirtbag in comfort and convenience, right next to the airfield. Showers, toilets, a small common dayroom with Kitchenette is over in the campsite's caretaker's cottage.

flight's been called!
flight's been called!
Credit: KabalaArch
Up there, you may feed the bears. We don't mess around with “bearproof canisters” for our own feed, neither, not when you're packing enough to lay down a withering field of fire. When's the last time anyone's mugged for a photo op, with a Mauser at an airport terminal?

Fact is, field safety against the top of the local food chain is a Permit requirement, if you think you can 'bear whisper' your way around a hungry adult male who may weigh more that 1200 lbs, and can take our a full grown walrus with a single backhand.

good topo map quads are available at the Longyearben market - wish I'd...
good topo map quads are available at the Longyearben market - wish I'd bought more of them! Plenty of outfitters/travel options, too.
Credit: KabalaArch
Outbound over northern Spitsbergen. Everything's been climbed; no possibility of a FA here, so move along-

Edge of Life
Edge of Life
Credit: KabalaArch
Like the Grand Canyon, the edge of the Polar ice cap is something I've always wanted to witness for myself. Like a hard edge separating what is profane, for that which is holy; definitely the feeling of crossing into another world.

pack ice floes refrozen in 1 or 2 year old young ice
pack ice floes refrozen in 1 or 2 year old young ice
Credit: KabalaArch
Encountering the exceptionally rugged terrain described by the complex surface drainage hydrography brings the heros of the golden age of Arctic exploration to a life you can feel.

our chartered Twin Otter, workhorse of the High North - note mechanica...
our chartered Twin Otter, workhorse of the High North - note mechanical linkages instead of freeze-prone hydraulics
Credit: KabalaArch
distances in kilometers
distances in kilometers
Credit: KabalaArch
Above 82 N, Denmark's Station Nord is the northernmost permanent human habitat, although its architecture speaks mostly to steel hangers, barracks, shop buildings, clusters of aviation fuel storage tanks which left the air rich with hydrocarbon aroma. Here I where your paper will be checked, before heading into the hinterland. Ours filled a 3-ring binder; I remember proof of SAR insurance ($5,000) was a big part of it, along with a full inventory that needed to include a satellite telephone. The excellent “Lonely Planet” guidebook to Greenland and the Arctic included just 2 laconic sentences to the world's largest National Park, which encompasses all of the NW quarter of Greenland. “Expect no tourist facilities...” And advice to allow for about a year's lead time (ours also needed a trip to Copenhagen's Danish Polar Institute) because, “due to the difficulties in Permit acquisition, only the most determined scientists and climbers tend to make it into the Park..”

World's northernmost map
World's northernmost map
Credit: KabalaArch
It's also home to the world's northernmost bar, which wasn't hard to locate, since all of the roads and pathways ultimate led there. Didn't want for company, as Station Nord is the logistical staging center for high arctic mining operations personnel; Western Europe scientific expeditions, giving the spotless “dayroom” the feel of a Faculty Club.

After the main groups dispersed, my own group sacked out for the “night,” a young Danish mining geologist and I were feted like royalty by two of the locals (Tim was a native Greenlander, in fact, with his doctorate) for some apres party amusement. I'd imagine some new companionship can be welcome from time to time.

midnight sundial
midnight sundial
Credit: KabalaArch
At the highest latitudes, the sun makes a low orbit around the sky, at an almost even azimuth of 23 degrees. The guys had constructed a summer sundial just outside the Rec Bldg; photo taken at the stroke of midnight – note my watch propped up against the sun pole! No dusk nor dawn twilight here; just high noon, all day. This really wrecked all sense of time, creating a sort of endless “Now.” And the clarity of the air made it difficult to determine if a distant mountain range was 5 miles off, or 15, a source of spatial confusion thrown in on top of time dilation.

We'd crossed 12 time zones on a nearly continuous air journey, then backtracked 3, to get here, and a night tossing them back with my new friends produced a state of almost complete disorientation. So, I guess if 80% of Life is just showing up, getting there is 50% of the fun.

Station Nord is also home to the Danish military's Sirius Patrol, whose mission it is to patrol and protect Denmark's northern frontier against Russian interlopers, prone to steal across the Arctic icepack to ensconce mining operations deep within the Benedict and the Roosevelt Ranges which separate the ocean from Greenland's icecap.

In winter. Online research showed a training regimen which make the US Seals look like Boy Scouts. Crown Prince Frederick captivated his countrymen by volunteering for two tours of duty.

Bliss Bugt
Bliss Bugt
Credit: KabalaArch
“The Polar Desert!” exclaimed Dennis, “my home away from home.”

Credit: KabalaArch
Unlike the interior, Pearyland is comparatively ice free. There's some academic debate as to whether Pearyland is a separate tectonic element to the remainder of the island, and our return flyover of Independence Fjord certain made it appear so.

Credit: KabalaArch
The scale of the place is so immense as to feel oppressive, if we're talking foot travel. “The Endless Horizon” is how Dennis described the rolling quality of the piedmont tundra. Summit a rise, but instead of an orienting panorama, lies just another rise horizon

Credit: KabalaArch
Cargo containers shelter the Sirius Patrol and supply caches. There's one in this picture.


last of the growies
last of the growies
Credit: KabalaArch
Camp 1 - 18km, with the heaviest packs many of us had ever Sherpa'd.  ...
Camp 1 - 18km, with the heaviest packs many of us had ever Sherpa'd. In addition to his full pack, Dennis carried 2 daypacks, one for an inflatable raft should a shore lead prove an obstacle, for at least 100#. I shouldered my own 80 #'er, & nearly fell
Credit: KabalaArch
Like ascending a horizontal mountain, timberline 1,000 miles south, the tundra and sedges give way to moss, then a desolation more complete than Death Valley. Followed by the ice.

hiking the Lincoln Sea
hiking the Lincoln Sea
Credit: KabalaArch
Kaffeklubbem Island
Kaffeklubbem Island
Credit: KabalaArch
pressure ridges, formed when two interrafting pack sheets are forced t...
pressure ridges, formed when two interrafting pack sheets are forced together - forming serious travel obstacles
Credit: KabalaArch
A 1927 Danish coastal survey established Kaffeklubben Island as a few minutes (miles) north of Cape Morris Jessup, the “Ultima Thule” reached by Peary in 1906.

According to Dennis, and other serious end of the earth-ologists, global warming was and is beginning to uncover new land masses north of Pearyland, although detractors observe that these are not tectonic features, but more ephemeral depositional islands, liable to be bulldozed out of existence by the icepack.

"Western Stray Dog Island"
"Western Stray Dog Island"
Credit: KabalaArch
Literally a needle in a haystack, these “Stray Dog Islands” were located with our $5,000 investment in Danish military sat photos, and GPS. Still a blank spot on the map, as far as Google Earth is concerned. And the Arctic equivalent of a significant FA for us.

many of these melt pools were hip deep.  From previous expeditions tri...
many of these melt pools were hip deep. From previous expeditions trial and error, gear consisted of 4-spike insole crampons; waterproof fishing waders; ski poles; excellent route finding skills
Credit: KabalaArch
Our own, at 83.40.38 N, set a new “Furthest North,” and this story is one of tenacity, and friendships gone to rivalry; really the stuff of legends, and far from finished.

Musk Ox at Base Camp - they will charge if provoked, and usually come ...
Musk Ox at Base Camp - they will charge if provoked, and usually come out on the winning side
Credit: KabalaArch
I think the charter ran $10,000/hour
I think the charter ran $10,000/hour
Credit: KabalaArch
Credit: KabalaArch
cool beaches
cool beaches
Credit: KabalaArch
Benedict Range interior
Benedict Range interior
Credit: KabalaArch
note 80' waterfall right of center
note 80' waterfall right of center
Credit: KabalaArch
The return flight included a touch and go pick up of a miner, so we got a good aerial cross sectional view of Pearyland's interior.

Sefts Gletcher
Sefts Gletcher
Credit: KabalaArch
The Benedict Range is separated from the Roosevelt Range by the Sefts Trench and its namesake glacier; here one really felt as if flying over the floor of Creation.

2007
2007
Credit: KabalaArch
2007
2007
Credit: KabalaArch
1994
1994
Credit: KabalaArch
A rognon in the making, these two photographs are distanced a mere ten years apart.
opposite wall of the Trench these unvisited peaks and lake was our sec...
opposite wall of the Trench these unvisited peaks and lake was our secondary goal - but our ABC was only half way there, and it would have required another week.
Credit: KabalaArch
Credit: KabalaArch


We were treated to a very low approach angel over north Spitsbergen on return to Longyearben. Close enough to notice that the peaks and walls looked to be a sandstone formation. I'll probably not return any nearly than idle speculation, but alpine sandstone beneath the midnight sun would make a peculiar combination. Lots of choss would be a reasonable guess, but – are these wall climbable?
Credit: KabalaArch
"Der Kolliseum" - my favorite
"Der Kolliseum" - my favorite
Credit: KabalaArch

The first time I was openly solicited in the street, I was astonished. That novelty soon gave way to an insomnia, as the girls shouted out turf wars all four corners of the intersection beneath our hostel room. Blacks, all of them, bringing forth a macabre suggestion of roosting ravens.
Back in Oslo
Back in Oslo
Credit: KabalaArch

A couple streets over was the main drag, closed, evidently for the summer, to auto traffic. With twilight lingering very late, is was like the whole City had turned out for a free block party, as if to make up for their long, dim winters. Nearby were the Parliament and Crown buildings, in a Greek Revivalist masonry. Uplit from street level gardens, the effect very lovely, and the contrast from 3 weeks on the end of the earth – one of them – was very welcome.

  Trip Report Views: 721
KabalaArch
About the Author
KabalaArch is a trad climber from Starlite, California.

Comments
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donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Aug 5, 2014 - 08:39am PT
The paradigm example of a great place to visit but you wouldn't want to live there! Thanks for the TR....loved the aireal photos.
NutAgain!

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Aug 5, 2014 - 10:17am PT
Thanks for sharing an uncommon adventure!

Was this trip motivated by work or non-work recreation?
David Knopp

Trad climber
CA
  Aug 5, 2014 - 10:59am PT
"Blacks, all of them"

what the f*#k does that mean?
micronut

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Aug 5, 2014 - 12:23pm PT
Like the Grand Canyon, the edge of the Polar ice cap is something I've always wanted to witness for myself. Like a hard edge separating what is profane, for that which is holy; definitely the feeling of crossing into another world.


Excellent report from the end of the earth. Felt a bit Conrad to me. A bit of bleak Heart of Darkness seems to be out there in the wide open uncharted places. Thanks for sharing.

Scott
Marlow

Sport climber
OSLO
  Aug 5, 2014 - 12:49pm PT

Awesome TR. A trip in itself. TFPU!
KabalaArch

Trad climber
Starlite, California
Author's Reply  Aug 5, 2014 - 12:58pm PT
Frankly, it meant they were negroid. I guess this impression was noteworthy because this is not a race which doesn't enter my typical stereotypical daydreams of Scandinavian women. Not intended as a racial slur; is was a cultural observation. They were to be the only "EuroAfricans" I was to see the entire trip. And they only came out after dark, roosting on every street corner in the district. By 3 am, the were the only steet inhabitants.

Another culture shock was the prevalence of Islam. Seems like most of the little convenience hole in the wall shops had Farsi signage. This was the summer after that controversial Danish political cartoon with an image of Mohammed created street mayhem. Strikingly similar views of the Gulf War were exchanged up at the North Pole Bar. I was later reminded that I was talking with Danish military personnel.
Marlow

Sport climber
OSLO
  Aug 5, 2014 - 01:13pm PT
An example of Spitsbergen climbing: http://www.alpinist.com/doc/ALP20/newswire-norway-spitzbergen-jasper

There were plenty of walls with fantastic mixed and drytooling lines in an untouched alpine environment. The faces are similar to the north faces in the Alps; almost all are virgin and circa 900 meters high.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Aug 5, 2014 - 03:20pm PT
Nice trip!!!
scrubbing bubbles

Social climber
Uranus
  Aug 5, 2014 - 09:11pm PT
"Up there, YOU may feed the bears"

Great one liner....and nice Mauser

Good pics and good wit all around !!
KabalaArch

Trad climber
Starlite, California
Author's Reply  Aug 5, 2014 - 10:07pm PT
Thank you all.

I looked over Marlow's Alpinist link - pretty sick stuff; I wished for a little more depth though. When in college, about the only source for Spitsbergen and Greenland climbing expeditions was to be found in Doe Library's Alpine Club journal archives; maps, well, in the Map Room. Looked like these places were worlds away, despite some (just not enough)logistical info. Today it's a new ballgame, within reach of climbers of less than superhuman powers. Spitsbergen, that is. The rest of Svalbard, and most of Greenland, is still pretty wild and remote.

NutAgain - that's a very penetrating question. I'll try tomorrow or the next day to edit down my wall of text. The short answer is work research (expeditions are like getting some R&R, only different), so will try and focus on what research, and for what work.

Your Malibu expedition proved, however, that's it's not necessary to travel much further than this site for some adventure!
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