Live Journal
........Spring 2010

August 22, 2010

Juergen and I decided to paddle my boat to a bird cliff about 10 miles from Longyearbyen campground. Juergen's boat is already in Svea, ready to be transported by ship to the Norwegian mainland. So we assembled my boat and loaded it with all the equipment we needed for a one-night stay. Because of weight concerns, I hadn't brought my second seat and the sea sock. Therefore, Juergen had to sit on a bag filled with dry cloths and as back support, we tried to use his sleeping bag. Sadly enough, the back support didn't work and Juergen started having great pain from a part of the frame that was poking into his back.
We crossed the Advendfjord right from the campground to the other side to the ice fjord. We started during outgoing water. During our paddle the ebb tide continued and became stronger, now flowing against our direction. At some point, I thought we were paddling at one spot, not progressing at all. We finally arrived in the area of the bird cliff. Juergen had severe back pain from the frame that was pressing against it. We had to stop paddling immediately. So we landed at a point, where the waves were crashing against the shore in a 45 degree angle. It wasn't too elegant a landing, but we made it, set up camp, and tried to get dry. I realized that my dry suit also allowed the spray to penetrate through the lower part of the arms. All of these suits seem to do that. But I was able to dry my liner over night, since we had wind and dry weather.
After a small dinner we went to sleep and rested. I had set up the bear fence as I had learned to do when I was acting as a guide. Although the chance of a polar bear coming to this area at this time of the year is relatively small, one always should be prepared. We also had a and enough ammo.
Early in the morning next day, the weather was just gorgeous! I would have loved to paddle immediately to the bird cliff which was another three miles away, we could clearly see it. Juergen had to rest to get rid of the pain. I waited and started getting the boat ready. Around noon, Juergen woke up, and we started hiking towards the bird cliff. It is a strange thing in the Arctic that a distance seem to be so short, but even walking for one and a half hours we were still far away from the bird cliff. Since we had to be back at the campground the same day, we had to turn around. We were back in time to load the boat and start for our paddle back. In the meantime the wind had picked up several notches! The waves were higher than the day before and we started discussing how we would launch the boat into the wind to meet the angle of the incoming waves. We continued getting ready, within minutes the waves got at least 20% higher than they were before. We started getting second thoughts, but we had to launch because I had to catch my flight. We finally just went ahead starting into the waves. I fell slightly on my side before I could jump into the boat, since I had to push Juergen. It was an interesting situation. Juergen paddled, I tried to get my rudder in position. Then we both paddled. Juergen wasn't sitting right, so he sat on the back deck, making me scream for mercy, because I was expecting the boat to capsize. It didn't. We made it into the waves, first getting our spray skirts fastened and then trying to move the bow into the direction we needed the boat to go. Now we had the wind and the waves from behind in an angle of about 35%. That was scary. We also had the ebb current pushing us into the same direction. Finally, we zoomed with a speed of five to six miles per hour along our way back to the campground and made it in record time (two hours). We were quite relieved when we arrived at the shore where the campground was and landed backwards, which allowed me to get out first since I wore the good paddling boots and the dry suit.
Juergen spent the entire trip telling me how much he loves his Klepper and was full of praise for his beloved kayak, which lets him walk in it even in high waves like we had them this day. He never has to brace or be afraid of capsizing. If I would be a poet, I would create a love song for Juergen about his Klepper. Obviously, I love my Feathercraft and don't want to switch:) Sorry, Juergen :)
It was nice that we two had the chance to paddle one more time and even in one boat. I enjoyed that trip, we were a good team.

August 16, 2010

This summer, I have done a few things for the first time in my life. One of these is actually walking on a glacier. I have seen many glaciers and always enjoyed looking at them with awe. But I would never even have dreamed about going onto a glacier, let alone walking on one. The situation asked for having to actually walk on one. I was afraid and saw myself in the middle of dangerous crevasses. It turned out, that only parts of a glacier have crevasses and that many areas are smooth. Especially in summer, when the snow melted away, one can see the surface of the glacier very well and therefore be able to find a secure path over it. I have now walked over five different glaciers -- two times without crampons. I did not know that this was possible. I had a bit too much respect from these guys... Still, to get on the glacier, very often it is necessary to walk over its side or ends. In one occasion, I ended up in a area where the blank, hard turquoise ice was shinig through under mud and gravel. It took me a moment to realize that there was nothing the crampons could grab on. I was slipping and falling on my knees, which hurt badly. I couldn't and didn't want to continue walking further up that 45 degree slope. I turned around to try to get to safer grounds, which I arrived after about 15 minutes, but which also turned out to be big moving mudslides. This was a kind of discouraging experience.
The next day, we made another attempt on this glacier. This time we moved more towards several crevasses and a low hanging cloud, which covered the top of the glacier. I decided that was abaout it and declared this wasthe end for my hike over this glacier for that day. Later in the week, we went to two other glaciers, crossed one twice, had to jump over a glacial river crevasse and then hike back down another glacier for more than two hours. We didn't even use crampons. I was proud of myself. Still, the loose, moving hills still give me the creeps. One can actually see how the material is constantly moving downhill -- domething that doesn't seem to scare the real Arctic hiker :)

August 15, 2010

We read online in the Svalbard post that a kayaker on the East Coat asked the Governor of Svalbard per satellite phone to be taken back to Longyearbyen. According to that message, the kayaker had equipment failure. Only Juergen was still out there. They said that the coast guard would pick him up by ship and that it wasn't an emergency. On Friday they said that a ship had picked up a German kayaker, also mentioning his age. This made us sure the kayaker was Juergen.
Last night, a Coast Guard ship passed by and I asked them by VHF radio if they had the kayaker on board. They said that he left in Svea, a former Swedish coal mine town, which is one fjord south from the icefjord where Longyearbyen is situated. This morning when I got up and left my tent, I saw Juergen walking over to the campground. He had come by plane to Longyearbyen. We discussed his reasons for stopping the circumnavigation. I want to hear more before I talk about the details, but there were several reasons.

August 13, 2010

When I was out in the Spitsbergen Wilderness, we had our camp set up at the beach close to a bird cliff, where we wanted to hike. The first morning, we saw a little, cute polar fox. They guys are smaller and much slimmer than foxes in other areas. He strolled by as if we didn't exist. Just walking by leisurely acting very busy, sniffing here and there and minding his own business. Which seems to consist of storing food for the coming winter. The color of his fur blends perfectly into the surrounding colors of the rocks and soil.After a while, he disappeared between the loose rock formations of the bird cliff. In the evening he showed up again, but this time he extended his tour into our "kitchen." I was alone and kept a close eye on him. He was aware of that but acted as if he wasn't really interested or even intending to steal something, taking a detour towards our tents and ... off he went.
The second day, all five of us were standing outside the tents when he again leisurely strolled by. We were blocking his usual route so he had to circle up to a cliff, from where he could easily see us. To entertain the two children in the group, I made some "funny" moves and started "dancing" and clowning around. When I thought the fox had gone, he poked up his small head with the little pointed ears behind a stone and watched my clowneries with surprise. I increased my activities, he walked away, but seconds later his head popped up about 3 ft further to the right. It looked like he did not believe what his eyes were seeing, what was this stupid human doing and why???
Polar foxes seem to be very curious animals! Maybe he thought I was doing some kind of food dance and he hoped to get some leftovers the way he does from polar bears?  

August 12, 2010

The summer is coming to an end. We realized that from the falling temperatures — last night it was 29º F, with frost. Some of the surrounding mountains are capped already with new, powdery snow. It looks beautiful. Still, almost everyone has a four-season tent and a thick comfortable down sleeping bag, so most of us are okay.
The campground is very comfortable; it offers everything you need: showers and a kitchen with a room in which to hang out. There are always people open for a nice conversation. We can look out of the large windows into the fjord and if lucky, we can even see some Beluga whales passing by. Ships moving in and out the fjord can be seen from far away already. This offers more entertainment than any TV show!
All of us who have spent time here on Spitsbergen are developing a kind of ARCTIC MODE, which can be described as an extremely relaxed state of mind. Everything slows down. You need to do something, and start announcing it; maybe after one hour, you begin to move in that direction. When someone asks you a question, you start thinking...thinking...and after a while you might answer or not, it depends... My daily routine might look like that: 9.30 am get up, breakfast until 12 pm, shower and some (hand) washing of cloths until 1 pm. Leave for town to get access to the Internet, purchase items from the grocery store, and maybe go to the post office until about 5 pm. Go back to the campground around 6 pm. Dinner until 8 pm, read from 9 to 11pm or so, maybe less, maybe more; maybe some conversation until 1 or 2 am, whatever.

August 5, 2010

At this point, I'd like to report what I know about Juergen's progress so far, since his Twitter is written in German. He continued and seems to have problems with his progress because of winds which were against him, but he still made good miles. He made it relatively fast to the Northern part of the Svalbard Archipelago. He first encountered a polar bear who was a swimming at a distance of about 30 m. Juergen took pictures of him. He also saw walrusses and whales, Belugas and others.
Juergen has decided against circumnavigating North Austland. The reason is the 150 to 180 km (around 100 mi) long and at least 50-m high ice front which doesn't allow any landing with a boat. Even under the most favorable circumstances it would take between five to eight days to cover that distance with no warm food, no real sleep, and no bathroom! Although this year the Svalbard East coast is almost totally ice free, this is still a huge undertaking in a kayak.
Juergen continued his trip through the Hinlopen Strait and is through it by now. He talks in his Twitter account of one memorable polar bear encounter: He heard a scratching on his tent and then the bear alarm went off. (The fence may have been set up too close to his tent, a 10-m distance is suggested!) When he jumped out of his tent, he saw a bear about 10-m away looking at him in a surprised manner. Juergen reached for his camera and took pictures first and then screamed at the bear, who retreated towards Juergen's boat. That made Juergen reach for his gun and shoot into the air. Finally the bear retreated.
The current in the Hinlopenstrait must be very powerful. Juergen talks about speedsof 15 km/h (about 10 miles/h). I met someone who told me that a sail boat saw Juergen and invited him over for dinner and a nice warm shower. That sounds like a good comforting experience. I am not sure if Juergen is actually using my Balough sail, which I offered him before I left in Ny-Alesund. He doesn't mention it at all. I plan on reading more about his progress some time next week. I'll post it here.

July 14, 2010

Since a change in my flight schedule is forbiddingly expensive, I'll stay here and make the best of it. I cannot kayak, since I gave Juergen my good sail and my boat can only be set up as a double, because I did not bring the single sprayskirt. When sitting in the back of my boat alone, the bow sticks out too far and gets pushed around by the wind in a way that the boat becomes almost uncontrollable. Also, I cannot stay overnight with my tent in the wilderness since my electric bear fence is totally useless. I touch it with my hands and get a little tingle. What a bad surprise!
Yesterday, the owner of the campground who also wrote THE guidebook for Svalbard in German and English, Andreas Umbreit, offered me a job as a guide. On the 17th, I'll go out into different areas of the ice fjord and lead some people for two weeks. I guess that is better than hanging out on the campground and in town... I agreed t be a guide, but have some doubts if my back is ok. I have to treck with the group. We will see. I finally heard from Juergen. He managed to call Germany with the satellite phone and posts now on his Twitter account. But he seems to be unable to connect to the email system via the UUplus account. That is very sad! I retweet his tweets in my twitter account (soborob). He has seen his first polar bear and feels a bit lonely.
I met a French guy at the camp ground who went by kayak in an area south of here. He was out for two weeks when he had several bear encounters. The bear stole some butter from his food supply, then came back for more goodies. The flares the guy shot did not chase the bear away at all. So he had to shoot into the air. That finally made the bear leave. The French guy set up his camp in a different area. When he started to pack to leave for the day, he realized that his Klepper-like folding boat's structure was smashed in the back and the bag with the food was in a precision-like manner slit open, the food having been stolen by another bear (or even the same?). South of here, ice flows traveled from the Barents Sea and pushed up the shore line. These conditions mostly bring the polar bears to shore where they are looking for seals to eat.

July 13, 2010

Today, I decided to be a nice person, go to the town's reception, pay for our campground, and ask about where to take the shower and wash our clothes. A very nice woman helped me. All of a sudden, another woman interrupted our conversation and told me she had talked to her boss and he wanted us, the unwelcome kayakers, out of town by the next day. I told her I had hurt my back and tried to find a ship to get me back to Longyearbyen. She just said I should call the Sysselman and get airlifted by helicopter, which would mean I lose all my gear (it is not taken with the helicopter). She suggested I talk to people on the ship in port, which turned out to be a French ship going to Nordcap at the Norwegian mainland and not to Longyearbyen.
Later, the ship Fram from Hurtigruten came into the harbor. After it was in the port, I asked the captain per VHF radio if he would help me. He agreed to help, but I had to get my gear onto the ship within three hours. We did it, though! Interestingly, it took five people to transport my boat loaded with only a third of my gear onto the ship. That shows how heavy our boats were.
In the meantime, I am "stuck" here in Longyearbyen trying to cure my back. Today, I tried to change my flight back to the U.S. The airlines wanted the same amount of money to change the booking as my entire round trip ticket had cost originally! My travel insurance doesn't pay for getting back home. So now I am stuck here in this mining city of 1,500 people for another 6 weeks, although most of the people are very nice.

July 11, 2010

Passing the cruise ship in our kayaks was an interesting ordeal — the 3,500 passengers were transported by water taxi to and from the ship. The taxis were FAST and had some big wakes. I had forgotten to fasten my sprayskirt, so I got a big chunk of water in my cockpit. Nice and cold, THANKS guys, that was soooo considerate of you!!!
We found a nice, sandy, and low-sloped beach area about a mile from town where we landed. We checked out the area for a good campsite and decided to stay, as always, close to our boats on an abandoned gravel road. We had to get the boat out of the high-water line after unloading Juergen's boat to reduce its weight. We were in a respectful and legal distance from the tower where in the 1920s Amundsen launched his airship to go to the North Pole and from another memorial for some Italians who had to be rescued also in the 1920s. We were still undecided if we were at the right place, when a woman from the Kingsbay Company, which runs Ny Alesund, walked by with her Husky puppy. We asked her if we were at the right spot for camping. She promised to ask and if we were at the wrong spot she would come back and let us know. In the meantime it was about 9 pm. My back was killing me and I was cold and wet.
After another hour of waiting and unloading we started setting up our tents and I went to sleep. About three hours later (1 am), a German student who knew Juergen from the campground in Longyearbyen came and gave us this message: We had to move to another campground NOW, or pay a fine of 1000 Nk, which is about $170. Juergen tried to go back and negotiate so we could move our tents in the morning. Absolutely no way they would change their minds. I was almost crying because of the pain in my back. We got a wheel barrow and had to move our camp about 1 km uphill. We were back in our tents around 3 am. I was exhausted after an eight-hour paddling day! Interestingly enough, we couldn't even see our boats any more, which made us feel very uneasy. But we had a WC: It was a little "hut" on a bridge with a fast-flowing river underneath, what a luxury! Part of the deal was we could take a shower in town and use the washing machines for a small fee.
Amazingly, we were surrounded by rubbish. First, I thought the site was the town garbage dump, but after having a good rest, we realized it was an old abandoned coal mine. The wood from the buildings, train tracks, and other construction was littering the area. Anything from the time before 1946 is considered an "antique" and is protected by the Sysslemann (governor of Svalbard).
We went to town and discovered it is a "private" settlement run by the King's Bay Company. People are only allowed to come here by invitation. Mostly they are students and scientists. There are several Polar institutes from different countries. We found an abandoned institute from the Netherlands, the Norwegian Polar Institute, a Chinese and an Indian Polar Institute and the German Alfred Wegener Institute. It was almost impossible to make contact with the scientists; it is a "closed" society.
Parts of the town are cut-off from general traffic because a group of Polar foxes is breeding under the houses. It was possible to watch these little guys especially in the evening. Because the fox mom was tagged, I could recognize her later raiding our camp kitchen, she favored our cocoa and the cappuccino. I got within about two feet of her and she was still not afraid of my presence.
Another experience was the Arctic Terns. They ferociously attacked us. We had to hold something high over our heads for them to peck on. One of the birds pooped all over Juergen while he was trying to take pictures of me being attacked by another bird. It was like in a war zone. We also looked at the Huskies, who are kept outside of town to keep the noise level down. The owners visit their dogs every day and take them for a walk or a "pull" with a wheel sled so the dogs get some serious exercise.

July 7, 2010

I am writing in retrospective: At this moment, I am sitting on the seventh deck of the two-year old Hurtigruten Vessel FRAM, named after Amundsen's famous ship that drifted for over 1,000 days through the Arctic. We are anchoring in a historically significant bay of the Icefjord not too far from Longyearbyen. Passengers are being split into smaller groups to be transported to land for a visit to an old mine with a stranded ship and a cemetery. The crew has prepared a barbecue and invited me. The weather is beautiful: low winds, a few clouds, sunshine; it is almost warm. I am sitting on the deck of this luxury cruise ship because they rescued me. Here is the story: After Juergen and I paddled from the last hut, we stayed close to shore and made good mileage. The weather, especially the wind, was most favorable.
But my back injury became worse every day from pulling our boats up the beaches out of the flood-line. Only the strongest pain killer helped for a few hours. So I became concerned about my health and the fact that I might slow down our progress. After about 20 miles in which there were really cute puffins bobbing on the water all around us and a big seal family who checked us out in detail, we approached Ny-Alesund. We had to find a good landing spot and saw one close to the small regional airport. But on closer inspection, it turned out to be cut off by a glacial river which can swell after a sunny day to quite surprising heights. It was impossible to walk through, much too deep. We scouted nearer the town. Another glacial river also parted the town there! So we decided paddle to the other side of town (200 to 300 people village), where we saw the huge cruise ship anchored in the harbor.

June 30, 2010

We have been on our way now for 12 days. Moving very slowly; 90 miles altogether. Some days we don't make more than eight miles. We don't really know why. Perhaps because our boats are very heavy, more than 500 lbs per boat. Also, the wind is against us and we have to take big detours: To move the 90 miles to NyAlesun, we have to actually paddle 140 miles. In addition, the coast is scattered with rocks and we have to move around those.
Originally we wanted to move along the western side of this channel. We can hardly sail, my sail is great, even in low winds I can move at five miles per hour. However, Juergen's sail is a high-wind sail and it needs a lot more wind to move his boat which is at least 150 lbs heavier than mine.
The last two nights, we started at 9 pm and wanted to move through the night. We paddled towards North and the sun was shining right in our eyes. It was difficult to see anything. After a few days, what time it is becomes a blur. The only difference is the temperature; at night even when there is no cloud cover, it is colder.
Even with the problems, we are enjoying the beauty of the land. The "Prince Carls Vorland" west of us looks like parts of the Antarctic Peninsula, covered with snow and glaciers. Maybe we will visit it. When we paddled the last few miles, a big bank of fog started moving towards us. It reached us within minutes combined with higher winds and waves. We had to land on a large sandbank, which was high enough to give us shelter. We will continue paddling in a few hours when the tides are changing from low to incoming waters to have the current with us. This is another factor that keeps us on our toes. We have a few glaciers that "calve" with a huge sound and give us the joy of some mini icebergs. The bergs are melting very fast. We are also visited by seals and can see caribous grazing in the distance. Good binoculars help to make sure that they are not, in fact, less harmless "critters"! We hope to be in Ny-Alesund in two days.

June 18, 2010

Friday, we packed our boats from about 5 pm on. It took us all night! Juergen's boat is easy to pack because the top can be opened, but he has a lot of equipment attached to the outside. This is great, we have all these tools and gismos, but it takes hours to get the boat ready. I also need a lot of time because I have to get used to what goes where.
We started without having slept early Saturday and made a 30-mile crossing of the ice fjord to then paddle along the northern part of it. The trip took us 10 hours. We had to look for a fjord to camp and ended up in a nice place where a lot of artifacts from the trapper time are buried under the snow. We had not seen some of the remains and camped much too close. Overnight, the snow over the ruins had melted. We were lucky, the two Sysselmannen were very nice and just told us to avoid that area the next time.
We wanted to continue on Monday, but the wind blew with gale force; we could hardly leave our tents. The top of my Hilleberg tent was vibrating with the sound of a speed train. I could hardly sleep. It felt like my tent was lifting up and blowing away. We had to collect up some of our gear later. Except for one bag, we found everything cluttered throughout the fjord.
Tuesday we took off for our next 20-mile trip. We continued along the rest of the ice fjord and moved north along the coast. We made the mistake not to take any breaks, but we plan to changes that. We found a nice beach where a seal greeted us. After securing our boats, we set up our tents and the bear fence and made a fire. We cannot drink the water because of "fox disease." All water must be boiled for five minutes. We had hoped to have favorable winds to sail at least part of our trip, but up to now, winds are either from the wrong direction or they just die down.

June 15, 2010

Monday, I landed 20 minutes early at Lonyearbyen. All my bags were here, but no gun. I had to check all my luggage through customs in Oslo. They gave me my gun permission, but I could not show the gun. They traced it back to Newark. I had booked a hotel 10 km from the airport, but it turned out to be the wrong one -- Oslo has three of them :). SAS cancelled that booking for me.
My paddling partner Juergen picked me up from the airport by car. The campground is a three-minute walk from the airport, which has only two large planes landing and starting per day. Plus a few helicopters. The town is small, only 1,500 people live here. Everything closes at 5 pm. Food and ammunition cost about three to four times more than in the U.S. and many things such as ziplock bags are not available. I am still waiting for one parcel with 50 dinners which I mailed through UPS. It promised to have the package here in three to four days, for which I had to pay an extreme high price. People here are extremely nice and helpful. We have assembled our boats. Juergen´s boat looks like a real expedition vessel; I feel inferior with my simple set-up. The weather is mixed this morning --at six I woke up to high winds and snow flurries. We hope everything turns to our favor and we can start within the next 24 hours.