Hiking in Svalbard: An unexpected treat By Ira Schack
Ira Schack travelled with us and our ship Sea Endurance to explore the pristine wilderness of Svalbard. Here he shares his experiences from hiking on the vast tundra and describes the jaw dropping sceneries that made a land loving person like himself turn into a PolarQuest-cruise enthusiast.
My wife and I dislike cruising. There is no way around it. The feeling of being cramped into a tiny room where at any moment my wife’s motion sickness could rear its ugly head just makes the whole experience stressful. However with all that said, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face during our one week expedition on Polar Quest’s Sea Endurance. Everywhere you looked the scenery just made your jaw drop as the snow covered fjords stole the show. But that wasn’t our favorite part, no not for these land lovers.
The incredible experiences we had during the landings was what brought us such joy. We had expected to make short stops for our landings, take a few photos, maybe have a quick lecture about the history of the island and then back to the boat. Imagine our surprise when we were given the opportunity to explore this classic arctic tundra by foot with three incredible hikes and one magical landing on moving ice.
The memory of our first hike brings a giggle to my wife and me. We were split into three groups. One for those who wanted a harder hike, those like us who chose the medium hike for a chance to see more wildlife and then there were those who chose the easy hike which consisted of laying down on the beach. Little did we know our hike would be led by Polar Quest’s special guest guide Nikita Ovsyanikov. For Nikita, medium means we trek at the same pace and distance as the hard group just we set out to go our own way. It turned out to be a much harder trek then some expected but the rewards were so worthwhile as we got some amazing sightings of a ptarmigan couple and two up close reindeer encounters. I’m proud to say that my cousin’s young daughter, who loves the movie Frozen now has my pictures of Sven the reindeer proudly displayed in her room for her friends to see.
Our second hike brought yet another adventure with Nikita. This time as the hard group went straight up a hill we went across the snow covered tundra. Nikita was wonderful in his descriptions of living in such harsh environments and stopped to show us the incredible adaptations the flora makes to live in such inhospitable conditions. With his contagious can do attitude, our group climbed its own hill and breathed in the fresh arctic air while taking in the quiet stillness. The silence broken only by the sounds of gulls above protecting their nests from unwanted intruders. For a photographer one could never have enough time to capture this uniquely beautiful land.
Our third hike was an unexpected one in the spirit of an expedition. Early morning brought a healthy dose of sunshine that could not be wasted. After a short zodiac cruise our expedition leader decided to do a landing instead of going directly to the planned glacier to give us another chance to stretch our legs. With our guide, Rutger Bianchi, a gentle stroll along the beach became an enjoyable hike. We had up close beach encounters with the fast melting chucks of ice producing the most incredible shapes and colors. We got so close to the glacier that our expedition leader told us to keep on going and the remaining guides would bring us our zodiacs for the rest of this adventure. What a treat.
Finally the one hike that will always remain as our favorite memory is the shortest of them all. Unbeknownst to all of us, our incredible guides had made a decision to make an ice landing. Yep, we drove right up with our zodiacs onto a moving ice bed. The smiles of all my fellow expedition members as we walked slowly across this moving ice flow will be a memory that will make this land lover give cruising another chance. Just as long as we can get off the boat.