Jun 02, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer
Before writing about our first full day of adventure, we must rewind to the evening before, when we witnessed an amazing event a few hours after sailing from Longyearbyen. After dinner, whales were spotted ahead of the ship and soon came the announcement that these were blue whales, the largest animal to have ever lived on the planet. Over the next hour or so we were treated to some very close views of this remarkable cetacean, including a full view of its fluke, a not-so-common occurrence.
In the morning we had the chance to meet the natural history staff and become better acquainted with Zodiac procedures and etiquette for the different excursions. This was followed by a decontamination procedure for our outer gear in an effort to minimize the introduction of exotic species to the places we will visit.
After lunch we boarded Zodiacs for the first time in Svalbard. We landed at Mushamna, located within Liefdefjorden, a fjord that is likely named after the Dutch ship De Liefde, which means love. This fjord is a large arm within Woodfjorden. Even before landing, we spotted an arctic fox already sporting its brown-gray summer coat. Some of us even saw some reindeer! Once on the beach, we split up into different groups that headed off for some exploration. There were long, medium, and short walks, and a photo-focused walk.
All the groups took opportunities to visit the imposing and impressive trapper’s cabin, built from the drift logs that pepper so many of the beaches in the Svalbard Archipelago. Many of these logs made their way here from northern Russia via ocean currents in the Arctic Ocean. The large main cabin dominated the area; close by was a sauna, an outhouse, and an impressive drying rack to dry the animals that were trapped. A little distance away was an older cabin dating back to the 1920s.
Those who took the long walk trudged through knee-high snow, encountering polar bear tracks, several reindeer, and plenty of scat. We were enchanted by the variety of lichens, the sparse purple saxifrage and newly-opened tufted saxifrage flowers. Over several miles, the light danced across the mountains, changing our surroundings minute by minute. We were amazed by the colors of the snowy mountains as they were either shrouded in fog or brightly lit by the sun. Walking back to the landing site we became increasingly aware that this was a memorable first landing.
Once we returned to the ship, we met in the lounge for the captain’s “Welcome Cocktails,” followed by the welcome dinner. During the cocktail hour we also heard about the next day’s program and learned helpful tricks to spot polar bears. It was also an opportunity to hear a little more about the ship and meet her senior officers.
During dinner, we all excitedly pointed through the windows at increasingly large pieces of ice as we approached Monacobreen Glacier. We soon enthusiastically filled the bow of the ship as we marveled at the glowing blue hues of the icebergs. The glacier ended in an impossibly tall wall of blue-white ice which, from this perspective, seemed to dwarf the mountains in the distance. We strained to listen for calving, but, alas it was not to be.
The ship turned to make her way out of the fjord and those of us who stayed up witnessed an approaching rainstorm over the mountains and ocean. Looking at our watches, we were stunned to see how late it was; we had been deceived up here in the land where the sun does not set at this time of the year. Bedtime beckoned, especially for those who wanted to wake up early to be on the bridge when the ship would cross 80ºN, a mere 600 nautical miles from the North Pole.
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