Our final day of activities unfolded in Bellsund, a large fjord on the island of Spitsbergen that faces the productive west coast. Near the mouth of the fjord on the southern shore is an area known as Bamsebu (little bear house). Bears were not present when we visited, but the historical remains of whaling on Svalbard certainly were. There are bone piles from hundreds of beluga whales that were netted in the fjord and flensed on the beach. A grim reminder of the whaling era when the need for oil drove people into the Arctic to harvest it.

After hiking on shore, sighting distant reindeer, watching the birdlife, marveling at the flora of the tundra, and even discovering the carcass of a long-dead polar bear, we returned to National Geographic Endurance. Those who dared were offered a polar plunge. Nearly a third of the guests participated and even the expedition leader took to the frigid waters for a reviving dip. A fantastic way to end a beautiful trip in the Arctic.