In typical expedition fashion, we began our voyage by setting out for the farthest point north permitted by sea ice and weather conditions. Arriving in the High Arctic this early in the season presents challenges for certain operations. With these challenges come opportunities to see the process of life unfolding after a long winter.
At 0530, the sun was already well above the horizon at this high latitude. We sailed north along the majestic coast of Spitsbergen with its distinctive jagged peaks, from which it gets its name. We basked in the rays of sunshine that penetrated the broken clouds as tidewater glaciers spilled down to the water in the larger valleys. We had a few sightings of seals and walrus scattered about on the ice floes, and we observed various species of seabirds as they made their way to and fro from their colonies to feed.
After breakfast, a more formal activity was planned. We briefed our guests on travel in the Arctic, including proper behavior on shore. A thorough biosecurity screening ensured we would not bring any foreign plants or organic materials to shore with us. After tending to administrative duties, the rest of the day was open for exploration.
We reached our “goal” of 80˚N, where annular ice is beginning to pack in around Svalbard after moving down from the north. A strong sense of place–the remoteness and the wilderness–came over us as we observed the ice and the vast expanse of the Arctic Ocean to our north.
The day concluded with our Captain’s welcome at a cocktail reception. We then enjoyed a wonderful meal. To top it all off, we spotted numerous walrus hauled out on the drifting pack ice.