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HDS04-24, trip log, East Spitsbergen, Home of the polar bear - Summer Solstice, Including Long Hikes

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation – Longyearbyen, Svalbard

Embarkation – Longyearbyen, Svalbard
Date: 17.06.2024
Position: Kullkaia (the Coal Pier)
Wind: WNW2
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +6

A fantastic day to begin our Arctic adventure, cloudless blue sky, bright sunshine and calm waters. The Expedition Team lifted luggage aboard and then greeted everyone as they walked up the gangway of our ship, M/V Hondius.

Once all passengers and their luggage were aboard Expedition Leader Jerry, and the Chief Officer commenced the mandatory ship safety briefing. During the safety briefing we were shown how the life jackets are put on and shown the flotation suits which are stored in all cabins for use in an emergency. As part of the briefing an abandon ship alarm was sounded so we all made our way to our muster stations, either in the Observation Lounge (Station B) or Restaurant (Station A). Once everyone had arrived wearing their lifejackets correctly, we proceeded to the lifeboat boarding area on Deck 6.

After this briefing, we received a Welcome Briefing from our Hotel Manager Albert and the Expedition Leader. Captain Arturo made a toast to start off the trip, a real captain’s cocktail with prosecco, and canapes. It was noticeable everyone was very excited to start the trip! We had our first dinner on board, a wonderful buffet provided by Head Chef Ralf and his team. After a day of travel and lots of important information many of us headed to bed to be well rested for our first full day of expedition.

Day 2: Van Muydenbukta (am) Ingeborgfjellet (pm)

Van Muydenbukta (am) Ingeborgfjellet (pm)
Date: 18.06.2024
Position: 77° 44.4 N 014° 24.5 E
Wind: S2
Weather: Clear sky
Air Temperature: +4

Fabulous calm conditions greeted us on waking up on our first morning in Svalbard. Overnight we had sailed south to the entrance of Bellsund, which is the entrance to not one, but three fjord systems. Our goal for the morning was a Zodiac cruise around Vårsolbukta under the great bird cliffs of Ingeborgfjellet, our intended landing for the afternoon. Having dropped off the long hikers for their 12 km walk to meet us later, we set off, the air buzzing with swarms of Little Auk, accompanied as usual by Kittiwake and a couple of defensive Glaucous Gulls. On the shore we could see remains of Camp Bell and Camp Millar, remnants of prospective, but unrealised, mining for minerals in the area – a venture of the Northern Exploration Company, led by Ernest Mansfield in the early 20th century. Negotiating some shallow reefs and waters, we took a close-up look the steeply dipping rock strata, and the pebbly beaches between.

Once back at the ship our leisurely lunch was interrupted when a polar bear and two cubs were spotted on shore heading east under what was going to be our afternoon landing spot. So once again we jumped into Zodiacs and spent a full afternoon, observing the mother and this year’s youngsters, sliding on snow patches and making their way round into Fridtjovhamna, where some left-over ice had packed into the head of the fjord. By the time, the hikers had finished their hike and came over to join us. Every now and again, when we lifted our heads from the sight of the bears, we could the stunning back drop of the low glacier of Fridtjovbreen, and jagged mountains. Then we turned for the ship and the tide which rips through the narrow sound between Akseløya and the mainland Spitsbergen, coupled with a lumpy fetch made for a wet and bumpy ride back. Once on board, we relived our experiences over re-cap. Later in the evening we headed out to the open sea and for those who were still up after our action-packed day, we were rewarded by the distant company of several blue whales for a short while. An incredible moment to see these denizens of the open ocean.

Long hike

After Zodiac and Polar Bear Safety briefing, at mid-morning we hoped on the zodiacs and were quickly dropped in the middle of Slettnesbukta from where our hike would begin. Phillip and Marco had scouted the area and greeted us on shore, then gave us a few instructions we had to follow during the hike of the day. Loads of ancient whale bones were scattered on shore providing good source of nutrients for mosses and flowers that were in full bloom with the summer solstice approaching. We started hiking eastwards following the coastline and passing by a few ponds filled with Barnacle geese and Eider ducks.

The day was quite sunny and warm, and early blooming flowers such as the Purple Saxifrage and the Whitlow Grass were in full display dotting the beautiful tundra that laid ahead of us. A few shy Svalbard Reindeer were mellowly grazing on the horizon, however when trying to approach them they moved away swiftly, probably due to the rare moment they had been seeing human beings on this plain.

The morning continued quietly until we reached a small stream which banks provided us good shelter from the breeze coming from the southeast. After lunch we continued East, towards the long mountain range of Ingerborgfjellet our destination of today activity. However, the hike was cut short since we received information from the ship that a mother bear with two cubs had been sighted on the shoreline towards where we were directed. With calm and ease our safety zodiacs approached the shoreline before we were meant to ford a small river. Life jackets and waterproof layers on before jumping into the rubber boat that our hiking guides started to drive to join the rest of the team for the afternoon operations.

Passing for hiking to zodiac cruise in the proximity of three polar bears. What an experience for our first day!

Day 3: Bellsund, Recherchebreen (am) At Sea (pm)

Bellsund, Recherchebreen (am) At Sea (pm)
Date: 19.06.2024
Position: 77° 29.5 N 014° 41.0 E
Wind: ESE3
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +5

We awoke in Recherchefjorden this morning with glassy calm seas and cloudy skies. We had beautiful views of the glacier from the windows at breakfast. The expedition team went out in the Zodiacs to begin scouting the area and preparing for our landing and hiking activities. The long hikers departed Hondius first and started out in front of the glacial lagoon and headed east along the coast.

The rest of the ship landed on the glacial plain to explore wildflowers and icy views. Birds were nesting up high on the cliffs and an Arctic fox was spotted running around looking for food. Several seals were spotted in the glacial lagoon throughout the morning. Reindeer grazed on the slopes of the cliffs most of the morning. Arctic terns, skuas and other species of birds were seen on the beaches and glacial plain.

The views of the glacier from high up on the moraine and at the edge of the glacial lagoon were stunning. The reflections in the lagoon added another layer to an incredible scene.

As we finished up our morning landing, the long hikers also wrapped up their morning activities. Unfortunately, the wind was very strong just outside the bay we were operating in, and they could continue no further. Due to the weather conditions we had to cancel our afternoon operations. Instead, we started steaming eastward to get a head start for tomorrow’s exploration day in the sea ice.

Day 4: Sea Ice Ship Cruising

Sea Ice Ship Cruising
Date: 20.06.2024
Position: 77° 34.5 N 020° 18.5 E
Wind: NNE3
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +1

After a night where the whole ship experienced some real Arctic weather as we rounded the southern tip of Svalbard – big waves and high seas - we awoke to the remnants of the rough weather system with grey skies and a bit of chop on the water. We soon made it to the edge of the ice, but it was a loose kind of brash ice initially, so we ploughed straight in looking for some more solid wildlife-bearing substrate. Our first success came not long after with a nice Harp Seal on the ice along with numerous Kittiwakes, Little Auks, Brunnich’s Guillemots and Fulmars.

Mid-morning and the conditions had taken a turn for the better with bright sunshine now beaming down on us and the shelter provided by the island of Edgeøya calming the seas right down. We started our lecture program before lunch with Chris talking about the wonderful world of sea and glacier ice and then, as lunch was being served, the call went up for a Walrus sat out on an iceberg in front of the ship, which gave magnificent views as we cruised past.

It was a fine day now with bright sunshine and light winds and we continued to scour the ice from all directions and all decks from the bow to the bridge to Deck Eight, but it remained quiet out on the ice despite the stunning vista surrounding us. Our second lecture of the day then had Jade giving us a run-down of the last 4.5 billion years in 45 minutes (OK, maybe she over-ran by a few minutes!). Our continuous scanning out from the ship was then interrupted by some delicious hot chocolate out on the bow in celebration of the upcoming summer solstice – a great moment, surrounded by the amazing beauty of the icescape in front of us.

The pulse-rates quickened briefly in the late afternoon when some fresh-looking Polar Bear tracks crisscrossed the ice in front of the ship, but some extra intensive scanning failed to produce the culprit. It was now a stunning evening with beautiful soft evening sunshine bathing the ice floes and what could make this evening extra special? That’s right! A magical evening barbeque out on deck surrounded by incredible scenery and wonderful light.

Day 5: Russebukta – landing (am) Zodiac cruising (pm)

Russebukta – landing (am) Zodiac cruising (pm)
Date: 21.06.2024
Position: 77° 36.1 N 020° 55.6’ E
Wind: W2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +2

After an epic summer Solstice celebration, we had an early wake up and a quick breakfast as today was the day for all to hike! Marco and Phillip invited anyone who was eager to test their stamina for a longer walk at Russebukta. The medium and short hikers followed shortly, and the prompt assembly resulted in an eventful hike for all. With a lush tundra under our feet and an overcast day creating a truly magical atmosphere, we went on our separate ways in all directions from the landing site.

For those who looked vigilantly under their feet it was an exciting opportunity to get a closer look at various Svalbard plants. As we walked away from the landing site there was a polar willow forest. Furthermore, whenever you glanced down you could find flora ranging from buttercups, purple saxifrage, draba, a variety of lichen and an arctic poppy that was slowly getting ready to bloom.

A large but dispersed herd of reindeer roamed around and posed for some timeless Svalbard photos. This relatively small species left a lot of antlers and clumps of fur for us to look at closely on the ground. Interestingly, the females also have antlers and they have them year-round. The males however only have antlers from April to July. Their herds are small and seeing more than 20 is a rarity, so what we saw was a big group for the Svalbard reindeer!

The morning continued and whilst some of us walked briskly and covered a large perimeter, some of the more leisurely enthusiasts took in the views and enjoyed some quiet time. And let’s be honest - the Arctic quiet is beyond belief! Only a few places around the world offer this feeling of remoteness and peace.

Whether you are a bird amateur or enthusiast, it was impossible not to appreciate the amazing species flying and landing all around us. From long tailed ducks, red throated divers, king and common eiders and even the grey phalarope! These lovely smaller birds will fly off to the Tropics in the winter, most probably to the African coast. The females will lead off this migration, and the male phalaropes will follow.

However, the highlight for many was the adorable and curious Vulpes lagopus - the Arctic fox. The fox appeared wearing a partial winter and summer coat with white tipped ears. And then… a second one appeared just as we were finishing the landing. What an amazing encounter!

The morning ended, but we did not really sit down for one bit. Straight after lunch we were off to cruise Russebukta in search for some walrus. The largest seal species in Svalbard graciously presented itself on an ice floe at the beginning of the cruise and popped up in the water at the end. All of us explored the nooks and intricacies of the small islands of the area. We got close to some mesmerizing icebergs, looked in detail at the shapes that elements of nature create and pushed some ice around as Arctic Terns dove down to catch some food for themselves. Seeing them plummet into the icy water in their natural habitat was special.

In the evening Joyce spoke about her time researching Polar foxes, Kaitlyn explained a bit of reindeer behavior and biology and Phillip dug a little into the Pomors’ presence on Svalbard.

After dinner Meike invited us to a surprise late time talk about Louis April on Nova Zemlya, a story of the 1880 Arctic expedition told all through Dutch paintings.

Day 6: Burgerbukta (am) Gnålodden (pm)

Burgerbukta (am) Gnålodden (pm)
Date: 22.06.2024
Position: 77° 02.4’ N 015° 57.5’ E
Wind: E3/4
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +3

As dawn broke, the Hondius had skilfully navigated through the night, bringing us to the southeastern edge of the Svalbard archipelago, specifically into the serene Hornsund fjord. The sun cast a golden glow over Burgerbukta, our first destination for the day, perfect for a morning exploration with the zodiacs. Long hikers began their trek from Morenenstranda towards Tresklelodden, where they'd be picked up later in the afternoon.

Post-breakfast, we eagerly donned our warmest gear, equipped with high spirits and cameras, ready to embrace the day's adventures. The breathtaking views of the surrounding fjord mountains greeted us, and as we ventured closer to the glacier, a magical sight awaited—a pod of belugas gliding gracefully along the shoreline. Among them, we delighted in spotting two grey-coloured calves, distinct against the creamy white adults. The sheer joy of watching and hearing these majestic creatures breathe was beyond words, rendering photography unnecessary.

High on the cliffs, kittiwakes soared towards their nests, while at water level, black guillemots, Brünnich's guillemots, and even a few puffins enchanted us with their close-up presence. Our exploration continued towards the majestic Paierlbreen and Mühlbacherbreen glaciers, surrounded by awe-inspiring landscapes. A delightful lunch, prepared by Chef Ralf and his talented galley team, provided the perfect opportunity to reflect on the morning's wonders.

Meanwhile, the Hondius set sail for our next destination—Gnålodden, a favourite spot for many of our guides. A split landing and an onboard lecture by Gabi about the history of the polar bear in relation to humans, translated by Rose, enriched our knowledge and anticipation.

As we approached the landing site, it felt like stepping into our own wildlife documentary. The welcoming chorus of kittiwakes filled the air as we stepped onto the beach, their calls echoing from the cliffs above. Amongst the rocky landscape, a trapper’s hunting cabin stood as a testament to the past. The cliffs teemed with black-legged kittiwakes, Brünnich's guillemots, and northern fulmars. Where there are birds, there are foxes, and we were fortunate to witness one fox dashing up the slopes, possibly in pursuit of its next meal.

The long hikers, after a full day of trekking, also reached the high viewpoint, soaking in the expansive view at Gnålodden which had treated us with its abundant wildlife and blooming purple saxifrage on the tundra slopes, making it hard to bid farewell to this beautiful haven.

The evening began with our daily recap, where expedition leader Jerry outlined the plans for the next day. Kaitlyn provided fascinating insights into the life of belugas, and Meike shared a thrilling story about the life cycle of the kittiwakes we had seen in such abundance.

The day concluded with a delectable dinner crafted by our favourite chef, Ralf. Content and exhausted from a day full of exploration, we anticipated a restful night's sleep, eager for the adventures that tomorrow would bring.

Long hike

Today was the first day on which we were able to finish our long hike as planned. As we looked at the landscape from the boat in the morning, we still had some doubts that the long hike would take place today. The landscape was still quite snowy. But Marco and Philipp went out scouting as planned and a little later we were also ashore. We started our hike with snowshoes. We first hiked along the east coast of Burgerbukta and enjoyed a wonderful view over Hornsund. The weather is magnificent and even the 1433m high mountain Hornsundtind, the highest mountain in the south of Spitsbergen, is visible. Every now and then we took a break so Marco or Philipp could scout ahead. During one of these breaks, we spotted a humpback whale. During the lunch break we even saw some beluga whales. We covered the next few kilometres without snowshoes, so we made faster progress. We took our next break at an old trapper's hut in Adriabukta. Afterwards we climbed up to the Treskelen moraine ridge, which extends far into the Hornsund.

From here we enjoyed a marvellous view over the wild alpine landscape of Hornsund. A little later we arrived at Tresklelodden and were picked up by the safety zodiacs that had accompanied us the whole time. We were so punctual that we were able to join the others at Gnålodden.

Day 7: Poolepynten (am) and Gjertsenodden (St. Jonsfjorden) (pm)

Poolepynten (am) and Gjertsenodden (St. Jonsfjorden) (pm)
Date: 23.06.2024
Position: 78° 27.0 N 012° 02.1 E
Wind: E2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

This morning, we woke up in Forlandsundet, the sound between the 100-kilometer-long island of Prins Karls Forland and the main island of Spitsbergen. It was quite foggy at first, but soon cleared up, and we had a clear view of the Poolepynten headland which was named after the English whaler, Jonas Poole, who repeatedly visited Spitsbergen early in the 17th century.

There was a small haul out of walruses here that we wanted to visit. After a smooth Zodiac ride, we landed at the beach a few hundred meters away from the walruses. We approached the largest seal species in the Northern Hemisphere in small groups of around 30 people. Our guides explained to us that we had to be very quiet and so we approached the animals slowly in single line so as not to frighten them.

These very social animals lie very close together and sometimes on top of each other and are therefore difficult to count. But we estimated that there were at least 30 animals. The tooth walkers, as their Latin name Odobenus rosmarus translates, can weigh up to 1200 kg and their tusks can be up to 1 meter long and weigh up to 5 kg.

The tusks are also the reason why the walruses were almost extinct, as they are made of the finest ivory. Walruses feed almost exclusively on mussels. Scientists have found up to 70kg of mussel meat in the stomachs of walruses, but not a single shell. After their extensive feeding trips, walruses lie on land for a long time to digest. We could clearly smell this!

Whilst one group visited the walruses, the others walked along the beach and through the tundra. We saw lots of driftwood that was all transported with the trans polar drift from the Russian arctic towards the coast of Svalbard.

After lunch, we continued our journey into St. Jonsfjord. Here we all landed together at Gjertsenodden and split into three groups. Down on the shore is a small hut built by one of the last polar bear hunters on Spitsbergen, Per Johansson. But it was never used for hunting purposes, only for recreational purposes.

The long hikers climbed the side moraine of the Gaffelbreen from here and had a marvelous view of the glacier Gaffelbreen, which means the fork glacier. The way back led them through gentle, green tundra, meeting up with the medium and the short hikers. It was already much greener here in St. Jonsfjord than in Hornsund, thanks to the warm current of the Gulf Stream. Flowers like moss campion, lousewort and the mountain avens were flowering everywhere. Shortly before we got back to the landing site, we were lucky enough to see a ptarmigan still in it’s white winter plumage. And lastly, before boarding the Zodiacs, many people took advantage of the calm relatively warm weather and jumped into the water – for the infamous Polar Plunge!

Back on board, we toast with the captain to a wonderful and successful trip. What a wonderful time, what an experience – a time we will never forget.

After a delicious dinner from Ralph’s galley, it's time to hand back our Muckboots, pack our bags, download the photos and the slideshow, and then have a last toast to the trip in the bar.

Day 8: Disembarkation – Kullkaia, Longyearbyen, Svalbard

Disembarkation – Kullkaia, Longyearbyen, Svalbard
Date: 24.06.2024

We woke to a different scene from the last few days – the coal pier in Longyearbyen where we had embarked! After getting our luggage off the ship, most of us headed to the airport although some had the chance for a last exploration of Longyearbyen. Wherever headed, we all had wonderful memories to take us home.


Tripcode: HDS04-24
Dates: 17 Jun - 24 Jun, 2024
Duration: 7 nights
Ship: m/v Hondius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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