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  • PLA07-23, trip log, Around Spitsbergen - in the realm of polar bear & ice

PLA07-23, trip log, Around Spitsbergen - in the realm of polar bear & ice

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Longyearbyen, embarkation day

Longyearbyen, embarkation day
Date: 06.07.2023
Position: 78°14.6’N / 015°32.6’E
Wind: NW 2
Weather: Clear sky
Air Temperature: +16

We began arriving in Longyearbyen in the afternoon, having travelled from all over the world to reach the spectacular archipelago of Svalbard. Once everyone was on board, we took part in all the necessary safety briefings. Third Officer Martin showed us where the important safety features of the ship were. We then spent some time familiarising ourselves with the layout of Plancius, enjoying the views outside as we set sail.

Before dinner, Captain Remmert wished us well on our journey with a toast in the lounge. Expedition Leader Philipp introduced himself and the expedition guides and told us about his plans for the trip. We then set off to the restaurant for a delicious first buffet dinner. Just as everyone had finished their meal and getting ready to relax for the evening, a huge fin whale (the second largest animal in the world) surfaced close to the ship. Some people even saw it from the dining room window.

A few hours later, we had a special encounter with two species of whale: a humpback and a blue whale! The blue whale was huge and surfaced close to the bow, so we could clearly hear its blow. What an incredibly special start to the trip.

Day 2: Ny-London and Ny-Alesund

Ny-London and Ny-Alesund
Date: 07.07.2023
Position: 78°57.4’N / 012.01.7’E
Wind: NW 2
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +16

Summery hot weather, complete calm, and not a single cloud in the sky marked the morning of our first truly expedition day. We woke up and leisurely made our way to the restaurant, where breakfast awaited us. Meanwhile, Plancius slowly cut through the glassy waters of Kongsfjorden. Some of us, driven by curiosity, gathered at the bow to observe the surrounding landscapes and take photographs. The group of ornithologists was already scanning for local bird species.

Across from Ny-Ålesund, the northernmost inhabited settlement in the world, lies the large island of Blomstrandhalvøya. On this island stands Ny-London, a tiny piece of land that never became a populated place. To this day, you can still see two cabins, remnants of a steam engine, and an old rusty crane. All of this is nothing but a monument to an ambitious yet failed marble mining project. It is precisely there that we planned to have our landing.

Before embarking on our first expeditionary shore trip, we had to listen to a safety briefing and the rules of conduct in the constant presence of the threat of polar bears. Philipp, our expedition leader, gathered everyone in the observation lounge and provided a detailed explanation of how to behave on land and how to properly disembark from the Zodiacs.

Before we knew it, we were on the shore. The Zodiacs shuttled back and forth, transporting passengers while the guides loaded their rifles. Meanwhile, we folded our life jackets into a large orange bag and looked around with interest. The guides divided us into three groups: long hikers, medium hikers, and leisurely hikers. We each set off on our own paths. We had about an hour and a half, so we had to hurry.

The beauty was all around us! The Arctic landscape was so stunning and diverse. The fjord was surrounded by mountains, their slopes here and there still covered in loose summer snow. Enormous glaciers majestically flowed into the sea, continuing their journey as icebergs in the distance. The entire surface of the fjord was dotted with these icy blocks.

In a way, it's sad because it's their final journey. On the other hand, one can only rejoice for the water droplets that once evaporated from the ocean's surface, fell as snow on the glacier's top, and after spending thousands of years in cold captivity, are preparing to become part of the ocean once again. For them, it's a homecoming. For us, it's an opportunity to delight our eyes with the harsh beauty of the Arctic.

The terrain was rocky, but even in such inhospitable conditions the low-growing northern vegetation asserts its right to live. Mountain avens was in blossom on the green carpets of polytrichum moss, with its white flowers standing out vividly against the dark green leaves. Moss campion bloomed, painting the once-green moss cushions in shades of purple. Alpine bistort flowers stretched upward with their bright yellow cups. In some narrow crevices between boulders, the purple saxifrage still bloomed. This plant is the first to flower as soon as the ground is freed from its snowy blanket. In July the time of the purple saxifrage passes, but it refuses to accept it and persistently continues to bloom in shady places.

On the hill, there sat a pair of long-tailed skuas. We did not approach too closely, observing them from a distance, as we didn’t want to disturb the young parents. Everywhere we heard the chirping of snow buntings, the only songbirds in these latitudes. The small bird, resembling a sparrow, flitted back and forth, pecking at whatever it could find.

The red-throated diver is almost motionless by contrast. It glides gracefully across the surface of the pond, with its pointed beak and dignified presence. It's a rare bird, so we photographed it from a distance. It was accompanied by long-tailed ducks. They all nest on tiny islands in the middle of the pond where Arctic foxes can’t reach them.

Then our time was up. We returned to the landing site, put on our life jackets, and headed back to the ship. The tables were already set, and the buffet was overflowing with food. After lunch we docked in Ny-Ålesund. Once a notorious Norwegian coal mining settlement, it is now one of the leading research centers for studying the Arctic's nature. The gangway was lowered, and we disembarked at the pier.

The settlement is incredibly tiny. It only takes ten minutes to cross it from one end to the other. Nevertheless, it has its own museum, shop, and the world's northernmost post office. In the center of the village stands a bust of Roald Amundsen. It was from here that this legendary Norwegian polar explorer began his trans-Arctic flight to Alaska via the North Pole, etching his name forever into the annals of the World history. And just a few hundred meters from the western border of the settlement, the same iron mast still stands from which Amundsen and the other members of his crew boarded their airship, the "Norge."

Barnacle geese wandered across the tundra, fearing no one. But the Arctic terns dive-bombed our heads, eager to peck at us. Some succeeded. The only way out was to raise our hands, or better yet, a stick.

But then we witnessed not just a whirlwind but a whole tornado of Arctic terns! They screamed, flapped their wings, and took turns attacking an unfortunate fox. With its tail between its legs and ears flattened, it raced for dear life toward the nearest shelter. It found refuge under an old narrow-gauge steam train that still stands by the pier as a monument to Ny-Ålesund's coal mining past. We returned to the ship, and soon the Plancius cast off its moorings, setting course northward.

Day 3: Liefdefiorden, Monacobreen, Bockfjorden

Liefdefiorden, Monacobreen, Bockfjorden
Date: 08.07.2023
Position: 79°31.8’N / 012°27.4’E
Wind: SW 4
Weather: Partial clouds
Air Temperature: +8

In the morning we arrived at Liefdefjorden. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, and the visibility was amazing. The wind was noticeably stronger than the days before, but that did not dampen our spirits. We made our way to the end of the fjord, to Monacobreen, a highlight for many visitors that come to Svalbard due to its stunning views and size. We had a Zodiac cruise planned that would bring us closer to the glacier walls and give us the liberty to explore the fjords coastlines.

We started our operations at 09:15. Everybody was eagerly waiting at the gangway to get into a Zodiac. We had our first Zodiac cruise instructions from our drivers who taught us what to do and what not to do. When all Zodiacs were ready, we made our way to the east side of the glacier wall. Here many were amazed by the grand size of Monaco glacier and its heavily crevassed features.

We made our way to the west of the glacier, where we found many kittiwakes flying in front of the glacier wall, along with Arctic terns sitting on small icefloes called “growlers.”

Some small carvings were observed, but nothing too big yet. Getting closer to the Glacier Ida in the small inlet/fjord directly next to Monaco Breen, we found ourselves looking against a wall of ice 70m tall with hundreds of birds flying in front of it. This was a sign that this area of the glacier was active and that pieces of ice fall off frequently. Waiting just a small while in the area, we saw a big piece fall off. This made all the birds look for food where the calving happened. Shortly afterward we made our way back to the ship to round up the morning activity and have lunch.

In the afternoon, we passed again through Woodfjorden and entered Bockfjord, where we had a landing planned. We encountered a lot of wind, which made the Zodiac operations challenging – but nothing that our expedition team could not work with.

At the coastline we divided ourselves again into three hiking groups. There were many boulders, which made hiking quite difficult. Everybody found their preferred group and made their way to the first noticeable attraction, a dead Arctic fox that farther up on the hill. Still in its winter coat, it very likely died during the last winter. Its fur was in great shape and made an excellent example of how the foxes look in the winter.

Farther up the hill, we found many flowers: Arctic bell heather, mountain avens, fringed sandwort, moss campion, and hairy lousewort. A paradise for botany fanatics and nature lovers in general. The medium and long hiking groups made their way to the main attractions, which was the natural hot springs. This was situated on the hill and surrounded by a light sand, sinter terraces that have been deposited from the mineral rich waters. These terraces are fragile, so we were asked to not step on them while we were there. The holes were small and colorful and made for beautiful pictures, together with the Red Devonian sandstone hills that were standing on the other side of the fjord.

A bit farther on from the springs, the medium group saw a pair of rock ptarmigans walking around the boulder field. They were a bit shy, but we got good views of them from a distance. The way down was as challenging as the way up, with many big boulders and streams to cross. Luckily everybody got down safely and happy with all the amazing things that we had seen. Getting back to the ship was a bit easier this time, though nobody made it back completely dry.

During the recap, it was explained that we would go to the pack ice the next day. Eduardo explained to us why ice is blue, demonstrating how blue and red photons work. He also played us a moving piece of classical music by Ludovico Einaudi called “Elegy for the Arctic” in front of a glacier.

After dinner we were spoiled and a blue whale showing itself at the entrance of the fjord. It fluked multiple times, diving deep underneath the water to look for krill and other crustaceans. Around 23:00 we passed by the Island Moffen, which meant that we had passed by the 80 North latitude, only 600 nautical miles away from the North Pole. What a way to end and a perfect day!

Day 4: Pack ice and Polar bear encounter

Pack ice and Polar bear encounter
Date: 09.07.2023
Position: 80°.37.0’N / 017°34.2’E
Wind: W 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +1

After our wakeup call, we were able to see a beautiful sun shining outside. The mist surrounding the ship made it just the more mysterious and magical. During the morning, we started to see more and more ice around the ship. It kept on building up until we could see nothing more than sea ice and mist.

As our fear of seeing nothing but Arctic mist rose, the weather gods must have heard us: the dreadful yet mystical conglomeration of low-hanging water particles spread out, and we could see the pack ice in all its glory. Fields of ice stretched to the horizon in various shapes and sizes.

One of our guides, Elizabeth, lifted her binoculars and almost instantly spotted a polar bear on a stretch of ice. Some say Minnesotans are known for their exceptional eyesight. All we know is that she made this morning a spectacular one.

Plancius turned her bow to the fearsome animal. The chunky warrior was invested with devouring the remains of a walrus. A magnificent sight to see two prime Arctic animals on one small stretch of ice. Not long after that, a second bear was spotted heading toward the feast. To our surprise, the animals would not fight each other, rather giving each other turns to eat the now bloody carcass.

This method of tolerating one another provides the animals with less chance of being hurt and improves the rate of survival during summer. Similar behavior can be observed at the buffet of our ship’s restaurant. The rate of survival on board is thus significantly improved among hungry passengers.

Besides a few growls to one another, the two bears were minding their own business. At one point we could witness the approach of another fine specimen. A slender and pristine white female made her appearance. The entrance to the scene was not only noticed by the baffled passengers. The two male bears seemed stunned as well, sniffing and puffing towards the enticing female.

The female seemed quite interested in Plancius. After some much-needed rolling in the snow, she made her way to the aft of the vessel, approaching at a distance so close we could meet her eye to eye. What a sight to see these normally solitary animals interact on that small stretch of ice! Even the bird lovers could rejoice, as the scene was filled with ivory gulls, scavengers dressed in plumage of purest white.

After a few hours on deck, we would have frozen if it were not for the hot chocolate (with a little something extra) provided by Andy and friends. Warm and satisfied, we sailed farther into the pack ice.

In the evening, we were treated to an informative mini lecture by Chris on the different types of ice in the polar regions. Philipp explained the plan for the next day, which looked promising, and Elizabeth showed us some of her fine photography and video footage from earlier that day. All in all, an incredibly exciting day.

Day 5: Oxfordhalvøya, Palanderbukta

Oxfordhalvøya, Palanderbukta
Date: 10.07.2023
Position: 79°45.8’N / 021°31.6’E
Wind: NE 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +2

The gloomy and cold morning greeted us with a wind that was eager to sneak under our collars, dampening any desire to be outside in the fresh air. But we were not giving up so easily. After a whole day spent on a ship amidst the ice of the Arctic Ocean, we had two landings planned. So we woke up, had breakfast, and off we went!

Plancius slowly moved along the Vahlenbergfjorden until it reached the Oxfordhalvøya Peninsula. The anchor was dropped and the Zodiacs were lowered into the water. In groups of ten, we descended into the Zodiacs, settled onto the pontoons, and grabbed onto the safety lines. The motors roared, the wind tousled our hair, salty sea spray flew in all directions. We sped forward, cutting through the waves.

We stepped onto shore, looked around, and couldn’t believe our eyes. Is this Spitsbergen? Instead of sharply peaked mountains and flower-covered tundra, we saw a completely lifeless yellowish ground, low mountains with perfectly flat summits, and stretches of vast glaciers reaching the sea. This was Nordaustlandet, the Northwest Land, the second-largest island in the archipelago and a true Arctic desert.

Sand, rocks, and ice — that's all it consists of. Nevertheless, could there be a more suitable place to fully appreciate the ascetic and minimalist beauty of high latitudes? Nordaustlandet is famous for being home to two ice domes, Vestfonna and Austfonna. As for the latter, it is the third-largest ice dome on our planet.

We divided into groups and set off. Silence surrounded us, disturbed only by the sound of the wind and the crunching of our footsteps. Along the way, we occasionally came across sparse vegetation: Svalbard poppies, swaying with their snowy white flowers and bending to the ground under the gusts of wind. The spider plant, resembling a creature from a horror movie, scared us with its red shoots that resemble spider legs. Moss campion remained as purple as ever, while mountain avens stretched its white flowers here and there.

Suddenly, someone in our group noticed a barely discernible moving dot traversing the plain. It was an Arctic fox sniffing around in search of something to feast upon. An Arctic skua circled above it, flapping its wings menacingly, making it clear to the fox that it should make itself scarce.

Out of nowhere, a pair of Spitsbergen reindeer appeared, walking toward us. We froze in place. They approached closer, observing us with curiosity, and then gracefully trotted away, disappearing from sight.

We returned to the ship, had lunch, and rested up for the next landing. Today's lunch was vegetarian, which is perhaps for the best. In the evening a barbecue was scheduled, so for now we enjoyed some plant-based food.

Plancius continued along the Vahlenbergfjorden toward the west, then turned south into the Palanderbukta and dropped anchor across from the Zeipelodden Valley. Enough sleeping. It was time to get dressed, grab our cameras, and disembark!

The landscapes in Palanderbukta were no less picturesque than those in Oxfordhalvøya. As we ascended the slope, we suddenly came across whale bones: old, weathered, covered in lichens, and porous. Moss was growing around them. It became immediately clear that they had been lying here for a very long time. How did they end up here? The secret lies in the fact that the coastline used to be right here.

During the last glaciation, under the enormous weight of the glacier, the Earth's crust bent downward. When the glacier retreated, the Earth's crust, relieved of the burden of the icy armor, began to arch backward and rise upward. As a result, the coastline started to shift. And so it happened that the whale washed ashore thousands of years ago now lies a few hundred meters from the present-day shore.

What is that white amid the rocks? We approached and found the skeleton of a polar bear. Even the left canine tooth was preserved in its upper jaw.

The time came to return. We were all tired but satisfied. How wonderful it was to stroll along the shore after a whole day on board. In the evening, a barbecue awaited us on the aft deck. We dressed warmly, took our seats at the tables, and eagerly indulged in the meat. Above us on the fourth deck, our chef Ivan skillfully wielded tongs and a knife, flipping the meat sizzling on the coals. It's hot in his "kitchen," the meat crackled, and the smoke carried a pleasant aroma.

Day 6: Alkefjellet, Viberbukta

Alkefjellet, Viberbukta
Date: 11.07.2023
Position: 79°34.3’N / 018°37.7’E
Wind: SE 4
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +2

After yesterday's lunar landscape, it was time for us to be reminded about places where life can thrive plentifully. Hence we set course for a place called Alkefjellet, a cliff that stands out of the water on the northeast coast of Lomfjordhalvøya. It is here where thousands of Brünich’s guillemots nest together, sharing the little spaces left at the top of the highly eroded cliffs.

The night before, we were concerned about the weather for the coming days, since a warm front was expected to arrive to the northern part of the archipelago, bringing with it several banks of fog. Therefore to our delight, the day broke with blue skies and some distant clouds that were hanging high in the sky. We approached the cliffs without problems and under excellent weather conditions.

Shortly after 9:15, the convoy of small boats departed Plancius, heading to the southeast corner of Lomfjordhalvøya, where numerous waterfalls descend toward the sea. The scene was of a special beauty. Black doldrite columns emerged from the surface of the ocean. Here and there between the columns, we could see little crevices where water from the glacier above runs into waterfalls.

As we moved from the southeast to the northeast, the cliffs started to become higher and their coloration changed. From black dolorite, the cliffs turned white-yellowish with some green spots where grass grows and some spots where snow has not have melted. The first color is due to the guano of the thousands of birds that nest here. Every summer these cliffs get a thick coat of guano, and over hundreds of years these cliffs eventually change color.

As if the landscape itself would not be breathtaking and unforgettable, the noise of the place is truly magical. The area receives the visitor with a loud cacophony of bird's chirps that simply overwhelms any other sounds around us. Thousands of guillemots squeaking and screeching in unison can make an everlasting impression.

As we drove, the sounds became louder and also the numbers of birds flying above us. We reached the northernmost end of the cliff, and a lonely Arctic fox appeared, carrying prey on its mouth. The animal had not fully adopted the summer camouflage, and its tail revealed its movements against the background. This fox climbed high until reaching the base of the cliffs and disappeared toward its den.

The grand finale of this impressive Zodiac cruise was a peek to the front of the Odinbreen glacier, a small glacier that descends into the ocean at this location. The black and white of the columns was soon replaced by the endless succession of blues, greens, and whites of the ice.

Here at this place where ice meets the ocean, something very colorful and interesting happens: the murky under glacier rivers carrying sediments meet the blue waters of the Hinlopen Strait, producing a beautiful contrast of colors. The whole morning left us with deep and lasting impressions of the majestic place. Shortly before noon, the last passengers returned to Plancius, ready to enjoy a good meal from our restaurant.

As we were disembarking the last Zodiac boat, a thick layer of fog started to enclose everything around us, covering any landmark visible from the ship. As we sailed farther south into Hinlopen strait, we realized this fog bank was larger and thicker than expected. Consequently, we decided to abort the landing we had planned for the afternoon. Instead we decided to sail farther south, aiming for a place clear of fog.

We sailed toward an open bay located at the southwest part of Nordauslandet under the name of Viberbukta. Under the fog we feel powerless because none of our possible activities can take place. Nevertheless, fog is an excellent excuse to offer a lecture. Koen spoke during the early afternoon about the history of Svalbard, giving a superb lecture about the past and present of this beautiful archipelago.

Around 16:00 the fog lifted and we could see land again. We decided to launch our Zodiacs and attempt our landing at Viberbukta as planned. We launched initially two Zodiacs for scouting the place. Due to the fact that most of the bay of Viberbukta is not surveyed, the shuttle from Plancius to shore was longer than usual. As we came close to the shore, we started to scout for polar bears and soon. We realized there was a mysterious shape behind a dune located in front of our planned landing site. As we came closer, this mysterious shape lifted its head in a way that only one animal does: a polar bear. We immediately aborted any attempt of landing here and we instead decided to take guests on a Zodiac cruise to see the bear.

We then had the chance to approach the shore of Viberbukta and were lucky enough to see two bears behind the dunes of this polar desert landscape. We spent one hour enjoying the views of these distant bears before we came back to the ship.

As we left Viberbukta, we started to sail towards Bråsvelbreen, a 45km long and 20km wide glacier located in the southern part of the region of Austfonna in Nordauslandet. Bråsvelbreen means "the budden swell glacier" in Norwegian due to the multiple and spectacular waterfalls. These waterfalls are part of a drainage system to transport ice from central parts towards the coast from the ice cap. The waterfalls drop water from a height of about 25-30m above the ice cliffs.

This part of our passage was extremely beautiful in terms of the icy landscape, the icebergs floating in the water, and the light we had aroundwas very special. This was one of the most spectacular evenings on board since the beginning of our trip.

The day concluded with an extraordinary sight. Shortly before midnight, when most of the ship was already sleeping, an announcement on the PA system came through: a polar bear was sighted on one of the floating icebergs around the ship. A pandemonium broke out and most of our guests came out from bed to witness another polar bear. We believed this one was a healthy male having a siesta after feeding on a dead seal. This sight marked the end of yet another very intense day in our arctic expedition around Spitsbergen.

Day 7: Kapp Lee/ Walrus – Russe Bukta

Kapp Lee/ Walrus – Russe Bukta
Date: 12.07.2023
Position: 78°07.1’N / 020°47.1’E
Wind: NE 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

After breakfast we quickly found out from Phillip that our plans were changed due to the mist outside. As there was not even a coastline to see, this was a likely outcome. We were told that the ship would keep on sailing west through the strait to see if the mist would lift at a certain point. It didn’t take longer than an hour and the mist started to lift, reminding us of the beautiful scenery we were surrounded by.

The plans were to land at Kapp Lee. Here we got the chance to see walruses lying on one of their known haul out points. As we were a little bit delayed, the plans were made so that the ship was split into two groups, each had a chance to see the walruses for about an hour in total.

The outing started shortly after the announcement, when our expedition team was ready to receive the first group on the beach. It was an easy landing on a sandy beach just about 300m away from the group of walruses laying further ahead. After everybody arrived and we got our instructions, we started to walk along the beach in the direction of the animals. This particular group was made out of purely male walruses, as they normally only haul out in groups of the same sex.

To make sure not to scare the walruses into the water, we approached very quietly and slowly made a long line out of everybody facing the walruses. Seeing that the group was relaxed with us being there, we were led by Phillip to get a few meters closer. This happened a couple of times until we were only around 60m away from them.

A few of them went into the water, and a couple of them came out replacing their spots. Their presence surely made a big impression on us and especially in our noses. Walruses are known to leave a strong odor after having eaten a couple of dozen kilos of mussels and other shellfish. After having spent some time with these huge creatures, we retreated to our Zodiac landing area to return to the ship.

The second group started to arrive as well at that moment and gathered around Phillip for the same instructions. Approaching the walruses, we could see and sense that they were already quite relaxed with us being there, so we got to the 60m line quite quickly. While taking pictures of the harem and the swimming walruses, we got exciting news: there was a group of belugas coming our way into the bay. Phillip quickly let the bridge know to advise the people on the ship to look into the bay with binoculars and telescopes. From the beach we got a really good view of the belugas and were able to estimate the size of the group.

The group was made of around 6 to 8 individuals with calves by their side who still were more of a grey colour instead of the white colour of the adults. A sighting that not many people get to see knowing that there are only about 500 individuals living around Svalbard. After this great experience, the second group also went back to the Zodiacs to get back to the ship for our well-deserved lunch.

Our afternoon activities were still a little bit unsure, as there was still some mist on the coast. But this luckily got worked out, as the fog was not a problem at our next landing site. The following site we visited was called Russebukta. A beautiful bay in a relatively flat area surrounded by many green mosses, flowers, black basalt rocks, and a lot of wildlife. A paradise that we got to explore. The landing was a bit tricky, with some big steps getting up to the first plateau, but from there it was mostly spongy green moss which was very comfortable to walk on.

The long hike was able to get ahead of the other groups and experienced a beautiful encounter with Arctic foxes. Two foxes had a small quibble and got physical with each other. There were also a couple of Svalbard reindeer with large antlers grazing in the large open fields. Finally we made it to a high viewpoint where a lake was observed that was filled with geese. Mainly pink-footed geese were observed, but there were also a couple of barnacle geese. There even seemed to be two fully white barnacle geese, which is a rare sight.

The participants of the middle group made their way directly to the small lake that was situated a little bit above the starting point. Here there were multiple birds spotted like the barnacle goose, arctic tern, grey phalarope, and the long-tailed duck. The hike kept on going over the mossy tundra, where flowers like cotton grass and drooping saxifrage gave a beautiful color to the green fields. At the highest point, the same two reindeer were spotted with the large antlers and the far lake filled with pink footed goose.

Hiking in the slower group never means you see less, and this time this was certainly not the case. Taking a different route further to the east, similar birds and flowers were observed, along with an amazing discovery: the skeleton of a fully grown polar bear. The bones were a little bit scattered among the area, but many were found and observed. The cranium and lower jaw bones were almost completely intact, which gave a great insight into the gigantic teeth the bear uses to hunt its prey.

Day 8: Treskelen Threshold and Burgerbukta

Treskelen Threshold and Burgerbukta
Date: 13.07.2023
Position: 76°59.7’N / 016°04.0E
Wind: NE 6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

This morning we woke to Philip’s friendly wakeup call at 7.15 to find that it was very windy outside. We continued to enter Hornsund Fjord as we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, but the wind direction for our morning landing was not workable. As we went farther in the fjord, we set out to go on shore at Treskelen Threshold.

The Zodiacs dropped us onto an interesting beach of stones and Siberian driftwood. We split into our groups and set off to explore. To north and south there were fascinating rock formations of marble, sandstone, conglomerate stone, and some crazy red layers sandwiched all together as well. From the layers of rock by the shore side we climbed up towards the mountainous piles of moraine boulders where we found a couple of small lakes and wetland areas.

Eventually our exploration led us back to the stony beach, and onto a Zodiac where we were transported back to our good ship Plancius for a delicious lunch.

After lunch we cruised the Hornbreen glacier before anchoring just off Burgerbukta West fjord. Here we lowered Zodiacs and cruised in gusty winds toward the distant Paieribreen Glacier. As we entered the fjord, the wind dropped and the mountains towered above us on each side. High up on the sides were hanging glaciers with tumbling waterfalls appearing from springs in the rockface far below their icy source.

We arrived at the carving front of the main glacier and were met by a solid 25m wall of blue ice cracked and crinkled by the pressure of millions of years of glacial movement. We witnessed two small carvings throughout our time there, and we had such fun driving through the brash ice from previous carvings. When we turned the engine off and sat quietly, we could hear the distinct popping noise the trapped air bubbles make as they escape their icy prison of so many years.

Shortly before 6pm, we drove full speed back to the ship over the glassy calm ocean. Some puffins circled across the Zodiacs. Tired but happy guests climbed back up the gangway. At the recap we learned about the movement of Svalbard over the last 500 million years with Koen, and Chris told us stories about exploring crevasses.

Day 9: Alkhornet

Date: 14.07.2023
Position: 78°13.042’N / 013°51.460’E
Wind: NE 6
Weather: Clear sky
Air Temperature: +13

This morning we woke up to find windy conditions that made it impossible to carry out our initial landing plans at Ingeborgfjellet, so instead we set off to find shelter in Recherchebreen.

Unfortunately, a technical hitch with our Zodiac crane meant we were unable to land there either, so in true expedition style we set off to our next planned landing in the afternoon. In the meantime, the expedition team gave some short lectures in the lounge about seals, icebergs, and space experiments in Svalbard. Sasha then showed us a charming short documentary about his time living and working in Pyramiden.

In the afternoon we were able to land at a beautiful place called Alkhornet, where a spectacular mountain face towers over 600m above the sea. It is home to hundreds of seabirds nesting on the cliff edge, particularly kittiwakes and Brunnich’s guillemots. We split into our usual hiking groups for the final time and enjoyed fantastic close-up views of Svalbard reindeer. The groups that climbed up the hill spotted an Arctic fox hunting on the bottom on the nesting seabirds.

After our hikes, some brave guests took a cold dip in the ocean. We call this the “polar plunge.” Then we returned to Plancius and celebrated our last evening together with the captain, enjoying a fantastic slide show from Elizabeth. This enabled us to relive our wonderful experiences over the last ten days.

Day 10: Arrival back into Longyearbyen

Arrival back into Longyearbyen
Date: 15.07.2023
Position: 78°14.6’N / 015°32.6’E
Wind: NW 3
Weather: Clear sky
Air Temperature: +14

After a final wonderful buffet breakfast, we said farewell to Plancius and its team and began our journey home. Our wildlife encounters on this trip have been truly spectacular. For many of the guides, it was their best whale and polar bear sightings. For the most part, the weather was fantastic. We loved making our voyage together.


Tripcode: PLA07-23
Dates: 6 Jul - 15 Jul, 2023
Duration: 9 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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Our most longstanding vessel, Plancius is a classic choice for some of our most popular polar voyages.

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