When it is dark in the east, it is light in the west; when things are dark in the south there is still light in the north.
The beauty of the snow covered peaks of Svalbard is overwhelming. It must be one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Once arrived and after I picked up my luggage, I searched quickly for my car, threw the luggage into the 4×4 and sprinted to the edge of the smooth hill at the edge of Longyearbyen airport, just to look at the sea, mountains and glaciers.
Svalbard is an archipelago at 79° north in the Arctic Ocean. I have always been in love with the harsh nature and environment of the arctics. To me Svalbard is impossible to describe in words. It is so far off from anything I have seen and experienced before.
This was an eight day trip only at the beginning of September 2014, but I used weeks to plan and read up everything what interested me. It was not meant to be a longer trip and I planned it to be more an exploration journey: just to feel and test out conditions for a possible, longer trip.
I live in Northern Norway, so harsh weather conditions, long distances, improvisation and absolute solitude are not entirely new to me – I love them.
I am feeling very lucky and privileged that I could stay at a cabin outside of Longyearbyen. Probably, I could write a book with all my impressions, however, I want to keep it short here and let my captured impressions speak for themselves.
The archipelago is over 60,000 square kilometers. There are no trees. That means you have – weather permitting – extreme visibility across very long distances. Kilometers in the field appear by eye as just a few hundreds of meters.
No one is allowed to leave Longyearbyen unarmed. At least one person in a group should carry a rifle. If you plan to go for yourself, as I did, apply the permission to carry and borrow a rifle from the Governor of Svalbard (Sysselmannen) before you start your travel. Further, I would recommend to lend a lighter, contemporary rifle since the cheapest option, a German WWII Mauser, may be a reliable weapon, however, it is extremely heavy.
I am a brown bear researcher. I live where brown bears live and I move through forests in bear lands and I do not fear those animals. On Svalbard live approximately 3,000 polar bears. Even though direct contact between humans and polar bears occur rather seldom, as polar bears roam areas in the north and the east of the archipelago, some individuals may show up near the few human settlements in the west. (However, this number is increasing and more and more contacts are reported.) And other than brown bears, polar bears are extremely dangerous and an attack may occur instantly and in a rapid velocity. This made me thinking while hiking through the amazing landscape: all of a sudden me, myself, I am prey. The awareness that there is another creature on this island, which would like to kill and eat me within a heartbeat, that was the most interesting and unexpected experience I had.
I realized a longer trip to and on Svalbard would require perfect planning. The terrain is hard to access (in autumn) and the mosaic of rocks and swampy ground makes it sometimes very exhausting and tiresome, especially when you carry a lot of (camera) gear. Further, for such an environment, I have to improve my personal fitness. But that what this trip was about: to find out how it is and what I may have to do (or not).
I pretty much enjoyed the possibility to go anywhere you like. On Svalbard are hardly any restricted areas and that creates the feeling of unrestrained freedom. You just need to notify the office of the Governor of Svalbard beforehand if heading out for a longer trip.
Longyearbyen is a small but very international town. The people are outgoing and extremely friendly. In town you get everything you need and the supermarket is very well equipped, despite its location. Walking through town may appear at first glance as you would imagine the Wild West: numerous people wearing rifles (unloaded; ammunition and bolt have to be removed from the rifle when entering the town area).
Overall, this was one of the best trips I made. Just eight days for plenty of impressions and the desire to get more of it.
And I can’t wait to get to work with the analogue shots I have been taken during this trip to Svalbard.
I close with some more snapshots and pics of Svalbard, travel and preps.
Photos were taken in September 2014 at Svalbard with a Nikon D7000, Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 & Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 and some with my iPhone.
I would like to thank Reuben Wu for his help and information while planning my trip. Also I would like to express my gratitude to Bjørn and Tor-Arne for their support.