The Arctic

Glaciers everywhere you look

Glaciers everywhere you look

(Dana) The Arctic. A place where the sun never sets in the summer…literally. Where the only metropolis boasts 1,800 inhabitants. That has no recorded history before the early 1500’s. Where it’s 40-degrees F during the hottest month of July. Where glaciers drop building-size icebergs into the clear water. Where it’s so sparse you can go days without seeing other human beings. Whose indigenous animals are polar bears and walruses. That global warming could destroy in a few decades.

Exactly why our family of 6explorers headed to the Arctic for a summer vacation. Our epic 2010 adventure was organized around the mantra of “while we still can.” We strove to find places that would not be the same in twenty years…to see places, people and animals that were changing way too fast. After being dazzled by the Antarctic four years ago, I added the Arctic to our target list. As a result, 21 hours after leaving Dover, we arrived in Longyearbyen (population 1,800), on the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard Archipelago. 78’13” North. Looking at the maps, we realized that there is very little land north of this latitude on the planet – just the top of Greenland, a small piece of Siberia and Canada, and Franz Josef Land. Perfect.

Mountains next to fjords

Mountains next to fjords

Friends didn’t quite understand the draw. “You’re going where?” “Where will you stay?” “What will you do?” “Why?” In Longyearbyen, we boarded the Ocean Nova, a 78-person expedition ship run by Quark and staffed by an incredible team of 10 naturalists, historians, geologists, zoologists and marine biologists. We set out on a 12-day adventure that would include twice-daily excursions (if not canceled by ice or fog), either by zodiac, foot or kayak.
Some general impressions:
Huge ice, tiny zodiacs

Huge ice, tiny zodiacs


* Like the Antarctic, the Arctic is vast. The scale is mindboggling. One day we kayaked in front of Monaco Glacier whose face is approximately 5km long. The 10-person zodiacs looked like ants parading past a log. And Monaco was just one of 6 different glaciers visible from where we sat. Another day we kayaked in the bay of a valley flanked by 700-foot tall granite walls. Greg spotted a waterfall “nearby” and wanted to investigate. “Nearby” turned out to be a 5-minute zodiac ride or a 25-minute paddle away. Immense.

In 10 days, we saw 6 dwellings

In 10 days, we saw 6 dwellings

* It’s empty. Few humans beyond trappers, researchers and tourists spend time in the Arctic. While we are hiking, it’s easy to believe that you are the only human being that has ever put a foot down on that particular square-foot of this earth. One day we sat silently on the tundra and literally heard nothing – no animals, insects, people, transportation – nothing.

Boom! An iceberg is born

Boom! An iceberg is born (Hung Tsui)

* Ice is mesmerizing… Booms echo across the bay as the glacier cracks and calves icebergs into the water. The chunk that fell from one 150-meter tall glacier face was like a small football stadium, visible even from 1 kilometer away. Sometimes deep blue ice is revealed – ice that is so compressed that it refracts the light around it. It is like looking back in time to think how that piece of ice contains snowflakes that fell tens-of-thousands of years ago and were then compressed for millennia. Even the small ice bits on the water’s surface are entertaining. It crackles-and-pops as the air is released from trapped bubbles. It forms rivers that flow with the currents, attracting other ice to its flow.

Smelly tons of walrus blubber

Smelly tons of walrus blubber

* The animals found here exist nowhere else. Most travelers head to the Arctic to see polar bears, and our sightings did not disappoint (see Alex’s post). But in addition to these incredible creatures, we were fortunate to see two “haul-outs” of walrus, two blue whales, a pod of 50+ white beluga whales, 2 humpback whales, multiple harp/ring/harbor seals, an arctic fox, dozens of reindeer and two dozen species of birds. The animals are elusive, which makes it even more exciting when you see one. The blue whales were an incredible find. Weighing 400,000 pounds and measuring 30+Meters in length, these are the largest animals ever to exist on earth, and only 10,000 exist today. Dual blows, 30-feet tall, alerted us to this amazing chance encounter.

Flying potato

Flying potato

* It is wonderfully entertaining to spend two hours just sitting in a little auk bird colony as thousands of birds come and go. If I sat still, the cheekier ones came within a few feet, presumably squawking at their neighbors about the intruders. Nicknamed “the flying potato,” we watched them beat their wings intensely in preparation for take-off and come in with feet down as rudders for landing. It was hard not to laugh watching them.

1-degree water

1-degree water


* The water is cold! 4 years ago, the 3 girls did an Antarctic polar plunge. This year, all 6 explorers stripped down to their bathing suits in the 40-degree air and ran screaming down the stony beach into the one-degree water. Yes, as in 33-degrees F. It was mind- and body-numbing. Being the swimmer, just like the Arctic, I couldn’t just jump right out. My friend Dwight and I swam about 25 yards, willing our bodies to a state of calm despite the temperature. Definitely a memorable way to finish up a day in the Arctic.

Overall, it was a fabulous summer adventure. The opportunity to experience a vast, pristine, beautiful part of the globe. The fortune to see iconic animals in their natural habitat. The chance to spend two weeks as a family, completely disconnected from all electronic communication. Fantastic.

Santa's reindeer

Santa’s reindeer

Tens of thousands of Brunnichs Guillemots

Tens of thousands of Brunnichs Guillemots
3AM light on the ice3AM light on the ice


Arctic term (Hung Tsui)

Arctic term (Hung Tsui)

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One Response to “The Arctic”

  1. Hi!

    My name is Chloe Baldwin and I work for Original Productions, an Emmy award winning TV production company. We are searching for an adventurous family who is currently on/planning the adventure of a lifetime for an upcoming unscripted series to be featured on the History Channel. I would love to talk to you more about this series! If you are interested, please send me an email at cbaldwin@origprod.com or give me a call at 818.295.6966.

    I look forward to hearing from you!

    Thanks,
    Chloe

    Chloe Baldwin
    Casting Coordinator
    ORIGINAL PRODUCTIONS
    A FremantleMedia Company
    308 W. Verdugo Avenue
    Burbank, CA 91502
    o: 818.295.6966
    c: 603.305.7381