Today was our first and only free day and it came as a welcome break from lectures. The group consensus was for some exercise along the mountains surrounding Longyearbyen. We assembled early, much to some peoples despair, and began our climb up the sloppy muddy ridge at the south end of the beach end of town. The track turned to loose rock and then we were soon in snow. The weather was grey and we ascended into the cold cloud eventually coming out into clear skies. The jackets went away and the shades and sunglasses came out. 'Waterproof' shoes proved otherwise. Hiking in snow was a brand new experience for at least one member of the group and a bit out of the ordinary for a number of us. We summated mt Trollsteinen (~850m), took in the fantastic view of the Svalbard mountainscape, threw snowballs at each other and then tobogganed across to Sarkofagen (the coffin). We descended down the Larsbreen glacier and took in a good view of the rock glacier at the bottom. 21 bear-aware international students completed the ~15km trip in 3 groups and we were only mistaken for tourists once (the outrage!). We had an excellent buffet dinner at the Radisson polar hotel and stuffed ourselves with a plethora of dishes including seal and whale. I enjoyed exploring and appreciated the experience of climbing the mountains which encase the arctic town where we live and study. The company was second to none.
Sean Buchanan (New Zealand)
Today was our free day during the 3 week IPY field school so all of us wanted to plan something fun to do for the day. We found a schedule of local activities going on from the museum in UNIS and decided that a boat trip may be fun. Two of us ended up booking a 9 hour boat trip to the town of Pyramiden, which is located at the end of Isfjorden. We departed around 8:30 AM along with about 10 others that were visiting Svalbard as well. As we headed east into the fjord we enjoyed views of the mountains with a low cloud deck covering the tops and many sea birds flew along nearby. Along the trip we passed the oldest standing house on Svalbard and also saw a bearded seal sitting on a piece of sea ice. We also went by several bird cliffs and enjoyed the Little Auks and Puffins that passed us by.
The clouds began to clear as we came up on the sea ice pack that had been broken up the previous day. We also had great views of Nordenskiold glacier as we passed through the sea ice and pulled into the bay. It was the first time that a ship was able to make it to the dock in the old abandoned Russian mining town of Pyramiden since the fjord froze over last fall, and as we climbed down to the dock our guide started jumping and yelling… she was so excited to have finally been able to make it to the town… haha.
The town is named for the “Pyramid” shaped top on the local mountain. Walking around the town was very eerie. The old mining town was abandoned in 1998 when all of its 900 residents left for Barentsburg, another Russian settlement at the edge of the fjord. It literally looked as if everyone had simply up and left Pyramiden overnight! Playground swings still rocked in the wind, a chair was lying on its side near a sidewalk, and a child’s sled waited for a rider near the living quarters they called “Madhouse” (it was where the families with children stayed). There were 2 other buildings for the singles in town… the single women stayed in “Paris”… and the single men stayed in “London”… and it was said that when London and Paris met… they wound up in the “Madhouse”. Many of the buildings still so new! There was a school, community center with a statue of Lenin outside, and recreation center complete with a pool. I was just waiting for kids to come running out of one of the buildings.
There are now only 2 individuals that stay in the town over the winter just to keep the settlement in order. We actually had the pleasure of meeting one of those individuals while walking around town. It was the first time he had seen another human aside from the one other man here since the fall.
His name was Afghani… and his story was haunted by sad memories. He was originally from Ukraine and his family lived in this town. While walking around town I enjoyed his company as we tried to talk in broken English with the others. He told me that they have no rifle to protect from polar bears so they tend to stay close to the buildings all winter. He and the other man spent evenings learning English from books, reading, lifting weights, and boxing. Afghani also took in a local stray cat that he named “Cat”. As we departed to the boat it was sad to see him standing alone on the dock. It was then that the tour guide informed me that he lost all of his family… mother, father, and sister… on the plane crash a few years back near Longyearbyen. A Russian plane had been chartered to fly family and workers back to Svalbard to live at the settlement and all lives onboard were lost as the plane crashed into a mountain in a winter storm. The guide told me he made a promise to his father to wait for him here and sent his daughter, who is now 11 back to Ukraine. He still writes to her but that is his only communication. As we departed I was saddened by this man’s story. He had such a hard life living alone here. While we were walking around in town he said it’s very lonely but he described the views and quiet surroundings in town as “Paradise”. Learning about his story really puts a place like Svalbard into perspective. Times have been hard here yet the views are amazing.
Overall it was a wonderful day to take in the sights and history in this amazing Arctic island. It is so nice to really talk with the people in the places you live in and travel to. I think that as scientists we sometimes get wrapped up in the data and science, overlooking the human aspects and impacts. It’s nice reminder to look beyond the science every now and then, and really listen to the people. I know Afghani’s story and this trip will stick with me for some time to come.
Becky Legatt (Alaska)
What is IPY
Monday, 22 June 2009 10:18
HIking with the IPY Polar Field School- June 22ndWritten by lizthomas
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