day 1 (Oslo)
day 2 (Svalbard)
day 3 (Spitsbergen)
day 4 (Walrus)
day 5 (Fann Kapshaw)
day 6 (Polar Bears)
day 7 (More Bears!)
day 8 (Glaciers)
day 9 (Settlements)
day 10 (Going home)

Safety briefings and settling in.

These are not relaxing cruises, with a pool and long stretches of doing nothing. Not on a NG trip. Up at 6:30, general announcements over breakfast, and then suiting up in waterproof everything to head off on a three mile hike over rocks and through streams.

Morning was taken up with mandatory briefings on safety ("if you are on shore, and see a polar bear, this is NOT a photo opportunity. Do NOT step away from the group. You are a slow, fat, tasty snack to a polar bear.") and the rules about hiking/walking on the tundra ("there is lots of mud right now. If someone gets stuck in the mud, do NOT try to help them. You will get stuck in the mud. Eventually EVERYONE will be stuck in he muad and we wil have to post a sentry while we send for help. That is probably the time you will see polar bears. At least we will know you cannot stray from the group.")

  • Above the arctic circle
  • Mark taking macro pictures of teensy flowers
  • Weird circular frost-heaves Weird circular frost-heaves Wierd circular frost-heaves that push the rocks into rings
  • Compressed blue ice from a glacier
  • Recently calved iceberg and birds
  • A cargo ship along the base of the ice-floe
  • Scant remaind of a scientific outpost
  • Dozens of windflowers
  • Arctic poppy, all of two inches tall
  • Running caribou (also very small!)
  • Walking back to the landing to board the zodiacs
  • Startling colors of ice
  • Leading edge of the ice-wall, just before it drops into the sea
  • Bearded seal, on the smallest piece of ice it can find
  • Ice chunks falling into the water

They're serious about it. After the briefings about being eaten by polar bears or sucked into the pits of tundra mud, the standard life-boat drill was anticlimactic. Oh, we all paid attention, since no one wants to end up in the freezing water, but we're all too enamored of the idea of seeing polar bears and narwhals.

The packing list for the expedition includes fully waterproof, knee-high boots (we got Arctic Muck Boots, and appreciated their warmth), rain pants, waterproof gloves, a parka, wool hat, long underwear and various other arctic weather gear. So, of course,it's 45 degrees outside and sunny. Not that you don't need the waterproof bits -- we were in water up to our knees, ice water, more than once. The wind picks up and is pretty fierce, and while nearly everyone took off their parka at some point during the walk, because we got too warm, by the time we headed back to the ship, we were all tightening the laces on our hoods and tucking our gloved hands in our pockets.

For our first walk on land, we had a few options and headed off with a naturalist who explained that the flat, windswept rocky beaches actually do have a ton of life on them -- even if that life is a forest of teensy little plants that never get more than an inch or so tall. It's mid-summer, and the growing season is in high-gear, with every single plant that can manage it is putting forth leaves and flowers and stretching up as high as it can to spread seeds. You can read more about the flowers and plants on Svalbard here.

There are trees on the islands. Tiny, lilliputian, microscopic willow trees, an inch tall. Everyone spent time laying on the ground to get pictures of the tiny flowers. It's just so amazing that anything green grows here at all. The bulk of the plants and animals here are lichens and mosses and funguses, and they blanket the scattered stones in a dazzling array of colors. You could spend years studying the various species of lichen that grow on a single island.