If a person is fortunate, he or she can choose to spend time in the wilder parts of our planet. Replacing the routine and demands of everyday life, even for a short time, with a life in close contact to nature is an uplifting tonic.
Spitsbergen is the perfect place for such a tonic; 78° north, cold and austere, a land of mountains and ice.
The absolute best way to discover an island such as Spitsbergen is by sea and so our floating base camp for this adventure was the 45’ yacht Aleiga, owned and skippered by Swede Niklas Gerhardsson. Our initial plans to sail to the far North West of the island were thwarted by an unusual amount of sea ice blown by the wind and carried by the currents from the ice bound east coast of Svalbard. Unconcerned by our rebuttal by the elements we turned our attention to the delights of the huge Isfjorden, surrounded as it is by skiing objectives.
With the sun some 10° above the horizon at midnight skiing can be enjoyed at any time of day and all one needs to ensure is that enough sleep is had and food eaten. With two superb guitarists on board and much laughter our only rule was that we got up 8 hours after we went to bed. This rule was respected on all but one occasion, so beautiful was the day that to sleep any longer would have been wrong.
Accompanying the music and laughter was mixed weather with some glorious days, great skiing and new experiences such as mooring to sea ice and watching polar bears in their natural habitat. The latter on one occasion prevented us from re-joining the yacht as planned. We had no desire to bring into action our 45-70 calibre hunting rifle so we waited patiently. There was no hurry.
Svalbard is a no-man’s land under Norwegian jurisdiction where anyone can live if they can support themselves. Coal was the traditional economic mainstay and we enjoyed skiing through the Russian coal mining town of Barentsburg on a fittingly cold, grey and snowy day. Likewise our visit to the abandoned Soviet mining town of Pyramiden accompanied by Sasha the Chinese, Spanish and English speaking Russian caretaker. A Communist show case to the west in the 70’s and 80’s and home to 900 or so Russians, Pyramiden is now a Mary Celeste-like ghost town.