Here is a quick update on the first stage of our circumnavigation of Nordaustlandet. We have been busy pushing out some big days hence the lack of blog updates. More coming soon.. I promise!
Spitsbergen to Nordaustlandet
On the 21st of July we crossed back south over the 80th parallel and collected the remainder of our food which we had stashed while we relocated our food drop down Hinlopen Strait. As we had paddled through the night, we spent the day sleeping in turns and reloading our boats with 30 days worth of food. That evening we pushed away and paddled into the night, following the same piece of coast which we had passed two times already. The mountains lined the horizon in the distance and the land around us was flat, wind swept and barren, with only a lone reindeer roaming in search of food. We stopped by a small hut for a feed and took photos of a giant walrus rolling around on the beach. Despite all the stories we had been told, these incredible creatures have neither been intimidating nor psycho killers. All our encounters have been very placid – they’ve been a little curious but have kept their distance.. even if we have not necessarily kept ours. After a few more hours of paddling we pulled up onto a beach for the night. We lifted our boats clear of the high tide line I soon discovered the paw prints which Jaime had casually mentioned in a ‘ain’t nothing’ kind of way.. turns out they were huge polar bear prints and we were camping 20m from them!
14hrs later I was glad to leave as we set off across Hinlopen Strait into a band of fog. It took us around 5hours to paddle the 25km to the other side. Nordaustlandet, or North East Land is the second biggest of Svalbard’s islands, and can be considered the true crux of our circumnavigation. Both the last two kayak attempts were brought to a sudden end here, barely a quarter of the way around the Island. I sensed there was an unspoken fear among all of us – we were now in prime polar bear territory, the ice charts still showed the entire northern coast remained packed with ice, and a huge amount of uncertainty lingered in the air. As we paddled into a small bay the buildings of an abandoned research base appeared through the fog.. the whole place looked pretty creepy and I would rather have camped, but at the same time buildings create security for us from the bears. We still take turns on bear watch to make sure our kayaks are safe, and especially with such poor visibility it was a relief to seek shelter. Even though a dozen buildings scattered the bay, the only one which had a fire happened the be the sauna. So we moved in.
The floor, roof and walls were rotten and all I could think about was sweating naked people, but warmth was so so inviting. Then came the realisation that the fire and the chimney were buggered.. soooo disappointing and our new home was now filled with smoke! Again, it was a place I was glad to leave the next day. After two more days of paddling we arrived at an awesome hut under a huge cliff on the edge of Brennevinsfjorden. For the next 6 days the hut became our home. Each day we waited anxiously on the ice charts, hoping for a sign of the miraculous break up of the ice. We sat watching a band of ice on the horizon shift with the changing winds and sheets of ice being blown out of the fiord. The ice edge lay less than 10km away, and the entire northern coast of Nordaustlandet still remained packed with ice. Everything seemed to have gone smoothly until this point but it seemed that nature was hindering us from achieving the impossible dream. All we could do was sit, wait and hope.
To be continued…