Things are now well underway for our Svalbard expedition this coming June. With Jaime, PG and myself currently scattered around the globe, it hasn’t always been easy to line up the time zones and Skype while we’re all in civilisation. Many of these calls have been in the middle of the night, when we’ve spent hours talking over logistics, strategies and equipment for the journey ahead. To even get to this point feels like an accomplishment in itself, especially with our departure date slowly drawing closer! In less than three months time we will be paddling away from Longyearbyen into an unknown world of sea and ice. Let’s just hope there’s going to be more sea than ice!
It is a little ironic that last week my local newspaper, The Southland Times, published an article with the headline “Arctic sea ice at record winter low.” The article states that the Arctic ice this year is the smallest since satellite records began in 1979. There is no denying that the ice is melting at an alarming rate, and temperatures in the far north are warming at more than twice the speed of the rest of the world. At this rate the Arctic ice sheet will be completely gone by the end of this century, lost forever.
Although this news and the melting ice improve our chances of success, it is not good news for the wildlife of Svalbard. There are an estimated 3000 polar bears on Spitsbergen alone and to hunt, polar bears need ice. They clamber out onto the sea ice to catch seals which are their main source of food, and with the sea ice becoming less and less each summer, the bears are instead forced to roam the beaches in search of food. Not such a good thing for seaside camping..
On the other hand, melting ice is good for us; it heightens our chances of being able to paddle around the second largest island of the archipelago – Nordaustlandet – which sits to the NE and is the crux of the circumnavigation. Some summers this coastline remains choked with ice, others a brief window has opened up, but what will this summer do? will nature allow us to slip past later in the season? There is only one way to find out.
Just last week an eclipse-chasing tourist was attacked by a bear on Spitsbergen and saved only by another group member who shot and killed the bear. It’s a brutal reminder of the reality of this wild landscape that we have chosen to venture into, and we are taking every possible precaution to minimise the chances of being eaten by a bear. We’ve got a trip wire flare system, rifles and flare pistols. On top of this we plan to have one of us awake at all times on ‘bear watch’, something which is achievable with a team of three.
So our next moves from here are to finalise sponsorship of kayaks (which we will announce in the next week), raise the final $15,000 that we need in order to pull this trip off, and have our kayaks shipped to Norway where they will catch a ride north on a ship leaving mid May. I am excited.. let the adventures begin!