After reaching our food depot again our trip was really only half over, we still had a Potential months’ worth of paddling left to cover about 1000kms, and time was running out, by September the fall storms would return and even worse, the midnight sun would start dropping below the horizon starting to give us darkness for a small period of time each day. Low light plus polar bears equals a possibly bad situation. So now that the obvious “crux”, Nordaustlandet, was over we had to stay alert for the last remaining big challenges, getting around Edge Oya, crossing Storfjiorden back to Spitsbergen and rounding Sorkapp (south cape), all before heading up the homeward stretch to return to longyearbyen. Basically… We still have a long way to go, and after the epicenes of Nordaustlandet there was a feeling of anticlimactic motivation, we had certainly taken on a daunting challenge with circumnavigating for the four main islands.
Despite the low energy levels, further increased by almost a weeks’ worth of oppressive dense fog, we set off south again, this time along the east coast of Spitsbergen towards Barents and Edge Oya, it was nice to finally say goodbye to the hinlopenstretet and be aiming for entirely new coasts. Journal entry August 14th “At 3.30am we finally came ashore by a ruin of a cabin; however it was a great place to camp. Bringing the boats up, you could see marks of large walrus on the beach, and the spot was a known walrus pull out. Not half an hour after we started settling in but 2, then 6, walrus turn up on the Hightide and start checking us out and wanting to come ashore. Their grunts and growls reminded me of the sound of an outboard motor running raised in shallow water with a slight chop. It was very cool to be able to get quite close to them in the shallow surf, and film them near the kayaks. Pg even ran screaming at one, and it didn’t even flinch. It was interesting to observe their social interactions during my first watch, though they were too nervous to fully come ashore with even just me present. They move slowly and seem cumbersome on land, though are able to move quite quickly on land if need be.”
The hope of escaping the oppressive sea fog once exiting the hinlopen where quickly dashed, over the coming days we needed to follow compass headings numerous time for extensive crossing through the soupy calm of large glacial bays and eventually the gap between Spitsbergen and Barents Oya the third main island. Barents Oya brought a much needed rest day and eventually sunshine after almost a week of not seeing it. Finally the solar system was getting charged back up and we could get some camera equipment and navigatiin systems back up and running. Things moved alon, all be it slowly until Reaching Blu Bukta on Edge Oya.
I wrote in my journal
“August 17th. Finding camp was fun, we knew that the southern end of the bay was more glacial moraine, which in last experience is dirty and mucky, we thought to stay mid-way where the sea ice started which was nice gravel beaches and lichen land. However we quickly discovered the ice had moved out and we could get all the way down. We pushed a bit further and soon found marshy gloopy beaches, so gambled to go further, and luckily we found dry (yet very sandy) high ground with lots of wood and copious polar bear prints (of mothers and cubs, in fact we could visually see a least 4 polar bear nursery sites in the snow on the far mountainside), we needed to chip ice off the glacial bergs sitting on shore to melt for water as no streams. We settled in for a group meal, and then the gale hit, and we hunkered in for the night and part way during watch realised with this wind we were here for the next day as well. Good thing is though, it should blow away the remaining sea ice (sitting only 1 km off our shore right now) that is blocking parts of the remaining south coast of edge Oya, which should leave us only a 70km glacial front to paddle without navigating through close drift ice.”
“20th August Ice chart shows only one patch of red ice, that is located in our bay, and should be blocking our route around glacial point, can’t see it though. Wind has dropped though still 20knots offshore. Tara and I are not too keen to paddle out On to a coast of 50-70km of inland able glacial cliff with such strong winds and a potential blockage of dense sea ice, the wind could also be increasing around the point being feed off the galcier, or it could be wrapping up from the south making a localized head wind, to many “ifs”. PG got upset at my opposition to his wanting to go and threw his hand in the air walked off”. Group tension was getting high, everyone was tired and stressed, and looking forward to getting home to loved ones and creature comforts, but we couldn’t let our desires get the better of us and influence our choices. There was temptation to push hard into unfavourable conditions though we all roped each other in and kept it as safe as we could. It didn’t help that the landscape had lost its flare in comparison to what we had experienced on Nordaustlandet, and there was not as much adrenaline like stimulation to keep us on a high. Now we had to test our discipline and team dynamics to breaking point.
“August 20th: we hit the water sailing, though chose to veer north to go around ice patch that may be blocking route next to glacier, an extra 5 km and almost 2 hours, we found out we wasted our time and it had been clear the whole way. After lunch in the kayaks next to the glacier in the sun a cloud bank came in and with it a north breeze that we used to sail some 25kms with ease, we then rounded the corner after almost 50km of glacial cliff and touched base on some moraine soil (much larger than on the map due to glacial recession) had emergency toilet stops and then pushed on for another 15km or so sailing along remaing glacial cliff section and then fighting and strong offshore wind hedging the shore until we found a good camp site. As we headed off to bed, we noticed first 2 polar bears and then by the end of PG’s shift another 3. 5 polar bears in the first two hours of camp, a new record. One bear swam up on pg, as the bear got out of the water, PG jumped up and grabbed the gun, as soon as he did the Bear was back In the water swimming away. Close one. By morning in total we had seen 7 polar bears before leaving camp, the last one took 2 rifle shots in air to scare off after initially chasing off with pots and pans”
Paddling all the way down to SE point of Edge Oya, we had a beautiful sunset with this night being the last night the sun would be above the horizon at midnight. We had a great interaction with a large pod of belugas feeding, spending an hour watching, most were not white but mottled grey, I had a young one come up and play with my kayak for 10 minutes or so, bumping it underneath and then pushing it around with his nose, very cool. Leaving the Beluga’s to their ways we paddled into the sun set and on through the night, frost settled on our kayaks and slush on the water. We stopped to eat at 12am, in a bay with a polar bear, we had seen a total of 12 in the last 24 hours. The sun came up as we rounded the islands southern Tip to find 150 walrus hauled out near a cabin steaming in the morning sun. what we didn’t know then was that we would be calling that cabin home for the next 3 days while waiting out another strong Gale. Now just how to get past all those Walrus?.
After boldly paddling into and past all the walrus in the water and pulling up on a gap on the beach, 10 young walrus thought we were Very interesting and came over to nervously check us out, all clustered in the shallows near where we pulled up the kayaks. At this point we were greeted by two research students from the boat, Ulla Rinman. We had lucked out for the coming storm, not only did we score a cabin, but also made friends on the boat, and they brought us aboard for showers and supplied us with some fresh vegatables and meat (all amazing things to experience after almost 2 months away from them!). Big thanks to Ishmael for coming to say hi and bringing us aboard. The next few days we got a pounding in our little leaky hut with no fire place, but it certainly was better than being in a tent. Eventually the winds died and we pushed off back through the Walrus choked waters and headed for the SW tip of Edge Oya and our second to last big move, we had decided to paddle across the mouth of StorFjorden to cut out at least a week of paddling the coastline, but this meant a 67km open water crossing, and the forecast was for FOG!!
We awoke in our camp on the western shore of Edge Oya, to a large group of Cruise ship tourists walking around in bright red suites. They had got very interested in what we where doing and also ended up leaving a pile of chocolate bars and fresh fruit for us to eat after Tara told them our tale. We where not short on food, but we couldn’t say no to some new variants to our diet. Soon we where all up and getting into our kayaks in the sheltered natural harbour.
My Journal entry
“Aug 26th; on water by 2.30pm and expecting a foggy 14hour crossing, though as we paddled out Svalbard granted us passage once more and the fog lifted the sun came out and we enjoyed a stunning crossing of calm seas and Sunshine. We sighted a large dorsal fin in the first couple of hours, believed to be a Greenland shark, it disappeared before we got to close unfortunately. Had a group of 7 seals curiously follow us for a bit and sighted numerous times humpback whales and a fin whale.
The crossing was smooth and painless and we were even able to pee from the boats easily, which made life a pleasure.
As we arrived on the other side we dealt with a bit of a head wind out of the glacial bay, though eventually arrived at an awesome bay with a natural smooth polished stone earthen crust layer boat ramp, at about 5.40am. Here we found a gravel camp beach, loads of fire wood, an old and new cabin that where of no use to us, and great Sunshine and wind for solar charger and drying clothes. We enjoyed a much deserved 1.5 sleeping roster, giving us 12 hours sleep each.”
We have now done a large part of it, we have connected all four main islands and found ourselves back on Spitsbergen with about less than 9 days paddling distance left. Its suddenly all becaming real, we actually may pull this all off.