Grandad Goes to Svalbard

Ron Rose

26 May 2016

arctic adventure

I have always been fascinated by the Arctic, ever since I was a young boy, but I had to wait till my mid 40’s, and started with East Greenland. Now 25 years later, and my 6th time above the Arctic Circle, I reach my most northerly destination: 78 degrees north to Longyearbyen, Svalbard. 

I thought there was no point in going on the adventure by myself, so I took my two eldest grandsons, Henry 21 and George 18. Both way over 6 foot and 50 years my junior. 

Quite an unlikely looking trio!

Day 1 saw us travel from Heathrow to Oslo.

Day 2 Oslo to Longyearbyen. Even at Oslo airport, we asked a lady something in the information desk and she asked where we were going. We told her and her eyes lit up excitedly. "to see snowbear on snowscooter", she asked, in her broken English.

We knew then we were in for something special!

We were met at the airport and immediately confronted with signposted reality!

London 3043 Km ...and that’s North! Go south from London that distance and you would be in the Sahara Desert. Wow, that's reality! The polar bear symbol, later becomes commonplace and simply means "keep out of the way of polar bears as the Arctic clothing gets stuck in their teeth!"

That evening we are taken to enjoy a traditional trapper’s meal at the Dog Station. 

A really great evening out, returning to our Basecamp Hotel before 10.00. That was a long day but exceeded all expectations. Great place to stay this Basecamp, it so fits the scenario.

Day 3 -This is the big one. Off to Isfjord Radio for 2 days by snowmobile. Need your driving licence for this and luckily both the boys have one. So we all have our own machines, Lynx 60 BHP.

Scenery, remoteness, beauty all unsurpassable in perfect weather. Minus 24, plus a bit of wind chill, no probs!

Day 4 - After forgetting the clocks go forward an hour (even in the Arctic) it is me that isn't ready! Reality check again, we are as far north as you can realistically go. Two foot of snow blown up the door, poor visibility and strong winds, remind us of where we are!

Overnight accommodation was a bit weird. Very comfortable and civilized conditions in such a wild and remote location. Even the photos on the wall were "poles" apart from appearance to content. Nicely framed, well taken photos, showing a polar bear breaking into the building and ripping the door off!

Into the whiteout for some hours, can't see the tracks in front of me and over I go, into a ditch, deep in ice and snow. At least it's a soft landing! I had paid attention about my feet. Keep them in when you crash! Actually it's only a case of keeping your feet in the correct place on a snowmobile. There is a housing to put your boot so if you go over and try to put your foot down, you can't, as the housing stops your foot coming out so that you can crash safely! And the guide digs you and the machine out with his shovel while you watch. No probs.

On to Barentsburg after which the weather improves. Sum up at the end of the day, exhausting, 250 Km in 2 days, absolutely ludicrous, too old for this, must be mad, too right I am......bloody hell (excuse language but portrays feeling more accurately) that was fantastic, exhilarating, unbelievable and absolutely worth living for!!!

Now where was I?

Ah! Day number, lost track, unimportant, let's say Next Day: Dog sledding.

All had 2 to a sledge, great trip. Driven dogs before so I felt experienced compared to the rest and found it easy and relaxing. George had slight trouble activating the brake as he is not very heavy, so downhill tended to be faster than recommended! Our destination was the Ice Cave.

Ice Cave advice for anyone else considering this trip. Take a small camera, as large cameras combined with large girthed people do not fit into the entrance, hence no actual ice cave pictures.

Do not miss this, forget your claustrophobia, it's worth it. 

A magical formation of ice on all surfaces (take care the floor is ice) with unbelievable formations. You do need a certain amount of strength to climb back out and maybe some pacifying assistance. But there is a conciliation if you can't get out. That is, you will still be perfectly preserved 10,000 years later!

Next Day: local coal mine and a chance to explore your local surroundings.

The most northerly church in the world. I suppose there is not much call for religion here; polar bears, seals and reindeer would hardly make a harmonious congregation.

And the most northerly sundial in the world with a polar bear shaped gnomon. Of course, this is totally useless for 4 months of the year when there is no sun! When I went back to Basecamp and said "Did you know that you have the most northerly sundial in the world?" 

The reply was "everything here is the most northerly".

Which is just so true. Undoubtedly, I was the most northerly clockmaker in the world, Wow! In fact, anyone coming here can be the most northerly something ----- as I was also the most northerly, 5 foot eight and three quarters, 69 year old, male, that was born in North London, in the world as well!

Next Day: snowmobiles to Svea

Another speedy day across the ice to an area only recently opened to tourists and lunch in the Coal Miners Canteen. Canteen? It was a 5 star buffet!

On the way back we stopped off at the top of a viewpoint overlooking Longyearbyen.

Even the kids come here, towed by snowmobile in these contraptions!

Next Day: journey home. Flight Longyearbyen to Tromso, then on to Oslo, then to Heathrow. Could not believe that our luggage was taken in Svalbard and appeared three flights later in London without a hitch!

Conclusion is that the boys have had the trip of a lifetime, already! 

They coped brilliantly and looked after me well. It shed new light on their opinion of me ----- they couldn't believe Grandad does THAT!

For me, yes, it was tough, I should have done it years ago, but finance was more an issue. I cannot surpass this experience, so what do I do now? The only thing I can do, really. And that is go again next year! If you are considering whether to go or not, my advice is this.

You were given the gift of life ----- don't waste it, USE IT!!!


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Jan & Vern

28/5/2016 12:53 PM

We so enjoyed reading all about your adventure so great to share it with you and the humour you put into your blog. No doubts your grandsons know what a cool grandad they have and enjoyed every minute they spent with you X

Arabella @ Natural World Safaris

26/5/2016 11:35 AM

A really entertaining account of your trip Ron, thanks so much for sharing it. It certainly has rekindled my urge to get back to the Arctic!


26/5/2016 10:56 AM

An amazing and charming blog Ron, gave me goose bumps! I'm really looking forward to putting together this next expedition - dog sledding across frozen fjords and camping under the northern lights!

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