On Top of the World in Spitsbergen

Jessica Tiffin

16 Jul 2014

BEING The most northern people in the world at 80 degrees north

We were woken up to the announcement “Good morning ladies and gentlemen, it’s 7am on a beautiful Arctic day and the outside temperature is a balmy 5 degrees, the water is at zero, and we are at a latitude of 80 degrees north. This means that we are currently the most northern people in the world right now. We are literally on top of the world folks!” As I pulled aside the curtain I was blinded by sheer brilliance as sunlight filled the sky and bounced off the dazzling white landscape.

Back in Longyearbyen, the relative warmth of mountains and tundra quite often create a thick blanket of cloud in the summer months, which had somewhat dampened my dreams of alpine blue skies and crisp endless horizons. Don’t get me wrong, the steep valleys of ancient rock and permafrost were stunning and humbling in a way that only nature can be when it unravels itself in such powerful and uninhabitable ways. And, there is something magical about a low cloud shifting to reveal a steep towering cliff littered with thousands of nesting little auks twittering away in excitable chorus. But nothing compares to the insignificance you feel when exposed to a vast expanse of open sea and sky like we encountered when we moved away from the land mass and headed due north, into a realm untouched and unfathomable to humankind.

It’s hard to find the words to describe the eerie realm of the polar bear in the far reaches of the Arctic pack-ice near the North Pole. Thick silence pervades everything for miles in each direction, disorientating and suffocating at the same time. Distance is unperceivable and irrelevant. All your senses have to grasp are the many tessellating shapes of flat ice that slide apart as the ship slowly glides through, fragmenting and mesmerising as they gently knock together and spin away. The water is still as a mill pond, almost silky, a shade of deep shiny blue that reminds me of outer space. 

Then amongst all this surreal ice-scape, and endless stillness, we spot a tiny moving figure. A beige-yellow tinge on bright white, prowling steadily across the pack ice in the distance. Our first polar bear! 

Despite being so far away, it felt magical to witness this solitary and formidable creature, so far from any land, at home in his own dominion. We watched him padding along, diving into the water for good while, and nimbly hauling his great mass out to roll around until he was dry. Then we left him in peace, in his white silent world, to rule as King of the Arctic on top of the world!

I was travelling on the eight day expedition team led safari; Realm of the Polar Bear. This trip explores the Spitsbergen archipelago on the M/S Expedition, a ship with an ice-strengthen hull enabling us to navigate through ice filled fjords to get closer to the Arctic wildlife. If you would like to hear more about this trip then please get in touch.

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