Editor’s Note: This is part two of a three-part story, detailing the author’s recent sail and ski trip in Norway’s Arctic region. To read part one, go here.
Bearded seals often sleep vertically in water. Late evening and early morning are great times to watch wildlife from the Arctica II. We take turns looking through the binoculars, trying to catch a seal pop up through a breathing hole they’ve created in the ice. I’d be lying if I said we weren’t hoping to see some National Geographic type action take place.
It’s getting later, but at the same time brighter. The sun’s still out because it’s always out this time of the year. Our clocks are all switched up and the collective motto has turned to “time is just a number.” It doesn’t mean a thing that at 7 a.m. those of us still awake are cracking into another “Aass” and Joel is making us laugh again.
When the boat gets rocking everyone takes a stance to stabilize. Just like how each person deals with potential seasickness in their own way, everyone has their own method for not falling in the boat during periods of rough water. Half asleep, I had my elbow lodged into the side of the bed like a #4 camalot climbing cam.
All of a sudden, off in the distance, something is moving at mock speed across the ice.
“Whoa! Check it out!”
Momentary excitement spreads through the boat.
“No it’s not. Have another one.”
It’s close to bedtime, whenever that is, whatever that means, and it’s pretty clear the “Aass” is now in control.
“Geeze dudes, it’s an Arctic Fox. You really think a polar bear is that small, that fast?”
We’re a little bummed, but the white arctic fox is a really cool animal to check out. It’s even cooler when from the apron of a neighboring couloir a relatively rare blue arctic fox joins the white one. The ensuing game of chase keeps us enthralled for a while as the foxes gain and lose vertical feet as fast as those guys who rando race in spandex.
“That was cool. They ran right past those polar bear tracks too.”
Earlier that day, at the far northwest corner of the Svalbard archipelago, Stein and Helga had anchored Arctica II into the ice sheet we’re currently tied off to. As a group, we lightly climbed down the ladder and stepped onto the seemingly thin layer of frozen water.
“Is this cool? We’re not going to break through are we?”
That question was asked by more than one in our crew. However, with Stein and Helga’s reassurance, we skin up and start heading out to explore the inlet. Stein and Helga are true explorers in the sense that they’ve been sailing, skiing, climbing, and mountaineering around Svalbard since the early ’90s.
“I’ve never anchored here before,” says Stein. “I hope you find some good skiing.”
Andrew leads the crew across the ice, onto land, and starts making efficient switchbacks up the ever-steepening slope adjacent to a brilliantly deep blue glacier. Bringing up the rear, I chat with Jenny and Tracy taking in our surroundings, looking at the numerous aesthetic lines in the zone, hoping we get to tick off a few of the obvious gems.
“Hey take a look at these!”
Tracy points out some rather large prints in the snow. Upon inspection, it’s clear that our skin track goes right over a set of polar bear tracks. They can’t be too old, otherwise wind and/or precipitation would’ve erased them. I know Andrew’s thinking about it as much as I am since we’re the gun keepers and we’re in the part of the archipelago where you’re more likely to see polar bears. We continue.