I participated in a three week long ski expedition on Svalbard in March-April 2016. Svalbard is a group of islands located about midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. We skied about 300 km, summited the highest mountain peaks Newtontoppen and Perriertoppen, and we visited Pyramiden, which is an abandoned Soviet mining town.
Preparations i Longyearbyen
We flew from Helsinki via Stockholm, Oslo and Tromsø to Longyearbyen, which is the largest settlement on Svalbard. We had planned on the following day to jump on our skis, but SAS had a little surprise for us. Our luggage, 30 bags, got lost in Stockholm, so we were a bit stunned when none of our luggage rolled out at Longyearbyen airport. Luckily our luggage came on the flight the day after, so we started skiing just a day later than planned.
Skiing on snowmobile highway
The first days we skied on a snowmobile route that was wide as a highway. Although we had heavy sledges (over 70 kg), we skied the first three days about 18 km per day. The weather was fine but cold, from -20 ° C to –30 ° C. We got also stopped by the police. They wanted to know if we had all the permissions in order and how we were prepared for the polar bears. After a quick chat they wished us good luck and drove away on their snowmobiles. In the evening they came by our camp to have a look at our polar bear alarms.
Ascending the glacier
The fourth day we reached the glacier. From here the snowmobile route was gone and we had to make our own tracks. In deep snow it’s really heavy for the one who’s skiing in the front, but we changed the first person every hour.
The weather had become really different from day to day. One day we had some supercooling rain, causing a crust of ice on both the clothing and equipment. We also got used to skiing in whiteout.
Newtontoppen (1713 m)
On the eight day we reached the spot where we put up our Newtontoppen base camp. We were going to stay here for two nights, so we put some extra energy in making up our camp. I think it was here our toilet building competition started. Camp after camp the toilets were built more and more fancier, and there was a little competition between the toilet builders. On the ninth day we summited Newtontoppen (1713m) in sunny and clear weather. The route to the summit wasn’t so steep, so we skied the whole way up. Without skins under the skies it would have been really difficult.
After two nights at Newtontoppen base camp we packed our camp and took the direction towards Perriertoppen. Before we leaved, we dug a cache, were we put some fuel, food and other things that we weren’t gonna need the next 4-5 days. We were coming back to the cache after summiting Perriertoppen.
Perriertoppen (1712 m)
It took us two short days to reach our base camp for Perriertoppen. The morning of the summiting day was windy, so we postponed our start with few hours. At the root of the mountain it was still a bit windy and the visibility was poor. But fortunately we had some luck with us! After about an hour of climbing, when we got above the clouds, the sun started shining and the wind totally disappeared! So we summited Perriertoppen in nice weather with great visibility over the mountains. We stayed on the summit for about an hour and then descended down for lunch before we headed back to our base camp. The summiting day was a tough 12-hour day, and I think everyone was quite tired when we reached our camp. The next day was a full ski day back to our cache at Newtontoppen base camp. Our cache was luckily intact with our food and supplies.
Back to sea level
We had our last camp by the sea, where also the polar bears was holding up. We had difficulty finding a good tent site, because it requires at least two feet of snow to get the tent firmly in place. We chose the only snow-drift along the coast where we set our camp. The whole night one of us was standing guard for our camp on a lookout for polar bears. We saw some seals, but we didn’t spot any bears.
Pyramiden – The Ghost Town
One of the most fascinating things on the whole trip was the visit to Pyramiden, which is a Russian settlement and coal-mining community. Pyramiden was closed in 1998 and has since remained abandoned. When we visited the area, there were eight workers at the bar/hotel, which is the only heated building. We had a great guide, who showed us around in the city. We also ate some borsch soup at the bar, which was a welcomed change to our freeze dried food we had ate for three weeks.
Our final route is shown on this link: SHARE YOUR ADVENTURE