My main trip for the summer season 2015 was a summer packrafting tour to Svalbard. After the superlative-packed winter tour in Svalbard in April I was excited to get back.
This trip had been on the drawing board already for a few years and now it was about the time to change a digital line on a digital map into a real line of footsteps on tundra and series of paddle strokes on river. And then later let that physical effort turn into intangible, but still very real, memories. The sort of memories that define us.
This post is only an introductory post of the 11-day adventure which I will explain in more details in a few upcoming posts.
As I mentioned I had been planning a trip like this for quite some time and had come up with several route options. As we wanted it to be a summer trip we didn’t want too much skiing (possible through the whole year on the big glaciers) and we didn’t want to do “only” hiking or sea kayaking (quite popular options in summertime). And with the usual limitations of time and money the logistical options were also somewhat limited (only one town and major airport, no “bush-pilot flights” for tourists, no surface travel with vehicles allowed in summer time).
Thus we chose to do a packrafting tour through the Nordenskiöld Land traveling through Sassen-Bünsow Land and Nordenskiöld Land national parks. We decided to do the trip in July partially because it would fit our schedules but also because we estimated that at this stage of early summer the ground would not anymore be too wet for hiking but there would still be enough melt water to paddle the rivers. Timing this stuff is a game of chance.
It’s pretty easy to spot the major rivers from a map and draw a line via these waterways and major valleys. Knowing whether the rivers are passable or if they offer any good paddling is more difficult to tell as very few people have paddled the rivers and beta is very limited. But judging from the aerial pictures is seemed possible so a plan was hatched.
We would take a boat ride from Longyearbyen to the far corner of Tempelfjorden and camp on the site of tragic polar bear attack in 2011. From there we would walk up the Von Postbreen, cross Fimbulisen and descent Rabotbreen glacier to get access to the Sassenelva river. After paddling down roughly two-thirds of the river we would switch back to hiking and leave the Sassen-Bünsow NP to hike through Eskerdalen and upper Adventdalen to the huge valley of Reindalen. After Reindalpasset (pass) we would reach the upper parts of Reinelva river which we would then aft South-West. Before reaching the sea we would switch again to hiking, hike to the Russian mining town Barentsburg and turn to North-East for a coastal hike to Longyearbyen, passing the abandoned Russian mining settlements of Colesbukta and Grumantbyen on the way. This would also keep us inside the Management Area 10 saving us from the bureaucracy.
A few glaciers (30km), two big rivers (62km) and some hiking (120km) in between. Some 210+ kilometers of proper Arctic wilderness. We estimated that his would take us 12 days. Either long or short. And as that was all we had, it had to work.
But things don’t always go as planned.
From the left: me, Antti, Thomas, Venla and Nina.
The Famous Five of this tour consisted of a team of wilderness-loving outdoorsy types around their 30s doing their first trip together:
Thomas: Aspiring wilderness guide with solid glacier travel experience e.g. from Patagonia and one winter tour in Svalbard under his belt. A first time packrafter (well, he did test the raft on a lake a day before leaving). Always cheerful, always hungry but also always willing to share his food. Awesome addition to any expedition crew.
Antti: wilderness guide and experienced packrafter with solid mountaineering and glacier travel experience. A first-timer in Svalbard. Antti was sorry for not bringing his fishing kit and down jacket – and was seriously hungry towards the end.
Venla: Antti’s girlfriend with varied outdoor background and packrafting experience. Also a first-timer in Svalbard. Very determined when needed and incredibly talented in falling asleep (though in camp only). Once out of food, seemed to be happy just to have coffee.
Nina: my trusted companion in life and on countless tours. And often the voice of reason on our tours. Specialized in hauling heavy loads through wast snowy and icy landscapes (Vatnajökull, Greenland, Svalbard…) but carries a heavy pack too if needed.
and me. Well. You know who I am.
Starts from here.
And ends here.