Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Svalbard – Summer 2015 – Pt. 3

Part 3 – Hungry coastal hike thru abandoned settlements

Check out some background information for the trip and the first and second part of the story to make it complete.

After 30 kilometers of awesome (though butt-freezing) packrafting on the Reinelva we were in the point where plans needed to be changed. We had lost almost a full-day and two paddles in a swim a week earlier and Antti and Venla were low on food due to a lost food bag and miscalculations. The original plan of hiking first to Barentsburg (a Russian coal-mining settlement) and from there to Longyerbyen was scratched and instead we decided to take an inland shortcut to abandoned settlement of Colesbukta and continue from there to Longyearbyen saving us some 30 kilometers of hiking and at least a full day.

The next day was warm and less windy as we made our way across the wet tundra from Reindalen to Semmeldalen. We passed some huts in the distance, saw again several reindeer and arctic fox and marvelled the view to Van Mijenfjord in the South. Once we gained some altitude the going was actually quite good. The ground was still wet, soft and uneven but way easier than in many previous places.

We followed old Soviet caterpillar tracks (from late 70s and early 80s) from Semmeldalen to Skiferdalen. The scenery changed from the vast valley with the sea in the horizon to more narrow winding valleys framed by snow-topped peaks. After 20 kilometers it was getting late and we decided to camp by the river next to Sandsteinfjellet.

The river might have offered great fast flowing packrafting straight from the camp but the water-level wasn’t high enough. But on the map the river got wider a few kilometers later and we had high hopes for some more river packrafting for the following day.

In the morning Antti told that he had woken up in the middle of night because of being hungry. The day without snacks or lunch was starting to have its toll. After breaking camp we hiked the few kilometers and found that the river did indeed change: it was little slower, little wider and little deeper: good for packrafting!

Because of the lost paddles we decided to use only four rafts: me, Nina and Thomas were paddling our rafts solo with some extra gear and Antti and Venla shared their Alpackaraft Denali Llama with little less gear using simple-to-improvise canoe-style paddles.

The Coleselva offered actually the most enjoyable packrafting of the whole trip: there was no headwind to fight against, the weather was actually warm and sunny and there was even a decent flow to keep up a good speed. The 11 kilometers on the river were over fast and it was soon time to take out and head towards the abandoned buildings in the distance. Unfortunately we took out in a wrong branch and had to wade across another easy but quite deep branch to reach the settlement of Colesbukta. A minor obstacle which provided refreshing bath for the beating feet.

The shoreline was littered with huge amount of driftwood and all sort of interesting items. The buildings were abandoned but not compltely empty and some of them were in surprisingly good condition. The Colesbukta used to be a port for nearby coalmine, Grumantbyen, but the mining ended in 1965 (?). Afterwards the settlement was used as a base for mineral searching operations until abandoned for good in the 1980s.

After taking a thorough look around we continued along the cliffs towards the Grumantbyen we planned to visit as well. On the way we found the Rusanovhuset, an open hut that I knew was there but hadn’t planned to visit. It was a short but nice visit. There was an Irish family staying at the hut, recuperating after a hike from Longyearbyen over the mountains. There would’ve been plenty of room for us too but we were dedicated to continue little further.

We followed the remains of the old railway, covered with wooden “tunnel” for most of the way, in the soft light of the high Arctic summer night. We bivied between the tunnel and the cliffs with magnificent views to the Isfjorden. Despite a great day the moods were tense due to low blood sugar levelsand a long day.

As we were planning to follow the coast all the way to the outskirts of Longyearbyen, we needed to catch the low tide. The route was suggested passable with low tide and fair weather in Rolf Stange’s book and we had both so we decided to give it a try. Climbing over the mountain didn’t really appeal our tired minds. After an alpine start we continued along the old railway until reaching the tunnel to Grumantbyen now blocked by permafrost ice. A steep climb up and down followed offering again great views over the Isfjorden.

Grumantbyen was way more decayed than the Colesbukta. Some of the building were still standing but that was about it. Half-a-century of harsh Arctic conditions had left behind only walls and partial roofs, and rusting railway tracks and coal carts. We took our time exploring the remaining buildings (and the mine…) while waiting for the low-tide to make our final push. After some time we headed down and started to follow the shoreline to North-East, towards civilization and hamburgers.

The shoreline was quite good for walking but very narrow in places with waves licking your left foot and your right shoulder brushing to the steep cliffs with fresh signs of rockfall around. It was maybe 15 minutes past the low tide when we reached the final cliffs before the mouth of Björndalen.

We judged the shore too steep and water too deep for safe wading and inflated our packrafts for the final push. Still short on paddles we decided to use the three paddles we had and have two rafts in tow to save time. This worked reasonably well though I got properly wet in the launch thanks to the combination of the swell and sideways launch with another raft in tow… Well, it was nice and warm day so damage done.

After couple of kilometers of paddling we were on the shore dotted with little cottages and the end of the road in our sight. It was done. Despite lots of persuasion I was the only one to go for a final swim in the sea before packing up. We called for a taxi and started walking toward the Longyearbyen. The taxi never showed up and we took one from the airport – after 6 kilometers of marching on the road and with fresh blisters in our feet. But it didn’t matter. The tour was done and it was time for hamburgers, beer, shower and some more beer. In that particular order.

Thanks for Nina, Thomas, Antti and Venla for the great tour!

In numbers:

– 11 days and 175 km
– 65 km packafting (three different rivers and a bit on the sea plus a river crossing)
– 110 km hiking (of which 30km on glaciers)
– 9 other people (on the first and the second to last day), several arctic foxes, many reindeers, countless birds
– spectacular high Arctic scenery
– myriad good memories

– – –

PS. More photos in my gallery. Later theremight be even a (gasp!) gear post…

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5 responses to “Svalbard – Summer 2015 – Pt. 3

  1. Mark Waring (@mjdwaring) 17/09/2015 at 20:37

    Really interesting to see your photos of Colesbukta and Grumant. I had a good walk around Coles and found it quite haunting, empty accommodation buildings with plenty of furniture still intact.

    I believe I met the Irish family in IGP when I picked up my rifle!

  2. korpijaakko 17/09/2015 at 21:37

    It’s quite eerie. Wouldn’t want to be there alone duringthe dark times…

    Quite possible that you did. They were to arrive LYB a day or two after us and thus fly otu later too. It was their third trip and the first tiem they finally made it to the hut.

  3. NielsenBrownOutdoors 20/09/2015 at 16:07

    I love this report, the photos, the buildings. My favourite photo has to be picking your path through the water and marsh with the paddles on your pack, somewhat surreal. It is clearly a fascinating place to wander through.

  4. korpijaakko 21/09/2015 at 13:06

    Thanks for the comment! 🙂 Surreal? Doesn’t feel like it once you’ve been there doing it enough… It’s a great destination. I think the coasts provide the best routes (when not too steep), but also the highest polar bear risk.

  5. Pingback: Svalbard – Summer 2015 – Video | Korpijaakko

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