Arctic Cruise Adventure Trip Log ( 17 - 31 Jul, 2017) - ​Wednesday, Jul 19

Wednesday, July 19: Ny Alesund and the 14th of July Glacier
January 2018

After leaving Longyearbyen, Le Boreal continues to head North along the coast of Spitsbergen. We sail quietly under the midnight sun, and shortly after a breakfast aboard the ship we arrive in the small colony of Ny-Ålesund. This eclectic village is considered by some the northernmost permanent settlement on the planet, and we are invited to explore its streets while our bear guards patrol the perimeter, wary of any unexpected guests. A few hours in Ny-Ålesund is more than enough time to get a sense of its historical significance; a few buildings date back to the early 1900s, when optimistic coal companies attempted to set up large mines in the area. After several years, however, harsh conditions had claimed dozens of lives, and the settlement slowly shifted its focus to research. The simple, colorful huts that scatter the shoreline now house scientists from around the globe who seek to better understand the Arcticenvironment, and though life here appears unglamorous by most counts, the work of the hardy folks in Ny-Ålesund is critical in developing our understanding of the changing Arctic.

As we wander the few streets of Ny-Ålesund, many of us are drawn to a tall, steel structure on the outskirts of town, which at first resembles a small radio tower. Our guides, JJ and Russ, reveal this odd tower to be an important relic from the ‘golden age’ of Arctic exploration; an old docking platform for airships! In the mid-1920’s, famed Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen launched two expeditions from this tower in an attempt to cross over the Arctic Ocean via the North Pole. While the first trip was unsuccessful, his second attempt a year later was a resounding success; Amundsen reached Alaska a mere 70 hours after departure, his crew becoming the first to traverse the Arctic by air!

We bid farewell to our last glimpse of civilization for the next several days, and head even further North. After a few hours of scenic cruising along the coast of Spitsbergen, we arrive at the mouth of a small bay, and a spectacular glacier face comes into view. This is Fjortende Julibreen—Fourteenth of July Glacier, named by French explorers after Bastille Day. While Le Boreal drops anchor in the mouth of the bay, we prepare to explore the area by zodiac. To our delight, seabirds abound; colorful Atlantic puffins and elegant Brünnich’s guillemot sit along the rock faces near the ocean’s surface, and often approach quite closely as they fly past!

In the misty peaks far overhead, the silhouettes of several thousand black-legged kittiwake can just be made out. The dense colonies of these birds, always in the rockiest and most inaccessible areas, are like beacons to predators, and a few of us glimpse an arctic fox, sooty brown in its summer coat, skirting between boulders below. In a few weeks time, kittiwake chicks will be leaving the nests — foxes must be cunning hunters if they are to feed their dozen-or-so hungry pups! Far below the colony, the ground is lush and green, fertilized all summer long by the droppings of the birds above. Reindeer are well-camouflaged against the rocks and lichen, though we make out several before heading to the glacier. We spend the final moments of our excursion surrounded by icebergs, and enjoy the atmosphere of this incredible place.

When we are not out on the zodiacs, we have the opportunity to hear our historian, Bob Burton, lecture on the fascinating ‘Race to the North Pole’, a riveting tale of lies, deceit and intrepid adventure of early Arctic explorers. We end our night aboard Le Boreal with the Captain’s cocktail reception and dinner, where we get the opportunity to dine with the senior officers of the ship, including spritely Captain Garcia himself! Tonight, we feel the groaning of ice against the ship’s hull as we enter the notorious pack ice of Svalbard.

Click Here to read ' Thursday July 20: Torellneset Walrus & Alkefjellet Bird Cliffs'