In one eventful season, the town of Longyearbyen went from becoming virtually unknown to becoming the last hope and last refuge of mankind.
On February 28th, 2008, the World Crop Trust inaugurated Lonyearbyen’s Global Seed Vault, a doomsday repository of over 7,000 plant types to be used in case of catastrophic need. April 1st, Victor Boyarsky, famed Russian arctic explorer, opened the North Pole to amateur tourists and independent climate researchers in a new form of eco tourism.
“I accompanied Victor on the maiden expedition, braving temperatures of -64 degrees Celsius and a polar cap drift of 1.5 kilomters per hour, in order to meet the people that work in such impossible conditions to help save our planet.” Mark Abouzeid, shot on the Arctic Ice pack, 2008.
For those of you who want a first hand experience going to the North Pole, here is a video diary I kept for my girls. Do watch the end, it is worth it!
Arriving at the airport of the world’s most northen ‘city’, the cold is hardly noticeable as your senses are overwhelmed by a beauty which can best be described as ‘ice cream mountains’.
Everywhere you look is white: smooth and limpid like heavy cream flowing over mountains, rivers and lakes without border or boundary. The only colors noticeable are those of the runway and airport buildings.
Entering baggage claim, visitors are welcomed by, none other than, a polar bear! Standing at full height on the middle of the baggage carousel, anyone observing understands immediately why residents hope never to meet these predators in person. Claws the size of my head reach out for food…us…and I find myself looking up, which is a unique feeling for a six foot plus man.
Crossing the arctic circle, even at thirty five thousand feet, has an impact…ice flow on a calm sea, the clouds that have dogged us since Copenhagen open to show off deep blue sea punctuated by white ice.
Sooner or later, every parent tells their child, “If you have nothing nice to say, then best to just say nothing.” So, nothing much to say about Oslo…
Then again, it was Dame Kennedy who myth tells us told Jacqueline Kennedy, at her debut lunch, ‘Darling, if you have nothing nice to say…then sit down next to me!’
A five hour layover may seem onerous after only two and a half hours of flying, but when it’s Copenhagen the wait is anything but tedious.
First and foremost, remember that Denmark is not a Euro country, in other words, True Duty Free! Not just perfumes, jewelry and tobacco, either; halls lined with Danish and foreign designers set within tasteful decor to tempt your wallet and wardrobe. If you happen to be traveling dressed for an arctic expedition, as one does, you may feel more than a bit embarrassed by the stylish clothes on display both within the shops and on most of your fellow travelers.
Last night, I received a call from my girlfriend to ask a fairly simple question:
“This trip to the North Pole isn’t dangerous, is it? You are going to be careful, right?”
As I reassured her that this would be no more dangerous than any other trip I have done, I found myself questioning my own answers. I ran through a checklist of all my past trip preparations and how this differed:
- We have never needed a rifle on the equipment list, before;
- I have never bought emergency evacuation insurance, before; and
- I haven’t ever felt the need to ‘get my things in order’ before leaving.
So, maybe there is just a bit more danger…or is it the perception of danger that makes extreme tourism so attractive? Continue reading
Surprisingly, the truth is just the opposite:
The coldest place in the world is Antarctica, the continent buried under all that snow and ice at the south pole. The coldest atmospheric temperature ever recorded there (or anywhere else on earth) was -128.5 degrees Fahrenheit at Vostok, Antarctica on July 21st, 1983. Continue reading
In a sampling of adventure travel top ten lists, the arctic north never once appears! Moreover, across the lists, Antarctica appeared only once. Why is this?
What could be more adventurous than a trip to the desolate north? What could be more unique than to set foot where few, if any, have ever been before?
While surface travel to the North Pole is new, air based tours have existed for a few years now. In 2005, more than 150 travelers reached the summit by helicopter and many more by ice breaking ships. Are these not considered adventures?
Longyearbyen is the administrative centre of Svalbard and is located on Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago. Longyearbyen has approximately 2,075 inhabitants, most of them Norwegians and some Russians. It is one of the world’s northernmost towns, taking second in that distinction by only the settlement Alert, Nunavut with 5 inhabitants. As the world’s northernmost town with 1,000 people or more, it has many of the world’s northernmost things.
Due to its location far north of the Arctic Circle, it is polar night from end-October to mid-February and polar day from mid-April to mid-August. Longyearbyen has an Arctic tundra climate (see Geography of Norway). The Governor of Svalbard resides there.
The settlement was founded in 1906 by John Munroe Longyear, main owner of the Arctic Coal Company of Boston. “Byen” is Norwegian for “the city”. It was destroyed by the Nazis in 1943 and rebuilt after World War II, with the old foundations still visible in some places. Continue reading