Svalbard is famous for its fjords and mountains, surrounded by drifting ice depending on which season it is. Fascinating wildlife as Polar Bears, Arctic Foxes, Whales, Walruses and a great…
Svalbard Winter expedition story.
In 2014 I did the first arranged Svalbard winter expedition by using snowmobiles and camping out in the Svalbard Arctic nature. This is considered as a more extreme activity and I was excited about how it would work out. We cooperate with operators in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, that have many years of experience and all the needed equipment to do expeditions like this.
We started the Svalbard winter expedition by doing some photography close to Longyearbyen. On regular day trips we had good situations for photographing Arctic Foxes, Svalbard Reindeers, Svalbard Rock Ptarmigans and landscapes.
The plan was to decide where to go only few days before the expedition. Everything depends on weather and the sea ice conditions when you are looking for wildlife in Svalbard, especially in winter. If we wanted to se Polar Bears we needed the right conditions to succeed on that. This year was not to bad regarding the ice conditions and on the east coast of Spitsbergen, in "Mohnbukta" it was some ice in the fjord, but not much. Mostly close to the glazier. We made the decision to go there and camp out in a tent for 2-3 days.
After arranging the camp we could start photographing. Already from the first minute we came there I could spot 2-3 Polar Bears out on the ice. We did not want to disturb their behavior and planned what we could do carefully before we drove down on the sea ice. We wanted to photograph some of the Polar Bears that was wandering around in the area.
We spotted one bear far out in the ice. It looked like to follow the ice edge and coming closer and closer to where we was standing. We waited there at least half an hour before the animals was 200 meters from us. It just walked towards north in safe distance from us. At this time we already had seen 5 different Polar Bears on this Svalbard winter expedition. I was surprised about this.
During the following days we did see Polar Bears every day. Totally I counted 9 different individuals in the area. Some of them only walked by and disappeared, others stayed in the area. Especially we observed a female and a big male following the female several times.
The female was occupied by trying to keep the big male in good distance. A couple of times the female walked directly towards us and we had to move away because she was so focused on us. Maybe she did that to get some help getting rid of the big male following her so intense?
The last evening at midnight we was doing some landscape photography out on the ice we got our closest visit from a young Polar Bear that came in very fast from the ice. They are walking but these animals can walk pretty fast and sometimes I get a bit surprised by their walking speed.
We observed the bear suddenly in the ice maybe 150 meters from us. In the beginning it did not look like being interested and we thought it would pass us. But this your bear had a plan checking us out and everything happened fast when we understood this. We was close to the snowmobiles and we drove away as the young bear came directly against us.
Obviously this animal was really curious and when we moved away it sniffed in our tracks and after a while it just rolled over and spent several minutes in the snow just relaxing and doing some funny things. This Polar Bear behavior gave us several good situations during this Svalbard winter expedition.
After three nights in the camp we decided to spend the last night in a cabin in Van Mijen fjord. It was several hours driving there. After some pretty extreme and cold days in tent this was something to look forward to as we was driving in low visibility.
I was so tired when we drove along "Kjellstrtømdalen", a huge valley, that I almost fell asleep on the snowmobile. We arrived the cabin and could relax with a good meal and not "dry tech". Our operator, Stefano Poli, did a fantastic job preparing everything. Later in evening we decided to do some photography again and drove over to the glazier "Paulabreen". This is a beautiful place and some nice light gave us some good opportunities photographing there.
With this image of the "Paulabreen" I will end this story from a Svalbard winter expedition. I am sure its one of the most amazing adventures people can experience 🙂
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