Svalbard 2016 Trip Report and Photo Album

| June 10, 2016 | 1 Comment

Ice Axe Expeditions Arctic Circle Ski & Sail – Trip Report

For more information on this trip, or similar skiing adventures in Antarctica, contact Ice Axe Expeditions out of Truckee, CA.  www.iceaxe.tv

Week One – May 15-22, 2016

May 15th – Set sail from LYR.
Met with Stein/Helga and went over the general plan, which is to go as far north as possible (12 hours) to get up into the Krossfjorden area.

Casting off on the good ship Arctica II while flying the Ice Axe flag.

Casting off on the good ship Arctica II while flying the Ice Axe flag.

Met everyone at the airport at around 2:00pm, shuttled gear to the dock, then went into town for some snacks. Returned to the boat, sorted gear, did a safety briefing, returned the excess gear to the shed, then returned to the ship and got underway at 5:15pm. Smooth seas, milky weather.

May 16 – Dronning Mauds Peak
Spent the night motoring up Kongsfjord and made it to Lilliehookfjorden at about 7:00am. Nice and calm, but very low snow. Most of the couloirs on Landskiper island are very melted out.

Anne heading down to the Zodiac for the first trip of the day.

Anne heading down to the Zodiac for the first trip of the day.

Toured up through some isothermal snow, and then got into a beautiful face on Dronning Maud peak. Summited on skins via the south ridge line and took two runs down a beautiful glacier run with a wild moulin right in the middle of it. North facing snow was excellent – recrystalized power, 3″ deep, low angle and floaty. Fun! Skinned back up, tried a variation due north to the Forbesbreen glacier, but got shut down due to steep roll overs, so we did a second lap on the same run, then skinned back up.

Willy schralping pow.

Willy schralping pow.

Dinner is served. Way better than hanging out in a moist tent!

Dinner is served. Way better than hanging out in a moist tent!

Last run of the day was also excellent – south facing off of Dronning Maud peak back to the boat with a bit of booting in the end. Saw a trio of frisky reindeer and some old bones. Nice cove for anchorage.

May 17 – Krossfjorden
Saw Sky Dancer last night and had a good time mooning them and later visiting. Spent a nice, calm night in Signehamna Bay, then motored over to a west facing couloir on Landskiper Island. Kind of grey, but a fun 2,246′ line. About 45 degrees and bit firm, but overall a fun outing. Named it Asymptote Couloir – a point which can never actually be reached. Got back on the boat and went to the north end of Lilliehookfjorden for a spectacular lunch (thanks Helga!) to view the ice falls.

Storming the beaches with Helga, Scott and John.

Storming the beaches with Helga, Scott and John.

John in the open bowl above a nice couloir.

John in the open bowl above a nice couloir.

After lunch, cruised for about 1.5 hours over to Tinayrebukta Bay, set anchor and skied up on the Festefjelet glacier. Absolutely excellent spot – tons of variety from long cruisers to steep couloirs. Skinned up past a mini series of crevasses (no rope needed) then rolled into a beautiful head wall. Near the top, TO branched right with a group and I went up a short booster with Scott, Alex and Willy. Unbelievable view from the summit ridge line! Spectacular glaciers valleys in the back, icefalls, jagged peaks, sun, wind, snow, etc.. Had a fun run down a nice semi couloir, then went back up our skinner and traded couloirs with TO. Amazing glacier run all the way down to a perfect Zodiac landing on a sandy beach. Hard to beat – 5 star.

An incredible day of touring and skiing.

An incredible day of touring and skiing.

Topping out on one of many beautiful peaks.

Topping out on one of many beautiful peaks.

3,844′ in the afternoon, 2,246′ in the morning = 6,090′ total.

May 18 – Krossfjorden
Motored back to the calm bay from the previous night and had another mellow, but windy evening. After a later start and big breakfast, we motored back to the same Feisterfelt area to ski the adjoining glacier, but it was a cold night and the snow was firm. TO and others went up a couloir, while James and I did a glacier lap, then up/down another glacier. Fun cruising and 2,400′. Saw some old Ice Bear tracks.

JC heading up a valley. A few minutes later we crossed Polar Bear tracks.

JC heading up a valley. A few minutes later we crossed Polar Bear tracks.

JC skiing down.

JC skiing down.

Came back to the boat, had some hot lunch and proceeded to motor down to Ny-Alesund which is about 2 hours away.

Had a nice long motor down to Ny-Alesund and arrived at about 9:00pm. Blew up the SUP and Elizabeth took it out while TO, James and I went ashore for a cool hike next to a glacier.

May 19 – Kongsfjorden
Started with a 6:00am boat move and a one hour transit to get to the skiing.

Went up Gonietoppen peak with six people, which turned out to be quite steep near the top. Carefully worked our way down the top section, then skied the lower section. Beautiful peak.

Booting up sustained ridge.

Booting up a sustained ridge.

What skiing in Svalbard is all about.

What skiing in Svalbard is all about.

Went back to the boat for lunch (excellent) then toured up Pedersenbreen glacier. Climbed and skied a 3k couloir – nice one. This is an excellent landing site – tons of terrain, lots of options.

Evening light, although "evening" is a relative term up here. At night, you can hear the seals howling through the steel hull - it kind of reminds me of coyotes, except the seals have a long, low "OoooooOOOooooo" sound.

Evening light, although “evening” is a relative term up here. At night, you can hear the seals howling through the steel hull – it kind of reminds me of coyotes, except the seals have a long, low “OoooooOOOooooo” sound.

Alex, Willy and EK in the cockpit.

Alex, Willy and EK in the cockpit.

May 20 – Midtre Lovenbreen Glacier (Kongsfjord)
Did another “boat alarm” for a wake up where the boat started moving at 6:00am and then we anchored and had breakfast at 7:00. Got off the boat and made it to a nice landing at the toe of the Midtre Lovenbreen glacier, which is just southwest of the town of Ny-Alesund. Great glacier and skiing, with some steel pole markers in the middle of the glaciers and on some of the ridgelines.

JC with the Tre Kroner (Three Kings) in the background.

JC with the Tre Kroner (Three Kings) in the background.

JC skiing.

JC skiing.

The glacier has a long (hour +) approach, but gets into some really nice terrain in the upper elevations, including lots of pocket glaciers, which gives the area almost 360 degrees of aspect for skiing options. TO & Co. rounded a corner and booted up Slatofjellet peak (583m). There is a great little solar radiating pocket glacier up here that produced some good corn in the middle of endless ice. While TO lapped it, James and I booted up a ridge – incredible views of the Tre Kroner (Three Crowns) off in the distance and really nice skiing back down.

Anne looking fresh after three laps.

Anne looking fresh after three laps.

Apre ski Svalbard style.

Apre ski Svalbard style.

Took turns hanging out at the bottom while others took various laps. Fun area for lap skiing. Afterwards, TO skied back to the boat while others went up for a 300′ final lap.

May 21 – Barentsberg
Motored a few hours south last night to (???) and set anchor with the intention of getting some skiing in if the weather was good in the morning, which it was not. Universal agreement to not go skiing, but instead keep traveling south and visit Barentsberg, which turned out to be great. The town is surreal – a massive indoor swimming pool, old decaying buildings, a weird twist on international politics (the Russian claim to Svalbard) and a bar. We went to the “new” bar, but apparently it is better to go to the old bar at the hotel.

Barentsberg with an old phone and a very cool boat. I really wanted a tour of this vessel.

Barentsberg with an old phone and a very cool boat. I really wanted a tour of this vessel.

TO versus Scott at the Barentsberg arm wrestling table.

TO versus Scott at the Barentsberg arm wrestling table.

Had dinner at the dock, then motored back to LYR, which we expect to hit at about midnight.

Lenin looking over Barentsberg.

Lenin looking over Barentsberg.

Willie chatting on the phone while a huge red bear sniffs his, uhmm, pants.

Willie chatting on the phone while a huge red bear sniffs his, uhmm, pants.

 

May 22 – Longyearbyen
Dropped Group One off at the airport in the morning, picked up Group Two and spent the night in the LYR Radisson.

I think I blew my shoulders out trying to hang off of Nick (left) and Scott (right).

I think I blew my shoulders out trying to hang off of Nick (left) and Scott (right).  I’m 5′ 10″ (177cm).

WEEK TWO
May 23 – LYR transit
Got everyone aboard at about 2:00pm, did the safety briefing, hung out and then headed out at about 5:00pm.

May 24 – Snodomen
An aborted attempt on Snodomen due to  low snow and warm temps which made for some cracky glaciers and weak snow bridges. Everybody rallied and we did another lap with most of the people, then a third with Skip, EK and Jeremy. Overall, an exciting day that finished with some fun skiing.

Beachside filming.

Beachside filming.

EK, aka Annie Oakley of the far north.

EK, aka Annie Oakley of the far north.

May 25 – Blomstrandbreen Bay and Glacier
Started out as a greybird day. Went up a tight moraine valley just to the west of the Blomstradebreen glacier (excellent landing spot) and basically wrapped around the end of a long ridge and up towards Nordvagfellet peak, but didn’t quite make it due to very flat light and cloud cover at about 2,000′. Followed our faint skin/pole track back.

Skiing in a white-out.

Skiing in a white-out.

Came back to the boat for lunch (Thai soup!) then moved the boat to the west to climb and ski the high point of Bloomstrandhalvoya (?) island. Excellent! Really fun skin up the east ridge, then skied down the main bowl/couloir on the east face – steep and sustained. Did some filming and later some paddle boarding.

Topping out on the high point of a small island.

Topping out on the high point of a small island.

About to drop in with the Arctica II below.

About to drop in with the Arctica II below.

Helga and Stein serving up apps.

Helga and Stein serving up apps.

2,000′ in the morning and 1,300’ in the afternoon.

May 26 – Trongdalen Valley
Cruised up a loong valley over gentle flats, creeks, past grazing reindeer, into a tight gully and up a lateral morain in heavy mist for about an hour and maybe 500′ of gain. Finally made it to the base of a couloir, which turned out to be a pile of isothermal mush. TO & Co. made a go at it and turned back. A group of four of us went around and skinned up to the head of the valley and found a nice cirque. Skinned up to a ridge and hit a cool little summit (568m) with a good fall line down – carveable corn.

Went up the adjacent peak, which turned out to excellent skiing. We did two laps up it, but ended up being totally soaking wet. Half rain, half snow. Fun skiing, but super hard to see. Made a long trip back to the boat with lots of poling. This would be a great place in good weather.

3,700′ of climb/ski.

May 27 – St. Jonsfjorden
Woke up at 7:00am to almost no wind, then it was like a switch was thrown and it started howling. Very strong winds, and then… rain. Lots of it. Hung out in Signeheim (?) harbor for a while, then pulled anchor and motored down to St. James. Lots of rough seas, but not too bad. The weather is predicted to be 24+ hours of southerly winds, which means warm and wet. No skiing today.

Svalbard16-48
Miles Clark and TO in the aft berth.

May 28 – Transit down Kongsfjord to Pyramiden
A long haul with rough seas, but once again, the weather in the morning was overcast, rainy and very windy. The south/SW systems up here are very bad for skiing – worth avoiding if you see one in the forecast.

The last bucket of coal taken from the Pyramiden mine.

The last bucket of coal taken from the Pyramiden mine.

Doing our best to look serious and professional.

Doing our best to look serious and professional.

Had a very fun tour of Pyramiden, then came back to the boat for a good dinner and made plans to ski a nice little pyramid peak tomorrow.

May 29 – Billefjorden
Had a great tour through Pyramiden last night, then left the dock at about 7:30am and motored for about 30 minutes to a 867m peak neat Campbellryggen. Skinned about half of it, then booted (no crampons) up the rest. Great peak with tons of potential, but the clouds were right at the 1k level, so we just reversed our track back down and returned to the boat.

Matt and Todd in a summit cloud.

Matt and Todd in a summit cloud.

Heading back to the boat after lap one.

Heading back to the boat after lap one.

Had lunch, moved a few km SW to the terminus of the Mathlesondalen drainage. Some cool old ruins. We started way too far to the north, but eventually worked our way into the main drainage, but stayed high on a ridge due to solar warming. Kind of tough skinning, but we eventually made to a 740m peak which was a fantastic summit, plus had some very good skiing. We were able to skin 99% of the way, then booted the last 100′ to the top. Lots of views and very skiable.

Paul topping out.

Paul topping out.

Skip doing some ridge hopping.

Skip doing some ridge hopping.

Came back to the boat, moved across the fjord and had a delicious dinner in Skanbukta bay. Lots of reindeer and two trips up the mast. Started motoring towards LYR at 10:30pm.

May 30 – LYR to Oslo
Tried to tie up at the dock, but it was full, so we motored out a ways and set anchor. Some midnight (or later?) swimming, then went to the dock and unloaded in the morning.

Photo Album – Svalbard 2016 with Ice Axe Expeditions

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Category: Trip Reports

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber and Mountain Unicycle rider. He and Polly Samuels McLean are the parents of two very loud little girls.

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  1. Drew Tabke says:

    Inspiring stuff thanks for sharing.

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