Arctic Cruise Adventure Trip Log: July 17–31, 2023
July 17, 2023 | Oslo, Norway
We arrived in Oslo in anticipation of our upcoming Arctic cruise. Beautiful weather set the tone for explorations of this wonderful city, where statues, museums and verdant gardens abound.
Some chose to board the museum ferry, opting perhaps to see Viking ships; pay at poignant visit to the Holocaust Center; or visit the Fram Museum, where the Gjoa is housed. The first vessel to transit the entire Northwest Passage, the voyage was accomplished by Roald Amundsen and his six companions between 1903 and 1906. Many also chose to view the Kon-Tiki raft at its namesake museum, made of nine balsa wood tree trunks lashed together with hemp rope.
In the evening, we gathered for a cocktail reception and dinner at the hotel.
July 18, 2023 | Longyearbyen
We boarded an afternoon charter flight to the small coal-mining town of Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen Island in Norway's Svalbard archipelago. The scenic flight revealed snow-capped peaks, glaciers and arid terrain enroute.
After an interesting tour of the Arctic Museum and town itself, we boarded our sleek luxury vessel, ‘Le Boreal.’ Setting sail, we spotted the largest animal known to have lived on earth — the blue whale. Upward of 100 feet in length and weighing over 100 metric tons, very little of it appeared out of the water. Yet, its exceptionally long body and tiny, dorsal fin were unmistakable. What a bonus, on our first evening!
This voyage has begun most auspiciously.
July 19, 2023 | Svalbard Archipelago
In preparation of the adventure ahead, we received our parkas, waterproof trousers and boots. After a briefing, our resident polar bear expert, Morten Joergensen, led a discussion about the fascinating creatures we hoped to see. Our Captain then positioned ‘Le Boreal’ near the Smeerenburgbreen glacier in glorious weather, which made for a spectacular scene.
After lunch, we boarded our Zodiacs to explore Gravneset (Grave headland) in Magdalenefjorden. First explored by William Barents in 1596, it is surrounded by majestic mountains and soaring glaciers. Truly, it is one of Svalbard’s most beautiful fjords.
A former British whaling station, Gravneset reveals the remains of four blubber ovens, along with a graveyard containing about 130 graves that date from the 17th to the late 18th century.
Disembarking, we set out on a short — but most enjoyable — walk, observing a group of 10 male walrus lying on the beach, complete with massive tusks and curious expressions.
This evening, we donned our best finery to attend our Captain's festive welcome cocktail party and dinner.
July 20, 2023 | Svalbard Archipelago
We began this gem of a day with a Zodiac tour along the snout of the Etonbreen glacier on Nordaustlandet. It debouches into Wahlenbergfjorden, a fjord on the southwest coast of Nordaustlandet
Lending context to our stunning surroundings, our knowledgeable A&K guides discussed the complexities of glaciers and shared insightful information about ice formations, ice terminology and the dangers of navigating ice. What a privilege it was to travel the face of a glacier, hearing the popping of air bubbles, just 600 miles south of the North Pole.
Enjoying another day of glorious weather, we sat down to lunch back onboard. In the afternoon, we embarked on a second Zodiac excursion — this time to Alkefjellet, a high, sheer guano-cloaked cliff in Lomfjordhalvoya. Gullies, caves and waterfalls render this place a visual feast.
A nesting place for some 60,000 pairs of breeding Brünnich's guillemot, it serves as a harbor from predators, like the Artic fox, wolf and polar bear. In a mesmerizing display, thousands of bird took flight, floated in the water around our Zodiacs and peered out from the cliff face. As we marveled at the scenery, historian Rob Caskie discussed the failed British voyage led by Captain Sir John Franklin.
During dinner, our Expedition Leader announced not one, but five polar bear could be seen from the ship. Dinner was promptly abandoned, as guests rushed onto the outer decks. Zodiacs were lowered with great excitement, and we watched as a mother with two large cubs climbed over a rocky ridge. Meanwhile, a mighty male bear — who was feeding on a whale carcass — moved deliberately along the shoreline, forcing a smaller adult to hastily retreat.
This is the sort of day guests and A&K dream about.
July 21, 2023 | Svalbard Archipelago
After last night’s intensely exciting polar bear sighting, our Captain graciously steered ‘Le Boreal’ north into the Arctic Ocean in search of more. Navigating ice, we kept our eyes trained through fog that came and went. At roughly 540 miles from the North Pole, we observed plenty of seal, a good sign since they’re the bears' primary source of food.
Our resident geologist, Dr. Jason F. Hicks, then gave an enlightening lecture on the birth of the Arctic Ocean. Afterward, many searched for elusive bear from the deck and took in the magnificent setting.
Later we gathered as our polar bear expert discussed the species’ adaptations, which aid survival in these extreme conditions. These animals can take on 20% of their body weight in food in a single meal — never mind increase their weight four-fold in a single season.
Thick fog hung about during the afternoon, as marine mammal expert Hella Martens shared a presentation on the pinnipeds of the Arctic and Norwegian Botanist Nellie Nilsen discussed factors for plant survival in the Arctic.
July 22, 2023 | Ny-Alesund
‘Le Boreal’ arrived at Ny-Alesund on the island of Spitsbergen, an area regularly visited by polar bear. A tiny settlement of less than 200, its residents share communal facilities and a canteen.
Here, the historical significance runs deep — this was the starting point of the 71-hour, 3,287-mile Amundsen-Ellsworth-Nobile dirigible flight over the North Pole. The N-4 Italia was the second of these flying machines. Almost identical in design to the N-1 Norge but with a slightly larger in gas capacity, it crashed in May 1928, resulting in a total of 17 crew and rescuer fatalities. The substantial steel mast to which both Norge and Italia were anchored remains at Ny-Alesund, along with a bust of Roald Amundsen.
The afternoon was enjoyed at Fjortende Julibreen, where we had the opportunity to a walk upon the wide, impressive glacier and visit a small cliff face dressed in an abundance of Arctic flora. Above the cliff, on towering peaks, black-legged kittiwake nested in profusion. On the mountainside below, reindeer grazed. It was a breathtaking scene on a very exciting, full expedition day.
July 23, 2023 | Alkhornet
Continuing onward to Alkhornet at the entrance to Isfjorden, we observed thousands of thick-billed murres and black-legged kittiwake on the cliffs, clearly audible from hundreds of feet below.
We disembarked amid undulating tundra, setting off to explore alongside guides and polar bear guards, while reindeer watched at close range. An upcoming photo competition had many attempting to capture a winning shot. Returning to ‘Le Boreal,’ we attended a discussion on climate change and polar amplification before sitting down to lunch.
This afternoon, our photo coach, Andy Coleman, shared tips on landscape photography. Then, resident historian, Rob Caskie, spoke about the life and achievements of Roald Amundsen. Whale, walrus and dolphin were later spotted about the ship — the perfect end to an enriching day.
July 24, 2023 | At Sea
On a very calm ocean, we made our way southwest toward the Norwegian volcanic island of Jan Mayen Island. With the day spent at sea, enrichment opportunities were plentiful. Climate ecology expert Jim McClintock began with a presentation on the dramatic effects of climate change in the Arctic.
Geologist Jason Hicks then discussed the geology and weather of Greenland and polar bear expert Morten Joergensen talked about the ice bear's reproductive habits and adaptations. Due to the changing environment and the species’ limited diet, the future of these magnificent creatures is uncertain. Complicating matters further, Greenland shark and orca opportunistically snatch the young.
Next, cultural lecturer Anna Lena Ekeblad spoke about the history of Svalbard and Longyearbyen. From the Svalbard Global Seed Vault to the Northern Lights, avalanches and multi-cultural community of 2,400 living at 78 degrees north, fascinations abound.
It is Captain Florian Richard's birthday today, and ‘Le Boreal’ dancers and singers put on a wonderful post-dinner show in his honor, capping this great day at sea.
July 25, 2023 | Jan Mayen
Our marine biologist, Hella Martens, gave a beautifully illustrated presentation on the cetaceans of the north — totaling nearly 90 species — to the sound of humpback whale, bubble-net feeding, lunge feeding and echo location. We then attended a botany discussion about flowers in the Arctic, which lent insight into ways flora has adapted to survive harsh conditions.
Around lunchtime, we approached the volcanic island of Jan Maye, named for Dutchman Jan Jacobs May van Schellinkhout, who visited the island in 1614. Just 34 miles long, the narrow landmass consists of larger northeast Nord-Jan and smaller Sor-Jan, linked by a 1.6-mile-wide isthmus.
Its spectacular centerpiece is the symmetrical, glacier topped Beerenberg stratovolcano, which stands at 7,470 feet. Disembarking, many set out on a guided, five-mile hike. Others explored at leisure, seeing relics such as whale bone and driftwood carried from Siberia on the black volcanic beach. Meanwhile, moss covers the slopes, creating a breathtaking setting that is notably less arid than Svalbard. The only landmass in the northern hemisphere where warm and cold ocean currents meet, Jan Maye sees minimal variation in seasonal temperatures.
This evening, Captain Florian Richard guided our vessel on a highly irregular course in search of polar bear and walrus. Tomorrow, we will again search for bear on solid sea ice along east coast of Greenland. Excitement levels are high as this A&K cruise proceeds beautifully.
July 26, 2023 | East Greenland
We approached East Greenland, with the intention of cruising along the ice edge, while hoping to spot polar bear and other marine life. Longyearbyen resident Anna-Lena shared stories about her 28 years spent in the Arctic — including what it’s like to live in complete darkness from November 26 through March 8 each year and the reality of polar bear wandering the streets.
As micropaleontology and paleoclimate expert Reed Scherer discussed climate change, a polar bear was spotted on the sea ice. Indeed, we were blessed with a fantastic viewing of this young male as it swam and walked about in search of food.
Next, our photo coach shared images and discussed the art of capturing people and cultures, followed our historian’s talk on Fridtjof Nansen, Frederick Cook and Robert Peary’s quest to the North Pole. We were then called back on deck to view the rare, slow — not to mention, huge — Greenland bowhead whale. With just about 300 individuals in existence, this great created was nearly hunted to extinction. Although the species has gradually increased in number, it is seldom seen. In fact, some of the team — decades-long Arctic residents — said it was their first sighting.
We enjoyed yet another whale sighting this evening. Then, during dinner, our Captain guided ‘Le Boreal’ close to a massive tabular iceberg to everyone’s excitement. Before we turned in for the evening, we sat down to a lovely piano recital.
July 27, 2023 | Scoresby Sound
Today, we prepared to visit Ittoqqortoormiit. With just 345 residents as of 2020, it is one of the most remote inhabited communities on earth. Set on Liverpool Land, east of the Hurry Inlet, it is situated near the mouth of the northern shore of the Kangertittivaq fjord, which empties into the Greenland Sea.
With breathtaking views in all directions, we donned our parkas and indulged in an al fresco Arctic barbeque onboard, marveling at the mountains and steep edges surround the fjords.
Although ice slowed our approach, our Captain expertly guided ‘Le Boreal’ close to the village. In the afternoon, we boarded Zodiacs to explore this magnificent landscape, traversed by brave sailors and intrepid rock climbers. Upon making land, we explored the settlement independently, seeing the memorial to French Polar explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot, who carried out extensive charting in the Antarctic Peninsula. Habituated Arctic hares scampered between the homes, as four-wheelers traversed the landscape. Returning to the ship, we gathered for dinner and dancing, as we reveled in.
Everyone returned to ‘Le Boreal’ for dinner and dancing, while reveling in our collective experiences amid Scoresby Sound.
July 28, 2023 | At Sea on the Denmark Sea
We awoke with the memory of last night’s excitement — around midnight, a polar bear was spotted on an ice floe with her cub. Everyone rushed outside to witness the incredible scene.
Today is a day at sea, with enrichment opportunities galore. Some early risers took a yoga class to welcome the day. Geologist Jason Hicks then gave a highly relevant talk on climate change, revolving around receding ice levels and melting glaciers.
Naturalists were on deck to provide binoculars and help identify birds. Before Morten Joergensen’s hard-hitting talk on threats to polar bear, we were given a copy of his book, “Polar Bears — Beloved and Betrayed.” A book-signing completed the provocative talk. Then, two more insightful lectures filled the afternoon.
We ended the day over caviar as we proceeded southward toward Iceland on a gentle sea.
July 29, 2023 | Husavik, Iceland
Early today, we berthed in Husavik — Iceland’s oldest settlement — on the northeastern coast.
Once on land, some embarked on a drive through the beautiful, rolling countryside dotted with quaint farmhouses and tiny settlements. As we took in the picturesque landscape, we learned about the island and its pioneering approach to geothermal energy.
Arriving at volcanic Myvatn Lake, we observed the fascinating craters lining its shore, as well as the lava flows, deep fissures and a forest of rock pillars, like Dimmuborgir. This is one of the only places on the globe to see tectonic plates moving apart above ground. After a lovely lunch at a local hotel overlooking the lake, we visited the magnificent Godafoss Waterfall, its powerful currents of pale-blue water pouring over a crescent-shaped fall.
Meanwhile, those who set out to watch whales saw many up close on calm seas, including breaching humpback, orca and even a mink.
This evening, we attended our Captain’s farewell dinner, a sumptuous and festive meal indeed.
July 30, 2023 | Westfjords and Dynjandi
As morning broke, we cruised along the breathtaking northern coast of Iceland, where salmon farms can be spotted along the shoreline. Before the day’s activities began, we attended a talk on the future tectonic plate movements.
Arriving in Arnafjordur in the Westfjords region midday, we boarded Zodiacs to visit the majestic Dynjandi Waterfall, which plummets into the fjord. Flanked by abundant vegetation and mosses, the scene is quite indescribable. Once ashore in wide-eyed wonder, we took the footpath up the side of the river to the fall’s uppermost reaches, appreciating views from all elevations during the ascent. We spotted abundant birdlife along the fjord's edge, including redshanks and oystercatcher. It truly has been an extraordinary end to an A&K voyage in search of polar bear.
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