There’s something haunting about the Arctic landscapes: aqua blue icebergs floating on crystal water, massive glaciers crackling in the background towered by snow mountains. Few places boast such striking physical appeal and raw wilderness as the polar regions. Since returning from the Arctic, I’ve found it hard to get the images of sparkling glaciers and sounds of trickling ice water out of my head.
My Arctic expedition with G Adventures took me around the Svalbard archipelago of the High Arctic region. This group of islands belong to Norway, although geographically, they are closer to the North Pole than continental Europe. Besides being the largest wilderness of Europe, this is also one of the Arctic regions that offer the widest variety of landscapes, wildlife and ecosystems.
Each day of our Arctic expedition presented to us starkly distinctive landscapes: from brown moss-covered mountains one day to thousand-year-old glaciers the next. Through our cabin windows, we would wake up to see frosty ice fields in the morning, then green tundra slopes by night. There wasn’t a single moment of monotiny in our backdrop.
To show you the different faces of the Arctic, here’s a breakdown of the various geological terrains around Svalbard:
Around 60% of Svalbard today is covered by ice; glaciers are found almost everywhere in the Arctic, presenting both a majestic sight and an obstacle to modern-day travel. One of the most impressive glaciers we’d seen on our expedition was the 14th July Glacier in Krossfjorden. Named after the French national holiday Bastille Day, this majestic tidewater glacier stands at the head of an iceberg-filled bay. From here, the view of Krossfjorden was impressive: a mile of white ice stretched beneath our feet, the ice mountain striated with dark medial moraines and cleft by deep blue crevasses.
Ice fields are the classic representation of the Arctic – a sea of floating ice sheets broken apart by the onslaught of summer. Polar bear encounters are common here as seals (their main source of food) tend to lounge around on these ice floes. The biggest ice field in Svalbard is found off Brasvalbreen, the southern tips of Nordaustlandet (an island in Svalbard). At 109km wide, the ice field is so immense that the horizon is just an endless sea of white – a strikingly beautiful scene that’s rarely found elsewhere.
Icebergs come in different shapes and sizes – from small white brash ice to enormous aqua blue growlers. At Hornsundet, we weaved by thousands of icebergs that ranged in sizes and colors. Blue is a sign of old age (iceberg probably formed thousands of years ago), while white indicates recent formation. As our zodiac bumped against a growler, our expedition guide grabbed a piece of ice off it and began chewing on it. As he passed it around the boat for us to taste the glacial ice, he said, “You’re drinking history.” I smiled at the thought of it.
It’s what you first see when as you first land in Longyearbyen, the main gateway to the Norwegian Arctic. Mountains, mountains and mountains. Translated to mean ‘pointed peaks’, Spitsbergen has an unusual topography that features steep slopes and sharp peaks. During our expedition, the few days of snow painted the mountains in shades of greyish white. At Magdalenefjord, the snow created a fairytale-like setting amidst the naturally-sculpted mountains.
Tundra is a treeless area between the icecap and the tree line of Arctic regions, having a permanently frozen subsoil and supporting low-growing vegetation. We explored quite a few tundra terrains, among which the walk at Kapp Lee stood out the most. Walking on the spongy moss surface,we spotted tiny flowers and plants such as the purple saxifrage – also known as the most northerly flower in the world.
As silent and aloof the Arctic may be, it has many faces to it. Through this pictorial display, I hope you enjoyed the Arctic scenery as much as I did. Click for more of my photos of the Arctic.
More to come over the next few weeks….
This experience was made possible by G Adventures as a part of their Wanderers In Residence program. I traveled with G Adventures on their Realm of the Polar Bear trip (Trip Code: XVRPNX). All opinions expressed here are entirely my own.