Kayaking in Svalbard, days blissfully lost in Shades of blue

Svalbard has some rather unique camping considerations. When choosing a spot on the beach, we had to make sure that we camped beyond the reach of the tide and waves of glacial tsunamis. There was no soil so our tents were held down with rocks we collected on the beach. So fragile, the rocks often opened like a book when picked up from the ground, splitting into hundreds of delicate, paper thin pages that were useless as weights, but magical to flick through in the search for fossils.


Another important consideration was our position. We needed to have good all round visibility so that we could spot any unwanted visits from Polar bears from a far. At night we constructed a trip wire around our tents, that, when triggered by an 'intruder', would set off loud flares to alert us, and hopefully scare off any big, furry, white intruders looking for an easy meal. As recommended in Svalbard, we also carried a rifle for self defence as a last resort. Finding fresh water wasn't a problem, it flowed off the snow capped mountains in streams, making the daily task of finding drinking water easy. 

Most evenings, as my freeze dried meal rehydrated I took a swim in the burning cold arctic waters. More often than not, I had to step around beached icebergs just to get to the waters edge and then navigate around them once in. In temperatures I estimate to be 2 degrees or so, the swim lasted no more than a couple of minutes. It was painful, the cold water made my skin burn and tingle and I struggled to control my breathing when all my muscles contracted from the shock of the cold. It was exhilarating and a little bit crazy which it why I loved doing it so much. To feel that cold burn of my skin and to feel so refreshed and awakened afterwards was always something I greatly looked forward to at the end of each day.

Except for the first day, kayaking in Svalbard was a vivid dream of near perfect reflections of the craggy mountains and endless shades of blue all around. The only ripples in the water were from my kayak, the heads of the seals that followed us and the birds who dragged their feet through the water as they took flight. It was so easy to blissfully lose my mind in this place. Transient, meaningless thoughts of almost nothing relaxed me so deeply that I’d often forget that I actually needed to paddle. I’d be sat on the water staring at the intoxicating blue ahead of me, spending far too long trying to figure out where the horizon was, only to shrug my shoulders and conclude that it didn’t matter anyway. I’d repeatedly try to estimate how tall the cliff was, again, only to decide that I’d never know the correct figure, but agree with myself that it was bigger than the last. I’d laugh to myself at how simple, and very trivial my thoughts were. I was so relaxed, so contented, that my brain turned to mash. All I knew was that I had the silliest of smiles permanently on my face and that my arms just kept moving somehow. 

On our last evening we camped on a sandy beach 3km away from Blomstrand glacier. Over dinner our conversation was repeatedly interrupted by the glacier calving. The topic soon switched to competitive estimates of the time duration between calving, 3km away, and the resultant mini tsunami waves hitting our beach. We began recording the time and were all very surprised by our under estimations. It took 21-26 minutes for the small waves to reach us.  

Every night after dinner we’d alway go for a short walk, keen to stretch our legs after a long day spent sat in a kayak. This evening was no different. The sandy beach was haphazardly scattered with washed up fragments of ice calved from the glacier, big and small and of all shapes and sizes. We laughed together as we tried to compare the natural ice sculptures to every day objects, aeroplanes, chickens, many snails and a few terrier dogs. All so out of place here in the arctic wilderness and completely objective to different eyes.

The next morning the aeroplane and chickens were nothing more than sparkling diamonds in the sand, melted under the mid night sun. The glacier hadn't slept. I could see the incoming large fragments of ice sailing towards the beach. In the distance I could also see Nordstjernen, on its way to collect us and take us home.