Glacier Walk, August, 2nd, 1998

[Sarkofagen mountain with glaciers to left and right]
[Roped in and ready to go]
[Sometimes the ground is not quite as solid as it looks]
[A beautiful day for glacier walking]
[Up the Sarkofagen mountain]
[Me over Longyearbyen, trying not to look down]
[The famous grouse]
[Shadow play]
[It's me again]
[The last few meters, down a rocky non-path]
On my last day in Svalbard I went on a glacier hike. Right next to Longyearbyen (the main settlement on Svalbard) is a mountain called Sarkofagen, with the glaciers Larsbreen to the left and Longyearbreen to the right. The route for the walk was going up on Larsbreen, then walking along the crest of Sarkofagen to the top (Sarkofagen is pretty steep from the side facing Longyearbyen, but quite flat on the other side) and then down to Longyearbreen and back to Longyearbyen. There were six of us doing the hike, one local guide and five tourists. The toughest part was actually getting to the glacier, since we had to walk halfway up the mountain over lots of rocks and rubble, which was exhausting and I was out of breath when we reached the glacier itself. [I had hoped that the trip would be breathtaking, but I didn't mean it literally. Fortunatly, when we actually were on the glacier and later on top of Sarkofagen, the view was breathtaking in the much more comfortable sense.]

On the glacier itself we strapped spiked plates to our shoes, grabbed our ice picks and were roped together. Having a safety rope seemed a bit over-cautious at first, since the glacer wasn't particulary steep or slippery and didn't have any large cracks in the ice. [And fortunatly we didn't really needed to use it.] But after a while it became obvious that looks could be deceptive. Since it was quite warm, the ice on the surface was melting and running down the glacier in lots of little streams. For some reason the streams were all going down in serpentines [I would have assumed that the water would carve straight lines into the ice] and in the bends the water was often fast enough to cling to the side of the ice, sort of like a bob sleigh going around a corner. As a result of this, the water dug into the ice almost sideways, so that there were places which looked quite solid from above, but were just a thin sheet of ice over a steep drop. (See picture.) Before it starts to sound overly dramatic: I'm not talking about hundred feet deep drops here, just a couple of yards, but falling down those ravines would not have been fun.

The walk over the glacier was impressive, especially since it was a warm (ok, about 12 degree celsius, but that is warm by Svalbardian standards) day, the sky was blue and the sun was reflected by ice, giving everything a slightly unreal and 'postcardy' look. After an hour or so, we were back on solid ground and went up Sarkofagen mountain on the 'stairway to heaven'. [The tour guide had nicknamed it thus, since the crest of the mountain is shaped like a triangle pointing towards the top of the mountain and is slanted upwards, so it looked a bit like the perspective view of a wide road going on into infinity towards the sky. {Ok, the description is a bit vague and it's one of the rare cases were a picture really tells more than a thousand words, but unfortunatly I didn't take a picture of it. Anyway, the name seemed appropriate when we stood there.}]

When we reached the top, we had a coffee break and nice (did I mention breathtaking?) view of Longyearbyen and the glaciers. On our way down towards Longyearbreen we spotted a grouse, which had just taken a sandbath. When we passed a waterfall and saw our shadows on the side of the mountain, I realized what the row of shadowy figures, walking single file and carrying (ice-)picks reminded me of: the seven dwarves from Snow White (ok, we were just a group of six, but the similarities were obvious), so we went down the glacier singing and whistling "Heigh-Ho" :-)

At the end of the glacier we could do a bit of fossil hunting, since the rubble there is full of them. (I found four stones with fossilized leaves in them in about two minutes, so they are very easy to spot.) And from there it was just walking down the rocks and rubble back to Longyearbyen and the trip was over.

Here are a couple more pictures from the trip:
[Melted water building streams down the glacier] [Still near the foot of the glacier] [Melted water building streams down the glacier] [Crossing the streams carefully] [Onwards and upwards] [Onwards and upwards] [Glacier view (Larsbreen)] [Glacier view (Longyearbreen)] [Glacier view (Larsbreen)] [Glacier view (Longyearbreen)] [View from the top of Sarkofagen down at Longyearbyen] [Coffee break on the top of Sarkofagen mountain] [Coffee break on the top of Sarkofagen mountain] [On top of Sarkofagen mountain] [Glacier, Mountains, Sky, Waterfall - a bit of everything] [Glacier view (Longyearbreen)] [Down Sarkofagen mountain and to the Longyearbreen glacier] [Waterfall] [Melted water building streams down the glacier] [Melted water building streams down the glacier] [Down the glacier towards Longyearbyen] [Melted water building streams down the glacier] [Melted water building streams down the glacier] [Almost at the end of the glacier, looking down towards Longyearbyen] [Melted water building streams down the glacier] [Another view of the glacier]

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