May 2019, 78° North on Spitsbergen island: Longyearbyean, Barentsburg, Colesbukta, Grumant, Tempelfjord

Svalbard is the northernmost permanent settlement. It's also the warmest place at that latitude in the World, due to Gulf Stream. Isfjord, where main settlements are, is mostly ice-free year-round, which is very different from the nearby Greenland. North Pole is about 1000 km away.

According to Svalbard Treaty, it is managed by Norway, but any citizen of the World can come to live there if they can support themselves. Also, countries, which mine coal there, can maintain permanent settlements. Originally it was full of whaling stations until, unfortunately, the whales became almost exinct. There were many coal mines as well in the past belonging to many different countries, but currently there are only Norwegians and Russians who still operate the mines. Longyearbyen, formerly American mine and now the Norwegian capital, hosts people from around the world and specializes in tourism. Barentsburg, the active Russian settlement, is still mostly a mining town with many East-Ukrainian miners working there.

Mines are no longer relevant, but have to be operated until the treaty is changed. Polar research and tourism are main industries.

I have a passion for Northern wilderness, so Svalbard seemed like a perfect place to get our of mobile coverage and confront wild nature and polar bears. Also, my uncle Leonid Nesov, a paleontologist, had a story being lost while on expedition to Spitsbergen without food or other support years ago, so it was very romantic to visit the place myself. Nowadays, it is suprisingly easy to get to Longyearbyen - both Norwegian Air and SAS have daily flights from Oslo. Navigating around is another story - there are no roads and water transport is ridicuosly expensive.

May is "between the seasons" there, meaning that boats may not have started operating yet and you may not use snowmobiles anymore, because the snow is melting. We were lucky to get to use both.

Snowmobiles are by far the most exciting way to see around. Normally, you cannot leave settlements without a gun due to polar bears, but in the bar on the first night we learned from locals that polar bears are mostly a threat near water or ice. Up the mountains there is a very low probability to crash into them, so we took a flare gun and started riding along GPS tracks that we were given. Normally, without a guide to make it more exciting and easier to find adventures. The sun does not set in May, so there was no danger getting stuck in the dark. But of course, we ran into a polar bear while driving on the ice of Tempefjord in the fog.

It is a magical experience to ride a snowmobile in the wilderness. You cannot judge distances or sizes of anything you see because most times there is nothing for reference. Only ocassionally you see white reindeers. There's also plenty of abandoned settlements and mines to visit that give you a feeling of apocalyptic Ice Age future. The mountains and glaciers and our own thick clothes and helmets make you feel like you are on another planet. Think Interstellar. And then there's snow storms that make everything around you 100% white and this is when you completely lose your orientation. GPS is a life-saver in this situation.

Getting to Barentsburg is quite easy by snowmobiles - we got to abandoned settlement at Colesbukta and from there it's an easy ride. But we still opted for a Billyfjord ship to get there later because we wanted to stay for several days. In May departures are every other day, but there are daily options towards the summer. Barentsburg is less than 100km away, butfeels completely different - first you notice seeminly dirty shores due to active coal mining and black smoke from it's power plant. Lenin statue, people, shop, cantine, sport facilities - all are unmistakably Russian, despite Norwegian Krona being the currency there and having Norwegian prices. Barentsburg has the older brewery on the island, but they were out of more interesting beers at that time because the master brewer was on snowmobile vacation. Barentsburg has also only one tour company, so it's easier to organize and rent any equipment in Longyearbyen.

I would say that May turned out to be great time to visit because we had midnight sun, but still enough snow to ride on and not many other tourists. Definitely I'm coming back during the February-March "eternal sunrise" period and probably summer as well when you can really see more rocks and fossils, which are under snow most of the year.

Global seed vault stores World's seeds deep underground in the permafrost. They had a water leak there that time Approaching Longyearbyen Lots of reminders of coal mining past Norwegian church Colorful buildings improve mood in  black/white conditions Reindeers are even venturing into settlements Longyearbyen hosts more than 2000 people from tens of different countries Most mines and coal are above the ground in Svalbard Car park The only road that goes out of the town, to one of the mines Parked for the season Snow is slowly melting Kids facilities are still not available Svalbard has many The adventure begins Old mines had some railways At the top of the nearby mountain Longyearbyen from above White wilderness Many cosmic rays detectors It's good when you have an object in the distance for reference Wild local reindeers Driving along frozen river Reindeers finally finding some food due to patches of melted snow Approaching Colesbukta Old Soviet cemetery Abandoned coal processing plant Upstairs of the coal processing plant Isfjord and Arctic Ocean in the distance For the harsh Arctic winters Soviet baby food from 1980-s Toilet was outside This building is sometimes used by hikers between Longyearbyen and Barentsburg Dead reindeer This is not easy to cross with a snowmobile at this time Another form of transport in the Arctic You have to be careful on the slopes or the snowmobile will tip over Not easy to tip the snowmobile back Midnight sun while returning to the village One of the mines that still operates Lenin is even present in Norwegian bar Longyearbyen power plant is coal-powered but has good air filters installed Leaving for Barentsburg. The boat was fully booked, but we were lucky with somebody not showing The airport Dutch tourist expedition ship Glacier at the mouth of Isfjord Our ship broke the ice while leaving the glacier Approaching Barentsburg with renovated building facades Approaching Barentsburg feels like getting to another, dystopian world Old port office Most of buildings were lost to Nazi bombing in 1945 Orthodox church in Barentsburg School and kindergarten, 2-in-1 Main office of the mining company that runs the town Main Street One of 2 World's most nothernmost Lenins Lenin is overlooking the fjord to the West Local shop has very few things to buy and alcohol is not sold to tourists (locals have special coupons for alcohol). This is very different from a supermarket in Longyearbyen This is where miners live. Buildings are renovated from the outside, but not inside Cantine has historical legends painted on the wall The canteen is the cheapest place to eat on the whole Spitsbergen, but still very expensive for Russian standards. Card payments in NOK are accepted Our goal is communism - probably not anymore, but historical Soviet signs are cool Gritty shoreline of Barentsburg due to coal mining The only building that partially survived Nazi bombing Miners probably come to pray here Old Soviet Visiting the still operational mine in Barentsburg. No electronic devices allowed inside Very tough life for miners - deep underground without much light nor air, but with lots of dust Distances are not long, but miners still need bus transport to work. Shifts are 24h Black smoke from the power plant is visible from far away Barentsburg sign when entering by snowmobile from south-east The whole of Barentsburg from the air Abandoned mine on the slope of mountain Old Soviet tech These look like some space-tech, but are just ventilation for the mine In the control room Post-apocalyptic Ice Age Mine has collapsed not far from the entrance The first brewery on the island. Good food, but visited mostly by day-tourists from Longyearbyen, not locals Barentsburg museum tells a very different story from the one in Longyearbyen, claming that Russian Pomor people were the first to actually live here Museum from the outside was recently renovated and is the nicest building in town Russian embassy is rumored to give free Russian visas to anyone arriving here. Wait time is a week or so :-) Steep climb above Barentsburg Cosmic ray detectors above the city More coal No way we are going down this way... Inside of Barentsburg brewery - Read Bear Snow storm came 9th of May - Victory Day - celebrations are over in cultural house Second polar bear encounter (first one was right in the airport) Library The text here is very romantic. Definitely, polar region and Svalbard did leave me wanting to visit again... There is something magical about the place Replica of Pomor traditional house Husky farm visit Sports hall where school children also get sports trainings The gym is not very pleasant Swimming pool was being renovated. Not sure for how long Here competitions are being held with Norwegians Grumant, the first mine on the island Grumant was abandoned in 1960-s The cold wind is killing Remote buildings not far from Longyearbyen Greenpeace here to bully Norwegians, maybe because of coal or maybe oil rigs At the port of Longyearbyen On the way to Tempelfjord Watching for polar bears Frozen waterfall Behind a frozen waterfall Part of whale's skeleton Ancient very highly compressed ice is blue Beer stop at a refuge while searching for bears Flare gun is ready just in case Should we ride on ice in May or not? Ok, the ice seems thick enough. Polar bear territory! The glacier seemed very close from ~20km away These guys maintain their holes through the winter. Lots of them resting on the ice Approaching the glacier on foot Interstellar The ice is cracking already Where are polar bears? The visibility is not very good Flying above the glacier The icebergs are huge Thousands-year-old ice is melting quicker and quicker nowadays Visibility is not great for long ride back to the civilization... The edge of the glacier Climbing up the glacier Here it is - we almost bumped into it while riding in almost complete whiteness Should I take out my gun or the camera? Naturally, camera it is! The guy has blood on the face, so fortunately not very interested in us We followed this guy for some time with him stopping and looking at us every time we got too close. Scary shit Then we followed the footsteps back and found parts of a seal scattered on the snow Survivor man Eaten seal looks line an alien life form Crashed snowmobile in the middle of nowhere Last outpost of Longyearbyen Searching for underground ice cave SAS is landing in Longyearbyen airport
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