Sunday, 13 November 2016

Farewell, for now.

So it's been a while. Quite a while. Nearly 5 months in fact since the last time I updated this site. I'll say that the reason for not much being added towards the end of my time in Svalbard was due to my time being taken up by the dogs.

For those that weren't aware, I worked with Svalbard Husky for 3 months and got an insight into life on Svalbard for the locals. I'd lived of course as a student and that was incredible, the ties to UNIS and all. But life as a local was something else. Yet at the same time there wasn't much different. We spent the majority of our time outside doing interesting and awesome things like hikes, as usual, BBQs, breakfast on the roof, evenings at Svalbar, you know the drill if you've been reading this blog. And of course there were the tours with Svalbard Husky. Some of which was tiring and stressful but most of which I enjoyed and sorely miss.

But I haven't been working for Svalbard Husky back here in the UK. It's true that there have been other things to steal some of my time but I guess the real reason I hadn't written a closing post much like that of my peers is, I didn't want to admit it's over. I don't want to admit that I was so incredibly happy there despite being given the opportunity I had been gunning for since I was in high school, a PhD. I didn't want to admit that I came this close to throwing it all in and staying there.

For those reading that I have spent the last 4 years around at Aber, you'll know that I wanted nothing more than to continue in academia and excel and perhaps one day continue to becoming a lecturer, and I'm 70% sure this is something that I still want but for a short while, I got to experience a life that I loved just as much. Maybe even more.

Perhaps it was the people on Svalbard that I met that made and make me miss it so much. And so there's validity in the claim that going back would not fulfill this void I feel. But I can't seem to shake that there is more to the place than just the people.

I've seen Svalbard change people, relieve stresses and add a simplicity to life that I've never seen before. Maybe it's just the Norwegians relaxed approach to everything, who knows. But damn was I infected by it.

I've since settled into the new place and begun the PhD. It's been challenging and I don't think it's just me that's struggled to settle back into the life pre-Svalbard but I'm here and I'd be a fool to not make the most of it. Plus there's Kit and ohhhhh man had I missed him.

So I write this, in the middle of the Surrey hills, as an attempt for closure and also as a warning. Svalbard is an incredible place and many of the people that live there will tell you about how it trapped them and made them never want to leave. Well I left and I can certainly agree that it very nearly did trap me too.

I miss you Svalbard.

I will be back.


... Time for a cuppah I think,

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Ice Climbing, take two.

Tip of the day: Always bring spare socks. No one likes wet socks.

So on the 24th of April we were paid a visit by Bill Bailey as he played a gig for the northernmost town in the world. But apparently that wasn't a fun enough day and so when faced with the opportunity to go ice climbing with Noel and Arnau, naturally I couldn't pass the opportunity up.

Our target was a frozen waterfall north of Longyearbyen at Hyperittfossen:

This required travelling about for about an hour by snowscooter. Of course by this point it's nothing new and we've been numerous places by such modes of transport. However the snow scooter that I was afforded the luxury of using was that of Jamie Rodgers. I was warned beforehand that the scooter had no suspension but oh my, that was one hell of a bumpy ride. I don't think I could have physically gone above 70 kph or so and that was whilst on the verge of being propelled over the steering after each bump. No surprise that I had a hell of a lot of fun doing so!

So we arrived and it was a grey day but nothing terrible, no wind so a win there. All seemed well until we got to the top of the climb and Noel unfortunately fell through some hidden slush and procured a very moist foot in the process. A spare sock later and Noel was fine and ready to do some route prep. Just look at this photogenic man.

So the frozen waterfall was a 2 stage fall, the first was more of a slope and the second was sheer. Whilst Noel and Arnau scaled the first slope I took the scooter down to the lower slope and waited for them to set the top of sheer drop. This of course meant that I had a little while to take some pictures:

Once the top anchor was set, Arnau took the first climb:

Followed by Noel:

And then myself:

So much fun! I can pretty safely say that this is something I wouldn't have been able to do in the UK and I can definitely say that it's something I will do again. Mind you, next time I won't go about doing the following:

Seems that crampons tend to stick to ice and thus I ended up the wrong way round on the descent, at least Arnau got his picture of me failing (Y).

After all that excitement I was content. Arnau had other ideas though and decided that he just had to climb some of the rock as well, I swear this guy is obsessed or something. But with good reason, he is a rather good climber after all:

Though turns out it wasn't only me to have a minor issue whilst climbing. Arnau didn't end up the wrong way round but he could have had a much worse finale. One of the cams decided it had a problem with the wall and slipped out, given that the cams are the thing holding the rope in place on a lead climb, that fall wouldn't have been fun.

Once Arnau had scaled this face, there was a need to retrieve the top anchor that had been set. Naturally I got in way over my head and required rescuing but, I like to think I had everything under control...

And then it was time for Bill Bailey, and damn he was hilarious. We were sat center front and thus, naturally, were the ones to be picked on. "Give me the groove?" (In-joke for the Svalbuds)

All in all, a good day :)

Time for a cuppah I think.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Ice Climbing, take one.

So the next few posts are going to be a bit of a catch up as I've fallen behind, yet again, on keeping everyone up to date.

So the best place to start seems like the time we decided that exploring the safe section of the Ice-Caves wasn't enough and that we simply had to strap ourselves into the ice and venture forth down to the bottom of the glacier.

The climb consisted of 2 main drops, the first of which was about 4-5 heavily inclined meters but nothing too troubling. Our anchors were 2 ropes buried and tied directly into the ice, each had a locking carabiner and connecting the two was a sling that auto equalised. From this we had a single locking carabiner that was attached to the rope that we rapelled on and before we began climbing we had to be locked into the anchor ourselves by a separate sling that was also attached to our harness. Safety first!

After rapelling down the first slope one by one we moved to the second location where the drop was somewhat more dramatic and sitting in the 8 meter range, also vertical. This run was somewhat faster than the first as we were familiar with the techniques and maneuvers required to successfully rappel. Crampons attached I nearly impaled my leg on the way down but I didn't which I'm counting as a win.

And we all reached the bottom in one piece, fantastic.

Then came the even more exciting bit, we had to ditch the larger bags and head for the tiny gap just a few more meters down the trail that required us to lie on our bellies and claw our way through, pulling smaller bags and supplies with us as we went. Not that I spent a huge amount of time pondering on it but there was an entire glaciers worth of ice above our heads, not something for the claustrophobic! Once through we entered a larger cavern where we decided we would have lunch, but not till after seeing just how far we could make it before getting stuck; turns out we could go quite a way further but not without again having to get on our bellies and squeeze through a gap just about big enough for my shoulders, so much fun! Once we reached an area that we could stand up, the ice nerds started examining the facets of snow that had formed in the belly of the beast, and postulated on whether they had been formed merely by the breath of explorers or whether there was some form of air tunnel leading to the surface that was allowing a supply of moist air to reach the lower depths. I'm not sure a conclusion was reached but I cared not so much as my feet were starting to get cold. No one likes cold feet. So we squeezed our way back to the cavern and had lunch, breakfast burritos! (confused yet?)

Once we had satisfied our curiosity and I had run out of batteries in my camera and GoPro, we decided to head back up. If you've never used ascenders, I highly recommend the challenge, you need impeccable coordination or you will, as in my case, successfully impale yourself on the crampons. Ouch. Fun fact and testament to my clothing was that I managed to break my skin and draw blood but didn't actually manage to rip the trousers. Bizarre.

Absolutely hilarious fun though, especially with the company, and I can't see me forgetting it / not jumping at the opportunity to do it / something similar again.

Anywho it's late here despite the fact the sun seems to have forgotten it, yep, midnight sun! So I shall bit you all farewell and do my best to write the rest of the material up in the next few days and I promise a video to follow!

Time for a cuppah I think.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Invasion of the Parentals and the East Coast.

Tip of post? : Yamaha variator belts do not like 120kph (75mph).

So since the last post we've been up to a lot though at the same time nothing that felt like it was immediately requiring a blog post so to sum up we had...

 - Heathers Parents visited
 - Went Dog-Sledding
 - Many hikes up Trollsteinen and skiing
 - A fair amount of alcohol has been consumed, and student burgers...
 - A trip to the East Coast

Heathers parents came to visit and we had a great time laughing near non-stop. They took me dog sledding which was absolutely incredible; I was notified about 2-3 hours before departure, when I was mid class, that I would be leaving for the kennels and I could barely contain my excitement though I don't think I was half as excited as Heather was to see the dogs, she's a little nuts over them it would seem. Anywho, we arrived and spent about half an hour touring around about 150 dogs, all of which were beyond ecstatic to see us and all wanted a bit of a cuddle and by cuddle I mean they wanted to knock us down and lick us to death. All except this one dog, named Peanut, that just wanted to sit on my lap and cuddle into me. She was absolutely beautiful:

What made it even better was that Peanut was the lead dog on the sled that we were given, of which we had to assemble to team ourselves including harnessing and strapping in which was entertainment and a half. Our team consisted of: Peanut, Tequila, R2-D2, Clint, Gaillardo, and another whom the name escapes me bringing the total to 6. With me and Heather to one sled and her parents to another we set off in the eastern direction of Adventdalen for a short adventure.

Our dogs were very strong and competent meaning that it took a bit of effort for Heather to be able to stop the sled at times but her parents sled took a small journey with Petrey (Peter) hanging on the back desperately trying to hold the brake down, mildly entertaining. Upon returning we were treated to an introduction to 2 of the pups of the season. My British readers will understand when I say they were like slightly smaller and poofier Andrex puppies but for those that aren't familiar with Andrex, just imagine a really tiny polar bear and you're just about bang on. Unsurprisingly Heather broke and started making inaudible noises at the sight of them. Bless her.

During the time Heathers parents were here we went skiing, hiking, fooding (70% sure that's a real word), and just generally had an awesome time. The skiing was awesome and I've started getting my skiing legs back from the last time I ski'd when I was 12, I've since taken as many opportunities to ski as I can and I'm slowly getting better which is great!

Since the week that the parentals invaded we've been doing the occasional thing, though nothing of huge consequence as I mentioned prior, that is till we came to the Easter break and had huge eyes from the thoughts on what we could get up to. Unfortunately for us we pulled the short straw on the rifle situation and thus weren't really able to govern the trips we went on and had to strap ourselves onto other trips that had rifles. This bode well for Heather and Noel as they have a scooter and thus were able to go out and about with the rest of the scooter people on long awesome trips but we were somewhat stuck back at home base waiting for something to come up. This did mean a few rather tedious days ensued but up came the opportunity to take a hike up Sarkofargen (the out of of the back window of the barrack) and I jumped on it. It was such a glorious day up there and many funs were had. Then came the skiing down and I have to say I wasn't great; the fact that I didn't have my helmet on probably knocked my confidence slightly but then that's my own fault.

And then came the biggest breakthrough, we found someone, with rifle, to come on an East Coast trip with us. YES! So we hopped down to the scooter rental as fast as we could and booked in for the following day. To say I was excited was an understatement.

Skipping to the morning of the next day I was described as a child on Christmas as I just wanted to get out and onto the scooter as fast as I could to start the journey. So we walked down to the rental place again, suited and booted, had a short tutorial on how to use the scooters, and awaited the arrival of Heather, Noel, and the new addition of Lucien (the "with rifle" part).

And we waited.......

...........and waited...........

About half an hour later they turned up and just in time too as my thumb was getting itchy; equivalent of trigger finger but for scooters.

Shortly after the arrival of the trio, the 6 of us began our adventure towards the east coast, passing valleys engulfed in the sun and stretched out to the horizon, cliffs that rose vertically from the land and reached out into the sky, mountains capped in wispy clouds like fancy icing on a cake, and glacial ice as blue as the bahaman sea.

And then we reached the East Coast. Mohnbukta was the final destination of the route and whilst the weather wasn't the clearest and there was a lot of white on the horizon, the views were still stunning and the search for the polar bears was on. Cameras and phones at the ready we scoured the area for about half an hour but no luck on the polar bears, twas a shame but something that we weren't overly surprised about.

We knew that polar bears are common in the area but with the dwindling sea ice due to the warming of the sea, the sightings of polar bears near the ocean seem lower than ordinary. Nonetheless this didn't dampen our spirits, so onwards we pressed and more spectacular views were to be had just a few kilometers north, including a very large glacial front that calves in the summer.

After food was had and many a giggle too, we decided it was time to start heading back considering it was going to hit sunset shortly. If I had managed to use a camera whilst riding I would certainly have tried to capture some of the sights in the stretch between the East Coast and where the next adventure occurred (keep reading to find out more). The sun was setting in the direction that we were riding and the lighting conditions made for some spectacular displays of the scooters travelling through such a beautiful landscape and the rays capturing the spray given off from them speeding across the snow. It was absolutely stunning. I did however stuff my GoPro into my scooter suit and tried to get some footage of the event and we'll have to wait a while to see whether anything came of it!

Aaaaaand then came the adventure that none of us had expected. So to give a bit of background there is a procedure carried out whilst riding scooters that simply says you intermittently check that the scooter behind you is still behind you and hasn't disappeared into the ether. So we had just entered a stretch called Sassendalen which is for all intents and purposes flat and very long and there I was being all safe and ensuring that the scooter behind me was still there and hadn't died. Surely enough it hadn't died, great, upon checking a second time the scooter suddenly wasn't in sight and of course I started to slow down just incase there had been an issue. A quick flash of my eyes back to the front to see whether anyone else had noticed this sudden lack of scooter revealed that the scooter hadn't in fact disappeared but was now speeding past us all. Naturally I wasn't going to allow this to happen without getting involved and within a relatively short period of time, 60kph turned into 100kph and then 120 kph. Oops. In short, the 120kph didn't last long as there was a loud bang from the engine and suddenly my scooter didn't want to go anywhere. Oops again. Under closer inspection I had managed to demolish the variator belt in a rather spectacular fashion. Though we could have picked a worse place to break down...

And the final thing of the day, once the belt had been replaced, came fortuitously a short distance outside of town where we were flagged down by a small group of scooters and they asked us whether we had any experience with fixing variator belts, it just so happened that the scooter that they were having issues with was the same model as the one that I was riding and thus we had literally just completed the identical procedure not an hour earlier. So there was our good deed for the day too!

But with the day finished we were all tired and worn out from all the awesome we had encountered and just wanted to curl up in bed and dream about the East Coast some more. I for one will find it hard to forget about such an awesome trip.

So there's that, an amazing few weeks doing different things and generally enjoying the time we have here. There's just under 2 months left here and it's going too fast, but you can bet we'll make the most of what we have left.

Time for a cuppah I think.