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Awaiting the returning sun

3rd - 8th March 1999

Wednesday 3rd March

I got up well before daybreak in order to get to Oslo airport in time; for the fourth year in a row I was going for a fourth trip to the high arctic. Hopefully. Having arrived at the airport, it was snowing heavily and piling up quickly, and for this reason there were several cancelled flights. But after some time I could board my flight. I had to wait yet some some for the plane to be deiced and twice for the runway to be cleared of snow. Then finally ... takeoff!

[Deicing] 1999/3/3 09:38MET
35mm ; f/5.6 ; 1/125"
200ISO ; UV
Near Lofoten
[Lofoten] 1999/3/3 11:13MET
24mm ; f/2.8 ; 1/4000"
200ISO ; UV

In a short while, I was flying above Northern Norway. The sky was clear and the view of the barren snow-white landscape was splendid. Then I was flying across the Arctic Ocean. It was four hours after the take-off in Oslo when the shores of Spitsbergen appeared in some mist below a pale sun just above the southern horizon. Shortly before the landing, I got a view of Bjørndalen (Bear Valley), which I intended to visit on the weekend. The valley is at Isfjorden (Ice Fjord); however, because of the constant eastern winds, the fjord was actually nearly free from ice.

[Bjørndalen] 1999/3/3 13:37MET
50mm ; f/2 ; 1/2000"
200ISO ; UV
Hut 13, the outermost of the town
[Hut 13] 1999/3/8 09:52MET
24mm ; f/5.6 ; 1/125"
100ISO ; UV

I had arrived in Longyearbyen (Longyear City), the administrative center of the archipelago and the home of 1,300 Norwegians. I had agreed to meet a friend who had kindly invited me to stay at his place, so I sought his humble room in the southernmost part of the down, left my gear there, and went to the university building to meet him.

On the roof of the auroral station
[The auroral station] 1999/3/3 17:38MET
24mm ; f/2.8 ; 1/4"
200ISO ; UV

The auroral station in Adventdalen
[The auroral station] 1999/3/3 18:04MET
24mm ; f/2.8 ; 1"
200ISO ; UV

He gave me a tour around in the university building, which I had only briefly visited before. Then we went to the auroral station in Adventdalen along with a Russian engineer for another tour, inspecting the instruments there.

Later that night, we gathered at the Russian's place and had some drinks before we went to the pub and stayed there till the early hours, having a nice time.

The night was clear; the moon lit up the mountains and the sky. I just had to get my camera and catch some of this light on film.

[Moonlight] 1999/3/4 03:22MET
24mm ; f/2.8 ; 27"
200ISO ; UV

[Longyeardalen] 1999/3/4 03:22MET
24mm ; f/2.8 ; 20"
200ISO ; UV
Thursday 4th March

When I got up the next morning, a clear sky beckoned me to go to the mountains; the temperature was around -15°C and it was just breezy, a wind speed of 5 - 10 m/s. Not at all too cold. The sun had already risen, but at here this far north, only 1300km from the north pole, the sunbeams could not yet penetrate into the valleys. I wanted to ascend Nordenskiöldfjellet (Mount Nordenskiöld), rising 1,050 metres above sea level, and get a view of the sun from there. I climbed Longyearbreen (Longyear Glacier). At the top of the glacier, I met some other skiers who had come on snowmobiles. I was standing only ten metres in the shadow, but I pressed on towards the summit after a short break. Soon it became very steep. I started to worry about going down, and I turned back before I got to the summit. When I got back to the place I had been standing only ten metres in the shadow, the sun was already gone and I didn't get to see the sun that day.

At the top of the glacier
[At the top of the glacier] 1999/3/4 13:16MET
24mm ; f/2.8 ; 1/500"
64ISO ; UV
Skiers at the top of the glacier
[Skiers] 1999/3/4 13:22MET
200mm ; f/5.6 ; 1/250"
64ISO ; UV
View of Longyeardalen
[Longyeardalen] 1999/3/4 13:43MET
200mm ; f/5.6 ; 1/250"
64ISO ; UV
View of the mountains
[View] 1999/3/4 13:50MET
24mm ; f/5.6 ; 1/250"
64ISO ; UV
At the entrance of the grottos
[The grottos] 1999/3/4 20:39MET
24mm ; f/2.8 ; 1"
Inside the grottos
Hans-Patrick Kuss
[The grottos] 1999/3/4 20:50MET
24mm ; f/2.8 ; 1"
Inside the grottos
[The grottos] 1999/3/4 21:27MET
24mm ; f/2.8 ; 6"

I went up Longyearbreen once more in the evening with some students from the university to explore some grottos below its surface. These grottos are made from running water in the summertime so they change every year. The grottos form strange labyrinths below the surface of the ice.

Above the ice, the northern lights were sweeping across the sky. The lights appeared as green columns towering behind the mountains into the southern sky; hardly moving at all one minute, the rippling like curtains in the wind the next. While I was descending the glacier, I really regretted that I only had a very slow film in my camera, a film that couldn't catch this faint light properly.

The northern lights lit the sky long into the night.

Friday 5th March

The next morning, the day broke even more beautifully than the last with a temperature of -20° with a very slight wind. This day we agreed that we, some students and I, should go to the students' cabin in Bjørndalen. Some of us went on foot along the fjord by the airport, and two others crossed Platåfjellet (Plateau Mountain). En route, as it became dark, the weather changed. All of a sudden a gale began to blow from the east and in an instant the air filled with horizontally blowing snow. It was impossible to tell whether the snow was coming from the sky or the mountains. We walked in thick darkness, the moonless sky shrouded with clouds and the lights of the town too far to be seen.

When we arrived at the cabin, the temperature measured -7° outside, but -15° indoors. The weather really had changed in a short time. Soon enough, however, the fireplace warmed the cabin and we made dinner. The two who had crossed Platåfjellet arrived just before midnight. One of them had barely escaped disaster. While skiing in the darkness, he suddenly found himself falling through thin air - he had a free fall of six metres off a huge snowdrift at the top of a steep slope 400 metres above the floor of the valley. Fortunately, he escaped the slide down the slope. "I wouldn't dare to make that descent in daylight," said the other when they had arrived at the cabin. He wasn't just joking. We went to the place in daylight the next day and were amazed how they were able to get down safely the night before.

We ate, drank and talked through the night.

[Longyearbyen] 1999/3/5 09:56MET
24mm ; f/2.8 ; 1/60"
64ISO ; UV

In the hall of the university
[At the university] 1999/3/5 16:45MET
24mm ; f/2.8 ; 1/15"
200ISO ; 80C
Dinner in the students' cabin
Rupert Krapp, Morten (back turned),
Jonathan, Maria, Jens Larsen
[Dinner] 1999/3/5 22:17MET
24mm ; f/2.8 ; 1"
200ISO ; 80C
The students' cabin in Bjørndalen
[The students' cabin] 1999/3/6 02:15MET
24mm ; f/2.8 ; 60"
The fall off the snowdrift
Knut Høyland
[Fall] 1999/3/6 16:48MET
24mm ; f/2.8 ; 1/125"
200ISO ; UV

Saturday 6th March
Across Isfjorden
[Isfjorden] 1999/3/6 11:07MET
24mm ; f/5.6 ; 1/250"
200ISO ; UV

The cabin is situated close to Isfjorden. In the light of the following day, a large part of the fjord was visible. The fjord was still mostly free from ice due to the eastern winds. Far and wide, snowclad mountains could be seen across the fjord, and from these were great glaciers flowing motionlessly into the sea.

Far across Isfjorden
[Isfjorden] 1999/3/6 11:22MET
500mm ; f/8 ; 1/125"
200ISO ; UV
[Lunch] 1999/3/6 12:06MET
24mm ; f/2.8 ; 1/4"
200ISO ; 80C

I was standing on a small hill for some time, scouting around in the fjord with my super telephoto lens to see whether I could catch sight of any animals in case there were some out there on the ice (such as a polar bear, of course). They're not uncommon around here, but I saw none.

[Me] 1999/3/6 12:50MET
135mm ; f/32 ; 1/15"
200ISO ; UV

We left the cabin before 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Some of us decided to go back to Longyearbyen across Platåfjellet. The climb cost quite a lot of sweat, my backpack was heavy (I had brought too much photographic gear!) and I could say that I did the ascension twice, because the slope was steep and the snow so hardpacked that I couldn't get proper footing. I slid, again and again. By the time I reached the top, I was drenched with sweat, and thought I'd better changed to some dry clothes. I took the damp clothes off. As soon as the sweaty hair on my head touched the air, it froze to ice. The moment of nakedness and aching cold fingers were to soon to be rewarded with the refreshing warmth of dry, woolen clothes.

We crossed the plateau. There was a decent amount of snow there. Sometimes it could bear our weight, sometimes the feet sunk into it. We eventually reached Longyearbyen by Tverrdalen (Side Valley) in the blue light of the sun which had set several hours earlier.

and myself
[Me] 1999/3/6 12:59MET
135mm ; f/5.6 ; 1/250"
200ISO ; UV
The shore of Isfjorden
[Isfjorden] 1999/3/6 13:09MET
24mm ; f/16 ; 1/60"
200ISO ; UV
Dry clothes!
[Sweating] 1999/3/6 16:55MET
24mm ; f/4 ; 1/125"
200ISO ; UV
Upper end of Tverrdalen
[Tverrdalen] 1999/3/6 19:10MET
24mm ; f/2.8 ; 1"
200ISO ; UV
Sunday 7th March
Purushotham Kanuganti "Uttam"
[Vttam] 1999/3/7 12:43MET
24mm ; f/5.6 ; 1/125"
100ISO ; UV

A day of rest ... but still an occation for skiing. I was very surprised to meet an Indian here of all places. He was a student at the university. I had recently been to India myself and we talked quite a bit about India. He was also eager to learn to ski, so we decided to go for some skiing that day. We ascended the lower part of Longyearbreen, and he skied pretty well, though he had never tried this before! However, the descent turned out to be much more difficult.

Monday 8th March

For 116 days there is continuous night in Longyearbyen Even when the sun finally starts rising, the mountains block the light. It is not until the 8th of March, after five months without any sun, that the light finally reaches a certain place in the town. Then the children gather there and the weeklong sun festival begins.

[Longyearbyen] 1999/3/8 10:03MET
135mm ; f/5.6 ; 1/125"
100ISO ; UV

Waiting for the sun
[Waiting] 1999/3/8 12:19MET
24mm ; f/8 ; 1/125"
100ISO ; UV


I just had time to see the sun festival start before I had to leave the town for the airport. Even television reporters had come to cover this event and I saw it again on the evening news. The sun appeared about 1 o'clock and then I went to the airport.

Reporters national TV
[Television reporters] 1999/3/8 12:21MET
24mm ; f/8 ; 1/125"
100ISO ; UV


I got back home in the evening. Much snow had fallen in Oslo since I left. A lot. There were huge piles of snow everywhere. In one week a full metre of snow had fallen.

The old hospital steps
[scālae] 1999/3/8 12:17MET
24mm ; f/5.6 ; 1/250"
100ISO ; UV


[Children] 1999/3/8 12:34MET
135mm ; f/5.6 ; 1/60"
100ISO ; UV

The sun is about to return
[Returning sun] 1999/3/8 12:17MET
34mm ; f/5.6 ; 1/250"
100ISO ; UV


The singer Jan Eggum
[Eggum] 1999/3/8 12:36MET
135mm ; f/4 ; 1/125"
100ISO ; UV

[Gathering] 1999/3/8 12:29MET
50mm ; f/8 ; 1/60"
100ISO ; UV


The sun is about to return!
[Returning sun] 1999/3/8 12:37MET
135mm ; f/5.6 ; 1/250"
100ISO ; UV

Posted 20th March 1999.


The archipelago
of Svalbard

2000: An expedition to Svalbard

This is an account in six parts about a voyage on board the Havsul of Tromsø across the Barents Sea to Spitsbergen. We visited the fjords and explored the land, and we were in for a few surprises.
To the story.
Posted 13th November 2000

1998: Arctic dawn

I went to Longyearbyen 11th February. The darkness still held the town, but every day the sun rose a little bit closer to the horizon. Then, finally, on the last day of my stay, the first sunbeams touched the peaks of the surrounding mountains.
To the story.
Posted 26th February 1998

Arctic dawn
1997: Navigation to Bear Island

I went on a voyage to Spitsbergen this summer. However, after many difficulties, we landed at Bear Island, and we decided to abandon our planned destination and to return to Norway from here.
To the story.
Posted 7th August 1997

Bear Island
1996: Polar midnight

I went on my first trip to Spitsbergen in December. I saw a wonderful land and great darkness, as the sun is as much as 12° below the horizon at noon in the midwinter. I also got to feel the icy gales of the arctic.
To the story.
Posted 21st April 1997

Arctic midnight

Steinar Midtskogen