Unique, mysterious and extreme, Svalbard is the crown of Arctic Norway. Throughout our Svalbard #KeHujungDunia trip we had an awesome 4 days of arctic experience in which each day offers a new experience. So when a friend of mine asked me recently, which experience was my favourite? It wasn’t easy to answer.
I thought the dog sledding adventure we had on the first day was awesome but what we had on our second day was even more exciting. It is difficult for me to pick my best moment in Svalbard but if I would have to, it would be the second day when we went on a hiking and ice-caving trip at Lars Glacier.
A true “frozen” adventure.
Yes, when I say Frozen, I was referring to the movie with that annoying “Let It Go” song that every kid seems to memorize only the chorus’s lyrics. Yes, I had the chance to experience being Olaf (no I didn’t melt) witnessing first hand God’s creation of a beautiful winter wonderland.
In this 7 hours adventure, not only we got to enjoy the beautiful landscape nearby Nyben, but we also got to see a “hidden” world under the glaciers of Svalbard.
This ice-caving trip is actually a 2-part adventure:
a) Â a short “hike” using snow shoes to reach top of Lars Glacier
b) the ice-caving adventure itself where we explore the ice cave underneath Lars Glacier
This is something that we were not aware of initially when we purchased this excursion. Â We thought that we will be driven in a car or a snow-vehivle to the glacier and just spend time in the ice-cave. It was only few days before the trip when we were browsing TripAdvisor that we discovered about the need to hike for a couple of hours. It was actually a pleasant surprise as we love to challenge ourselves to something new. We did some hiking previously in Nepal and Kinabalu so we thought it would be cool to hike at such remote place in Svalbard as well!
After a delicious Norwegian salmon breakfast, we were picked up at our hotel lobby. Perfectly on-time we were greeted by Katja, our lead guide for the day.
The three of us met up with the rest of the team at Svalbard Widlife Expedition’s centre where we were given the winter gear. Snow shoes, poles, backpacks, wind breakers, helmet, harness, crampons and head lights were distributed and briefing about the equipment were made in a clear and concise manner.
A short van ride to Nyben, a settlement built once upon a time away from the main street of Longyearbyen for use by coal miners.
A group selfie before we start the hike. Our group of 9 hikers — 2 guides, 3 Malaysians, 2 Brits and 2 Norwegians. Fun group of people!
Snow shoeing is quite fun. It took me a while to get used to it but the easy terrain at the first 15 minutes of the hike gave me the chance to familiarise with the snow shoes and the poles.
As we leave civilisation, Katja our guide made a stop and explain about the threat of wildlife particularly the King of Arctic — the Polar Bear. As much as we want to be able to see some wildlife, the last thing we would want is to be near a Polar Bear.
We were briefed on how to react if a Polar Bear makes an appearance including making noise. Katja also explained that the rifle she carried will only be used as a last resort. Interesting to note that the rifle has no safety mechanism in place as safety locks might not be able to operate well if it freezes.
We head up the slopes of the Sarcophagus Mountain initially at quite a fast pace. Probably the combination of adrenaline and excitement wanting to reach the ice-cave as soon as possible.
It got steeper after about 45 minutes. It may look easy on the photos but throw in the fact that it was -10 degrees (with wind-chill easily below -20 degrees) also the fact that we NEVER had any experience hiking in snow, it wasn’t a walk in the park.
As we completed the first 90 minutes of the hike, me and my wife started to slow the group down. We were fortunate to have such nice team mates that decided to wait (and motivate) us to continue. We were told that there were visitors that did not make it to the ice-cave entrance and had to return to Nyben due to various reasons.
If in Nepal I had my MP3 player blasting songs to keep me going, here in Svalbard, my phone could not operate due to the freezing temperature. Probably it was a sign, that with such “SubhanAllah moment” right in front of my eyes, I would not need some random songs. I ended up reciting various zikir and selawat that I could recall which eventually creates an excellent feeling.
Our other guide, Danny, checking some prints.The good thing about having team mates from various countries is the ability to exchange stories. I still remember clearly how surprised they were when I told them that it was our first time walking in snow.
All of us were reminded to bring our own water. I brilliantly brought my usual water bottle that I always bring to my hiking trips. It was funny when I realised that it does not take long before my bottle of water became a bottle of ice 🙂
I had to wait until we reach our hotel to drink the water off the bottle. With the help of our guide, we ended up having some clean snow instead to quench our thirst.
We finally arrived at the entrance of the ice-cave after about a 2 hours 15 minutes hike. That’s 135 minutes being exposed to cold weather and occasional wind gusts, it might not seen as a big deal for some but to us it is an achievement! 🙂
I am still very proud of my wife’s achievement. She’s not a quitter!
There were just 9 of us there. At one point our guide asked everyone to stand still and keep quiet. It was an amazing feeling as you could hardly hear anything. Total silence coupled with an almost 360 degrees view of white snow. A moment I find hard to describe in words. Once again we felt the remoteness feeling Svalbard has to offer.
Katja digging up the entrance to our second part of the adventure as the rest of us geared up with crampons, helmets and headlamps.
The entrance was small but not an issue for us Asians 🙂 Remember those fairy tale scenes where you slide down to a mysterious world. This is exactly like that. The entrance leans to a couple of metres slide that brought us straight into the underworld beneath Lars Glacier.
Probably “wow” is the most frequently used words at the moment all of us enters the ice-cave.
It is an underworld with halls, tight passages and thick layers of ice crystals.
“Elsa was here”
One for the album.
We spent about an hour inside the cave. Coffee, grape hot drinks and biscuits were served.
Before leaving the cave, our guide once again asked everyone to remain still and switch off all the headlights. A few seconds of total darkness and total silent inside the cave. Very nice but after a couple of seconds I got a bit nervous and uncomfortable. Nevertheless indirectly it was a good reminder that one day we will all be “underneath” 🙂
Time to head back to Nyben. Notice that the sun has risen and ready to set all within a couple of hours’ time. At almost 3pm, you can already see the lights has already being switched on.
Walking down was uneventful.
Ok I lied. Nearing Longyearbyen I noticed that one of my snowshoes was missing. I actually walked in snow for a good 10 minutes without realising it. Thankfully our guide volunteered to backtrack and locate the shoe which by the n has been covered in snow. Thank you Svalbard Wildlife Expedition for being so kind and showing a high level of professionalism. You guys rock!
Back at Longyearbyen’s main street just in time for dinner. Not before taking my signature shot of wearing “Harimau Malaya” jersey. A proud day for this (and 2 others) Malaysian at a land high above.
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