When I look outside, I cannot see much. Our ship is enveloped in fog, and once I am on the bow, visibility is not much better. Looking more carefully, I do see contours of what look like steep mountains in a white world of clouds and snow, and a visit to the bridge tells me that we are in fact sailing inside Hornsund, with mountains on both sides of the ship. Hornsund cuts deep into the southwest of Spitsbergen, and only has Sørkappland to the south. Hornbreen glacier connects Hornsund directly to Hamburgerbukta on Storfjorden to the east. When we sail into one of the branches of the sound, I see a stretch of fast ice with yet another glacier rising above it. When we come closer, we see an arctic fox running past: it has a darkish look in this white world, and keeps on running nervously from left to right, making for a nice one-fox show. There are a couple of glaucous gulls here, too, but no bigger wildlife, so we continue to sail, crossing the sound. When we do, the clouds start to lift, and the contours we saw before become silhouettes. At the opposite side of the water, we can see icebergs, and a range of mountains rising steeply from the tranquil waters. So steep, in fact, that in parts the snow does not stick. This is Burgerbukta; it has two branches pointing north, and we first sail into the eastern branch.
When we arrive at the edge of the fast ice, one of the bear guides and me are on the roof of the bridge, frantically looking through our binoculars. We spot many seals lying on the ice, and assume that they will attract polar bears, but no matter how we look, we do not spot any. We continue to the western branch of Burgerbukta where we find less seals, and no bears either. We slowly sail back when the guides decide that we go for a zodiac cruise here. As soon as we reach the eastern shore, we spot an arctic fox, with its typical thick furry tail, and see it running up the snowy hill. We then see another fox, which seems curious about our presence, and shows no fear at all, allowing us to follow it closely while it moves along the water line. It behaves like a star, posing every now and then, allowing us ample time to take pictures. It is so close, we clearly see it is moulting. We see it attack a glaucous gull, but the attack fails, and the fox carries on in his search for food. Birds are their main pray.
Towards the fast ice, we spot beluga whales, so our guides drive our zodiacs there. Then, a spectacle unfolds that will rank among the best experiences of the entire expedition. The white and dark grey whales swim around us, under our zodiacs, surfacing really close. We hear them exhale, sending a spray of water into the air, we hear them communicate (wonder what they are saying about us?), we see scratches on their bodies (attempts by polar bears?). They go and come back, graciously breaking the surface before sliding in again. Watching and listening to them connects us to nature; these mammals that are so different from us humans, who once chased them until they were nearly extinct. It somehow touches me deep inside, and there are tears in my eyes when we silently drive back to the mothership. We pass some deep blue icebergs on the way, and do our first polar plunge (well, some of us!) before continuing east into Hornsund. The weather has cleared, the water of Hornsund is like a mirror, and the spectacular pointy peaks are reflected in the icy waters. The most remarkable is the needle of Bataen which rises steeply right next to a glacier. I remember to have seen its contours in the morning, but now we can appreciate its dramatic appearance in full. There are tons of guillemots, which take long for take-off and are masters at diving deep into the water. We see a walrus, many seals, but no matter how well we look in all the side arms of Hornsund, we spot no bears. Through the clouds, the pointy peak of Hornsundtind appears: the highest peak of south Spitsbergen. The scenery is the highlight of this glorious day - and it is easy to understand how Willem Barents called this island Spitsbergen: pointy mountains.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Hornsund (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Hornsund.
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