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Svalbard and Jan Mayen: Sarkofagen and ice cave hike

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Sarkofagen and ice cave hike > Svalbard and Jan Mayen > Europe

[Visited: May 2019]

After the ease of excursions by boat and snowmobile, I strongly felt I needed some more exercise. As a starter, I hiked up Platå, the mountain to the west of Longyearbyen. In town, people were sitting outside for a drink in the sun, and I subsequently left my spikes in the guesthouse, which I would soon regret. As I made my way up, the slope got steeper and steeper, and the surface icier and icier, until I had to kick in my shoes at every step I took, making it much harder than it actually should have been. The views over Longyearbyen as well as Adventfjorden in the afternoon light are spectacular. My first real hike will be up to Sarkofagen two days later. It is a cloudy day, and the guide provides us with crampons which we wear from the start. We walk up the moraine of the Larsbreen glacier.

Picture of Sarkofagen and ice cave hike (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Longyearbyen and Adventfjorden seen from the summit of Sarkofagen

To our left, a deep valley, where we hear stone and rocks falling down. The iron fist of winter is loosening its grip on the landscape, and the top layer of the soil and snow are getting soft, setting things in motion. Two others in my group are not in shape, and have to sit down every 5-10 minutes, so the going is slow. When we are a little higher up, we see the vague contours of Trollsteinen, one of the other hiking options. I feel a small pang of regret. I had initially wanted to stay overnight in an ice cave, which was not combinable with the Trollsteinen hike, and planned this shorter hike. Unfortunately, the overnight stay was cancelled because I was the only one interested. Now, we walk the icy sheet covering the ridge leading up to Sarkofagen, which juts out a little over 500m above Longyearbyen. The views of town, Adventfjorden and the surrounding mountains are sweeping. To my delight, we descend through the other valley, over Longyearbreen, and at one steep part get on our bums and just slide down. We pass several mines before we reach Nybyen again. Whenever there are reindeer around, the husky that accompanies us gets wild and wants to chase them.

Picture of Sarkofagen and ice cave hike (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Bend in the ice tunnel in the glacier

The next day, I am back at the same parking lot, and hike up the same moraine on crampons. These hikes could easily be combined: the ice cave is not far from the point where we climbed up to Sarkofagen the day before. I am out with another guide, and she enthusiastically tells us about the history, the way these glaciers are forming, and how ice caves develop, and how they are found. We are climbing to an ice cave in Larsbreen, but next year, that cave will probably not exist anymore, and new ones will be found. Then, in the middle of a big white field of snow, we see some flags, and the guide opens a hatch. One after the other, we descend into the ice cave, which is more like an ice tunnel. We have to squeeze ourselves through the first part, after which it is possible to stand up and walk. We are on a wonderworld of icicles, crystals glittering in the light of our torches, strange formations, rocks covered in ice, grains of earth trapped in ice, a twisting and turning tunnel. We pass the spot where I would have spent the night, and the guide tells us that it can get really cold, is very dark, and that during the silence of the night, you can actually hear the glacier creak. After all, we are walking in a river of ice that is making its way down the mountain. After all that I have seen here in Spitsbergen, this again is such a different world and a fitting end to my visit of Svalbard. After an afternoon in town, it is time to head home, and I do so with a strong feeling of nostalgia.

Picture of Sarkofagen and ice cave hike (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Ice formations in the ice cave inside the glacier
Picture of Sarkofagen and ice cave hike (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): View of Longyearbyen from the mountains and the start of the moraine
Picture of Sarkofagen and ice cave hike (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Snow-covered entrance to the ice tunnel
Picture of Sarkofagen and ice cave hike (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Icicles hanging from the ceiling of the ice cave
Picture of Sarkofagen and ice cave hike (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Interior of the ice cave inside the glacier
Picture of Sarkofagen and ice cave hike (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Close-up of ice formations inside the glacier
Picture of Sarkofagen and ice cave hike (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): View of Sarkofagen from below
Picture of Sarkofagen and ice cave hike (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): View of Trollsteinen with climbers on the ridge
Picture of Sarkofagen and ice cave hike (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Snowy contours of Trollsteinen
Picture of Sarkofagen and ice cave hike (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Looking north from near the entrance of the ice cave
Picture of Sarkofagen and ice cave hike (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Ice tunnel inside the glacier
Picture of Sarkofagen and ice cave hike (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Interior of a glacier: rocks covered by ice
Picture of Sarkofagen and ice cave hike (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Interior of the ice cave in the glacier

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