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Svalbard and Jan Mayen: Snowmobile to Spitsbergen East Coast

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Snowmobile to Spitsbergen East Coast > Svalbard and Jan Mayen > Europe

[Visited: May 2019]

In a country where roads end soon after leaving the capital Longyearbyen, one of the options to move around is a snowmobile. In fact, the town is full of them and they provide the fastest possible transportation over land. The sun is shining on the white Spitsbergen landscape when we head to the starting point, get a briefing, and head out down Adventdalen. I share the snowmobile with a fellow traveller from the Philippines. After a few minutes, the guide asks us to swap, and I will be steering the snowmobile for the rest of the day. The operation is easy enough, but the uneven surface means you are constantly holding the bars, shaking, trying not to get stuck in the fresh tracks made by others. We make frequent stops, admiring the mountains around us, in a bright white world. When we drive on a slope, we have to hang outside the snowmobile for counterweight - the last thing we want is to flip. At one narrow passage, the guide stops, and digs some snow away before we can continue. The temperature is going up, and there are some stretches where we go through water or over bare rocks. We make a final stop before the last stretch to the east coast: holes in an ice wall with icicles, the moraine, and the Nordmannsfonna glacier ahead of us. We are not supposed to stop on the glacier, for risk of falling in a crevasse, which is a pity because the landscape of gently sloping ice and snow is stunning.

Picture of Snowmobile to Spitsbergen East Coast (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Nordmannsfonna glacier on Sabineland near the east coast of Spitsbergen

The wind blows from the left, trying to push us over, and covering my eyes in snow, but then we descend to the east coast, to Mohnbukta where I have been ten days before, and stop to have a look at the majestic Hayesbreen glacier. The guide now gets his rifle ready, gives more instructions, and leads us out onto the sea ice of Storefjorden. I remember the bears we have seen here, and am on the constant lookout. Indeed, we soon stop next to a trail of bear footprints which looks quite fresh. Just around the corner we stop: a polar bear with her cub are quite close, but move away as they are disturbed by the noise of our snowmobiles. Definitely not the best best way for bear spotting! We kill our engines, and watch as the small family moves away, cautiously looking back at us. When we finally have a look at the bigger picture, we see a wide view of Storefjorden, scattered with icebergs frozen into the sea ice. What a panorama! It is the perfect spot for a lunch. When we try to find the two polar bears with binoculars, we spot a third bear, far, far away in the north of Storfjorden. We cannot believe our luck at having seen three here and all have a big smile on our faces when we start driving back.

Picture of Snowmobile to Spitsbergen East Coast (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Hole in an iceberg in Storfjorden

The guide takes us out on the sea ice, where we stop at a light blue iceberg which turns out to be very photogenic. When we climb up to it, we see several holes through which we can see the landscape of Storefjorden. Driving over the ice in mid-May, it gives the feeling that this ice will never melt - but then, Spitsbergen has changed location over the millions of years, has been tropical and covered in forests, has been submerged in the oceans and risen again. When we drive back, we stop in a valley to see the different layers of rock layers in the landscape to prove it. We head into a narrow canyon, and find an icefall at the end of it. We can walk behind it, on solid ice, with greenish light shining through the icefall. On our way back, we go through deep water: the sun is gaining strength, and the snow suffers. It would turn out to be the last excursion to the east coast of the season. During the driving, my right thumb has had increasing signs of cramps, and when we finally arrive back in Longyearbyen, I am happy to get off after around 175km of snowmobiling. It would take more than a week to have full functionality my thumb back. A great souvenir of a fantastic day out into wild Spitsbergen.

Picture of Snowmobile to Spitsbergen East Coast (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): View of an icefall in Sassendalen
Picture of Snowmobile to Spitsbergen East Coast (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Polar bear cub and mother on the fast ice of the east coast of Spitsbergen
Picture of Snowmobile to Spitsbergen East Coast (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Iceberg in Storfjorden
Picture of Snowmobile to Spitsbergen East Coast (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Hole in the ice in Sassendalen
Picture of Snowmobile to Spitsbergen East Coast (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Icebergs frozen into the sea ice of Storfjorden
Picture of Snowmobile to Spitsbergen East Coast (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Adventdalen mountains on the way to the east coast
Picture of Snowmobile to Spitsbergen East Coast (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Hayesbreen glacier topped by snow-capped mountain in Mohnbukta
Picture of Snowmobile to Spitsbergen East Coast (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Polar bear footprint in Mohnbukta
Picture of Snowmobile to Spitsbergen East Coast (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Icefall in canyon in Sassendalen
Picture of Snowmobile to Spitsbergen East Coast (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Icefall seen from within
Picture of Snowmobile to Spitsbergen East Coast (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Hayesbreen glacier seen from Mohnbukta
Picture of Snowmobile to Spitsbergen East Coast (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Solid ice fall in Sassendalen
Picture of Snowmobile to Spitsbergen East Coast (Svalbard and Jan Mayen): Icefall in Sassendalen, on the way to the east coast of Spitsbergen

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