Previously in Svalbard

Copyright: Alexander Lembke

“It can even be argued that the success and failure of different British expeditions of the period reflects the degree to which they were, and were not, imaginatively captured by a vision of the Arctic as bleak, blank, hostile. Those explorers least able to perceive the Arctic as it was – indifferent rather than harsh, full rather than empty, a problematic dwelling space rather than a moral playground – were also least likely to survive there.” Spufford, 1996: 58.

2015, Scientific Expedition Edgeøya Svalbard (

2016, Advent City

2019, Trygghamna

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9. August 1597

Als nu onse maets wederom quamen, soo vondense onder wegh een doode Zee-robbe, die gantsch seer stanck, den selfden sleeptense met haer tot aen onse schuyte, ende meenden datse een goedt wiltbraedt daer aen hadden om te eten, deur datse soo grooten hongher leden, maer wy sprakent haer noch af: segghende wy soudender ghewis den doodt aen eten, ende dat wy ons noch liever lyden souden

De Veer, G. (1598). Waerachtighe beschryvinghe van drie seylagien, ter werelt noyt soo vreemt ghehoort. (V. Roeper & D. Wildeman, Eds.) (Facsimile 1997). Franeker: Van Wijnen.

When our people came back, they found a dead seal on the way that stank. They dragged it to our boat and because they were so hungry, they thought they had good venison. We spoke against it: we would certainly get death from it and so we preferred to continue to suffer from hunger.

Barentsz’ third expedition (1956/7) had to overwinter on Novaya Zemlya and several men died. The others experienced enormous trials before they were rescued. This scene indicates just how tough it must have been: do you eat a rotten seal or do you continue to starve! Caught between a rock and a hard place!



The twentieth and one and twentieth dayes it was calme, and the weather cleere, and wee had it as hot as I haue commonly felt in England at that time of the yeere. For the Pitch did runne downe the ships sides; and that side of the Masts that was to the Sunne ward, was so hot, that the tarre did frye out of it, as though it had boyled.

Jonas Poole. Diuers voyages to Cherie Iland. In: S. Purchase (1625) Purchase his pilgrims. The third part. p. 560

To show that the Arctic could occasionally be a very hot place, even before modern and worrying climate change.



Daß die niedrigen Berge nicht hoch schienen / machet / daß ihres gleichen viel höher sind / und alles groß gesehen wird […] die Meilen scheinen auch gar nahe / wann sie aber auff dem Lande sollen gewandert werden / findet sichs viel anders / und man ermüdet gar balde / auch wegen schärffe der Felsen und ungebanten Wegen / wird einen bald eine Hitze aufgejaget / wann es noch so kalt ist / ein paar neue Schue halten hier nicht lange. 

Martens, F. (1675). Spitzbergische oder Groenlandische Reise Beschreibung gethan im Jahr 1671. Hamburg: Gottfried Schultßen. P. 21

The low mountains do not seem to be very high, which means that they are in fact much higher and that everything looks big. The miles seem to be very close, but if they are to be hiked on land, it is different and one gets tired quickly. The sharp rocks and the rough paths warm you up quickly, even though it’s cold. A pair of new shoes don’t last long.

True, so true! Because there are no trees or buildings to compare features to, distances in the landscape are difficult to judge, and we normally underestimate them, vertically as well as horizontally. Yes, the mountains of Svalbard are not particularly high, but climbing directly from sea level, every 100 metres is a substantial hurdle.

Last update: 04 Nov 2020