The road through Norway, part IV: Svalbard

Being the last outpost before the North Pole, the backcountry of Svalbard is one that truly deserves to be called wilderness. On these desolate islands approximately 2500 people share the land with more than 3000 polar bears. The geography is striking: pointy mountains rising out of the sea, broad valleys crosscut by glacial rivers, ridgelines as sharp as the edge of a knife. 60% percent of the land is covered with ice.

Outside of the main settlements (and even inside of the smaller ones) carrying a rifle and a signal pistol are basic safety requirements. It’s a land of hunters and trappers, where sound instincts and a good intuition are necessary for survival, where us humans are not always on top of the food chain. I had seen Svalbard once before in summertime so a return to the islands while completely covered in a white, fluffy blanket was long overdue.

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Packrafting the fjords

Going out on paddling trips in the deep blue waters of the Aurlands- and Nærøyfjords was a dream I’d cherished since first coming here two years ago. Because kayak rental is, however, expensive, and sometimes not allowed without proper certification, nothing ever came of it. Maybe one day, I figured, I’d have friends with a kayak, or own one myself, making the odds for the whole adventure to actually happen much better.

Fast forward to early spring 2016. After returning from a season in the Arctic PJ and I were watching a Norwegian adventure TV-show where the contestants had to find riddles along a river in Finnmark. They hiked to the river carrying packrafts in their packs. A few days later we sat around talking about the upcoming summer in the fjords. In an instant of revelation, PJ proposed that we too should buy some. Though I’d been really excited seeing them on the show, and I’d been following some people on Instagram who’d regularly flooded my feed with pictures of themselves in colourful blow-up boats, the idea just never occurred to me. In the instant PJ mentioned it, a little light went on in the back of my brain, and life suddenly made much more sense.

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Peaks of the Aurlandsfjord (I)

The best way to appreciate the Norwegian scenery is undoubtedly, from above. My favourite means of travel is thus on foot, as unlike in other mountain areas such as the Alps, there is very little infrastructure in place to reach the tops. Besides of a few viewpoints along mountain roads you need to walk if you want to make it to the peak. This means you’ll have to work if you want to get the view, which in return makes the view all the more rewarding.

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Geirangerfjord & Sunnmørsalpene

Though not far in distance, it is a good 5 hour drive from Flåm to the Geirangerfjord, and therefore we had not made it there the last time we lived here. This summer we aim to explore as much as possible in our own fjord and the Nærøyfjord, but this was the one trip we planned away. And we planned it as soon as possible, to avoid the arrival of the masses from June to August.

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Flåm

In all honesty I have to say that the last time we left Flåm, it had been with a double feeling of sadness and relief. We had not expected the horde of tourists coming to this tiny town to be as big as they were, or as overwhelming as they were. I had not expected to get a culture shock by the sheer improbability of where people were living along the fjord, of the steepness and roughness of the terrain, of the feeling of being entirely closed in between high mountain walls, of how long it would take to get from point A to point B. Living and moving around here is a category in its own, but one that I and PJ came to cherish and one we found ourselves missing during the past winter.

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