The location for our glacier course – part of my Arctic Nature Guide program – was set to the majestic Nordenskiöld Glacier in the Bay of Adolf, not far from the abandoned Russian mine village of Pyramiden.
Our tent base camp had to be pitched in the right direction to be able to withstand the strong winds from the sea and glaciers. Camping in the high Arctic comes with strict safety routines, including the use of rifles and flare guns. Camp responsible guides had to have one person on the watch for polar bears at all times, day and night. It’s fantastic to look out over the fjord and the camp, while everyone else is vast asleep, and the only sounds you hear are coming from the wind, the waves, the birds, and the rumbling sound of glacier ice calving into the fjord. Sometimes, seals and whales swam past.
We learned about glacier ice and crevasses, navigation and map reading, as well as the basics: walking on crampons, and the use of ice axes. We were taught how to make a belay system, to rappel down and ascend up again with prusik knots. What to do if a rope team member falls into a crevasse? Suddenly, two flare gunshots were fired from a closeby crevasse: the agreed request to turn on the radios. With a quivering voice, one of the other groups told that two members of their team had fallen into a crevasse, were badly injured, and needed assistance. The radio made another crackling sound: “It’s for practicing purpose, I repeat: practicing purpose”.
A few students took leadership and organized the assistance given to the victims. They noted our location by means of map and GPS and used the satellite phone to contact the Governor, who sent a helicopter. It became totally quiet when we actually heard the sound of an approaching helicopter and victims were evacuated into the helicopter. With the glacier, the fjord, and the mountains in the background, it all seemed like taken from a James Bond movie.
We walked back to camp with big smiles on our faces. The weather, surroundings, and location far away from civilization, make this place as surreal as it is fantastic. I simply had to sit down on the beach to digest all the impressions. What an amazing experience this trip has been!