Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, which we will experience in the land of the midnight sun. We start the day with a kayak excursion, and some additional considerations are in place considering our location and the temperature of the water. Our kayaks are made of a tough, but inflatable, material, and are particularly wide and buoyant. For kayaking, everything, including our pants and gloves, must be waterproof. We are each given an emergency button to wear around our necks, in case we encounter a swimming polar bear (yikes!) or fall into the cold water. Here, a person would not last more than a few minutes in the water before dying of hypothermia.
This morning a thick fog has yet to burn off (I can’t escape the June gloom, even in the Arctic), but we can see ice covered peeks surrounding us, and green tundra in front of us. On the green tundra, reindeer lazily feed on the tiny flowers and willows, and the hikers even encounter three calves. The calves can’t be much more than a month old, as the Svalbard Reindeer typically gives birth in May. We paddle next to some rocky cliffs, where barnacle geese are feeding on lichen growing on the rock face. Soon, we head back to the ship, and head off in search of a new location for a hike.
On our hike, the tundra was swollen from melt water, and bulged up in small mounds, and cracked in other places from the rebound caused by warming summer temperatures. Despite the fact that we are well above the tree line, we find wood and tree trunks on the beaches here, probably wood that came here from Russia on Arctic currents. We also see evidence of trappers, who came here to catch Arctic fox for their valuable pelts. The traps are rudimentary, but cruel – the prop up a wooden platform, and place heavy rocks on its top. When the fox trips the platform, the rocks fall and crush the fox to death. Many Arctic foxes were killed here, as their white coat in the winter was coveted in Europe for fur coats and wraps.
As we head back for dinner, I can’t believe that tomorrow night will be our last night on the ship. We discuss how we hope to see whales before we head back into Longyearbyen, and some spouts spotted during dinner are encouraging.