Arctic Fox on shore!

By Duncan // Saturday 15 Sep // 20:52:43 // 1 Comment

Saturday. 15th Sept 2007.
Up at about 7.45. Josef (one of the students) knocking at my cabin door telling me there’s an arctic fox on shore and I should film it. Turned out to be a Reindeer. This place is seemingly so empty and devoid of life. So little to feed on I wonder how an animal as big as a Reindeer can find enough to eat.

The Noorderlicht anchored overnight in Trygghamna (Safe Harbour), near the mouth of Isfjord. All the glaciers snaking down from the mountains end way before they reach the waters edge, dumping their load of shattered rock in massive piles on the shingle beaches. We went ashore by Zodiac, across the transparent, steely blue water, for a walk with our Danish guide Christian, armed with a rifle and pistol.

Crunching across the shale, trying not to step too much on the patches of moss and lichen, we find some whale vertebrae, bleached white and split like poorly seasoned timber. Bones  and beaks from birds, a pair of feathered wings, complete, and linked by a bare breast bone, as if discarded by some angel. The foundations of an ancient wooden hut, and nearby two pairs of coffins, some with human bones. I read later that they were graves of Russian trappers from the 1700’s, and probably opened and plundered by souvenir hunters.

Rounding the cliff base at the mouth of the fjord, the sparse vegetation becomes a mattress of soft springy moss that Christian tells us is due to the excrement from the innumerable seabirds that nest in summer on the shear mountain sides above.  We pass the chewed skeleton of an arctic fox, white bushy tail and hind legs still intact and attached to a bare backbone. Beneath the crying birds, in a gully filled with fallen rocks, lies a sadly contorted carcass of a young Reindeer. Fur scattered around the blood splattered rocks, a scene of desperate butchery.

We were warned to stay in a group, not get left behind, and as if to warn us that we should be vigilant, as soon as we were back on board, and set the sails, a polar bear sauntered along the shore, along the very route we had taken. The Noorderlicht’s captain had never seen a bear here at this time of year. So rare a sight he turned the boat around, and we followed the bear’s nonchalant progress back along the coast almost to where we had anchored the night before.

The afternoon began our voyage north to NyAlesund. Sailing by a stiff, bitter breeze, very cold though the thermometer read only minus one. Passing an endless parade of sharply pointed, graphic mountains, and U shaped glaciated valleys, we sail into a lingering sunset that lasts for hours. Groups of students and adults taking turns on watch through the night. Sleeping is not easy. The sounds of taught ropes twanging against the steel masts, and the constant churning of huge volumes of water make it feel like being inside a washing machine. We should arrive in NyAlesund breakfast-time Sunday morning.


Tags: Duncan Harris

1 Comment

  1. jonnie & Chloe and Frank Harris! Monday 17 Sep, 2007 // 19:50:36

    hi Dad! Is it mushy and muddy? Or …slushy?…
    Joke time from Chloe: “Knock, knock” – “Who’s there?” “Albert”
    “Albert Who?” – “Albert you haven’t seen an arctic bunny yet.”

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