The Land of the Cold Coast
Text and photos by Kate and Marcus Westberg
My foot slipped out beneath me on the ice and before I knew it I’d lost control and slid down into a crevasse. The arctic island of Svalbard, named in a Viking saga meaning ‘cold coast’, feels like the end of the world, but is only a short flight from Oslo. At 78 degrees north, Spitsbergen is the closest we’ve ever come to the North Pole and around us stretched the glaciers.
Svalbard has a history of whalers and trappers who used to overwinter to hunt seals, walrus and Arctic foxes. Except for a few small settlements like Longyearbyen, there aren’t any roads and the parking lots were full of snowmobiles. The sun never set, but nobody strayed far from town unless they were armed with a rifle because of polar bears.
We spent a night at the Trapper’s Hotel at either end of our trip and the rest of the time out in the arctic wilderness. Lying at the foot of the Nordenskiöld glacier, we stayed in a remote cabin that can only be reached by boat in summer, and dog sledges or snowmobiles in winter. With no electricity or running water, our only link to the outside world was a hand-held radio.
Dog sledding is usually done on the glaciers, but as it was summertime we rode in a wagon on wheels, sticking to the gravel roads. At the Trapper’s Station we heard the Alaskan huskies before we saw them, all whining, barking and pulling on their chains to be taken out. When I patted the dogs, they jumped up and put their paws on my chest, licking me all over my face.