I am just back from the field. For over 2 weeks I traveled out on the sea ice and the fjords of Svalbard, camping in Polar Bear country. As I am typing I feel my finger tips tingling, still half numb from the cold. I am completely exhausted for a lack of sleep and the constant cold coupled with wind. In my search of special light I stayed up with my guide throughout many nights out on the ice.
A high pressure system provided us with good weather and magical sunlight during the midnight hours. During the night the soft rays of the sun changed from a light yellow orange to pastel colored purple. The white blanket of snow lend itself as a blank piece of canvas to an ever changing show of colors, all orchestrated by the sun.
While the wonderful light kept me from sleeping at night, it was the possibility of an unexpected polar bear visit, that kept us awake during the day. As much as we all wanted, we could not just crash into our tent and sleeping bags. The risk of a bear visit was just to high. The thin tent wall was only protection from the wind but not for a curious polar bear. So we had to take turns polar bear guarding if we wanted to get some sleep. And that bears were around, we were reminded constantly by tracks zigzagging the pack ice. So I had my share of turns sitting around camp armed with a “polar bear pistol” loaded with cracker shells.
Next to the landscape it was especially the arctic wildlife that I was seeking to photograph. Many hours a day I spent high up on a giant iceberg that calved from one of the surrounding glaciers, hoping to spot a polar bear that would wonder in our direction. It was one of my favorite places as I enjoyed an incredible view of the “Negre” Glacier front that continues on for many miles. The gull-like Fulmars were using the little uplifting winds around the ice berg walls, gliding by my observation post.
While out waiting, one has a lot of time making up imaginary images. I was hoping for an encounter with a polar bear with the magic light of the late night hours. But soon the time at the East Coast Glacier came to an end without finding a bear in this magic light, non-the-less close by. To see a bear at all proofed to become quite a challenge. My patience was being tested but I planned to return to the same place a week later to try my luck again. I did not want to let my hopes down – and I had the feeling persistence would eventually pay off.
So we packed up camp and started to head back towards a track across the grand glaciers to head up towards the northern part of the Spitzbergen Island. In a matter of hours the weather deteriorated and icy wind blew down the glacier bringing dark heavy clouds with it. It began to snow as we started the trek.