An unexpectedly tough hike, as we encounter gale-force, arctic winds ascending the ridge to the summit of Nordenskioldfjellet (1,053m)

The plan was to undertake the “Arctic Challenge”: kayaking across the Adventfjord, followed by a hike to the summit of Hiorthfjellet (928m altitude), on the other side of the fjord to Longyearben. After being picked up and taken to the Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions office for our briefing, our guide informed us that due to high wind, the fjord was too choppy to cross by kayak. Which was rather than disappointing, since the trip was meant to be a “challenge” – and a few small waves shouldn’t stop our small group of hardcore adventurers from going ahead! On the other, capsizing in 4 degree water wasn’t particularly appealing…

After some negotiating, we settled on an alternate hike to the Nordenskioldfjellet summit, which is higher (at 1,053m above sea level) but avoids the sea crossing… The start is a short drive away to the top of Longyearben valley, near Gruvelageret restaurant. We set off along a wide, dirt road as we skirt to the right of Sarkofagen (you can see an old mine entrance at the foot of Sarkofagen).

The trail narrows as it ascends towards Longyearbreen (Longyear glacier), and after about a kilometre starts climbing steeply up to the Nordenskioldfjellet ridge, on a scree slope.

The trail gains altitude fairly rapidly, with our pace slowing a little on the slippery track. The weather is still clear where we are – but there’s a lot of cloud on the higher peaks.


As we near the ridge, we see a pair of Svalbard rock ptarmigans or “snow chickens”; the only land-inhabiting bird which resides in the archipelago throughout the year. Apparently they are quite tasty.


Reaching the ridge, we’re exposed to the full brunt of the weather, with gale-force winds blowing across the moon-like landscape.

With jackets fastened, beanies in place and micro-spikes over our boots we continue up the ridge, leaning against the gale-force winds.


Finally, at about 780m (250m below the summit) we give up. The sides of our jackets exposed to the wind has a thick layer of ice, and I discover my camera lens is frozen solid. Visibility is less than 100m and taking into account the wind-chill factor, it’s well below zero degrees Celsius. Having been initially thwarted by a few small waves, we’re now defeated by the Arctic weather.


We now turn around and head back down the narrow ridge. It’s been a lesson in how quickly the weather can change, and what Svalbard can be like in a storm.

And, with the weather clearing as we reach the bottom, we’ve got time left to do some kayaking on Adventfjord…


Location Guided trip starts near Gruvelageret (78.20118, 15.57265)
Distance 8km return as walked. About 11km return to summit.
Grade Moderate. 675m total ascent (1050m to summit)
Season/s June-September
Map Topographical maps on-line at TopoSvalbard
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions for the intended Hiorthfjellet hike.
Nordenskioldfjellet needs to be organised as a private tour.

Map showing Nordenskioldfjellet hike with elevation profile

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1 Comment

A Week in Svalbard – Hiking the world · March 13, 2017 at 9:27 am

[…] Nordenskioldfjellet – I had booked the “Arctic Challenge” with Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions, which combined kayaking with an ascent of Hiorthfjellet on the other side of Adventfjord. Poor weather and choppy seas meant a change of plan, and we tackled the 1,053m Nordenskioldfjellet peak instead. It was the toughest of the hikes I did due to the gale-force, arctic winds that ended our summit aspirations at 780m altitude after about two hours of walking (see full trip report). At least it gave us some time for kayaking in the afternoon… […]

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