Hiking to the Nordenskioldfjellet summit ended up being our Plan B… the tour I booked was the “Arctic Challenge”: kayaking across 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 hand, capsizing in 4 degree water didn’t sound 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. (The hike we’ve done has been about 8km return – the distance to the Nordenskioldfjellet is about 11km return.)
And, with the weather clearing as we reach the bottom, we’ve got time left to do some kayaking on Adventfjord…
Accommodation near Nordenskioldfjellet
Longyearbyen (Svalbard) offers a range of accommodation, and for most activities (including guided hikes) you’ll be picked up from your hotel, or a central point in town. Most of the hotels are located in the middle of town. As well as independent booking sites (which may offer better rates), you can find a list of hotels, guesthouses and cabins in Svalbard at Visit Svalbard.