Text by Tom Robinson
It’s a surprise to many visitors to Longyearbyen that the solitude here isn’t enough. Even in the world’s northernmost town, the food, drink and WiFi connections are sometimes too good. So locals take snowmobiles, a few nights of supplies and head for the cabin – that place in the wilderness where the disappearance into nature is total. In Svalbard, the trapper – the hunter who spends months at a time alone in his lodge – is revered. This is a place that respects solitude.
As a visitor, it’s not easy to recreate that – but Nordenskiöld Lodge is about as remote as you can get. Perched below the bright blue glacier of the same name, the five-bedroom wooden cabin is about two hours by RIB from Longyearbyen, and is Spitsbergen’s northernmost commercial cabin. On the one hand, it’s a beautiful piece of clean Scandinavian design, with its elegant pale wood and traditional Finnish sauna, which you can alternate with exhilarating dips in the icy cold lake by the cabin. On the other hand, there’s no electricity, running water or phone reception – heat comes from burning wood, while the water comes straight from the adjoining glacier. The Arctic silence is total, except for the rumbling of the glacier, which heaves like a distant thunderstorm.
I went in August, with guide operators Basecamp Explorer, followed by curious seals and puffins on the boat trip across the cobalt sea. The sun never set, so it was tempting just to sit and gaze at the enormous blue expanse in the midnight sun. Luckily, there are blackout blinds, super-comfortable beds and enough activity that collapsing is possible.
The first full day involved a simultaneously terrifying and stunning journey into the deep ravines of the glacier, armed with crampons, ice axes and faith. Led by bearded guide Magnus Lauge, the group walked crab-like about eight metres apart, attached by a rope that (so the theory goes) would mean we’d be held by the group if we fell into the blue abyss.
Day two was kayaking, decked out in survival suits and neoprene shoes. Within 20 minutes, we’d seen a seal lazily resting on a rock, and we often heard the crash of ice falling into the sea (by the time you hear it, you’ve normally missed seeing it). At the end, guide Oskar Birkeland asked us all to pick out a piece of ice, which he’d crack and put in a warming glass of whiskey.
But the main thing here is just being here – there’s something about the vastness and the silence of it all that just gets you. For a moment, you can imagine life for the trapper, spending months in this – and see the beauty rather than the loneliness.
Tom Robinson travelled to Nordenskiöld Lodge with Basecamp Explorer. See basecampspitsbergen.com for more information.
For our May issue, the entire N by Norwegian team visited Svalbard. See more of our coverage from Svalbard here
Norwegian flies to Longyearbyen from Oslo. Book flights and a hotel at norwegian.com