It’s one thing to go on an Arctic wildlife viewing holiday, but quite another thing for some of the animal natives to help you on your way! That’s what our travel advisor discovered on the latest day of her trip, and it’s a testament once more to some of the incredible experiences that one can have on a Svalbard break with WILDFOOT.
Day 4: Ice caving and dog sledding
It was back outside with a vengeance today, starting with a snowcat ride up the Longyearbyen valley to an ice cave. The valley runs through the town and up into the mountains, and at its head is a glacier. Within this glacier is an ice tunnel that visitors can explore, with a fresh entrance to the cave being dug each winter to allow access. The track up to the head of the valley is steep and, needless to say, very snowy – so much so that our snow cat, even with its thick treads, struggled at one point. Once 14 well-fed members of my Arctic winter expedition group had been ejected from the vehicle and trailer, it did manage to make it up there, but only thanks to the perseverance of our indomitable driver! Inside the small igloo that has been built around the cave entrance 14 anxious faces gazed down into an icy hole. The nervous mutterings, which had been heard intermittently since the announcement of the planned ice cave visit, were somewhat quietened by the appearance of a reasonably sturdy looking metal ladder leading down into the depths. In fact, it was only a few metres to the tunnel floor and then a simple walk along a narrow channel into the cave – all that worrying for nothing! And it is stunningly beautiful down there, with the contours and colours of the ancient ice.
Back into the fresh air it was time for the next adventure: dogsledding. It may seem cruel to us temperate island dwellers to keep dogs outside in the middle of winter only 800 miles or so from the north pole, but in fact their preferred temperature is around -15 centigrade so for them -20 would be the equivalent of just a bit of a nip in the air. I have always wondered how huskies are able to pull heavy sleds but now I understand – they are incredibly strong. As part of our mushing experience we helped harness the dogs to the sleds and my job was to take Wasabi (a very friendly mid-sized, black and brown boy) from his pen to the harness. Huskies love to run, and once he realised he was about to go on an outing it was as much as I could do to stay on my feet as he literally dragged me from his kennel to the sled. Once given the go the dogs were off, happy to be running. It’s a wonderful thing, guiding a sled pulled by 6 beautiful huskies, through the darkness, with the northern lights flickering above, and the icy silence of the arctic winter all around. Add to that the slight frisson of fear of being eaten by a polar bear and it makes for a truly memorable experience!