This is the story of when Ida, Ingeborg, Anette, Barbro, Guro and Monings travelled on a three-day dog trip on Svalbard. About when the world took a break. About laughter, cold temperatures (-35 chill factor to be exact), silence, frost in the moustache, dogpoop and northern lights.
It’s Friday morning in the Arctic. Marcel who will be both guide and bodyguard the next thre days (that sounds tough, right) picks us up. We each throw our bags in the back of the car and Longyearbyen disappears behind us. The adventure awaits!
We get an introduction to dog sledding; attaches the dogs to the sleds and behind us, the world disappears. It is as if nothing else exists. The sound of the sledges, the ringing from 28 dog collars and the deafening silence are all that remain. Running a dog team is magical. It tickles the soul. The dogs’ paws hit the snow so quietly with all their power. It is not heard. It’s like we’re flying.
First stop is an ice cave. We climb into a small opening in the glacier. Down there, the ice glows blue in the light from the headlamp. A pure blue color. Some people have this color of eyes. Otherwise, it is rarely this ten-thousand-year-old color from the ice. We reach the end of the cave. Deep under the ice we stand, 30 meters below the ground. Shall we turn off the headlamps and see how dark it really is in here? Marcel asks. We do. Then we stand there with our eyes open and see nothing. We are just taking it all in. It’s as if the old ice is sharing all its wisdom with us there in the dark. We switch the headlamps back on and climb up and out into the daylight and the young snow. The dogs welcome us back.
After lunch we are back on the sledges and the next stop is the Foxdalcabin where we will sleep the first night. We have no idea what awaits us. Here is no electricity, no water. One room and kitchen has never been a more accurate description. A bunk bed, some benches and a wood stove. The euphoria grabs us again. This, this is all we need. So simple that the feeling of happiness is felt in every cell.
Then the evening comes. We are seven people who are going to sleep inside the tiny cabin. It’s just enough space. The candles are blown out and we go to sleep. An afternoon of chatter, laughter, wet woolen clothes and roses in the cheek is over, now only the crackling fire in the oven is heard.
Guro and Monings are both of the type who needs to get up and pee many times at night. 30 minus on Svalbard is no exception. It is completely dark inside the little hut. For an hour we lie down and feel that we must pee and think all the others are asleep. Coincidentally, we both crawl out of the sleeping bag at the same time to go to the bathroom, trying to be as quiet as we can. As we stand in the middle of the floor, we scoop one another and gasp! We do everything we can to stifle the laughter that bubbles up. Best not to wake up the entire party just because we have to go to the loo! We find each our headlamp and rush out into the cold night. The frost bites us in the cheek as we open the door. The contours of the majestic Svalbard nature can be sensed in the dark and the snow is beautifully cracking beneath our feet.
The dogs are completely quiet out there. Then there is probably no polar bear that sneaks around the cabin wall, at least. It would be good timing with polar bears visiting in the middle of the pee break.
We sit there and pee. Headlamps light out in the dark. Prupp! A small happy fart is released. Now it is impossible to hold back that laughter anymore! We laugh and laugh. Trying to be quiet. “Oh, Guro!” Monings whispers through the laughter: “I LOVE life!” Guro laughs and then smiles with her headlamp shaking. Life at its best. On an outdoor shed on Svalbard with the door wide open in minus twenty. Then life feels good!
The next morning we wake up to frozen windows. We scrape away some ice and rose-coloured mountains with a strip of sun saying good morning to us. You know that feeling of not quite knowing where you are when you just woke up? Just there..in the seconds before you remember … and then it’s not a dream, but the raw reality right into the little opening in the window. Marcel lights up the fireplace, we six others get dressed while we still have the sleeping bag around us.
New day of white wilderness awaits!
First, Marcel runs with his big team of ten dogs. He is in complete control. Fascinating interaction between man and dogs. Gee – How! How! Short commands that means right and left. The dogs listen for a small fraction of a second. They are so in agreement, he and the dogs. Elegant.
Behind him comes Barbro and Ingeborg. They do not use the brake, they just throw out the anchor when an emergency brake is needed. Then we come and after us, Ida and Anette. Ida has run dog teams before, so with these two things go smoothly.
Now it’s Guro mushing and Monings sitting on the sled. Marcel stops in front and raises his arm as a sign that we should all stop. A little break. Here, it must be a good opportunity for a small selfie, we think. Guro pulls off the glove (in this cold it must go fast) and brings out the cellphone. Leaning forward to take a picture and then it happens! The dogs move and set off. Ooooooooaaaaaaaa! Guro squeals as the dogs run and she clings. Remains hanging on the stomach for a while. Imagine Bridget Jones in three layers of clothes and an oversized suit on top, lying howling and screaming after a dog team in furious speed. Yes, you have about the picture now. With the tour guide overboard, Monings was a little confused, sitting on a sled at full speed without anyone to steer it. Imagine Goofy in the caravan in the cartoon from Your childhood, and then you have that picture ready in your mind! Fortunately, Marcel stopped the team before they reached the North Pole, so it went well. We did not take any more selfies. The rest of the trip we kept a good hold on both the sled and the dogs, you can say. It did not go totally smooth, but no animals or humans were harmed. In retrospect, we have realized that Marcel is a very patient man!
Yet another day becomes evening and the stars appear in the sky. This night we spend in a slightly larger cabin, we sit saturated and blissful on the sofa and look out the window.
Suddenly it’s there, the Northern Lights. The green star dust, the divine angel light. No church is needed here. You become so solemn. It feels so sacred. We lay on our backs in the snow in oversized overalls and take it in. It feels so close. As if the light is dancing right up above us. Almost so it stroked our cheeks. For a moment we think it’s coming to pick us up.
The word Arctic comes from the ancient Greek Articos, which means the land of the great bear, we heard somewhere. It does not actually come from the polar bear, but from the constellation of Big Bear, which can be seen in the northern sky. When we lie on our backs in the snow in the Northern Hemisphere and look up at the stars, we are so overwhelmed by the fact that we are here, in the middle of the land of the Great Bear, and that we are only small people in our time. Northern lights are so timeless, so magical and so mysterious. This evening its so strong and intense as we have never experienced it before.
What is it about Svalbard and the raw nature that makes us almost obsessed and makes us having to return again and again? A longing. A mood. The light. The cold. The silence. The colors. When we are out in this nature, the wilderness, it is as if our senses come alive again. As if something clicks into place and we become whole individuals again. We use the senses in a completely different way here in the ice. We are present. Keeping up. We are alive.
It’s as if we’re wondering if Svalbard looks like a feeling rather than a place. “The land that is not,”painter Kåre Tveter sais about Svalbard. You have to go there to understand what he meant. Because that’s just the way it is.
It’s almost so that we don’t get up the third day. We know the adventure soon is over. In our hearts, the wilderness will live on forever, in gratitude and deep humility.
Thank you, Green Dog Svalbard AS and super guide Marcel for days we will never forget. Thanks, Ida, Ingeborg, Anette and Barbro, for being just the ones to join us on this journey. We couldn’t have wished for better travel companions! Memories of life scratched into the soul.