Sunday, March 25, 2007

Day 238: Nemesis

This weekend we had our first major thaw, marking the true beginning of spring.

I hate it.

May I introduce The Icy Death, or, The Road Outside. Completely impossible to traverse in a cast, equally frustrating by scooter.

It rained on Friday and Saturday. Rained! Coupled with the strongest winds I've seen here (up to 22m/s - 40 mph) within a few hours we had entire exposed hillsides and massive human-eating potholes in the snow. The road turned into a river. The disappearing snow, as it turns out, revealed a landscape where previously safe pathways literally sent people up to their chests in slush. Driving the snowmobile got considerably more adventurous - zero grip on icy patches, and skidoo-like sprays through unavoidable ponds. (Apparently, my scooter can hit a foot of water at 50 km/h and make it out.)

The next day, we had a snow storm coupled with strong winds for a nice total whiteout. The temperature's dropped back down now, so things are turning into solid ice. I seriously dislike ice. I'm not built for ice. I loved the cold and snow, but this whole icy-melting thing, not so much...oh yah, and it looks like avalanche season is here (or more than usual, I guess, since its always here).

But back to happier, colder days...last week I took a short trip through Adventfjorden with my Finnish buddy Teemu.

Heading east up the fjord:

Mine 7, one of the few coal mines still running around here:

Mountains I can't climb:

One of our goals for this trip was to visit a monument for a Russian plane that crashed in Adventfjorden. In 1996, a Russian airplane filled with coal miners and their families hit the mountain Operafjellet, killing all 141 people onboard. Coupled with other economic problems, this disaster was part of what lead to the abandonment of Pyramiden, a Russian coal-mining settlement similar to Barentsburg, in 1998. The crash appeared to be due to a maneuvering error by the pilot. The crash is the worst plane accident in Norwegain history (read more here and here).

It is a simple, if chilling, monument.

The view and my tough little scooter which hauled two gigantic people up this rocky hill:

While we were walking around the area, I was estatically treated to the sight of four white ptarmigans - perhaps not so rare to see this time of year in this area, but certainly something I had been looking for and had never seen before.

Can you spot them all?

Heading back west out of the fjord, we swung to the north side of the bay to go around the north-west point of Advetnfjorden (Revneset). The view directly across from Longyearbyen:

Approaching the point - some old coal miner's cabins and other random - mostly abandoned - buildings:

As it turns out, once you round the point, there's no where else to go via scooter. So we had a bit of a snack and took some photos.

In extremely bizarre coincidence, it turned out that the professor I work for had decided to return from the field work in Rijpfjorden a few days early due to bad weather forecasts. While we were out at the point, we saw his helicopter approaching the Longyearbyen airport.

This place is so small that I was able to correctly guess that the helicopter was coming from Rijpfjorden and most likely contained the people from my lab. Not a lot of helicopter activity around here that doesn't involve someone you probably know.

Finally: I recently realized that I've become so desensitized to reindeer that I haven't even posted any photos of them. They're everywhere. The middle of the road. The middle of town. The airport. They're like funny cows.'s some reindeer casually walking away from my scooter.


sam said...

Wait, there are reindeer up there? I had noooooo idea--are they like herded and kept in town for any particular purpose? Are they wild and occasionally hunted? Now I'm really curious what else you normalized like that...

Unknown said...

Dude, all about playing where's waldo with white birds in snow. That made my NMR time much more enjoyable :-D.
-roommate for life

Laurel said...

Re: the reindeer - they are wild and occasionally hunted. They do sell reindeer meat in the store, but from what I hear that comes from reindeer herded in Sweden. The Svalbard reindeer are technically protected, although there is some limited hunting under license. No one in town really bothers them, though, and I imagine being in town means less of a polar bear threat for the reindeer. So you see small herds of them wandering around all the time.