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Bruce and Hamish in the final miles of our approach to base camp

After a 6 hour, 100+ mile snow mobile journey from Longyearbyen, we arrived at the head of Gallerbreen (Galler Glacier) at 10:30 PM under pink and salmon flanked mountains. We had intended to set up our base camp at this location, but were surprised to find remnants of a previous camp still standing; two snow block walls (for wind protection) and an obvious flat area between them. Audun, our guide, informed us that this was a scientists camp that had been used to measure glacial movements and depths in the Atomfjella area. But seeing that it had been abandoned, he wholeheartedly agreed that we should utilize this camp.

Setting up camp at midnight under stunning peaks on our 1st evening

In no time flat we had begun stomping out the fresh blanket of snow so that Bruce could direct us in erecting our sleeping and kitchen tents. Once these were up, Hamish started in preparing dinner; chicken, veggies, mashed potatoes and gravy previously purchased for 10€ per person at the Radisson in Longyearbyen (big props to Doug Stoup of Ice Axe Expeditions for this recommendation.) Audun rigged up the polar bear trip wire with explosives while Eric and Danny got busy digging our toilet (complete with head rest and elbow support pockets) which was close to a single 2 meter red plastic post that the previous group had obviously used as their marker of where to pee…a tradition the 6 of us couldn’t resist continuing. By 2:00 AM all was complete and the sun was well on its way upwards. Despite the abundance of both light and cold, our slumber was sound that ‘night’.

Danny ascending Irvinefjellet with the Austfjorden (Aust Fjord) in the distance

Bruce in our secret pow stash

The next day brought more sunshine and a mid-afternoon ski tour up to the top of Irvinefjellet (1550m), a nearby ridge to the north of camp. From here we skied down to Tryggvebreen (Tryggve Glacier) and continued on a circumnavigation of Vestafjellet, the mountain directly behind our camp. Danny decided to forgo the latter portion of our tour, needing to nurse an aggravated hamstring…but in true British form, he made the most of his time while back at camp; hot tea and coffee awaited us upon our return.

Eric at the top of Irvinefjellet

Just as we were finishing up dinner that evening, we were startled to hear the whine of a snow mobile and looked down the glacier to see a pair of sleds approaching. Most of us meandered out to the spot where they pulled up. There were three travelers; a shortish lady in an enormous down parka and two tall thin men, who stood up and smiled broadly at us…these were the scientists who’s camp we were squatting in. It became evident quickly that Auden knew them and it was no big deal that we were in their space…they just needed to gather the gear from their cache in the underground snow bunker that was marked by the red post….

I can’t understand Norwegian, but my interpretation of the conversation that followed between Audun and the scientists goes something like this:

“Ummm….yeah…about that post…wasn’t that where you guys had marked the spot to pee? No? huh…let me go get my shovel.”

As Audun dug out the entrance to their shelter, Danny, the ever gracious host, offered tea and coffee to the new party. Upon presenting them with hot tea one of the men observed with a wry smile:

“Interesting tactic; first you piss on our supplies, then you offer us tea.”

Without missing a beat Danny replied:

“Of course! How do you think we built the British Empire?”

Needless to say our groups got along just fine thereafter.

  1. steve
    April 27, 2011 at 3:21 AM

    Awesome e….awesome

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