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Exploring Ice Caves in the Arctic Wilderness

 

The climax of my trip to Svalbard may have already taken place with Friday’s spectacular total solar eclipse, but that didn’t mean the adventure was over. We still had one full day left before having to return to Oslo, and I got to spend it doing particularly Svalbard-y things.

First up, I went ice caving in the morning. A group of about 15 of us rode up to a nearby glacier in a bumpy old army transport vehicle (“It’s built for safety, not comfort,” the tour guide warned us), and descended down into its depths. They provided us metal cleats for our boots and headlamp helmets, and soon we were climbing down ladders and sliding down icy paths with nothing but ropes and each other to steady us.

The pathway we wended down formed when rushing water carved it out in the summer months, only to freeze anew in winter. This means that every year it’s a different path, a different cave to explore with different sights and destinations. In fact, last year they couldn’t offer this trip because the cave that formed was too unsafe for travelers.

Among other things, we spotted a variety of ices and stones, frozen stalactites and stalagmites, a variety of formations we nicknamed handlebars, chandeliers and curtains, and even a chunk of decades-old Styrofoam that had washed down into depths of the cavern. Even here, miles away from any settlements in a pristine cave, mankind’s trash made an appearance. The best part was the air down there was a by-now-comfortable freezing, much warmer than the outside air temperature. As we descended and climbed, some of us actually had to take off our winter gear because we were working up such a sweat!

Our group makes its way through the ice caves.

 

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