Every January, my wife and I go on an annual, unusual hunting trip. We seek to see the beautiful aurora borealis northern lights.
A few weeks ago, I was unexpectedly invited to Oslo, Norway, as part of a business trip to meet with a new Norwegian client. It seemed destiny was hellbent on sending me to the Northern latitudes in winter, but I had already been to Norway before to chase auroras.
But, on all my other trips, I had experienced 20 or so hours of darkness but never the ultimate full 24 hours of polar night. I researched my options and learned that the home of the northernmost permanent settlement on Earth, the town of Longyearbyen, is administered by Norway and accessible via a (relatively) easily journey from Oslo. It was two flights away.
This was likely the closest I would ever come to visiting the North Pole, itself.
And that’s how I found myself on a 3.5-day dog sledding trip in total darkness at the northernmost point of civilisation on earth.
The red arrow points to the Svalbard Archipelago, home to the town of Longyearbyen, the northern-most inhabited community on the planet.
My trip began in Oslo, where I was greeted by this unusual Welcome sign. Longyearbyen is two flights away.
I'm surprised to see a whole row of Teslas, charging in the center of Oslo. My hosts tell me Norway is the biggest market for Teslas outside the US and they are a 'dime a dozen' here.
The final sunset of my trip hits the wing of my plane. I will not see sunlight again for nearly 4 days!
Behold the dramatic and rugged coastline of the Island of Spitsbergen bathed in eternal night at this time of year. (I lightened the photo so you could see the view.)
I arrive at the frosty airport at Longyearbyen, Svalbard - the northernmost commercial airport in the world. Temperature on landing: -20 Fahrenheit.
There are s,000 people in Longyearbyen and more than 3,000 polar bears. The one at the airport is easy to spot.
This is the main street of the town of Longyearbyen taken at about noon. This is the brightest it gets here during the Winter months.
A variety of animal skins - seal, fox, yak and polar bear, among others - are available for purchase in Longyearbyen.
This is my hotel in town. Longyearbyen means 'Longyear City.' The town was actually founded by an American named John Longyear, who set up a mining operation for around 500 people here in the early 1900's.
This sign warns of polar bears throughout the Island. It is actually illegal to leave the town without being heavily armed due to the extreme (read: you're going to get eaten) dangers presented by polar bears.
Seal carcasses dry in the harsh freezing winds of Svalbard, strung high in the air so the polar bears won't devour them.
After I begin my trip, I will visit several base camps like this one. See that bright point of light over the cabin? It will be back in another picture, with an explanation.
The custom in Svalbard is to remove your shoes and put on dry ones, available in these cubby holes, before entering most public buildings to avoid tracking in snow
The Church nave of Svalbard Kirke (Svalbard Church) would naturally be the Northernmost Church in the world. It is not wise to die in Svalbard. Your remains will either be cremated or shipped back home at your own expense since digging graves in the permafrost is next to impossible.
Alcohol is much cheaper in Svalbard compared to the rest of Norway. The people in Svalbard are very friendly and there is zero crime. Anyone convicted of a crime is exiled from the island forever!
Puppies ignoring the -30 Fahrenheit temperatures at the base camp. And here's another custom: pregnant women are sent back to the mainland several months before their due date as the local doctors lack the facilities to deal with severe pregnancy complications.
This is the source of the mystery point of light, the Svalbard Seed Bank. One-third of all the world's seeds are banked here, deep in the permafrost, in case of ecological or nuclear apocalypse!
At the summit of the glacier, the destination of my expedition, I am greeted by incredible ice formations in an ice cave.
How to give Waze a total nervous breakdown - ask it to calculate the 7500 mile route home to San Francisco from Svalbard! ;) But notice: two bars of service.
Despite its isolation, Svalbard has an amazing Internet connection due to a fibre cable to the mainland so doctors can help the local physicians undertake complex surgeries via videoconferencing. I use it to post a poetic description of the worst parts of dog sledding (canine flatulence.)
And this is the reason I do this: This is what the Aurora Borealis looks like in the extreme Northern latitudes!
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