Recently, I visited Longyearbyen, which lies at 78 degrees North and considered the Northern most community in the world.
Upon Landing at the tiny airport, the view consisted of sharp jagged mountains with virtually no trees to be seen anywhere. There were patches of snow in the higher elevations. Needless to the say, the weather was cold despite being August. The cool weather was a welcome and drastic change from the heat and humidity of Japan where I spent my time prior to arriving in Longyearbyen.
Exactly how cold was it? Let’s say, it was a good thing I packed a winter hat and a pair of gloves.
One of the neat things about being this far North during the summer months was the midnight sun. This was my first time experiencing this and never seeing the darkness of night was pretty awesome. Strolling around midnight when it felt like late afternoon was a weird and confusing feeling. On my first day, I was a little jet lagged and slept as soon as I checked into my hotel. When I woke up around midnight, there was still daylight as it was mid-day. So you can see how that can be confusing.
The center of town is small with various local accommodations, restaurants, and bars scattered about. There’s also a main grocery store and small shopping mall where one could buy winter cloths had they arrived ill prepared for the climate.
Those polar bears that Coca-Cola depicts as loveable and playful in their commercials lurk in an around the island, but they’re actually dangerous and pose a lethal threat to humans. With this constant hazard, it is highly recommended to carry a rifle or have a guide with a rifle when leaving the Longyearbyen establishment.
I booked a hike with a guide to a near by glacier prior to arriving in Longyearbyen. The hike took a better part of a day, but it really didn’t matter since its daylight out all day. The only thing to consider was the closing times of restaurants and bars.
Our group consisted of 9 people for the hike and a guide who had a rifle for our protection. We also had a local who worked for the guide company join us for the hike along with her dog.
The dog was awesome. He was full of energy and couldn’t be happier just walking with people.
The start of the hike was a strenuous incline. Afterwards, we traversed across a glacier and then planned to head up to a vista point, but one of the other hikers pulled a calf muscle and we had to cut the hike short and turn around. But before we headed back into town, we went to a vista overlooking Longyearbyen.
The view of the Longyearbyen from the vista was fantastic. When we started off in the morning, there was cloud cover and seemed like bad viewing weather. However, it cleared up and this was the view we were treated with. Note the dog again being awesome and just happy running around.
I initially didn’t have high expectations for the Longyearbyen. When I first landed I was tired and didn’t explore around town. After walking around town and going on the guided hikes, I grew more fond of it because of the nature and history of the settlement.
I asked the local who worked for the guide company which season she preferred. She said she couldn’t decide because there’s highlights to both seasons. With that said, I want to visit again in the wintertime where I can snowmobile and ride a dogsled.