In The Pipeline: The call of 'great blue beyond' beckons

June 22, 2011|By Chris Epting
(Courtesy Chris…)

As I included in my column the last two weeks, my son and I were in the Arctic.

Having just returned home, I thought I'd share a bit of our trip, which was even more spectacular than we'd imagined.

As you may remember, I traveled with Quark Expeditions to Antarctica last fall with my daughter. I guess you could say I was bitten by the "polar bug" after that trip because after getting home, I realized it had had a profound effect on me.

Maybe it was the deep isolation in a blue and white ice world; maybe it was the spectacular nature or a combination of both. Whatever it was, I could not wait to visit the land of the "midnight sun" with Quark this year, and this trip has left me reeling, just as the last one did.

We flew from Oslo to Longyearbyen, a small town on the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic. From there, we boarded our Russian expedition ship, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, with about 70 other passengers.


To give you a sense of how the trip started, this is a piece from my travel journal:

"We are officially back in 'blue heaven.' Spectacular icy mountains dwarf the ship. Morning began with a large male walrus relaxing on a piece of ice — like a giant dollop of meringue on a thin, floating ice cracker.

"Slowly and quietly we approached for photos, and to watch this chocolate-brown behemoth undulate and roll over up close was breathtaking. There were other sightings as we cruised into a quiet bay ... a bearded seal sunning itself on a piece of ice ... several ring seals. Various sea birds ... and then an announcement — 'polar bear spotted off the port side.' There it was in the distance it was — a small, buttery teardrop meandering near the shore — our first polar bear."

And from here it only got better.

Another excerpt:

"Little prepared anyone for what we witnessed at morning (which, by the way, has become an extremely relative term, given that the sun never goes down). So let's just say that at 7 a.m. yesterday, beautiful chaos broke loose. It was announced over the ship's address system that four polar bears had been spotted off the port side of the ship.

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