Svalbard preparation: an update

Since I was asked to talk about my preparations for November in Svalbard and since I’m going tomorrow and I have to pack this afternoon, I’m going to combine the two.

Medical

Let’s start with medical issues, since I was specifically asked about them. Bear in mind I’m in the UK and this doesn’t necessarily apply to the entire world.

Vaccinations – there are no vaccinations necessary for Svalbard. You have to look out for ticks in mainland Norway, in grassy/foresty areas but I really can’t see that being an issue of any kind in Svalbard where there’s no forest and the grass will be under quite a bit of snow. My only issue is that my EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) isn’t valid on Svalbard. Not that I’ve ever used it or needed any kind of medical treatment but it does make me feel a little bit nervous. I know I have my general travel insurance which should cover anything I need but I like having the EHIC to fall back on.

The Darkness

I’ve been reading about this. The sun set on October 26th and won’t rise again until February 16th. The lightest we’re going to get is what’s called nautical twilight between about 8am and 3.30pm (that’s on Tuesday. By next Monday, it will have moved in half an hour at both ends, making the “day” a full hour shorter) – nautical twilight being what I’ll get at home between about 5pm and 5.45pm tonight.

There are three twilights – that’s the state of not-quite-darkness that follows the sun setting, not the nice pink and yellow sky as the sun sets. Civil twilight is the lightest and Svalbard doesn’t have any this time of year, nautical twilight is when you can see the horizon but can’t, for example, read outside without a torch, and the darkest is astronomical twilight, which is pretty indistinguishable from actual night.

Noon, at 11.42am, will be about as bright as it is at home at 6pm tonight. So it’s all going to be pretty dark. At the moment I’m quite excited about it because it’s a novelty but we’ll see how I deal with it in reality.

Apparel

This is the biggest bit of my preparation by far. My research suggests I’ll be dealing with temperatures somewhere between -5°C and -20°C. I’ve been out in temperatures like that in Iceland in winter but only for short periods before leaping back into the car, truck or coach, so I’ve had to add to my winter wardrobe. The beauty is that I get to use all this stuff on future trips to Iceland and maybe even Greenland.

From top to bottom, then:

I am going to wear my Icewear Viking hat because it’s warm, pretty water-resistant, fleece-lined and most importantly, it has earflaps. It’s not listed on the website but it’s available in many colours in just about any souvenir shop in Reykjavik and I bought mine at the Vik Factory Outlet shop.

I didn’t fancy having metal on my face at -20° so I’ve invested in some plastic spectacles. I don’t know how much I’ll wear them when I’m not on Svalbard because black plastic glasses tend to make me look like Ronnie Barker. These ones aren’t so bad, I guess, so maybe I’ll bring them out occasionally.

I’m taking three pairs of gloves. The inner ones are Icebreaker merino liner gloves, the outer ones are Trekmates Mountain XT Primaloft mittens, which have fingers concealed inside them and the final pair are my beloved Cintamani fleece mittens which won’t stand up to serious weather or activities but might be handy for just getting around town.

My base layers are Trekmates contrast stitch long johns and an Icebreaker Bodyfit women’s tech top, both merino. I did have a photo of me wearing these but 1) I look horrible and lumpy and 2) my mum is the world’s worst photographer and 3) there isn’t really anywhere in the house suitable for posing in ridiculous clothes. I’ve had plenty of thermals before but never merino. For the record, the best I’ve ever owned so far are, believe it or not, from Primark but I thought for serious weather, I’d upgrade to merino.

Next layer: Rab Classic Double Pile jacket (in purple, believe it or not. I know it doesn’t look it in the photo) with windproof panels in the front and Cintamani inner/outer trousers I bought two or three years ago in the Cintamani outlet downstairs on Bankastræti in Reykjavik. I’ve always worn them as outer trousers but they’ll work beautifully as inner ones.

Finally, we have my serious layers. The jacket is a Mountain Warehouse Brevis ski jacket which allegedly goes down to -40° (C or F). It has lots of pockets, which is wonderful, and it’s absolutely enormous because I wanted to be able to get lots of layers under it. The only trouble with that, apart from the sleeves coming way down over my hands, is that I look like the Abominable Snowman in it.

Finally, I’ll be wearing my Trespass snowboarding trousers. I can’t be more specific about them; I bought them in haste a good few years ago. I know from experience that they’re reasonably warm and waterproof and I’m sure they’ll be lovely and toasty over my other layers. Yes, they’re shockingly pink and I’m going to have a horrendous case of colour-clash but I’m not going to buy new trousers just because they don’t look good with my jacket.

As for hands, so for feet. I have three sets of socks – Bridgedale Coolmax Liner Women’s, Bridgedale Summit Women’s and Heat Holders, which are lovely and fluffy inside. The Bridgedales shall be worn together, the Heat Holders on their own but maybe not when I’m dogsledding or snowmobiling or something.

My boots are Mountain Warehouse Whistler snowboots, presumably waterproof around the feet and fleece-lined, so they’ll be nice and warm and dry and they’re big enough to fit the big socks in.

And finally, my slippers. I’ve had them for about ten years, they’re from Cotswold and although they don’t do them anymore, they do similar ones with slightly differently textured fur, so I conclude they’re Ayacucho. They’re very soft, very light and very easy to stuff in a pocket in case I need them while I’m out – because on Svalbard, you need to take your dirty snowy boots off whenever you go into anywhere that’s not a supermarket.

Miscellaneous

  • Yaktrax for traction on ice
  • Petzl Tikka headtorch
  • Swimming stuff – I intend to go to the Aurora spa at least once
  • Camera, spare battery (because camera batteries die quite quickly when exposed to cold weather) and a teeny-tiny tripod that appeared in the house from absolutely nowhere (it’s about five inches high, so I do mean it when I call it tiny)
  • Netbook & charger
  • GPS tracker & charger
    Kindle & charger and actual real paper book
  • Notebooks for writing in
  • Lots of food (I like to take enough to last me the first few days but also, there’s only one supermarket in Longyearbyen, so there’s no guarantee I can find what I’m looking for and also, it’s all imported so it’s going to be really expensive)
  • Passport & all bookings, confirmations and bus timetables
  • Debit card, credit card, spare credit card, travel insurance card, driving licence, EHIC

Activities

I’m struggling a bit with this – I’ve only found one company online that’s running activities this time of year so I’ve booked a Northern Lights trip by dogsled (I still haven’t found the answer to “do the Lights come out during the day?” Weird as it feels, I’m sure they do because I think it’s only that you need it to be dark and if it’s dark during daytime, I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be out). I’ve also booked a snowmobile safari in the twilight, which I think is just snowmobiling for the sheer pleasure of it (I don’t really like snowmobiling, it’s too noisy, smelly and liable to crash) and that’ll do for now. I’d also like to go to the Aurora Spa at the Polarriggen but I don’t know if that one’s for guests only. There seems to be a sauna at the pool, so maybe I’ll make do with that. I’ll go along to the tourist information or something like that and make plans for Friday and Saturday. This is one bit I’ll definitely need to update you on later on.

Any other questions?