#1: Arctic update
Covid 19 has had a drastic impact on one of the most remote places on our planet - Svalbard - the Arctic archipelago that lies almost 1000km north of mainland Norway. I have been coming here annually since 2004 to run our North Pole programs and offering local ski expeditions since 2016. It’s my home away from home.
Normally the main town Longyearbyen is bustling with activity, most notably snowmobile excursions that leave every few minutes to head into the surrounding polar landscape. By now we would have had sleds packed with equipment and food, ready to manhaul up Adventdalen towards glaciers and snow covered mountains.
Instead, the world is in lockdown and we are in quarantine, the shifting ice in the frozen fiord outside our window providing fitting entertainment. Longyearbyen is essentially a ghost town with only locals going about their business, but not the kind of business it relies on this time of year. The travel industry here is decimated and along with it Icetrek’s expedition programs. Mardi and I, and her friend Brooke, came in on the last flight into Svalbard before its borders effectively closed. As of 8am this morning, Norway followed suit and shut itself off to foreign nationals, meaning that there is no possible way for our customers to reach us here in Longyearbyen. But even if they could get in we would not be able to head into the backcountry as all outdoor activity has been halted - rescue services do not want to be exposed to Coronavirus in the event of an emergency. And the final blow, Norway is evicting all foreigners, including us, and we will be on a flight out in the next 24 hours. What happens to our April North Pole program remains to be seen but it seems to be a foregone conclusion.
To date Svalbard has no infected inhabitants and I hope it stays that way. It deserves this little token of distinction.