There are certain places which, despite having read their names thousands of times, mean nothing to me. The big places like Machu Picchu and Torres del Paine - the smaller places like Mount Kinabalu and the Ngorongoro Crater (neither of which are actually small, just lesser known) – often tantalize and fill me with whispers of wanderlust. Most days, however, when I show up to Adventure Life to work and not to travel, I see the names of these places and my eyes glaze over. Such was the case with the Galapagos: I read and wrote the names Santa Cruz and Isabela over and over again but, until I saw the piles of yellow iguanas and stilted flamingos for myself, the word was never real. A similar phenomenon occurred in both Mexico’s Baja Peninsula and Svalbard.
Alkefjellet… Faksevagen… Gasbergkilen… each of these names were previously no more than words on a page to me but are now places that I treasure deeply. It is Alkhornet, however, which has captivated my attention and refused to let go. Prior to leaving Missoula on our journey North, I’ll admit that I only read our itinerary a single time and that eyes glazed over – I didn’t care about the names as much as I cared about simply being there. When we arrived, it quickly became clear that my not having poured over the itinerary didn’t really matter - part of the fun of our trip was the spontaneity it required.
First of all, we completed a reverse circumnavigation. After carefully examining the weather patterns for the next two weeks, our Expedition Leader literally chose the path less traveled: while 15 other ships headed north up Svalbard’s Eastern coast, the Sea Spirit went south and rounded the archipelago counterclockwise. His decision was spot on – while other ships ended up having to cancel several landings over numerous days, we had blue skies almost every day. Secondly, due to weather which can never be completely avoided, we ended up sailing into fjords and climbing mountains which had not been outlined in the itinerary.
When we took the zodiacs to shore on the morning of our last full day, I was on an Arctic high. I didn’t know how Svalbard could possibly further impress me – I was already filled to the brim with the excitement of a trip of a lifetime. Splitting into two groups – I joined the longer, more strenuous hike while a second group chose to make a more leisurely walk to the mountain’s rocky cliff face. After making our way over the tundra, through a rocky ravine and down a winding slope – our hike’s destination finally came into view. As cliché as it sounds, Alkhornet, in all its glory, took my breath away. Wearing the sky like a crown, the dramatic peak rose up from the tundra. Just shy of 1,500 ft., the mountainous cliff towered over the surrounding tundra and bowed down to no one.
As if the mountain wasn’t enough, a herd of reindeer grazed at its bottom while several Arctic Fox scavenged the nearby land. I spent the next two hours frolicking across the tundra and fighting off the urge to sing “The Hills Are Alive” at the top of my lungs.
The perfect ending to the perfect trip – we left Svalbard the next morning feeling truly spoiled. The following is my advice: read the word Svalbard and tuck it into the folds of your mind. Plant the seed. And when you next seek adventure or a new stamp in your passport, go. I promise you won’t be disappointed.