Friday, July 20, 2012

The Glacial Trek That Induced Muscle Memory

by Sarah Buckman, Pratik Patel, and Alex Li

We finally arrived to the most crucial and exciting part of the Arctic Summer program, which is Svalbard. We visited Spitsbergen, a big island that is part of the beautiful archipelago known as Svalbard. We made camp in Longyearbyen, where glaciers covered the mountainsides all around the valley. The sun seemed never to set, but rather it circled the valley throughout the day like a merry-go-round. Due to the warm ocean currents near Spitsbergen, Svalbard is also called the tropical island of the Arctic. After arriving to the most northern city in the world, we feasted on a big breakfast and headed out for our first hike near Longyearbyen. Hiking through the beautiful terrain was not only difficult but also satisfying. It was our way of challenging the hostile Arctic environment and experiencing a small part of the obstacles other explorers have in history.
Today we conquered Longyearbyen. We started to cross the creeks. Although the water seemed very shallow, it was very hard to achieve balance because of the rocks. We spent 45 minutes and finally found a plateau to have a rest. At the same time, Bruce started his lecture about rocks and landscapes. After 10 minutes rest, we put on our jackets and backpack and moved forward. We climbed up a slope covered with snow and ice to get to the top of the mountain. We had to be really careful because this was extremely slippery. Although we were hiking in weather around 5 degrees Celsius, people were sweating and took off their jacket. Everyone was out of breath. Finally, we made our steps to the top of the mountain that was embraced by the glaciers and fjords. It was the most beautiful view we had ever seen so far. Now, we were allowed to have a longer rest. We took out the sandwiches and started to eat. After that, we cleaned up the place and prepare to head to the other side of the glacier.

As we began to walk, Dag, our leader of the glacial hike, informed us of the crevasse that he saw ahead of us. For those who do not know what a glacial crevasse is, it is an alarming melting hole that can be found in parts of the main glacier that has begun to receive most of the melting water that feeds all the way to the bottom of the glacier. Very tentatively, we kept in our single-file line while passing the crevasse to our right. Yet, there was something very suspicious to the left of our pathway that consisted of a dirty bodily imprint of large proportion with a piece of reindeer meat. It could be suspected that this place around the glacier was once an area for a polar bear. As we continued to walk, we learned about rock formations that make a conical structure out of the terrain and occur due to the rotation of rocks and distinct melting patterns of underground glacial areas, our geologist Bruce informed us that they are called “pingos”. After taking many pictures, hearing lectures, and enduring the trek across both snow and muddy permafrost, we finally reached the remnants of an old mine located on the valley of Longyearbyen, one that had experienced a rock collapse that filled the entrance. Carefully, we meandered down the mountainside and took great pleasure in the warmth of our restful beds where we could relax from the long hike. 

Pratik Patel is a senior studying Atmospheric Sciences with a concentration in Atmospheric Dynamics/Chemistry. He resides in the Northwest Suburbs near Chicago. 
Sarah Buckman is a senior in both Global Studies and Spanish with a concentration geared in environmental sustainability. She usually resides in the city of Chicago.

Alex Li is a sophomore studying Agricultural Engineering. He is an international student from China at the University of Illinois.


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