Pyramiden and Nordenskiöldbree Glacier: polar bear tour from Longyearbyen




After the polar expedition with Hurtigruten to overcome the 80th parallel north, I chose a full day tour from Longyearbyen to Pyramiden and the Nordenskiöldbree Glacier, the last chance to see animals, absent in the previous days.
And incredibly it was the perfect choice.

My trip to Svalbard Islands was certainly fascinating for its geographical meaning, but I felt that the polar bear was a heavy lack.
I was certain that I would see some of them in the 5-day expedition but instead I had seen only reindeer, two arctic foxes, some species of bird and, from far away, seals and walruses.

The excursion to Pyramiden was obligatoryfor my interest in the Soviet period and because I had already seen every corner of Longyearbyen and only a few tours could occupy the 2 days I had available.

Hotels and info points offer dozens of similar excursions. Differents are the company, the means of transport (slower boat, speedboat or zodiac boat), any lunch on board and the duration of the tour (from 4 hours to about 10).

For all these reasons I chose to do the excursion with Henningsen Transport & Guiding.
The cost of 1950 Nok (about 200.00 euros) included the crossing from Longyearbyen to Pyramida via the Nordenskiöldbree glacier, lunch on board and back in after about 10 hours.

The bus arrives early in the hostel and, after a quick tour of the hotels, takes all the passengers to the port.
On the Billefjord bridge the very good guide explains the excursion we will do and the rules of conduct for the crossing. The boat leaves the port almost complete and sails to northeast along the fjord.

The strong wind makes the Arctic air even colder while a few drops of rain fall from the low clouds.
Everyone prefers to watch the view from the large windows of the ship’s saloon, where hot drinks can be bought at the bar. I instead choose to stay on the bridge, while the puffins furrow the horizon, camouflaged between the same color of the sea and the sky




Military boat in Svalbard


Navigation proceeds quietly in the fjord. The mountains rise from the sea and hide in the clouds, showing their glaciers. Some small icebergs caress the boat while I look everywhere waiting for what I’m searching from a week: the polar bear.




I speak with the highly trained girl who guides us and we enter into the cockpit.
The commander allows him to stay by his side, while the 3 men on board begin to prepare the barbecue for the lunch included in the excursion. Their barbecue on the deck of the boat deserves a few Michelin stars.

I talk to the commander telling him about my experience here at the Svalbard Islands and my desire to see the polar bear. Without promising anything, he tells me that maybe he will be able to fulfill my dream.
The monitors indicate the route while in front of us the Nordenskiöldbree glacier shows all its grandeur and arrogance.Its 25 x 11 kilometers were hit by an asteroid in 1984..




The commander observes the glacier and soon gives me the binoculars:
“there are two bears, mom and baby. Look in that direction”.
I take the binoculars and look for them … but nothing.

In documentaries the bears are immediately recognizable and I thought it was easy to see them.
Instead, despite having a great view, in front of me I have an immense glacier and finding two bears of almost the same color is practically impossible, for those who are not used to do it.
But I know they are here.
I decide to use all the zoom to photograph and film the white wall in front of me, blindly.
Only at home will I realize that in this photo I managed to capture the two bears.
Can you see them?




The commander tells me to stay calm, he slowly approaches the glacier warning the microphones that going out on the bridge all can see the polar bears. I await his directions with binoculars and camera in hand.

Suddenly I can focus them. Here are the two polar bears. Mom and puppy eat a seal.




I go out on the bridge while a mixture of emotion, adrenaline, arctic frost and rain furrows my face.
Now that I’ve seen the free white bear at his house, I realized the trip to the North Pole.

We look at the two bears for over half an hour.
In that time I also reflected on the seal in that cliff.
Who knows what it saw in his life? Who knows what she thought when, distracted, was captured?
But it is the nature.
The glaciers that melt and recede decrease the hunting areas of the bears.
In the past, periods of fasting lasted for a few months, now they can even reach 6-8 months.
The bears are forced to swim for many kilometers and there are many who die in this crossing.
Food is scarce and their extinction is not as difficult and distant as we might think.
If we like to see them, let’s learn to respect them and help them to survive.


The boat moves away and I remember that Pyramida is the destination of this excursion.
The old Soviet city is located right in front of the glacier.
The Russian guide is waiting us under the ladder of the boat and immediately we breathe Soviet air.




Pyramida, which owes its name to the shape of the mountain behind it, was an important Soviet settlement on Svalbard. Here in fact lived up to 2,500 people, engaged above all in mining activities.




Especially in summer it was also frequented by the inhabitants of Longyearbyen. Even during the Cold War, visas were not required for tourists and residents of the Svalbard Islands.
Everyone could take advantage of the heated sea water swimming pool, the well-equipped hospital, the well-stocked library, the football and basketball fields, the gym, the cinema and the theater.






School exchanges were also frequent. There were 3 residential buildings: one for families, one for men and one for women.
The houses did not have kitchens, but a large communal canteen took care of the food.

Its view, between fjord and glacier, certainly made it very fascinating.




Now all this is only imaginable, walking in its avenues and inside the buildings that the arctic frost keeps intact as in the past.








It is thought that, with this climate, in case of abandonment everything would remain intact for at least 500 years.
The bust of Lenin will therefore remain in place for a long time to come.






It is almost impossible not to take a beer or vodka inside the bar, which has certainly not changed since a few decades ago.




Greeted the guide, the boat leaves Pyramiden to return to Longyearbyen.
I rest on the ship’s deck while the Soviet city moves away and then enters the main salon.
I didn’t expect to find this climate. The bar works at full capacity and on the tables the bottles are almost all empty. Alcohol reigns over those present and it almost seems to be in another ship.
I return to what has become my seat in the cockpit, where I can still speak with the commander and his crew.

And the surprises are not over yet. While flipping through the album with photos of animals in these areas, the commander takes the binoculars and points to the sea.


They were far away and there was nothing to see but small white portions coming out of the water to breathe.
But I knew they were close to me. And it was enough to be happy.




Returning to Longyerbyen I had nothing more to ask now. I had seen more than I dreamed.
The excursion was perfect from all points of view.




The day ended by greeting the guide, the boat captain and the crew.
They closed the circle of my trip to the Svalbard Islands, at the North Pole.

I’ll always be grabbing it

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