People travelling on their own outside of the settlements and the area around Nordenskiölds Land – Dickson Land, must notify the Governor (Sysselman) of Svalbard of their plans. For safety reasons, we recommend that no matter where or how long you intend to be away, you tell someone about it. The Governor can compel visitors to purchase insurance or provide a bank guarantee to cover expenses in the event there is a need for a rescue operation.
There are several outfitters that are ready to rent you a gun for polar bear protection. I did this in May 2008 at the outfitter Ingeniør G. Paulsen company down by the sea side in Longyearbyen.
Ideally you should have a gun licence or some other proof that you can use a gun, but they will take the time to show you how to do it if you cannot show any proof. However, if you are not mentally ready to fire a gun against a bear, do not rent a gun and do not venture into polar bear territory - a lame gun is false security. You can hire a local person with a gun to guide you.
The guns are mostly WW2 Mauser brand 30.06/7.62 mm high powered rifles in fairly bad condition - but they will work. Some shops and outfitters will rent you modern rifles of the same caliber that are somewhat less heavy and clumsy - at a higher fee. Anything less powerful is fairly useless against a polar bear.
When outside the settlement, load up with four cartridges, and secure, but no cartridge in the chamber. Then carry the gun on the shoulder or across the chest. Ingeniør Paulsen charges NOK 100 per day for a rifle and 10 bullets, and if you spend any bullet, they are NOK 20 a piece. It is considered bad taste to rattle off the bullets outside the hunting season as they also signify to others that you may be in trouble. There are rules of gun behaviour within the settled area of Longyearbyen. No bullets in the gun, and chamber open and ideally the loading arm and fire piston part removed.
If you are on a weekend trip, you need to pay NOK 50 extra for the company to pick up the gun from your hotel, as they are closed on Sundays and that's the only option of handing back the gun. Hotel receptions are used to this....
Polar bears are completely protected on Svalbard. It is prohibited to pursue or attempt to make contact with a polar bear, as this may disturb it and jeopardise the safety of humans or polar bears.
Maintain safe distance from any bears you may come across as they can attack suddenly without warning. Use caution and avoid all contact. Always set out tripwire warning flares around campsites. Polar bears will quickly overheat if they are being chased, so never follow a polar bear on a snowmobile or boat. Never feed a polar bear. At campsites, all food, garbage and toilet waste must be kept at least 100 m from your sleeping tents and in a way so that it can be seen from the tent opening.
Polar bears are essentially everywhere on Svalbard – also during the summer so a weapon should be with anyone outside of the settlements. Large-bore rifles are absolutely the best defence against polar bears. If you do not have any weapon training, you should only go on organised tours with local guides. Visitors with weapon training and/or a hunter’s licence should bring documentation thereof. If you are to spend the night in a tent or under the open sky, the campsite should be secured with tripwire warning flares.
Ignorant Norwegians are not used to animals being carriers of rabies. The mainland is free from rabies, thus our innocense when it comes to these cuddly and seemingly tame polar foxes. They are naturally unafraid of people, so not necessarily rabies-infected...
For visitors more exposed to this it's probably not worth saying this, but due to the presence of rabies on Svalbard, stay well clear of polar foxes and any stray dogs you do not know the history of. Bringing pet dogs/cats in/out of Svalbard if for the same reason quite problematic. Leave your pet at home.
The rabies on Svalbard seems to be originating from the east - Siberian fox and wolf populations.
No particular vaccinations are required prior to arriving Svalbard, but if bitten, do go to Longyearbyen Hospital - they have capacity and antidotes to handle rabies.
At first I could not believe it, but it definitely is true:
Polar Bears are an acute danger in Svalbard - and even in settlements like Longyearbyen you are not safe! There is a warning out that you should always carry a rifle when leaving the settlement - and that is no joke at all! All over you can hear about encounters with polar bears - and many times they are fatal! To the people - not to the bears!
Polar bears are at the apex of the Arctic food chain. That means in essence people are snacks, albeit, very boney for the most part.
Bears will have very little natural fear for people, most are curious but decide you do not look very tasty, only 1% are aggressive and right-out dangerous.
"Rules of Engagement" are available in brochures on arrival at Longyearbyen Airport.
You shouldn't leave the settlement without a gun or without the company of somebody with a gun. You can rent a rifle in Longyearbyen, costs about NOK 100,- per day, and you pay for bullets spent. If you have no shooting experience, you may be offered to take a quick course at cost..
On mine visits visitors would like to take photos...
But you will not be permitted to. The reason is the explosion danger. Coal mines have a fair amount of methane gas seeping out and it is highly volatile. A spark, a flash from you camera could in principle set it off, and that wouldn't be a bang you'd like to hear...
Head the advice...
Listen to what everyone says about the Polar bears. There might not have been that many killings but they do happen and there's just a moments difference between beeing injured and beeing killed. Off cause another moment and you are safe. Think and do not be a fool! If you are a photografer please remember - if the guide tells you to run, just run! No pic is worth dying for.
Another thing to consider and could be dangerous in a different way is the ever changing weather. Do plan for all kinds of weather even if it looks sunny and warm. It can change to a storm in just seconds. In Svalbard it gets cold fast and you'll get colder even faster.
The weather at Svalbard is extremely harsh and erratic, and you should listen to local advice and warnings before venturing out too far from habitation. Long-term weather forecasts are of limited value here in the turbulent Barents Sea.
In preparation for your Svalbard trip you can in any case check out the weather as it is today: I have found 3 active web cams, one at the harbour of Longyearbyen, one from the University Center up in town, and the last one gives a view of Ny Ålesund up on the west coast.
Then you know how to dress before boarding the plane....
Don't expect a nice, cozy, whitewashed Greek Island style community here.
Architecture in Longyearbyen is a fairly unknown concept - this is a company town first and foremost. Quick and dirty is a covering term for many of the buildings here (see illustration - this is the ISS HQ in town). On top of this industrial site habitation, all mining detritus and other ruins and trash from before 1946 are practically by law protected as a cultural heritage. So that bent and rusty I-bar just seemingly dropped from the sky might be a leftover from the WW2 Scharnhorst battleship bombardment of Longyearbyen.
Just come to terms with it - industrial trash is cultural heritage here.
But in my opinion that is absolutely no excuse for some of the new buildings that have shot up - like the one on my photo.
Even if you may take the advantage of using snowmobiles while here you may arrive to my conclusion that the noise, fumes and general "unquiet" they cause is a major nuisance in Longyearbyen.
Despite all the regulations on their use, the snowmobile scene is insane, to put it right.
However, there are limitations on where the snowmobiles are allowed to go, so places such as the side valleys of Adventdalen, Foxdalen and Bolterdalen and other places are snowmobile-free. You can go skiing in the quiet here.
Some organised tours will pick you up at your guest house or hotel. Others invite you to meet somewhere else for a pre-departure briefing and equipment/clothes check and distribution. Most operators give you very little info ahead. When days of more competition arrives to Svalbard, the companies will shape up in this respect, hopefully.
In the case of Spitsbergen Travel, likely the biggest company here, they have a funny name for their meeting place: "Spitsbergen Travel Tour Production". This is stated on the ticket/voucher you get for the tour, and you will really have to find out where this is and ensure you have sufficient time to get there. Every tour seem to have somebody lost or missing and invariably they wait outside Spitsbergen Travel office - wrong! Yet so logical.
To find Spitsbergen Travel Tour production you need to go past the Radisson SAS Polar Hotel and go down toward the sea -two blocks - in the direction of Longyearbyen taxi depot. The building to the left of the taxi folks' building, with the door that says "Ingeniør Paulsen" (sic) is the right one, enter here and proceed up to the 2nd floor - not marked. An easier sign outside is that of the weasel that may be parked outside. At some point Spitsbergen Travel will understand this is a mess and fix up their strategy of handling customers.
The log at www.sysselmannen.svalbard.no and www.svalbard.net (link) have issued warnings against unusual avalanche danger on the slopes around Longyearbyen/Advent dalen, especially north-facing slopes, but also almost equally bad on east-, west- and aouth-facing slopes. There is reason for extreme caution.
The reports are followed by some practical advice provided by Longyearbyen Red Cross Association on http://svalbard.net/feltlogg/felt.php?mid=5 (in the Norwegian).
Don't set up rest or night camp on the beach, but go inland, preferably a few hundred meters. The reason is that polar bears roam the shoreline for edibles. That should preferably not include you.
At night, maintain vigil, with one person staying awake as bear guard.
Apparently the glaciers on Svalbard are of the "cold" type that don't move that much, except for periodical magnificient thrusts when dynamic pressure/tensions get too much.
Nevertheless there are massive dangers connected with touring/sightseeing and crossing glaciers, such as crevasses, collapsing ice towers, calving glaciers etc. Take heed to guides' advice and stay off a glacier if you are not properly equipped and in a team.
P.O. Box 500, Longyearbyen, 9170, Norway
Good for: Families
The SAS hotel has a very central location only 100 m from the main shopping area. It has 95 rooms...more
P.O. Box 500, Longyearbyen, I 9171, Norway
Good for: Business