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Pole to Pole

Day 2: Greenland to Ny Alesund

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleRuss is unable to make contact with our next port of call - Ny Alesund in Spitsbergen - and the Danes say they will try and raise a weather forecast from the American base at Thule. This takes some time, but at midday the news comes through that the weather is good, and after refuelling and repacking we squeeze back into the Twin Otter.

There are 325 miles between Greenland and the Svalbard Islands, of which Spitsbergen ('steep mountains' as it was named by the Dutch who discovered it 400 years ago) is the largest. Part of Norway since 1925, it is for us an important stepping-stone between the North Pole and Europe, and the first place where we hope to do without aircraft and continue our journey by land and sea.

Below us, a mixture of black clear-water channels, pale-blue icebergs and various shades of frozen and refrozen ice give the Greenland Sea a mottled effect, but as we cross the Greenwich meridian and enter the eastern hemisphere the effect of a warm current pushing up from the Atlantic changes the scene dramatically. The ice melts away and thick cloud hides the water for a while. When we see it again, it is only 1500 feet below the plane and a fierce easterly wind is flicking spray from the top of angry waves.

The Twin Otter is suddenly battling against a headwind and horizontally driving snow. Russ takes us down another 1000 feet but the visibility is no better, and before we hit slap-bang into the side of Spitsbergen he pulls us sharply up through the impenetrable but mercifully low storm cloud to calmer conditions at 2000 feet.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 2
  • Country/sea: Norway
  • Place: Ny Alesund
  • Book page no: 14

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