Updated 03.28.2020: Do you ever push personal limits during a trip? It’s exhilarating, not to mention being good for our boomer brains, to try something new or to ratchet up the level of a favorite activity. That’s what happened to me when I hiked 14th July Glacier on a Silversea cruise excursion.
Facing my travel fears
During a Silver Explorer Arctic cruise in the Svalbard area of Norway, the ship anchors in Krossfjord, Spitsbergen, for a morning of expedition excursions. Choices include a gentle tundra hike or the moderate to strenuous 2-mile-round-trip-trek to the terminus of 14th July Glacier, with the possibility of stepping onto the glacier if conditions are safe enough to do so.
As usual when it comes to trail descriptions that mention tricky footing and steep grades, I question my ability to hike the trail. Will it be too much for me? Should I switch to the easier tundra hike offered by the ship?
The reconnaissance mission that Alan and I take on the outside deck doesn’t help with the decision making process. We can easily see the 14th July Glacier, which is actually two glaciers that have joined together.
Gearing up for a Spitsbergen hike
Although the glacier is easy enough to see from the outside decks, it’s harder to discern the steepness of the trail. But, since I have hiking poles with me, plus the wonderful encouragement that Alan always provides, I stick with the plan to hike 14th July Glacier.
So we gear up for glacier hiking on a sunny, temperate (for the Arctic) day: safari pants covered by waterproof pants, a top base layer followed by puffy jacket and raincoat, two pair of thick socks and the rubber boots provided by Silver Explorer. A backpack holds a pair of heavy gloves, wool hat and camera encased in a plastic bag.
Hiking 14th July Glacier in Svalbard, Norway
After a zodiac ride to shore, we leave lifejackets in a bin for the return journey, Alan stows away his waterproof jacket in his backpack, and I adjust my hiking poles. Then we join the group of hardy hikers led by John Buchanan, geologist from the expedition staff.
The trail travels up and down as it crosses—and climbs—a steep hillside overlooking the glacier. The footing is tricky in places. I prefer to hike at the back of the line so as not to hold anyone up. Alan goes in front showing me where to place my feet during the parts of the trail that give me trouble.
John pauses at several spots to discuss the geology of the area, identify birds flying overhead or to tell us more about the glacier. How come the quirky name? That honor goes to Prince Albert I of Monaco who, in the early 20th century, named the glacier in tribute to Bastille Day.
On one of the stops, I look higher up the mountain to see an expedition staff member standing on a rock. He’s on the lookout for any polar bears that might be in the vicinity. And, yes, he’s carrying a rifle—just in case.
Reaching the glacier
When our group reaches the glacier, John determines that it’s safe to walk out onto the ice where red flags mark the area that we’re allowed to wander. The surface isn’t as slippery as I anticipated but I appreciate the traction provided by the ship’s rubber boots.
Of course there’s plenty of picture taking to celebrate stepping out onto the glacier. But I don’t count it as a celebration—not yet. I’ll wait for that when I’ve completed the return trip safely back down the trail to the zodiac.
Crack! We hear that sound several times during the hike. No it isn’t thunder. It’s the sound of a calving glacier. But since the ice is right below us, all that we can see are a few waves created by large chunks of ice falling into the water.
The hike back to shore goes a little more quickly, although I still hesitate over the tricky parts. Once we reach the beach, Alan gives me a high-five for safely completing the hike. We put our life jackets back on and step into the zodiac.
Oh what a feeling! I faced my travel fears and won. What a fabulous day on 14th July Glacier!
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