What’s it like to hike above the Arctic Circle in Norway? The landscape is stark, the trees grow about 5 inches high, dramatic photography opportunities are everywhere and the ground is surprisingly spongy. Oh, and you have to watch out for polar bears.
No, I’m not a backcountry-hardened expeditioner on a frozen adventure. I’m just a baby boomer experiencing as much out of life as I can. That’s why Alan and I found ourselves stepping carefully across rocky tundra while hiking Plateau Mountain in Longyearbyen located on the island of Spitsbergen, part of the Svalbard archipelago.
What were we doing halfway between the North Pole and the Norwegian mainland? Were we members of a frozen expedition involving backpacks, tents and freeze-dried food? No. Our trip above the Arctic Circle included fine wines and gourmet dinners on Voyager, one of Regent Seven Sea Cruise’s luxury cruise ships.
The hike was one of the ship’s cruise excursions. At the gangway, we loaded onto a bus for the short ride to the starting point. Guides divided us into four groups, allowing the experienced hikers to move at a quicker pace. Because I have a problem with heights (and didn’t bring any walking sticks), Alan and I chose the third group. The steep path leveled out in several places, giving us time to catch our breath and scan our alien-looking surroundings. Why were the guides carrying rifles in their backpacks? This is polar bear country.
Although our group didn’t reach the top, the hike climbed high enough to provide vistas of a beautiful, but stark, landscape. At a rock cairn, we signed a notebook proving that we did, indeed, climb part of Plateau Mountain. Later, we watched a reindeer move across a distant hill.
During the hike, Ellyn, our guide, talked about her life as a summer guide and also her studies back on the Norwegian mainland. What some visitors see as a tree-less wasteland, became beautiful and exciting when this nature-loving girl described her adventures.
Would this excursion satisfy an experienced hiker looking for adventure? Probably not. It’s too short and a bit pricey for what’s involved. But hiking Plateau Mountain offered us a chance to experience a tiny slice of life in a harsh climate. Learning about distant places that you may never visit again, isn’t that what travel is all about?