Today, the Norwegian Weather Service predicted that all of Svalbard would be covered by dense, low-lying fog. Indeed, it was a ‘fog-out’ during the early morning hours. The collective magic of guests on board National Geographic Endurance came through again, and we woke not to fog but to calm seas, no wind, and partly sunny skies. Just after breakfast, we went ashore on Edgeøya for the standard long, medium, and short hikes. At first glance, the area was stark, just a slightly undulating rocky area with no prominent features. But a closer look revealed a lush groundcover of mosses and lichens and very small plants with even smaller flowers. The reason for the small ‘lawn’ was obvious: perhaps a hundred, widely-dispersed reindeer were observed in the area, each one calmly grazing on those mosses and lichens that were a bit too high off the substrate. We walked over ancient magma split by the constant freeze-thaw of the permafrost, and we sloshed through small bogs created both by the melting active layer above the permafrost and the snow melt. By midmorning, the few clouds disappeared, and we began shedding layers. We had absolutely stunning conditions despite the dire weather conditions that were predicted (and indeed, did occur everywhere on Svalbard except where we were). This was undoubtedly due to the guests’ magic.
National Geographic Endurance relocated about ten miles during lunch, and we set out on Zodiac cruises to view walruses. And view we did! As we slowly approached a haul-out of 100-150 sleeping individuals, 15-20 individuals frolicked with each other in front of our Zodiacs! After ‘rough housing,’ they frequently stopped to look at us as if they were expecting a ‘points’ award. It was an amazing experience, even more so as none of the naturalists had seen anything like it. We reluctantly returned to the ship for afternoon tea and a presentation on, naturally, walruses.
After another superb dinner, we sailed through Freemansudet, a narrow channel between Edgeøya and Barentsoya en route to Nordaustelandet. The forecast calls for more quilt-like heavy fog, which was evident halfway through the channel. Tomorrow will provide yet another challenge for the guests’ magic!