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Hornsund – Freeriding in the Arctic

76° 55′ 14″ N, 16° 8′ 28″ OE
At the Outset

Searching for our lost souls

View over the Garwoodbreen with Hornsundtind in the back

“There is something magic about Svalbard. It gave us the chance to experience an incredible adventure and we will always have great memories of our time on Svalbard. In exchange, it retained a large part of our soul. What else is there left for us to return to Svalbard some time in the future?”

Those were the last words from our report on our first trip to Svalbard. A few months later, when Steve from The Empire Expeditions sent us this picture of the Hornsundtind our minds were immediately hooked again. No doubt about it – we had to go back and search for our lost souls.

The only question was how we could overcome the 140 miles (220 km) from Longyearbyen to this magical place in the south of Spitsbergen. Fortunately for us, some of Steve’s friends from North Sailing were planning to explore Svalbard with their sailing ship in the next few months.

looking back
on board of the mighty Opal - sailing to Barentsburg
on board of the mighty & icy Opal
on board of the mighty Opal - Roy on deck
on board of the mighty Opal - frozen bay
on board of the mighty Opal - our captain
on board of the mighty Opal - skipper

Ah, for just one time
I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin
Reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Tracing one warm line
Through a land so wild and savage
And make a NorthwestPassage to the sea

the mighty Opal

Before taking on the passage down South we stopped in the Trygghamna for a first hike & ride. From here we sailed through the choppy Isfjordbanken and Bellsundbanken further south. After almost 20 hours on stormy seas we finally sailed into the calmer waters of the Hornsund with all its small fjords and bays, which were there for us to explore in the coming days – the frozen Burgerbukta with its steep couloirs, Samarinvågen with its impressive glaciers along the shore, Gåshamna, the starting point for our base camp adventure and Isbjørnhamna, the home of the Polish Polar Station.

on board of the mighty Opal - sailing into the Hornsund with a view of the Hornsundtind
on board of the mighty Opal - hosting the sails
on board of the mighty Opal - hosting the sails
on board of the mighty Opal - hosting the sails
on board of the mighty Opal - hosting the sails
on board of the mighty Opal

Freeriding in the Arctic

Helvetiafjellet & Alten

Upon our arrival in Longyearbyen we learned that the Opal – our pirate ship and home base on this trip – and her crew were still struggling with the stormy seas on their way to Svalbard and therefore it would take a few more days for them to get here. So before we could set sail we had some extra time to explore the hood.

snowboarder on top of the Alten
snowboarder on the edge of a crevasse
snowboarders & freeskiers hiking up to the top of the Alten
snowboarders & freeskiers bootpacking up to the top of the Alten
snowboarders & freeskiers bootpacking up to the top of the Alten
grazing reindeers on the way to Gruve 2
Gruve 2, Longyearbyen
Gruve 2, Longyearbyen
Helvetiafjellet & Alten

When we left Longyearbyen and sailed westward through the Isfjorden, we knew it would be a stormy voyage down south once we reached the open Arctic Sea. So we decided to check out one of the smaller fjords first and anchored at the Trygghamna. Our dinghy took as ashore in two runs – and even without anyone falling into water. All of us being eager to climb that “hill”, it didn’t take us too long to get to the top of the Värmlandryggen. Just on time to enjoy the magic light as the sun set in the Arctic.

The ride down was a little bit icy – or as Paal described it: “stable conditions” – but nevertheless fun! A good start of our sailing adventure on Svalbard.

  • getting on shore with the dinghy
  • our group of skiers and snowboarders hiking up from the shores of the Trygghamna to the Värmlandryggen
  • snowboarder walking on the Värmlandryggen
  • Xoidi riding down the Värmlandryggen
satellite view of the Hornsund - with courtesy of the Norwegian Polar Institute

Hornsund is probably the most impressive fjord of Svalbard. The fjord cuts about 25 kilometres deep into the island and is part of the South Spitsbergen National Park. Although the Hornsund is the southernmost fjord on Svalbard, there is more drift ice here than in the fjords further north. The reason for this is the cold polar water coming from the northeast and drifting around the nearby Southern Cape of Svalbard and further north along the coast. A fact that should cause us some headache in a few days. But for the time being, we were simply stoked about the frozen landscape and the endless touring opportunities that lay ahead of us.

Hornsund was amongst the first fjords discovered by whalers in the 17th century. The English explorer Jonas Poole visited Hornsund in 1610 and gave the fjord its name after his men had brought back a reindeer antler. The fjord was also well known amongst trappers as an excellent area for polar bears attracted by the numerous ringlet-seals in spring time. Poland established a station in Isbjørnhamna in 1957 which is still in operation today.

view of Gnalberget from our anchorage in Burgerbukta

It was already late afternoon when we sailed into Burgerbukta and finally anchored at the edge of the frozen bay. As the stormy crossing had taken its toll on some of us, we decided to explore the area with our splitboards and skis the next day only and enjoyed a quiet movie night with “Gather & Ride” – and a good glass of wine.

The weather the next morning was a bit cloudy, but that couldn’t stop us from finally exploring Horsund. The first tour took us via the Wibebreen up to the saddle of Kruseryggen, from where we had a good overview of the bay – and also immediately spotted an interesting couloir on the opposite side of the bay. Of course, we couldn’t just leave this couloir and so, after a fortifying soup on the ship, we went ashore again in the afternoon. In two groups we tackled the two couloirs above our landing site. Quite cold, a bit steep, once again “solid conditions” for the descent – but all stoked again when reaching the bottom at the shore.

After being out in freezing cold we were quite hungry when returning to the ship and could hardly wait until Chef Eiki conjured up a fine meal for us on the table. And while we were still pondering about God and the world with a beer in our hands, captain Heimir weighed anchor and we sailed towards our next destination.

the Opal anchoring in the Burgerbukta
getting on shore with the dinghy
rope team on the Wibebreen on their way up to the Kruseryggen
  • rope team on the Wibebreen on their way up to the Kruseryggen
  • snowboarder hiking up to the Forfattarskaret
  • snowboarders hiking up to the Forfattarskaret
  • the view from the Kruseryggen
the crew - Pierre
the crew - Katharina
the crew - Wes

We woke up in an amazing new place. Anchored again right on the edge of the frozen bay, surrounded by impressive glaciers that flowed down to the shore. So a refresher on how to safely navigate a glacier before we left our ship couldn’t hurt.

Shortly thereafter we were on the Eggbreen and hiking up to Tindegga. The higher we got, the better snow conditions we found, but also the worse the visibility became. We therefore decided not to climb up to the peakt, but to descend to the glacier and hike up the other side towards Fjellnuten. But the same here: the higher the better the snow, but the worse the visibility. And the wind was also getting a little bit nasty up here.

the crew crossing the frozen Samarinvagen with the Eggbreen in the background
the rope team on the Eggbreen
a splitboarder - Roy - crossing the frozen Samarinvagen
the mighty Opal anchoring on icy shore in the Samarinvagen
the crew - Sali
the crew - Roy
the crew - Xoidi

Safely back on our ship we enjoyed another warm soup and a short time later we hoisted the sails and set off for our next stop. Not knowing that the highlight of the day was yet to come.

As we sailed out of the bay, we suddenly spotted a polar bear on the shore. He seemed to be neither interested in us nor in the two reindeer grazing near him.

polar bear walking along the shore of the Samarinvagen
the crew approaches the base camp below the Hornsundtind

When you come from the Barents Sea towards southwest Spitsbergen, you may recognize the majestic, alpine Hornsundtind (1,431m) from a distance of 75-85 nautical miles. The Hornsundtind is the highest point of southern Svalbard and the third-highest mountain on Svalbard. The first successful ascent of Hornsundtind was achieved by the German climbing expedition of Dr. Rieche in 1938. Hornsundtind is technically much more demanding than the higher mountains of northeastern Spitsbergen in the Atomfjella area, the highest one being Newtontoppen (1713 m).


The Base Camp

We already had our first glimpse of the Hornsundtind a few days ago when we sailed into the calm waters of the Hornsund after our stormy passage down south. And now the mountain rose again in front of us as we sailed into Gåshamna. After we had gone ashore at the bottom of the Gåsbreen, we divided all our equipment among ourselves.  Indeed, not only our personal touring and climbing gear had to be packed onto the pulkas, but also all the equipment for the base camp (food, tents, sleeping bags, stove, polar bear protection etc). Quite a bit of weight for each of us that we now had to carry or rather haul for about 8km and over almost 600 meters of elevation. And while the luggage got heavier and heavier with every step, our motivation increased the closer we got to our dream destination.

We decided to set-up our base camp on the Gårwoodbreen underneath the Conwaykammen and in full sight of the Hornsundtind. Even though some time had passed since our first trip to Svalbard, we benefited from our experience setting up a camp on a glacier and we were done in relatively short time. After securing the site and setting up the tents, we went off exploring the surrounding area. What a playground!

  • view over the Gåshamnøyra
  • a skier pulling a pulka and on his way up to the Garwoodbreen
  • the crew hiking up on the Garwoodbreen towards the basecamp below the Hornsundtin
    our basecamp on the Garwoodbreen


    The Playground

    Our first tour led us first south over the glacier. And while some of us were drawn up to the Mehestpasset with its rather long descent, we opted for the Hoven, which offered a shorter but also steeper descent. But regardless of which mountain we climbed, we were all quite impressed and stoked by the landscape that spread out before our eyes. And everyone had a big grin on their face when we slapped hands back in the base camp.

    splitboarder hiking up to the Hoven and view over the Garwoodbreen in the back
    the crew - Stefan
    the crew - Keree
    the crew - Rene
    a splitboarder hiking up to the Bastionen

    Back at camp, we had a somewhat sparse dinner, as the gas stove we had dragged up with us unfortunately didn’t work quite as we had hoped. But that couldn’t stop us from going on another tour after dinner. After all, it was not only to enjoy this unique landscape to the fullest, but we also did not have to consider the time of day, as there were already 24 hours of daylight on Svalbard at this time of year.

    We had planned to stay more than one night in the base camp. But in the morning of the second day our captain radioed us. He was worried about the forecasts he had received from the ice service of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute (NIS). In the south of Svalbard a large field of drift ice was on its way up north and would soon reach the Hornsund and block us for several days in the Hornsund.

    Drift ice is nothing unusual around Svalbard, although it is more common in the east and north. The central west coast is also navigable for smaller ships like our Opal more or less all year round. However, the ocean current in the east brings drift ice towards the south again and again. The current bypasses the southern cape (Sørkapp) and then takes a northerly course again, following the southern west coast. As a result, the southern fjords such as Hornsund and sometimes even Bellsund are often blocked by drift ice in spring and early summer.

    Our base camp on the Garwoodbreen was the ideal starting point for further tours and also the weather played along. Nevertheless, in view of this news, we decided to return to the Opal after the tours planned for the day.

    We used the last few hours on the Garwoodbreen to tackle the lines on Conwaykammen that we had spotted on our first tour the day before. They turned out to be alittle bit harder than expected, but were a worthy end to our trip to the Hornsundtind.

    drift ice forecast
    view on top of the Conwaykammen
    the playground around our basecamp on the Garwoodbreen

    The Dream

    Ever since Steve had shown us his photo of the Hornsundtind a few months ago, it had been our dream to climb this mountain and ride it with our skis and splitboards. However, during our explorations towards the summit, we came to the conclusion rather quickly that this goal was not achievable. Densely snowed in, the Hornsundtind was beautiful to look at, but the snow masses and ice at the top posed too great a risk for avalanches and break-offs. With a heavy heart, we therefore refrained from climbing the summit. Even if we did not succeed in making our dream come true, our trip to the Hornsund and the way there was adventure full of experiences, for which all the exertions were more than worth it. And who knows, maybe one day we will come back to try it again.

    a skier in front of the Hornsundtind

    After we cleaned up our camp and packed all the material back on our pulkas, we headed back towards Gashamna, where the Opal was waiting for us. The descent with the pulkas on the mostly sloping glacier was not exactly a pleasure and we were all glad when we arrived at the shore. We had more than earned the beer on the deck of the Opal. And shortly thereafter we were already sitting below deck having dinner.

    While we were enjoying the culinary delights of a rack of lamb, our captain took the Opal from Gåshamna across the Hornsund into Isbjørnhamna, where we anchored for the night near the Polish Polar Station. After all the tours in the last few days and especially the cold of the last night on the Garwoodbreen we enjoyed the evening aboard the Opal in the hot tub and a cold beer. And whoever got too warm could cool off in the quite refreshing Arctic Sea.

    on board of the Opal - enjoying the cosy hot tub
    jump into the cold Arctic sea
    the crew - Jan
    the crew - David
    the crew - Ramiro

    The next morning we took advantage of the beautiful weather for one last tour in this unique environment and climbed over the Ariekammen to the Arieskaret Pass. At the top we once again enjoyed the view over this impressive landscape and counted ourselves lucky to have been able to explore this area in the last few days.

    One last descent down to the shore of Hornsund and shortly after we hoisted the sails and headed back towards Longyearbyen.

    the crew coming back from the hike
    looking back to the Hornsundtin which is hiding behind the Čebyševfjellet
    view into the Hansbukta
    view over the Hornsund

    On our way back we called in at the Port Sea Office in Barentsburg, the Russian mining settlement located in the Grønfjorden, just about 60km west of Longyearbyen. Although it was still morning, we paid a visit to the only bar that was already open, followed by a visit to the sports & recreational center. And if we hadn’t left in time, we might have been arrested for unauthorized use of an aging snowscooter.

    Barentsburg - port sea office
    Lenin welcomed us to Barentsburg
    wondering if it's still working...
    Barentsburg - at the hairdresser
    on board of the Opal - the crew
    Do you have a minute or two?

    Our sailing & freeriding adventure in two minutes narrated by Roy

    The frozen paradise

    Svalbard (which means ‘cold coasts’ in Norwegian) is a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. There are more than 400 islands which are situated north of the Polar Circle ranging from 74° to 81 north latitude, and from 10° to 35° east longitude. The land area of the islands is about ​​62’050 km². The largest islands are Spitsbergen, Nordaustlandet, Barentsøya, Edgeøya and Prins Karls Forland. More than 60% of the land area is covered by glaciers. The Austfonna glacier is not only the largest glacier on Svalbard, but in whole Europe. The highest mountain is the Newtopoppen with a height of 1’713 meters, followed by the Perriertoppen with 1’712 meters and the Ceresfjellet with 1’675 meters. The coasts of the islands are heavily riddled with fjords.


    Longyearbyen is the largest settlement and the administrative centre of Svalbard. The town has a population of approxiamteyl 2,000. It is the world’s northernmost permanent settlement of any kind. It was founded in 1906 by the US enterpreneur John Munro Longyear as a mining place. Nowadays, mining only takes place at Mine 7 and the the city now mainly lives on tourism and research.

    Longyearbyen has a modern infrastructure with various shops, restaurants, schools and kindergardens, swimming pool, cinema, gas station, port and airport. The road network is only about 40 kilometers long and does not connect to any of the other places on Svalbard. Snowmobile (in winter) and boats are therefore the main means of travel.

    As Mine 7 is located a few miles outside of the city you don’t see that much of the mining activities in or around Longyearbyen except the remains of the old mines and cableways. Still, half of the inhabitants live directly or indirectly from mining. What remains from the old mining period is the fact that in many places visitors are expected to take of their shoes when entering. Since the mine workers often became very dusty and dirty, they pulled out their shoes at the entrance to the houses.  This tradition still applies to museums, hotels and schools.


    Barentsburg is a Russian mining settlement about 60km west of Longyearbyen. It is the second-largest settlement on Svalbard with about 450 inhabitants. Most of them are mine workers who are employed by the Russian state-owned mining company Trust Arctickugol, which owns and runs the mines and infrastructure. Facilities in Barentsburg include a coal-fired power station, hospital, hotel, school, kindergarten, sports and cultural centre, Russian scientific research centre and a Russian consulate. Although the Russian mining company still operates the mines, in recent years it has also invested in tourism. But the place has kept is Russian flair and large parts of the Soviet era architecture.

    Barentsburg is named after Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz, who discovered Svalbard in 1596. The name was given by the Dutch who operated the mines after they bought the site from Russia in 1920. Russia took over the site again in 1932 and expanded it considerably. During the Second World War Barentsburg came under heavy shelling and was practically destroyed and then rebuilt.

    Thank You

    Many thanks to the whole crew for an incredible adventure up north!

    Guides & Locals

    Steve – from The Empire Productions for sending us the Hornsundtind picture and helping us putting this trip together

    Pierre – our mountain guide for guiding and reminding us to put on our crampons

    Keree, Paal & Wes – our Arctic guides for making sure we didn’t get eaten by polar bears

    North Sailing and the Crew of the mighty Opal

    Fellow Riders

    David, Roy, Jan, Katharina, Ramiro, René, Salomon, Stefan, Xoidi

    The Empire Productions

    The Empire Productions

    North Sailing

    North Sailing