Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard Archipelago. It is the largest Norwegian island located only 1000 km from the North Pole. For that reason, many polar expeditions started and sometimes ended there. Night lasting four months, a polar climate, and white bears wandering everywhere, the number of which exceeds the number of inhabitants, scare away many.
However, I assure you that Spitsbergen is a place that must and should be visited.
Coming to Spitsbergen, we must know and remember about one thing. Let us not be deceived by the ease with which we can get there. The great possibilities of air connections and the relatively low prices of tickets mean that getting there is almost as easy as going to Madrid or Paris. Therefore, we must remember that when leaving the comfortable and warm plane we enter a polar island. With its beauty, wilderness, and dangers. Outside of the city we are threatened by the weather, terrain difficulties, ice crevasses, avalanches, lack of people who can help us, lack of mobile phone coverage, and wild animals.
Outside the city, we also must carry firearms with us. If we are able to use them and have obtained a weapon license, we can rent one together with ammunition at one of the tourist stores. Therefore, if we want to survive and get back, apart from a good amount of reason, we must provide ourselves with the necessary equipment and safety measures. Below I will present what I took with me for the winter trip and what I think is the minimum.
• PLB - allows to call for help in a critical situation,
• Satellite phone - we can communicate with the emergency services
• Flare gun - to scare off bears if they want to approach us too close
• Rifle - for self-defense.
• Compass and maps
• GPS - preferably with the possibility of sharing our location
• Mountain winter equipment - crampons, ice-axe, avalanche shovel, avalanche detector, probe, etc.
Of course these are just the key equipment elements that provide us with safety, additionally there are clothes, camping equipment, and most of what we take with us to the mountains.
As usual in the case of such trips I decide to take two cameras. First of all, I want to have duplicated equipment in the event of a failure. I took E-M1X and E-M1 Mark II with me, the first of which was my basic camera.
A set of lenses allowing for wide landscape shots and photos of wild animals such as Svalbard reindeers, polar foxes, and maybe even bears. Although the bear is the undisputed king of this land, meeting one during a lonely trip is the last thing we should dream of.
Additionally a tripod, NISI gray and half filters, WD My Passport Wireless PRO SSD for copying photos directly from memory cards. I was packed in two backpacks. One Lowepro Whistler with photographic equipment and a second tourist backpack with equipment allowing me to move across the winter terrain, survive a forced camping, or move around the glacier. In addition, I was always accompanied by a Mauser remembering the times of the Third Reich, loaded with anti-bear ammunition, as well as a flare gun allowing to scare the animals off from a safe distance.
My main means of transport consisted in a snowmobile, with which I covered about 900 kilometers. This also gave me the comfort associated with charging batteries, which, as we know, do not work very well at very low temperatures. I charged the camera directly from the lighter socket using a charger working in the PD (Power Delivery) standard. The case was connected to the charger socket in the scooter and whenever I was not taking photographs, I charged the batteries with it. It is indeed a very comfortable solution which allowed me to have fully charged batteries even though the temperatures dropped well below zero and I was away from the nearest town by several dozen kilometers. That way I was able to have fully charged batteries and I did not even need to use spare batteries, without the slightest problem.
The new Olympus camera is definitely made for this type of work. Although it is bigger than its younger brothers and does not fit in the pocket-camera segment like the E-M10 or E-M5, it is definitely created for nature photography in difficult conditions. Seals, resistance to low temperatures, a large supply of electricity, and most importantly ergonomics as well as the ability to charge it with a power bank or lighter socket makes working with it comfortable and pleasant. Fast serial shots up to 60 frames per second or my favorite Pro Capture mode that allows you to save what happened even before pressing the trigger. It sounds strange but it is so. I press the shutter trigger halfway down and the camera saves everything in the buffer, when I press it to the end, the images before the trigger was pressed and after pressing the trigger are saved.
Author & Photographer: Marcin Dobas