Day 15 & 16 Alkhornet & Skansbukta
Overnight we sailed back north and entered Isafjorden, our luck with the weather continued. Following breakfast the zodiacs were lowered onto calm seas for a visit to Alkhornet and the promised Arctic fox dens. A small scramble off the beach took us up to the plateau, where again we stanchly followed the dreaded ‘flagged trail’ that lead to where the fox den was located. We were among one of the latter groups to arrive at the designated point from where we were able to watch the foxes. We settled down and patiently began to wait our turn, our eyes fixed on an area some 80 mts distant for any signs of activity. In the distance a long string of red-coated guests were ambling back across the tundra, occasionally stopping to photograph a reindeer that appeared oblivious to their presence. Suddenly and ignoring the ‘flagged trail’, a splinter group of a couple dozen guests broke ranks and started to run back? Someone had seen a fox cub close-by and they wanted a photograph. From our vantage point we witnessed this group in pursuit as the cub returned to its den! This kind of action was deplorable and with no guides, the self-guiding ‘flagged route’ failed abysmally. The group eventually resumed their walk back to the landing area, while we sat quietly a safe distance from the den for another 10-minutes. Just as the fox returned, we who had been patient, were told to leave because the fox was very stressed – complete rubbish and I was furious! This was the second time, in as many days, those who had waited patiently to photograph foxes were told to leave just as an opportunity presented itself! On my return to the landing area, overwhelmed with emotions, I confronted the three guides who were present and questioned their inactive role over the earlier incident and why we had to leave just as the fox appeared. Their reply was a stoney silence!!!!!!
Then, we had to wait while some stripped off their outer layers and run into the sea to take part in an orchestrated polar plunge, maybe something I should have considered to cool my disappointment!!!!
Skansbukta was a short two-hour sail from our morning landing, and another missed opportunity. An industrial attempt to mine Gypsum in Svalbard now stands as a folly, softened by the growth of Arctic tundra. Minerals here contain high concentrates of Anyhydrites. These old workings serve as a poignant reminder of Svalbard’s imprudent past. Screes above the old mine hosted a carpet of Boreal Jacob's Ladder, a specialist plant of the region and a delight to see in such abundance.
On a short zodiac ride along the shores we searched for seals and seabirds. The small 30mt cliffs held a few Brunnich's guillemots, nothing in comparison to the spectacular Hinlopenstret which we didn't visit. The day and the cruise ended what should have been an epic voyage in a similar manner as it started, with sadness and disappointment!