Our expedition in Norway's Svalbard Archipelago began as we set off from our guesthouse in Longyearbyen, on the island of Spitsbergen, where we'd arrived the previous day. Heading out on foot, we hiked through the moraine to the south of the town with just the sound of rushing meltwater to accompany us.

Svalbard Adventure in the Arctic Wilderness | Much Better Adventures
Go on an Arctic adventure! Hike, kayak and glacier walk across Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, while keeping an eye out for polar bears, on our small group trip.

We crossed over ever-changing water channels and began ascending Sarkofagen. From this mountain, the view of Longyearbyen was stunning, but the real treat was putting on the ice cleats and hiking down the small glacier that led back towards town. 

The next day we crossed Isfjorden to Ymerbukta Wilderness Camp, our home for the next four days and the perfect way to connect with this stunning environment. After setting up, we climbed into our kayaks and headed over to explore the Esmark Glacier, which was huge compared to one we'd seen the previous day. Heading back to our kayaks we encountered flocks of Arctic terns, these fearless birds dive-bombing us as we unwittingly got too close to their territory.

Multiple kayakers paddling towards the large ice wall of the Esmark Glacier.
Kayaking towards the mighty Esmark Glacier. Photo: Luke Ornsby Rand

Next on our itinerary was Värmlandsryggen peak. The terrain was challenging due to the sediment rock constantly moving underfoot; however, as we crossed the moraine that lay between our camp and the mountain base we came across reindeer, who were unbothered by our presence.

A small reindeer grazing the sparse ground in Svalbard.
A reindeer grazing on Svalbard. Photo: Luke Ornsby Rand

Continuing up the mountain we found loads of fossils that were hundreds of millions years old. As we climbed higher, we began hiking on snow, which mostly reached the top of my boot but at times reached up to my hip.

This took its toll, but our guide's retired sled husky – who was leading our pack of hikers – must have sensed I was struggling as he came down to give me the biggest fuss, which gave me the boost I needed to get to the top.

Being on an adventure here really is like living in an Attenborough documentary.

The panoramic view of surrounding glaciers along with the mountain tops of Spitsbergen is a sight to behold. Heading down was easier as we slid down over the snow on our backs.

A panorama of the Esmark Glacier and Spitsbergen's snow-dappled mountains, with wooden structures in the foreground.
Glacial panoramas. Photo: Luke Ornsby Rand

The following day we were back in our kayaks and returning to Esmark Glacier, this time to hike across the top of it. The sheer size of this glacier is awe inspiring. Crampons, helmets and ice axes at the ready and with ropes in tow, we clambered onto the glacier with our guide, Kaisa, safely leading us through the maze of crevasses.

A group of hikers climbing over the Esmark Glacier next to an ice crevasse.
Hiking on the Esmark Glacier. Photo: Luke Ornsby Rand

Stopping for lunch and a coffee on this beautiful glacier was a real treat. It’s hard to put this experience into words, but looking around at the group's faces it was clear we were all feeling the same way. Heading back to camp in the kayaks we caught sight of a seal resting on an ice floe: being on an adventure here really is like living in an Attenborough documentary. 

View through binoculars of a baby seal lying on a raft of ice in Svalbard.
Just chillin'. Photo: Luke Ornsby Rand

Our final full day at the wilderness camp was much more relaxed. Kayaking across the bay towards some abandoned huts that we could see from our camp, we came across more reindeer as well as polar bear foot prints, which my hand easily fit inside.

Later on we found another hut where, Kaisa told us, there had been fox pups born just a couple months ago. Before long, a young pup came out and laid in the sun.

A young Arctic fox pup sitting in the sun in Svalbard.
Basking in the Arctic sun. Photo: Luke Ornsby Rand

Paddling back to camp, it was decided that a kayak race would determine the polar bear lookout rota that night. Polar bear lookout was necessary each night at the wilderness camp, with members of the group taking it in turns to lookout for bears while the rest of the group slept.

Unfortunately for Nikos, who I was sharing a tent with, my kayaking inexperience cost us and we lost (sorry bud!). Still, what a privilege to be on lookout in such a great location under the midnight sun with glaciers in the background.

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In the morning we packed up our things. We were planning to go for a short hike whilst we were waiting for the boat to take us back to Longyearbyen, when Kaisa received a call. It seemed Svalbard hadn’t finished with us yet: there were reports that a polar bear was on the other side of the bay. Calmly, Kaisa told us to get our gear to the water's edge where we would be picked up early by the boat. In the meantime, we needed to try and spot the bear in case it swam to our side – it's amusing how a seagull perched on some ice can suddenly look like a polar bear!

The boat arrived, sounding its horn and firing a flare into the sky, and within seconds a RIB boat was launched. With a bear nearby, it was safest to leave – so within minutes we had loaded our gear on the RIB along with Gandhi the dog and we were off, with Kaisa setting off another flare for extra precaution, to dissuade the bear from approaching.

Svalbard Adventure in the Arctic Wilderness | Much Better Adventures
Go on an Arctic adventure! Hike, kayak and glacier walk across Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, while keeping an eye out for polar bears, on our small group trip.

Safely on the main boat, working as a team, we unloaded in what felt like seconds, in order to free up the RIB. Then we were climbing up to the top deck to try and spot the elusive bear.

A polar bear submerged in the water just off shore, Spitsbergen Island.
Polar bear alert! Luke's shot captured from safely on board the boat. Photo: Luke Ornsby Rand

There it was, casually strolling past the campsite, continuing its natural behaviour. Thanks to our guide's expert knowledge and quick thinking, along with the boat coming to our rescue, everybody – including the bear – was safe. Sat on the top deck with the adrenaline still running we began reflecting on the last few days when we spotted a humpback whale, its tail protruding out of the water and not minutes later, a blue whale and its calf. What an unforgettable day. 

A whale's tail protruding from the sea, with the mountains of Svalbard rising in the background.
A whale tail dipping in the Arctic waters. Photo: Luke Ornsby Rand

Svalbard is such a unique place, everything about it seems otherworldly. Every day was unique and finding a single highlight is difficult. I’m incredibly grateful for this adventure, from the group and guide to the landscape and wildlife. These are memories that will live with me forever.

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