On arrival at Longyearbyen airport, every group has to fill out a 'green form'. This contains details of where you will be, and who is in the group. This is exchanged for a card which must be surrendered before departure, as a check that everyone has returned safely.
General information on Svalbard in 1993 stated that a return ticket from this country cost around £450. We were able to obtain tickets much cheaper than this through STA, using a Scandinavian Airways Airpass. This meant that every internal SAS flight cost $80 (eighty US dollars), as long as we flew into the country with SAS. By taking the cheapest flight of the week, we paid only £345 each.
I do not recommend this mindless pursuit of the cheapest prices to other expeditions. It is important not to arrive on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, as everything in Longyearbyen is shut!
We sent all the equipment we could out by sea freight. This cost around 35p per kilo, compared to £3.75 per kilo for air freight. Be aware that ships can only get to Longyearbyen when it is free of ice. This is usually not a problem in summer, but would require extensive pre-planning for a visit at any other time of the year.
Quotes vary enormously. For 700kg we were quoted between £406 and £1290. We chose NorCargo, who quoted £406.
All types of fire-arms, flares, and flammable substances are strictly forbidden on passenger carrying aircraft. As there are no freight-only flights to Svalbard. All such items must travel as sea freight.
The Sysselmannen will advise groups on the minimum search and rescue insurance cover they need to travel in Svalbard. His permission relies on the group getting adequate cover. We were insured through West Mercia, with an Alpine Ski policy, extended to include general mountaineering, and camping. This provided us with £20 000 potential search and rescue cover each.
We used both methods of transport available outside the settlements - Helicopters and Boats.
If equipment has to be moved to any site not on a shore close to Longyearbyen, and load carrying is to be avoided, then helicopters are the only way. There are officially two helicopters for hire. Both are run by Lufttransport. One takes 4 people, or 400kg, the other eight people, or 900kg. Helicopters are expensive. The larger helicopter costs 16800NKr per hour if you approach Lufttransport directly. Otherwise, they can be arranged through one of the travel agents in Longyearbyen (who of course take their slice of your money). The time is taken as flight time, and there is no charge for time spent on the ground.
There are a few reasonably priced helicopter bus services, to places like Ny-Alesund (115NKr). Information should be obtained from travel agents.
Officially, the Russians are not permitted to fly people or freight commercially. However, we received word that Russian helicopters will fly people and freight from Russian settlements for cash - allegedly.
The use of inflatables is dangerous, and discouraged unless the team is fully equipped (survival suits, twin outboards, GPS etc.). The other way to get about the fjords is to use one of a number of local boats. I advise contact is made with the skippers well in advance, unless you are prepared to barter on the quay. Regular trips are run to places such as Barentsburg, Pyramiden etc. Skippers are prepared to drop off and collect everywhere en route to these places. Arrangements can be made directly with Skippers, or through a travel agent.
There is also a growing number of tourist cruises up and down the west coast of Spitsbergen. To use these ships would require pre-booking, and prices may vary, depending on how receptive the tour operator is.
The expedition planned on taking a marine radio for distress use only. We almost bought a Channel 16 only, 25 watt yacht radio, which we were going to use in conjunction with a very heavy battery for distress use only. However, we were extremely lucky, and received support from Racal Radios. This support, was above and beyond what we could have dreamed of. We had two HF sets, six VHF sets, rechargeable batteries, hand generators, solar rechargers, spare batteries etc. etc.
With this equipment, all members of the expedition were always in contact with each other on the VHF sets throughout the science phase. The HF radios provided the link with the outside world.
Racal also helped us with the paperwork; insured the equipment; and freighted it to and from Svalbard for us. We might have been lost without them!
There are three pieces of paper that one needs in order to be allowed to take radio equipment to Svalbard and use it.
Every group is recommended to have a means of killing a bear should it be necessary. A large revolver is adequate, but the most common weapon is a hunting rifle, which can be hired from Paulson's in Longyearbyen for 300NKr a week (discounts for longer periods). Ammunition is on a 'pay-for-what-you-use" basis. BEWARE, Paulson does not sell or issue cleaning kits for the rifles - he says this is to prevent damage due to over oiling. We ended up having to scrape rust out of the rifle for hours, because we had no oil to protect it with! Take some light oil, and rags.
No fire arms licence is required to hire a rifle or ammunition from Paulson.
The Polar Bear is a protected species. Killing a Bear without attempting to drive it off first is a criminal offence. All parties are expected to have other devices to deter, not kill, Bears. The minimum is a pencil flare and caps, and devices range right up to signal pistols (ten times more expensive).
Most campers in Spitsbergen have warning trip wires. These tend to be home-made devices of some description. We were recommended to use a simple device freely available in this country. It fires shot gun blanks when the trip wire is broken. This was not good. It was far too heavy, and very insensitive. The recommendation is a car or rape alarm rigged in such a way that it goes off when a fishing wire trip fence is breached. Polar Bears can be immune to bangs - they occur naturally on glaciers, and with rock falls - however, car or rape alarms are less common in that part of the world.
Maps can be obtained from Stanford's in London. If you wish just to look at maps, the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge has the total coverage of Svalbard. In Longyearbyen, a complete range of maps is available from The Norsk Polarinstitutt shop in Næringsbygget. A selection of the more popular maps is also available from the Museum Shop, and the Supermarket.
We were unable to obtain aerial photos of Svalbard. The Cambridge Arctic Shelf Project had a set available to view only. The Norsk Polarinstitutt were not very forthcoming before we arrived, and when we were there it was too late, as photographs take a week or two to make copies of photos.
Svalbard is not some desolate outpost. Longyearbyen has a hospital amongst other facilities. It also has direct international telephones - in fact most of the facilities one would expect of a small Norwegian town.
Longyearbyen has a campsite at the airport. This is expensive at 60Nkr per person per night. There is no cheaper way to stay in Longyearbyen.
Longyearbyen has a supermarket, and cafe. The supermarket is typical of Norway - that is things tend to be about twice as expensive as in this country.
We used Paraffin as a fuel. This is readily available, from Paulson, at 5Nkr a litre. Other types of fuel are less easy to come by, but not impossible. Paulson can also supply Rodspirits (ethanol) and unleaded petrol, but he needs advance notice for large quantities. Propane gas is available from the Coal Company, again, advanced notice would be a good idea.
We purchased all our food in England, and had it sea-freighted out to Longyearbyen. For a complete list of the food we took - including portion sizes - see menus.
Skis of any type are not available for hire in Longyearbyen. As we were going for nine weeks (plus freight time) the cheapest option available to us was to buy our own skis. This was made less painful by Highland Guides in Aviemore, offering us substantial discounts.
Almost all the equipment we took was privately owned by members of the expedition. Details of items used, and how they performed are found in the Equipment Report.