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The Beckoning Arctic

Join three centuries of adventurers and fortune-hunters by travelling to Svalbard and, like them, experiencing the Arctic wilderness in its purest form
Some 10,000 Svalbard reindeer live in the Norwegian archipelago – outnumbering human inhabitants by almost five-to-one
Northern fulmars glide above breaking waves on a boat trip from Longyearbyen to Pyramiden.
Kennels outside the Trapper’s Station

Food for Svalbard’s sled dogs traditionally includes dried seal meat, as seen here at the Trapper’s Station east of Longyearbyen

‘No, the Arctic does not yield its secret for the price of a ship’s ticket. You must live through the long night, the storms, and the destruction of human pride. You must have gazed on the deadness of all things to grasp their livingness. In the return of the light, in the magic of the ice, in the life-rhythm of the animals observed in the wilderness, in the natural laws of all being, revealed here in their completeness, lies the secret of the Arctic and the overpowering beauty of its lands.’

Christiane Ritter, A Woman in the Polar Night (1938)

A lantern inside the Trapper’s Station.

‘LEAVE EVERYTHING AS IT IS AND FOLLOW ME TO THE ARCTIC.’ Hermann Ritter, in a letter to his wife

One roasting July day in 1934, dressed in a ski suit and hobnail boots, Christiane Ritter bid farewell to her family and servants, stepped off the dock at Hamburg and boarded a ship bound for the top of the world. She had an appointment to keep with her husband.

For the past three years, Hermann Ritter had lived as a fur-trapper in Svalbard, a group of Norwegian islands that, in all regards, lie a great deal closer to the North Pole than to the couple’s comfortable home in Vienna. Her voyage to him would take several weeks, but at the end was the prospect of a homely cabin, and days spent reading, writing and painting, snug and safe by the fire.

The journey today is somewhat less challenging, though the first sight of Svalbard is likely unchanged since Christiane’s day. The view from the plane, three hours after leaving Oslo, is of an endless white, with triangular white peaks rising above broad white valleys all the way to the horizon. There is no sign of human life, nor even a patch of land where human life might reasonably support itself.

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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Lonely Planet - December 2017
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