On July 1st, 2008 Birgit Ryningen and Anders Levoll of Trondheim, Norway will attempt to circumnavigate Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard Archipelago. During this self supported sea kayak expedition, the two person team will carry all of the food and equipment necessary to last for two months. The journey will take them approximately 1500 km, paddling 30 km a day.
Starting from the town of Longyearbyen, Ryningen and Levoll will travel in a clockwise direction around Spitsbergen. This is due to the sea current conditions, especially on the west side and in the Hinlopen strait. They will encounter several fjord crossings (the longest crossing will be 25 km) and glaciers with their fronts in the ocean (the widest glacier front will be 20 km). The sea current conditions, especially in the Hinlopen strait, can be unpredictable because of their speed and the varying amounts of drift ice present. South of the Hinlopen strait they will paddle along the coastline of Storfjorden before turning north around Sørkapp (South Cape) continuing along the south west coast to reach Longyearbyen before September 1st.
“Our travel route will not be the biggest challenge on this journey – that honor is left to the weather (especially the wind), polar bears and walrus”, say’s Levoll. “We want to be as well prepared as we possibly can. Proper clothing and equipment is essential to the expedition’s success”. They will carry rifles, signal guns and flash-bangs for protection and warning off polar bears in the camp.
In 2004 Ryningen and Levoll, along with four friends, attempted to circumnavigate the island of Spitsbergen. Because of large amounts of drift ice in the Hinlopen strait and the Storfjord area, the team had to turn around and paddle back to the town of Longyearbyen after having reached Basissletta in the Hinlopen strait. “On the previous attempt we gained a lot of experience which will be helpful on our next attempt”, says Levoll. “Among other things, the starting date will be almost a month later than last time, this way we hope to avoid most of the drift ice”.
Birgit Ryningen, 29, has for many years been active in judo winning several Norwegian championships and one Nordic championship. She is presently completing her Ph.D. thesis on solar cell technology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Anders Levoll, 30, is an active competitor in cross country skiing and road cycling. He works as a chartered engineer at Reinertsen Engineering. Common to both is their love of outdoor life. “We try to spend as much time as possible outdoors and on journeys, either for shorter or longer periods of time, in the mountains, the countryside or on the ocean. Since we also have photography as a common interest, our trips are well documented” says Ryningen. Past expeditions include 2006 Norway (north to south) on bicycle (approx. 2100 km), 2004 attempt to circumnavigate Spitsbergen, and 2001 Canada to Mexico on bicycles along the pacific coast.