Two Months on Bear Island

Bjørnøya, or Bear Island, is not a place people go to for a holiday, and those that do make landfall rarely spend more than a few hours on its frozen shores. Drawn by this reputation for isolation, three Norwegian brothers, Håkon, Markus and Inge Wegge, contrived a plan to spend two months on the island, and so they did.

Words by Cathrine Wallenius Abramowski

The dream was to surf somewhere no one had surfed before. The cold and remote Bear Island in the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago lies approximately halfway between Spitsbergen and the North Cape. It took the brothers two years and a mass of planning to get there, mostly because of safety issues. The weather is extremely shifty, so if they had suffered an accident in poor conditions the boys might have been forced to spend days, even weeks, on the island before being rescued. This was also the island governor's biggest concern, but eventually he gave the brothers permission.

After flying to Tromsø, they hitched a ride with a cargo ship going to Longyearbyen (which is over a day ride) before they contacted the little meteorology station on the island who helped them get from the ship to shore, and their final destination.

The two months were predominantly spent cold water surfing on waves that no one had ever even dreamed about riding. They climbed up high ridges and snowboarded or skied wherever there was sufficient snow cover. A gun was brought along on every hike just in case of unwelcome encounters with local fauna.

The three brothers are engaged in environmental issues, and as a thank you for letting them stay on the island, they decided to clean up as much rubbish as they could before they left, bringing it back to the main land. All the food they took with them to the island was food they collected by dumpster diving at grocery shops in Norway.

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Below are a few extracts from the brothers' diaries.

Bjørnøya, day 14:
I wake up because of the wind that is pulling our tepee. A lot of clothes and other things are hanging over me to dry, and they are dancing in rhythm with the wind. I look at Markus, and can see that he has the same worried facial expression as me. No one wants to go outside to tighten the rope. We are just hoping that the wind will calm down.

Bjørnøya, day 24:
It has been a few days since I talked with my girlfriend via the satellite phone. We can only speak for a few minutes a time, because it’s so expensive and we need to save battery. She’s pregnant, and I’m not entirely sure if its right of me to be here. It’s probably a bit egocentric of me. But we have dreamt about this for so long, and it feels like something that I really need to accomplish!

The worst thing that can happen here is if polar bears attack us. They are not supposed to be around this area now as the ice has melted, but you never know.

Bjørnøya, day 42:
The air is mild, and a lot of the snow has melted the last couple of days. We have doubled up with trip wire with flares around our camp, and we have fastened them up with really strong fishing line, but the sticks that they are fastened to loosen when the snow melts. The worst thing that can happen here is if polar bears attack us. They are not supposed to be around this area now as the ice has melted, but you never know.

Bjørnøya, day 50:
I have a glance at Håkons watch, and it´s finally time to wake up. We are going to explore a new bay, but to do that we need to use a 20 metres long rappel to climb down a frozen cliff. The ice has made fantastic formations that someone could have spent ages photographing or filming. Maybe no one has been here before? Why would anyone bother? We find different things between the rocks. The ocean has washed in these things for many several years. Håkon finds a bottle of spirits from the mainland. It´s half-full and he wonders how it tastes.

Bjørnøya, day 56:
The food is almost eaten up, and the sled is filled with heaps of plastic bottles instead. We are bringing back home a lot of great nature experiences and good memories, as well as a feeling that we finally got to live out one of our biggest dreams; A real trip together, us brothers.