Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Learn From the Locals in Svalbard

You can learn a lot about a place when you get familiar with the local customs, counsel and lore. For example, in "Gliding Through Norway," in the December 2012 issue of Viking, we included the fjellvettregler, the Norwegian mountain code, for safe hiking and skiing. These nine common-sense rules were developed by the Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT) and the Norwegian Red Cross in 1967 and have become an essential part of outdoor life in Norway. Rules such as "Leave word of your route,""Learn from the locals," and "Turn back in time" can tell you a bit about the Norwegian psyche, as well as the situations that can arise while in Norway's mountains.

While writing about a recent visit to Svalbard, I came across the Svalbardvettregler—Svalbard's own version of the mountain code. I think it's telling—and not at all surprising—that this Arctic archipelago has developed a set of wilderness guidelines, both for human safely as well as protection of this fragile environment. What might these rules tell us about Svalbard and the people who choose to live there? 

The Svalbard Code
  1. Don't litter. Leave no lasting trace of your path.
  2. Don't disturb the animals and birds. Remember it's you who is the guest.
  3. Don't pick the flowers. Be mindful of biodiversity.
  4. Don't damage or remove human artifacts. Sites of human activity prior to 1946 are protected.
  5. It's prohibited to seek out, follow or otherwise disturb polar bears. It's a matter of safety for both bears and humans.  
  6. Don't leave the settlements without a weapon and experience using it. 
  7. Show consideration for others.
  8. Notify the Governor before embarking on a long solo trip. Notification is required before traveling throughout large portions of Svalbard.
  9. Get to know the laws and rules for interaction and activity in Svalbard.
  10. Organized tours are recommended, for both your interest and the environment's.
Amy Boxrud is editor of Viking magazine. She lives with her family in Northfield, Minn., where she’s a member of Nordmarka 1-585.

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