Hiorthfjellet – “The Arctic Challenge”


It seems I am that kind of person who likes to be exhausted on their vacation 😀 Of course, when going to Svalbard I had to take the toughest available activity there…

Mount Hiorthfjellet does not look intimidating at first as it is only 900 meters tall – nothing compared to the Swiss Alps I am used to. So why is it considered the hardest day hike of Svalbard, was I wondering? I have an answer now and wrote about it in this post, so if you would like to know as well – read on 🙂

What’s the catch?

The main reason why the trip is called “The Arctic Challenge” is here, in this picture:

Yes, the mountain is not reachable by any other means of transportation except a boat or kayak, and since boats are for scared little bunnies, the real adventurers have to take the kayak.

There are other differences from your normal hike as well, like, for example, an absolute absence of any trail whatsoever and the fact that you get to hike the entire mountain foot to summit (compare to Swiss hikes that already start at 2000m above sea level).

Hiking Hiorthfjellet

So here it is, this hike actually starts with a 40-60 minute kayaking trip to cross the fjord 🙂 The time depends on the wind conditions, of course, as waves make paddling substantially harder. Kayaking starts directly from the docks in Longyearbyen (you don’t have to search for the docks by yourself – this tour, like most of the tours on Svalbard, includes hotel pick-up and drop-off).

Having arrived to the other side, it is time to change out of the dry suits and get a little breath before starting the ascent.

The first 400m up were actually quite relaxed. Our feet bounced off the soft tundra turf, cold arctic air made the walk pleasant and refreshing, and even despite a small stream crossing I started to wonder whether “The Arctic Challenge” was just a tourist rip off and clever marketing.

The tide turned when we arrived to the midpoint of the altitude and made a short stop at the old satellite station. Ahead of us towered a blind wall of stone with no trail in sight.

This was the hardest part of the entire trip – we had to climb 200 meters straight up on loose rocks that would crumble and slide underneath our feet. I am not exactly proud to remember what kind of words I was screaming out loud while making my way up… Finally we reached the saddle point after which the rest of the hike is nothing compared to that wall of the devil.

It is hard to believe, but millions of years ago the entire archipelago of Svalbard was located much closer to the equator, and a lush rainforest covered its mountains, so barren and desolate nowadays. Remnants of the former glory can still be found everywhere around in large quantities in the form of fossils. There are special “fossil hunting” tours which every one can take (and bring home unique souvenirs) – this tour does not focus on fossils but even so we managed to spot a couple.

As we found ourselves finally standing at the very summit of the not-so-simple mountain, it was time to reward ourselves with Svalbard “delicacies” – freeze dried lunches. Just add some hot water to the bag, carefully mix and wait until the heat does its thing. Not your everyday lunch, but perfect for long exhausting adventures!

On the way back we had to repeat all the steps in reverse order 🙂 (Oh no, not this wall again…) The last bits of clouds disappeared, and the landscape looked completely surreal, as if it were a screenshot from an old computer game when the technology did not allow for a lot of texture rendering yet.

Woohoo – we did it, we are at the bottom!

Wait a second, I think I am forgetting something… Ah right…

Still have to kayak back 🙂 Good that at least I don’t need my knees while paddling!

Practical info

This is not a chilled trip, you need to be physically fit and mentally love the kind of experiences that leaves you without any tiny bit of energy. If you are not used to long hikes, make sure to at least do a few trails in the weeks prior to the challenge (and some with large altitude changes, too).

Hiking poles are a must, even if you usually get by without them. The guides have some in stock – don’t be shy to borrow them! Your knees will thank you for this.

Do not expect much. We were incredibly lucky with clear views from the summit, but that is a rare case. Actually, four out of six days that we spent on Svalbard Hiorthfjellet was hiding behind clouds… Even as we hiked there were doubts whether we are just going to arrive into the milky fog.

Take a lot of water and trim down any unnecessary weight (keep in mind that you will have to carry food and a thermos with hot water in addition to whatever you bring with you).

This goes somewhat contradictory to the previous statement, but if you own a drone, the summit of Hiorthfjellet is a great place to fly it: the scenery is epic, and it is one of the few spots on Svalbard where you can actually launch (the Longyear City with outskirts is too close to the airport). I am still working on the full video of my Svalbard adventures, but here is a glimpse on what it is like on this trip:

More Svalbard adventures

  • Like most of the Svalbard day excursions, this one starts in Longyearbyen – here are a few things I have to say about this place
  • The wildlife of Svalbard is unbelievable; even on this trip we met reindeer and countless birds, but if you want to see more inhabitants of the Arctic, here is how

You might also like

  • If Svalbard is too extreme, the mainland Norway has plenty of opportunities to hike off-trail, across unmarked and wild terrains
  • The closest to this I have done in Switzerland was this alpine hike in Mattertal (with a bonus view of a dozen 4000-ers including the mighty Matterhorn)
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