My Own Expedition to Svalbard

Ján writes…

Dear Mrs. Paver:

In December 2023 I bought the Slovak translation of your book, Dark Matter, which intrigued me.

In August 1988 we carried out a small expedition to Svalbard lasting about 20 days. We were five rock climbers from Nitra, Slovakia, and two scientists – parasitologists – from the Comenius University in Bratislava.

We took a train to Moscow and then another train to Murmansk. There we boarded a Russian cargo ship and after two days we got to Barentsburg, where we took two helicopters to the Atomfjella mountains in Svalbard.

We set up a base camp by the sea near an abandoned log-cabin that used to belong to a fur hunter. The Russians gave us two rifles against the bears and a walkie-talkie. Further up we set up another camp on an iceberg, where we did some rock-climbing. While climbing on a small hill we found a stone pyramid, in which there was a tin can containing a paper record of an expedition. The expedition had been done by Cambridge University on the 18th of August 1932. I have a photograph of this document, which I would love to send to you.

Going back we also took a helicopter to Murmansk, this time during big waves at sea.

I have been on many backpacking adventures in my life, including to Finland and Norway (North Cape), a boat trip to Helsinki, and a 20 days long expedition to Peru up to 5000 meters above sea level. Nowadays I bike, about 800-1000 km a year.

With kind regards and best wishes,
Ján Ahlers
Born in 1943
Translated into English by my granddaughter, Tamara

Michelle Replies…

Dear Jan, I was fascinated to read about your 1988 expedition to Svalbard (as well as your other trips) – and what a coincidence that, as in Dark Matter, you set up base camp near an abandoned cabin.  Two rifles and a walkie-talkie in the middle of nowhere sounds intrepid indeed; and I envy you for having had that experience.  In my research for the book, I don’t remember coming across that record left in a tin can by the 1932 expedition, and when I read your message I briefly thought, Hmm, maybe I could have used that in the story.  But it’s a bit late now!  I’d love to see the photo, and I’ll get my agent to contact you about that.   I hope you enjoyed the book – and thank you (and Tamara) for getting in touch.  With very best wishes, Michelle