An entire life as a trapper on the island of Svalbard

Andøy Museum

Andenes • Vesterålen

From Andøy to Svalbard.

At the age of 18, Hilmar left Andøy for Spitsbergen on Svalbard to earn a living as a trapper. He spent the entire winter lost in an endless deserted arctic landscape. The island of Spitsbergen just south of the North Pole was home to Hilmar and his uncles and brothers from the end of the 1800s until the mid-1900s. They were an important part of Svalbard history.

The Nøis boys built many cabins and trapping stations around Spitsbergen. They also occupied places that were abandoned by trappers who had spent previous winters there. The life of a trapper was hard. The particularly harsh climate made the cabins vulnerable to dilapidation. The howling ice-cold winds were not the only thing that demolished the cabins. Roaming polar bears searching for prey and food were another destructive force.

Hilmar Nøis fell in love with Sassen, an arm of the great Isfjord. He became an icon of Svalbard. So much so that he was known as the King of Sassen. The cabin he built at Sassen became quite a home as Hilmar extended and added on to the house winter by winter. His trapping buddies and family made frequent visits to his home for a bit of company. The seasons when Hilmar’s wife came along were an added pleasure – she would offer coffee and cakes.

Hilmar also spent some seasons on the coast at Woodfjord and Hornsund. He got to know the terrain quite well, which was especially helpful when a search was needed to find missing persons. Hilmar did not need a map or compass; he navigated the area based on his own system of fixed points in the terrain. On an island the size of Denmark and then some, with a very harsh climate, this was no small feat.

Hilmar fell ill for a time in the 1950s, thinking his Svalbard days had ended. His love of Sassen was so strong that he was able to spend a couple seasons there even after reaching the age of 70. The life of an outdoorsman with few demands and no clocks suited him well. He overwintered 38 seasons from 1909 to 1963 on Svalbard, a record among trappers. It did not lead to wealth, but it did enrich his life and provide excitement and oneness with nature.

The Polar Museum at Andenes has an exhibit that includes a short film, various photo and tools/equipment that Hilmar Nøi’s used during the trapping season. Come and enjoy a short visit to the Arctic experience!

[vc_tweetme type=”horizontal”]