Pyramiden - Settlement, Accomodation, Travel

In years with sufficient fjord ice, Pyramiden can be reached also in spring by snowmobile - here view on mount Pyramid from the frozen Billefjord around midnight in late April. Click on image for bigger version.
View from the Pyramiden culture house over the central square eastwards with Nordenskiöld glacier in the background.
Ascending the Pyramid mountain - in the background: inner Billefjord and the Nordenskiöld glacier.
View from Pyramid mountain northward onto Petuniabukta and the mountains beyond.

 

History:

Pyramiden, originally a Swedish coal mining attempt, named after the pyramid-shaped mountain (936 m) above the settlement, was bought up by the Soviet Union and was the only settlement of Spitsbergen, which was not destroyed during World War II. After the war, it was therefore here, where Soviet mining started again, and also the Soviet consulate in Spitsbergen was based here for some years. Almost everything visible in Pyramiden today is built after World War II and Pyramiden had the reputation of being the most pleasant of the Soviet settlements to live in for the workers from Ukraine and Russia. Population reached up to about 1000 persons, more than Longyearbyen at that time - and the urban architecture lets the place seem even bigger - a strange deserted island of civilisation in the middle of arctic wilderness.
With the collaps of the Soviet Union, the Russian mining company was not supported sufficiently anymore to maintain both settlements, so Pyramiden was closed in autumn 1998. Already the first winter ruined most of the pipe systems by frost.
After the evacuation, the Pyramiden Hotel was seasonally opened again on an improvised basis for the summers of 1999 and 2000, almost only used by the hiking groups of our sister company Spitsbergen Tours, but cooperation with the general director of the Russian mining company at that time became increasingly impossible, and by end of 2000, it was clear that also the hotel would close permanently, leaving Pyramiden as a ghost town except of a small salvaging force, which extracted reusable or sellable (metal scrap) materials during summers. 
Only since the following general director of the Russian mining company from 2007 onwards, there are serious attempts to stop the decay and to revitalize Pyramiden at least on a minimal scale, first of all with tourism, possibly in combination with some research. Since summer 2009, a small new container base installed in the port is available as accomodation for visitors, again, and Spitsbergen Tours renewed its tradition from up to 2000 of being the main user of Pyramiden for regular longer touristic overnight stays, standing for 80 % of all nights in Pyramiden in summer 2009.
Since 2013, also the Pyramiden Hotel is opened again seasonally, and a northernmost campsite was installed on the former gravel area behind the hotel.
However, a lot of problems from developing a convincing concept to legal questions and the problem of reliable transports still has to be solved for reaching an economically level of touristic activity only to cover the basic costs of running such a remote base. On the other hand: the costs can hardly be higher than the current subsidies for running the other Russian settlement Barentsburg with hardly any income from mining at all since years, but a work force of about 400 people based there.

 

Attractive:

Pyramiden does still have the strange fascination of a ghost town, which partly seems to have been left only yesterday, while elsewhere, nature is clearly claiming back its rights.
The surroundings of Pyramiden offer great excursion possiblities, a very interesting permian, carboniferous and devonian geology with a range of fossils (including some of the oldest forests on earth) and interesting fault and folding structures, and a rich tundra vegetation. An advantage compared to Longyearbyen is the much smaller area of clearly visible signs of human presence (buildings, installations) - one is much quicker out in mostly untouched nature.
Thereby, Pyramiden can be an interesting place to stay also for a number of days, as a second base with different experiences and different scenery in addition to Longyearbyen.
An additional possibility in summer is combining some days in Pyramiden with the Opens internal link in current windowGlacier Camp of Spitsbergen Tours right at the front of the impressive Nordenskiöld Glacier in one of their hiking programs.

 

 

Click for larger images: Container base with ...
... one of the sleeping rooms,
... simple kitchen facilities ...
and toilet, shower and sink.
Pyramiden Hotel, reopened again since 2013.
The hotel bar in 1999 and ...
... the reactivated dining room.

Accomodation:

Container basis in Pyramiden: Since summer 2009, touristic overnight stays in Pyramiden have become possible again - in 3 skyblue modern accomodation containers set up in the port: newly installed, modern but functional and basic equipped, with 14 beds in 4 sleeping rooms, shower, toilet and kitchen with electric stove. Though the small port is not really romantic, the free view across the fjord onto the opposite majestic Nordenskiöld glacier is impressive. For possibilities of a visit and bookings, see further down.

Pyramiden Hotel: After a major renovation especially of the electric system, heating and water system and fire alarm, the Pyramiden Hotel is seasonally open again since 2013 - with half or full board, only.

Pyramiden Camping: Also since 2013, Pyramiden Camping is available, utilising an open gravel area behind Pyramiden Hotel for setting up tents, and with good facilities (cooking, toilet, shower) for the campers inside the hotel. Own precautions against polar bear visits needed while camping in Pyramiden.

 

Travel options to Pyramiden:

Overnight arrangements in Pyramiden: Since the closure of Pyramiden Hotel after summer 2000, there are programs offered again since 2009, which offer Pyramiden as a base for 2-3 days with excursions into the interesting surroundings (and of course a closer look at Pyramiden itself, too). These arrangements combine Longyearbyen and Pyramiden, partly in addition also with the spectacular Glacier Camp vis-a-vis next to the impressive ice front of Nordenskiöld glacier, or with some other wilderness tent camps. Moreover, also special arrangements based in Pyramiden can be curtailed. Regular summer offers including Pyramiden: 

» Combined Arctic Week (Longyearbyen and Pyramiden)
» Icefjord - Boat, Hiking and Trekking (Longyearbyen, Pyramiden and wilderness tent camps - varieties of 10-23 days)

Day excursions to Pyramiden: There is a number of programs, which may or do include a short visit (ca. 2 hours) of Pyramiden in the course of a day excursion, depending also on suitable weather and ice conditions (grey: detail description downloadable as a PDF document):

Arctic Weekend, Arctic Week, Arctic Winter Week, Inland Crossing to Wijdefjord.

 

Restrictions:

Accessibility: A special problem of Pyramiden in contrast to Longyearbyen is accessibility (starting with the lack of any regular telephone connection). This is still easiest with the fairly regular, though expensive, sightseeing boats operating from Longyearbyen on day cruises in summer. In spring - typically mid-March to early May - Pyramiden may be reached by snowmobiles, but with uncertainties both regarding safe ice on the two fjords which have to be crossed, and in addition the weather. While turning back under bad conditions on a day excursion from Longyearbyen on snowmobiles is no problem, things can get more unpleasant in case of a planned overnight stay in Pyramiden: Spring is a peak season in Longyearbyen - so if Pyramiden is not reached, it is not sure whether one gets accomodation in Longyearbyen on short notice, either. And for much of the rest of the year, Pyramiden is practically inaccessible for touristic visitors due to lack of suitable transport.
Liability insurance: Basically, Pyramiden is a set of ruins today - still mostly looking fairly good, but very limited maintenance since the late 1990s to most buildings and installations could not balance and all the wear and tear of arctic climate, which clearly causes certain risks with moving around and especially in the old buildings and installations. Many of them are therefore locked. Also, it is unclear, which hazardous substances may still be around. At the same time, the owning mining company has no liability insurance for Pyramiden (and, by the way, not for its vehicles in Barentsburg and Pyramiden, either). Visiting the settlement, even with a tour operator, is therefore at own, individual risk.
Polar bears: It is beyond the capacities (and not their job, either) of the tiny Russian workforce in Pyramiden to guard the empty settlement against possibly entering polar bears, which have indeed been visiting now and then, even when the settlement was still in use. Regarding eventual polar bear encounters, Pyramiden has to be considered equal to wilderness - but harder to overview. Accordingly, visits to Pyramiden require appropriate arms (bigbore gun plus signal pistol), just like any wilderness excursions in Spitsbergen - either of the guide, or of individual visitors.


Last Modification: 10.01.2014