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Tiril (7) and Ronja (12) plan to sleep outside for a year

Tiril (left) and Ronja have made a cozy nest for themselves on the family's balcony, where they have been sleeping since April. FOTO: Christopher Engås

Tiril (7) and Ronja (12) plan to sleep outside for a year

Tiril tried sleeping on the balcony in Longyearbyen on April 25. Since then she has spent every night night there, and has been joined by her sister and their dog Rufus.



It's Tuesday night. The thermometer shows ten degrees below zero. Rufus, the Hermansen family's Alaskan Husky, is excited. His jumpiness come with his favorite moment of the day, as it's time to bunk down again with Tiril, the youngest of the family's daughters.

The seven-year-old gets help from her mother, Maiken, moving a sleeping bag and quilt onto the balcony on the second floor of the house on Vei 230, and forming a tarp shelter with two mattresses.

"I sleep a lot better outside," Tiril says.

Began as a consolation

It was on April 25, an evening of glorious sunshine and several degrees below freezing, that it all began, Tiril says.

"Ronja had traveled to a swimming competition and I thought that sucked because I did not get to participate," she says. "So my mom suggested that she and I could do something fun together. She suggested that we should sleep outside on the balcony and I thought that sounded like fun."

Tiril enjoyed herself so much out on the balcony she decided to stay there a few more nights. When her big sister came home she also tried it. Now it's been over seven months and the girls aren't planning to move inside anytime soon.

Gradually it has become both comfortable and cozy on the balcony. There is a tarp under the mattresses and along the railing of the balcony. There's also a tarp over the girls to keep rain and precipitation away.

Rarely coming in

With the exception of a period when they were on holiday on the mainland this summer, the girls have stayed on the balcony since April. Maiken says she can count on one hand the times one of them, for whatever reason, has come inside.

"It may well have happened when the tarps have flapped hard in the wind or if Rufus has been very uneasy," she says. "But I wake up before them if there are noises or anything that manifests itself at night."

The parents' bedroom is just inside the balcony door, so they feel they have good control over their daughters sleeping outside.

Good and warm

Once sleeping on the porch became a habit and the temperatures began to decline, Maiken found some high-quality sleeping bags she bought on the internet. The girls are using the bags in sub-zero temperatures, with the quilt out there as well. On their heads are good-quality hats and their hands are covered with gloves. Rufus also helps the girls stay warm at almost any temperature.

"The problem is rather that they become too hot than too cold," says Maiken, who has found her daughters laying to the side of the sleeping bags.

What if the temperature drops to minus 25 degrees?

"We're going to try to stay out as well," Ronja says. "There are ways we can organize ourselves so that we take advantage of each other's body heat to a greater extent than we do now."

Fewer illnesses

Maiken says she she has observed several changes in her daughters since they began sleeping outside.

"They have not been sick since they started with this," she says. "There have been occasional mild colds, but otherwise nothing. They were sick much more often before."

Also, her youngest daughter is resting better in the fresh air than in her room.

"Previously Tiril woke up at the crack of dawn each morning," Maiken says. "That was a problem. Now she sleeps longer and I have the impression that she is more rested when the day comes."

One year is the target

The sisters agree their goal is to sleep outside on the balcony for one year until next April. It is, obviously, not essentially they're out there every single night. Friends of the girls occasionally make overnight visits, and they also want to sleep on the balcony. Since there's only room for two in the bivouac on the balcony, one of the sisters has to sleep inside.

"I find it difficult to sleep inside now," Ronja says.

"I miss the fresh air out as soon as I try to sleep indoors," she says. "It is better to both fall asleep and wake up when it's a bit chilly. The last thing I see before I fall asleep is the city is going to rest. And it is nice to see Longyearbyen come to life the next morning."

Translated by Mark Sabbatini

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The Alaskan Husky Rufus always sleeps with the girls. He functions both as a polar bear watch dog, and as a source of heat during especially cold nights. FOTO: Christopher Engås

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Maiken sleeps on the other side of the balcony door, and keeps an eye on her daughters. FOTO: Christopher Engås

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Tiril has a bed inside made of pallets and a thick mattress. It doesn't get used very much. FOTO: Christopher Engås

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The tarp functions as a roof over where the girls spend their nights on the balcony. FOTO: Christopher Engås

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Tiril is ready for another night outside on Svalbard. FOTO: Christopher Engås

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