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Home* Triplogs with photo galleriesArctic blog: Jan Mayen, Spitsbergen → Beerenberg – 20th-21st June 2015

Beerenberg – 20th-21st June 2015

(20th-21st June 2015) – Beerenberg – this famous, infamous mountain, towering 2277 metres above the sea in the middle of the north Atlantic, with its glacier-crowned crater summit, is a peak that one should be careful to hope for. Too much has to fit, too many factors that you just can’t control, mainly the weather, of course. How many times did I write emails to people who were thinking about this trip emphasizing they shouldn’t be focussed on Beerenberg too much. And quite right so. This would mainly increase the risk for frustration. Nevertheless, be prepared. There might suddenly be an open door.

But of course, most of us here have got this desire. And for me, it was this imagination of this peak that made me search for options some years ago, which resultet in the trips with Siggi and his boat Aurora. So, yes: I want to get up there, too.
Today might be the day. Everything is looking good, starting with the weather forecast. It is supposed to be mostly calm for several days, and the low cloud layer that is covering Jan Mayen should give way to the blue sky as soon as one has reached an altitude of some hundred metres, according to the Norwegian meteorologists. This could be our window of opportunity, our golden moment.

And everybody in this group who wants to join the climb is fit and experienced. There’s eight of us who dream of the Beerenberg summit. All of us have got similar experience from arctic or alpine environments. You should not underestimate Beerenberg. The distances, the altitude, the terrain … it is easy to think, it can’t be much of a problem, I have been to 3000 metres in the Alps. No, Beerenberg is more demanding, although 2277 metres don’t sound like much.

We have got yet another advantage: station commander Viggo, who would love to join us if duty was not calling elsewhere, offers us a very welcome ride to the north lagoon, which saves us from a hike of 13 kilometres with full luggage, saving important energy reserves that we will need later. Not a big deal for Viggo, but a huge advantage for us, that we could never have asked or hoped for – such are the rules here.

So the early afternoon sees two old jeeps on the bumpy rock and sand road to the north, along the southern lagoon (Sørlaguna) through a bleak desert of lava and volcanic sand. The low clouds add a lot to the atmosphere of total desolation. Over a low pass the track leads into Jøssingdalen, where we join forces to move a big rock that had fallen on the road to complete the drive to the northern lagoon (Nordlaguna). From here it’s walking.

Following a painful but very realistic decision, I leave two of my three lenses here, only one is allowed up on Beerenberg with me (the 16-35 mm wideangle). Weight matters greatly now. In case there is good light here when we return, I may still need the other ones, who knows. And I will certainly need the energy-rich food (meaning: chocolate and biscuits) and some drink that I also leave behind, all together in a waterproof bag and stormproof under some driftwood.

The first bit of the track up north from Nordlaguna is desolate beyond imagination in these conditions. Black sand, black lava rocks, wet snow, grey, cold fog. It would be quite hard to find the way without GPS. So we hike up across snow, stones and mosses, enjoying the occasional view when the fog lifts for a moment, the monotony broken up by attacks of Arctic and Great skuas every now and then.

Gallery – Beerenberg 2015

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Finally we have reached the slope under Pálffykrater and thus the last suitable site for a bivouac. Time to rest for a couple of hours before we go for the summit with fresh energy. Three hours in the sleeping bags are to be enough, but there is not much real sleep anyway. It is grey and dull around us while the two gas cookers are hissing, turning snow and magic powder into something to eat.

While we try to get some sleep, the fog layer is lowering and the the sky turns blue above us. Around midnight, the craters and hills of Sør Jan, the southern part of Jan Mayen, come out of the clouds in the distance. A very memorable view in the warm light of the midnight sun.

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Once stomachs and water bottles are filled up again, it is time to start. The glacier is reached soon behind and above Pálffykrater. Five to six kilometres now above a gently and very evenly rising snow surface, ascending from 700 to 1500 metres, all the time the peak of Beerenberg in view, its steep slopes towering some 700 metres above the surrounding glacier. That is supposed to be another 1700 metres in altitude from here? It looks less, but it isn’t. Distances are so easily underestimated here, and the many metres, both horizontal and vertical, suck the energy out of the bones while we are moving across the snow step for step. Brody and Liz, our two American ski professionals, have brought their skies and are better off here, but carrying the equipment over many snow-free kilometres is the price to pay.

The sun is hidden behind the mountain, which is an advantage and a reason for our nightly climb, as the snow is harder now and thus easier to walk on. And Beerenberg throws a mighty shadow onto the cloud surface, decorated by a round light phenomenon that resembles a faint rainbow.

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Slowly but steadily we are advancing to Nunatakken, the last bit of snow-free rock in an altitude of 1500 metres, but Nunatakken is not snow-free now. In contrast, it is completely hidden by snow. This spring brought a lot of snow to Jan Mayen, and that is another huge advantage for us, as we are now moving into crevassed glacier terrain, and the snow is providing good bridges across the crevasses. Without the snow, it would be quite difficult, if not impossible. Earlier expeditions had to turn here later in the summer when there was not enough snow.

Secured with a rope, ice axe ready and our mountain boots equipped with crampons, we are now going for the steep slope. Only 1.5 kilometres to the peak as the crow flies, a good 700 metres of altitude, but every single one of those metres comes now at a price. The slope is 40 degrees steep, and that takes some energy. The crevasses require some detours.

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A last slope, then another last slope and then yet another last slope, it seems to be endless for a while as we are zig-zagging our way up, with hard-working legs and lungs. But finally, a slope turns out to be the last one for real, as the central crater is suddely gaping right in front of us. 1.5 kilometres wide and completely filled with ice.
That is not it yet. The crater rim has got several peaks. The highest one is Haakon VII Toppen on the western end. So we still have got a kilometre ahead of us, following a ridge, partly snowy hummocks, partly steep, quite alpine terrain. But the snow is offering a good grip to the crampons.

At 10 a.m. (Norwegian time, which is valid on Jan Mayen), 8.5 hard hours after leaving the bivouac at Pálffykrater, we reach the summit. 2277 metres above the sea, about 1800 metres above the clouds and anyway quite high above everything that is somewhere near in the widest sense. A dark blue sky above us, with a bright sun shining above the crater from the southeast, and the wind is currently busy somewhere else, so we can enjoy this out-of-the-world place for a good while, gazing at the panorama, sharing our excitements, taking photos. We can even set up the gas cooker to replenish our water supply, something that is very important. I don’t want do do the ascent without a steady, plentiful supply of water, and the same applies to going down.

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And descending is actually surprisingly hard, not only due to exhaustion – we have been without real sleep for some 30 hours now, not to mention all the walking – but also due to the sun, which is shining now surprisingly strong onto the snow, making the surface soft and wet. Once we have descended about 1000 metres and we have left the crevasses behind, we can get rid of the rope and everybody is walking his own pace from here on. May pace is slow now, as I feel like roasted both from the sun above and from the snow, I am feeling completely burnt and not far from heat stroke. On Jan Mayen! Amazing, but true. Many views back to this unique mountain, a nice rest on the first snow-free rock, and then the bivouac place is reached where we all disappear in the sleeping bags for some time.

Everybody else is soon moving on to the camp in Kvalrossbukta, another 17 km from here. I stay for another couple of hours, it is too nice here in the sun, lying in the moss. You won’t experience Jan Mayen as friendly as this too often.

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Then I also start moving, there won’t be real sleep here under the free sky, and this is the next thing I need. The visibility is better now than on the way up, so I can find a better way down Alfred Øiendalen, which is almost completely filled with snow, until Tornøedalen is reached further down, which is largely snow-free. I follow the valley out of curiousity in the river bed, there is hardly any water yet. Twice I have to ascend again shorter bits, where the river will soon form waterfalls when the snowmelt is really going. Then, the northern lagoon is reached again, dense fog and a light breeze make an ice-cold combination, so I take only a short break, add the extra weight of my two lenses that I had left behind (completely useless of course now, in the fog) and pour some drink and chocolate biscuits into me. Thus strengthened, I move on. The remaining 13 kilometres on the sand road are endless … but finally, the camp in Kvalrossbukta is reached near 2 a.m.

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last modification: 2016-11-20 · copyright: Rolf Stange