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HomeArctic 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

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

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.

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

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.

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

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.

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

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.

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

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.

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

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.

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.



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