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Daily Archives: 17. June 2016 − News & Stories

The tour to Sør Jan – 17th-19th June 2016

The sun is shining and the wind is blowing somewhere else today. So we do not waste much time but get ready for some longer hikes. Most of us aim for the north, to Beerenberg and its surroundings, the northern lagoon, Maria Muschbukta, Eggøya and so on.
I opt for a different way and take the route to the south. I know Nord Jan quite well, have seen a lot there already, while in the south, my mental map still has a lot of white gaps and my photo archive needs some serious completing. So something has to be done over there, for sure! The opportunity is good.

So while the majority is heading northwards – three of them will make an efficient, successful dash to the top of Beerenberg – I am going to the south. The view over the backbone of Mid Jan to Beerenberg, which is more and more getting out of the clouds, showing its amazing splendor in full sun, could not be more overwhelming. To the south, Sør Jan is stretching out with its confusing arrangement of hills and craters.

Gallery 1 – The tour to Sør Jan – 17th-19th June 2016

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The deep, soft mosses, which are growing on large areas here, the unprecise map, the volcanic terrain which is often lacking geomorphological logic, all this contributes to the demanding expedition charakter that any longer hiking on Jan Mayen will quickly have. Another factor contributing to this is the almost constant, latent lack of water: soon after the snow melt, the few little streams are falling dry. There are only a few little lakes. So you have to rely largely on snow fields, which means: no water without a stove to melt snow. During the day, there is usually no more drink than what you carry with you. On this trip, as on previous, similar ones, I quickly greet thirst as hunger’s big, evil brother. While stumbling over dry lava fields for kilometres, I was thinking of novels that I could write about thirst. Thirst soon dominates not only my mouth, but also my brain. The idea of a lively spring is paradise, a beer worth its own weight in gold.

All this certainly far from any real danger, but there is this omnipresent, at times rather uncomfortable lack of liquid. At any time I have the next snow field in view, my planning is according to kilometres in the terrain and litres of water in my rucksack.

Yet another factor making life more difficult than necessary are the legal regulations in force since 2010. Making life difficult for those few still passionated (and stubborn) enough to travel here is the purpose of these rules, I guess. Camping in the field is forbidden as is any landing (or pickup) outside of Kvalrossbukta or the station area. Despite sea conditions being as calm as they might ever get, a quick lift or pickup by boat, technically very easy, logistically convenient and very safe, is not an option. Instead, there are all these kilometres on the long and boring road to the north or south from Kvalrossbukta, to the places we are longing for. Well, a lot has been said about the sense (or, rather, nonsense) of this legislation. Enough for now.

So these are the frame conditions which you have to be prepared for when hiking on Jan Mayen. Quite exactly as the trip to the top of Beerenberg, my tour amounts to a good 60 km over land and quite a lot of altitude, although the vertical metres are not concentrated on one prominent peak, but happen on many smaller hills and slopes. There are dozens of them.

The short crossing of the island from upper Trolldalen takes me to Sjuhollendarbukta. This was the site of the famous wintering of the seven Dutch whalers in 1633-34, not Kvalrossbukta, at least according to the Austrian expedition from 1882-83 (First International Polar Year). The name of the bay, which translates as Seven Dutchmen Bay, is another reference to the winterers who made it through the dark time just to die from scurvy weeks before the relief ships came.

We will probably never now for sure where exactly this tragic adventure took place. Today, Sjuhollendarbukta is a lovely, beautiful bay with a wide beach of black volcanic sand, framed in by the odd-shaped rocks of wide-stretching, moss covered lava fields.

Something similar can be said about Titeltbukta, which was another important place for the Dutch whalers. Again, nothing is left of their „10 houses“ (ten tents = ti telt). All that reminds of longer-lasting human presence is a small, but charmful trappers’ hut which has withstood the wind now for more than a century.

Oysterplant, rare in Spitsbergen, is colouring the black sand in many places, and the rich colours of the mosses and lichens in the lava fields are amazing.

And yes, the lava fields. If Jan Mayen does not have her own legends and myths about elves and trolls, then it is just because the island has not been inhabited for more than a 1000 years such as neighbouring Iceland. Of course, there are goblins and dwarves living here, and countless other creatures that prefer the darkness above the sun! Just as the well-known giants with the strong sun allergy, which react to direct sunlight by immediately and completely turning to stone. One of these trolls just wanted to show me the way, as it hit him.

Unbelievable what else was around here: turtles, warriors, castles and towers, giant worms and knights … everything you could think of and more than that. Today, there are all silent statues of sharp-edged lava rock, secretly watching the lonely wanderer who might occasionally cross their realm.

Gallery 2 – The tour to Sør Jan – 17th-19th June 2016

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But even so, I am not on my own. Myriads of Little auks are breeding in the lava fields. Numbers and densities over large areas that can certainly compete with the better-known, big colonies in Spitsbergen. Constant screaming and crazy laughter, everlasting hectic activity in the air while big swarms are heading to and fro. In more flat terrain, skuas and arctic skuas defend their territories with aggressive passion against any intruder. In Guineabukta, Common eiders are calling from a coastal lagoon. They have their nests hidden in the lava fields.

At Jan Mayen’s southwestern end, there is some lowland called Kraterflya. The name is descriptive: several nice craters and cinder cones are spread over the lowland, including Richterkrater, which is better known than many of his relatives, for reasons that are not obvious. Not that he would look any different than many other smaller kraters on Jan Mayen. Neither can it have to do with the ice wedges that decorate the steep, moss-covered slopes with geometrical patterns. Even though they are less common than, say, in Spitsbergen, this is not the only place on Jan Mayen where you can find them. Maybe it is just because it is so nicely located close to the shore, making those who pass by on a ship think: what a nice crater, I just have to visit you one day! Well, at least I have thought this more than once, and now the door has opened a bit, time and weather are on my side.

So now I am here.

Someone has called the lowland between Guineabukta and Richterkrater Helheimen, home of hell. It is not quite that bad, but not without reason, as yet another especially mean lava field is located here, giving hiking shoes and walking muscles a hard time. Be careful! No false step is allowed, a broken leg would be so much worse here than most other places in the world.

Then I am standing on the rim of Richterkrater, enjoying the views over bizarre lava flows and several craters in the surroundings and the fact that I have now come to another place that had been on my wishlist for a long time. My feet remind me that this pleasure comes at a price, but before I start returning to the north, I walk up to the steep cliffs at the southern point of Jan Mayen. Vertical, rugged cliffs, where countless Glaucous gulls and Fulmars are screaming, while keeping a watchful eye on me. Sharp rocks stick like knives out of the cliffs and the coast, former volcanic intrusions. Fog is rolling in from the east, as if to tell me: this is where you wanted to come, this is where I allowed you to come, but no further. This is it.

I agree and turn back. The way to Kvalrossbukta is still more than long enough.

Gallery 3 – The tour to Sør Jan – 17th-19th June 2016

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