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Nature and history at Spitsbergen's south cape

Sør­kap­pøya: land­scape and histo­ry at Spitsbergen’s south cape

Spitsbergen’s south cape (Sør­kapp) is situa­ted on a small off­shore island named Sør­kap­pøya (south cape island). When you hear „south cape“ you might expect an impres­si­ve rock sti­cking out into the wild sea, like Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope. But this is not the case. The sea may well be stor­my or at least pret­ty rough, but Sør­kapp is abso­lut­e­ly not visual­ly pro­mi­nent and any­thing but impres­si­ve. At least when seen from a distance. And it is most­ly seen from quite a distance as the waters are very shal­low, so ships have to stay quite far away. The sea bot­tom is as flat and wide-stret­ching as the land abo­ve water. So keep a good distance. Only very small boats and skip­pers with good ner­ves can take a pas­sa­ge bet­ween Sør­kap­pøya and the main island, if the wea­ther and sea are calm enough.

Gal­lery – Sør­kap­pøya: land­scape

The south cape area inclu­ding Sør­kap­pøya lies within the East Spits­ber­gen Cur­rent, also cal­led Sør­kapps­trau­men (south cape cur­rent) in Nor­we­gi­an. This cur­rent used to bring hea­vy drift ice from the nor­the­ast, from the Arc­tic Oce­an, to east Spits­ber­gen and around Sør­kapp. This made the area inte­res­t­ing for Nor­we­gi­an trap­pers who were main­ly out after polar bears. But the dan­ge­rous com­bi­na­ti­on of ice and cur­rent also took its toll among­st the men who win­tered the­re. A dan­ge­rous area with some quite dark histo­ry!

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

For tho­se few who ever get ashore here today, Sør­kap­pøya has the same phe­no­me­non as so many other small arc­tic islands: when seen from a distance, they seem to be bar­ren and fea­tur­e­less. But wen you come clo­se, arc­tic natu­re show­ca­ses a wide array of her various beau­ty: the­re are many small lakes, lagoons and varied tun­dra which attract a rich bird life; the­re are per­fect­ly deve­lo­ped rai­sed beach rid­ges and the­re are rocky rid­ges – the same ones that form all the shal­lows under water – that bring struc­tu­re and geo­me­try into the land­scape and they are full of fos­sils.

Today, the­re are a navi­ga­tio­nal bea­con and a litt­le emer­gen­cy hut on a small hill in the sou­thern part of Sør­kap­pøya.

The Chum­leigh: war dra­ma at the south cape

During the second world war, in late 1942, the Bri­tish con­voy freigh­ter Chum­leigh hit a reef not far from Sør­kap­pøya. To make things even worse, soon 5 Ger­man figh­ter pla­nes came and drop­ped their lethal car­go on the ship that was alre­a­dy bad­ly dama­ged. The crew of 58 had tried to get away and seek safe­ty in their three life­boats, but in the end, only nine sur­vi­ved who hap­pen­ed to meet Nor­we­gi­an sol­diers in Isfjord, not far from Kapp Lin­né, 53 days after the ship­w­reck and attack.

Pan­ora­ma Sør­kap­pøya 1/2

It is rare­ly calm enough to even con­sider a landing here, and Sør­kap­pøya inclu­ding the near­by islets are a bird sanc­tua­ry, which means that it is pro­hi­bi­ted to land or even come within 300 met­res from the nea­rest shore from 15 May to 15 August. Only out­side this peri­od and in unu­sual­ly good wea­ther con­di­ti­ons, the­re is a chan­ce to get nea­rer. The distance from any ancho­ra­ge to the nea­rest prac­ti­ca­ble landing site will be far, becau­se of the very shal­low waters, and whe­ree­ver you have ancho­red your boat, it will not be very shel­te­red. If the wea­ther or sea con­di­ti­ons chan­ge to the worse, you may soon be in for trou­ble.

Pan­ora­ma Sør­kap­pøya 2/2

Sør­kap­pøya: Hagerup’s hous (“HiFix”)

Spitsbergen’s sou­thern­most trap­per hut if you exclude Bjørnøya. It was built in 1908 by Pet­ter Trond­sen and his com­ra­des Kris­ti­an Jakobsen, Hed­ley R. Alek­san­der­sen and Sigurd Bal­stad as their main hut, but as such, it was later repla­ced when a hut was built in Som­mer­feldt­buk­ta, not far from Sør­kap­pøya on the main­land coast. The hut on Sør­kap­pøya beca­me later known as Hage­ru­py­t­ta, after famous lea­der of win­tering expe­di­ti­ons, while the one in Som­mer­feldt­buk­ta was cal­led Trond­sen­hu­set, after the lea­der of the group in 1908-09.

Today, the hut is a ruin. Lar­ge let­ters of wood were later fixed to the out­side wall, forming the word HI-FIX. Accor­din­gly, the hut is local­ly known as the HI-FIX (HiFix) hut. Hi-Fix (High pre­cis­i­on Fixing) was a radio-based navi­ga­ti­on sys­tem that used land sta­ti­ons. It was often used for hydro­gra­phic sur­vey­ing in coas­tal waters, often in con­nec­tion with the search for oil. It was deve­lo­ped in the 1950s for off­shore pro­jects in the North Sea.
A lot of pro­s­pec­ting for oil and gas was going on in Spits­ber­gen in the 1960s and the ear­ly 1970s and coas­tal waters were sur­vey­ed. It appears likely that a group that nee­ded pre­cis­i­on navi­ga­ti­on in the dif­fi­cult waters around Spitsbergen’s sou­thern tip instal­led a HiFix sta­ti­on in the hut on Sør­kap­pøya in tho­se years.

Gal­lery – Sør­kap­pøya: Hagerup’s hus (“HiFix”)

Some impres­si­ons of “Hagerup’s house”, as it is today. It housed navi­ga­ti­on equip­ment in the late 1960s, and the­re is still some tech­ni­cal gar­ba­ge lying around in the vici­ni­ty of the hut.

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



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last modification: 2021-01-06 · copyright: Rolf Stange