Norway Winter Tour
Andrew 'shaggy' Jurd, Mike 'goaty' Rogerson, Henry 'scrappy' Hunt-Grubbe
It was –27C, snowing, and dark 21 hours a day. Andrew Jurd describes Imperial College Caving Club’s Winter tour to Arctic Norway.
Goaty, Henry, Ian and I found ourselves standing in the centre of Stockholm. We had successfully met Anna (an ex IC Swede who had been caving with us last year), and now we could relax, the Swedes had promised to arrange everything at their end. We had almost missed the first flight due to excessive buying of whisky at the airport. A quick internal flight to Ümea (Northern Sweden), and we met Stefan, another ex IC student. Also in Ümea we met up with Jakob and Martin who had both been caving with us in Mallorca last year.
We had been promised winter temperatures in Northern Sweden to approach -40°C, but none of The Mad Swedes seemed worried. After picking up extra pieces of clothing (hats, mittens etc.) for the fragile Brits, we piled into the minibus and began the long journey north. Mid journey Stefan's parents gave us a large slap up meal. Firewood was also picked up along with a sledge. They warned us of a storm approaching. 400 miles later we crossed the Arctic Circle, and not long after that we passed into Norway, only noticeable by the fact the posts at the side of the road had changed colour.
Early in the morning we stopped on the outskirts of a town called Fauske placed on the edge of a fjord. Stefan and Jakob remembered to forget the map of where the cave entrance was, and decided to do a Blair Witch Project reconnaissance mission into the woods to look for it. They failed to find it, and we set up tents at the bottom of the valley. The temperature was only a few degrees below zero at this point. Through the night people mentioned a strange sound circling the tents, dismissed as just a bird.
The next day we woke up to a cloudless blue sky, but were disappointed to see the sun's rays pointing out from behind a mountain. Although the sun was up for three hours a day, we didn't actually see it due to this mountain. There was just enough light to see by for five hours, and we moved all our kit up to the top of the hill while the Swedes set out again to look for the cave entrance 'big enough to land a helicopter in' (see picture).
A large ex-military tent was placed in a hole, dug three foot into the snow, halfway between the two main entrances to the system. It had a large stove in the middle. We ate our breakfast just after the sun had set. In the afternoon we went on our first trip into the cave. Luckily Stefan had photocopies of the survey, and we spent a few hours getting to know the entrance area before retiring early.
The Cave, Kristihola, was big. The longest in Norway, at almost 10km length had one entrance 30m high. No need to even bend down, let alone crawl. It was dry as a bone, due to all the surface water in the area being frozen, and had an ambient temperature of +6°C, comparable to British caves. It was completely horizontal, so the usual kit for negotiating pitches was not needed, harness, jammers, rope, hangers etc. It is quite honestly the comfiest cave I have ever done.
The next day members of IC3 started off with a photographic trip. I had spotted a number of ice formations which were of particular interest, and I wanted to capture them on film. Curtains made of ice ('Cave Bacon' is the Swedish translation) and giant icicles After three hours of experimentation, I had never done this properly before, we went on an exploration mission, doing a number of round trips, and coming out of various entrances in the southern part of the system. TMS decided to go on an epic right up to the north of the cave. The survey for that end is not as detailed, and is covered in question marks as the number of passages increases exponentially.
A bit of a mission, they gave up, and we met them on one of many trips back to the tent for food. Incidentally, Goaty was sitting in his underpants in the tent at one point. The huge stove burning in the centre caused the chimney to glow red. We had to move stuff away from the tent to stop them from burning, including Henry, fast asleep.
The cave was mostly dry except for one streamway, a larger version of OFD main streamway, but not as wet, which we decided to follow late in the evening. We managed to climb 10m down the side of a waterfall before the depth of the stream and the slipperiness of the wall defeated us. Goaty's foot was giving him problems after this (he had broken it playing chicken on a zebra crossing), so went back to the tent. Ian and I decided to do the big trip to the northern entrance shown on the map. We were extra careful as we followed the survey, and were very pleased with ourselves when we could pinpoint our position exactly. Then we made the mistake of following a dried up streamway which was supposed to go straight to the entrance. We entered a lower piece of passage, and began crawling. After a few minutes and lots of junctions we found some footprints and decided to follow them, hoping they would take us to the entrance. As these were our own footprints, we gave up and went back, we had gone within spitting distance (I believe) of the exit.
The mad Swedes got up early the next day to make it to this mythical lost entrance and were back before breakfast. We packed up camp, and went back to Ümea. Weather stayed warm, and was only just below zero. Stefan was going to fly out to Mallorca to cave again the next day, so we had to cut the trip short.
The last day was spent relaxing, (no saunas!). Rain was no surprise given the freak weather conditions, and due to a strange legal situation, Goaty ended up driving Jakob's car to a ski slope where we sledged down at suicidal speeds on a surface of frozen ice. There was insufficient run off at the bottom, only a wood. Another slip-tastic journey of terror due to Goaty's driving skills and we were back at Jakob's flat. The holiday was made complete by watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Swedish subtitles. The scene about Castle AAAAAAAAAAhhhhhhhh being lost on the Swedes due to their letter Å.
Norway has some excellent sporting caves, up to 500m deep and 20km long, most near Bodo. Recent articles and references include:
- Caves and Caving, 1999
- Gazeteer to World Caves