The Mighty Beerenberg Conquered!

Jan Mayen Beerenberg Walking the Line

Position N70,58.162 x W008,41.350 Wind northerly Force 4

On 7th July we sailed Sumara and Thembi up the coast 6nm to Stasjonbukta where we joined the Icelandic yacht Aurora with our Charlotte and Siggi, who was to be our mountain guide. The anchorage was calm then but is exposed to the north and west. We all went over to Aurora to discuss our plans to climb Beerenberg and decided to set off that afternoon and make a base camp a short way up. We could then set off in the following morning for the main climb. After a frantic hour or so assembling the gear we were taken ashore in Auroras Zodiac. Sarah, Stuart and Siggis father gallantly remained on the yachts to act as anchor watches.
We hiked up over rough volcanic rock and moss to 460 m above sea level and pitched our tents. Siggi knew there was some freshwater nearby which is very rare on the island and the soft moss made for a surprisingly good surface to camp on. It was a good move as we had knocked a little bit off the next days climb and base camps are fun!
In the morning of the 8th July we set off up the volcano. The team consisted of Charlotte, Dan, Tim from Yacht Thembi and John, our Charlotte and myself from Sumara plus Siggi our wonderful mountain guide from Iceland. Beerenberg’s height is 2,277 m with a massive crater which makes it one of the largest volcanos and it is the most northerly in the world. There was a long walk through sugary snow on the glacier surface until we rose above the cloud level at about 1,000 m.
When the team eventually stopped I thought “marvelous it must be little chocolate break”, on close examination I noticed Charlotte hadn’t got any legs. Adding the evidence up I realised she had fallen into a crevasse and was trying to pull herself out. We decided to proceed to the rock a few hundred metres ahead and rope up. Apparently roping up normally takes place after the first person has fallen down a crevasse in the same way as crampons normally get put on after the first person has had an accident on the ice. To be fair, the first long section of the glacier was not heavily crevassed but that was about to change. Once we were roped up into two teams the Thembi crew of Tim, Dan and Charlotte lead the way through some massive and very beautiful crevasses over fragile snow bridges. I preferred this section of the climb because the pace was slower and as a rank amateur I could relax and enjoy the climb while the experts judged the best way to proceed. There was little wind and lovely sunshine. As it never gets dark there were no real time pressures. At about 1,500 m height the gradient steepens as the climb leads towards the volcano rim. By now I suppose we had been climbing continuously for about 6 hours. The final climb to the rim was slower going with lots of crevasses. We all managed to get across them safely. The rim of the volcano involves walking along thin ridge of snow with a steep drop into the crater on one side and a steep slope on the other. It was a truly amazing experience with breathtaking views and a real sense of adventure. The rim led towards the final summit called Haakon V11 which is a steep mound of snow covered rock. We finally climbed onto it at about 18:00 after a total of 11 1/2 hrs climbing from sea level. It was a very emotional moment after all the years of planning to finally be there. It was a real delight to climb with such a pleasant and supportive team. The views were totally beyond description. It has been the best day of my life without doubt. After a team photo call we dropped down a few metres to get out of the wind and take a well earned break in the sun.

Summit photo from left to right: Alasdair, Dan, Charlotte, Charlotte, John and Tim with Siggi on the camera!

I believe we started to descend at 19:00. The descent was much faster. Eventually we were down to cloud level and back at base camp. The tents were packed away and our back packs were once again very heavy.The Thembi crew and Siggi walked on ahead while the Sumara crew took it a bit slower. By the time we were in sight of the yachts the Thembi crew were onboard Auroras Zodiac about to tackle the surf. The conditions at the anchorage had completely changed. There was now a heavy swell and a moderate onshore wind producing breaking waves on the beach and severe rolling for our small yachts. The Zodiac was pushed by Siggi and his father, who were wearing survival suits and standing in the water, while Tim and Dan paddled frantically to clear the surf. They made it. We weren’t so lucky. When our time came the Zodiac wouldn’t move forward when the time came because she was stuck on a rock and the next wave proved to be a massive roller which crashed over the boat completely soaking us. Another three waves broke over the boat, our waterproof Ortlieb bags were floating in a foot of icy water, so John and I jumped over the side to help drag the boat up the beach to empty her. The water temperature was just 3.5 degrees! Our second attempt was wet but successful. Sarah greeted us back on a very rolly Sumara with a curry and Champagne. What a day!
Now, it’s 9th July and John is frantically trying to dry out our seaboots. We have sailed back to Kvalrossbukta to try to find some lee under the cliffs but the swell is working its way in. We may attempt a shore landing later to light a small fire to dry out our gear. Hopefully we will sail to Greenland tomorrow.

Sent at 15:56 GMT on 9th July 2011

There is now an amateur video of the expedition which can be found here.

23 responses to “The Mighty Beerenberg Conquered!”

  1. alison Walker avatar

    If you go to shore to dry out your things but get wet again on returning to Sumara you could be caught in that loop for sometime! Sounds wonderful, the whole trip. Looking forward to really hearing all about it when you are back. Hope the rest of the journey continues to go well, love ALi

  2. Great stuff!!

    I think there is a book in this!!

    Have a safe onward journey


  3. Jane Horton (sister to Sarah) avatar
    Jane Horton (sister to Sarah)

    Wow, sounds amazing, although I know Sarah had opted out of the climb! Any chance of a photo of your Sumara?


  4. Congratulations!!!! Well done! Cant wait to see the photos and hear more (i know ill have to, but…….). Hope you are drying up by now and have a safe and fun journey to Greenland.
    “ Ill be watching you”.

  5. warwick, vicki avatar

    Never thought you would make it so quickly well done . All well. Fast passage to Scoresby Sound. Sweden Notified.
    Lux do at West Wittering , Lewis and Sue joining soon.

  6. Well done guys. The climb sounded fantastic. Would have loved to have been there “walking the line” with you.
    Look forward to seeing the photos.
    Hope you get some luck with Scoresby.
    Take care.

  7. Many congratulations to you all. It sounds fantastic and well worth all the planning. Hope you have a safe return journey.

  8. Patricia Maurer avatar
    Patricia Maurer

    What an amazing journey – it’s nice to follow the blog all along. Have a fine onward trip.

  9. Hi Alasdair – To say congratulations doesn’t seem sufficient to convey my thoughts on your success in achieving your long standing objective. Anyway you, your crews and support team have brought about an outcome which is remarkable in such a small yacht. Good luck with the continuing adventure! Many thanks for the blogs – we are all with you. Terry

    Sarah – If your plans are flexible – would you like to stay at our home for a few days? or you can use us as a base camp! Capt Flint will give you details. Terry and Sally

  10. Peter & Casimir & Miranda avatar
    Peter & Casimir & Miranda

    Congratulations to all – magnificent achievement and well done ! really amazing that you did the climb so quickly – must have been all those marathons.

    I’m actually relieved to hear that the Great Sailing Captain Flint is subject to some slight nautical mishaps after all and a zodiac stuck on a rock and rolling over (normal occurrence for me in a flat sea with a sandy beach) was not something which could be adequately planned for. Given the choice between 3.5? water and piling back in and starting again, I think I might have considered colonising the island instead !

    Looking forward to more tales of adventures and also your collective returns !

    P,C and M

  11. well done everyone, sounds like a wonderful trip

  12. Congratulations. Good to read that you are all safe.

  13. Hello Alasdair!

    Well done to you and all your crew! What a fantastic adventure and achievement. All the hard work and planning must easily feel worthwhile now.

    I’m looking forward to seeing lots of photos and catching up soon. Thank you very much for letting me join you on the start of this journey, it was great fun.

    Have a safe journey back and I’ll see you soon hopefully!

    Keep in touch,


  14. Well done everyone, it must have been an exhilarating feeling getting to the top, pleased to hear you all got back down in one piece. All the planning and hard work has paid off. The Steyning Stinger should be a piece of cake next time. We are enjoying keeping up to date with the blog.

  15. Katie and Martin avatar
    Katie and Martin

    Great stuff. Wish we could have been there. Good luck with the ice.

  16. Congratulations. Sounds amazing and very exciting.
    Hope we sometimes get to hear more and see some pictures.
    Have a safe trip to Greenland.


  17. I can’t say how much joy there is in Highgate! ( and we know a thing or two about hills here!!!!) Well done to all of you. It is a massive achievement of fittness, planning, courage and will power. Well done again.

  18. Wendy (Stonehaven) avatar
    Wendy (Stonehaven)

    Well done all after so much planning & organising – what an achievement!
    I am loving reading all about your trip and look forward to seeing the photos.
    Alasdair – you must be so proud of so many things, and the good ship Sumara, what can I say!!
    So glad I was part of the excitement at the very beginning. Cheers

  19. Jonathan Bartlett avatar
    Jonathan Bartlett

    Well done to all concerned – must be a wonderful feeling of achievement.
    As I sit here trying to work out how many barriers and toilets are needed for an event I’m working on, there is more than a touch of envy in my bones!
    Safe travels from now on, and look forward to the snaps!

  20. Dear Alasdair & Crew,

    We have been following your adventure. Well done for climbing the mighty Beerenberg. We look forward to hearing a first-hand account (maybe at the Old Codgers reunion!). Safe travels.

    Mel & Karen.

    1. Great to hear you have been following the adventure. We are enjoying the Westmann Islands at the moment but will sail tonight. See you soon!

  21. […] of the clubs founding by Sir James Wordie. He was part of the team that made the first ascent of Beerenberg in 1921. It was great news that Olly Sanders will be President of the club for 2023, I am sure he […]

  22. […] He was part of the team that made the first recorded ascent of Beerenberg in the summer of 1921. Beerenberg has a very fond place in my heart. In 2011, with a team of good friends, we sailed to the remote […]

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