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.
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.