Saturday, March 22, 2014

Jostedalsbreen National Park with Telemark University College

23. - 27. September, 2013
Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway

Jostedalsbreen National Park is located in Sogn og Fjordane in western Norway.  The glacier itself is the largest glacier in mainland Europe with a total area of 487 square kilometers (188 sq. miles).  For the second half of our advanced glacier course, we visited Nigardsbreen, Fåbergstølsbreen, and Tuftebreen, located on the eastern edge of Jostedalsbreen.  We left Telemark in the afternoon and arrived at camp late at night.

Wandering around in the blue ice of Nigardsbreen was on the docket for day one.  The approach to the glacier is one of the easiest I have yet experienced.  There is a path that leads along the water, with wooden steps that assist you through the few steep bits of rock.  It only takes about 20 minutes to get to the tongue of the glacier while walking at at steady pace.  Day one was set aside to focus on setting up fixed lines, both vertical and horizontal, lowering an injured patient, and crevasse rescue of an unconscious victim.

It was a gorgeous day in the mountains, and we saw several groups of tourists being guided through the the blue ice nearby.  The local tour companies go out and chop steps into the ice to make it easier for tourists to navigate.  It was quite interesting to see the difference in technique applied to the different groups.


Tour groups on Nigardsbreen have chopped a staircase into the ice

We chose another way

Nigardsbreen offers an easy approach and descent

Day two started early with an alpine start.  We had already driven to the trailhead and were quite a ways up before the first signs of dawn showed themselves on the towering walls on either side of the ice.  There was a bit of rockfall as we got closer to the tongue of the glacier, but luckily we had been keeping our eyes on the loose rock above.

Navigating through the crevasses proved to be a bit of a challenge as most of the snow had melting, leaving towers of ice totally exposed.  Our original plan for the day was to reach Brenippa, but managing the seemingly endless labyrinth of ice took more time than expected, and we had to wait for over an hour for the last rope team to make it through, as they had chosen a different path.  We sat and ate our lunch while surveying the surrounding area before deciding on a nearby peak to climb.

The climb went up a steep arm of the glacier that was still covered in a good amount of snow.  Post-holing up the slope was tiresome, and there were a few enormous crevasses that we had to bypass, but the view from the top was more than worth the trouble.

Fåbergstølsbreen in the early morning

As the ice gets steeper the crevasses get bigger

Routefinding is difficult in the labyrinth of crevasses

Trying to navigate through the chaos of ice

Post-holing through steep snow is tiresome

The snow simply covered the crevasses that were enormous 

View from the top.  That is the top of Nigardsbreen we can see there

Getting ready for the descent

Bit of sun during the descent

Incredible that we found a path through the maze of crevasses

The sun starts to set as we get closer to the valley floor

Day three started with a bit of a fiasco.  Winter was already on its way and a thick layer of frost covered the cars.  While trying to clear off the windshield and windows, the driver side window got stuck in the door partway down.  We left the car in the parking lot, hoping that we could fix the window before driving over the mountains the next day.

Tuftebreen has retreated quite a bit in the last decade and the approach is steep.  The ice is relatively easy to climb up on, but the glacier gets steep almost right away.  The lack of snow in the area made safe travel extremely difficult.  Hanging seracs eventually stopped our forward progress and we had to turn around.  It seemed like this may have been the instructors´ plan the entire time as they had several rescue scenarios already planned.

The scenario was that somebody had fallen and injured their ankle.  We needed to transport the patient to an area that was easier to access for emergency services so we rigged up a tyrolean traverse across a crevasse.  After testing out the tyrolean traverse a few times, we used one of the ropes to make an improvised kit to carry the patient down off the glacier.  The glacier was steep enough that we deemed it necessary to lower using ropes and anchors.  A group of students came by to see what we were up to and Magnus, who was playing the patient, tried to scare them by screaming and acting injured, not knowing that we had already told them that it was just an exercise.

We packed up our kit and hiked down to our cars.  We were unable to fix the window in the parking lot, but we managed to pull the door apart and fix the window once we got back to camp.

Chilly down in the valley

Looking up at Tuftebreen

The Man they call Magnus rigging the rescue line

Tyrolean traverse being practiced as a means of transport during a rescue

Sun sets on another great day on ice

The weather was so nice the last day that we decided to head back to Nigardsbreen and practice some improvised rescues in groups of two.  We joked the entire trip that bright sunshine and bluebird skies were typical for Norwegian glaciers.  After playing in the blue ice we packed up and drove back to Telemark.

Back to Nigardsbreen before we head home

Caution: Falling Rocks!

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