The final segment of my road trip last summer ended, somewhat unplanned, at Svartisen, a large Arctic glacier.
My plan for the day was to drive across the Arctic Circle and have a look at Polarsirkelsenteret (the Arctic Circle Centre), but as I headed out of the city of Mo i Rana, a sign for Svartisen caught my eye.
I quickly turned off the main northern road (E6) and followed a country road until it ended at a glacially green lake. This was Lake Svartisvatnet, I learned. As luck would have it, a shuttle boat was just about to leave for the 20-minute journey across. Might as well hop on and hike the measly 3 km up to the glacier. Cross the lake, sprint the few km, have a look at the glacier, sprint back to the little boat, cross the lake and back on the road for the Arctic Circle. A wee detour, that was all. Nothing could be easier. Or so I thought.
The hike is not too terribly strenuous, but the terrain is uneven, hopping over little streams and puddles along the way. It’s important to watch your footing. Important for me, at least, as I have an annoying tendency to stumble and sprain my ankle.
This time I was good, very good. Until I came up to the plateau, that is. I had hopped along like a mountain goat of, well… average agility. When the going was straight-forward and the ground relatively level, I forgot to be vigilant for a few seconds, took a wrong step and wham: a twisted left ankle. Predictable, really.
A man walking past was concerned. Was I OK? Did it hurt? Was I hiking on my own? Did I want a helping hand?
The pain was making me queasy and dizzy, and I was in no mood for conversation of any sort. And so I just grunted “I’m OK”, turned my back on him and limped along to walk it off.
As soon as the nausea stopped – it always does after a minute or so – I felt sorry to have been so short with the kindly fellow. But that’s me, I’m afraid. Pain? Embarrassing stumble? Just leave me alone for a bit or I might bite your head off.
But all that was soon forgotten when I turned a corner and was met by this grand sight.
Striking, isn’t it? But then, glaciers are, of course.
What you see here is Austerdalsisen, one of Svartisen’s 60 glacier arms. The mother glacier, as it were, covers an area of 370 sq.km, and straddles the Arctic Circle.
Glaciers are responsible for Norway’s famous fjords, carving them out, slowly but surely – over the course of about 35 ice ages. Svartisen is Norway’s second largest glacier and is really somewhat of an anomaly. At this latitude, one would expect a frozen tundra. But then there’s the Gulf Stream; warm currents from the Gulf of Mexico accelerates as it moves north-westwards, contributing to a relatively temperate climate in Northern Europe. Norway does get the occasional -40°, but that’s inland. Along the coast (and a whole lot of Norway is just that), winters are mild. Right below the Arctic Circle, Mosjøen, where I was staying for a few days, is at the same latitude as the Bering Strait and Canada’s Yukon province, but winter temperatures aren’t nearly as harsh.
In fact, crossing 66° N (the Arctic Circle) isn’t a big deal here. We frequently pop to Bodø or Tromsø (at 67° and nearly 70° N, respectively) for, say a meeting in the morning, then head home after lunch. No one really thinks twice about having crossed the Arctic Circle twice in a day.
Back at Svartisen, limping back down towards the quay, I managed to sprain my right ankle as well. Double whammy! As a consequence, it took a rather painful 1.5 hours to return to the quay, a mere 3 km, mostly downhill. Naturally I missed the boat. I wasn’t even within shouting distance as she pulled out.
And naturally, the next one wasn’t until 2 1/2 hours later. What do you do with sprained ankles at a minuscule quay for two and a half hours in the sun? Not much, as it turned out. I ended up lying down on a wooden bench and promptly fell asleep. Tiring work, ankle spraining.
Sadly, my plan to continue across the Arctic Circle was foiled. While I’ve flown across the Arctic Circle numerous times, I’ve yet to cross it at ground level. Oh well, next time…
Svartisen Arctic Glacier – practicals
Svartisen is a nice Sunday summer hike. From Mo i Rana, drive north along E6, then turn off at the Svartisen sign and continue along the country road until it ends at Lake Svartisvatnet. The whole drive is an hour or less. The shuttle boat across the lake takes about 20 minutes and leaves every hour until about 5pm. The last ferry back to the car park leaves at 7.30pm; don’t be late. Or, if you are, I hope you’ve brought a blanket, at least. The shuttle boat operates between early June and late August; do check in advance for times if you think you might like to do this little hike – tel +47 75 01 80 00