Last summer the Cambridge University Caving Club sent an expedition to North Norway. Those taking part were Mike Duerden (Caius), David Morris and Oliver Wells (both of Trinity), all of whom read Engineering. Dick Kirkland (Trinity) and Wilf Theakstone (Jesus) are geographers, Paul Dyson (Trinity) reads Geology, whilst Bill Spowage (Pembroke) reads English. Our specialists were Oliver who is a cave diver, versed in the mystic lore of the breathing apparatus, Dick rapidly becoming expert in the techniques of underground photography, and Paul who as the only geologist in the party was able to make weighty pronouncements without fear of contradiction.
Before leaving England we received an S.O.S. from the Nottingham University Expedition, a section of which had been echo-sounding in Lake Viedestrende. They had dropped an outboard motor in 60 ft. of water, and wanted Oliver to try and retrieve it for them. Thus it was that the carborne members of our expedition, Paul, Bill and Oliver, made a short detour on the second day of the trip north. They found that two boats had been laid on for the dive. One was the local ferry, a stout vessel about 40 ft. long, smelling of diesel fuel, the other a 15 ft. rowing boat to which had been added two cabin-like structures and a massive diesel engine. This one smelt of fish. Unfortunately the afternoon's diving was unsuccessful, as Oliver's suit developed a leak, and because the visibility down below was practically zero. This was due to the fact that the lake is composed of glacier water, and glacier water is like blue milk. We therefore accepted the invitation of our hosts to spend the night at Viedestronde Villa with them, as we intended to dive again the next day.
Accordingly we piled into the smaller boat and chugged off up the lake for about thirteen miles. The Villa proved to be a wooden hut, in an advanced state of decay, built on piles over the edge of the lake. We fed and slept well.
The next day we cruised precariously down the lake again for another dive. Again Oliver was defeated by the severe cold and the lack of underwater visibility. Time was pressing too, and midway through the afternoon we left the lake and rejoined the road north. Thus it was not until the evening of Monday, the 20th August, that our heavily laden and dusty Ford Popular drew up outside the youth hostel at Mo-i-Rana, 700 miles from Bergen, where its three occupants were greeted by the four members of the Club who had come north by rail. They had already carried out a reconnaissance of the area, and had discovered that the best available camp site certainly could not be reached by car.
The next day we moved on as far as we could by road and then carried our kit up the trail to Lake Reingardslivatnet, a thousand feet up among the hills below the Svartisen Ice-cap.
The aims of the expedition were to explore, survey and photograph the caves in that area, notably Larshullet, which is, at nearly 1100ft., the deepest pot hole in Northern Europe. Any exploration in what is not completely virgin territory must inevitably avail itself of data gathered by previous explorers. In this respect we were particularly indebted to the writings of Gunnar Horn, a Norwegian Geologist, and to those of C. L. Railton of the C.R.G.
After we had settled in, our first task was to locate and identify the caves in the vicinity. This was made doubly difficult by the broken nature of the ground and by the dense birch scrub which covered it. At the end of our first search two likely looking cave entrances had been found, but before they could be positively identified, preliminary reconnaissance would have to be made underground.
We therefore split into two parties, the first consisting of Paul Dyson, Dave Morris and Bill Spowage. The cave chosen by this party was not a roomy one, and showed extensive development along steep and narrow bedding planes. In non-technical language it turned out to be a species of glorified storm drain. Over four hours were spent underground on this trip, hours spent mostly in wriggling and crawling along steep and narrow passages which had muddy floors and abrasive roofs. As a result of this thorough exploration we were later able to identify this cave as Olavsgrotten.
The second party was composed of Oliver Wells, Mike Duerden, Wilf Theakstone and Dick Kirkland. This group found themselves in a far roomier and more extensive cave system, which in many respects resembled Larshullet. But again, as we later discovered, it was not Larshullet but the less important Laphullet. This, however, was not known at that time, and round the camp fire that night we decided to mount a full scale expedition on the morrow.
Accordingly, the next morning saw the whole expedition underground in one cave, where literally no stone was left unturned in our search for the junction of three large passages, which would positively identify Larshullet. In this we were unsuccessful and we returned, somewhat disappointed, to the surface, which we reached in the early afternoon. Almost immediately Wilf, Dick and Dave set out into the scrub in another effort to find the entrance to Larshullet. After about an hour Wilf's efforts were rewarded by the discovery of a likely looking cave entrace, and he and Dave, though not equipped for caving, and having but a hand torch between them, crawled in to the cave and penetrated nearly 150 yds. before returning to inform the others of their discovery. By that time it was growing late, so back at the camp we had a hasty supper, consumed amid much speculation as to the identity of this new discovery. After the meal Wilf, Mike, Paul and Dave donned boiler suits, helmets and boots, recharged their carbide lamps and set off up the hillside through the evening sunlight.
The three of us who were left behind tidied up the remains of the meal, built up the fire and settled down to wait for the return of our companions. It was three hours later that we heard them, crashing down the hill side through the undergrowth, singing and shouting that the cave was indeed Larshullet. As we prepared for sleep the story was passed from tent to tent, and we heard how the four had covered 300 yds. of constricted passage before entering a large chamber, had continued thence along 800 yds. of vast and tunnel-like passage and had finally arrived at the top of a 100 ft. vertical pitch. This proved beyond doubt that we had at last found Larshullet.
Next morning we split into three groups. Oliver Wells and Mike Duerden set off down the hill to pick up the car and drive into Mo-i-Rana for supplies. Paul Dyson and Bill Spowage set out for the top of the pitch carrying the tackle which would be needed for its descent. This consisted of rolled lengths of flexible ladder made with pencil thin light alloy rungs joined by steel wire. The remaining three Wilf Theakstone, Dave Morris and Dick Kirkland followed with 240 ft. of nylon life line and several odd lengths of rope to be used as belays. All were impressed by the size of the cave, which was far bigger than any they had descended in Great Britain.
The nature of the entrance passages was such that crawling over sharp rock fragments was often the only way in which progress could be made. It was always a relief to emerge from these passages into the great chamber which marked the beginning of the more spacious parts of the cave. The passage which led from this chamber was often as much as 50 ft. high and often a similar width. There were two ways of negotiating it. The slower and safer of these was to follow the stream along a deep gulley which formed the bottom of the passage, but this necessitated scrambling over a series of awkwardly placed and enormous boulders, some of which rocked at a touch. The alternative way lay along ledges high in the wall of the passage. The only drawback here occurred if one chose the wrong ledge, for many of them just petered out about 20 ft. above the floor, thus leaving the explorer either to an ignominious retreat or a risky slide into the gully below.
After some 200 yds. this passage divided. On the left was the Nordgangen (North Passage), in which the going was roughly as before, but complicated by mud slopes and by two climbs of about 20 ft., which had to be descended with some care. On the right was the Sørgangen (South Passage), which although wide, was altogether lower and which had a sandy floor. The Nordgangen ended with a 100 ft. pitch, the Sørgangen ended where its rocky roof dipped down to the sand of the floor. It was in those two obstacles that our main interest lay.
We decided first to tackle the sand choke at the end of the Sørgangen, in the hopes that we would be able to join the Nordgangen in the passage at the bottom of the big pitch.
Whilst Oliver and Mike surveyed previously undiscovered parts of Laphullet, the rest of the party went to the end of the Sørgangen of Larshullet. Wilf, amid cries of incredulity, began to dig at a point which he asserted was a likely one. Incredibly, he was right, and assisted by Paul he succeeded in, making a hole big enough for Bill to squeeze through. Further enlargement was necessary before the rest of the party could force their way after him into this new extension of the cave. Unfortunately we were stopped after a mere 50 yds. by another sand choke. We dug without success for an hour, and a party which dug for four hours on a subsequent occasion succeeded in moving vast quantities of sand, but failed to make any new discoveries. Attention was therefore turned to the Nordgangen pitch, and Paul, Mike, Dave and Bill lowered the ladders and descended to the mass of fallen, boulders which lay at the bottom. We were the second party ever to accomplish this descent, and the way on lay down among the boulders on which we stood. Now the nature of the cave changed again. Glutinous mud was everywhere, and we crawled along banks which overhung the deep and, very narrow, gully in which the stream ran. The previous party to have penetrated to this depth (over 1000 ft.) had reported that the cave ended in a large pool of water, but of this pool we found no sign. The party split up and explored many promising side passages in the hope of discovering an extension to the cave, but the narrowness of these passages, and the mud which choked them brought our efforts to a halt. Two days later, Bill returned to this part of the cave, this time accompanied by Dick, who took several colour photographs and explored a side passage that had been overlooked by the previous party. It was only lack of time which caused him to abandon this exploration, and a second trip to Norway will be needed before we can be certain what lies at the end of this passage.
Another and more promising avenue of discovery had been found by Dick and Wilf during a session among the entrance passages near the surface. This was a pitch, over 100 ft. deep, which we hoped would connect up with the lower passage of nearby Laphullet. The tackle was therefore brought up from the top of the Nordgangen pitch by Mike and Dave in one marathon trip, and Paul was the first man down. Underestimating the depth of the shaft we lowered 67 ft. of ladder, and Paul, lifelined by Mike, began the descent. As he climbed down he passed several ledges, the height and dimensions of which he called up to Oliver who, notebook in hand, squatted at the top of the pitch recording them. Soon he reached the bottom of the ladder, only to find it dangling in space. He climbed up a few feet to a convenient ledge and called for more ladder. We unshackled it at the top, added another, 25 ft. and lowered it down. Once more he descended and found himself still far from the bottom, so the process was repeated. This time he was able to reach the floor, a small sand bank on the edge of a still, black pool of water. He came up rather more rapidly than he had gone down, soaked to the skin below the waist by a trickle of icy water, that had been running down the surface of the life-line. Bill then made the descent, and on the way up again was narrowly missed by a falling rock, which showered him with fragments and burst like a bomb on the ledge which he had just left. That evening we took all the tackle from Larshullet after what was for most of us the last day's caving in Norway. Only Dick and Wilf still had to go underground to complete our photographic record of the trip.
In all we had made over twenty descents in exploring, surveying and photographing new passages in both Larshullet and Laphullet.
Up till now the weather had been kind, and it had been a pleasure to bathe in the lake, bask in the sun and sing round the camp fire, but during our last three nights hard frost made things uncomfortable in camp. Camp life was in fact curiously disjointed. One rose for breakfast and then went underground, emerging only in time to prepare the evening meal. Wilf always made the morning porridge for as he said, "If I didn't nobody else would". Responsibility for the evening meal usually devolved upon Dave, who carried out these duties uncomplainingly, except when our plastic collapsible bucket lived up to its name, spilling its contents on the ground. Everybody lent a hand chopping wood for the fire, which was lit in the evening to dry out caving clothes.
We were sorry when the time came to leave and sorrier when the day set for the operation turned out to be one of steady rain. When the move was completed the party split into two groups, one to go by car to Bergen, the other by train to Oslo.
Many of the party feel that the region would repay further exploration and plans are already being laid for next years CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY CAVING CLUB NORTH NORWAY EXPEDITION.
Bill Spowage & Dave Morris.
The bearings N.66° 25' 40"; E.3° 28' cover all three caves, which are contained in a circle of 200 yds. radius.
Railton, C.L., 1954 (June), "Caving in Norway", Trans, Cave Research Group, 3 (No. 1).
Horn, G., 1947, "Karsthuler i Nordland", Norges Geologiske Untersokelese, Nr. 165 (Norwegian Geological Survey, No. 165).