Cambridge Underground 1985 pp 21-23

Cave Hunting in the Arctic Circle

by Nick Hawkes

For six weeks during July and August 1984 I took part in a Wessex Cave Club expedition searching for new caves within the Norwegian Arctic circle. The "Cave Huntin'" began in an area north of Fauske where two fairly large outcrops of limestone occur. Later attempts were concentrated around the less exposed Glomdal area, about 200Km to the south where several caves have already been discovered.

It took almost a full five days travelling to reach our first destination, one days drive from the Mendips to Newcastle, then a 24 hour crossing to Bergen (aboard the good ship Venus!). We camped for a night 70km or so north of Bergen and then drove solidly for 36 hours past the Arctic Circle and to Fauske. A final 3 hour drive the next day brought us to our base camp at Linnajavrre.

To the east of Fauske are two already well known caves, Kristihola and Okshola which are linked and together form Norway's longest system at 11km in total. Some 100km to the north is the Tysfjord and another well known cave called Ragge-Javre-Raige. This contains the deepest through trip to be made in northern Europe starting 660m up a mountain and descending to just 3m above sea-level at the side of a fjord after a classic 160m pitch in the middle. We had visited these caves the previous summer on "tourist" trips and so had returned in the hope of finding similar caves in a limestone area between the two known caving localities which was known as Linnajavrre.

On arrival at the Linnajavrre area we were amazed to discover that a road had just been built for a large hydro-electric plant being constructed in the mountains and it was going to save us about 10km of walking. However it still left a distance of about 7km between the end of the road and the nearest limestone outcrop. Two weeks were spent meticulously searching the majority of the limestone outcrops. This was done by carrying four or five days provisions into a target area along with a minimum amount of caving equipment and then organising the search around each new base camp. A motorbike had been brought from England in a transit van in the hope that it would be useful for moving equipment into the area but, unfortunately the terrain was too much for the bike to handle. The bike proved to be great fun for hammering back and forth to the nearest shop which was 18km away from our van, especially with all the holes in the road!

The first week was mainly bad weather, low mists and cold driving rain and it became very easy to get lost miles from anywhere. To make matters worse we didn't find any interesting caves, just tiny little holes all of which were blocked after only a few feet. Many streams sink into the limestone (actually a calcite marble) but did not follow the bedding planes into the mountains as we had hoped. This was probably because the bedding planes are not as well defined as they would be in ordinary limestone due to the deformation and recrystallisation which has taken place.

The glaciation over the whole area has caused exposed rocks to be extensively broken and cracked up. This is especially noticeable in the marble which is particularly susceptible to erosion. It is through such cracks that the streams run and hence they stay just beneath the surface. The caves are not large enough to get inside because of the broken boulders in the entrance, these are most probably glacially derived. A few good Mendip style digs in the area would no doubt reveal several caves, though it is doubtful as to whether any would be very big.

The second week of searching didn't reveal any more caves, but was much more enjoyable due to excellent weather conditions - clear blue skies for all 24 hours of the day. Even though we found no worthwhile caves in the area it is superb for walking in, since hardly anyone has ever been there before and hence the wildlife is more prolific. Herds of reindeer were regularly seen on patches of snow and we picked up several antlers which we found scattered everywhere. Mountain eagles and buzzards were a common sight in the skies overhead, flying over glaciers from which one could quite regularly hear avalanches thundering down in distant rumbles. Two moose were also seen quite close to the road, though most of the area was probably too high for them. It is all over 500m high and therefore well above the tree line.

With no success at finding caves at Linnajavrre it was decided to move South to an area which is just on the Arctic Circle and slightly north of Mo i Rana, a region known as Glomdal where we knew that four people from the Norwich University Caving Club would be. This is for the most part a much lower area and so we were plagued by mosquitoes except when we managed to escape to higher ground. We spent the first week here visiting several of the known local caves which were all fairly small, though very pretty since they are all in marble and so have beautiful patterns in the stream passages. A trip down Gronligrotten, Norway's show cave made a pleasant change to the others which took about three more hours just to walk to the entrances. The Norwich group had found a cave which they showed us around. One day was spent leaping over crevasses on the largest glacier in Norway - the Svartisen, and then trying out caving underneath it though unfortunately we didn't have our wet suits with us that day.

An assault was planned upon what we had been informed was an unexplored limestone area, this was a large area on the slopes of a mountain known as Burfjell. A day's hike brought us to the first part of the limestone. After three days of finding very little we had just about given up hope when several enormous entrances presented themselves to us. We had to spend two days returning to our vehicle to replenish supplies and also bring some ladders up for a 15m pitch inside one of the entrances before we could investigate properly.

All the entrances turned out to link with one cave in which most of the passage was about 7m high by 10m wide with just a sandy floor. In total there was about 4km of passage - great, a cave of our own. But we were not the first - there were two sets of footprints going right through to the end of the cave. Also there were some very obvious survey stations - as yet we haven't found out who else had been down but Stein-Erik Lauritzen, a lecturer at Oslo University who studies Karst Hydrology (ie. goes caving) is trying to find out about it for us. Several days were spent exploring the system before it became time to leave and drive back to Mendip.

After having been away so long in the rugged Norwegian mountains none of us looked forward to returning to England. Even the help of a pint of Mendip bitter didn't seem to help. We had begun to enjoy our new life in the land where alcohol is almost non-existent.

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