CUCC Newsletter 1962 pp 6-8


"C'est un monde fermé, hostile, jonché, ça et là, avec des carcasses, d'ossements, blanchis. C'est perpetuellement noyé dans la brume ou balayé par les tempêtes de neige. On peut imaginer dans quelle humidité baignent les hauteurs de Navnlösfjell - la montagne qui a perdu son nom." Such are the words of Corbel, a French geomorphologist who is, perhaps, at his best as a literary man rather than as a scientist! The attraction of such words is irresistable, and it was the thought of these secluded heights, lost in the mist of the peaks north of the Svartisen glacier, and offering "trois milles gouffres bécant partout" that provided the impulse for the expedition.

It was well into February before positive organisation began, and this late start, combined with our lack of suitable scientists, ensured that whatever donations we might receive would be in kind rather than in cash. However, we were finally presented with provisions and equipment totalling almost £300 in value. It is impossible to thank all our benefactors in so short an article as this, but as an indication of the type of help we received, it is reasonable to note that eight of the nine members of the expedition still have a free exposure suit, and that the two clubs concerned in the trip now possess 500 ft. of electron, which they were able to make at negligible cost, thanks to the generosity of British Ropes, Ltd. & Jes. Booth, Ltd. In connection with the ladders used on the expedition, I should particularly like to thank Arthur Morton and his willing helpers from Kendal, who gave up much of their valuable time in construction work. I also have to thank Messrs. E.F.D. & A.G.D. Acland for the kind loan of their van to take our load to Newcastle.

Before setting out on our journey, I had better list the team, if the term can be applied to such a diverse group. From Cambridge, there were Titch Mercer, Tony Roberts, Roger Jones & myself, and from Kendal, Arthur Morton, Lindsey Greenbank, and Tom Holden. These were accompanied by two surveyor-friends of Titch from Cheltenham, Blad Hansen and Ian Standing.

After an expensive journey on the 'Leda', we arrived in Bergen in mid-August, and started our voyage northwards on the tourist-infested 'Nordstjernen'. The scenery from the boat is most inspiring, but we were glad to arrive at Ornes, some thirty miles inside the Arctic Circle, and our port of disembarkation from the coastal steamer. A vicious, jagged ridge soared up behind the little cluster of buildings on the quayside, its overhangs curving elegantly into a scurrying mist. The mountains all around seemed to drop sheer into the sea, and we wondered how on earth we were to transport our bulky gear to Glomfjord, twenty miles along the fjord. None of us spoke Norwegian, but as it turned out, this was not to matter. With the helpfulness typical of his race, the local capitalist came up to us, and, finding that we were English, offered to run the equipment to Glomfjord in his lorry. At Glomfjord, we were given details of how to get to Navnlösfjell by the "overingenior" at the power station. We had written some months previously to request his help, but we had little imagined how important this was to be.

The romantic Corbel describes Navnlösfjell as being bounded by 600 ft. vertical cliffs on this side; in fact, the cliffs are 1,000 ft. high and often overhanging! However, Corbel omits to mention that there are steps all the way up them, and that there is also a cable arrangement for carrying luggage! Getting the ton and a half of equipment to the bottom of the cliffs was a strenuous two days' work, but the rest of the haul was easy. A short trek at the top of the cliffs brought us to a lake, where the power station had installed a boat, which we, of course, were permitted to use. And this was not all; waiting for us at the end of our journey was a commodious hut with electric heating, lighting, and cooking facilities! "Un monde fermé, hostile"! This hut proved invaluable, and we felt grateful indeed to the Norwegian government for its energies in civilising Navnlösfjell. As yet, the area is not accessible to tourists, and the only person I saw regularly was the custodian of the lakes, Per, a man delightfully in harmony with his environment. We were thus able to enjoy the best of two worlds - the wilds of Corbel and the comforts of a roof over our heads and 150,000 megawatts of home-produced electricity, entirely free of charge.

It did not take us long to tour most of the area and to find that the vast majority of Corbel's shafts were merely enlarged clints! If there is anything 300 ft. deep, it certainly eluded us and fails completely to fit into the general pattern of our discoveries, which is one of an immature arctic karst. We did find a large number of little caves and shafts, developed to that sort of extent one would expect in an area which has very recently undergone glaciation. We are still not sure how the caves were formed; I am not qualified to speak with authority on the subject, even if room permitted. It seems that there is little uniformity in the modes of origin and development of the caves of the area. Some, the larger ones, give every appearance of being pre-glacial, yet this must be reconciled with the probability that others are post-glacial or the result of sub-glacial outflow. Additional complications exist in the conflicting tendencies of permafrost to retard solutional activity, and of melt-water to accelerate it, and in the high degree of metamorphism which has occurred in the area. There are two distinct types of limestone present, one being much purer than the other, and this factor, together with the presence of bands of schist, seems to have had a differentiating effect on cave development. Gunnar Horn and Corbel have both advanced theories to account for the karstic features, and the matter will be treated fully in the expedition report, which will be available at a charge of about 7/6 in March. I should be grateful if anyone who is interested would place his order with me.

From a more practical, sporting viewpoint, the main caving interest of the trip lay largely in three caves; these we called Gully Pot, Stormgrottene, and Ruffenhullet. All of them are some quarter of a mile in length, and the first over 150 ft. deep. The expedition was the first to explore these systems though no great honour attaches to this. Gully turned out to have three short pitches, a tight rift entrance, and a pleasant, narrow, twisting streamway of the type associated with Craven. One significant difference lies in its total lack of formations. Instead, the walls are rough and sparkling, owing to their high mineral content, a feature which is as hard on the hands as it is refreshing to the eye. Another interesting point of difference is the temperature. The water is scarcely above freezing point, and exposure suits are essential if one is to be underground for long. Considering the temperature, and the difficulty of rescue above as well as below ground, we deemed it to be best to leave a sump at the bottom of Gully without attempting to dive it. Nearly all the sumps in the area plunge down steeply and probably represent various perched water tables. Ruffenhullet was the furthest developed of our discoveries, containing several levels of passages, many of them spacious; it is situated right at the top of the limestone at its furthest point from Svartisen, and it possesses a gaping entrance shaft taking a sizeable stream. It was with high hopes that we descended this hole. Stormgrotten, the other major system, lies quite low down on a denuded plateau between the lakes Navnlösvand and Neder Nevervand, and is almost certainly post-glacial. The result of this in practical terms is that it is extremely tight in places. In wet conditions, this cave is difficult, since its stream is large enough to occupy half the passage in its upper reaches and moves at a much greater velocity then most English cave streams. And it is much colder! This series is formed along two faults, unlike Gully, the key to whose origin may lie in a thin but persistent band of schist.

So far, I may have created the impression that we did nothing but explore and survey caves. With such magnificent mountains and the biggest ice-cap in Norway nearby, this could not possibly be so. The attraction of ice and snow lured us often to the Glombraen and Svartisen, and some of the best of a profusion of peaks were climbed, though not, unfortunately, for the first time. Moving off from the hut to walk, climb and camp became increasingly popular as it became increasingly evident that we should be able to finish our speleological tasks in the time at our disposal. In such wonderful country it was unnecessary to go underground to avoid "the fretful stir, unprofitable" of civilisation. By mid-September, food and time were running short, and the expedition bade farewell to Per and Navnlösfjell, as it chugged slowly across the fjord on the first leg of its long homeward journey.

David Heap.

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