CUCC Journal 1965 pp 12-13

A Speleological Diversion in North Norway, 1963

As the title indicates, what follows in no way describes a serious caving exploration, but rather a three day trip to look at as many caves as possible in a small area.

Last summer I was a member of the Cambridge Svartisen Expedition, spending ten weeks in and around the Svartisen Ice Cap in North Norway. As well as ice-cap, mountains, glaciers, fjords, lakes, and hot, fly-ridden, thickly-vegetated valleys, the area also has caves; (too many of which seem to occur in the hot, fly-ridden, thickly vegetated valleys!) The limestone occurs in narrow bands, often steeply inclined to the vertical, and ranges in type from beautiful pure white marble to a very layered, impure type.

The caves are all young, most theories considering the most active agents in their formation to have been sub-glacial water, during the last ice-age. As a result, they contain very little dripstone formation, but a large accumulation of glacial debris which has been washed in. Where the marble is pure, the effect of the solutional scalloping in the glistening white walls, and that of very delicate solution formations make up for the lack of dripstone. In the impure strata the caves are harsh and vicious, often the walls are studded with insoluble mica in flat flakes, which are very sharp and hard on clothing and skin.

In 1947 the largest cave known was Larshullet, 2300 metres long. (Gunnar Horn, 1947). This cave was pushed much further by a team mainly from Cambridge around 1957 and is now at least twice as long. Some of the chambers are huge and the North Passage is big enough to take two double-decker buses side by side.

During our three day trip we entered five caves in all, going to the furthest known extent of only one of them. Two of these caves I have not found described in any of the (little) literature, and one of these, which merits further interest was visited by the 1957 (?) Cambridge party. Extracts from my diary written at the time give the best description of the caves:-

"Went down Grönligrotten, the only "show" cave in the area, for about an hour ... elliptical cross-section tunnels, mostly easy, unornamented and nonedescript by British standards ... they switched the tourist lights off unexpectedly, which gave an interesting feeling (probably by no means unfamiliar to most C.U.C.C. members! -Ed.) ... emerging is as pleasant as ever, one can feel the warmth of the air and the rocks.

"Entrance to Setergrotten proved to be a narrow, boulder-obstructed crawl leading in from the bottom of a cliff, followed by a chamber and a wide funnel of square cross section leading to a choke ... cave roof is the bottom of the overlying quartzite beds, and has weathered to cover the floor with quartzite sand completely muffling all our movements. The vertical direction of the cave is completely governed by the angle of dip.

"Found the entrance to Lapphullet right beside the path .. .better than either Grönligrotten or Setergrotten, and one of the biggest caves in the area, but we had very little time ... found several small but interesting formations, including some erratic, bulbous-looking stalactites, with "annual rings" showing. Had a crawl through a small and vicious (mica flakes) mid-rift passage and a traverse over the rift afterwards. Would have liked to do more.

"Saw a likely opening just beside the path and tried it; a good cross-section, being an elliptical tunnel with a succession of vadose trenches in the floor, the limestone being pure white marble, all solution-scalloped, the walls covered with a delicate tracery of solution formations. Decided to try some photos, but the lighting, stick and rag soaked in paraffin, as Neanderthal Man, proved inefficient, and results were disappointing ... followed good active streamway for 200-300 yards, but had no time to go further."

This last cave appears in a limestone band which appears obviously on the surface for about five miles, angle of dip being almost vertical; it is never more than 20 yards wide. Active streams run in at many points and emerge in a resurgence where the limestone band just cuts the shore of a lake at a lower level. I don't think it has ever been fluorescein tested. What is more the lake also overflows into a sink in the same band and the water's underground course is traceable from shafts until it emerges a mile from the sink.

There are several interesting karstic phenomena in the area, and any number of caves both to be pushed further and to be discovered. In the summer of 1963 an East Essex Technical College expedition discovered about 40 new entrances in one or two valleys alone.

I can recommend the area both for its speleological possibilities and for the variety and splendour of its scenery


Addendum: I should like to acknowledge the help of G'yula Pal'yi of the Hungarian Speleo. Club with whom I did my caving in and around Svartisen.

Since this article was written there has been a further contribution to the caving literature of this area in the publication of the Haberdasher Aske's work there: "Expedition to Norway" by A.C.Grant, Geographical Magazine, Vol 37 No. 8 p. 569, December 1964

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