Nordenskiöldfjellet

  • Nordenskiöldfjellet
  • 1050 m
  • Primary factor 675 m
  • Location: North 78:11, East 015:27 (Estimate).
  • Svalbard, Norway
  • Difficulty, YDS class 2+
  • Did not make the summit.
  • Attempted on October 3. 2010

Information:

How to get there:
The starting point is Longyearbyen, the only major city on Svalbard. There are daily flights from Oslo via Tromsø in the summer. In the winter, flights are somewhat less frequent, but there are still several flights every week. The best trailhead is "Gruve 4", coal mine number 4, you can drive there (normally), after leaving the last house in Nybyen (the student housing area). If the road is in bad shape, the extra distance to hike is not very long. Park at this trailhead (or be dropped off by a taxi?) One can also just walk there from Nybyen. The location is N78:11.738, E015:33.943, elevation about 188 meter.
At other times of the year, the creek may (perhaps?) be more difficult to cross. In this case, one should use a bridge (closer to Longyearbyen) and hike up the valley on the right hand side of the creek.
Important Note: Svalbard has a large population of polar bears and anybody walking outside of the main streets of Longyearbyen (where there are houses), must be in a party equipped with at least one high powered rifle. Of course, one must also know how to properly handle and (if needed) shoot with such a gun. A standard rifle should have at least 4 bullets already loaded and ready to fire. Polar bears are totally protected, one should by all reasonable means try to avoid any conflicts. However, if a potentially dangerous situation occurs, then one should first fire a warning shot. Often, the bear will then withdraw. If, despite this, the situation escalates, then one must shoot to kill. The killing of a polar bear will always result in a police investigation.
Guns may be rented in Longyearbyen at IGP (Ingeniør G. Paulsen AS), located between the sea (Adventfjorden) and the university building (UNIS). More precisely, as you walk down the main street towards UNIS, bear right of this large building. You will then run into IGP, a building having lots of snow scooters parked right next to it.
In order to rent a rifle, you must have a hunter's licence from Norway or you must obtain a permission to rent from the Sysselmannen office in Longyearbyen. Sysselmannen, the Norwegian authority on Svalbard, is located on a small ridge overlooking Longyearbyen. His office is near a telecommiunication antenna, below the Longyearbyen church.
If you show up at Sysselmannen, (office opens at 0830 on weekdays), then this seemed to be a pretty routine thing, they give you a permission to rent a rifle that you subsequently present at the IGP store.
Route description:
Start out by following a clear trail that follows the top of a moraine. Immediately, you pass an old holding area for sled dogs. Continue along the moraine and descend slightly. As you approach a small creek coming from your left, turn right and head a bit downhill. Cross the main creek just below the creek fork and head across towards a very distinct valley called Tverrdalen. There is a track that gradually becomes a trail, coming from your right.
Follow this trail up Tverrdalen to the edge of the very flat Platåberget. You should pass close to location N78:12.034, E015:30.294, elevation 480 meter. From here, turn left (south-west) and ascend the distinct ridge that runs on the (left) east side of the glacier. The conditions may vary, it is a smart idea to bring crampons and an ice axe.
The ridge ascends and gets fairly narrow, but comfortable to climb if dry or covered by good snow. Higher up (near 760 meter), you run into a rock formation that may require crampons if icy. The rest of this route should go well (locals do it), but I had to turn around due to the ice.
Alternatively, one can also climb the ridge further west, on the other side of the small glacier. This ridge is pretty similar, gets quite narrow and runs into a rock buttress around 760 meter. This looked a bit easier to climb, but when coated by ice, crampons would still be highly recommended.
Comments:
I arrived in Longyearbyen just after lunch on Thursday, September 30. The administrative staff of the CS-department (where I am department head), had proposed to spend their HES award visiting the university studies in Longyearbyen. When they proposed this destination, I almost did not believe it. This is a place I certainly would like to go, but this was genuinely their idea.
Nordenskiöldfjellet is a major mountain (prominence 675 meter) located right next to Longyearbyen, certainly a tempting possibility. My schedule did not leave much free time for hiking, but Sunday morning before our flight, had no program. I decided that it should be possible to climb this peak before lunch if I started at first light.
I had visited the Sysselmannen office, obtained my permit, and rented a Mauser rifle, dated 1942, for the trip. With 9 lead-tipped bullets, I had a well proven weapon for protection. Longyearbyen has by far the highest density of guns in Norway, even the receptionist in the hotel said, matter of fact, that "of course I own a rifle".
I woke up at 0500, had a quick breakfast and ordered a taxi around 0530. It was still dark, but I believed that there would be enough light to walk by 0545. The taxi driver had never been beyond the Nybyen houses, but he had no trouble getting me to the trailhead.
Starting at 0550, I walked along the moraine, but made the mistake of descending too early. The rocks were loose and slippery, besides being steep, but the descent was short. Hiking across the creek was easy and soon I gained elevation while turning into Tverrdalen. The rocks were coated by a thin layer of ice and extremely slippery. I still made good progress and reached the flat top of Platåberget in about one hour.
As I moved slightly left, in the direction of the first ridge, I came across big footprints in the fresh snow. My first idea was that a polar bear had been walking west, perhaps towards Bjørndalen? (Bear Valley). Upon closer inspection, the tracks must have been made by a reindeer. In southern Norway, reindeer tracks are normally from a herd, not a single animal like here. The tracks were also bigger than what I thought a reindeer would make.
Anyway, at the moment it seemed like a good idea to head for the first and nearest ridge. It looked steep at the horizon, but I told myself that such long distance views often hides the details that provide a way up. I quickly gained elevation above the Platåberget mountain. Ascending the ridge was easy, good snow, even as the ridge narrowed to less than one meter and got somewhat more icy. Unfortunately, the small rock buttress at the top should prove difficult. Covered by ice (from recent rain that had frozen?), the rocks were just not possible to even try without crampons. The slopes on either side were also icy and too steep to move into. The conclusion was easy, turn around and walk back down. The hike had taken me two hours and I certainly had time for some more exploration.
I looked across to the second ridge. It was partially covered by fog, but looked quite nice. Also the map (unfortunately having only 50 meter contours), seemed to indicate that this would be a (better?) way up. I crossed the lower tongue of the glacier with some care, staying on (white) patches of snow to ensure good footing, then ascended the lower slope and gained the ridge at about 620 meter of elevation. The ridge had good snow, but it was not broad, rather the opposite as it got more narrow while climbing higher. Again, a rock obstacle came into view, but this one looked slightly more friendly. The slopes on eiter side were not inviting, an icy layer with mainly smaller rocks. The route obviously had to climb the ridge rocks, they formed some sort of steps, unfortunately, extremely icy. I placed the rifle by some rocks (no climbing bears in sight!) and tested out a couple of meter ahead. The conclusion was that crampons would have been really nice. Interesting, but perhaps not a coincidence, my GPS read exactly the same elevation on the two ridges at the point where I decided to turn back. A climbing companion (even without crampons) would also most likely made me try the next 10 meter, they did look sort of possible. However, a bit reluctantly, I decided to turn around. Too bad that there were no ridge with snow going all the way to the upper area that most likely is easier.
This ridge had taken yet another hour, and the time was 0840 when I started walking very carefully down the narrow snow ridge.
I descended back down to the Platåberget, then contoured around to reach the Tverrdalen valley. The scattered fog lifted, I could see all the satelite communication antennas that have been built further out on the Platåberget.
No signs of the polar bear. Further down, just as I had exited the narrow Tverrdalen, I suddenly became aware of a white fur, at least one meter long that MOVED ! I could not see the head or legs, the animal was behind a small knoll in the terrain. Should I be awarded with seeing a polar bear in the wild? I took the rifle off my shoulder, just in case. The situation was quite good, the camera should be at least as ready to shoot as the gun. More movement, the animal moved into an open space, a single reindeer! I guess it is by far the most likely outcome when seeing a white fur. I laughed silently and looked across to the reindeer, it looked pretty nice, the distance was too big to see any details.
I crossed the creek and followed a much better route back to the trailhead. Since I had plenty of time to make lunch, I decided to walk back down to the hotel rather than calling a taxi. I removed the ammunition (4 shots) from the gun and strolled back to a warm shower before a cold beer with lunch. It had been a nice walk/climb despite not making the summit. Arctic wilderness, it is a bit different from mainland Norway. You move around in the land of the polar bear, you carry a big gun, you are definitely a bit more alert, eyes scanning the terrain in front, to the sides and regularly also behind you, there is a big hunter out there and you may be its prey. A young woman was killed by a polar bear on this mountain in 1995.
This would have been by far the northernmost Major (prominence exceeding 600 meter) mountain I have climbed, unfortunately, due to logistics, I did not bring the required gear. I was back at the hotel by 1050, a very nice 5 hour hike that will be long remembered.

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