The weather and wind during our passage to Jan Mayen had been very favourable. Other than suffering some damage to the gaff – we arrived unscathed and slightly ahead of schedule. With the weather still on our side it made sense to keep the momentum and get onto Beerenberg as soon as possible.
The climb involves a hefty approach trek (at sea-level) followed by an ascent of 2277m. We carried sizeable mountain rucksacks; so were armed for cooking, a rest-stop and a roped climb of the glacier and ridge traverse.
The rules for Beerenberg dictate that climbers cannot camp on the feature, but the height and distances involved require a 15-20 hour expedition. We decided to climb to around 1000 m and stop for a meal and a rest before tackling the real climbing in the coolest hours of the day.
Luckily, the weather and visibility remained on our side throughout. We had perfect views of the mountain as we approached, and whilst we ate and brewed tea, Beerenberg’s southern side looked close enough to touch. Some 1300 m of altitude and several kilometres of pristine snow separated us from its lofty summit.
At around 1.30 am we organised ourselves and had one last cup of tea, before stepping off towards the rock mark below the glacier known as the Nunatak.
We roped-up here as a ‘three’ as we were entering the heavily crevassed glacier area and picked a line up through the dramatic cracks and splits in the ice. From the shade of the mountain, we could see the whole of the volcano’s shadow projected against the cloud below us. Incredible!
The ascent though the crevasses and seracs was hard work, but the dangers were visible and obvious. I took a slip to my knees in a narrow but deep crevasse, but otherwise we hit the southern shoulder without eventuality. Our view from here was exquisite, and the colours emanating from the crevasse depths were stunning.
Due to our early hour, and it being the coolest time of the day, the snow was crisp and at its firmest. Our crampons and axes bit in well, and progress up the flank was deliberate and swift. As we neared the crater-rim itself we could see the sun’s glow on the other side and hear the whistle of the NE wind beyond. We broke the ridge line and were met by both in full force. The sight was stunning! The crater was pristine with ancient ice and almost knife edge in places. It looked like a true alpine ridge, dropping away sharply now on our right-hand side. Photos and back-slapping followed, before we commenced the traverse over several smaller summits – to the high point at almost 2300m.
traverse was pretty special. Although we couldn’t see the southern part of the
island – we had amazing views of the north as well as a partial view of the
The summit section came quickly, but its steep, ice-fluted flank required a belay to protect against a fall. We took our time here, and then Will led us the short distance to the tight summit top. The time was now 7 am.
Here we paused for a dram of ‘Kings Ginger’ and time to really survey the vast mountain around us. The world’s most northern volcano was in the bag; and it felt quite perfect. As with all descents, ours was fractionally uncomfortable! Old knees (in my case) and empty stomachs all round incentivised a swift return to our food bags and a well-earned breakfast. We got down safely, ate, and stepped into a walk to sea level, and our eventual link-up with Integrity and the remainder of the team.
No climb is complete without the King’s Ginger
We all agreed that Beerenberg had given a truly unique climbing experience. It was a beautiful mountain that allowed itself to be seen throughout the 24 hours, and it had presented a proper alpine climb. However physically hard the climb, we had been lucky and extremely privileged to enjoy it.
Mr Paul Mattin Esq