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Bjørntoppen (1,520 m), Tysfjord, Nordland, North Norway

Bjørntoppen (also known by Lapp name Gihccejiekna), is a fairly remote mountain in Nordland. This mountain is in the Tysfjord area, and is to be distinguished from the more accessible but higher mountain of the same name, also in Nordland, that is near the Swedish border in the Saltdalen area.

The most direct route on to the mountain is from the fjord, but this requires hire of a boat. The most likely access route for most people is from the north, where the approach involves a two-day 50 km journey from the nearest public road in Skjomdalen. Allowing for the summit day, ascent and return via this route takes a total of five days. There are two unprovisioned mountain huts conveniently located for the approach, and the second of these huts is well located for an ascent.

I had an opportunity to climb Bjørntoppen in March 2002. The approach route in winter is straightforward, and a significant part of the distance can be covered by skiing over lakes. However there is a section on the second day which involves skiing over subtle country with a lot of small rises and dips which are corniced in winter, and where there are drops of 3 or more metres that would be invisible in poor weather or bad lighting. For this reason, reasonable conditions are required for this part of the journey.

The mountain is technically easy. The mountain might be best described as a nunatak on the south side of a small ice-cap. Approaching from the north it is necessary to cross the ice-cap. The gradients involved in the most obvious ascent route are easy on nordic skis, and the total distance from hut to summit and back is probably about 27 km.

[Bjørntoppen is located at latitude 67º 58.984' N; longitude 16º 51.302' E.]

Cold weather on approach

On the second day of my approach there were challenging temperatures. It was -28°C when I got up and -24°C when I set off. There was a frost fog hanging over Sitasjavri lake, and initially it appeared possible that cloud might build up on the mountains. The route through the rises and dips mentioned above went well, but it was fairly slow as there was a certain amount of new snow. There were occasions when I had to slow down in order to avoid sweating on a very cold day. I descended to Kåbtåjavri lake, and skied to the point where one has to climb about 20 m to reach Labtejavri lake. At this point I needed to stop for food and tea, and I realised how cold it was. There was a breeze from the west, and stopping for more than 10 minutes was imprudent. Another 5 km took me to the hut. The thermometer at the hut indicated that it was -21½°C, but subsequent experience indicated that the temperature at the hut, located perhaps 15 m above the lake, could be at least 5 degrees higher than on the lake where there was a frost pocket effect. Inside the hut it was a balmy -11°C.

The following day it remained very cold but the weather was not so good, so I did not attempt Bjørntoppen. The day after that the weather was cold but magnificent, and I decided that the day should be one for photography.

Summit day

It was on the subsequent day (12 March 2002) that I set off for Bjørntoppen. My departure was late on account of photographic diversions and the need to attend to some foot problems. I headed west to the end of Bovrojavri lake and headed up an easy shoulder to a point where there were views of dramatic mountains to the west. At this point time was such that I had to choose between photography and a mountain ascent, and it was the mountain that won—the camera stayed in the rucksack. I swung back in a south-easterly direction and slowly gained height. The summit ice-field was very flat and rather slow in cold soft snow. The pull up to the summit was not too pleasant, in an increasing westerly wind, and on deteriorating snow. The summit provided views of fjords to the west. The temperature was a pleasant -15°C. A short stop allowed consumption of food and drink, and the donning of windproof over-trousers. I left the summit at 5.00 pm, half an hour before sunset. Following my tracks down was easy and, when I reached steeper slopes as it was getting dark, skiing downhill was pleasant and relaxing in easy and consistent snow.

When I reached the lake it was fairly dark, but at that point all I had to do was to follow my tracks for about 5 km across the lake. By 8.00 pm it was getting too dark to see my tracks, so I stopped to put on the head-torch. The thermometer attached to the top of my rucksack indicated that I could have been in Canada as it was -32°C. I only had one km left to travel. On that last leg I found that my nose was beginning to lose sensation, and I was very glad to have the dog-fur trimming around the hood of my jacket. I was back at the hut at 8.20 pm. It had been a tiring but superb day.

Exit delayed by weather

One might have thought that that would be the end of the story, but that was not the case. After a rest day I rose early to start the return journey. After skiing for 1½ hours it was all too clear that the weather was deteriorating fast, so I returned to the hut. Knowing what I did about the route, and seeing the weather later that day, it was clear that I had made the correct decision. Rising early the following morning there was a near storm, with considerable snow-fall, so the journey was again delayed. In the afternoon it remained windy but there was a general improvement. I went down to the lake and discovered that the new snow meant that the maximum sustainable skiing speed was 2 km per hour (a speed that my Canadian contacts might regard with envy), so a 20 km journey was not going to be easy. It was only on the third morning that I was able to make my exit. This day was indeed the slog that I had expected. The final 30 km leg of the journey, after a day off when the snow was like porridge as a result of a dramatic rise in the temperature, was much faster. The weather was dubious but the route was easy. With a strong tail-wind for much of the way I reached the road-head in 5 hrs and 40 minutes.

Conclusion

An attempt on Bjørntoppen in winter means that one is a hostage to the weather. In the absence of weather forecasts one has to take each day as it comes. On this trip I found my barometer completely useless for weather forecasting—against expectations the weather worsened as pressure rose. I had to wait two days to get out. But had I been there a week later I would probably have had to wait at least 5 days on account of a Norwegian "kuling". It requires a good reserve of food and a sanguine nature to cope with these uncertainties.

Alan Law

13 November 2003


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