Photo: Hans Øivind Aarstad (and Johannes)
Monday August 20, the Last Caving Day
This is pure and utter madness. I have been standing with my cap lamp off and without hardly moving for four hours on this five by five meter balcony, 30m down and an estimated 60m above the bottom of the pitch. And I have almost two more hours on the balcony before the polish cavers de-rig and we can return to the surface. In the darkness in front of me the ice-cold waterfall thunder down before it hits the bottom as an freezing cold mist, perhaps 70m below the crest. This is the last day of an almost two week long stay at Burfjellet, and I have planed to use this day as resting-day; it promised to be the sunniest and warmest day of the whole trip and I had been looking forward to it. But instead I was standing here, just above what at that time might have been Norway's most hostile place, waiting. To cold for sitting down, to cold for leaning on anything. I waited for Bartek to give me the OK signal telling me to join them. Or perhaps I should be honest: I hoped not to see the agreed flashing light from deep below. I was standing pretty well where I was, and after having seen Bartek and Pjort freezing like dogs when they visited the balcony in between the bolting passes, my motivation to go down was not that high.
A couple of days earlier, Saturday August 18, the Break-Through
Boring mapping. The exploration of the Edvardheim cave is almost completed, except for the 20-30m we are to map this evening. Hans Øivind has also told us that the reason this passage has not been mapped before is because it is very unstable and dangerous; of this we do not see anything. The passage is only narrow. And boring. And we are four persons in the mapping team; it is one too many. I search for survey stations, Bartek reads the instruments and Hans Øivind is taking notes. Pjotr is recognising, but unfortunately and unexpectedly he suddenly and all too soon find one of the Swede's surveying stations down in the "swede's system" in the "lower" parts of the cave, not far from the boulder choke that marks the terminal point of the Edvardheim cave and where the stream disappears. But that's not too bad; the polish want to make an attempt to find the continuation of the stream. Hans Øivind just shakes his head, several attempts have already been done without success, but let them try; when even they fail we can be pretty sure that the cave really ends in the boulder choke and that the unexplored parts of the stream have to be found up-stream so to speak, perhaps from the water fall in the new canyon we found almost a week ago in the Brattli cave? We finish mapping, Pjotr has to wait for us. When the last survey station is placed, I climb down to Pjotr and we follow the stream downstream to the boulder choke. Pjotr finds a tight passage under the boulders (it is mapped since before). He chose to back into the passage and thus miss the small opening between the boulders up to the left, and I can't resist giving it a try. It is just large enough so I don't have to take my helmet off when I press my head through. And with my head through, the shoulders are easy to get pass. Then not think too much, breath out and press. The chest can be compressed and not long after I'm through. It is like being born again, but I do not exit, I am deeper into the cave. And I have been born into a small chamber. I meet the stream again but it disappear into a small hole to the left; further on there is another possible passage. It was so easy to enter the chamber that I first do not understand where I am, and I try in vain to localise a surveying station and ponder about where this terminal boulder choke where the stream is swallowed can be. It can't be here. But soon I realise it is here, but up-stream and on the other side of the boulders. We have found the place where the Edvardheim cave continues.
The Week Before, August 11 to 17, Re-mapping and New Discoveries
The potential of Burfjellet is enormous! Perhaps not the most beautiful mountain around Mo i Rana, although Svartisen, the glacier we can see north of Burfjellet, attract us like a magnet. But we do not have any time for glaciers. Re-mapping and explorations in the Brattli cave have priority. Another purpose of our expedition is to connect the Brattli cave with the higher Edvardheim cave, while the re-mapping of the lowermost of the three major Burfjellet caves, the Storli cave, must wait. The most promising way on in the Brattli cave is the pitch that was discovered but left unexplored by the polish last year. That year they only had time for one caving trip in Burfjellet and although they managed to push the innermost parts of the Brattli cave they had to turn on top of a pitch with the estimated depth of forty meters. No wonder they wanted to return! So we divided us into two teams; the tougher of us, Anna, Pjotr and Bartek, rigged the pitch and tried to push the deepest parts of the Brattli cave, while Hans Øivind, Karolina and I started the re-mapping of the outer parts of the cave. Already the first day we found a small previously unknown daylight hole, and the day after I managed to connect and exit through one of the unexplored openings on the surface. We brought a walking stick into the cave, and I squeezed myself towards the daylight hole and pushed the walking stick through the hole while Karolina and Hans Øivind were on the surface; shortly after we had enlarged yet another entrance to the Brattli cave. About the same time the other team found that the 40m-pitch was only about 20m. They managed to push on and found a few other pitches and a couple of fairly large canyons before they had to turn on top of another pitch. Anna's back hurt, so when Pjotr and Bartek returns a few days later in an attempt to push further I have to change team. I am a little reluctant first; I like the outer, dry parts of the cave. But in a somewhat perverted way it is exactly the depth and the cold wetness that attracts me. And of course the unknown passages that we know are there. So of course I join them. The cave is generous and gives away a magnificent canyon. With a length of about 100m, 10m wide and perhaps 30m high and with an at least 20m high waterfall, this canyon is one of the largest underground canyons in Scandinavia. But she starts to make life harder now. Wherever I stand water is dripping and with papers soak wet I am near giving up mapping. She must have felt it, and without saying anything beforehand she decided that enough is enough. We are standing on the sandy brink of a small underground lake, and there, below the water surface, we can see how the narrow passage. We search for a while, but can not find any passages bypassing the sump. Perhaps there are, but they must wait for another day. We have been in the cave many hours already, and I start to be cold. We share some dry fruits and chocolate at the shore before we turn. At the waterfall we stop for a moment. Is it here where the Edvardheim cave enters the Brattli cave?
This was the only trip to the deepest parts of the Brattli cave for me. Karolina, Hans Øivind and I join for another mapping trip to the outer parts. We push all the passages we find, but do not manage to do any major findings. Karolina finds a new way back to the parts we explored and mapped a few days earlier and we have a nice mapping loop. It must be more cave than rock in this part of the system! And the cave eats oversuit. My poor, yellow PVC-oversuit now have some huge rifts in its back, so I have to take a pause in my caving for a couple of days. It takes me a few hours to sew the rifts so the oversuit, perhaps, can last at least the rest of the week. I must repair it better when I am back home. To test the sewing I join Hans Øivind, Karolina and Mateusz for a recreation trip in the Storli cave. Our plan is to enter through the upper entrance, pass under the camp we have placed just above the Sluk Öst (The East Sink) and then exit through one of the lower exits. We are barely in the cave before Karolina starts to explore all the side passages we find, and before long I join her. Mateusz, not as experienced, seems to be bored having to wait for us, and Hans Øivind is just not quick enough. We were fast, and many narrow (but not long) passages were explored. I am gaining warmth and speed and finds a small choked side passage that I start to clear. Nobody can ever have been here before! And the passage looks large on the other side of the choke! Karolina came to help, but too soon ruin everything by finding a cleared side passage bypassing the boulder-choke. Large and side passage, but not unexplored. But we chose to continue, and we go through some nice vadose passage before we reach the end. But Hans Øivind do not want to turn and starts to dig through the blocking sand and soon we are in truly unexplored passages! This was not at all the purpose of our trip! But all fun have an end, and all too soon we reached the small chamber marking the end of the passage. Now only a higher system remained; we could just barely see it at the top of some shafts exiting too high up in the ceiling, unreachable for us. Or perhaps not, in one of the innermost chambers it might be possible to climb up to the system. I ponder the idea for a while, then decide it is too risky, the climb is airy and with a lot of loose material. But when the other went away and left me alone I could not resist at least an attempt. As usual the climb is easier than it first looked, and soon I am on the next level, just beneath the chamber's ceiling. I walk a few meters and pass the deep shafts that we just passed below. And in the end of the tunnel I can see light! The other do not know where I am, so I return with the hope that I can climb back down. Not that easy, but somehow I manage it but soon I am back in the upper level again. Now the other waits for me in the small chamber, and I hurry towards the light. Some eighty meters from the climb I exit the cave through a large opening just a few tens of meters from the main entrance. It is impossible to imagine that this opening has not been noticed before, but it is equally impossible to understand how it can have been left unexplored. But still; I can not find any traces from earlier explorations and all the loose rocks that I have to clean from the floor clearly indicates that no one has ever been here before. I mark the exit with a piece of plastic that have blown into the opening. A few meters from the opening a couple of Blue-bells are growing, and I pick them and bring them with me. I hurry back to the other. They wait for me in a small side passage, and the climb down to the small chamber is done in a chaos of small rocks and sand and gravels and is more of a controlled free fall than climb. Seconds later I handle over two Blue-bells to the most beautiful girl of Burfjellet. Thus the new entrance to the Storli cave was named Blåklokka (Blue-bell) despite there being no more Blue-bells growing there. But I hope they are back there again next year!
Saturday August 18, after the Break-through
I have all time in the world, but not a second to lose. I can not wait for the other. Down to the left, back to the stream that I can follow in passages with standing height. Now the passage is changing, it is much broader but not very high. Often a couple of meters, but sometimes just a meter and a half or even less. The floor is no longer marble, but instead covered by garnets. The stream follows the passage further down to the left and I have never to walk in the water. Further in a larger stream join me, coming from a tunnel exiting just under the ceiling. I am still alone. After about a hundred meters I turn. Just before the first chamber I meet Pjotr and we return back into the unknown. Soon we have passed the place were I turned. It is still easy to find the way. In a few places the stream creates waterfalls but we can find routes bypassing them without difficult climbing. For me this is the very core of caving - breaking through a tight, neglected passage and on the other side find hundreds of meters of unexplored passages, with new possibilities and surprises. Maybe for years to come. In a feverish mood I and Pjotr rush, crawl, climb through the cave as the first ever. How far can we continue? After about two hundred meters we reach a broad, inclined chamber. We stop and sit down, up to the right. Some ten meters below us the stream rush and disappears somewhere into the darkness. We look at each other. We agree that this is a good place to turn. High five and shouts of joy and we start our way back. Just before we reach the small chamber we meet Bartek who has just managed to squeeze through the boulder choke. Only Hans Øivind is left outside. Needless to say, we are eager to continue our exploration, but we have now been away for so long time that we must notice Hans Øivind about our findings, and we decide to stop for this time and squeeze our way back through the boulders. Tomorrow we will map our findings and try to push further. Our goal is of course to reach the canyon in the Brattli cave, the one with the waterfall. If we succeed we have managed to connect 1800m long cave with one at least 800m long plus a couple of hundred or so new meters of passages, and thus have a system of more than 3km in Burfjellet. And there are many unexplored and unmapped passages left, especially in the Brattli cave. Can we then also connect the Storli cave, then we will have at least twice that length. I am reluctant to admit it, but until today I have not really believed in Burfjellet. I have been worried that there would not be much left to next years mountain camp after our two weeks up here. But I have been wrong!
Sunday August 19, Mapping Day
My reparations did not survived yesterday. All my sewing are wasted and the rifts in the back of my oversuit are back. But Hans Øivind lend me his PVC-oversuit. This is my last caving day, the day after tomorrow we will break the camp so I am planning to have Monday as resting day, perhaps start carry down some of the gear to the cars. We bring with us quite a lot of rope to the cave. Quietly I hope, for my self, that we will only need it once, from the top of the canyon down to some of the surveying stations in the Brattli cave. But we are not there yet. Also this time it will be me who takes notes. The Swedish Squeeze through the boulder choke is easier this time. We start mapping, and pass fairly quickly through the passages that Pjotr and I explored just the day before. The wideness of the passages made some of the sketching a little difficult, it is not always easy to estimate the distance to the walls. We might also have missed one or two side passages that should have been included and explored, but I excuse myself with that in this way there are only more to do next year. So finally we reach the chamber where Pjotr and I turned. The stream disappears between the boulders in the bottom of the chamber, and Pjotr can not find any good passages through these boulders, so he choose a passage higher up in the chamber. After only a few tens of meters this passage opens up in a pitch, some ten meters under the top and perhaps thirty meters above the bottom. Further in the pitch, to the left, we can see the stream throwing itself out into the pitch as a huge waterfall. We have never been here before, but yet we recognise this place. This can only be the top of the canyon in the Brattli cave. I should not feel disappointed, but I am. It was way too easy to make the connection. Now we only have to reach the bottom and find one of the surveying stations. We have probably a single survey leg from the top of the canyon down to the bottom. And that should be it! And we have, in the last day, finally managed to fulfil one of the goals with our expedition. So I should be satisfied. But as said, I am not, though at the same time it will be nice to get out of the cave soon and have an early evening. While Pjotr and Bartek starts rigging I finish sketching and then I try to find a way through the boulder choke where the stream disappears. I find an opening that is not too unstable and reach a small balcony. In front of me the pitch opens up, but I have a good view over the rigging. The polish have to rig with belays, so it takes some time before we can step onto the rope and descent the very last meters. We are now absolutely certain that we have reached the Brattli cave canyon. I go last. Just before I reach the bottom Bartek asks me to look to right. To right? There is only the wall? Oh, he mean behind me. There I can see the waterfall disappearing into a huge black hole. Hey wait, there should not be a huge black hole here?! We are not in the canyon! Instead we are on a five times five meter large balcony in the midst of an about twentyfive times twentyfive meter wide pitch of unknown depth! With a thundering waterfall on the other side! Bartek throws a rock into the darkness and we count the seconds. Four seconds before we can hear the sound of the rock hitting the bottom far below us. I change my mind! I am not disappointed! This is better than anything we could have hoped for! We still have unknown passages and pitches and chambers before we reach the Brattli cave! And we have a pitch which depth we estimate to at least sixty or seventy meters, perhaps more, with a waterfall at least fifty meters deep. And completely vertical! This is huge! And cold and wet and we do not have much rope left. A little higher up, on the way down to the balcony, a fossil side passage with a hole in the bottom enter; we can make an attempt to continue here instead. If we are lucky we might be able to reach the bottom of the waterfall pitch through this side passage instead, before we run out of rope. On the other hand, if we are lucky, we will run out of rope before we reach the bottom... And we are lucky, we run out of rope! We are forced to turn in continuing passage, on top of a twenty meter deep pitch from where we can see yet another pitch. We can also hear the waterfall further in and feel the air current. It just can't be better than this! On our way out the polish de-rig the parallel pitch system. They have not told me, but I sense their plans to make a try on the main pitch tomorrow. I feel a little frightened about the thought of entering this inferno of ice cold water, but I feel confident that I find some excuse for not going. For all that matters, I have planed a caving free day tomorrow, and I do not have a oversuit that I can use, so all I have to do is to persuade Hans Øivind not to lend me his oversuit tomorrow. And then I can spend the day in the sun instead of in this terrifying chaos. When we exit the cave shortly after midnight it is like walking straight into an infinite void of darkness. The mountain is hidden in mist and it is raining and blowing. Our cap lamps only lights some thirty meters, and outside the light there is nothing.
Back to Monday August 20, the Last Caving Day
This really is nothing but madness. I managed to persuade Hans Øivind to keep his oversuit so he could spend the last day mapping in the Brattli cave together with Karolina and Karina. But then some bright person -- and it was not me -- came up with the idea that I should borrow Pjotr's spare oversuit. It was a cordura oversuit and not a PVC, so it was not water proof, but at least it was not in holes. And I didn't have any balaclava or good cap, not even a hood as in my broken oversuit. And my socks were wet since the day before. But how much I ever wanted I just could not say no and miss this opportunity to explore the pitch. It had been unforgivable and against everything I mean is cave exploration. But yet, this promised to be the warmest and sunniest day on Burfjellet. I had been very pleased if I had had a short mapping trip together with Karolina in the Brattli cave. And together with Hans Øivind too of course, do not think otherwise. But it did not turn out that way. Instead I joined Pjotr and Bartek on a trip back to the Edvardheim cave a last time. As usual on harder trips I thought about Death while hoping to see the world again, many cold hours later. All the rope we carried with us made us slow, and it took almost two hours to reach the balcony. Here it is comparably endurable and protected from drought and mist. I watch Pjotr and Bartek prepare to enter the inferno. Pjotr go first, while Bartek waits with me. We can hear the sound of his hammer and see the light from his lamp from below. It takes a long time, the marble is hard in the Edvardheim cave, and when Pjotr join us again he his wet and cold despite rigging several meters from the waterfall. Now Bartek go down while Pjotr stay at the balcony. We turn off our light to save electricity and spend the time watching the light from Bartek's lamp play on the walls. It is beautiful. I can hear Pjotr freeze and I am happy I do not have to go down for rigging. With my equipment it would not have been very wise, almost suicidal for me to stay there for a longer time; besides I am not at all that good a rigger. My expectation that I somewhere hope not will be fulfilled is still that I will be able to bottom the pitch when the rigging is finished, without being totally soak wet from the waterfall. Pjotr and Bartek continues relieve each other and are down for thirty minutes passes each. In between we are waiting without being able to sit down or lean against the walls. Karolina and the coldness have forced us to eat some dry fruits and chocolate; Karolina was quite upset the day before when she learned that we had not had anything at all to eat during the entire ten hour trip, and she had said some not very nice things about "power caving" and "tuff" cavers. I am glad she takes care of us! After a little more than four hours they start to reach the bottom. They have now rigged about forty meters down, but it is still some twenty or thirty meters to go. From here on they have to assist each other so both go down together, and I am alone on my balcony. I continue my dark eternal waiting. To pass time I sing for myself, shadow boxing, looking at the light play that reach me from the two lamps far below me, pondering over what I am doing here. My conclusion is that life can hardly be any better! I do not freeze that much anymore and that I have been standing here for four, soon five, hours now is nothing that I notice. Time in a cave is something very strange. Sometime I even wonder if it exist, or if it something that only belong to the world outside, the world with sun and rain, happiness and sorrow, hunger, tiredness and love. Here where I am is a world not larger than the space surrounding me, and nothing exist besides it. It gives me a strong feeling of security, and I can stay on my balcony forever if needed. For a last rest to catch some warmth, Pjotr and Bartek visit me on the balcony before going back down again. Bartek and I agree that he will flash the lights if he judge it safe for me to join them, deep down. And then they leave me the last time. I can see their light disappear and sometimes it is almost pitch-dark in the pitch. Sometimes I imagine I can see the signal, but I am mistaken each time. Yet I do not have to enter this ice cold hell... I start to allow myself to hope that I will be able to go down, now when I doubt it will be possible. And then, finally, after nearly six hours on the balcony, I can see the light slowly grow stronger. Pjotr and Bartek are on their way up again. I feel revealed not having to go down the pitch. But at the same time disappointed. They are both freezing and wet. Bartek tell me that only Pjotr reached the bottom, and that there, perhaps sixty meters below the balcony, the water fall had been replaced by an ice cold and stormy mist. Pjotr had tried a quick search over the bottom but the water had disappeared among the boulders. Where and how deep he had not been able to see, perhaps it would not be possible to continue from there, but he had not been able to stay for a long time. The height of the waterfall had been estimated to about seventy meters, and the total depth of the pitch to about a hundred meters. And the degree of difficulty was, according to Bartek, ten on a ten degree scale! And among the best things he had done! Without doubt Pjotr was as happy as Bartek. And as frozen. I was quite happy me to, and not particularly cold. And I had something to look forward to, to return to the pitch and try to reach the bottom some other time. We continued the de-rigging and slowly returning out from the Edvardheim cave. The summers last caving trip in Burfjellet was finally over. Outside it was star bright and we could guess that the other had had a brilliant day. I suspected that at least three persons had returned from the Brattli cave in time to see a wonderful sunset over Svartisen a few hours earlier. This was a great end of our weeks together.