Svartisen, Second Largest Glacier in Continental Europe

It is not often that one has the opportunity to take a long flight south before encountering the Arctic Circle. One of the disadvantages in selecting Tromsø for a base of operations was the inevitable long slog south to capture the largest glacier complex in northern continental Scandinavia. The glaciers of northern Sweden and Norway are spread in a longer distance north-south than what is found in fjord country east of Bergen. Nonetheless, the time had come that I needed to get it over with, or I wouldn’t do it.

I had intended to make a long day of it, flying south to Bodø and then back north for the night. The idea of “night” was something of a laughable joke anyway, as it barely had existed so far for this adventure. In any case, I knew I needed to reserve quite a bit of time to properly photograph the fullness of Svartisen.

The problem is, that the furthest glaciers from Tromsø were another 78 miles south. By the time I fueled in Bodø and took off heading south, I realized that things were taking longer, and I had a problem.

Evening civil twilight set in at 11:15 PM or so, which meant that I needed to be on the ground then, although the sunset was theoretically before 10 PM. I contemplated fudging it, and decided against it, as it is not a good idea to knowingly break rules. So, do I go for the farthest glacier, and race back for an 11 PM landing, not sure if it will work, only to come back tomorrow.

As I passed Svartisen, the second-largest glacier in Norway, and crossed the Arctic Circle, I decided returning to Tromsø for the night was absurd. Was I really going to spend 8 hours the next day round trip commuting back here? I nibbled away at the little glaciers southwest of Mo I Rana, confirmed my fuel arrangements at Hattfjelldal by text, and made my way down to Byrkijenasjonalpark before rounding the bend at 65N and turning north.

I stopped for fuel in evening light, and continued my work, photographing Okstindbreen and the complex of ice around it, whilst taking a 30-minute jog east into Sweden and back. By the time I had crossed the eastern part of Svartisen, the sun was beginning to set, which it did as I descended over the Atlantic and for final approach to Bodø. It was beautiful. And it was confirmatory that returning to Tromsø was never going to happen.

The problem was, I had absolutely nothing with me to spend the night. No clothes, no nothing. That was made worse as I usually bring earplugs in the event of unexpected noise. By 2:30 AM, I was still not asleep as the hotel was a raucously loud affair. I descended to the front desk to request another room, where I was greeted by at least 50 people having a full-blown party in the lobby. “Are they waiting for a tour bus?” I asked, “They look like they are in a group.” “There is a music festival. That is Norwegian drinking culture.” “So, they’re just drinking?” “Yes.” “How long will it last?” “Some until morning.” “What is the purpose of a hotel room?” The clerk at this point thought I was expressing ire at the noise, to which I had to restate that it made no sense to rent a hotel room when one intends to spend the entire night drunk in the lobby and not sleep in said room. I got a puzzled look in response. Even alcoholics have a modest sense of cost-effectiveness, which is why they are often found imbibing cheap liquor.

I was given a different room, with a glorious 3 AM view of the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority’s office across the street, where the twilight was already strengthening before sunrise. Life couldn’t have been better.

The next morning, somewhat ghastly in appearance, I stumbled into a taxi and back to the airport. I had roughly 8 hours left on my 100-hour inspection, which was running out about 7 days before the annual was due. My Norwegian-registered aircraft is subject to 100-hour and annual inspection regimes, whereas US-registered aircraft for private use only have an annual requirement. While it is generally a massive thorn in my side, it generally hasn’t made a material impact….yet.

That meant one long arse-numbing flight of 4.5 hours to Svartisen, to enjoy it in its full glory, before a fuel stop back at Bodø, and then the commute to Tromsø, where I would hope to god the mechanic would fly in from Bergen and perform the inspection (he did!).

Svartisen is a complex of two glaciers, with the westernmost glacier alone the second largest in mainland Norway, which I believe makes it the second largest in Continental Europe. It was a sight to behold, as Scandinavian glaciers are… large plateau glaciers with many tongues feeding from it, located not far from the sea, at only 1000m in altitude, yet in existence due to astronomical precipitation.

The 100-hour gaffe meant I couldn’t stick another 2.5-hour flight in to get a few glaciers in the area. Little did I know that the best summer in northern Norway in decades would become viciously nasty a short time later, ultimately rendering it impossible to get those glaciers. I will have to return next summer. Source: ‚Garrett Fisher‚.

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