Why would Norway give Finland a mountaintop? By M. Michael Brady.
Finland, the sub-Arctic land of lakes and forests, is mostly flat. But on its border with Norway there are mountaints. One, Halti Peak, at about 3° of latitude north of the Arctic circle, is the highest point in the country, marked by a cairn at an elevation of 4,324 feet above sea level.
But the cairn marks the highest point on the border, not on the mountain. The summit of Halti Peak, or Haltitunturi in Finnish, Háldičohkka in the Northern Sami Language, and Haldefjäll in Swedish (the other official language of Finland) is 121 feet higher, some 600 feet to the north, in … Norway. In other words, Finland’s highpoint comes up a bit short for those who want a summit.
So in Norway there’s now a Facebook campaign that aims for the country to donate the area around the actual summit, some 3.7 acres, as a token in commemoration of the December 6, 2017 Finnish centennial of its declaration of independence.
At time of publication, the Facebook campaign is gathering momentum and has drawn comments from round the world. If it ultimately is successful, it may well be the first time that a grassroots campaign has prompted a country to donate a mountain top to a neighbor.
Dateline Europe: A visit to France’s L’ermitage St. Martin de la Roc. By M. Michael Brady
One of the distinguishing features of Mediterranean France is its profusion of ecclesiastical buildings. Each village, each town has its own church. Away from the more populous places there are chapels, built in centuries past, when people traveled mostly on foot or hoof. In the Pyrénées-Orientales Department along the northwest coast of the Mediterranean Sea, there are 127 chapels, considerable for its area of 1589 square miles (about the size of the State of Rhode Island). Today there are roads to or near many of the Chapels. But most are accessible only by hiking, along dirt roads or marked trails.
The favorite chapel hike of this correspondent is to L’ermitage St. Martin de la Roca (or San Marti de la Roca in Catalan) in the foothills of the Pyrenees above the small village of Camélas (population 417), about 17 miles by road southwest of Perpignan, the capital of the Pyrénées-Orientales Department. It’s perched on a hilltop, with a panoramic view of the encompassing hills and valleys. Here the vegetation is sparse; it stands like a beacon, visible from afar.
As its name implies, in the 13th century L’ermitage St. Martin de la Roca (“Saint Martin of the Rock”) originally was built as a hermitage, where one or more monks lived in seclusion from the world about. In the 14th century it was expanded to a trapezoidal church measuring 21 by 31 feet, including housing. In 1644, Honoré Ciuro, the local Abbot, decreed that the hermitage should become a chapel, a move typical of the 17th century, as the Church sought to give new life to ecclesiastical buildings that had been abandoned as families moved to other hamlets of the region.
Anti-clerical laws enacted in 1790 restricted the uses of ecclesiastical buildings that were not parishes, so the hermitage closed. But in 1801 the laws were moderated, and in 1838 the hermitage was restored. Thereafter it was well maintained, with further restoration in 1969 and 1977.
Today, “Saint Martin of the Rock” no longer is inhabited. But it is a popular hike destination, about a three hour round trip up from and back down to Camélas. The elevation gain is modest, from Camélas at an elevation of 1082 ft. to the hermitage at an elevation of 1699 ft., and the hiking easy, more than half of it on roads maintained by the local forest service for fire protection and woodland maintenance. The surrounding valleys and their winds also have made “Saint Martin of the Rock” a prominent site for paragliding; info here (selectable in French or English).
Getting to the starting point at the large, free public parking lot in Camélas is easiest by car, as it’s south of the N116 motorway and north of the D615 highway west of Perpignan. But there’s also inexpensive bus service at 1 Euro a ticket (about $1.12) throughout the Department. From Perpignan you can go by bus to Camélas with a transfer midway at Thuir; schedules here (French only), Perpignan-Thuir route 390 and Thuir-Camélas route 391.
Map: The French IGN (“National Institute of Geographic and Forest Information”) Carte de Randonnée (“Hiking Map”) series map “Thuir/Ille-Sur-Têt map, No. 2448OT”, shows Camélas and the trails around it. You can order it online from IGN here (French only, prices in Euros), or from map shops in other countries, such as Maps Worldwide in the UK here (in English, prices in British pounds).
Or what happens when an old dog of a Mountain Gazette correspondent gets curiouser and curiouser about language. By M. Michael Brady
In the evenings of days gone by, before the Internet was everywhere, round campfires in American mountains and in cabins in the cordillera of Europe, poetry was recited and songs were sung. This old dog of a Mountain Gazette correspondent recalls that English-speaking mountaineers favored the works of Robert Service and Lewis Carroll.
Robert William Service (1874-1958) was born in Lancashire, England and emigrated to Canada in 1894. He took a job with the Canadian Bank of Commerce, which stationed him in the Yukon for eight years. While there he put Yukon life to verse and his first poems were published in 1907. He knew the constraints of his art; the preface to his collected poems reads:
I have no doubt at all the Devil grins,
As seas of ink I splatter.
Ye gods, forgive my “literary” sins –
The other kind don’t matter.
By that measure, the Devil must be grinning today- The computer age writer’s use of ink probably outstrips that of the old-time penman tenfold. Literary sins do remain.
Also aware of that was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), the mathematician and scholar who also was an ordained deacon of the Church of England. He is best remembered for works written under the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll. Mathematicians recognize him as one of the progenitors of symbolic logic, and indeed his text by that name is still in print, the latest edition published in 2014 (ISBN 978-1500637912). But to the world at large he is known as the author of Alice in Wonderlandand ThroughtheLooking Glass, perhaps the most famed of all children’s stories in English.
Not only children enjoy those books; they can be read at several levels from pre school bedtime to graduate school logic. Few fields of his time escaped Carroll’s witty pen. In the first chapter of Through theLooking-Glasshe dismissed the gobbledygook of his day by having Alice discover a poem that was written backwards, so it could only be read in a mirror. The title and first two stanzas comprise a warning for all writers:
BewaretheJabberwock, myson! Thejawsthat bite,theclawsthatcatch! Bewarethe Jubjubbird, and shun ThefrumiousBandersnatch!
By coincidence, or perhaps not, we’ll never know, the Jabberwockycan be sung to the tune of Greensleeves,the ditty twice mentioned by Shakespeare in TheMerry WivesofWindsor,once in spotlighting the disparity between the words and deeds of Falstaff: “They do no more adhere and keep pace together, than the Hundredth Psalm to the tune of Green Sleeves.”
The remark is double entendre: The Hundredth Psalm is a psalm of praise. Doubtlessly the Reverend Dodgson knew that well. Praise does not jibe with Greensleeves;though beautiful, the words of it lament love spurned. Ergo, that which jibes with Greensleevesis criticism. And thatthe Jabberwockyis. Beware, readers and writers, thefruminousBandersnatch!
Otto Sverdrup was one of the greatest pioneers of polar exploration alongside Amundsen and Nansen. But we are guessing you never heard of him. By M. Michael Brady
Otto Sverdrup (1854-1930) is considered to be one of the three Norwegians prominent in the history of the golden era of polar exploration. The other two are Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen. Nansen certainly originated much and inspired others. Amundsen is most remembered as the man who beat Scott to the South Pole in 1911. In comparison, Sverdrup’s polar achievements and leadership seem unheralded.
In his unpublished autobiography of 1962, Arctic explorer Henry A. Larsen sought to change that low ranking, writing that: “in my opinion, Otto Sverdrup was the most competent and practical of all the Norwegian explorers of that era. But being both shy and reticent, he was satisfied with taking a back seat and was of course overshadowed by such men as Nansen and Amundsen. From my own personal knowledge of the Arctic, there is no doubt in my mind today, but that Sverdrup was the most versatile and competent of the three.” [Quoted in Ships of wood and men of iron, p. xvi].
Larsen’s assessment may be the best available. He was born, brought up, and educated at the maritime academy in Norway and had met and been inspired by Amundsen in 1923 in Seattle before emigrating to Canada in 1928. In “Otto Sverdrup, Never Baffled”, Sverdrup’s definitive biographer, Per Egil Hegge echoes Larsen in observing that “Otto Sverdrup completely lacked the ability to publicize himself.” The picture that then emerges is of Sverdrup as the quiet man of polar exploration.
By his full name, Otto Neumann Knoph Sverdrup was born the second of ten children of a tenant farming family on the Horstad gård, a large farmstead in the municipality of Bindal at 65°N in the fjord indented mountainous landscape of northern Norway. The Sverdrups were of a family that traced its lineage back more than two centuries to its progenitor, Peder Michelsen Sverdrup, a royal tax collector appointed in 1624 when Denmark ruled Norway. The surname Sverdrup came from that of a small village in the Southern Jutland region of Denmark that borders on Germany.
Otto and his elder brother Peter Jakob were tutored by their maternal grandfather, whose teaching methods were direct. He taught the boys to swim by rowing them out on the Bindal Fjord and tossing them into the water to find for themselves how to get to land. Otto got his first rifle when he was ten years old. Then he and Peter Jakob went hunting, on foot in summer and on skis in winter. At age 14, he shot his first bear.
At age 17 in 1872, Otto Sverdrup went to sea. He studied in Trondheim and then Christiania (now Oslo), where he qualified as a mate in 1875 and as a shipmaster in 1878. In that year, at the age of 24, he became captain of the Trio, one of the first steamships in coastal traffic in mid Norway. In the following decade, he sailed as a merchant ship officer to destinations in Norway and abroad, including the USA. As he was pursuing his maritime career, his father had bought and in 1874 moved the family to the Trana Farm at Ogndal just east of the small city of Steinkjer, one degree of latitude south of Bindal. So Steinkjer had become Sverdrup’s home on land. At the time, the Sverdup family’s legal advisor was Alexander Nansen, a lawyer who lived and worked in Namsos, just north of Steinkjer. That connection was to change the course of Sverdrup’s career.
Early in 1888, Sverdrup learned from lawyer Alexander Nansen of the search of his elder by one year brother Fridtjof Nansen for members of an expedition then being planned to cross Greenland on skis. So on February 8, he wrote Fridtjof Nansen in Christiania to indicate his interest in taking part in the expedition. On February 20, Alexander sent Fritjof a telegram recommending Otto Sverdrup as an ideal expedition member. The rest is history.
Nansen chose Sverdrup for the Greenland crossing expedition. The four other members were two other explorers, Oluf Christian Dietrichson, and Kristian Kristiansen, and two Sami reindeer herders, Samuel Johannesen Balto and Ole Nilsen Ravna, chosen in part because the expedition had been initially planned using reindeer and because they were superb long-distance skiers with an innate ability to get along in snow-covered landscape. The six-man party sailed on the sealer Jason to the east coast of Greenland, and then rowed two small boats northward for 12 days and nights to Umivik, a village near the Gyldenlöve Fjord at 64°24’N. They left Umivik on skis on August 15, 1888 and arrived at the Ameralik Fjord on the west coast at 64°7’N on September 29 to complete the first documented crossing of Greenland.
In 1891-92, Sverdrup advised Nansen in the building in Larvik of the Fram (“Forward”), a polar exploration ship designed by Scottish naval architect Colin Archer to withstand freezing into the drift ice in Nansen’s planned three-year Arctic science expedition that included an effort to reach the North Pole.
The Fram was launched on October 26, 1892. Sverdrup was given command, and she sailed from Christiania on June 24, 1893 and finally from Vardø in North Norway in late July. On October 5, she reached and was frozen into the drift ice at more than 79°N. After two winters drifting with the ice, in March 1895, Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen left the ship to ski with a dogsled team to reach the Pole, and Sverdrup assumed command of the expedition. By April 7, Nansen and Johansen had reached 86°14’N, but turned around as they reckoned they couldn’t reach the Pole and return before the end of the Arctic summer. Their return was arduous, and they were obliged to overwinter in a makeshift shelter on Franz Joseph Land. By mid June they had reached Cape Flora. On the 17th, they experienced what was to become the most famed chance encounter of Polar exploration. Nansen first caught sight of and approached British polar explorer Frederick George Jackson, who had assumed that the Nansen expedition had perished, as there had been no word from it for three years. The two men stood for a few moments staring at each other. Then Jackson asked: “You are Nansen, aren’t you?”, to which Nansen replied, “Yes, I am Nansen.” Thereafter, Nansen and Johansen returned with the British expedition to north Norway, where they rejoined Sverdrup and the Fram in August 1896.
In 1898, Sverdrup again sailed on the Fram, as captain of the ship and leader of a four-year scientific expedition to northwestern Greenland and eastern Canada, an area on the globe then poorly mapped. He chose five scientists—a cartographer, a geologist, a botanist, a zoologist, and a medical doctor—and a crew of ten. Interestingly, one man that Sverdrup asked to join the crew was Hermann Smith-Johannsen, who could not accept as he wished to finish his engineering studies in Berlin. Later, Smith-Johannsen emigrated to Canada in 1907 and there became a well-known cross-country skier nicknamed “Jackrabbit.”
From the start, the expedition was successful. It explored Ellesmere Island and mapped an area of some 65,000 square miles in the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavit. Flora and fauna were observed and documented, and geological and oceanographic observations were recorded. Like polar expeditions of its time, it tested and proved the hardiness of its participants, not least of its leader. One night during the first winter, Sverdrup had imbibed a bit much in celebrating his 45th birthday and fell asleep outside his tent without his mittens, at a temperature of minus 35°C (-31°F). When he awoke, he just went back inside the tent and continued sleeping, apparently completely uninjured.
The expedition was comprehensively documented in Sverdrup’s own words in New Land. As described in the Prologue of Sverdrup’s Arctic Adventures, Sverdrup compiled the book in the winter of 1902-1903. With the diaries and charts of the expedition spread out in front of him, he dictating to a shorthand recorder provided by the Norwegian government, to speed publication of the book. Arctic historian Gerard Kenney considers Sverdrup’s second Fram expedition to be one of the greatest ever of polar exploration. In the Acknowledgements of Ships of wood and men of iron, he remarks that upon their return to Norway, the members of the expedition “came back with a record of geographic and scientific discovery, the richness of which is unparalleled in the annals of Arctic exploration.”
After the stunningly successful New Land expedition, Sverdrup continued to sail Arctic waters. One of his lesser known exploits was his search and rescue mission for the Imperial Russian Navy. In 1914-15 on the Eclipse (a Dundee whaler built in 1867),he sought two missing Russian Arctic Expeditions, one led by Greorgy Brusilov on the Santa Anna schooner and the other by Vladimir Rusanov on the Hercules ketch. In retrospect, the enormity of Sverdrup’s search is reflected in an account of survival in the Arctic written by the navigator of the ill-fated Brusilov expedition, who after having been at odds with his commander for months, left the Santa Anna in April 1914 and after a 235 mile trek to Cape Flora in Franz Josef Land, survived to write In the Land of White Death, an account of his ordeal published in Russian in 1917 (translated into German in 1925 and into English in 2000). Sverdrup’s rescue mission for the Imperial Navy was unsuccessful. The fates of the two expeditions remained unknown until many years later, when the Soviet Arctic Institute found relics of the Rusanov expedition in 1937 and explorers found remains of the Brusilov expedition in 2010.
Sverdrup went on his fourth and last voyage in Siberian waters in the summer of 1921. From the bridge of the Soviet ice-breaker Lenin, he led an experimental convoy of four cargo vessels from England to the Ob and Yenisei rivers, replicating a trade route proved feasible by Nansen in 1913 (the centennial of which was observed in 2013 by a Norwegian-Russian expedition, reported in Through Siberia with Nansen, Mountain Gazette, March 4, 2015). Sverdrup’s cargo convoy to the Kara ports and back again was a commercial success. In the in the years that followed, larger convoys were sent along the Arctic sea route that Sverdrup had helped pioneer.
In 1908, Sverdrup had bought Villa Walle on a hill overlooking the town of Sandvika, a southern suburb of Oslo. It had become his home on land, which he called “Homewood.” It was there he died on November 26, 1930.
Memorials to Sverdrup abound. A crater near the South Pole of the Moon is named Otto Sverdrup. The archipelago of the northern Queen Elizabeth Islands in the Arctic Ocean west of Ellesmere Island that he discovered and mapped on the second Fram expedition are is now known as the Sverdrup Islands. In mid 1957, Crown Prince (and later King) Olav unveiled a statue of him by sculptor Carl E. Paulsen in Steinkjer, where he lived in his youth. Sculptor Per Ung created two Otto Sverdrup works in bronze, a bust in Bindal, where he was born, and a statue in Sandvika, where he died. In 2004, upon the 150 anniversary of Sverdrup’s birth, Norway, Canada, and Greenland had a joint issue of commemorative Sverdrup stamps. One of the Royal Norwegian Navy’s five Fridtjof Nansen class frigates is named the HNoMS Otto Sverdrup. The LN-DYO, a Boeing 737-300 in the Norwegian (airline) fleet of passenger airliners featuring tailfin portraits of the famed, honors Otto Sverdrup.
Had men’s magazines existed in Sverdrup’s time, he probably would have been a regular feature on covers. With his fiery red beard, piercing blue eyes, and muscular build, he personified the powers needed to prevail in polar exploration. But just as time travel has yet to happen, that will not come about. Otto Sverdrup remains one of the greatest and most enigmatic of polar explorers.
Further reading (books mentioned in text):
Ships of Wood and Men of Iron: A Norwegian-Canadian Saga of Exploration in the High Arctic, by Gerard Kenney [Toronto, Natural Heritage Books, 2005, 139 page paperback, ISBN 978-1897045060].
New Land: Four Years in the Arctic Regions by Otto Sverdrup, translated by Ethel Harriet Heam, [original edition: London, Longmans, Green & Co., 1904, 2 volumes hardcover; republished 2014 by Cambridge University Press, 518 page paperback, ISBN 978-1108071109.]
Sverdrup’s Arctic Adventures, adapted with explanatory notes from Sverdrup’s New Land, by T.C. Fairley [London, Longmans, 1959, 305 page hardcover].
Otto Sverdrup, Aldri Rådløs (“Otto Sverdrup, Never baffled”), by Per Egil Hegge [Oslo, JM Stenersens Forlag, 1996, large format (9.6 x 12.4 inch), 264 page hardcover, ISBN 988-82-7201-198-6], the definitive Sverdrup biography, with a 52 page addendum by mariner Asbjørn F. Aastrøm (in Norwegian only). Author Hegge also published an equivalent biography of Fridtjof Nansen in 2002.
In the Land of White Death by Valerian Albanov [New York, Modern Library, 2000, 243 page paperback, ISBN 978-0679783619], the account of survival in the Arctic, by the navigator of the ill-fated Imperial Russian expedition led by Brusilov.
Persons mentioned in text (in addition to Otto Sverdrup, in alphabetical order by surname)
Asbjørn F. Aastrøm (1944- ), Norwegian Arctic mariner
Valerian Albanov (1881-1919), Russian navigator, one of two survivors of Brusilov expedition
Roald Amundsen (1872-1928), Norwegian polar explorer, first to South Pole.
Colin Archer (1832-1921), Scottish naval architect and shipbuilder, lived and worked in Larvik, Norway.
Samuel Johannessen Balto (1891-1921), Sami reindeer herder, on Greenland crossing with Nansen.
Step back to the Golden Age of English mountaineering when William Cecil Slingsby pioneered routes in Norway, including Storen, which was believed to be impossible to climb at the time. By M. Michael Brady
The golden age of mountaineering among English-speaking peoples arguably started in 1857 with the foundation of the first Alpine club in London, described as: “a club of English gentlemen devoted to mountaineering, first of all in the Alps, members of which have successfully addressed themselves to attempts of the kind on loftier mountains.” (The Nuttall Encyclopaedia 1907).
It was the Victorian Era, in which Englishmen of means and wanderlust explored countries abroad and upon returning published travelogues of their adventures. One of them was Edward Whymper (1840-1911), the English mountaineer who led the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 and included an account of it in Scrambles Amongst the Alps in the Years 1860-69 published in 1871 in London. (The book has since been republished several times, most recently in 2002 by National Geographic Books.)
News of Whymper’s exploits drew many to mountaineering, including a young Yorkshireman, William Cecil Slingsby (1849-1929), then a teenager with a penchant for hiking and outdoor life. He was the oldest of six children, born into the Slingsby family that owned and operated the Carleton Mill, built in 1861 for spinning cotton.
At age 23 in 1872, Slingsby embarked upon his first expedition to Norway, in which he made a circuit of the central mountain cordillera. In the Hurrungane Range of the Jotunheimen Mountains, he caught sight of Storen, also known as Store Skagastølstind (“Big Skagastøl Peak”), then said to be unclimbable. He took the peak’s reputation as a challenge; he would be the first to climb Storen.
The mountaineering challenge of Storen was quite like that of the Matterhorn that had faced Whymper. Both peaks are massive pyramids with similar prominences (minimum vertical climb from col), 3,310 feet for Storen compared to a bit more, 3419 feet for the Matterhorn. Both peaks are the only ones in their massifs that on all approaches require what now is called technical climbing. Only their summit elevations differ: 7,890 feet for Storen, compared to 14,692 feet for the Matterhorn. The 6,802-foot difference in summit elevation reflects a topographical dissimilarity: The mountain chains of Norway rise from sea level, while those of the Alps rise from high continental strata. Save for acclimatization to higher elevations, climbing in Norway can be as challenging as climbing in the Alps.
In 1874, Slingsby returned to Norway, with a crammed itinerary of climbs including one first ascent. Upon returning from the mountains via coastal steamer, he met educator Emanuel Mohn (1842-1891), known for his writings on and illustrations of mountains. The two men found that they had much in common, particularly their quests for first ascents.
In 1875, Slingby returned again, to the Jotunheimen range, with his sister Edith, who became the first woman to climb Glittertind, Norway’s second loftiest peak with a summit elevation of 8,087 feet. At Mohn’s suggestion, he described her experience in an article, “An English Lady in the Jotunheimen”, published in The Norwegian Trekking Association’s yearbook that year. In the winter of 1875-76, Slingsby and Mohn wrote each other to plan a major climbing effort the following summer.
In July 1876, Slingsby and Mohn met in Oslo and traveled by carriage to Bygdin Lake in the Jotunheimen Range where they met up with Kunt Lykken (1831-1891), a local farmer, reindeer herder, and mountain guide. The three then spent five days making five first ascents, a record that still stands in Norwegian mountaineering. On July 21, they set out to be the first to climb Soren. The weather was foul, but they were successful, with Slingsby climbing the final stretch to the summit solo, as he was more skilled in rock climbing than Mohn or Lykken.
Thereafter, Slingsby returned to the Jotunheimen five times. In 1888 and 1899, he climbed in Northern Norway. In 1900 he again climbed Storen, and in 1903-1912 he again climbed in Northern Norway. In all, he is credited with 50 first ascents, the last in 1912. His zeal for climbing in Norway was matched by his ability to get along in the country. As a Yorkshireman, he felt a common bond with Norway that stretched centuries back to the days when Vikings raided eastern English shores. In the course of his many visits, he became fluent in Landsmål, the language of the rural districts he frequented; now called Nynorsk, it’s one of the two official languages of the country.
In 1921 he visited Norway twice. On the second visit, his last in Norway, he was accompanied by his daughter Eleanor, an enthusiastic climber who had founded the predecessor of the Pinnacle Club, a women’s climbing association in the UK. That year in Oslo, King Haakon 7 granted Slingsby an audience.
In addition to his climbing accomplishments, Slingsby documented what he did, in more than 30 articles in the Alpine Journal, the Norwegian Trekking Association Yearbooks, the Climber’s Club Journal and the Norwegian Club Yearbooks. His book, Norway, the Northern Playground, was first published in 1904 in Edinburgh and since has been republished several times, most recently in 2010 by Nabu Press of Charleston, South Carolina.
After his last climbs in Norway, Slingsby continued climbing in the UK, and when well into his 70s, was climbing on Gimmer Crag and Pillar Rock in the English Lake District, known for its challenging rock climbs. Sports were his life, to its end. On his deathbed at age 81, he looked out through a window to see boys playing cricket outside. A boy at bat swung well and sent the ball for a six (in cricket, the equivalent of a home run with the bases loaded in baseball). “Well played, well played, my boy!” he cheered. Those six words were his last.
After his death, The Times of London observed in his obituary that “For a mountaineer and explorer, he had the ideal equipment—a magnificent physique, exceptional hardihood, grace and agility, an unerring judgment, coolness and courage.”
In his native England, he is remembered along with other Slingsbys of history, geography, literature, and business. There’s a Slingsby Day, commemorating the execution in 1658 of Yorkshire landowner Sir Henry Slingsby for his adherence to the Royalist cause during the English Civil War (1642-1651). In North Yorkshire, there’s a small village named Slingsby. American-born, British naturalized poet TS Elliott (1888-1965) wrote a poem about Miss Helen Slingsby. English naval administrator Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) mentions a Slingsby in his famed diaries. Today, Slingsby Aviation makes hovercraft, two of which appeared in Die Another Day, a James Bond movie released in 2002.
In Norway, Slingsby is regarded to be the father of Norwegian mountaineering. Two topographic features bear his name: Slingsby Glacier, below Storen, and Slingsby Peak in the Jotunheimen, formerly Nordre Urdanostind (“North Urdanos Peak”), of which he made the first ascent on July 10, 1876. The Norsk Fjellmuseum (“Norwegian Mountain Museum”) in the village of Lom, just north of the Jotunheim Mountain range has a modest collection of Slingsby memorabilia, including many of his diaries, notebooks, sketchbooks, paintings and articles on climbing in the Alps and in Norway.
Ever wonder where some of those terms you use while climbing come from? Our European correspondent is here with some mountaineering etymology for you. By M. Michael Brady
The lingo of mountaineering reflects the pursuit of it in many cultures. Many mountaineering terms in English result from the intermingling of languages over time, as with French. The word “avalanche” is a loanword directly from French. It first appeared in English in 1769, in “A Tour in Scotland” by Welsh naturalist Thomas Pennant (1726-1798). The adoption of many other terms has been more arbitrary. The word “rappel” is an intriguing example.
Like “avalanche”, “rappel” is a loanword from French. But English adopted just two of its eight meanings. Until the mid 19th century, “rappel” in English meant the ceremonial roll of drums to summon soldiers to arms. In 1931, an article in The Times (UK) Literary Supplement added the second meaning of roping down by mentioning the rappel as a technique used in climbs of Mont Blanc in France. With time, the first meaning apparently fell into disuse, as today it’s not in the desk edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), though it survives in the Complete OED. Today, in American as well as British English, “rappel” is used only in its mountaineering sense.
Not so in French. Today, the mountaineering use of the word is the seventh of its eight meanings. The first and most prominent use of the word “rappel” is as the imperative form of the French transitive verb rappeler, which means “to remember”. It appears alongside roads on rectangular regulatory plates under speed limit signs to remind drivers of the maximum allowable speeds within a speed control zones.
In the timeline of mountaineering, rappelling is French. It was first done in 1876 by Chamonix guide Jean Charlet-Straton (1840-1925) in a failed solo attempt of Petit Dru, a needle in the Mont Blanc massif. After several more unsuccessful solo attempts, in 1879 he attained the summit in a party of three with two other Chamonix guides.
By the turn of the last century, rappelling had become a standard mountaineering technique, called abseiling by British climbers, after abseilen, a descriptive term used by German-speaking climbers. In 1911, German climber and inventor Otto Herzog (1888-1964) first used a “carabiner”, so respelled in English, from the German Karabinerhaken, a descriptive term for a snap link based on a rifle hook. In turn, the use of the carabiner was linked to the first invention of the piton by Austrian guide Hans Fiechtl (1884-1925) and the testing of it by German climber Hans Dülfer (1892-1915).
Other German words followed into English in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most prominently two loanwords, “rucksack” in 1866 and “kletterschuh” in 1920. The adoption of the word “kletterschuh”, a special rock climbing shoe with a cloth or felt sole, reflected the travels of the mountaineers of the time, as it was sometimes described as a variant of scarpetti, an equivalent Italian shoe with rope soles first used in the Dolomites. Both terms remain in English today.
The languages of the British Isles also contributed terms to mountaineering lingo. In mountaineering, the most familiar one perhaps is “cairn”, the term for a pile of stones used to mark a trail. It’s a Gaelic word that first appeared in English in 1535, in a description of a memorial pyramid of rough stones in Scotland. And there’s at least one instance of an Englishman inadvertently promoting the use of a loanword in the geography of mountains.
In 1921, upon first seeing a huge cirque on Mount Everest, English mountaineer George Leigh Mallory (1886-1924) named it the “Western Cwm”, with “”cwm” being the Welsh word describing a bowl-shaped hollow formed by a glacier. That brought cwm into the lingo of mountaineering, to compete with synonyms “cirque”, a loanword from French, and corrie” a loanword from a Gaelic term used to describe terrain in the Scottish Highlands.
As English has adopted words from other languages, it also has contributed to them, sometimes in odd ways. Thanks to the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400), English speakers are familiar with many ribald words, such as “fart.” But before Chaucer’s time, in the mix of English with Nordic and Teutonic languages, “fart” also meant “to send forth.” It was Chaucer that gave the word the meaning of sending wind forth from the anus, but there were other meanings still evident today. In modern Norwegian, the word fart” translates to “speed” or “travel”, as in sakte fart (“low speed”) that’s used at all elevations on road and waterway signs advising vehicles and vessels to slow down. That usage has had a side effect. In the port of Kragerø in Telemark County, an old footbridge at the entrance to the harbor that has a “SAKTE FART” warning sign to boats on the underlying waterway has become one of the more popular city scenes for young English-speaking tourists taking photos of themselves.
Photos Credits: #1 and #2 by M. Michael Brady. Canton of Côte Vermeille coastal highway, Mediterranean France, April 2015. #3 Petit Dru in Mont Blanc Massif, Chamonix, France; rappelling first done here in 1876. By Eturisto at French Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons free documentation license,
The ancient tradition of shepherds taking their flocks up to the hills and living with them is dead in the U.S., but can “transhumance” hold on where it has been practiced for generations in Europe?
By M. Michael Brady
Shepherds have tended their flocks and herds for centuries. In the lingo of agriculture, what they do is part of pastoralism. In countries with mountains, pastoralism includes transhumance (loan word from French), the seasonal movement of livestock that exploits differences in climate with elevation, with herds and flocks moving up to high elevation mountain pastures in summer and down to lowlands in winter. In countries where livestock farming has been industrialized, pastoralism has nearly died out. But it has survived elsewhere, until recently including the USA.
In 2001, Montana rancher Lawrence Allested followed the practice of generations of his Norwegian American family. Assisted by two hired hands, he took his sheep 200 miles into the Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains on a federal grazing permit. In so doing he became the last person to practice transhumance in Montana, an event culturally so significant that a documentary was made on it. The film was directed by Lucien Castaing-Taylor, an anthropologist at Harvard University and produced by his wife, Ilisa Barbash. After eight years of cinematic work, it premiered at the New York Film Festival and at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula. Entitled Sweetgrass, after the name of the county in which much of it was shot, this is a film to see and savor; view the official trailer here.
Rancher Allested’s penchant for pastoralism most likely is ancestral, as in Norway, pastoralism is as old as agriculture. The Norwegian languages (there are two) reflect that in specific words, including seter, or its variants sæter and støl, which is a herder’s cabin, and budeia, meaning “milkmaid at a seter”. Tales of life at a seter are deeply ingrained in the folklore of the country, and the best-selling Norwegian post card of all time is Seterjentens fridag (“Milkmaid’s holiday”), featuring a black-and-white photo taken in 1932. More than two million have been sold. The Maihaugen outdoor folk museum at Lillehammer (site of the 1994 Olympic Winter Games) has a collection of seter buildings and a regular program on their use.
The real-life story of the photo on the Seterjentens fridag postcard confirms folklore. Milkmaid Anne Skår (1913-1991) was born at Borgund in Lærdal in Sogn og Fjordane County on Norway’s west coast. At age 12, she began assisting at a summer pasture farm. At age 19, she was a qualified milkmaid working one at Galdestølen, on the road in Mørkedalen on the way up to the Hemsedal massif. The work was hard, the days long and the pay low, giving a monthly salary of just NOK 25, equivalent to $115 in today’s money.
Like other farms of the time, Galdestølen literally was on the road, which ran between the cowshed on one side and the farmhouse on the other side. One day, a sow kept at the farm stubbornly stood in the middle of the road, refusing to move. Traffic on the road was negligible, but milkmaid Anne knew that the sow couldn’t just stand there, blocking the road. Persuasive calls and pushing didn’t budge the animal. So Anne tried the ultimate trick of jumping on its back, to ride it like a horse. A tourist staying in a nearby cabin saw and photographed the curious sight of a milkmaid riding a sow. The rest is history.
The Galdestølen summer pasture farm where the Seterjentens fridag photo was taken now is abandoned, but at this writing the buildings of it still stand. It’s in Sogn og Fjordane County, just to the southeast of Riksvei 52 (“National road 52”) between Borlaug on the E16 highway and Breidstolen to the southeast, GPS coordinates N 61.04350, E 8.00722.
Of the other countries that still practice it, transhumance is most widespread and arguably most vivacious in France. The word comes from French, which also had the adjective transhumant and the noun transhumer, a person involved in the practice of it. The routes followed by sheep herders are called drailles, the oldest of which date from the Neolithic Period, also called the New Stone Age. There’s some evidence that the drailles originally were the tracks of animals followed in their migrations between lowlands and mountains. If so, transhumance predates recorded history.
Today transhumance is part of rural life in several regions of France, most prominently those including or near the major cordillera, the Alps and the Pyrenees. Throughout these regions, transhumance is celebrated when it happens, often with village festivals that have become tourist attractions. Three prominent ones in 2015:
In the early 20th century, Fridtjof Nansen set off on a journey through the Arctic to open up the Northeast Passage. His scientific observations made then may be more relevant now than ever.
By M. Michael Brady
On Tuesday, August 5, 1913, explorer, scientist and later Nobel laureate Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) set off from Tromsø, Norway to open a Northern Sea Route across the Eurasian continent. He was on board the Correct, a passenger freighter chartered by Norwegian businessman Jonas Lied carrying a cargo of cement bound for the city of Krasnoyarsk in Krasnoyarsk Krai of Siberia for the ongoing building of the Trans-Siberian Railway.
For centuries, explorers had sought Northern Passages, to the East as well as to the West along the northern coast of North America. Unlike his daring Arctic expeditions of the late 19th century that had tested the limits of human strength and endurance, the 1913 journey was for him a vacation during which he made scientific and other observations while assisting businessman Lied in opening up a regular trade connection with Siberia. The result from prolific author Nansen was a book, Through Siberia, a benchmark account of the geography and indigenous peoples of Siberia.
Nansen is widely known as an explorer. Yet in the sciences he is remembered as one of the great minds that contributed to our understanding of the globe, particularly in oceanography, his principal pursuit. His 1893-96 expedition in an attempt to reach the North Pole is regarded to be one of the major achievements of the heroic age of polar exploration that started in the late 19th century and ended with the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917, led by Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922). That said, Nansen’s North Pole expedition principally was a scientific undertaking. The results of it had a lasting impact on the sciences of the Arctic.
One of Nansen’s seminal scientific findings was triggered in late August 1893, as he sailed the purpose-built Fram polar ship off the Taymyr Peninsula near the Nordenskiöld Arctic Archipelago. Suddenly, the ship came almost to a dead stop, though its engine was at full speed. The Fram had encountered what Nansen called “dead water”, which as he wrote is “a peculiar phenomenon that occurs where a surface layer of fresh water rests upon the salt water of the sea, and this fresh water is carried along with the ship, gliding on the heavier sea beneath as if on a fixed foundation”. It was the first-ever such explanatory hypothesis, though dead water had long been experienced by fishermen in the Norwegian fjords, which are bodies of salt water sometimes also fed by fresh water from glacier runoff. Later research by others proved that Nansen’s hypothesis was correct, and now dead water is fairly well understood.
Scrolling ahead a century to the turn of the Millennium, the Arctic has changed significantly since Nansen’s journeys there. Though it may seem remote and thereby of lesser interest to people living at lower latitudes, the Arctic plays an increasingly vital role in the health of the globe. Just how so concerns the scientists from 20 institutes working at FRAM, the High North Research Center for Climate and the Environment in Tromsø. The eighth annual Arctic Frontiers international conference was held this year. The Arctic Council of eight countries with territory within the Arctic Circle has become the international clearinghouse for debate and discussion on Arctic matters. A scholarly journal in English, the Arctic Review on Law and Politics, now is in its sixth year of publication, and this year the Eighth Polar Law Symposium will be held in Fairbanks and Anchorage.
Vast deposits of oil and gas have been found under Arctic waters, though the recent fall in oil prices has set a stop to thoughts of extraction due to the costs and risks of it in the extreme environment. Perhaps more important, global warming has opened Arctic waters permitting ships to sail the Northeast Passage about two summer months a year.
The relatively recent surge of academic, cultural, and commercial interest in the Arctic raises the intriguing question of what Nansen might have made of it all were he to see the Arctic of today. In 2012, Øyvind Ravna, a professor at the University of Tromsø, speculated that there was one certain way to answer that question: celebrate the centennial of Nansen’s 1913 expedition by replicating it. His suggestion gained support, most encouragingly from the two universities of the High North, the University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway and the Northern Federal University at Arkangelsk, Russia. Research institutes as well as businessmen joined in, reflecting and extending the multidisciplinary purposes of the 1913 journey. It was to be the largest ever joint Norwegian-Russian expedition.
On Monday, August 5, 2013, to the day a hundred years since Nansen had departed from Tromsø, the 20-some strong Norwegian contingent of the expedition team including Prof. Ravna and led b y Jan Gunnar Winter, Director of the Norwegian Polar Institute, left Tromsø by air to fly southeastward to Arkhangelsk to join the Russian contingent and board the Professor Molcanov, an ice-strengthened Russian research ship, to retrace Nansen’s wake through the Arctic Ocean to Siberia. The Norwegians had chosen to fly the first leg of the journey, principally to avoid the delay of customs clearance at sea.
After nearly three weeks covering more than 3000 miles, eastward through the Barents Sea and the Kara Sea and then southward up the Yenisei, Siberia’s largest river, the journey ended at Krasnoyarsk, as had that of 1913. On the way, the international team of experts observed changes since Nansen’s time in the Arctic climate, the landscape and its peoples. Few of their observations could more vividly describe the effect of global warming of the Arctic than the brief anecdote of team members sunning themselves on deck on August 11, as the Professor Molcanov glided effortlessly across the ice-free Kara Sea, at a point where Nansen had been obliged on the same date to change course a century earlier due to impenetrable sea ice. The ethnographic observations are as poignant. Industrial pollution has ruined the traditional grazing lands of the once nomadic Enets south of the industrial center of Norilsk. Now numbering just 200, they risk extinction. The same fate awaits the slightly more numerous Kets, the only people still speaking a language of the Yeniseian family, living further south up the Yenisei River.
Ravna has collected these and myriad other observations in a book illustrated with his color photos as well as vintage black-and-white photos of the 1913 expedition, many of them previously unpublished. He’s the right man for that task in more ways than one. He was born, brought up and now works north of the Arctic Circle, in Finnmark, Norway’s northernmost county that borders on Russia and has a large subpopulation of the once nomadic Sami reindeer-herding people. Like many residents of Finnmark, he is of Sami heritage. In addition to his native Norwegian, he is fluent in English and proficient in Russian and Sami. His wife, Zoia Vylka Ravna is of a Nenets reindeer herding family, born in western Sibera and educated in St. Petersberg. They met in 1995, when he was working on a book on the indigenous peoples of Siberia, My Russian North (published in 1996).
This book is his eighth photo documentary work. As the editor of the Arctic Review on Law and Politics, he has an in-depth familiarity with the subject matter. He’s a freelance photographer (His photo of Norwegian reindeer herders illustrated “Dateline Europe: Norway’s Snowmobile Laws Headed to Court”, Mountain Gazette, January 6, 2015). That said, this landmark book may be the last of its sort for a while. The unrest in the Ukraine of 2014 has altered relations between Russia and the rest of Europe. The journey that was possible in 2013 would have been difficult in 2014 and even more so now. So until the war rhetoric subsides, Nansen’s vision of Siberia as “The land of the future” may remain a dream.
Between the Arctic and Scandinavia, this island beckons climbers with vast, untrodden terrain.
By Michael Brady
Svalbard is an Arctic archipelago about halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. It has the world’s northernmost permanent population, mostly in two settlements, the administrative center of Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund, a research station. It recent history has an American connection: Longyearbyen was established by and named for John Munro Longyear (1850-1922), a developer from Michigan and the principal founder of the Arctic Coal Company that developed and started mining coal fields on Spitzbergen Island in 1905 to 1916.
Today Longyearbyen is a thriving town with a population of more than 2,000. Research and tourism have become key business sectors. The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), the Global Seed Vault, and SvalSat, the world’s largest ground station serving polar-orbiting meteorological and earth observation satellites are located there. Ships call at Longyearbyen, and there’s scheduled airline service between its airport and the Norwegian mainland. Longyearbyen may be the world’s most wired community, as it’s connected to the mainland by broadband submarine cables. Everyday life there is much that of towns on the mainland. Outside town, there are few signs of civilization, as Svalbard is a vast Arctic wilderness, 60% covered by glaciers. Mountains and fjords abound, and there are seven national parks and 23 nature reserves. The climate definitely is Arctic, though considerably milder than other land areas at the same latitude. Understandably, outdoor sports are popular, particularly hiking, mountaineering, and ice caving.
In mountaineering, Svalbard arguably is unique in having more untrodden terrain than comparable mountain areas elsewhere. In April 2007, a mixed Slovenian, Swiss and German climbing team made first ascents in seven climbing areas of the Atomfjella chain on Spitzbergen Island (further reading), yet there remain many yet-to-be-done first ascents of routes and summits.
The name Atomfjella (“Atom Mountain”) reflects a penchant for naming the mountains in the archipelago after the terms of the natural sciences. There are mountains named after the Electron, the Neutron and the element Radium. The second highest peak in the archipelago, Perriertoppen (“Perrier Peak”) is named after French zoologist Edmund Perrier (1844-1921), and the highest, Newtontoppen (“Newton Peak”) is named after English mathematician Isaac Newton (1642-1726).
Newtontopen on the northeast coast of Spitzbergen island not only has the loftiest summit. It is the largest massif, with its base is at sea level. So its prominence, the minimum height of climb to the summit is the same as the summit elevation, 1,717 meters (5,633 ft.). That makes it an ultra prominent peak, or “Ultra”, designating a prominence of at least 1500 meters (4920 ft.). There are more than 1500 Ultras in the world, but some famed peaks, including the Eiger and the Matterhorn in the Alps, are not Ultras because they rise from high-elevation cols.
In contrast, McDonald Peak in the Mission Mountains of Montana is an Ultra, because it has a prominence of 1722 meters (5650 ft.), about the same as that of Newtontoppen. In that topographical statistic lies a clue to an advantage of climbing in the archipelago. Climbs in the USA start from high elevation plateaus or cols; the key col for McDonald peak is at an elevation of 4180 ft. But summit climbs in Svalbard start from sea level or at elevations of a few hundred feet. So you don’t need altitude acclimatization to climb.
There’s one challenge in Svalbard that’s not found in comparable mountaineering areas elsewhere. Polar bears, of which there are some 3000 in the archipelago, more than the human population. The polar bear is the world’s largest land carnivore, and humans are intruders in its traditional habitat. A polar bear will attack without warning. Accordingly, people who go on extended trips outside town are required to register and are advised to take precautions including carrying and knowing how to use a big-game rifle.
Climbs are best in summer, when there’s daylight round the clock, and least practical in midwinter during the polar night that lasts from mid November to early February. This year it may be wise to avoid the week of Friday, March 20, when Svalbard will be one of two places (the other is the Faroe Islands) where you can stand on land to watch the total solar eclipse (further reading) that day. But if you want to watch the eclipse, book travel and lodging early, as crowds are expected.
Further reading and viewing:
Svalbard Guide by Pål Hermansen, 288 page paperback, German edition 2008 by Travel Media GmbH, ISBN 978-3930232598 (listed by Amazon.com), English edition 2013 by Gaidaros Forlag, ISBN 978-8280771551.
Svalbard Atomfjella new routes in Spitzbergen climbing expedition, by Gregor Kresal, on Planet Mountain website , selectable in Italian or English.
A battle is brewing over the increasing use of snowmobiles in Norway’s Arctic lands.
By M. Michael Brady
Like a character behind the scenes in a drama, Norway has long played an unheralded role on the snowmobile scene. Arguably the first-ever snowmobile was a motorized sledge designed and built by English carmaker Wolseley Motors for Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated South Pole expedition of 1910-1913. At the advice of Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, in March 1910 Scott took his team to train for the expedition and test its gear, including the Wolseley motorized sledge, to the Fefor mountain hotel near Vinstra, Norway.
On its first test run at Fefor, the motorized sledge functioned for about 15 minutes before its drive axle fractured. The incident was an ominous forecast of what was to come. Scott took three sledges to Antarctica. One fell overboard through the ice as it was unloaded from the Terra Nova expedition ship. The other two broke down and were abandoned after the first 50 miles of the march to the Pole. In retrospect, the motorized sledges had been a risky solution, as steel made with the technology of the time was ill suited to extremely cold weather.
Three decades later, early in World War II, English inventor Geoffrey Pyke proposed a tracked snow vehicle to be used by the Devil’s Brigade, an elite American-Canadian commando unit in attacking German forces in occupied Norway. The proposed vehicle became the M29 Weasel, designed and built by Studebaker. Logistics changed and Weasels were not used on commando missions in Norway. But the more than 15,000 that were made saw widespread service on snow.
Meanwhile, in Valcourt, Québec, in 1926 at age 19, Joseph-Armand Bombardier opened his own garage. At the time, owners stored their cars in winter, because small-town roads were not plowed. With few cars to repair, garage-owner mechanic Bombardier spent his time developing a tracked vehicle that would facilitate winter travel. The result was a seven-passenger snow vehicle, with B for Bombardier, designated the B7, first sold in the winter of 1937-37. The next development was a 12 passenger snowbus, designated the B12 that was rolled out in 1941. Most sales thereafter were of military versions, as Canada had entered Word War II in September 1939. Yet during the war years, more than 200 civilian versions were sold to special permit holders.
After the War, civilian sales resumed. But in 1948, the government of Québec decided to plow small-town roads in winter. Local demand for the B12 declined, but sales elsewhere went up. The B12 and its subsequent improved versions served as an ambulance, a bus, a post office mail van, a delivery van, and a school bus. It also was exported, significantly to Scandinavia, where the climate was similar and many rural roads were not (and still are not) plowed in winter. One of the first customers was JVB of Norway, a bus owner-operator that provided over-snow services on routes on winter-closed roads in the Jotunheimen cordillera (Further reading).
Today, JVB has twelve meticulously-maintained B12 snowbusses in operation, the largest fleet in Norway, if not the world. The oldest vehicle was made in 1952, the newest in 1976, two years before production of the B12 was discontinued. The fleet has become a tourist attraction in its own right, drawing veteran vehicle enthusiasts from near and far to enjoy the thrill of speeding across a snowscape accompanied by the deep roar of a 5.7-liter V8 motor.
As the B12 snowbus was carving its niche in the history of the snowmobile, Mr. Bombardier correctly envisioned a demand for a smaller, lighter snow vehicle that could carry one or two people. Many designs were tried and tested with the result in 1959 of mass production of the Ski-doo, a true snowmobile in today’s sense of the word. The appearance of the Ski-doo created a demand for snowmobiles that in turn encouraged other companies to make them. By the early 1960s, there were half a dozen snowmobile makers in Scandinavia, and by the 1970s there were more than 140 makers in North America. The expanding market was cut short by the oil crisis of 1973-74 and by low snow winters in the mid 1970s in North America as well as Europe. Company closures and mergers followed. Today five large snowmobile producers remain: Arctic Cat (USA / Japan), Lynx (Finland), Polaris (USA), Ski-doo (Canada) and Yamaha (Japan / USA). Bombardier, the parent company of Lynx as well as of Ski-doo, no longer makes snowmobiles but has become a major transportation products company that makes both planes and trains.
From their first introduction, snowmobiles found utilitarian uses in Norway, as by high-tension line and telecommunications line maintenance crews, emergency services, and by the Sámi*, the traditional nomadic reindeer herders of the far north who saw the snowmobile as a key to combining the comforts of modern living with their otherwise tough lives. And just as the JVB bus company had bought snowbusses to serve routes closed by snow in winter, snowmobiles became winter taxis, delivery vans and transport shuttles to remote cabins and lodges.
The influx of snowmobiles across the country alarmed environmentalists with good reason. Save for the agricultural lands of its south, the ecology of Norway is fragile. Timberline varies from an elevation of about 4,000 feet above sea level in the Jotunheimen Mountains of the middle of the country down to sea level itself in the far north. The flora and fauna above timberline are susceptible to damage from human intrusions and accordingly are threatened by the increasing numbers of snowmobiles as well as ATVs and other motorized vehicles. So in 1977 a national law was enacted to restrict the recreational uses of snowmobiles and other mechanized transport in wildlands. Utilitarian, work-related uses including snowbus transport on winter-closed roads and Sámi in reindeer herding are excepted from the law (see further reading).
Nonetheless, local and now national political pressure is being exerted to amend the 1977 law. In 2014, the present progressive-conservative Government (Parliamentary system of Norway, a constitutional monarchy) recommended that the law be changed to allow local authorities to permit the building of trails and facilities for recreational snowmobiling. Environmentalists were aghast. The Norwegian Trekking Association, equivalent to the Sierra Club in the U.S., funded a transport study of the impact of recreational snowmobiling. It forecast an increase of more than 80 percent in the number of snowmobiles in use, from 74,000 today to 130,000 or more by the year 2021. Search and rescue services were equally alarmed. According to Ministry of Finance figures, to date the 38 deaths in snowmobile accidents have cost the country more than a billion Norwegian Kroner ($ 140 million).
Despite these figures, the pro-repeal forces are vociferous. Understandably, the snowmobile business sector argues to promote its growth. Likewise, local authorities may see snowmobiling as a means of increasing tourism income. The Norwegian Trekking Association study also included a local opinion poll of the country’s 428 municipalities which indicated that more than a third of them were prepared to permit facilities for recreational snowmobiling.
In December 2014, just before this article is posted online, a significant legal complication has come to light. In an amendment of 1992 that added article 112 to the Norwegian Constitution of 1814, environmental aspects have priority in evaluating uses of the outdoors. So the ongoing debate on recreational snowmobiling may be decided by a legal interpretation of constitutional law. Whatever the outcome, Norway may well become the only country in which recreational snowmobiling has been debated before high court.
Regulations and guidelines on snowmobile use, most in Norwegian but many in English, published by the Norwegian Environmental Agency, the government entity responsible for information to the public on environmental matters.
Lineage of Bombardier snowmobiles and vehicles, including the B12 snowbus, exhibited at Musée J. Armand Bombardier (Website selectable in English or in French), 1001, avenue J.A. Bombardier, Valcourt, Québec JOE 2LO, Canada, Tel: 450 532-5300.
JVB bus company (pages in English) and videos of snowbusses on Jotunheimen mountain routes (Norwegian text only; no voice in soundtracks)