An exclusive expedition to the world’s most northerly volcanic island
Join at Ísafjörður, Iceland
Leave from Ísafjörður, Iceland
The remote Arctic island of Jan Mayen (70°59′N 8°32′W) is of Norwegian dominion. It lies 400 nautical miles north east of Iceland, 240 nautical miles east of Greenland and 500 nautical miles west of the Norwegian mainland. Its most northerly point is about the same latitude as Nordkapp on the Norwegian coast. Only 18 people live on the island as crew of the Olonkin station (Loran-C, meteorology etc). The view of the north island is dominated by the active volcano, Beerenberg (2,277m), which had its last eruption in 1985.
An expedition to Jan Mayen can be challenging. First of all, even if the dates we choose normally give us the best option for good weather, the North Atlantic can be stormy any time of the year. Secondly, the landing on the island can be a challenge as there are no good harbours and there is often heavy surf on the beaches. But for those looking for an exciting expedition to an exclusive destination visited each year by only a handful of tourists, this is it!
Aurora has been exploring this majestic island for many years and is probably the most experienced operator of trips to Jan Mayen, with numerous expeditions under its belt and many successful ascents of Beerenberg. Each year they undertake exclusive expeditions to this spectacular place with only a few seats available. This is true exploration—the final itinerary only gets decided upon after setting sail from the Ísafjörður harbour. We take into account weather and other conditions and always look for the best possible option. What is assured is that each trip will be a little bit different. The following description gives an idea of how a day-to-day plan might take shape.
We will sail from Ísafjörður on the North West coast of Iceland on our sturdy expedition sailboat Aurora, cross the Arctic sea and make landfall in Kvalross bukta (Walrus bay) on NW Jan Mayen. When we arrive in Jan Mayen, the group will move to a base camp on the island and get ready to spend a week exploring the island´s fantastic landscape.
For the hardy mountaineers it may be an option to climb Mt Beerenberg (2,277m), the world’s most northerly active volcano. This volcano last erupted in 1984. The climb can be serious Arctic mountaineering depending on weather and conditions on the mountain. Normally it is technically easy, but it will be necessary to rope up on the glacier.
The trip will conclude with a sail back to Ísafjörður where our guests will catch their flight back to Reykjavík. This is an expedition, suitable for anyone in search of a true adventure off the beaten path.
The sailboat Aurora is a 60-foot expedition sailboat that can accommodate 12 people—10 guests and 2 crewmen. It serves as our movable ‘backcountry hut’ and awaits us at the end of each day’s excursions with gourmet meals, warm and comfortable bunks, and friendly conversation.
Day to day programme
The expedition sailboat Aurora departs from Ísafjörður at 7pm, weather permitting. The sailing time to Jan Mayen is 2-2.5 days. If the weather is not in our favour we will delay our departure and shelter in the beautiful fjords of the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, where we will do some hiking and/or kayaking.
At sea, en route to Jan Mayen. We will keep a sharp lookout for various species of whales such as humpbacks, fin whales and bottlenose whale. Also, white beaked dolphins are likely to join us and play around the bow of the boat.
Even if Jan Mayen is often covered in clouds it is possible that we may see the 2,277m-high top of Beerenberg from a good distance – even sticking up above the low clouds. We will arrive along the south island (“Sør-Jan”) and pass the “Seven skerries” rocks, made famous when the legendary British sailor and mountaineer Bill Tillman ran his ex Bristol pilot cutter Mischief on them in 1968. While we cruise along the coast we will get a good view of the landscape and some of our proposed destinations.
Our aim is to anchor in Kvalrossbukta and, depending on sea conditions, we may spend one more night on the boat or start moving our gear ashore to establish basecamp. We will have one mess-tent and a few two-man tents to sleep in.
This bay was used by whalers in the 17th century and we will take due notice of the fact that all historic artifacts are protected by law and should not be disturbed. We are allowed to use limited amounts of driftwood for camp fires and this we will certainly do.
Aurora has done one to three trips to Jan Mayen almost every year since 2007 and we have climbed the beautiful volcano Beerenberg during most of them. In 2010 the Norwegian authorities declared most of the island a nature reserve. Now it is not allowed to land or camp in the reserve and this makes ascents of the mountain very challenging. There is a long hike from Kvalross bay to where the climb can start and then a full day climb on the mountain. All this has to be done without any intermediate camps – no camping is allowed on the mountain. On this trip we will focus on hikes and exploration of this wonderful remote volcanic island and a possible climb of Beerenberg can be an added bonus for experienced mountaineers.
Today we explore Kvalrossbukta and surroundings. The Jan Mayen station uses Kvalrossbukta to land supplies and have some small buildings in the bay. Less visible but relatively easy to find are remains from the whale hunting period of the 1600s. Between large quantities of driftwood, we can spot old whale bones and on the north side of the bay the rest of the station stands out of the sand. Beneath the mountain in the south a single cross marks the burial place from the first over-wintering on the island in the 1600s. The seven Dutch whalers that were guarding the facilities against the English died before their relief party arrived in the spring. A small run-down hut was used as an observation post during WW2.
“Kvalrossen” (the Walrus) is a steep cliff that separates Kvalrossbukta from Haugenstranda (Haugen beach). It only takes about half an hour to climb it and there you are rewarded with a tremendous view to the north and the south. This cliff is home to northern fulmar, guillemots and auks. If you run into the Arctic tern or great skua you should watch your head (!). Face them and throw up your arms when they dive towards you.
We´ll walk down to the great Haugenstranda and towards the strange looking pinnacles of “Brielle-Tower” and “Katten” (the Cat).
Over the Karl-Stephan peak to the Olonkin station. The central mountain on the island offers an outstanding view.
We´ll walk up the hill behind the Walrus and onto a gradually ascending plateau on the middle of the island. On the way we will pass the strange crater of “Holtanna”. There is a fantastic view all the way but it opens up for real when we climb the last bit to the top (551m). The summit gives a good overview of the whole island and areas that we may want to visit in the next few days. Sometimes the view is obstructed by low clouds or fog, but often we will climb above the fog and into the sunshine higher up!
Hike over “Pukkelryggen” and “Danielsen-crater” to “Gamlemetten” and back.
Jan Mayen is only three kilometres wide in the middle and there it is mostly sand. A small mountain ridge stands between the sandy beaches. We will follow the road to “Blåsåsen” and then follow the mountain ridge. You’ll enjoy a good view along the whole route. The highest point is Danielsens crater (279m).
On the way down we will walk past the remains of a German WW2 Focke-Wulf airplane that crashed here during the war. Further along we will visit the idyllic bay of Marie Musch, where the Austrians established their research station during the first International Polar Year of 1882-83. From here we continue over “Bommen” at the Northern Lagoon to “Atlantic City”. Here was an American radio station during WW2. We´ll arrive at “Gamlemetten” or the old meteorology station. Here are a few buildings, some of them still well maintained. The location is fantastic, on top of a cliff facing the Arctic Ocean. But this is also a tough place for weather and here the most wind on the island has been recorded.
On our way back we will follow the road. We´ll visit the remains of a small station where a small Norwegian military unit kept watch during WW2 before we cross over to “Sørlaguna” or south lagoon. Then it´s a straightforward walk back to our base even if the sand can sometimes be hard to walk in.
We´ll take an easy day today to rest for our long hike to the south of the island (“Sør Jan”) tomorrow. Still there are many options for nice walks in the area. We may go and fix a rope on a steep section on the south side of Kvalrossbukta to use later.
Hike out of Kvalrossbukta to where we will use a fixed rope for added safety up a steep section of small rocks and gravel, towards another small beach. We continue south to the small hunters’ cabin of Olsbu. This is one of many huts that were used by hunters in the 1900s. We´ll continue through “Sjuhollenderbukta” or the bay of the seven Dutchmen, where the station has one cabin. Further south we walk on solid sand until the terrain gets more challenging towards the symmetrical Richter crater. The crater is only 108 metres high but gives a great view over the surrounding landscape. “Helheimen” is a labyrinth of moss-covered lava formations so even if it´s flat it is slow going. We´ll keep an eye open for exciting lava caves. Here Norway has its most westerly point and we will turn around and head back to our basecamp.
Options for hikes such as over to Sjuhollenderbukta or over to the Olonkin station.
Departure day. We will have been monitoring the weather conditions for the crossing back to Iceland and will aim for a good weather window for a nice crossing. We´ll pack our gear and move aboard Aurora again.
If weather permits we will sail around Jan Mayen before heading to Iceland. This will give us a chance to see the island from the ocean. We will sail under the fantastic Weyprecht glacier and see where it falls almost 2,300 metres from the crater of Beerenberg down to where it carves into the sea.
At sea and again we will keep a sharp lookout for whales and dolphins.
Arrival in Ísafjörður.
The short summer in the North Atlantic can exhibit all kinds of weather. Jan Mayen has a hyperoceanic polar climate, similar to Greenland and Svalbard. The Gulf Stream’s powerful influence makes seasonal temperature variations extremely small considering the latitude of the island, with ranges from around 6 °C (43 F) in August to −6 °C (21 F) in February, but also makes the island extremely cloudy with little sunshine even during the continuous polar day—in fact the island is one of the gloomiest places in the world for sunshine data!