World-class summit tour

Jan Mayen is generally very inaccessible from all sides. Join us to Norway’s only active volcano.

Blog post written by Johannes S. Bolstad in 2020. Photo by Mats Grimsæth.

World-class summit tour, Jan Mayen and Beerenberg

Our guests are a group of mountain enthusiasts from Norway, England, and the USA, all sharing one common goal: to ascend Beerenberg, the 2,275-meter-high volcano mountain on Jan Mayen. Norway’s clearly most inaccessible 2000-meter peak. I’ve taken on the role of second mate and steward on this voyage from Longyearbyen to Jan Mayen with SeilNorge.

Jan Mayen is generally very inaccessible from all sides. Greenland is the closest neighbour, ‘just’ 460 kilometres away. To Mainland Norway, it’s 910 kilometres. Hence, it’s not easy to reach the island in the middle of the sea, known to have three clear days a year. Only military planes with ties to the base are granted landing permission, so a boat is the only alternative. Therefore, joining SeilNorge was a brilliant solution for this group that collects 2000-meter peaks. The guests get a small week on land to safely ascend and, preferably, descend before embarking on the four to five days of sailing back to the starting point.

When you’re about to ascend Norway’s highest mountain, the journey starts at 1,841 meters. That means you’re climbing only a meager 628 meters. Easy! The journey up Norway’s only active volcano, a mountain almost as tall as Galdhøpiggen, starts at sea level. Moreover, you have to sail for five days to get there.


Has anyone seen Tony?

Most haven’t been on board a sailboat before, let alone crossed the Barents Sea. So it’s no wonder that an otherwise content Tony has been holed up in his cabin for nearly a day. His roommate can fortunately assure us he’s alive, working hard to conserve a bag of potato chips.

Navigering er viktig

Has anyone seen Jan?

The first leg goes smoothly, with whale sightings on the horizon, the skipper up the mast, and good motor sailing. The most challenging part turns out to be locating the volcanic island. A mountain over 2000 meters tall should be relatively easy to spot on a sea that’s mostly at sea level, but the final stretch confronts us with the notorious sea fog.

We have a good sense that we’re getting closer—the increasing number of seabirds suggests this, and the GPS agrees. However, less than two nautical miles from land, we still don’t see any mountains. On June 11th at 10:02 PM, the log states: Fog, poor visibility, near Jan Mayen, don’t see it. The guests are about to fetch the plank to let the skipper say hi to the Hagfish, when we finally see the mighty volcanic cliffs rise from the sea and cut through the fog.

Eventyrøya Jan Mayen
Adventure island Jan Mayen

The guests put on rescue suits as the ship anchors off the island. To avoid damaging the dinghy in the surges towards the shore, they must jump into the water and wade before Mats follows them in while I keep the dinghy away from the breakers. On June 12th at 5:40 AM, the log reads: Entire expedition ashore, and the crew back on board.

Jan Mayen is known to be a storm island, so when the guests are safely ashore, where their own tour guide will lead them up, the crew is prepared to seek shelter in one of the two poorly sheltered bays where we can anchor on the island. Or simply sail away from the storm if it gets too intense. This turned out to be an unjustified concern.

Fine ilandstigningsforhold
Good landing conditions

18 exhausting hours

In the brilliant weather, the world’s northernmost volcano seems alluring to the crew as well. So when the mountaineers two days later report a manageable hike, we can’t resist. Kjell-Erik and I decide to see if we can ascend and descend in 24 hours.

Valiente ruver i Jan Mayens vakre landskap
Valiente stands tall in Jan Mayen’s beautiful landscape

One step at a time, we tackle the approximately 2,300 meters of elevation. Most of the journey is on a gentle glacier that steepens towards the top, becoming more technical and demanding. But it’s hard to gauge the distance in the monotonous landscape. What appears to be a reasonably small incline nearly breaks us. However, after 10 grueling hours from the start, we can raise our ice axes in the air at the summit and peer into the ice-filled crater of the world’s northernmost volcano! After 18 exhausting hours, we finally collapse on board, getting an hour’s sleep before setting sail. Truly a world-class summit tour!

Jan Mayen, med  Norges klart mest utilgjengelige 2000-meter topp.
Jan Mayen, with Norway’s clearly most inaccessible 2000-meter peak.

A bang, and the engine stops

We’re puttering northwards with light headwinds and little swell. Suddenly, while both I and Kjell-Erik doze off between watches, a bang is heard, and the engine stops. We had raised sails to tack against the wind, but this wasn’t the sound of a motor being turned off.

In the wheelhouse, we meet a Mats unsure whether to laugh or cry.

A trip to the aft deck reveals a long white tail behind us. It looks like a beluga whale, but unfortunately, it’s not. Out here, amidst Svalbard and Jan Mayen, amidst Greenland and Norway, amidst the relentless Arctic Ocean, we’ve hit a small ‘iceberg’ of plastic garbage.

Fortunately, the wind has picked up. If you’re going to lose engine power due to a trawl bag in the propeller, it’s good to be able to hoist sails and make headway. We’re going against the wind, so progress isn’t swift, but we’re aiming for Bear Island. The engine and drivetrain don’t seem damaged, and water isn’t coming into the boat. So the situation isn’t critical, and when the wind shifts in our favor, the mood becomes almost optimistic.

Until it becomes windless

We’ve been sailing for a day and a half since the ‘beluga incident’ when the wind disappears, and the boat stops moving forward. How far out in the sea can a tugboat come to get us?

Even though the wind has calmed, there are significant swells. So when Mads jumps overboard with a diving mask and a knife, there’s a rope tied around his waist, with Kjell-Erik on the other end ready to haul in the skipper if necessary. In the icy water with unruly waves, Mads holds his breath time after time after time. With 65 tons of steel above him and 3,000 meters of sea below him, he finally manages to free the trawl bag.

World-class summit tour!

It’s a happy bunch on deck as the mountain range along the coast of Svalbard draws near. We’ve been on an expedition for the most adventurous. A trip extreme enough for unforeseen things to happen. That’s how we like it. That’s what we love. Not only have we crossed the Barents Sea under the midnight sun, we’ve climbed Norway’s most inaccessible 2000-meter peak. The world’s northernmost volcano! A sailing and summit tour of world-class caliber.

Theory & Practice
Theory & Practice
Typical construction on Jan Mayen
Typical construction on Jan Mayen

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Feel free to contact us +47 412 97 900 if you have any questions or want to book a trip.