First Foreigners on Beerenberg - Or: Just Try Something New

First Foreigners on Beerenberg - Or: Just Try Something New

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 71.08330°N / 8.183°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jun 30, 2008
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Summer

Why? - Where? - Who? - How?

Beerenberg? will most of you ask themselves jeeringly. Another little hill in Germany? And why such a silly fuss: „first foreigners“?

Well, Beerenberg is the northernmost volcano on earth. Still most will rub their eyes in astonishment: where the heck shall this be?

On the north Atlantic island of Jan Mayen. Again puzzling. Jan Mayen? Never heard of. Or yet by chance? Jan Mayen is floating straight between Iceland and Svalbard, an island full 30 miles long in the form of a tadpole: long tail in the south west, head in the north east. Beerenberg's cone occupies the entire head.

We deal with an extraterritorial possession of Norway, named after the Dutch whaler-captain Jan Jacobs May van Schellinkhout, who had landed there for the first time in 1614, seven years after the island had been discovered. Since a couple of decades the island has been „inhabited“ by always the same number of Norwegians: 18; this is the half-annually rotating crew of a radar and weather station of the Norwegian military.

How high actually is Beerenberg? 7,470 ft. Big deal, you will say, much ado about nothing! But we are 71°05' northern latitude 8°11' western longitude, hence in the Arctics. Once realized these facts, one becomes a bit more respectful. Beerenberg in reality is a volcano of immense format, comparable to the big Andes volcanos, in particular if one considers ascending: One has to start from sea level – 7,470 feet up and down in one run without overnight break, a must because, firstly, there is no accommodation on the way, no hut or cabin, and tents you would not want to carry; secondly, the weather is always changeable, in modest terms, it is just dreadful most of the time. Once a gap opens with sunshine, one has to exploit this mercilessly.

Nice, nice, many of you will still say, but what is special about it? Very simple: You have to get there. Jan Mayen in fact has a landing strip for airplanes, but only support craft for the meteostation are permitted to land there. Tourists on the barren island are restricted to those of accidental cruise ships. At least not normally. However, if one has a suitable transport facility and an acceptable reason to visit Jan Mayen, the police of the Norwegian continental town of Bodø can issue a special permit. Since this year you can get it even more easily: You would simply contact and tell Geir Ulstein, the manager, what is in your mind.

So did we, not anticipating that we would enter new territory: Except the first ascenders – Swiss meteorologist Paul-Louis Mercanton, English polar explorer and geologist James Mann Wordie and naturalist Thomas Charles Lethbridge on a scientific expedition between 9th and 11th August 1921– there have only been crew members of the meteostation on Beerenberg – 18 times altogether; but all of them only Norwegians. This June for the first time foreign tourists entered the island with the intention to climb: Roman and me from Germany.
Approaching Jan MayenSoaring clouds over Jan Mayen

Towards Jan Mayen

We had set off from the little Icelandic port of Dalvik, on the yacht „Aurora“ of with Sigurđur and Rúnar as skippers. It was a windy-wavy passage that took us almost three days cruising against a force 7 gale. Four Norwegians, Johan acting as guide and „expert“, two Englishmen and a Pole – this is what the party consisted of. We set up our tents facing the mountain from southwest, on a hill overlooking the North Laguna. If only we had seen the mountain! Beerenberg had hidden behind a thick barrier of clouds.
Action in lashed up seaOn the way from Iceland to Jan Mayen

Up the mountain

Johan went on picking up weather forecasts on his satellite phone; they were all pretty dubious. But then, the day after our landing, the weather service began predicting a brief window of good weather. „Brief“ meant they were not sure themselves how long this window would last. In any case, it always means a thick garland of clouds around the mountain slopes – because there is simply too much water around, so that in any weather more than enough water will evaporate and condense. In case of „good“ weather we would just work our way through the complex system of lateral craters and grooves in the mountain's apron, would push through the fog between 1,000 and 2,000 ft. altitude into glistening sunshine, and then walk up on the flat Crown Prince Olav glacier. It was 2:30 p.m. when we set off from our camp, nothing unusual in those latitudes and this season, for there is sunshine 24 hours a day.
BeerenbergBeerenberg in morning glory

To the Crater

For hours we fought our way uphill in a straight line, always the broad truncated cone of Beerenberg ahead. The Dutch gave the mountain its German sounding name. Yet it is not the German word for berries, it is the Dutch word for bears. But don't be afraid of bears! – even if the mountain is named so, there are no longer polar bears on Jan Mayen. Instead mind the crevasses. They start at 4,900 ft. altitude at the rocky marker called „Nunataken“, a resting place and orientation point in the ice. Here we are to rope up and put on crampons, as from here onwards we tackle the successively steeper inner cone; the slope is called „Bratthenget“. Now widely torn-up, blue-shimmering gorges of yawning crevasses shoot wildly across the glacier; up to 35 degrees steep are the curves that we have to lay cautiously around them in zig-zag moves. We aim for the upper right edge of the horizon and crawl up a steep slope leading us to the brim of the circular crater . Its funnel, filled with snow, is opened towards north-west; out of that opening the craggy Weyprecht glacier pours downstream – and flows directly into the sea below.
Northernmost volcanoEarly morning across the crater towards Mercantontoppen

On Haakon VII Toppen

Beerenberg for a long time was thought to be extinct, until it rumbled back to life in 1970 and 1984/85. Now it lies quietly to our feet. Not even fumaroles can be made out in the crater abyss.

It is 1:30 a.m., and the sun is deep. Our gaze wanders widely towards a little, but sharp peak breaking through the mass of clouds beneath: Rudolftoppen, 2,500 ft. high, the highest of Jan Mayen's southern tail. Towards east, Beerenberg casts its broad triangular shadow. Yet the sun won't set, on the contrary. It accompanies us further-on, along the heights and depths of the crater rim, until we come to a standstill in front of a strangely artificial-looking cupola, some 30 ft. surmounting us: Haakon VII toppen, the highest spot of Beerenberg. With a short dash we jump and hook us up the final sheer bluff: And then we stand on top of the dome, the highest point between Norway's Jotunheimen and Greenland. We stand in heaven.
Atop Haakon VII toppenThe first Germans on Beerenberg's summit


Yet we are granted only ten minutes on the summit. Our view is primarily caught by the crater and its satellites, all sharp-edged, hardly ever visited peaks. Johan tells us we are the first Germans atop Beerenberg; in addition, Wolfgang with his 64 years is the second oldest ever. Hard to believe.

It is 3 o'clock in the morning on this memorable 30th June 2008, time to sleep, indeed; on the summit in the sunshine it would have been wonderful to enjoy a nap, if only we could have been sure the weather would not turn worse. So we hurry back to the camp and postpone the joyful summit party.
Beerenberg in hindsightBeerenberg in hindsight

Beerenberg - the exceptional

We descend the same route we had come up, uneventful, but full of pride and joy in our hearts. A brief glance at our watches tells us it is 9 o'clock in the morning when we reach our tents. There is beer waiting, and we help ourselves to a sumptuous freeze-dried breakfast – or is it dinner? – we lost every sense of time. We have achieved something that nobody will imitate for soon. Before all, hardly anybody did this before. We did not conquer Beerenberg – it only gave us the privilege of standing on its summit for a moment; we rather conquered ourselves – since we set off, 18 and a half hours have passed by and 20 miles are behind us. Hundreds have already been on Everest in the meantime, but on Beerenberg? In any case we have pushed ourselves high in the charts, something that nobody really cares. For: Who in heaven knows Beerenberg?

More at PEAKS, POLES, AND PARAGRAPHS - Europe 135 times from above or: GIPFEL UND GRENZEN - Grenzenlose Gipfel
Saxifraga in black lavaFlowers in the sand


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-20 of 22
Mathias Zehring

Mathias Zehring - Nov 22, 2008 6:50 am - Voted 10/10

now I know

now I know about Beerenberg! It really enlarges my knowledge! Climbing this from sealevel proofs - even with good conditions - your physis. Congratulations for this special trip!
As I wrote in the PM:
- the mistaken name of the report should urgently be changed
- all your pictures should be attached to the report.
- primary image still to come

Arthur Digbee

Arthur Digbee - Nov 22, 2008 7:06 pm - Voted 10/10


It is good to hear of such adventures.


SarahThompson - Nov 22, 2008 7:19 pm - Voted 10/10

Sounds like a great adventure!

Thanks for posting a report on your very unique trip and congratulations on making the summit.


Deltaoperator17 - Nov 22, 2008 9:39 pm - Voted 10/10


This is a wonderful trip report

Das es gut!



johnm - Nov 23, 2008 12:41 am - Voted 10/10

Great Trip Report

This is reminiscent of some of the wonderful trip reports from Corax , It’s not just the climb, but the approach and the climb. Thanks for sharing!


Proterra - Nov 23, 2008 8:40 am - Voted 10/10


I've always been drawn to the remote Arctic peaks. Beerenberg, Newtontoppen... Those places just sound really special... Maybe I should become the first American as well as the first Dutchman to go there :-)


Bruno - Nov 23, 2008 9:06 am - Voted 10/10

Hooked by the title...

Thanks Wolfgang for this very original report on such a remote mountain!

I usually never read trip reports, but I must admit that I was hooked by the title... though the claim as "first foreigners on Beerenberg" is a bit exagerated: as you mentioned yourself, the first ascent was done by one Swiss and two British in 1921.

I would recommend you to add one mountain page for Beerenberg. As one of the world Ultra peaks with more than 1500m prominence, Beerenberg really deserves its own page here on SP. This would also facilitate the search for other interested climbers.

Cy Kaicener

Cy Kaicener - Nov 23, 2008 11:26 am - Voted 10/10

Very Interesting

Thanks for sharing that very different type of adventure. We in the hot California desert love reading about such cool and different trips. I also enjoyed your website and took the liberty of posting it on Personal Websites in the General section -- Cy Kaicener

Wolfgang Schaub

Wolfgang Schaub - Nov 23, 2008 1:06 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Very Interesting

Thank you, Cy, and greetings to sunny California,


Vid Pogachnik

Vid Pogachnik - Nov 23, 2008 2:03 pm - Voted 10/10

Wonderfully told!

All I can say - more of such! My compliments, Wolfgang!


reinhard2 - Nov 23, 2008 3:32 pm - Voted 10/10

Very interesting

TR and really an enrichment of SP!
Congratulations for summiting at this gloomy end of the world to such a clear sky, and my respect wrt the physical achievement!
Btw, when I saw your photo, I thought at first sight "Oh that's me" - well, not quite so, compare here.
Btw - it is good SP-practise ("Anerkannte Regel der SP-Technik") not to leave the images lingering about on the heap but to attach them expressly to the article/TR/... where they belong to. This is easily done with the Add image - attach existing link in the left row.


RazorRen - Nov 23, 2008 3:43 pm - Hasn't voted


It's not everyday that people get the chance to visit such an isolated place like Jan Mayen let alone climb that volcano.


ktnbs - Nov 23, 2008 4:29 pm - Hasn't voted


very enjoyable read and great photos.


asmrz - Nov 23, 2008 7:19 pm - Voted 10/10

Jan Mayen


Thanks for a great read. When I was a kid (a long time ago) I loved to read the polar exploration stories and I seem to remember Jan Mayen Island was named after a Norvegian (?) polar explorer who was a member of the 1928 (?) Umberto Mobile derigible flight over the North Pole. The derigible crashed and Jan Mayen died on the ice fields attempting to hike back to Greenland. I hope I remember it correctly. In any case, thanks for sharing your adventure, what a trip.

Cheers, Alois in California.

Wolfgang Schaub

Wolfgang Schaub - Nov 24, 2008 3:24 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Jan Mayen

Alois, thank you for your comment.

No, you've got it all wrong. ead the TR and you will find Jan Mayen is named after a Dutch whaler. I don't remember having heard of a Nobile crash, unless you mix this up with another island (Spitzbergen?). All easy to find out if you google.

There was another plane crash, however, in WWII. A German fighter plane hit the slope of a mountain. We visited the site and saw the debris still lingering around.



Tsuyoshi - Nov 23, 2008 11:50 pm - Hasn't voted

Excellent TR!

There really is something about the adventure found in mountains that are regularly overlooked. It makes me happy to read this, thanks for sharing with all!

Wolfgang Schaub

Wolfgang Schaub - Nov 24, 2008 6:10 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Great trip report...

I thought Tilman lost Mischief somewhere between Brazil and the Antarctics. Why he never touched Jan Mayen I don't understand either. He also has not been on top of Rockall - I have. This will become my next report.

Wolfgang Schaub

Wolfgang Schaub - Nov 24, 2008 11:21 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Great trip report...

Aha. Honestly, I am currently reading Tilman's book, and I am half-way through. Slow progress, because I do not find much time reading. In the foreword I picked up something like getting lost between Brazil and the Antarctics, and thought this was with Mischief.

Tell your cute little daughter what you are after, and she will be happy to do the cooking onboard.


CClaude - Nov 24, 2008 10:16 am - Voted 10/10


that is a beautiful way to have a great adventure. Nice posting the gorgous pictures also.


suddendescent - Nov 24, 2008 1:15 pm - Hasn't voted

What an island vacation !

great account !

Now I know where to go for my next to get away from civilisation !

Considering the fact that some of those islands remain relatively unexplored , it is definitely a thrill to go where few have gone !

Just one comment ;
Despite the assumption that the effect of the gulf stream isn't noticeable at that geographic position , it is still noteworthy to mention that on some of those northern islands the Gulf stream is the source of some unusual surprises !

Apart from the very temperate climate of the Scilly islands further south (off the western coast of England) making it possible to grow tropical plants all year , A very small portion of the southern coast of Greenland harbors some trees...

Viewing: 1-20 of 22



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