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Svartisen: Crossing one of the largest glaciers in Norway with skis and packraft: by José Mijares & Hilo Moreno

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We are delighted to be able to share with our readers this glacier crossing, by José Mijares, which took place near his home at North Cape, Norway.

Crossing the Svartisen glacier
We are delighted to be able to share with our readers this glacier crossing, by José Mijares, which took place near his home at North Cape, Norway. José runs the successful Artico Ice Bar and also offers courses on Arctic techniques, wilderness and photography of the aurora borealis. Many of our readers have enquired if José offers guided tours in Lapland; well, not yet, but these courses are a perfect stepping stone for learning the basic techniques of self-sufficiency in the Arctic as well as an incredible experience in themselves: http://www.josemijares.com/en/cursos/

José is normally accompanied on his travels by his Alaskan Malamute, Lonchas. But the long distance of this new crossing and the extensive use of their packraft on water, meant that he would have no choice but to leave Lonchas behind. He set off, instead with another good companion, Hilo Moreno, who had recently returned from working as a guide in the Antarctic.

This duo have crossed one of the largest glaciers in Norway, using their packrafts as the main means of transport: first by navigating on rivers and the sea; and later, by using them as pulkas on the glacier crossing.

Completed at the end of April, this new Svartisen route took place in a region which conjured up many different memories: “from the start of the journey, I've had the feeling of being somewhere else in the world, because the alpine scenery seemed more like Alaska. Using the packraft in this way was also something I'd seen in the tribe-packraft of Alaska, the wilderness...it all made me feel as if I were anywhere but Norway”.

Tracking points of Svartisen glacier route
Accomplishing old dreams; old friends
Crossing the Svartisen was one of my dreams, one of many. At this rate I'll be over 100 by the time I complete them all...

I didn't want to cross the Svartisen as if it were the Svartisen Express; hurrying there and back again. I wanted the Svartisen crossing to be part of another journey, as if it were one of those Russian dolls that hides another smaller, prettier one inside.

A complete journey, where the Svartisen would be the pearl, but reaching it would be another journey, just as interesting or even more so.

I know that's splitting hairs, but when you're free to go where you want, you also have the freedom to choose how to do things, without having to convince anyone else.

The Svartisen is the largest glacier in Lapland and the second largest in Norway; two massive blocks of ice covering over 350 km2. This place is so wild, so unexplored and high on my list of pending journeys, there were no doubts in my mind. I had to go. It became an obsession, as if my life was slipping through my fingers.

Inner Svartisen
The glacier starts at sea level, above the Arctic Circle, in a National Park of 2700km2. Its beauty is outstanding and it's particularly interesting, because it's divided into two glaciers; so crossing it means going up and down 1000m on each glacier. One night was spent in the valley that separates these two glaciers and it was a truly magical place.

But let's start from the beginning. To the north of Svartisen is a town called Bodo and to the south, another called Mo I Rana; Svartisen is more or less to the south of that map. To reach the glacier from the north there's a lot of sea and snowy valleys. To reach it from the south, you have to go through snowy forests and a deep river gorge.

Sea and glaciers

On the Svartisen glacier
After much time spent looking over maps, searching for a logical, appealing route that would include all the “toys” we had at home, the idea began to take shape.

My companion for this trip was one of my best friends and companions, Hilo Moreno. We've travelled so much together, that we no longer need words to communicate, one look is enough. At the end of a day's adventure, words are often spilled freely over a bowl of soup as we talk about the millions of journeys we'd like to go on, about books, about life...

Me and Hilo had texted while he was working in the Antarctic as a guide and I had kept him up to date while planning the route.

In the end, all the pieces of the puzzle came together. Now all we needed was to go and make them happen.

Setting off. Packrafts on the sea.
The idea was to reach the glacier by navigating from Bodo and leave it by navigating along a river which we knew nothing about, we knew little about what sort of river it was and as far as we knew, it was still frozen.

The date was crucial to the journey as we had to find enough snow to be able to move on skis from the coast and the rivers & seas had to be ice-free, although on this coast the sea doesn't freeze, but we wanted to camp on the coastal land, preferably on grass.

Camping on the edge of the sea
There's only one possible date for such a wish; this year, at least, it had to be during the last week of April.

I met Hilo in Bodo. I got there a few hours earlier and so I decided to have a look round the town. I had visited it years before and was pleasantly surprised. In the evening we went to the “Captain Larsen” for a beer – I can't imagine what it's like there on a Saturday night.

The next day, when we asked a taxi driver to drop us off outside the town, he couldn't understand why we were carrying skis and paddles on our packs, in fact, this strange combination caused many a strange look from passers-by. As they couldn't see the packraft, which packed was the size of a sleeping mat, most thought we were completely lost.

Sailing on the sea with a packraft was new for Hilo and me and we certainly weren't planning on starting off by crossing the 4km wide stretch across the Bodo fjord.

With a great deal of patience, we edged around the fjord until we reached the narrower end and finally decided to cross the 1km distance to the other side.

A small island half-way across with a beacon gave us courage; a psychological patch for landlubbers, such as ourselves.

On the sea in our packrafts

Rowing in the packraft

At sea, if the wind is against you or if there are a lot of waves or swell, you become a doll...that lesson we learnt pretty quickly.

It took us four days to reach the last valley, of the last fjord, where we would leave the packrafts and begin to ski to the glacier. I have to say, those days were sublime.

Hilo had packed his ultra-light tent, which weighed just half a kilo, and had room for 4 people. His backpack had enough room for a lorr

Svartisen Norway packraft ski


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