J. Rebecca Gould Calabro
August 10, 2005
Imagine a world frozen with ice that was moving in all directions. The ice was able to shape mountains, valleys, and all the land features that we know today. The ice somehow melted and life on Earth resumed. Then a second wall of ice crept across Scandinavia again covering most of Earth's surface. The glaciers continued to slide and move dragging debris in all different directions. Mountains were changed. New valleys were created. The Arctic Ocean may even have changed from a freshwater pond to that of a salty ocean. Finally, these glaciers also retreated and left the world much as we now know it from satellite pictures. We now have fjords in Norway that we can hike up. We have two giant mountain ranges that cross through North America. When one climbs above the timberline there is a lack of vegetation and the amount of life decreases. Such was the stage for our excursion to the Sleeping Beauty Queen glacier in Narvik, Norway.
At 8AM, we left on the bus from Abisko to go to Narvik, Norway. Our two goals were to explore the tide pools of Norway and to find a glacier. Despite the proximity of the two towns on the map, the journey to Narvik took over an hour. The boundary between the two countries is clear: Norway appears rife with beautiful cliffs, endless fjords and mountain peaks while Sweden is mostly a combination of tundra and taiga.
The tide pools were our first stop. We stopped on the side of the road and clambered down into the flat abyss of land. It was amazing how similar the tide pools here were to those around Boston. Even the animals and plants that we saw were ones that I had seen often. What a difference a bit of background knowledge made. I thought of the botanical excursion at the beginning of this expedition and realize how I struggled to make sense of the flower identification. Here, it did not matter if the participants spoke Swedish -- I knew these organisms. The only difference was that there were none of the invading species that plagued our Boston waters and threatened our Rock Crabs here. And yet, those same crabs supposedly came from Europe!
After we explored the tidal pools and watched the tide creep back up to the shore, we headed up to the base of the Sleeping Queen glacier. The trail started off by winding around a large fjord. There were birch trees all around and lots of deep roots. It was also extremely muddy. Norway, I had been told, receives 300 rainy days a year. Today was actually beautiful with absolutely no rain clouds in sight.
The trail became quite steep and we seemed to be following a riverbed. The trail remained heavily forested and we were always able to maintain sight of our glacier. We were only going to ascend 800 meters (2400 feet) but parts of this trail were as steep as Mt. Monadnock (697 meters or 2288 feet). We remained within timberline until we reached about 100 feet away from the lake. This small lake was situated in the midst of the alpine tundra. The vegetation suddenly dropped off leaving a mossy surface with flowers and short shrubs. There were plenty of embedded rocks at this point throughout. The visibility was amazing. The glacier looked like it was right there --- meaning surely we could get to it just by walking up that small hill. I thought it ludicrous that Anders and Stefan were claiming this would take us another two hours to reach!
We continued through the loose rocks and grassy surface. The walking was more difficult since we were no longer on a trail. Scandinavia has a unique law where people are allowed to go wherever they feel like. Even if someone owns the land upon which I am now walking, I am still able to go where I want and even pitch a tent! If I choose to camp in someone's farmland, then I am expected to ask for permission from that person.
We can see two tills that have been formed by previous glaciers. We need to get over these tills. There are individual plant species sprouting between boulders firmly embedded in the soil substrate. The grassy tills are much easier to climb over. They are steep but no match for good hiking boots. We make good speed even if the tills prove to be nearly vertical. I don't forget to stop and turn around to look at the scenery. The lake where the trail ended is looking awfully small now and I know that we have not climbed that high!
Now we reach the more recent tills. We can tell that these tills are fairly recent because of the lack of vegetation. There are plenty of rocks scattered throughout and a lot of dirt. Someday this till will look exactly as the other tills. But for now we are instructed to walk side by side so as to not kick a loose rock on another person. It is hard to grasp a foothold. I put on my gloves to help me gain traction. It feels strange to have to rely on dirt to hold me upright.
Finally I reach the top of this rock-strewn mound and stare down. There is the glacier and the terminus is a turquoise color glacier pond that is perfectly turquoise. It is this color because of all the sediment that is running off with the glacier. I can suddenly feel a breeze that was not there before. After the steep ascent, it feels good. I am able to scamper down the rocks to the shoreline of the glacier melt off where the rest of the group has accumulated.
Despite the Labrador's appreciation of the frigid waters, the rest of us began pulling out our heavy mittens and warm sweaters. Within about 10 minutes, my body temperature began to fall substantially and it was hard to believe that just a few minutes ago, I was drenched in perspiration. We then decided to explore the glacier.
The thickness of this glacier was amazing. In parts we could easily see that the glacier was at least 1 meter thick. That's 3 feet thick! That's roughly the same amount of snow that forced the Boston schools to close for a week after the blizzard of January 2005! Anders told us that the glacier's edges are much thinner than the core of the glacier. This is because the glacier melts from the edges. So if we could see 1 meter on the edge, then that meant that the Sleeping Queen glacier could have a depth of 10 meters (30 feet!). The Cleveland Middle School would be shut for a month if we got that much snow!
What was impressive was to see the six-ton boulders that had landed on top of the glacier. They had fallen from the ridge above and now rest upon the glacier. Since the glacier is constantly moving, some day these boulders will be left behind and begin to form a new ecosystem once the glacier retreats and melts.
This was the only real sunset that I saw while in Northern Sweden. It was amazing to realize that on August 1, the sun barely set at all and by August 8th, the sun actually set at about 9:45PM. This picture was taken as we were back on the bus returning to Abisko. To me, it seemed like the end to a perfect day.