18 October 2010 – Virgohamna


At Virgohamna, after a night anchored at Ytre Norskøya. Rolling side to side all morning in swollen seas, and then a very wet landing in the Zodiac, and a very cold couple of hours on land, stomping around the remains of Andrée’s balloon expedition, blubber cookers, and various other artefacts. Cold, cold, cold, the snow blowing in from the east, feet and hands chilled solid. Have to go so carefully, then when you find a smooth patch, more often than not it’s covered in ice. Back on the boat, pretty soaked – but my outer layers worked and underneath I’m dry.

It’s time to stop using the word ‘landscape’, because it is far from any kind of postcard. I have been walking in it day after day and I know the feel of it under my feet and the speckled, dangerous slopes of mountain after mountain, moraine and beach and iced-up stream. When I look up at the summits, which trail into the white sky, I risk snapping a bone unless I stand still first and place my feet. I can’t see properly anyway – if I cover my face with the lower part of my balaclava, so that the snow and wind don’t sting and freeze me, my breath goes straight up and clouds my glasses so I see nothing, no distance, no ground. So I take off my glasses sometimes – and then the distance is just blurred speckles.

When the snow covers the rocks deeply enough to be mostly navigable without stepping into holes, it becomes a blinding sheet: I look down at nothing but white and all perspective is lost. It got deep today, and I noticed I was walking alongside a shelf of firmer snow and thought to steady myself with one hand, before realising that the shelf I thought I saw was at ankle height and merely the edge that had been stamped down by all our feet. Very strange…

Andrée’s party are said to have taken with them dinner suits and cases of port wine – a ‘party’ in more ways than one. Their 1897 balloon flight lasted 65 hours before bad weather forced them to land. They walked across the ice for 3 months to Kvitøya (White Island), but they didn’t make it through the winter. The remains of the expedition were found in 1930, and included Andrée’s diary as well as exposed photographic plates.