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In the footsteps of an Everest legend

The original Oxford Expedition climbed several mountains in Atomfjella, some of which were named after the expedition members. Among them is Irvinefjellet, which both the original and this summer's expedition climbed on the southeastern side. "I think nobody has climbed it since 1923," said James Lam. FOTO: Spitsbergen Retraced

In the footsteps of an Everest legend

Four Oxford students taking the same route as the legendary Andrew Irvine this summer also came up with new research material.

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19.09.2016 kl 12:24

Ninety-three years ago, four Englishmen crossed Spitsbergen. They started at Tommelpynten in Hinlopenstretet and finished their expedition in Billefjorden.

The so-called Oxford Expedition mapped parts of the surrounding Atomfjella and several mountains were named after the explorers. Among them, Irvinefjellet is named after Andrew Irvine. He tried a year after the Spitsbergen expedition to be the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest. No one knows what happened when he and George Malloroy tried to reach their goal Irvine never returned. Another member of the Spitsbergen expedition was the last person to see him alive.

"It is said that it was the Svalbard trip that gave Irvine the inspiration and opportunity to join the Everest expedition," says Jamie Gardiner.

Reasearch and climbing
It's a Thursday and he is sitting in the kitchen of a student residence at Sjøskrenten. He joined James Lam, Liam Garrison and Will Hartz in repeating the 1923 expedition. They followed the same route and took exactly the same pictures from the earlier expedition.

"It started when we heard talk of three Oxford expeditions to Svalbard in the 1920s," Lam says. "We found out that no one had been back."

The goals for this year's trip were following the same route as in 1923, taking as many pictures as possible to see how the glaciers and landscape have changed, mapping the area using drones, collecting plant samples in partnership with The University Centre in Svalbard, and climbing the same mountains as those in the expedition nearly a century ago.

One of the participants in the original expedition took pictures of the mapping areas.

"Now we can take the same pictures and see how the landscape has changed," Garrison says.

"When we came to the photo points, I thought of the tripods they set up in the same place to take their pictures," Hartz says.

The modern adventurers say it appears there was less ice on the glaciers of this year than in 1923, but more snow. A picture shows that one glacier has retreated 1.5 kilometers.

Untouched camp
At Balderfonna, the modern group found camping objects used by the 1923 expedition. The newcomers also went to Carpethøgda to replicate one of the pictures taken 93 years earlier. There they saw some wood and, when they got closer, discovered they had found the remains of tent pegs, canned food, a primus stove and fabric pieces.

"It seemed that nobody had touched the camp since 1923," Gardiner says.

"We were going back and taking pictures when we saw some of the wood," Hartz says.

From the diaries of Irvine and the other members of the expedition, the latter-day explorers knew crossing over Balderfonna was difficult. They spent a few days recovering, hanging up equipment to dry and left some of them since they had such heavy sleds.

Following the diaries
The four were joined by Endre Før Gjermundsen from UNIS, who served as a guide and advisor.

"I found the combination of that they were going in Andrew Irvine's footsteps while gathering research data along the way was exciting," he says. "These are areas that are not visited so often."

Gardner says he believes their trip was extra exciting because they read the diaries from the first expedition before they left.

"When we sat in a storm we thought about how difficult it must have been for those who didn't have the same equipment, but had a storm on exactly the same day as us."

Now they plan to go through their pictures and research materials, and make a film about the trip.

Spitsbergen retraced
The group alerted The Governor of Svalbard about to the tent camp they found. Snorre Haukalid, an archaeologist for the governor, said they receive many such notifications each year.

"I've put it in the cruise schedule for next year," he says. "We plan to go by and document the site. It is well protected since it is located so far inland."

Translated by Mark Sabbatini

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The modern-day group departed in late July and took 32 days to complete the trip. They traveled on skis and brought a dog to help watch for polar bears. FOTO: Endre Før Gjermundsen/Spitsbergen Retraced

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The original expedition made this photo in 1923. An accompanying photo was taken by this summer's expedition to see how the glaciers and landscape have changed.  FOTO: Spitsbergen Retraced

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The original expedition made this photo in 1923. An accompanying photo was taken by this summer's expedition to see how the glaciers and landscape have changed.  FOTO: Spitsbergen Retraced

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Equipment from the 1923-expedition. FOTO: Spitsbergen Retraced

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James Lam, left, Jamie Gardiner, Liam Garrison, Endre Før Gjermundsen and Will Hartz gather in a student residence at Sjøskrenten after their expedition. They still have a lot of photos and research material to process. Gjermundsen served as the expedition's guide. FOTO: Line Nagell Ylvisåker

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