The adventure begins...
Between 1957 and 1959 intrepid explorer John Springthorpe (Geography, 1958) led three trailblazing expeditions to the area to explore the link between glaciers and climate. In the summer of 1959 the team, including John Price (Civil Engineering, 1961) and Derek Daniels (Civil Engineering, 1960), established a base camp on the glacier to undertake pioneering surveys of the environment. Expecting to return the following year, stores and equipment were left at the camp – but funding was stopped. For half a century, Base 59 was abandoned to the wilderness. But in 2015 a unique partnership brought Nottingham students and alumni together to return to the glacier, finishing a story over 50 years in the making – an adventure made possible by alumni donations to Cascade.
"Growing up in the 1950s I was influenced by books such as The Kon-Tiki Expedition by Heyerdahl and The Crossing of Antarctica by Fuchs and Hillary, so the 1959 expedition was an amazing experience which gave me lifetime memories," explained John. "Derek and I had made two attempts to get back to Base 59 in 2012 and 2013, getting close but failing. So in 2014, I decided to challenge the University's Mountaineering Club to help Derek and I return to Base 59."
"I realised it was a very unique opportunity and would be great for the club to be involved in," said Ben Prestwich (Physics, 2016), 2014-15 Mountaineering Club President. "Since the original expedition, the area has become part of a national park. We wanted to help John and Derek find the camp and restore the site to pristine wilderness."
Heading into the wilderness...
"Going back in 2015 with a whole bunch of keen young mountaineers was a great experience," said John. "The climb up to the camp took three days, but I think the biggest challenge was staying warm when we had two days of freezing wind and rain. I realised then that this is a risky bit of wilderness to be in at any age, never mind the age of Derek and I!"
"It was hard work!" said Ben. "As we were at the glacier for more than a week, we had to ferry a huge amount of food and equipment up to the camp, meaning most team members had to hike the same leg two or three times. We were fortunate as there had been heavy snow fall earlier in the year and there was still a good covering, which made it easier to cross the rough terrain. There were some challenging moments though as it was impossible to judge how thick the snow bridges over the crevasses were, and whether they would support our weight!"
"I don't think that basic mountaineering techniques have changed much over the years, but clothing and gear are better," added John. "Young people now tend to be better prepared and more risk averse than we were."
"My favourite memory is the moment we found the site of our base camp weather station on a flat headland overlooking the glacier," reminisced John. "In 1959, we'd carried turf up there to form a two metre square for scientific rigour in meteorology measurements. The turf is still there, having survived the harsh environment for more than 50 years."
"The best part of the trip for me was at the end of one of our longest days," said Ben. "We were eating dinner just after sunset when we saw green lights above – it was aurora borealis moving across the glacier. We were really lucky to see them that far south and at that time of year."
The story continues...
"I believe it's important for young people to experience unspoilt wilderness," said John. "The behaviour of glaciers is a powerful indicator of climate change, and I believe it's so important to get young people interested in this topic. I took my grandson, Grant, to visit the glacier in 2009 and this experience helped him decide to become a glaciologist, investigating the effect of climate change on Antarctica. I'm hoping we can continue to monitor Tunsbergdalsbreen, one of the largest glaciers in Europe, as it responds to global warming."
"The expedition has laid the foundations for future Mountaineering Club trips to Tunsbergdalsbreen," added Ben. "We're hoping to resurvey the glacier and compare the results to the data collected in the 1950s. Going on the expedition was an incredible opportunity and my experiences helped me to secure a role in Switzerland this summer, working at the Kanderstag International Scout Centre as a snow and ice guide teaching crevasse rescue and ice climbing. Being part of such an extraordinary expedition with an important legacy has definitely been one of my Nottingham highlights."
Images and video courtesy of John Price, Ben Prestwich, Peter Bayliss and Madz Abbasi