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Norway's legacy of ice

The Mountains and Fjords of Norway were carved out of stone by Ice-Age glaciers



We left the Shetlands shortly after noon and judging from the number of empty tables at dinner that evening many of the passengers had opted for gravol and bed rather than food. The M/S Expedition, 105 metres long and 6,000 tons, is big enough to safely cruise the world's oceans but small enough to get tossed about in rough seas — and our 300 km crossing from the Shetland Islands to the coast of Norway was decidedly rough. I wedged myself into my bunk with a couple of extra pillows and fell into a deep sleep (See previous travel article in Pique March 15, 2012).

Early the next morning I woke with a start - aware that something had suddenly changed. The pitching and rolling of the ship and the slap of waves against the hull were replaced by an eerie calm. It took me a few moments to realize that we had reached the coast of Norway and slipped into the sheltered waters of a fjord. I dressed and went up to the bridge where I met Tom, one of the zodiac drivers. "We've just entered Nordfjord," he told me. "It was a slow crossing so we won't get to Olden until almost noon."

My first impression of Nordfjord — it looks a lot like Howe Sound back home. Indeed there are many similarities between the west coast of Norway and the coast of British Columbia. Fjords, steep-sided gashes formed by glacial erosion during the last ice age, are the dominant feature of both landscapes and in both Norway and B.C. they provide protected inland waterways between the ocean and the interior.

During the last ice age virtually all of Norway was covered by ice, in places more than a kilometre thick. Under its enormous weight the land was depressed and as the ice moved it carved out deep, steep-walled valleys into the ocean floor. When the ice melted the land began to rebound and the sub-glacial valleys were flooded with seawater to become fjords. In most places uplift of the land, though slow and episodic, was faster than the rise of sea level. As a result, ancient sea caves and beaches are now preserved as much as 200 metres above the present ocean.

Nordfjord, with a total length of 106 kilometres, is actually a complex of many branches, each one a major fjord in its own right. It took us all morning to wind our way from the coast to the tiny town of Olden at the head of the most southeasterly branch. We dropped anchor a few hundred yards off shore and took the zodiacs to Olden's small pier and caught the bus to Briksdalen Lodge. From there it's a three-kilometre hike to Briksdal Glacier, a narrow distributary arm of the Josterdals Ice Field, Europe's largest mainland glacier.