Norway – Perilous Brigsdal Glacier

Everybody is surprised by the first look through the stereoscope, which makes it evident how high we are standing above the bottom of the valley.

These two men are both Norwegian guides. The one with the coil of rope slung over his shoulder is Rasmus Aabrekke, one of the most expert mountain climbers in northern Europe. The other is Thor Eide, whom we have seen before at his home (Position 64).

The matter of surnames is in an interesting transitional stage here in the country districts. For centuries past country people have not been in the habit of inheriting the same surname from generation to generation, as is the custom in English-speaking countries, but have acted in accordance with a custom they had long ago, in common with our own Anglo-Saxon forbears, calling each new child by some Christian name (e. g., Hans, Rolf, Harald, or the like), and identifying him further, when necessary, by saying whose son he was (Pedersson, Sigurdsson, etc.) Sometimes a family record would show a long line of alternating names; if Lars Sigurdsson named his own boy Sigurd, the lad would be called Sigurd Lars-son. If Sigurd in turn named his own boy Hans, that youth would be Hans Sigurdsson, and so on—a system which answered very well in a small community, where everybody knew everybody else, and could take time to recall the neighbors’ genealogies.

Another method was to give a child as a surname the name of the farm or estate where he was born. The surnames of Thor Eide and Aabrekke were thus derived. (Look near the south end of Lake Olden on the map, and you will find Aabrekke set down. Eide is over on the west bank.) Again, a surname sometimes describes a person’s occupation (like our English names Baker, Cooper, Fisher, Shoemaker, etc.) Occasionally they are more fanciful, being taken from Nature, like Ash (tree), North, Wolf, and the like: Bjornson means literally “Son of a bear.” The custom suggests that of American Indians, but it rarely went so far as to become fantastic or grotesque.

If Norse country people go to live in a large city, in Christiania, for example, local traditions are, of course, unintelligible to their neighbors, and a surname once adopted becomes permanently fixed, just as it would be in Germany or England.

Aabrekke is one of two men who enjoy the distinction of being the only living mortals who ever succeeded in climbing over the Brigsdal Glacier here before us. The undertaking is so exceedingly difficult and dangerous that even seasoned Alpinists thus far leave it on the list of the unconquered; but there is no telling what may be done as time goes on.

As we readily see by reference to the map, this is only one of several great icy arms that hang down in various places from the same vast glacier of which we have had other glimpses. It is the largest glacier in all Europe, covering nearly as much ground as a British county. The downward movement of the ice-sheet in a valley like this can be quite accurately measured by surveyors, sighting certain parts of the ice that are recognizable by their structure or by the debris they carry ; yet in many cases glacial movement is found to vary greatly in different seasons, even when the conditions seem nearly identical. One such glacier over near the Sorfjord thirty years ago was pushing bodily down into the valley below at the rate of over one hundred feet in a season; then for some reason it stopped, that is to say, its annual waste by melting balanced whatever advance it made, so that the ice-covered area remained actually unchanged. Little wonder if, in the presence of such freakish changes in a big, silent monster of this sort, helpless little human folk came to regard the glittering Jokul with superstitious dread. Centuries ago priests were sometimes called upon to exorcise a Jokul and keep it back within bounds, but that is, of course, a thing of the past.

Unless one has had experience in seeing glaciers, he is likely to have an inadequate notion of the depth of the ice and the width of such fissures as that mass shows by its nearest edge. Suppose we descend into the valley and go quite close to a low arched hollow under the edge of the ice.