North Cape From The West, Near Midnight
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Here it stands, reaching out into the Arctic Ocean at the limit of European lands. We are on the west side, facing a little south of eastward ; that land in the distance is another part of Magero or "Barren Island," from which this point extends. The landing place is at Hornvik Bay, over at the farther (northeast) side of the long headland of dark purplish-gray slate rock. Passengers not ambitious to land and climb to the summit of the cliff, often spend the waiting time, while the steamer lies at anchor, fishing for cod, haddock and coal-fish (sei) from the deck. The more adventurous land from small boats, in a sunny hollow, where violets and buttercups make the most of the scanty soil, and climb by a rough, rocky path up at an angle of nearly forty-five degrees, to the almost level summit. Along some particularly bad portions of the way a cable has been set in iron stanchions, so as to make the path perfectly safe, however difficult it sometimes seems to in-experienced climbers. Scientific observers say the top of the cliff was planed off ages ago by the slow, in-exorable movement of some heavy glacier down to the sea. One walks over it about a third of a mile to the end of the point, and then stands nine hundred and sixty-eight feet above these rippling waters.
Away up on the point, though we cannot see it from here now, is a granite column recording the visit of King Oscar II in 1873, and a beacon near by commemorates a visit of Emperor Wilhelm II in 1891. There is a little shelter-hut besides, for refuge in case of a sudden storm. The rest of the island, as one sees it from the higher level, is a barren plateau, with ponds here and there, scanty grass, a few low berry bushes and occasional banks of snow in sheltered places among the ledges.
This is the farthest point that most northern travelers ever reach. Here they come to see the Midnight Sun sweep along the northern horizon at our left, above the waste of open seas. From the middle of May to the end of July there is never a sunset here, never actually a sunrise. It is all one long day. If one comes here about the first of July, the sun, at 12 P. M.,* for a distance of about five diameters, slowly sweeps along above the edge of the visible world, then once more its path curves upward, over a sky hardly perceptibly paler than it was at high noon. Sometimes one arrives on a rainy day. Sometimes the horizon turns cloudy just at the critical moment. Sometimes a fog-bank rises from the sea and wraps the Cape itself in a blinding scarf of soft, clinging gray mist. In such cases the sun has to be taken for granted, but at least one has seen the utmost polar reach of Europe, the land where the highest type of human civilization has been worked out through long centuries of sunrise and sun-sets.
In case a fog does arise while one is up there on the rocks, he is grateful for a wire which has been stretched from post to post, all the way back to the head of the path where the rope-rail begins. Without some such security it would be easy in a dense fog to lose the sense of direction, and to walk off the edge of the cliff into space.
We ourselves are to see land and ocean and sky even farther north than this limit of the ordinary excursion and mail steamers. The Hamburg-American Line in midsummer sends a fine vessel away up still nearer the Pole, as far as Spitzbergen.
Take a last look at Map 1, for the sake of a better realizing sense of the extreme verge of the habitable world to which we are to penetrate.
We shall be at nearly 80°. latitude, that is, as far north of Christiania as Christiania itself is north of Naples or Constantinople. Our last position is marked 100.