The Troll from Grønligrotta
It was a mild summer evening in the tranquil town of Mo i Rana, Norway, when the two friends Kjell and Morten rode their bikes through the gaping, empty streets. ‘Mild’ – not far south of the Arctic Circle, that of course meant no more than 13 or 14 degrees, but was just enough for the two young people to enjoy the summer in T-shirts. The weather was not the problem either. It was boredom. They knew every street, every stone, every shop, every club. There was nothing new to discover.
They still had two years to graduate in 1986 – two more years until they finally got away. Where did not matter. Just wherever there was more to experience than here.
The fact that many years later, Kjell Henriksen and Morten Holm would make history as known speleologists and members of the ACE, would hardly have been expected of the two skinny boys at the beginning of the 1980s. But even then the spirit of discovery burned in both of them.
When they saw the signpost for the well-known cave Grønligrotta on the outskirts, they suddenly got an idea. Although their parents had forbidden them to go into the cave alone, secretly they had always been fascinated by the four-kilometre-long limestone cave, in proximity of their hometowns and with many myths and legends associated with it. And as every adventurer knows, boredom and curiosity can create an explosive mix.
The two decided to secretly leave home at night and finally explore the legendary cave on their own with provisions, sleeping bags and flashlights..
It was almost like a cathedral. As a 16-year-old I had never seen something so beautiful. And what really opened my eyes in that moment was the realisation that it had been hidden here all my life. Half-hidden under the boring streets of my hometown. I wondered what underground secrets this world still has to offer. Untouched places just waiting to be seen by the human eye.
– Kjell Henriksen
Euphorically, the youngsters penetrated ever deeper into the cave until they reached an underground river. In their carelessness, the two decided to cross him without security. And as was bound to happen eventually, one of the unstable limestone slabs dissolved under their feet and they were tugged downward by the river into a pit hundreds of meters in depth. When they came to, it was pitch black. They had lost their backpacks and flashlights on the life-threatening slide. But all in all: they were alive. Panicked, they felt their way through the dark caves, but it was impossible to orient themselves. Slowly it dawned on them what that meant: they were doomed.
Just when I was about to burst into tears, I saw a spark of light in the distance. I’m hallucinating, I thought. But it was getting bigger. Kjell also finally caught it. We called for help, but nobody called back. The closer the light came, the more our fear grew. And then we saw him: Södtjofsvörnson.
– Morten Holm
The glow of his staff illuminated his wrinkled face. He was perhaps a metre tall and looked at the boys urgently.
He told us that we had delved too deeply into his sanctuaries and that he would have instantly hexed us if he had not seen the righteous fear in our faces. If we did not want to stay down here, like him, forever, then it would be a good idea to leave quickly. We begged him to do nothing to us and just show us the way out. He raised his staff and a bright light blinded us. Then everything went black.
– Kjell Henriksen
When the youngsters came to, they found themselves at the surface again. In a mixture of shock and enthusiasm they ran home. In the weeks that followed, they devoured all the stories and legends about the cave and kept coming across tales of an old troll living in Grønligrotta. Other medieval sources reported Södtjofsvörnson, an old man who, according to a legend, had retreated to the cave hundreds of years ago to experiment with magical crystals. That’s what he had to be – Kjell and Morten were sure. Of course, their parents, teachers and friends considered it nonsense, but the two knew better: After all, they had seen him. And he had saved their lives. Their passion for the supernatural and speleology was born. And today, more than 30 years later, Kjell and Morten have a remarkable track record: most of the cave systems discovered in recent decades north of the Arctic Circle were found and mapped by the two.
And even when, years later, they returned to Grønligrotta as professional researchers, they never found Södtjofsvörnson again.
It is said that he helps only those who naively and thoughtlessly go into danger – and we are now far too professional. Although … perhaps Kjell more than me (laughs).
– Morten Holm