In February I went to Norway. The purpose was to experience camping on snow, pulling sleds (or pulks) and engaging with cold and/or extreme weather over a three day journey.
The picture above has been “borrowed” from Arctic Training & Expeditions who organised the trip once I had arrived in Trondheim. All in all it was a great adventure, with the organisation very professional and the accommodation and equipment that was provided first class (despite what happened to the tents!). Our guides were Petter Thorsen and Geir Vie. The group I was with was quite diverse too.
Arctic Training & Expeditions had been recommended to me by Dave Pritt who runs Adventure Peaks (who had arranged my Damavand trip last year and with whom I am going to Elbrus in July). Dave would be on this experience as well. In fact we met at Schiphol and took the same flight to Trondheim.
We were accompanied on the journey by Fredrick Bye who is a young filmmaker who trades as Ravnfilm. Within this blog is a link to a programme made by local TV here (note that we are described as “extreme tourists”). The final footage was shot by Fredrik as the TV crew were with us only during the first day out. Fredrik was very enthusiastic (and energetic as he had to ski to and fro to get shots of us from various angles and distances) and used a drone to obtain the aerial shots. The video at the end is Fredrik’s work.
OK, enough of the plugs!
The journey with KLM via Schiphol was uneventful. The runway at Trondheim airport juts out into the fjord and, being on the left hand side of the plane, it looked to me as though we were going to land on the water before at the last moment we dropped on to the concrete.
Dave and I were met by Petter. The airport is 12 miles to the east of Trondheim, and the local settlement is called Hell, which invites the obvious quips about being welcomed there. We called in briefly at a gear shop so Petter could do some business. Then we were on our way again for a 40 minute drive further east to Meråker and our accommodation for the first night.
Petter was keen to get our ski legs going. We dumped our gear and met two others who were already there – Darren and Rhodri. We collected skis and boots and were then driven 10 minutes up the road. Darren had not skied before; Rhodri was a regular on this (or similar) courses and I had skied on one day in the previous nine years. My experience was shown up when I promptly fell on my backside as we were leaving the car park – oops! Darren had arrived a couple of days earlier to learn.
We spent 90 minutes in the gathering gloom playing around on the skis, in my case fairly tentatively. The skis we were using were touring skis with bindings just at the toes. So catching the edges for turns I found tricky.
That evening we had a nice meal of Norwegian specialties. We were joined by Ralf who had flown in from London whilst we were out on the slopes.
The following morning we had a briefing on what we could expect, a suggested packing list and how to dress. Yes – to dress. In other words, what had been found to work in terms of layering, protection from the elements and how to avoid overheating. The generation of too much sweat can be debilitating if it causes you to chill too much or, worse, freezes on you.
Then it was off to pack our sleds and we were joined by the final member of our team, Chris.
Then everything was packed into the back of our transport.
And then a final group photo, including Petter’s dog, Stella.
The motivations of undertaking a course such as this were various among the group:
Ralf – who was training to become accepted on a trip to Denali in May. He does ultra-running and in April 2016 completed the Marathon des Sables.
Rhodri – a nordophile, who runs an outdoor clothing business and has come each of the last 6 years.
Chris – an American now living in Sweden, who is an executive of the Adventure Travel Trade Association and was coming to sample a course run by one of the Association’s members.
Darren – who is intending to undertake a trip with huskies across Svalbard in May.
Dave – who was interested in finding out whether this sort of course is something he can offer through Adventure Peaks.
After a 45 minute drive nearer the border with Sweden, we parked up by a frozen lake. Here we made our final preparations, put on our harnesses to pull the sleds and Darren was interviewed by local TV.
And off we went.
Some of the scenery looked Scottish. At stops the Norwegian TV people interviewed most of us. I was spoken to for about 4 minutes. About 1.5 seconds made it through the editing process!
The first day was not too strenuous. By 4pm we had found a place to camp, a large level area. We all flattened down areas on which to pitch tents. But once we took off our skis we sank into the soft snow. The tents were soon up.
Having pitched the tent, the next job was to dig a pit in the entrance. This served two purposes. The first was to organise one’s water supply – the only way to obtain more water is to melt the snow. This can be a long process because a pan full of snow melts down to a distressingly low amount of liquid. The second, in theory, is that cold(er) air will sink into this area.
Soon we all had our tents up.
We were then shown how to operate our stoves, sorted out sleeping bags and mats and generally sorted out the tent. Whilst the sun was out, the temperature was probably only around -4C and the air was quite still. Once the sun disappeared the temperature plunged. I was sharing a tent with Dave. Others went to a clearing in the nearby forest, lit a fire and indulged in Aquavit. Dave and I preferred the warmth of our sleeping bags.
“Cooking” duties were mine. This just meant melting snow, filling thermos flasks and re-hydrating our freeze dried meals. Unwanted water was left in the pan and froze. But actually ice melts more quickly so was used in the morning.
Once finished I made myself comfortable and had one of the best night’s sleep in ages.
The next morning, the weather was still good.
Today was going to be a much longer one over varied terrain. We stopped every hour or so to snack and re-hydrate. We crossed frozen lakes went over undulating terrain, went downhill so that the sleds tried to overtake you and struggled uphill where the sleds tried to stop any progress.
Some of us took turns to pull two sleds. This was more than twice as hard as pulling one. In Fredrik’s film you see me side stepping up one slope. It was hard work!
The forecast overnight was for the weather to deteriorate. But we reached our camp site with an hour and a half of daylight still remaining.
The routine was in place and the tents were up promptly and I dug our pit again. I delegated “cooking” duties to Dave! We settled down for the night. Before the weather changed, Fredrik took these fantastic pictures. Note the Orion constellation in the first photo.
During the night I was aware of the tent beginning to make noises as the wind picked up. At one point Petter opened up the tent and woke me up to tell me that the tent was still sound. I fell back into a disturbed sleep. The wind speeds picked up and I awoke. I lay there listening to the flapping and cracking of the tent. On a couple of occasions massive gusts flattened the tent on top of Dave and myself.
Petter re-appeared having checked the outside of our tent again. This time I was already awake. The rest of the darkness was spent waiting for the next gust and wondering if the tent would survive and falling into fitful dozes. It seemed to be doing a good job.
We were due to be getting ready at 6.30am but Dave started the stove shortly after 6.00am with first light. We ate our porridge and had warm drinks. The wind was picking up again. We started getting dressed and packing up. Petter (who had been up all night) passed by and gave us our sled bags, so we could put our gear in there out of the full force of the wind.
Dave had managed to put his ski boots on. Just as I was starting to put mine on, the two tent poles near the entrance snapped. Spindrift was now coming in under the valance. It swirled around into my face and into the main body of the tent. All the while I now had my back against one of the broken poles trying to keep the one end of the tent upright as snow went down my neck, into my eyes and into my boots. Awesome!
We dragged our sled bags out of the tent. I had to hold down the sled before the bag was put in it and had the weight to hold down the sled. There was now the battle to pack up the tents. All of them had collapsed. I lay down on ours to prevent it from flying away as Dave and Petter folded it up in a manner of speaking. It was then stuffed unceremoniously into my sled bag.
The spindrift stung any exposed skin. The wind took your breath away. The others were in their own battle against the elements. I went around picking up pieces of tent poles that littered the tent sites. Some were only a few inches long. Eventually everything had been packed up.
It was too windy to ski. So we floundered downhill through the soft snow for 20 minutes until we reached a shallow valley. Here we put on skis. The next half hour I found very unpleasant as my lack of skiing technique was shown up on the rock hard windswept surfaces. We were skiing on ice, hard snow and through sastrugi (parallel wave-like ridges caused by winds on the surface of hard snow). Whenever we were on a slope the sled shot off with it. So sometimes it was running parallel; sometimes it wanted to shoot ahead or crash into your heels. But despite my inelegance I avoided falling over!
But in while we dropped further and into areas where the snow had accumulated and the skiing was much easier and enjoyable! We finally made it to the forest.
So our adventure was over. It was somewhat epic at the end. We resorted to a cosy B&B for our final night and a celebratory dinner which was also excellent. And it was home the next day, spoiled only by a 2 hour delay to my flight out of Schiphol.
Enjoy the video!