I’m typing this blog with one hand because I ran into a tree (or two, or three…) today whilst learning to ski. More on that later.
Nearly everything was removed from the original heavy packaging and streamlined into lighter kitchen bags. Tops of bags were chopped off to save on weight, and I even went as far as bagging Pringles (much to the scorn of Carl and Zac who apparently thought that was too far. But who had exact daily rations of Pringles? I did.) WEIGHT, or should I say less weight was the name of this game. Next was personal clothing and kit. It was all about trying to find out what combination works best for your body. So naturally I pretty much took all my clothes. Cooking equipment; stoves, gas, pots and cups was next up. Also important to take is a stove board to stop your stove sinking into the snow. Now we won’t point fingers, but one of us conveniently forgot this… luckily we had Kiwi ingenuity on our sides, so we skinned a reindeer and used it’s pelt as a mat…. jokes. We just used our shovel.
I got burdened with the tent on my sled, but the trade off was that that Zac got a worse running sled, commonly described as an anchor. Happy days. We smashed everything out in a few days, and were primed to leave on Sunday lunch time. The weather forecast was looking good (although in hindsight Carl probably meant to say “The weather will be a good example of the numerous kinds of conditions you will likely face on your campaign”). We set off with a spring in our step, which was quickly forgotten after the first downhill (I actually mean very small slope) where I arsed out and got collected by my sled. It was an omen of things to come.
The first day saw us climbing (using skis with a removable carpet like ‘skin’ on the underside) up steadily to the Hallingskarvet National Park. We pitched our tent in somewhat windy conditions 20-30 knots, our first real test, which by in large we succeeded, ie, the tent didn’t blow away. She was pretty balmy night somewhere in the vicinity of -10 with the windchill. I could get used to this. The second day followed a similar routine as the first, hour long ski stints with a 10 min break in between. This would normally go from 9 until around 4. We did however get introduced to riding ‘ponies’, with ponies being our sleds. This was a much more efficient way of downhill travel owing to our poor downhill skiing ability. And hugely more entertaining. When a cloud of snow went up, somebody had no doubt been demounted from his trusty steed. On the third day we were treated to some marvelous news, we were skiing to the ‘waffle house’ in Tuva to sink our chompers into some Norwegian waffles. The only catch a small one hour climb up onto the Hardangervidda. Having attempted this earlier in the week with just our skis, we knew we were in for a slog with our pulks (sleds). Sure enough, when we finally reached the top, we were thankful for a stop and the downhill coming up (kinda thankful, downhill is still worse than uphill in my eyes).
We were stoked to slide in and smash out some waffles and a hot choc, not before a small amount of manual labor to earn them (we were tasked with unstacking and deicing a pile of benches). Soon enough, off we went, we were sad to see our warm waffle oasis disappear behind us as we ventured further out onto the plateau. Shortly after, with Zac and his keen eye, a solitary reindeer was spotted tucking into some frozen bush. Apparently it was a real treat to see one this close to people, and rarer still he was lone rangering it. (The following day, we saw the rest of his herd – some 300, and the reindeer highway they were travelling).That was definitely a tick in the wildlife column – to go is a squirrel and a bear (both I’m told I will have no chance of spotting, alas). With an absolute pearler of a day in the making, with blue bird conditions, we were informed by Carl and his mountain of knowledge of the plateau, that she was going to be a bit of a cooler night. Too right he was. Setting up camp, our tips became frosty and the temperature plummeted. Apparently the mercury decided to stop around -23. Officially the coldest I have ever been. EVER. That night I slept with two sleeping bags, a liner, full thermals on, my beanie and my down vest. Now as you read this, you might be thinking I bet going to the toilet when it’s really cold out is not a fun chore. Well it’s not. It is helped by the fact that we carry pee bottles in our sleeping bags should we need to go in the middle of the night…just don’t over fill them. I came close to disaster on a few occasions. Answering natures call of the bowel is a different ball game entirely. For this, you do have to brave the rather chilly conditions, back up, pop a squat and go for it. Minimizing the time your tender baby skin bum cheeks are exposed is key – a skill that still needs work.
It soon came to the back end of the expedition and the real test was to face the cold wilderness by ourselves. Carl nervously left us to our own devices on the 4th night, which I am happy to report went by without a hitch. The following morning was similarly as cold as the previous, although the air was a lot moister (which did wonders for building icicles on our fur ruff and my beard). The 5th and final night we followed the same routine (with double rations!), and had to find our was home ourselves the next morning (a whole 4 kms worth!).
conclusion of our training run: we learnt the important of having the right gear (extra big sizes is key), staying warm was even more important (we only have some small loss of feeling to our tips of some fingers, which I’m told is nothing to worry about…) and having fun while doing all that is of the utmost importance. Why else would we do it for?