Having set the scene for this trip in the last post, the next logical step would seem to be to tell you where we are going. Our route is one well known to our expedition leader Mike (a veteran of 27 polar journeys), who has led folks across this area almost a dozen times. Safe hands you could say.
Before joining this expedition I did a fair bit of research on polar guides and the best locations for cold environment expeditions. Remote places require hard work and sometimes serious outlay to get to. Our destination seems to be fairly accessible, but with enough remoteness to feel ‘out there’. Mixing Mike’s trip joining instructions with my own words, I’ll try and walk you through the journey ahead.
We start by flying from Heathrow, via a short transit in Oslo, and onward to the coastal town of Alta in Northern Norway situated 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Alta (pictured below) is a small fishing and transportation port, free from ice in winter because of the Gulf Stream. The population enjoys a high standard of living and you can purchase most commodities you would expect for a town of c. 20,000 inhabitants. The people themselves are supposed to be generally kind and helpful, but their culture means they can be a little more reserved than us folk here in England.
On reaching Alta It will be cold! – Here a local taxi will transport us, together with our equipment, to a campsite about 3-4 miles out of town. In February we are likely to be one of the few visitors on site, where we’ll spend the first two nights in a wooden chalet. Our second day will be fairly relaxed, but there are tasks we must complete – mainly checking that all our kit works and packing our pulk (sled). Failure of kit isn’t an option. The next day the expedition proper starts after some final equipment training- exciting!
So it all kicks off with a 30 minute taxi ride to the hamlet of Stilla, followed without delay by skiing 300 meters uphill and onto the trail. Sometimes there are skidoos in this region, but we soon leave them behind. We will be on our own…Over the next six days, we’ll ski to the South East for about 7 hours per day . The route is approx 120km long and to begin with follows an old and partially marked postal trail. It will become increasingly remote the further we go – taking us over numerous frozen lakes including ‘Lesjav’ri,’ the largest lake in Northern Norway. The latter stage of the Finnmark plateau will have an ‘out there’ feeling about it .
In good weather, we’ll see fabulous sunrises and sunsets – the effect of the pink light on the scenery can be stunning we’re told. Often daylight is not at a premium and therefore sometimes travel may be necessary by torchlight – but that can be pretty special too. On clear evenings we can expect superb displays from the Aurora. Eventually we’ll reach the descent point, taking us downhill through the tree line of the Boreal Forest, to a frozen river valley. Finally we camp our last night on the river, before skiing along it into the tiny Sami town of Karasjok. Karasjok is a small border town with Finland, and as well as being known for it’s Sami Reindeer herding culture, it holds the coldest temperature weather record for Norway at – 51C. Then it’s onwards and upwards back to Alta via taxi and then back home to the UK.
I leave you with a map of Norway, our route and the Finnmark area. Sometimes it’s nice to look at a map and see the lines, shapes and colours that make up this world that we inhabit. To see beyond the computer screen, the television, our car windscreen even, and remember there is an outside, that all too often we forget is there.