Dull sunlight sifted through the frosted glass windows of the chalet, and in the background the howls of a large group of huskies broke the silence. The huskies were quite a sight to behold, all worked up in a frenzy over their breakfast, and so I stepped outside to get a closer look. Tails wagging, their soft coat glowing, and an overt excess of energy – it’s easy to see why these great working dog’s were so vital to the early success of expedition’s in the heroic age of polar exploration. We would get a closer sight of some huskies out on the trail later in our journey.
Today was the first day of our arctic journey proper. The weather looked relatively calm yet a tad uninspiring outside. Not too far off from perfect weather for our first foray into a cold arctic environment. Much of the rest of the morning was spent distributing our shared payloads, packing our sleds, refining our clothing system and checking up on our basic arctic competencies, for example how to regulate temperature out on the ice. After lunch we were headed for the small Hamlet of Stilla, around 30 minutes by taxi from our base in Alta.
We had hired a taxi with a trailer capable of carrying four sleds and all our kit, which was driven by a stoic looking local gent. As we sped out of Alta we were introduced to the sort of beautiful snow covered countryside that you would imagine appearing in Narnia or the like, tree branches straining under a hefty coating of snow and ice. It was now clear, sunny and crisp, I couldn’t wait to get started. Ahead of us we had around 300 metres of climbing uphill before the ground would level off.
Dispatching of the uphill section fairly easily I felt pretty damn warm, not a surprise to me as I have a propensity to ‘run hot’ so to speak. Thus commenced a frustrating 30 minutes or so of faffing with a wind suit pulled down halfway, or wind suit up with vents open, hat on or hat off, routine. As we crested the hill and made good time along the flat, the wind soon picked up and became pretty biting. It’s easy to see how people can get a bit freaked out at this point – it’s cold, windswept, and all that lay ahead is snow and ice. It’s just you a couple of blokes and some kit.
As you can see from the photos above, the sunset was pretty amazing. We skied for around 3 hours, following an old postal route, and crossed a series of small frozen lakes. We struck camp on the final of these lakes. Once you stop it’s big duvet jacket on to fight off the cold , and crack on with getting the tent up. Easier said than done as once the tent is up you need to cover the snow flaps with 2-3 metres of snow to make sure it stays there in high wind. Shovelling snow is damn hard work, but at the least it keeps you warm. Next up is cutting blocks of snow, for melting in the stove pan, for drinking water and for rehydrating our meal packs. It takes a lot of effort to get your camp in order. As we finally finished our camp tasks we were treated to a showing of the Northern Lights – magnificent swathes of emerald green light dancing across the sky (Andy captured a few pics, see below). To get a sighting on our first night was the perfect start to the trip.
As I stepped inside, thus began my initiation to arctic tent life. This definitely deserves a post of it’s own, and with the following quite pertinent sentiment which headed our arctic competencies document, this is where I shall leave you for today, :
Moisture & cold, our enemy. Tent & stove, our ally.