Intense Arctic Expedition III
This was the third Intense Arctic Expedition that we organized since 2011. The ‘intense’ concept means that participants have a very short, but intense arctic experience. Three nights of hiking and camping in the snow of a challenging wilderness is enough to have a lifelong impact. It is also intense because it brings you from inside your comfort zone to ‘outside your comfort zone’ – there where the magic happens – in just a few hours. Our favorite location is the rugged Skarvan and Roltdalen National Park in Central Norway. It is close to the Trondheim-Vaernes Airport, which offers several daily direct flights from Amsterdam, by KLM. It is also the northernmost destination you can fly directly from Amsterdam. Perfect for this short experience!
With a group of six people, including two experienced arctic expedition leaders, we took off from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport on the evening of 22 November. Weather forecast was for mild temperatures, overcast skies and snow. November is a tricky month for trips to Norway, as there is no guarantee for snow this close to the coast and the weather can be very rough. After a smooth flight we got off the plane in light snowfall and temperatures around freezing.
After picking up our bags we changed from travel clothes into full winter expedition gear. At around 23:00 we are met by our taxi driver and we load up the van with our backpacks and snowshoes. We leave our travel clothes behind in a locker at the airport. After a short stop at the airport petrol station to fuel up on Euro95 for our stoves, we head East, towards the dark mountains of the region of Nord and Sør-Trøndelag.
Half an hour later we are driving up a dark mountain road towards a dead end. This is our designated drop-off point in the middle of nowhere. There are no roads that lead directly into the National Park itself, so we have to cover the last kilometers on foot. The van drops us at the point where a mountain track should meet the road. There is some snow on the road, but it is not total winter yet. At around midnight we see the taxivan disappear in the distance. We put on our gloves, hats and snowshoes and try to find the track up the slope of the wooded hill. To our surprise the track leads into an area that is freshly cleared of all trees. The track disappears into the mess left by the foresters after only a few hundred meters. But we have our GPS helping us find our way (hurray for space technology!). We don’t want to hike too long. After all, it is 1 in the morning and we need sleep for the rest of our expedition. After we leave the forested area we find a meadow-like field, bordering a boggy open terrain. Perfect for our first night. We put up the tents and a bivybag and get into our warm sleeping bags. The adventure has begun!
Our camp at dawn of day 2. We have arrived outside our comfort zone!
Expedition leader preparing breakfast. Adventure Food anyone?
We leave our camp and head for the mountains of the National Park, visible in the distance. It is grey but not super cold and no rain or snow when we start our snowshoe hike that day.
We have to cross many small half frozen streams. Not too difficult, but you want to avoid wet feet at any cost in winter.
Climbing steep slopes with full backpacks on showshoes requires some practice. Our snowshoes have ascent clips, making walking up these slopes relatively simple.
It is early enough in the season to find fresh bear tracks! European brown bears are more afraid of us than we of them. Bear encounters are extremely rare in Scandinavia.
After lunch it starts to snow and the wind picks up a few notches too. Soon we walk in a classic blizzard.
Enjoying whatever Mother Nature throws at us! That’s what we came for. With the right gear this actually feels good.
We set up camp 2 in twilight (at 15:00 in the afternoon). We even see the sun through the clouds, for 10 seconds. That evening it starts to snow really heavily.
In the morning our two tents have been buried under at least half a meter of fresh snow. We have to dig ourselves a way out.
Meanwhile, more snow keeps coming. In combination with the temperatures around freezing, moist becomes a big problem. Everything gets wet: tents, sleeping bags, clothes. It is critically important to try to keep our gear as dry as possible.
Again we conquer blizzard conditions and sometimes deep snowfields through the National Park. Due to heavy winds and horizontal snow drifts, we will not be able to climb any of the surrounding summits.
Spirit remains high, especially when we reach a gorgegous third camp spot in an open spot in the forest. Because of the wind we want to have some shelter, so we can make a campfire and hang around outside for a few hours during the very long Poalr night evenings.
One of the most picturesque camping spots I have ever been in. The tall snowcovered Nordic Spruce trees are just magical! We take loads of Christmas-card pictures here!
Early winter, when everything is still wet, with heavy snow and around zero degrees is the most difficult time to light a campfire. We finally succeed lighting it with lots of birch bark, but it is challenging to keep the fire going. After two hours we feel smoked enough and go to bed early.
On our last morning we take a final group picture of the brave men and women that survived the very first real winter storm in this area this winter season. Only 2 kliometers to go to the pick-up point.
Exactly on time we arrive at the pre-arranged pick up point at the end of the mountain road. Five minutes later the taxivan arrives. The fresh snow is no problem for Norwegian cars, as they all drive on studded tires. An hour later we are back in the warm airport terminal building, where food, drinks and a flight home await!
After an early dinner we board our plane home and well before midnight we can all get in our own warm beds. We have been away for four days, but the experience feels more like four weeks.