Intense Arctic IV – Leadership Expedition Norway
Is it really climate change or just a very mild Arctic winter? When we landed at Trondheim Vaernes Airport it was six degrees and the area was free of snow. This is 63 degrees North, only a few hundred kilometers short of the Arctic Circle! The taxi driver who took us into the mountains had never experienced such a snowless and spring-like February in this area of Central Norway. Would this become a spring hike in winter? Would we be carrying our full winter expedition gear across green fields filled with flowers?
Fortunately it got colder as the taxi van ascended into the mountains further inland. Away from the relative warm Atlantic currents of the Trondheim Fjord the landscape turned more wintery. At 300 meters altitude the dirt road was covered in black ice, followed by layers of snow slightly further up. Carefully proceeding towards the end of the road we suddenly found ourselves back in winter, with snow covering the hill sides.
We had travelled to this part of Europe for the fourth edition of our Intense Arctic Wilderness Experience. With a group of people eager to experience expedition leadership the trip was quickly dubbed the ‘Arctic Leadership Trail’. We basically aim to have corporate managers, consultants and other professionals experience leadership in a different – potentially hazardous – environment. Learning takes place outside your comfort zone, a statement that we at Expedition Factory take very literally. We organize these real-life expedition experiences to step outside our comfort zone, yet find new comfort in these areas, while learning valuable human – and some practical outdoor – skills.
The basic concept of these wilderness experience trails is simple: You are taken to a point in absolute wilderness in the middle of the night, after a normal working day. As soon as the taxi leaves you fully depend on your group and your gear for survival. We hike up the mountains to set up a wintercamp for the first night and you wake up in a different world. It is now up to you and your group mates to plan an expedition that will get you to a designated pick-up point three days later. Your expedition guides (including the author) are there for safety and basic advice only.
Follow us for a virtual trip in the remote Skarvan og Roltdalen National Park, where we learn about the forces of mother nature, leadership, group dynamics and a fun winter camping trip!
Day 1 – Into the Middle of Nowhere
After an evening flight to Central Norway and a 40-minute taxi ride, we are left behind in what feels like the middle of nowhere, where a dark path leads into a forest up the snowy hill. (Photo: P. Dijkens)
At the end of the track, on the edge of a small forest pond we set up camp for the first night in the wilderness. (Photo: W. Anema)
Day 2 – Leadership: Setting Expedition Goals
In the morning we wake up well outside our comfort zone, but amidst a beautiful winter mountain scene. It will be three days until we get back into the world that we know. (Photo: W. Anema)
After breakfast and breaking up camp we head towards the wilderness of the Skarvan og Roltdalen National Park. There are no roads into this park, just a few tracks that disappear under the snow in winter. Maps, compasses and GPS ensure we don’t get lost.
It is not very cold, but the grey weather and the very strong wind cause considerable wind chill. During our short breaks we find shelter behind natural features, like this snow ridge.
On the lookout for the perfect camping spot, sheltered from the strong winds, we cross several streams. Getting wet in cold conditions is a big risk factor, so we help each other safely cross these small but treacherous streams. (Photo: P. Dijkens)
We find the ideal camping spot in a small piece of forest at about 400 meters altitude, along a small stream for water supply and a lot of dead wood for a camp fire.
Using dead wood is important for two reasons: To preserve the forest in the area and to ensure the wood is dry enough for a good camp fire.
We light the fire using natural materials, like beard moss and chunks of resin-rich branches from the pine trees.
A camp fire is critically important during cold evenings when winter camping. It provides warm water, warm food and is psychologically important, as it creates a warm atmosphere in the dark and cold winter forest.
Just before dinner some of us make a sunset walk in the surrounding area. To enjoy the landscape, but moving also keeps you warm.
Day 3 – Do we stay or do we go?
The next morning the group discusses the goal for the day. We decide to leave our camp where it is and hike to the nearby lake. The wind is still very strong, preventing us from climbing the higher summits in the park.
The sky stays grey, but in beautiful dark and light shades, providing a spectacular background for a very happy group picture along the way.
On our way towards the lake the weather clears and we even see some blue skies.
At the lake we discuss our options for the return hike to camp and decide to climb one of the medium high summits of the park, directly above the lake.
It is still very windy (gusts up to 80 km/h), but the entire group makes it to the barren summit of Grønlipynten (582 m). [click to open full panorama]
At sunset we descend off the mountain towards our camp.
Winter does beautiful things to the already beautiful environment of the National Park.
Back at camp we collect new dry firewood. Dry pine is harder to find than dead birch, but burns with less smoke. Through team effort we try to collect as much dead pinewood as we can.
The fire again supplies many liters of warm water for our drink bottles and astronaut-style outdoor meals.
Day 4 – Climbing high
The next morning we break up our camp in the forest, making sure we leave as few traces as possible. We clear up our fire spot and ensure no waste stays behind. (Photo: P. Dijkens)
It is a beautiful day and the winds have dropped dramatically. We decide to climb a high ridge (604m) on the side of Storskarven, the highest summit in this part of the National Park (1171m).
The ridge at 604 meters is a barren plateau, leading up to the summit behind us. The summit is too far for a daytrip under these circumstances, but the ridge offers great views over the park.
This panorama was taken on the highest point of our winterhike, at 604 meters. [Click to enlarge]
On the way back we cross the frozen Sildertjønnin Lakes and marshes. Carefully examining the ice plateaus prior to crossing, to prevent getting wet.
Windswept frozen streams and marshes in the midday sunlight. Winter at its most beautiful!
We are heading back to the human world today, descending all the way into the green valley in the distance.
Only a few hundred meters before the end point we cross the frozen Sildra River, the main water flow in the valley. This is a dangerous crossing, with water flowing below the ice sheets!
At the end of the day we all make it safely to the Sildra parking, where the taxi arrives at the exact time we agreed. Norwegian accuracy. On the way back to the airport it starts to snow heavily. Mother Nature is still boss!
Mother Nature is the Real Leader
Our 4-day itinerary through the Skarvan og Roltdalen National Park. A seemingly random track, largely determined by landscape, weather and group dynamics. Nature is always the real leader! [Click to enlarge]