Updated: Jan 6, 2021
This is the story of Guy Oliver’s first trip to the Norwegian Arctic Wilderness.
Previous to this trip, he had only been on ski for a few hours!
Our driver stopped the van about a mile before the frontier post, jumped out and deposited a box at the side of the snow covered road. “Ammunition!” He said in answer to our looks, “I am allowed to carry a gun as long as I have no ammunition.” We hadn't seen another vehicle in almost an hours drive from his farm where we had spent the night.
After a few minutes the van passed a small shack at the side of the road, it was the empty frontier post, “You are never quite sure if they will be there” said Odd Knut, our driver.
“Its not Odd Nut, pronounce the K.” He had said to me sternly when we had first been introduced 15 years previously. Another 15 minutes and the van slid to a halt, “Is this OK?” He asked. I looked across the frozen lake, you could just see the mountains on the
other side a couple of miles away. “Perfect, lets unload” I said and jumped out, stepped off the road and disappeared in soft snow up to my thighs. The next few hours were going to be hard work in the deep snow, impossible without ski. We dragged the heavy pulk from the van and I gave it a little push, it shot down the bank and across the lake and stopped
about 10 metres out. I carried the skis down and stuck them in the snow, then climbed back to where Guy was putting on his heavy rucksack, he had a very thoughtful look on his face, and Odd Knut said with a wink “He looks like the condemned man.”
“What shall I do now?” asked Guy. “Pop down to the pulk and put your skis on, then hitch up and start dragging the pulk over there” I said waving in the general direction of the other side. “I will catch you up in a few minutes.”
Which one is the condemned man?
Odd Knut helped me on with my sac, shook my hand, wished us good luck, and said he would see us in a couple of weeks. He was going for bacon, its cheaper here. Then he disappeared in a cloud of powder snow, along the road towards Kilpisjarvi in Finland.
Guy disappearing into the wilderness
Vanda my skiing friend of 20 years had said she wouldn’t come with such a small party as she didn’t feel safe, so now there were only two of us..... I stood there a moment, gazing into the silent wilderness, wondering if we were going to need his good luck. Arctic Norway is very much like a very big Scotland with an excellent system of huts run by an organisation called The DNT. Links are below for those who are interested.
Motorised transport in the Norwegian national parks is restricted, except for work, police or rescue services, so there are no private helicopters or snow scooters, unlike in Sweden, where I began my ski touring. The huts up in the North that we tended to frequent were very well equipped, but with no food, hence the pulk or sled for carrying supplies.
The skiing is generally not all that challenging and skiers use a lightweight mountain cross country ski, with soft boots and a loose heel, much lighter and more comfortable than alpine downhill ski. Of course being so far north the snow cover is often a metre deep even into April. The weather is generally quite stable, but it is possible to get an Arctic Storm, and they
can be very scary indeed. Any wilderness traveller needs to be very fit, well equipped, confident with his gear and able to deal with whatever problems might get thrown their way, including travelling in white-out conditions.
It was late in 2008 and I had been ski touring up there almost every year for the previous 20 years with a small group of like minded skiers. Unfortunately I seemed to have worn them all out, as due to old age or general fitness they had dropped out one by one and I was now Billy No Mates, wondering if I would ever be able to go again. Then one Tuesday night in the pub at a WMC meeting Guy sidled up to me and said, “I would like to go on one of your Norway trips.”
Wow, this was the best news I had heard for ages. I spent the next few club nights chatting to Guy about the trip, the kind of gear we would need, problems we might have, food we would need, etc. etc. I was thinking about booking flights, and one evening I casually said, “How much skiing have you done Guy?” “Never had a pair of skis on in my life” was the
shocking reply!!! “I’m a snowboarder.”
Oops.... I can’t remember my reply, but this was quite serious, the Arctic wilderness was hardly the place to learn to ski! “OK” I said, “But every time there is any local snow down here, we must take every chance there is to get in some practice.” The story of Guy learning to ski in the UK is told elsewhere, so suffice to say, “We had a lot of fun with much laughter.” Most of it at Guy's expense.
So it’s now March 2009 and here we were, on a foot of fresh snow, in the middle of what was hopefully, a very frozen lake in Finland. It was a slightly overcast day with a temperature of about minus 5 degrees and after about half an hour we spotted a Pisten Bully, (Snow tractor) travelling across our path. It was making a trail to the Finnish border for the local Cross Country skiers This nice new trail will make it much easier for us, at least for the next mile or so to the border.
I knew the marked trail would be here, but I didn’t expect it to be freshly groomed. Great.
This was actually where the borders of Finland, Sweden and Norway meet, and was marked with a large yellow painted boulder. There was also a hut here that we could have used in an emergency. But we were heading to Galdahytta about five miles further, only now we were about to leave the marked and well prepared ski trail for undulating ground with fairly deep snow cover.
The large concrete cairn marking the border. Picture Guy Oliver
I had been here a couple of times before, so navigation was no problem, but it was the first time on ski with a heavy rucksack this year, so it takes a while for the muscles to remember what they should be doing. After what seemed like many hours, but was probably less than two, I spotted the hut in the trees and turned right and up the hill. I dropped my sac at the door and went back to give Guy a hand with the heavy gear.
Galdahytta in the trees Picture Guy Oliver
These huts are wonderful places, it wasn't long before the fire was lit, snow was melting
on the stove, and we were having a brew in a warm and cosy room. Outside the temperature was down to minus 10 or less, it all seems a bit surreal.
Galdahytta Picture Guy Oliver
An old Snowshoe in Galdahytta
Next day, Friday, we were feeling a bit weary and decided to have a day off. It was a gorgeous day and we spent it resting and just pottering around outside the hut.
Galdahytta looking towards Gappohytta Picture Guy Oliver
Saturday morning, another fine day with almost wall to wall sunshine. We were up and off early, today we were moving up to Gappohytta, only about 11k but a height gain of 200m, and after only two nights here the pulk would still be heavy with supplies up the steep section.
If you enjoyed this little read, leave a comment and I will upload the next
episode in a few weeks.
© Pete Dutfield, January 2021