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Guy’s First Arctic Ski Touring Trip. Part Five

Continuing with Guy Oliver’s first winter trip to the Norwegian Arctic. We are at Daertahytta in the Dividal National Park, and have discovered Guy has a broken cable on his ski binding,

We spent the rest of that day making temporary ski repairs. I managed to loosen the binding from the ski and pass a strap with a buckle under the binding so that Guy could fasten it over his toe, then screw the binding back down. Not perfect but it’s similar to the method they used to use a hundred years ago, let’s hope it lasts.

Interestingly among a pile of papers we found an old WMC magazine that I had left several years previously. This was the first reading material in English we had seen since we came here and we both read it with appreciation from cover to cover. So thanks to the editor of the time, sorry but I don’t remember what year it was published.

We also spent quite a lot of time cutting as much firewood as we could fit in the now empty pulk. I made the decision that I would try and pull the pulk from now on, so as to protect Guys broken binding. I wanted to be sure Guy put as little strain as possible on his dodgy ski. The thought of him attempting to walk the last 25k in deep snow was worrying to say the least. Statskog had a place about 7 or 8k away on our route to Devdis. It was a hut reserved for Statskog but there were two small bunks in the porch and a wood stove for use in emergency. Neil Skip and I had stayed there two years ago, so I knew this was an option, and as we had allowed for two nights at Devdis this might be a possibility. We decided to allow for an early start tomorrow and see how things went.

While we were cooking tea a very tired and ragged looking couple turned up. They had started several months ago in the southern tip of Norway and were skiing to the three border stone we had passed on our first day. It was the 100th anniversary of the border being agreed between the three countries (Norway, Sweden and Finland) and they were pushing to be there for the ceremony, in two days time. They looked so exhausted we offered them a tot of our precious whisky. After that and some food, they seemed to perk up and became excellent company, telling us about some of their adventures. Sometimes they used huts, sometimes camping in sub zero temperatures.

We were doing a bit of packing before bedtime, just checking the right bits were in the correct jacket pocket, etc. We were moving onto a new map tomorrow, so I needed to get it from the pile in my rucksack. It would save messing about in the morning. Hmm... “Guy, have you seen the Dividalen map?” “No. You have all the maps.” Oh dear! Oh dear, oh dear…. This is very serious, I can’t find it anywhere. Devdishytta is only about 5k beyond the map we were on, and we would be in a well defined valley by that time. Also I had been this way several times before, but losing the only map is really unforgivable. The long distance skiers were clearing up. Did I detect a slight grin on one of their faces? “We have a map and we don’t need it now” one of them said. “We can pay you for it” I quickly replied. “You already have, that drop of whisky you gave us when we came in earlier made the world of difference to us.” I don’t quite understand what it is but somehow there is a special bond between mountain people that I have rarely seen in others. Guy and myself had each started with half a litre of whisky in a plastic bottle. A very precious commodity if you are going to spend 12 nights in the Arctic wilderness, with no chance of any further supplies. And yet we had given some to two complete strangers, just because they looked tired, and now they were paying us back, probably more than they realised. Mountain friends are indeed very special.

We were all up early the next morning, but the long distance party were ready before us. I suppose they are classed as professionals.

Me posing with the long distance skiers at Daertahytta

The long distance skiers ready for the off at Daertahytta. The last leg of their 1,500k journey, a remarkable achievement. Just look at the size of those pulks!

We saw them off with a wave and set off half an hour behind them but going in the opposite direction. We had another 25k to get to our meeting place with Odd Knut. We had three days so it should be easy even allowing for bad weather, except we have one broken ski and this old man now has to haul a load of firewood.

From here on the terrain is mainly undulating with very little steep ground to cover. It may be a little steep down into the Devdis valley but nothing I can’t handle. The pulk was easier to pull than I expected. I had even managed to put in a bit of gear from my rucksack to take the weight off my back. We were following a snow scooter track A heavy scooter will firm soft snow down and generally make the going much easier. But in fact we had had very little snowfall since we arrived in Norway so generally we were now skiing on a much firmer surface than when we started. Guy seemed to be limping along quite nicely and I felt we were making quite good progress.

We planned to do about 6 or 7k and have a lunch stop at room 101. This cabin belongs to Statskog and serves as a field office and living quarters for staff working out in the national parks. We thought it probable that the two men working on the Daerta roof were staying here at night. It would only take about 15 minutes on a snow scooter. The main room is locked but there are two small bunks and a small wood stove in the porch for emergencies. There was no one there and after a lunch stop in the sunshine we carried on up and over into the Devdis valley.

I call this small cabin room 101, simply because the number 101 is on the side. This is a Statskog field office, with accommodation for staff only, but in an emergency it may be possible to stay in the porch. There are two small bunks and a wood stove.

Way back in the year 2000, five of us had quite an epic. We were travelling in the opposite direction in very poor weather. It was OK down in the valley among the trees, but as we got higher and the trees thinned out the weather got much worse. The wind picked up, it was snowing hard and developing into a white-out. We stopped for a quick discussion. Should we carry on, or turn round and go back to Devdis? We were almost half way to Daerta and the strong wind was on our backs, so turning round would be uncomfortable. Also we were using a GPS, one of the early ones, and a bit bulky compared with the gear we have now. The problem was that in those days the US were configuring the software so that any GPS was only accurate to 100m, but the GPS was really irrelevant as we didn’t have a map ref for the emergency room.

Perhaps foolishly we decided to go on. An hour later we were regretting our decision as the weather had developed into a full arctic storm. One of our party, who was already having back problems, complained about her ski boot and binding. When I examined them I realised the snow had been blowing from behind under her boot and as she pushed her heel down the snow became compressed into a hard lump of ice under the boot sole, with the result that the boot failed and would not connect to the binding. I was able to clear the binding of the lump of ice that had formed and put a strap round the boot and under the ski. This held the foot in place but took all the glide away from the ski. We took her rucksack off and tied it on the pulk I was pulling. She then had to walk on one ski until we could make a better repair.

We battled on like that for another hour or so, then suddenly a building loomed out of the mist. The building turned out to be a locked private cabin. Someone suggested we break in!!! I was initially against this. Devdis was only a couple of hours away and to break in seemed unthinkable. Then I noticed one of our party standing in the lee of the cabin, shivering. I quickly realised the seriousness of our situation and agreed that it was the only thing to do, so we forced a window breaking it in the process.

Next morning we woke to sunshine, clear skies and no wind, with a pristine snow surface everywhere. It was serenely beautiful. We had skied through the middle of a small spaced out village of cabins without seeing any except this one. We were able to trace the owners later and pay for the broken window when we got home.

A picture of my skis and a Statskog scooter, taken from room 101 a couple of years earlier. It seems unbelievable we could ski right through the middle of the cabins you see in the distance and didn’t see any except the one we broke into, until the next morning. These cabins are mainly used in the summer by fishermen.

Sorry I digressed. After lunch at Room 101 we continued to the head of the Devdis valley, passing a little lonely tree on the way. The skies were greying over and the weather was beginning to close in, but I wasn't worried as we were almost into the Devdis valley and then navigation would be quite straight forward.

Will we be OK getting down into the Devdis Valley with our load of firewood? Tune in next week to see how we get on.

© Pete Dutfield, January, 2021

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