Skiing the Wilds of Finse, Norway

Well, there's only a matter of days left before I head off to Svalbard. Once there I will spend a few days acclimatising before flying off the 88th degree and the start of my 225km journey. Before the day arrives, I thought I'd better recount a little more of my journey to Finse, Norway.

Norwegian Sub-zero Temperatures

In March 1914, explorer and icon Sir Ernest Shackleton departed for a rugged, mountainous region of Norway called Finse.

The area is well travelled by many Norwegians, both in summer and winter, and recognised as a training ground that closely resembles the terrain of the South Pole – Shackelton’s intended destination.

Now, as then, the many routes through the mountains and hills are peppered with huts in which travellers can shelter from the extremes of the Nordic snow and sub-zero temperatures.

Shock to the System

At 19:14 on 10 February 2016 I clambered down the step of the SNB (Norwegian State Railway) train and shivered as the cold bit deep.

The temperature was, according to the thermometer on the platform, a bone chilling minus 12 Celsius. This was the first shock to my system.

For several weeks I’d been planning this trip – a test of the coming event in April 2016 – and had obsessed over average temperatures in Finse. The online charts suggested a constant minus 5 to minus 8 Celsius across the last ten years. I remember my thoughts: ‘it’s OK, just a blip. The weather will improve.’

Hills and Valleys Norwegian Style

The next morning didn’t feel warmer. In fact, I could feel the first signs of frostnip (first degree frostbite) developing in the tips of my fingers as I cooked breakfast.

Still undaunted, I set about packing up my tent and collecting fuel and a pulk from one of the local guides (a Norwegian introduced by a mutual friend).

Two hours later, with 50kg of equipment packed in my pulk, I set off on the first leg of the planned 32km country ski of the day.

The route I’d mapped out for this entire training trip would take in three huts and around 75km of hills and valleys through which to ski.

Now, that’s 75km with accurate map reading rather than assuming the people travelling a parallel route to me are going to the same destination as I was! More on that next time.

Very cold

Due to a late start, I missed the first hut by about four kilometres; daylight was failing and an arduous climb in near darkness was an adventurous step too far.

I was pleased that I’d managed to cover about 28km in 6 hours, but irritated I was short of my intended mark. Still, a night out in the tent would present an opportunity to refresh some skills and practise the all-important tent routine.

That first night the thermometer hit a low of minus 22 Celsius. I was cold. Very cold.

Numb feet

As I lay in my sleeping bag, my numb feet elevated up to prevent the blood from welling and cooling, I reminded myself why preparing for the very worst of scenarios is the best option – irrespective of whether this be in the working environment or planning a trip to the North Pole (my destination this April).

The temperatures there, at the top of the world, will be closer to minus 30 Celsius, and probably lower. And pretty much the same as those I encountered on my next day in Finse, which I’ll detail in my next post.