Norway is logistically perhaps one of the more challenging places to run a training expedition, which is without even mentioning the expense involved with such a task (as Europe’s third most expensive country to live in). However, this piece of Scandinavia straddling the Arctic Circle offers the best opportunity for the team to cultivate the necessary skills required for the South. After several months of planning, the team finally arrived in Jostedalen on May 25th followingan epic journey consisting of four ferries covering 600 miles and a total distance driven of 685 miles. One member of the group, Tom, flew in especially to meet the team having just returned from a tour of duty with the Royal Corps of Signals in Afghanistan and so it was good to see him back with the team after 4 months hiatus.
To acclimatise ourselves to the surroundings, Monday (the first day on the hills) was spent exploring an area near to the camp site called the Nigardsbreen Glacier. It is one of the most accessible glaciers within the Jostedalen valley but does require crampons and should not be attempted without relevant experience due to its never-ending procession towards Lake Nigardsbrevatnet, oh, and there are crevasses too!
The following two days (27/28), we hired a guide Sigbjorn from Norges Guidene; the objectives of these days was to learn as much from the guide as possible about cross-country skiing to continue our learning and development. We visited two different areas, Vonndalen & Sprongdalen where we learnt a range of skills from ski maintenance, downhill technique & route finding. An extremely patient man, Sigbjorn has lived here all his life and is never shy to comment on how our technique needs improving! He did say that throughout the second day, the team had vastly improved and was impressed that we spent much more time on top of the snow rather than falling into it. The weather could not have been better to spend time on the snow, clear sky giving excellent visibility, and good temperatures to soften the surface just enough.
Thursday (29th) was our first day skiing without the guide, so it was important to consolidate all the skills learnt over the past two days and use this time for some extra practice. We headed up into the same area as Tuesday to practice laying tracks and honing our downhill technique (a lot easier said than done on skis that are not as adept at taking on slopes as their Alpine counterparts). We got to the top of the valley, set up a slalom course with a couple of jumps and spent the morning working on the technique. Everyone had improved so much that thankfully the descent down the valley took 30 minutes rather than the two hours it took a few days previous. We were again blessed with the weather, giving excellent conditions to consolidate the skills learnt from Sigbjorn; the only downside was having to stop every hour and apply more sun cream.
So, this takes us to our adventures in the last 12 hours of the trip, when we headed up into the Sprongdalen valley. The plan was to continue our learning and practising the skills from earlier in the week, skills that have thus far proved to be extremely useful as our route up the valley was full of avalanche debris – we had to pick tracks carefully and move fast over the uneven terrain (thankfully and unbelievably no one fell over). Our lunch spot was by a secluded bothy with spectacular views of the valley on all sides, where we took the opportunity to work on our downhill technique a bit more. A valuable lesson was learnt by the changing weather conditions that had turned cold and windy, making the progress up the valley hard going. It is difficult, but imperative to manage our pace and clothing layers in order to reduce sweating and the cooling effect this has on the body. This can be a fatal mistake if not controlled and the importance of this as a vital skill that we must master for Antarctica is felt by the entire team.
Every member of the team has taken away some invaluable learning points this week: how skiing uses all of your body’s muscles and takes its toll. We have come to realise over a short time period that perfecting an efficient technique, as well as food, will be key to maintaining vital energy during our polar bid.
Keep an eye out for our next training update from the glaciers of Norway next week!
– Matt, HSX Antarctica Assistant Expedition Leader