NORWEGIAN SKI TRAINING
In the last edition we brought you an account of the 'Brei Kursus' or glacier climbing course that Paul attended in Norway in preparation for the Greenland crossing. Here is the account of the second training expedition in the bleak Northern Winter.
I landed at Oslo, the runway blackness contrasting with the white winter wonderland around. The wood and glass airport building was warm and beside a small scare as I walked casually past the sniffer dog with my 5kg energy packed droë wors, was soon legally in Norway. I bought a train ticket and not sure when the train was due and how far the platform was stepped through the one way doors to the railway. It was a very long ten minute wait as I stood in my T-shirt looking nonchalant in the -15 °C weather.
Once again I was soon ensconced in Olafs' warm and friendly home. I discussed equipment, evolution before I finally, after a quick meal reached the point of our skiing trip and my need to both get the right equipment and learn to ski. "Very Fine" said Olaf, I'll take you tomorrow shopping, "I suggest you stick with natural fibres" Why? "Have you seen any sheep complaining?"
Piles of money later we made it back to Olafs' house, "Very Fine" said Olaf "Now I show you how to ski" It was dark but the steepness of Olafs' garden and the Icy cold I pretended to ignore. After plenty of falls, I decided it was now time to try and turn. I asked Olaf how. "I don't know, I learnt skiing when I was two."
The next day I ventured out with Olaf again and we went on the prepared cross-country tracks that they have in the area. You can travel the whole day on the tracks, and the two channels and smooth snow was suddenly do-able. Olaf said my skiing was "Very Fine" and this gave me some hope for our excursion into the mountains.
Three days later we were on the train headed for the mountains. All the Norwegians that were expected to join us on this training trip that followed Amundsens training plan had pulled out leaving Cornel, Dino and myself. We had only narrowly caught the train as it left at 6:00 am, and were so busy frantically making harnesses for the sleds that we were going to pull. After a breathtakingly beautiful journey we arrived at Finse, the highest railway station in Norway and made ready to ski off into the mountains.
It was a beautiful sunny day as we set off and lots of people were to be seen enjoying the sunshine. We set off and as we had only two sets of skins (these attach underneath your ski's and make going uphill a lot easier) I was keen to stay ahead of the others as I saw the mountains ahead. As I neared the top of a ridge Cornel caught up with me and old lady came skiing in the other direction. After a brief discussion and on the realisation that we intended to sleep out she said that she was very concerned about us. "So are we" retorted Cornel. We made a good few km's that afternoon and decided to pitch camp in the lee of a small ridge. It was great fun in the snow and we were even able to marvel at the Big Dipper before turning in for the night. It started to howl!!!
The next morning I staggered out to relive myself. The world had changed. It was windy, cold and pretty difficult to see anything. I was pretty quick to get back inside the tent.
In the afternoon things improved and we decided to do a circular route around our camp so as to improve our skiing skills. We ate lunch in the fjelldoek (a type of bivvy) and our learning curve remained steep.
It was an even worse day, colder and making the previous day's wind a mere breeze. I put on all my Kit and off we went. We knew that we had to move as our fuel for melting snow would run out in a day or so. It was difficult and we had to stay close together. Cornel was in the front, myself in the middle and Dino in the rear. I looked back, no Dino, I put on a spurt and caught Cornel. "Where's Dino?" I shouted, I was about to ask you the same question said Cornel. He went back to look for Dino. I sat and froze. Dino was found, he had been blown up the mountain. We continued. My sled just twisted around next to me, the wind easily lifting the 20kg pack in the air. It then lifted my gopher pad way into the air going like a Boeing. We had a very, very steep descent. We sat on our sleds and tobogganed down. Lucas now disappeared, his ski's had fallen off so he had to climb way backup. It may have been getting dark, The white-out appeared to starting to be a grey-out. Lets sleep in the lee of that large rock I suggested. It was cosy within the tents as we ate our standard of couscous, bacon and droe-wors. A very very fine Cold ration developed in Hot Africa? I struggled to sleep on the cold snow and the sweat of the day was an excellent freezer at night.
We awoke beside a double story wooden house, the railway was 100m off. We had about 30km to reach the town of Haugestoll. And we could just follow the railway route so as not to get lost. It was great to be skiing again and being able to appreciate the landscape. It was fine until we got to a narrow poort. I remembered Olaf telling us not to ski alongside the tracks as the snow plough would turn one into very fine mince-meat. Cornel said it was only 100m and set off. I however decided that I would cross over to the other side where there was more space, Dino following. 50m on Cornel was overtaken by a train and just disappeared, he had just slid down the slope to get away. I skied on another 20m and recrossed the rail and seeing Cornel was Ok carried on skiing. As I rounded the corner I saw another train, looked back and saw Dino crossing at that moment. I screamed, Dino accelerated, he fell with his sled on the track, The driver braked, Dino pulled his rope and somehow the train missed, coming to a standstill 200m away. The driver and conductor were delighted to see Dino alive and wanted to take him to Bergen on their non-stop train travelling at 160km per hour, to check if he was alright "inside". I certainly wasn't.
Thereafter we left the tracks and followed a stream downwards. Cornel had a nasty scare when the ice broke and he had to lunge for safety to avoid an icy drowning. I then went ahead and led the way down a steep ravine. Dino not liking the tracks I had made stamped his feet and I looked back to see an avalanche rumbling down towards them. Fortunately it swept past them and we were able to continue. We again skied until before finding another house to serve as a windbreak and used the last fuel to melt water.
I awoke to a stunning sunrise, it took fifteen valuable minutes to defrost my camera to get the shot. We saw the lake just ahead of us and it was a lovely morning ski, with our frozen leather handles chirping along as we skied along, veterans now of the cold and mountains. I thought of Cornel's words that he had got from a wise Canadian Eskimo. "You will get tired, but the cold never does".