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Sunday, 13 November 2011

Norway - training and selection

Joe, me and Henry

Well, it’s been an incredible fortnight! I joined the other three remaining ISCE2012/Telegraph Competition candidates for a training/selection event in Norway. We were based in Gargia, 69°N, i.e. 800 km within the Arctic Circle. Our base was a fjellstue or travellers’ lodge along the Beskades Highway. Our local host, Per-Thore Hansen, explained to us that the government spaced these waystations approximately 33 miles apart so that passersby could take shelter in stormy/blizzardy conditions. Most of these fjellstue were bombed off the map in WWII, but have been rebuilt and privatised.

When we weren’t pinching ourselves, we were steeped in polar adventure training. The first few days were quite gentle. We were lectured on various aspects of cold weather survival, including first aid, historical precedence and communications. The Deputy Expedition Leader, Geoff Somers, (adventurer and serial Antarctic revenant) impressed on us the contrast between the absolute isolation of Scott’s crew in Antarctica and the connectivity of modern expeditioners, who are required to radio in updates every two days.

After some preparatory practical learning (tent routines; working the gas pressure stoves), we set out for a week in the wilderness. Henry and I shared a tent with Geoff, while Joe and Kathryn shared with Antony Jinman, Expedition Leader. Starting at 100 m above sea level, we hiked uphill, above the tree line (200 m) to approximately 400 m, where the terrain was characterised by tundra. It’s been an unseasonably balmy November in Finnmark (northern Norway), so there was only enough snow cover to cross-country ski on one day. I’d never worn skis before, so I did my best to discredit Per-Thore’s ‘bambi-on-ice’ predictions!

Learning to pull a pulk (sled) was an initiation right in itself. We negotiated turns, snags, bogs and stream-lets, marvelling how much less energy it takes to pull a load than to carry it in a backpack. Sadly, winter days are short in the arctic, so we soon grew accustomed to being in our tents for extended periods, swaddled like Russian infants. I felt that Henry, Geoff and I made a happy unit, and I’m sure the other three got to know each other well, too.

However, my favourite moments were when we were on the move, calmly alert (pacing, keeping an eye out for stragglers and regulating our ‘clothing systems’ for temperature control) and alive to our achromatic surroundings. I’d never seen so much snow in my life. At times I felt as though a fifth chamber would open in my heart to take in the Northern Lights, the powdery crunch underfoot and the slate, Nordic horizon.

We were asked to blog throughout our adventure, so for a day-by-day snapshot, please click here or here. More pictures to follow.

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Hot off the press: Henry has won the ISCE2012 competition. Henry's a good egg and a very deserving winner. Well done, Henry!

2 comments:

  1. I loved reading your blog. You all must have a great experience in Norway. Congratulations to Henry. I am sorry that you were not chosen Ali. You never know you may get to Antarctica one day.

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Ali is a 28 year old Londoner. He has trained at various things, including tennis playing, biochemistry and bespoke tailoring. He currently works in social housing for a local authority. In his free time, he marinades in Antarctic arcana, runs avidly (middle-distance) and bumbles through music practice. Ali volunteers for the International Scott Centenary Expedition 2012 charity, which aims to honour the legacy of Captain Robert Scott and his four men who died a hundred years ago. Ali is one of ten shortlisted candidates for the final place on the centenary expedition itself.