When I got back from Greenland, in May last year, all I could think of was planning another expedition in the Arctic. Even if the warm temperatures and the sun were encouraging me to focus on surfing, kayaking and just chill in the sun, my thoughts were still anchored on snow. The experiences and the emotions had been so intense that although I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go, I knew I wanted to go back to the Arctic. I was drawn to it. What I saw there was so inspiring and eye opening that I wasn’t certainly going to stop there. I knew I had only scratched the surface in terms of skiing terrain and I was determined to explore more. So in June I was already on the case, studying maps and satellite images (there are still no proper maps for many areas, including the one I went to last year), talking to people trying to sell the idea and put together a crew for the next trip.
Sleeping in a tent at -15° in polar bear territory and eating dehydrated food for 2 or 3 weeks is not exactly everyone’s idea of a fun ski trip; not even if you are an avid skier and
you know that the reward awaiting is skiing some of the best lines of your life on a very stable snowpack. After about a month I had to face the reality: it wasn’t going to happen. So I went back to the drawing board, or better, to my Atlas, to do some more homework. It was actually a fairly straightforward exercise looking for the Arctic Circle and focus on mountain ranges located a few hundred kilometers above it. I was spoiled for choice.
My first pick was the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Its islands are located midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, at latitude 80°. The logistics’ complexity of a similar expedition seemed to grow exponentially every time I was thinking about it. If
I could not put together a team for Greenland there was no way I could find someone interested in coming skiing with me at 80° latitude. Svalbard will have to wait until I have the right crew with the correct chemical imbalance in the brain for a ski expedition like that.
My eyes were set on Norway. Now the tricky part was to find an area which was easy to access but at the same time remote enough to experience what the Arctic is all about: nature and wilderness. The solution came while speaking with my friend Per, a Swedish mountain guide who lives in La Grave, in the French Alps. Over the last eight years, Per spent few weeks during the winter months sailing and skiing in the Lyngen Alps, a stunning mountain range located on the north west coast of Norway, east of Tromsø, about 400 km into the Arctic circle.
When I started looking at a map of the area, I could not believe how unique the location was and how interesting the terrain features were: fjords with summits of 1,000/1,500 mt peaks rising from the sea with slopes ending right on the seashore; rolling hills and open fields stretching in the distance for kilometers.
The mountains follow the western shore of the 90 km long Lyngen Fjord in a north-south direction. The mountains dominate the Lyngen Peninsula, which is bordered by the Lyngen Fjord to the east, and Ullsfjorden to the west. Snow cover is consistently good thanks to a healthy combination of Arctic air temperatures and the Gulf Stream. Northerly winds pick up moisture and are forced upward as they reach the Lyngen Alps where Mother Nature dispenses the water in generous quantities of fresh snow. Although we are right by the sea, all of this is possible because of the area’s extreme northerly location: at 70°, these mountains are at the same latitude as Alaska and Siberia, and only 2,000 km from the North Pole.
A ski trip up there had been on my mind for a long time but as often happens in life when you try to get something, go somewhere or reach someone, I knew the time wasn’t right. I have met so many people who have a complicated life because they didn’t wait and rushed into something or someone even if they had signs it wasn’t the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s hard to listen to our little voice (we all have one) and do the right thing. But then again, we are all different and we all have to learn our lessons in different ways.
When you want to climb and ski a big peak it’s essential you wait for the right conditions. That is also true for many other situations in life, including planning a trip. Patience is as important as planning. And so is the ability to recognize the right circumstances when they come along. It’s not an exact science so you just have to follow your instinct. Although I don’t follow any specific rule, if I have the perception that everything flows nicely, almost following a predetermined path, it means I am going in the right direction.
In this particular case, I knew almost instantly I had the opportunity to put together a special trip with a unique set up: easy access to remote peaks using an old and characterful sailing ship as a floating base camp, it doesn’t get much better than that. I immediately contacted Charles, the skipper of the boat, and booked a week. When he asked me how big was the group I told him that I didn’t have one yet. Like me, he wasn’t concerned. We both knew that filling the boat would have been easy, and we were right. In about two weeks I had a crew.
After 12 hours of travel and a combination of taxis, trains and planes, we are almost at destination. As we land in Tromsø we get a glimpse of the cold winter landscape we’ll soon be immersed in. I don’t expect to see anything else than sea, mountains and snow over the next week.
The numbers of the trip: 11 people, 1 skipper, 2 UIAGM/IFMGA guides, 7 nationalities (8 if we believe Tim who claims he also has a Canadian passport), 1 boat, 1 dingy, 8 hours of daylight, 4 splitboards, 7 pairs of skis. The playground: a seemingly endless stretch of coast line along fjords and islands and a myriad of peaks to climb and ski.
Her name is S/Y Goxsheim. She was built in 1940 in the region of Hatlerstrand, south east of Bergen on the shores of Hardangerfjord. In her time she was a fishing and cargo boat. Originally a plain motor cutter, she has never been rigged for sailing. Charles believes the boat builder, Bard Gjerde, had sailing ships on his mind when he built Goxsheim as the beautiful curves of her hull are typical of a sailing boat rather than a cargo vessel. After major rebuilding works, Goxsheim has now 5 cabins, 2 bathrooms and has even a sauna – which is also a cabin. There is also a wood stove in the lounge. As we step inside we are all very impressed by how cozy she is inside. I never had a base camp like this.