When I wake up around 7 we have already left Tromsø, and we are sailing towards the unknown. At least this is how it feels to us. Charles and Per have been sailing extensively along this coastline; they know where the goods are. I join Per on the deck to take a look at the GPS system and have a look at the coast for the first time. We are heading towards Langsundet.
Although I slept on boats before and sailed many times in the Mediterranean, this first taste of the Arctic sailing experience feels very different. The latitude and the time
of the year make the difference. What it does feel exactly the same though, even this far north, is the intimate connection with the sea that sleeping on a vessel like Goxsheim provides. Going to sleep at night with the sound of the water gently splashing against the hull and waking up with seagulls cawing on the deck is a truly unique experience.
Looking onshore, I notice a feature of the landscape I have only seen in British Columbia so far. The sea is no longer the only environment I feel connected with: the mountains
along the coastline emerge and start to rise straight out of the water. There are not many places on the planet where these two environments blend so well, to the point that they merge and appear to be only one. Goxsheim is our tool to access such a unique Arctic territory.
Our tour starts here, just meters from the beach. Although it’s not exactly a busy road we don’t have to wait long to face our first challenge of the day: Norwegians drive fast and they don’t seem to worry too much about ski tourers getting ready on the side of the road. From left, Richard, Dev, Roy and Simon, still playing with his boot.
Two minutes into the tour we face our second challenge: thick trees. Yes, we are supposed to skin up but going through these trees feels more like bush walking. Jorge is very excited as this terrain reminds him his home mountains in north Patagonia.
The group comes out of the trees with only few scratches here and there. As we get above the tree line we don’t have to wait long for the third challenge: the wind. It gets stronger and colder as we skin up. Jorge gets even more excited as also this strong wind reminds him of his Patagonia. If we make it through today, the people in the group will be thinking twice before going down to Patagonia to visit Jorge. I hope they won’t be put off by some non-ideal weather conditions. Patagonia is a truly amazing place. I went there last year and skied some of the best lines of my life.
In pure Patagonian style, Jorge draws our attention to the fact that if we fall we die. You will not find a more honest and straight forward mountain guide.
When we start skiing down, snow conditions are actually quite good. And so is the moral of the group having survived all the challenges so far. Until we get to the trees again. If
you think that skin through them was bad, think again. Skiing them now is going to be even worse, especially for the splitboarders. A few more scratches later we are back on the road. This time we are prepared for the drivers so we carefully cross the road to reach the beach where we get in sight of our floating base camp.
If this is the type of terrain we’ll be skiing over the next few days, the weather conditions (a true mixed bag as Simon describes it) don’t change, and if it’s true that what can’t kill you makes you stronger, I suspect that by the end of the week we’ll all be much stronger.
After yesterday’s experience we now know we can’t expect any sympathy from drivers around these fjords so we are not too worried about that. The good news is that today there are no cars in sight so we can start skinning on the road without worrying too
much about being run over.
The excellent visibility and the sunshine make the skinning very enjoyable, until the wind
starts blowing. We know we are in for another windy day. The good news is that at least today the sun is shining and the views on the fjords are amazing.
We get to the bottom of a big open bowl. The plan is to climb and ski the face. Per asks us to stay where we are while he goes ahead to check the snow pack. We will follow him one by one leaving at least 20 meters from each other. It looks it’s all good until his first kick turn. He makes few more steps across the slope. He pushes his pole deep into the snow for a couple of times. He stops and turns around. I know what is going on and it’s not good news. He must have spotted some form of instability in the snowpack. I was right. As soon as he comes back he tells us we are going to ski from here.
The plan has changed. Skiing this nice slope wasn’t obviously our destiny today. As often happens, plans change according to snow pack and weather conditions. It would have been
amazing to ski that but safety always comes first. Understanding what the mountains are saying and reading the signs properly is what makes the difference between enrich our life with more experiences (which may or may not include steep skiing) and get into serious trouble.
Although we are all a bit disappointed, we know that stepping away from the slope was the right decision. The spirit of freeriding and ski mountaineering is not conquering summits. It’s about listen to the mountain environment, find harmony with it, enjoying the journey, wherever it takes you. The aspect I love the most about ski touring is being carried away by the process and just be a part of it. There will be other slopes to climb and ski over the next few days and I am sure there will also be more wind and more bush walking and more snowpack instability. It’s all good as it’s all part of the experience.
Only being here is an amazing gift, regardless the quality of the snow and of the skiing we’ll be able to achieve over the next few days, I know that this is an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.