We have stopped wasting Charles’ time asking him about the weather forecast for the next day. We have accepted that our destiny for this week is to deal with all the elements and often with all of them at the same time. Today the dingy is out again. I go on the first trip with the equipment and wait for the rest of the group on the beach. Getting on shore today requires some basic climbing skills.
Simon doesn’t seem intimidated by the precarious wooden ladder and has complete control of his climb. Or has he not?
Just for change, the air is thick with flakes and moderate winds control their movements. And guess what? Once again we find ourselves right out of the gate negotiating small trees and bushes. Nothing new there. At least it’s not super windy.
I spoke too early. As soon as we come out of the trees and start skinning on the ridge the wind increases to the point where I feel as I am tied to somebody with a rope who is trying to skin in the opposite direction. Head down, battling with gale force gusts, we head over a big ridge trying to get to the summit.
I ‘m glad I was quick in taking the camera out. As expected, it was only a small window in the weather which is now closing again. This is Roy, another proud member of the splitboard contingent, challenged by the strong wind on the way to the summit.
Once again, although we are only about 100 meters away, we can’t make it to the summit. We’ll ski from here. We’re on top of a big slope. We can’t see more than a couple of meters in front of our nose and we are slightly concerned about the snow pack. So we ski down one at the time. Half an hour and three pitches later, we are at the bottom of the valley. Even if we had to break the slope in 3 pitches the descent was fun and the snow was good.
When Jorge sees the stock fish drying in the boxes he is tempted to steal one or two. But then he feels bad and decides to leave them there. Lucky for him and for the fish owner he is an honest mountain guide and a terrible thief.
Standing on the jetty, waiting for my turn to get on the dingy, I can’t help thinking that we only made one summit so far. We had to deal with strong winds, poor visibility and weak or thin snowpack the whole time. At the same time though, I don’t remember one day or even only one moment where the atmosphere in the group wasn’t great. We all made the most of the opportunities we had and, more importantly, we all put so much energy and enthusiasm in each tour. When you put together a group for a ski trip like this, there is always an element of uncertainty in terms of how everyone would respond to the physical challenges of a demanding touring week and adapt to the circumstances.
The other element to consider, rather unpleasant to deal with, is expectations. Often people go away on ski trips expecting perfect snow and perfect weather. It might happen
sometimes but more often it doesn’t. So we go back to the point of the importance of being able to adapt to situations and try make the most of them, which is exactly what everybody did this week.
This morning, for the first time since six days ago we left Tromso, when we climbed the ladder to get out on the deck, we are welcomed by a cobalt blue sky and a shy sun who tries
to make room for himself through some light and stubborn clouds left behind by the recent storm. They should go, just like all the others who have kept us company this week.
Over the week we learned it’s normal practice in this part of the world at this time of year, skinning on the road and then climb over a fence to access a private field to venture
deeper into the mountains.
The wind is not blowing and it’s not snowing. After 5 days in cold wind and snow, these conditions are a gift. Perhaps this is the way the Norwegian weather Gods are rewarding us for having coped so well with the elements throughout the week.
We haven’t met a single person in these mountains the whole week. The inaccessibility of this mountain range is part of its power. Silence belongs to it. I wish I could have seen the Alps when they were still wild and unspoiled like this mountain range; before so many trees were cut to make room for the ski slopes and their peaks covered with mechanical lifts. Together with an element of their beauty, a part of their meaning is gone too. The thought it will never happen here (at least in my lifetime) makes me happy and inspires me to visit and explore more wild places.
We are now at the bottom of a steeper slope. Something is not right. I can feel the snowpack is changing under my skis. So just before start skinning a steeper aspect into
some small trees I push hard my skis in the snow, one at the time. Almost immediately I hear one of the most worrying sounds you can ear in the Winter Mountains: “whoomp”.
A “whoomping” sound coming from within the snowpack means that a weak layer is collapsing and that the snowpack is unstable. Usually this sound is triggered by the weight of the skier. This warning sign can be particularly relevant when there has been significant new snow on the top of an older layer which has turned ‘sugary’. Whoomping is one of the five red flags, the main signs that tell you to stay off steep slopes.
As we stand there waiting for the rest of the group we hear two more loud whooping sounds. We don’t have to hear anything else; this is as far as we are going to go today.
We are going back. We switch to skiing mode and, trying to ski on the lowest possible angle, we ski the first pitch.
Once back in the trees, looking up at the big open slope we wanted to ski, we all feel a bit
disappointed but we know that turning back was the wisest decision. We have been here before this week. Skiing low angle through trees is still good fun though. This is the type of terrain that usually tests friendship between kiers and boarders. The good news is that in our group we know the meaning of team work. Every time a splitboarder finds himself stuck on a flat bit, there is always a skier around happy to break trail for him.
I am going to try and keep it with me. I will miss the Arctic and all the emotions and thoughts it triggers in me every time I am up here. Although I know there are so many
mountains I haven’t explored yet and that I will only visit a fraction of them in a lifetime, travel more in the Arctic is still what fuel my dreams and keeps me inspired.
Although we had a difficult week in terms of weather and certainly not ideal even as far as snow conditions go, the moral of the group has been amazing the whole time. Everybody has been able to step up when the situation required it. I could not have picked a better crew for this trip. Thank you guys!
Here you have the few ingredients for an outstanding Arctic experience: the perfect floating base camp and, on the beach, the dream crew. From left: Dev, Cedric, Richard, Roy, Simon, Jorge, myself. In front: Tim (in green) and Mike. Per is behind the camera.
Snowboarding, skiing, climbing, mountaineering, it doesn’t really matter what inspires you and what equipment you use. They are all excellent excuses to be out in the mountains, breathing fresh air, getting their good times, learning from the natural world, exploring our beautiful planet and share experiences with friends. These are the moments and the sensations I live for.