Finally boarded and sitting on the airplane from Tromsø to Bodø, I am wondering what I will be able to write in this blog once I am back. After Greenland, Arctic sea ice and Finnmark twice, what new things can I experience? Is this going to be just a repetition of things I have seen and done before? I wouldn’t mind that, but what new can I write about? Should I simply skip making notes and just post the photos? I did not have to wait for an answer for long, as I soon realized that one of the driest ever recorded winters in Northern Norway’s history will have a deep imprint on my story. In fact, there was so much to write about, so much for me to remember, that I had to organize the writing into several parts.
After I landed in Bodø, I took a bus to Fauske, bought all the food and fuel and took another bus to Sulitjelma (Sulis). From there I wanted to cross the mountains at the Norwegian-Swedish border, continue towards Sarek Mountains, and ski northwards right though them. Then I wanted to turn northwest and return to the area closer to the border and connect a series of cols and small lakes back into Norway, descend down to Skjomen and continue across the Narvik Mountains towards Katterat and finish my trip by a train ride to Narvik and bus back to Tromsø. That would be in total about 290 km in 2 weeks. That was an attractive plan, but I had to leave it for another time, as I had to settle for a more modest route, just over 200 km in 12 days (from 13-24 February 2018).
The first day went exactly like planned. Everything went fine with the transport and when the last bus left me at the start of the ski-do track towards Ny-Sulitjelma, I was very eager to start. The track was steep and icy and I was quite tired, so I camped just some 2km after I started. The day before this one did not go as planned at all. My business trip from overseas got all messed up by a series of technical issues that all contributed towards a 24-hour-delay. A kind lady at the airport re-booked my private tickets to Bodø, so life did not come to complete halt and I did not spend too much time thinking – I simply departed one day later. Well, I was a bit jet-lagged and I did spend two consecutive days on airports and airplanes, so I was desperate to catch up with sleep. Why not doing that in a tent? I like sleeping in cold air – a privilege I am normally deprived of (Misha believes sleeping in cold is bad for cycling training). The first few nights were relatively warm (around -15 C, I would say) and I enjoyed being cocooned in a toasty sleeping bag from 7pm to 6am.
The night was quite windy. My camp was still in the forest and the deep snow was mainly crystalized ‘sugar snow’ that let me fall through down to my knees. The tent pitching was difficult and the result was so sloppy that the sounds of tent fabric flapping in the wind was annoying me all night long. I even got out of the tent in the middle of the night and tensioned the guy lines a bit, but it did not help much. The tent was set on the most flat place I could find, but also right in a swirl channel. They were hitting the tent from the front and both sides, which made a lot of noise. Well, at least I had a few more chances on this trip to reach perfection in tent pitching!
The track was steep and icy and I barely manage to climb it with full skins on. Half way up the slope I got to first places where all snow was blown away and only rocks and ice were left on the road. I had to take off my skis and drag the pulk over sketchy terrain several times, before I reached the top and turned into the valley towards the Ny-Sulitjema cabin. I would have been great to reach the cabin the previous night. I have never seen such a luxurious mountain cabin. The large house is a remnant of a mining settlement and it is connected to power line. Although there was nobody inside, the heating thermostat was set to +20C and there was running water in tap!
I was just at the start of the trip, so that could not stop me from hurrying eagerly back into the wind and on towards the next climb. From here the summer trail climbs gradually across the valley slope. That doesnt really work for the winter travelers with pulk, so I had to descend a bit to the bottom of the slope and zig-zag towards the top over the gentlest part parts of the slope. I soon ran out of such options and had to split the cargo in two batches and transport it up in two goes. After a bridge crossing things got really interesting. The surface was so hard blown and slippery that I had to take off the skis and continue on foot. That was the first time out of many on this trip when I wished I took crampons and ice axe with me. The slope got a little bit gentler and I could drag drag up the fully loaded pulk, but only if I went straight up. Otherwise the it tipped over and rolled down. I could only do 20 steps at the time before I had to stop and pant. At places the snow was so had that I had to kick steps to prevent sliding backwards. To spice it up my way there were occasionally also some 20-30 cm high sastrugi. I was wondering if this is how it felt for Ben Saunders earlier this year, when he was climbing the Wujek Ridge on Antarctica. I climbed some 250 m of altitude from the cabin and it took me at least 2 hours. Then after a flat bit the trail went down towards a lake. For the first time in my rather short fjellski career I had to admit I can’t even descent with dignity. A couple of hard landings convinced me that it will be wiser to walk downslope too! That was tough, but later on this trip I got used to the feeling.
What went down had to come again – I was facing the last bit of the steep up-slope on this trip. There I had to carry the bags up two-by-two again. I went three times up and down to advance another 50 m in altitude. I was exhausted and somehow grateful to the fact that it finally got dark. I have done my 10 km today and I had no desire to finish with this climb. And isn’t it kind of romantic to sleep in sastrugi on an edge half way up a slope?