A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to guide five fabulous people across the Finnsmarkvidda Plateau. I joined the guiding team alongside the incredible Liv Engholm. Liv literally moves mountains and is an incredible person (and friend) to work with. I teamed up with her and her company Turgleder to make this life changing expedition happen. The famous Sno joined us too, see below!
The expedition team was primarily made up with those who had no ski, Arctic or expedition experience (except one person, Will whom although being Australian, has tackled the Arctic on a separate trip with me once before).
I could tell from the get go that everyone was eager and happy to be there. There was pure excitement with a little dash of healthy nerves. I was thrilled that the energy and enthusiasm that the team had shown when I had initially put the advert up and when they had applied, was still alive and well even now they had landed fully in the Arctic world.
Our first day on skis was a short one, it’s all about easing people into what they are about to take on.. Like anything. There’s no point on doing too much too soon.
Throwing people into the deep end into -35C conditions, camping and skiing can be pretty hard mentally (not to mention makes for harder work for Liv and I) so we skied a few hours and had our first night in a hut. The sky gods were in our favour that night because a freezing cold and clear night meant for fantastic Northern lights. It was a spectacular show to present the team on their first night of the expedition… Almost as if we had planned it (I wouldn’t have put it past Liv, the woman is a force of nature!)
The morning where we’d leave the comfort of a roof over our heads came and I was happy to hear that everyone was keen to get going.
Skiing on cross country skis with a pulk is pretty straight forward but it’s making it efficient and getting the long strides that takes time. To make for learning all of this quicker, we had the morning following snow mobile tracks – these provide a hard surface that the skis can move across instead of making fresh trails.
It wasn’t long before we would leave these tracks once and for all and not catch up on them until the last day.
Our route was roughly mapped out but as with every year the conditions change and with it, so must our route. On this expedition we want to be miles away from any other possible being. The plateau is massive so we sort after the most wilderness route we could find. No tracks, no Sami reindeer herders, just us and the plateau.
We left the tracks, taking it in turns to break trail. Temperatures plummeted as the sun dropped and it wasn’t long before nostril hairs and eye lashes were frozen solid. Now we were in the elements and this continued for the duration of the expedition.
The first night is always going to be the hardest for the team but all put on brave faces as they realised just how cold it got when we were at rest (meaning rest never feels like real rest!). The beauty about the Arctic is that when you are pulking, you are generally warm - even if it means skiing with a down jacket. The body works wonders acting like an internal furnace. Sometimes it’s necessary to shake out the hands within mittens to get the blood into those pesky finger tips but for most of the travel, you are able to maintain a level of warmth.
It’s the time that you are not moving which is when management and discipline is key. There are endless Arctic secrets that one must follow in order to stop things escalating. Little tips and tricks like changing your day sweaty socks for dry ones and putting the day ones under your armpits for the night so that they don’t freeze and putting on your down jacket immediately once you stop even if you don’t feel you need it yet.
The Arctic is about the little things, get these under control and you can be comfortable. It was mine and Liv’s job to gradually teach the team these life savers without bombarding information all at once. This was something I enjoyed, handing out little gems of knowledge.
One memorable moment was day three. Liv and I had let the team go ahead and navigate. We had a high point on the plateau so that we could stay back but keep track of them.
Liv has years of guiding experience and looked at me and smiled. “Always day three” she said. I twigged on what she meant. The team were now in the flow of things. They were skiing well, they had got to grips with the camp routine and they were now navigating their way across the plateau. She explained how it takes this amount of time every trip for the team to get to this stage. I smiled back and we both looked at the team like proud parents!
The sun was shining, the sky was clear and the skiing conditions were perfect! Where better place to be!.. That’s not a question!
Later we found ourselves skiing in our down jackets, it had got bitterly Baltic but hey, the team was in good spirits and it appeared that they were in the frame of mind where they could take on anything.
This was then put to the test a few days later. It had been a windy night. I’m always half awake when sleeping in the tent, ready to jump out in case anything drastic happens. Being with Liv and guiding meant that I was even more ‘on call’.
I had checked the tent during the night, worried that we were getting trapped in snow drift from the strong gales but all had been well. I awoke early to Liv upright in her sleeping bag. She suggested we get up and start sorting the team’s breakfast early because of the conditions. I agreed and as she got out, I began to get ready. Then the wind changed direction… It was time to move now!
The team were in tunnel tents that work incredibly well when the wind is coming at them in one direction but not at 90 degrees from that. It was all hands on deck from then and there on as the tents were at risk of ripping or even blowing away. We had to get everyone’s stuff packed up whilst in a blizzard, trying not to lose anything. Then tents started to try and take off = not good. The tent is shelter, lose this and your buggered! Everyone worked quickly to get their items packed away and it took most of us to get each tent down.
The wind made for freezing temperatures. The temperature was already chilly but now I found my whole face mask and hat became an icicle.
The wind and snow battered us making for impossible visibility. Saying that though, we worked together like a dream team and got the two tunnel tents packed up. I think the overall feeling once the wind died down and the dramatic event had stopped was adrenaline and euphoria! Everyone was super proud of each other. It’d been pretty gnarly but we’d go through it. Type 2 fun… One of the reasons doing this kind of thing is so great and rewarding! It felt pretty awesome to introduce this element of expeditions to the team AND they liked it… Fantastic! (I think they might be addicted now.)
When the expedition finish line was in sight, I could sense the team starting to reflect on what they had accomplished. I can’t tell you how great it felt to finish and feel that energy and pride everyone had. I honestly felt so incredibly proud myself, and this wasn’t pride for MYSELF, this was pride for THEM. It was a fresh way to take on expeditions for me personally.
The Arctic threw a lot at them but it was so clear to see how they had grown and now they truly knew they could achieve anything. And that’s the thing, we all can achieve anything if we put our mind to it and have the right guidance and direction. Sometimes it takes that push, that SEVERE push outside our comfort zones to remind us what we are capable of. I am pleased that I can be a part of this push.
Guiding this team; Laura, Alice, Steph, Marianne and Will with Liv was such a wonderful experience. They rocked it and it was wonderful to know that we are all able to kick butt if we have that desire to. I truly hope some lives were changed because I know that in a way, this guiding expedition changed mine. The Finnsmarkvidda Plateau delivered once again!