"...thank you for your courtesy, kindness and the help you have given us; and to say that when the Expedition is over we hope to come again to the joys of Finse."
- ERNEST SHACKLETON
A SENSE OF HISTORY
The small village of Finse, located in the very North of Hardangervidda National Park in Western Norway, has become a mecca for summer hiking enthusiasts and cold weather wanderers alike. Not to mention Star Wars fans. Part of the filming for Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back took place here in 1979. The great expanse of white perfectly replicates Echo Base on the planet Hoth. Or so I am told...
The area is steeped in polar history. Since the opening of the Finse 1222 Hotel in 1909 – rated on TripAdvisor as number one out of one hotel in Finse – it has hosted many distinguished guests; Roald Amundsen, Fridjoft Nansen, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Captain Scott have all used Finse to prepare for their various forays to the Antarctic. At 1222 metres above sea level, it is revered by many as the ‘Southernmost place in Europe with an Arctic climate’. Finse Lake, meanwhile, provides the perfect level terrain and conditions for those looking to enhance their snowkiting. The area can feel raw and be unforgiving, yet it is relatively accessible.
After collecting my ‘pulk’ (think reinforced sledge) and discussing my route options with Finse guide and all-round handyman, Mariusz – who only the previous day had planted the first twigs of the season into the snow as route markers – I departed for my ten days or so alone. The young man, who was clearly experienced and wise beyond his years, gave me one final piece of intuitive yet sterling advice:
'Always keep a twig in view, whether behind or in front of you. It is very dangerous to just guess where the next twig might be. You cannot see anything - let alone a twig - in bad weather and storms can last for days.’ He said before pausing. ‘Or, you can just use a GPS.
Around the corner of each mountain base and over the top of every new peak and valley a fresh landscape emerged. Each exciting new panorama initially appeared very similar to the last, before becoming increasingly distinctive in its own right. In an effort to maintain a strict routine – beneficial from both a psychological and physical point of view – enthusiasm often had to be reined in.
‘Just one more summit and then I’ll have a rest...I wonder what's just round that corner over there?’
‘That’ corner, however, would frequently never be just over there…
However, when deep in this land of snow and cloud, each footstep cultivated a sense of history and wonder about the place:
‘Who might have previously taken this route?’ ‘Who struggled up this very hill?’
This alone is enough to activate the part of the mind that provides motivation to plough through any blizzard, or trudge - with skis off - up any climb.
SPEED AND LIGHT
When light conditions were good, travelling was quick. When flat light conditions were prevalent, the speed eased. The shift from the physical demands when travelling at pace for several hours at a time, to the psychological demands when faced with poor weather and directionless terrain is acute. Both are challenging but so incredibly satisfying in their own self-flagellation kind of way.
I wish the same sense of satisfaction could be lavished upon my snack bags. The blocks of rubbery cheese, already flexible in their consistency prior to purchase and taking up a disproportionately large proportion of my daily calorific intake, were certainly no taste sensation. To neutralize the flavor of this yellow plasticine, I often embedded sour skittles within each piece. My appetite for the evening À la carte of freeze dried food and a cup-a-soup increased with each bite. As it did for chocolate. Just one wonderful, delicious and sweet piece of non-existent chocolate...