Our team arrived in Norway thinking that we were prepared for this year’s N60° Norwegian Challenge – and it was extremely lucky that we were. Sadly an avalanche had killed one person and led to 60 school children being evacuated in the local area at the same time we were due to start our expedition.
There is no getting around the fact that N60° 2017 was a seriously tough adventure, made harder by the conditions in which we were living. One member of the team summed up the conditions we were facing very well; “We all prepare for meetings but when I walk into the boardroom at work, the last thing I am expecting is a 45mph gust of freezing snow in the face”.
Staying warm was a constant battle no-one on the expedition could escape. Sleep was nigh-on impossible as the tents were being battered by 75km/h wind which kept everyone awake through the long, cold night. All this is before we began the challenge of travelling 160km over the Hardangervidda plateau on skis, bikes, and on foot.
Having completed a few days of training in each discipline, the expedition began in the quaint Norwegian town of Hemsedal in the pouring rain. The team were only vaguely reassured by the fact that “it was snowing up high” as they set off.
As the snow continued to fall, the wind began to pick up and, by the end of the day, you could barely see the tips of your skis. Pure grit and determination saw everyone arrive into the first camp alive after a great but challenging days ski touring.
That night the wind didn’t pause for breath and the team were huddled around the fire in the main tent exchanging stories of the day, before retreating to the warmth of a sleeping bag in smaller tents of 4 or 5 people. Thanks to the weather, we had to change the route on the second day because the intended path over a mountain pass was impenetrable. We headed down into the protection of the forest lined valleys on the fat bikes. The team loved the serenity, beauty and relative peace that the trees offered before they heading back up a brutal hill to camp, ready to tackle the mountain pass the following day.
Another night of banging tents and checking of guy lines ensued. Fortunately, the IGO team noticed a gap in the weather and Day 3 would be our only chance to creep through the mountains on cross country skis. With visibility changing by the second, the beginning of this 42km stage of the expedition up into the mountains was certainly a nerve-wracking moment.
Once again, willpower and fortitude saw everyone make it to the next camp, situated on the edge of an incredible frozen lake. This more exposed campsite was not conducive to the rest and recuperation of its occupants. Indeed, the spindrift (snow carried by the wind) forced its way through any small gaps in the side of the tent, covering the inside with a light layer of snow – described by some as ‘mildly unhelpful’ (through gritted teeth!).
With the final day’s run/ trek looming and with the physical exertion starting to take its toll in the form of blisters and aching muscles, there was a certain dread amongst the team at the thought of spending another day exposed to the elements.
The last day saw another route alteration due to weather; deep snow drifts made it impossible to cover any meaningful distance on foot. We adapted the route to pass through the northern slopes above Geilo where the ground was firmer underfoot. This didn’t stop this phase being tantamount to running on sand for a marathon (just without the parasols and piña colada’s!).
At the finish line in Geilo there was a raw display of emotion, achievement and relief as the team crossed the line into the arms of their family and friends who had recently arrived from home.
In summary, the expedition was a fantastic adventure which encapsulated everything great about human endurance and perseverance in the wilderness’ ever changing and temperamental conditions. One member, who had returned for his second instalment of IGO Norway, whilst being blown off the track in a sideways snow blizzard with a smile on his face said “ now this…is what I signed up for”!