In February 2016, I crossed Finnsmarksvidda the most northerly and wildest part of Norway with a small group from Ousland Expeditions. Although it is not “Polar”, the crossing takes place well inside the arctic circle and is very much an adventure and an expedition in itself. Many use this crossing to enhance the skills required for other big targets such as pole attempts and Greenland crossings. Something I wish to do in the future should time and money allow.
Finnmarksvidda is in the middle of Norway’s most northerly county – Finnmark, and at height of winter it may well be compared to the most remote and coldest expedition in both Arctic and Antarctica. In spring the area is well visited, but the crossing took place while the Polar Nights still held it’s grip over the north and the temperatures at night sunk to -30°C, and sometimes less , with the northern lights flickering over the sky.
This was training, but it was also a bit of an expedition as I worked on camp routines, navigation, strategies and teamwork as the team and I enjoyed the scenery, the polar night and the peace of the waste plains.
DAY BY DAY
I flew to Oslo from Dublin then onward to Alta, where I met the team and spent the evening chatting to Bengt Rotmo our guide. Bengt is a highly experienced polar guide and has been North several times as well as leading many Greenland crossings. The evening passed by while preparing kit, food and readying myself for the days ahead. I had prepared daily food bags consisting mostly of porridge mix, dehydrated food, cupa-soups, sweets and chocloate! I had packed several layers of extra clothing as the temperature swings in this area can be significant so I didn’t want to be left in the cold or not have new layers to change into if things got sweaty!
I spent the morning packing my pulka and making final adjustments to my skis and boots. I would be wearing a pair of Polar A/P/S GTX boots and using the-go-to polar travel skis Anse Amundsen skis. After a short drive out of Alta we were on our skis towards the cabin at Jotka Fjellstue. A further hour skiing towards the open plains and camp was set up for the first night. Our helsport tents were spacious enough for three of us and I got to know my tent mate Steffen from Germany over a hot spaghetti bolognese!
The morning began with the daily ritual of lighting the stove to melt snow for hot water for food and our thermos for the day. I was using an MSR Whisperlite stove as these liquid fuel stoves are ideal for low temperatures and you don’t have to worry about your gas canister freezing over! After breakfast we quickly packed the tent and set off in low visibility. We skied the whole day towards the south-east and Lake Isejavre, the biggest lake on Finnmarksvidda. This lake gave a real feel of tundra as the landscape rolled out all around us we no signs of life. As the sun went down we pitched the tents again and got the stoves going. Later that evening we were treated to an amazing display of the aurora borealis, the northern lights, Bengt had seen this all before so Steffen and I stayed out to take in the amazing views.
The whole day was spent skiing over lake Isejavre. Towards the end we left the normal route to train and enhance our skills in navigation and look into natural indicators for navigation. As we were now into an area that most resembles the waste and flat expanses of traditional expedition targets like Greenland and Antarctica.
Having had two days of flat featureless terrain, today gradually became more hilly as we passed Øvre Mollesjokk and continued towards Ravnastua. This skiing was slightly more demanding and the hills were often steep yet short and descents with the pulk in tow were good fun!
Having spent the previous day gradually going uphill we reaped the benefits today and descended towards the frozen river that would eventually lead us to the Sami town of Karasjok. Here we stayed at the unique and unbelievable Engholm Husky Lodge. I would highly recommend a winter stay at these beautiful cabins, hand crafted by Sven Engholm, the famous dog musher.
This was an expedition on its own, I flew from Lakslev to Tromso, then my flight to Oslo was delayed so I missed my connecting flight. Eventually I flew to Oslo – Copenhagen – London and finally Dublin!
It’s amazing what you can learn and experience in such a short space of time. Coming from Ireland where we rarely see much snow to the vast expanses of Finnmark was certainly a memorable experience. I come away from the trip having gained valuable skills and knowledge that I hope to put into practice in the years to come. Steffen has since crossed Greenland and it is hoped that we may team-up in the future to take on a few mini expeditions!