This blog post comes courtesy of Eddie Downpatrick, FIDIR founder and explorer extraordinaire. This week he recounts a recent trip to the Norwegian Arctic full of stunning views, overpriced beer and one tactically-placed emoji...
A not-staged-at-all shot of me pointing at the spot on which I’d build a cabin (a tiny place called, Russelv).
To many, and with not unwarranted reason, communing in close quarters with a bunch of smelly skiers, subsisting on cod and tinned mackerel, the ocean one’s sole bathing means, arctic winds chilling you to the bone, peaks accessible by power of limbs alone, all sounds rather non-vacational.
That is a little hard on the collective cheffing abilities of the gang in question however. Saffron cod stew, chilli onion relished garlic aioli’d fish tacos, double-bacon cheeseburgers, pancake breakfasts... a far cry from hardship (and I just happen to find tinned mackerel an absolute dream; half of Norway, in Marmite fashion, agrees with me).
Sunset over the Lyngen Alps, snatched around 11pm.
How does it all work? The best time to do it, and ‘it’ involves inhabiting a boat which takes you from one mountainous island and/or peninsula to the next with a bunch of ski dudes and dudesses primed to put grippy things on planks and ascend lofty peaks - late April. How to get there - find a way to the northerly city of Tromsø which out of Northern Lights season is not deemed worthy of a direct flight from the UK (so via Oslo is your best bet). This city is home to a great many students, encouraged that far north by a sense of adventure (possibly) and a government who saw an increased chance for the place to thrive beyond booming oil and fishing industries. The nightlife is ‘lit’, in more ways than two (explanation for the bewildered below*), but goodness knows how any of these late-teens and early-twenty-somethings afford to get drunk on £10 beer. You wonder if a stipend, given the energy of Norway’s tax system, exists for as much.
Primary bathing solution, edited to render PG.
Once embarked upon your vessel (ours was a catamaran aptly named the Arctic Princess) and shiftily greeted by a gang of relative strangers, you head north into what is an other-worldly realm of glittering fjords surrounded by oft towering mountains. If the Norse gods had intended this an alternate playground to the likes of the much-Instagrammed Lofoten, the glaciered Jostedalen, and the mighty Jotenheimen, they assuredly succeeded. One might imagine Thor, in between expensive beers, summoning thunderbolts to hew all of Norway’s northerly fjords to his particular design. This far north the closest westerly landmass is Greenland’s east coast, and a fair way up it. To the north, Svalbard and polar bears, and to the east, more Norway and ultimately northernmost Siberia.
The Arctic Princess doing its thing, fjord and mountains in frame.
A highlight or three from my time this past late-April.
1) Double-summiting, i.e. doing it twice, arguably the most picturesque peak of the bunch (called Vanntinden, meaning Vann’s Peak; what a great guy Vann must have been) on the sunniest day we enjoyed. Blessed with an immense number of natural ‘kickers’, snow-covered rocks over and off which one springs into the air, the day was replete with mirth. It wasn’t all smooth runnings however, unless you were my runaway ski. Stopping for the customary boil-in-a-bag lunch, failing to open the break on just one of the skis, a slivering whoosh heralded its departure seawards (as one’s descents tends to be in that direction) and were it not for a kindly rock to divert it, my hundred-metre dash across the snow would have been many multiples more.
Peak evidence of Vann evidently having been a great guy.
2) Elsa, the vivacious octogenarian who lent us her barbecuing deck, bringing us coffee and telling the expedition leader and me that we had the type of manners that would see us safe to Valhalla (we just happened to be the only two sufficiently capacitated to rise for her arrival). That, admittedly, was a translation from her coastal-dialect Norwegian, but I definitely heard ‘Valhöll’ and her wink tended favourably.
Loose Austrian mountain chiller and moonshine distiller, Flo.
National drinking customs. Neither of which, this time around, to do with the country in which we found ourselves. On our boat were two Austrians, both excellent skiers, both guides and racers at one stage or another in their careers, both on their annually-allotted week’s escape from their children, both gifted in the craft of homemade schnapps. The Enzian flower, very pretty little blue thing that grows on Alpine meadows and mountainsides. Its root, an ugly little thing that yields the concomitant moonshine which is the bitterest liquid to have passed anyone’s lips, so earthy it will suck the air out of your lungs. Once two or three have made it through, you’re laughing (hard) and singing a song (in an Austrian mountain dialect) about a girl named Johanna who seems to have been somewhat liberal with the distribution of her kindnesses. The second custom involved singing an altogether more civilised song about shrimp, consuming a vast number of them, and sinking aquavit at scheduled intervals.
Rad spectacles and a shrimp that didn’t quite make it.
*Lit as in 1) during winter, by Northern Lights; and 2) during summertime, by 24-hour daylight.
Flights: Norwegian Air; SAS.
Boats: Pukka Travels.
Rental (if required): Tromsø Outdoor.
Time of year: Late April (for skiing); Deepest Winter (for Northern Lights and Orcas).
Skis to purchase: SGN Skis (based in Sogndal – beautifully-designed skis, both from artwork and construction perspective, perfect for backcountry and touring skiing). SGN can send them up to Tromsø, this avoids paying a whack of customs fees (but deducting Norwegian tax), with the skins and technical bindings you’ll need to ascend the mountains.