The next instalment of our expedition training saw us embarking on a training session like no other. One that would test us to the maximum. Testing our mental stamina and ability to withstand repetitive actions to the physical endurance that culminated in the penultimate day being one of the biggest tests of all so far.
Firstly – we arrived at the airport and were greeted by the fantastic wife of Toby Cowern – Anushree, or Dr. Anushri Tripathi PHD (if we’re being formal!) who immediately got us organised and sorted our transport to Robertsfors – she was however, amazed by the amount of luggage! After squeezing onto a bus and a few taxis, we arrived at our destination where the wonderful Toby Cowern picked us up in his newly acquired transport – a van – and oh girl, did we make the most of it! Maximum curb weight? What’s that?! We headed off to Toby’s abode and straight away, we got stuck in to sorting, organising and planning the entire mini expedition.
We had brought a fair amount of food with us for our expedition ration packs but these all needed to be weighed out – WOW, so much food to organise but the extremely organised Nikki Upton had this down to a fine art. This woman knows how to rock a spreadsheet and getting our daily rations right has been her raison d’etre (as well as all the other organising she does for the team too!). Discovering everyone’s likes and dislikes was tough but with the mighty Bex Rowe (The Ox) helping out, we were sure to have some delicious snacks along with our freeze-dried expedition dinners from Expedition Foods.
Ok so lets fast forward to THE ICE HOLE!!!!
Once we were all sorted and settled into Toby’s, the real fun could commence – starting with the ice hole. A huge thank you to Dan from Root in Tavelsjo for such an inspirational story and allowing us to take over!!
As part of our training, we need to experience what cold actually means and how differently everyone is able to cope with it. When things go wrong in extreme environments, the consequences can be tenfold compared to ‘normal’ climates hence why we needed to experience what it really feels like when we have lost the ability to help ourselves. Our first plunge was an extended duration – around 4 to 5 minutes in the icy water with minimal clothing. As just about bearable as this was, the real challenge came when we got out of the water and our extremities were completely numb and needed help from teammates to get dressed again, to get warm and survive. Once dressed we had to warm up, and each of us warmed up very differently and at different speeds. Invaluable information for us.
After a short break which consisted of several hot chocolates and delicious sourdough pizzas at Root (The pizzeria Dan runs with his partner) we headed back out for our second dunk. This time we were to jump into the icy water wearing a layer of clothing, and fully submerge only to haul ourselves back out again using ski poles, and then to undress and quickly dress again. This second plunge seemed much easier than the first, but this was probably down to the fact that we’d spent a lot less time submerged and therefore weren’t so cold coming out! We had brilliant support from Toby’s Hello Nature colleague Robert and his daughter Signe, who was sporting an Angel’s jumper for the occasion. I think it’s safe to say they think we’re absolutely bonkers though!
Getting that glide back…!
Next on the agenda was getting our glide back on a nice easy slope close to Toby’s. We’ve learnt how to cross-country ski just this year so this skill still needs to be reinforced each time we hit snow for the first time after a break. This was invaluable practice for us and lots of fun too! The following day, Toby had set up an obstacle course for us, simulating difficult terrain, with each lap getting progressively heavier using bags of wood pellets. It was a warm day however and the snow conditions weren’t great – the snow was sticking to the underside of the skis and building up huge piles of snow creating the possibility of a turned ankle as well as damaging expensive skis and boot bindings.
The first long day of skiing..
Toby had created a specifically designed itinerary for us, and every session had a purpose to our development. We soon realised he wasn’t messing around after we’d done our first long day of skiing! We were off early doors for our first 10 hour skiing day with 70kg loaded pulks. The weather was STUNNING however it was proving to be too warm for efficient skiing. We struggled to maintain our body temperatures and not sweat – the effort of pulling heavy pulks when the temperature is only a few degrees below zero, mean sweating was unavoidable. We even stripped down to our new Brynje netted tops, which are a master of engineering! The terrain was, lets say, testing! Tree roots, blocked paths from snow ploughs, hills; you name it, we had it! 5 hours out and five hours back we miss timed it slightly so the moment we got back to the start, tired, we had to turn around and head back out to do the last hour. Turns out you can travel a long way in 30 mins!! This was a real test for the mind here but Bex led us out on the last push. We got back to the house 10 hours on the dot, all pretty exhausted!
The second long day of skiing!!
The next day it was straight back out there, this time to focus on covering distance. Different terrain, stunning scenery and colder. Early on we did some tent practice. Put it up, take it down – over and over. These were new tents for us, the Nigor Spix Orange and it turns out they are pretty dam awesome! Intelligently roomy, storage netting, (that also doubles up as a convenient area to put a tablet in to watch a film whilst tucked up in bed!) oversized but extremely lightweight poles to add strength (and room to double pole) and enough ventilation to really help get rid of that unwanted exhaled moisture through the night! The skiing was stunning, it was flatter than the day before but this meant we could cover more ground. We had to start playing with layers in an attempt to avoid sweating; minimal while travelling and being brave with choices but then throwing on the down jacket when stopping. We don’t want to sweat but neither do we want to lose any valuable heat! We covered good mileage and I think we surprised ourselves as to how far we could get – we could have travelled forever but it was time to turn around and head back to our agreed camp spot for the night. And what a spot it was, getting there just before dark we could really appreciate what a beautiful place Sweden is. The sunset was stunning.
The main event!!
After 2 days of skiing near Robertsfors, we loaded up our pulks once more and headed west to the mountainous border with Norway, as it was time for the mini expedition Toby had scheduled for us. We wanted arduous training and it’s safe to say it delivered! Uphill from the start and night time closing in, we headed for 2 hours into the night to find our first camp. Skiing in the dark brings a sense of insecurity but also a sense of freedom. Not being preoccupied with the small changes in terrain definitely releases the mind from hang ups! You can dissolve yourself in to the glide of skiing instead of worrying about the small things!
An early start and with yet again beautiful weather, we headed out and up, and up, and up! They say hill repeats are designed to test the most resilient character and oh girl did it test our mettle! Just when we thought we had reached the top, there was another top, and so the whole week consisted of ups and downs, stunning scenery and some emotional responses that none of us could have predicted! This was the exact thing this training was designed to trigger – we have to experience all of this (and more) so we know exactly how to deal with them if and when it happens in Antarctica. This training put our raw emotions front and centre and we had no choice but to deal with them, and we ALL deal with them in very different ways, (we are human after all!). This experience gave us an insight into how the team can deal with each other’s emotional response to arduous efforts. Some internalise while others externalise, neither is wrong or right but unique to that person. The next step is learning how to self-validate – nothing too serious then!!!
The mini expedition delivered exactly what we needed but most importantly it brought us closer together as a team. A team that shares a common goal, a team that values each other.
The penultimate day…
We knew there was a storm coming, and after a sheltered night in the tent we headed into the tempest! With constant winds of 27m/s and gusts of “Your guess is as good as mine” but enough to punch you in the chest and knock you off your feet we had no choice but to keep going – and this was the exact thing we needed to experience – the perfect storm! Using micro-navigation, we pushed through for hours until we hit a relatively sheltered spot where we could momentarily rest and drink (and pee!). All day we headed into either a head wind, side wind, white outs and zero visibility to get to our last camp site and we were rewarded with calm weather at last!! The next day was a very short one, just a couple of hours back to the rendezvous point and pick up back to Toby’s, via a very lovely café and a couple of beers to celebrate a very hard week in the (very big) mountains! Oh and by the way, we also dipped our toe in the Arctic Circle, which we were all really chuffed about!
Once back at Toby’s, we had a thorough debrief to tell him how we found the mini expedition, as well as things we feel we have done well (individually and as a team) and things that we need to work on. We were all really pleased with how the expedition went, and as with Norway, it has given us more fire for the next stage! We couldn’t be more grateful for Toby’s continuing faith and support – he knows us really well now and is such a huge part of us developing ourselves to be worthy of the incredible expedition we’re embarking on. We also owe a huge thank you to Toby’s mum Patricia for some stellar meals prepared for us when we weren’t camping – they were much needed and excellent fuel for the mega Swedish mountains!
Homeward bound! And onto the summer phase of our training – we won’t be able to train on snow until November time, so back to dragging tyres around the countryside for now!
Written by Georgina Gilbert