On 22nd March 2023 we jetted off to Oslo to begin the last training expedition before we actually fly to Antarctica. From Oslo airport we caught the train to Drammen to meet our good friend and Norway fixer Aina Prestholt. We had A LOT of luggage as you can imagine and getting all of it to the apartments was an adventure in itself. Luckily, they were just around the corner from the train station so it wasn’t long before we were in. And so began the huge task of organising our pulks and food ready for the early train the next day. Organising the pulks and dividing up our food took most of the evening which was a huge insight in to how things will go in Punta Arenas, with only half the amount of food to chop up, we realised that Antarctica will be an organisational challenge for sure. Come 10pm and pretty much done packing up, bedtime was calling ready for the busy morning.
Getting the 70kg pulks to the station was one thing, getting them on to the platform was another. We couldn’t drag them so had to carry them carefully to the platform, and the skis and ourselves, in huge ski boots not designed for city walking. Still sweating in our polar gear, the train arrived and we bundled everything on quickly and settled in for the 3 and a half hour journey. We managed to blag our way into a private cabin which was a bonus as there was some things to discuss and plan but it wasn’t long until we were seeing beautiful snowy landscapes through the window.
Arriving at Finse, they weren’t wrong when they said you ski straight from the platform, and that we did, soon disappearing into the mountains and not to return for 3 weeks.
The first week we were very lucky to have mostly beautiful weather, around minus 10 but little or no wind. I think we only had one day with strong winds but luckily they were coming from behind and so pushing us along nicely. Warm ish during the day but as soon as the sun dropped you could feel the temperature drop straight away and getting pitched up before this happened was important. Get the cookers on before it gets too cold and dark so that we set ourselves up to succeed. It took a few days for everyone to get in to the swing of things but our highly practiced routines ensured we were nailing putting the tents up and cookers on in speedy times. The stunning weather allowed us to settle in, we were very lucky with this however being respectful of our new surroundings was a top priority. Things can change very quickly on Hardangervidda.
We wound our way south through the mountainous areas surrounded by beautiful scenery. There were some huge mountains to negotiate. One day saw us climbing higher than Ben Nevis over 23km which we never expected. So, when we checked the GPS that evening, we were extremely buoyed by the fact that we’d achieved this distance and height gain. Antarctica, although certainly not flat, has a gradual incline to the pole, and so 25km a day felt well within our capabilities.
Heading further and further away from any other human contact, there was a sudden realisation that we really were at least 2 or 3 days from skiing out of the area should something happen but, this is the exact reason we were there, to experience this type of insecurity. On the 2nd March Aina told us of a storm heading our way, 30meters per second winds and a day that we would definitely need to hunker down for the day so on the 3rd March we skied for 2 hours before we decided to take shelter for the day and night.Storm day was also my birthday and although we were hunkered down in the tent all day, it was one of the best birthdays so far! Lots of food, a bit of port and Baileys and a pre downloaded film for the evening was just the ticket!
The following day we were up and at it again and heading further west. Day after day of skiing over mountains and on frozen lakes, which always seem to be uphill in Norway, every day seemed to bring something new to look at from ice being pushed up from the frozen lake which looked like something out of War of the Worlds to avalanche prone areas that we had to avoid at all costs. This week we experienced plummeting temperatures most nights it was minus 27 to minus 30 INSIDE the tent. You know you’re in a hostile environment when you breath freezes inside the sleeping back and you have freezing fog inside the tent. This week was tough and we all certainly questioned our life choices at 6am when we had to get up and put the cooker on which, at these temperatures doesn’t make that much difference! The first hot drink was the best mood booster and having hot porridge sets us up for the long day ahead.
The end of week two unfortunately saw Nikki suffer with frost nip in her hands and after much deliberation, back and forth with Aina and the medical team, it was decided that it was best for Nikki to be evacuated to warmth where her fingers could recover in the apartment back in Drammen. Being at least two days skiing from the closest train station Nikki had to be helicoptered out. When the morning arrived, we secured everything before the arrival of the helicopter, Nikki was permitted to take one bag and thankfully her skis with her and left us to start the third week as a team of three.
Me, Bex and Becky then packed up camp as best we could, sharing out the remainder of Nikki’s equipment and skied for the rest of the day.
Down to a team of three and with the added weight we decided to change our route slightly so that we could be heading back to Finse and closer to safety. This was because we had a sudden increase in pulk weight and after dropping from 70kg to around 35kg then back up to 50kg (approx.) it was a sensible decision. I won’t say what we ended up calling the extra pulk we had to tow round with us but needless to say, it had a nickname!
We drummed out a new routine for us when it came to setting up camp, Bex and Becky pitch the first tent while I dig the toilet by which time they would get it to a point where it was safe and then Bex and I would pitch the other tent. Finishing off round camp was quick and we were soon in the tents getting comfortable and settled for the night.
We arrived back at Finse a lot quicker than anticipated, covering more ground than we thought was great but, it meant we had to dig deep to stay out for the 3 weeks. So, we skied past the luxury hotel and back towards the mountains. This I have to say took all my willpower not to pop in for a pint!! But, we had planned on 3 weeks, and 3 weeks we were going to do! We spent the next couple of days skiing round, never leaving the area too much and on the penultimate night, we decided that we had nothing else to prove, we deserved a night at the hotel, a hot shower, a pint of beer, real food and a soft bed! Luckily the hotel had a room and so we booked it!!!!!
Cut to arriving back in Drammen, Nikki had decided to stay and wait for our return and she greeted us with her go go gadget arms and helped us back to the apartment with all our equipment. We stayed in Drammen and enjoyed its hospitality, meeting up with Aina at a party after the cross country skiing championships. It’s safe to say she welcomed us home with open arms and took us straight to the bar!
On the last night, Aina had arranged for us to have a traditional Norwegian sauna party – I’ll let your imagination run wild with that!
Written by Georgina Gilbert