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Skiing across Scandinavia, diary extract from a 122 day expedition

Trip ReportJames Hipkiss

Sweden and Finland Monday, March 17th, 2008. Latitude: 65.74811.

I have crossed the border into Sweden. After setting out from Hattfjelldal, I was able to follow some snow scooter tracks. Finding a snow scooter track is very good. If you are trail-breaking through deep powder and you move onto a snow scooter track, it can double your speed and reduce the effort expenditure.

It was still exhausting skiing and through thickly falling snow which reduced visibility, as the day went on this improved. At midday, quite unexpectedly I came upon a church service being held up in the mountains, the padre had built an altar from blocks of snow and the congregation must have travelled to this place on snow scooters as there were over thirty parked around. I am not religious at all, and although there are many things that I dislike about religion and its institutions, I never fail to be moved by being in a place of worship (I would feel the same if I were to visit Lenins mausoleum) I think that for me it has to do with the fact that such ceremonies and beliefs bring hope to the lives of so many, or maybe some vestige of my faith still lingers - who knows. I sat on my pack away to one side, and listened to the singing and the liturgy, the voices were clear on the mountain air and although I couldnt understand the words, I enjoyed hearing them as I ate my lunch, it was a special moment. That night I found an open hut. It was owned by Sami reindeer herders, who used it seasonally and left it open for hikers and skiers during the rest of the year.

The Sami or Laplanders formed nomadic tribal groups, whose culture, and livelihood revolved around their herds of migratory reindeer. Today many of them have settled, and become culturally assimilated throughout northern Norway Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. However a percentage still maintain their ancestors lifestyle, albeit using snowmobiles for transport rather than reindeer. When its really cold going for a crap is a traumatic experience, exposed flesh can freeze in minutes, and sometimes its preferable to crap into a plastic bag in your tent, rather than go outside and brave the elements. I slept well that night, with nothing to do after having fed myself, I was in my sleeping bag before nightfall and must have gotten at least 10 hours in it.

I had set my alarm for 05:00 but when it went I said sod it and hit snooze for another hour. In and around Hattfjelldal snowscooter ownership and use is permitted, unlike other areas of Norway where only park rangers and owners of isolated cabins and land are permitted to operate them. Across the border in Sweden it is a different matter; seemingly everyone has a snowmobile and their tracks criss-cross the mountains. Today brought glorious weather for the crossing into Sweden. I'm not sure exactly when the border was crossed, but at one point I went to check the map, and realised that I must be here. In honour of the event I sat on my pack to enjoy a fag and a bit of hot thermos tea with the view. The day is over now, and I am exhausted. Exhausted is a word whose meaning can be stretched; I've been shopping all day and Im exhausted, as opposed to the kind of exhaustion which precedes death. Now I am feeling something in between, my face feels hot from the wind burn and sun, all my limbs ache. When enjoyed from comfortable settings it can be quite a pleasant sensation.

A great Swedish guy I met out on the ski track has invited me to stay in his house tonight, an ex-military man himself, having seen U.N. service in the heavily mined Gaza Strip, he is full of admiration for what I am doing,. He gave me a hot meal almost as soon as I had sat down - any worries I had about being as warmly received in Sweden as I have been in Norway have evaporated. What luck I have had on this journey, and what amazing people I have met. Mar 17, 9:11 PM How do Royal Just got back from Norway Myself and seen a little ditty on you doing this in the back of the Globe Buster (Magazine for Royal Marines - Harry) and thought I would have a look. Its Hoofing what your doing mate and really interesting and humorous reading, I bet your getting to see some amazing sights.

Any way I will let you crack on Royal Keep Safe and if you cant keep safe, Keep warm. Gaz. Tuesday, March 18th, 2008 when I set off this morning it was -20, at this temperature the hairs in your nose freeze together and cause constant itchiness, when I was in Norway with the Marines two years ago I plucked all my nose hairs to prevent this annoyance, it got rid of the problem but Im not sure I would wish to do it again. At -20, if you dribble a bit of spit out of the corner of your mouth, then it freezes before it hits the ground. I have yet to be in weather so cold that your urine freezes before it hits the ground, sometimes I write my name in the snow. The weather improved and the sun came out by midday, warming the valley. When setting off in the mornings, it is necessary to start cold, that is; wearing just one or two layers, you are cold to begin with, but once the movement starts warming you up, you do not have to stop to take off layers. I typically wear a thermal top under a Gore-Tex jacket. Fingers and ears are painfully cold to begin with, but before long the blood starts pumping and the extremities are warmed up. Sometimes when the sun comes out it is necessary take off the jacket, gloves, and even the hat. If the sun is out then you have to wear sunglasses or goggles, as the glare from the sunlight reflecting off the snow can cause snow blindness. I reached Tarnaby in good time and located the Tarnaby Fjallhotel, where I had posted the next section of mapping. The girls at the hotel were curious to see who had finally come to collect the maps that they have been holding onto for these past months, and they are kindly letting me stay here for the night, free of charge. The view from here out across the frozen lake to the mountains is spectacular, and it is very pleasant to sit and, enjoy the scenery without having to ski over it. According to locals, I can expect to find snowscooter tracks along the entire length of the Kongsladen.

The Kongsladen is an ancient trail running from Tarnaby, right up to Abisko in the north of the country. Over 440 kilometres long, it is a high altitude route, which should allow rapid progress, and regain some of the time lost at the beginning of the journey. If my sources are correct, then for the next 440 km all I have to do is follow the tracks, a much more welcome prospect than the uncertainties of navigation, and the exertion of trail breaking. Tomorrow I head for Amarnas (say it ten times fast), fingers crossed there will be more snow scooter tracks to follow. Mar 18, 8:51 PM Good to hear you are being looked after again. The Swedes are coming up trumps. Will get on with your instructions ref maps tomorrow all the other projects. Have a good ski tomorrow hope the track is worn thru love Dad This was a reference to the maps for the latter sections of the journey, not knowing whether I would make it this far, my father had not yet posted them on to the destination at which I would be able to collect them. Mar 18, 9:26 PM Were so glad the Swedes are as hospitable as the Norwegians and the kindness youve received from everyone must make you feel its worthwhile carrying on, despite the hardships. The freezing cold must be very painful, but its good to hear that your circulation is good and you warm up quickly. The church service you witnessed must be a rare experience not often seen. A friend told me today that she tried to donate to your fund and could not - is there a problem with other people trying to do the same? Thursday, March 20th, 2008 Harry set off early in the morning. We spoke as he had broken out above the tree line. The weather was fine he hoped for it to continue as the snow was good he could hear the sound of snowmobiles some way away, which he surmised he would have left reasonable tracks to follow.

He is now following the Kongsladen route from Tarnaby to Amarnas, which he expects will take him three days. He will be up in the wilderness doubts there will be a chance for him to communicate as the satellite coverage is sometimes dodgy in the mountains. He should get a signal in Amarnas will communicate with us then. My father makes several contributions to the diary from here onwards; this was necessitated by the fact that as I crossed the far northern latitudes it became harder to acquire a satellite signal, due to the approach of the satellite horizon. Mar 20, 11:05 PM Well Harry hope you get this when you surface from your black (white) hole in the mountains. Just wanted to let you know that our coffee morning carried on making money for MAG and is now up to the grand sum of 360! Your story is incredible and we enjoy all the comments from the folk that are following you. Their musings are every bit as interesting as yours! (No disrespect!) This has been written by someone who hates the cold and has never even tried skiing!

So can give you no practical advice whatsoever, just sit here, reading, in awe. So keep on going with the love of everyone who has read your diary. All the best... Mar 21, 3:24 AM Harry, I have been following your daily blogs and keeping my fingers crossed for you to make the goal with no injuries. Both Dawn and I are tremendously proud of you, and I have 2 of my former U.S. Army Special Forces mates following your moves on a weekly basis. Your courage and your stamina can never be questioned, Ill attest to that as every person who follows your adventures must agree. Please know that I view you as a true man among a select group of World Class men that have had the opportunity to test themselves against the solitude, the mental and physical anguish that you have and will continue to endure on your quest. I salute you, Sir. All our best wishes and love, John Saturday, March 22nd, 2008 There is a James Bond movie with roger Moore (that name always makes me laugh, go on, say it with a straight face - I dare you) I forget what it was called.

Anyway, it begins with Bond having just shagged some gorgeous blond in a cabin high in the mountains, and leaving her wide eyed with the words Im sorry my dear but England needs me then he skis off with baddies on snow scooters chasing him, skis over a cliff, deploys a union jack parachute, lands safely, gets chased by more baddies in snowmobiles and helicopters, defeats them with a combination of witty one liners and good facial bone structure, then escapes in a speedboat disguised as a mini iceberg and sails into the arctic sunset with yet another gorgeous blond. Thats more or less how the last few days have been for me. I would like for that to be true... but Im afraid its not. James Bond would not lose control on a slope, and somersault downhill in a tangle of skis and sticks, breaking his nose, and spraining his wrist in the process, and if he unexpectedly went over a drop off, he would have something better to say than ohh shiiit! The last three days have been amongst the most amazing of the trip so far, the sun has been out every day, and the mountain scenery has been spectacular. Much of the time has been spent above the tree line, skiing across postcard scenery along the snow scooter tracks which abound in the Swedish mountains, but that is not to say that the weather has been ideal throughout. Every morning is bitterly cold, most days have begun with light snow, and if it is windy I have had to wear my face mask to prevent frostbite. The first day I headed north, at around 14:00 I had a major wipe out on a downhill section, I came to rest shaken but not stirred almost at the doorstep of a mountain cabin, and decided to call it a day. The hut keeper gave me a beer which went some way to making up for the broken nose. The next day ended at 16:00 arriving at another cabin, and on the third I only had to do 22 km to come down in to Amarnas, where I planned to spend a rest day.

It being the Easter weekend and all the hotels fully booked, I am sleeping on the floor of a hotel gym. As I was skiing down into Amarnas some Swedes who had witnessed my latest ski crash, invited me to dinner with them. It was an excellent meal after which two guitars were brought out, and they all sang songs. Some of them sang very well and the guitar playing was first class, it made me wish that I was musical in some way, it must be a great thing to be able to make music which can uplift, or conjure emotions from other people. This trip was supposed to be about suffering and hardship in the face of adversity - one man, fighting against the elements, in a lone quest against the odds e.t.c. Instead it has been a case of - one man, graciously accepting hospitality, on a quest to reach the cape, in the face of overwhelming kindness. I expected this journey to be a lot tougher, instead it seems that providence, or whatever star guides my fate, keeps contriving for me to run into some of the most generous people I have had the good fortune to meet, to all of whom I am very grateful. I can only hope that my luck holds. Hi Ya I just read you made a trip through Trnaby. Shame we missed you. Safe Travels. And thanks for the interesting reading. Matt P.S. You were very lucky with the mild weather of -20 in Trnaby. Its Usually -30/35! Sunday, March 23rd, 2008 When I got up this morning, or more precisely, when I didnt get up this morning. I decided that since this was probably the last comfortable place I would get the chance to have a day off, on this journey, that I may as well have two days here, rather than one. So I languished in bed as long as I could, and had a leisurely breakfast. Later on I learned that the outside temperature had been -35. While still back in UK, I had decided that if the temp was less than -30 I wouldn't move, below this temp military training is discontinued, as beyond this point the risk of cold weather injury increases disproportionately.

So it was just as well that I was overcome by laziness when I was, otherwise I would have ventured out into the mountains where the altitude and wind would have brought the temperature still lower. Tomorrow the weather forecast predicts that it will be -24, and up in the mountains it will undoubtedly be cooler still. There will be no shelter for the next section of the journey; there was an emergency cabin along the route I am planning to take but it was burned down last year. Below -30 strange things start to happen; zips fall apart because the teeth have shrunk in the cold, metals can shatter as they become brittle, and moisture on the breath instantly condenses to freeze on the nearest surface, causing the area around the mouth to become covered in hoarfrost. Since I am not very keen on finding out if I can survive a night in the open in temperatures below -30C, what I am going to try tomorrow, is to start at first light and try to cover the 60 km to the next possible place of shelter before nightfall. Mar 23, 7:53 PM Harry nice call sleeping in your trip is beginning to sound a touch hairy again - fantastic read good luck on your 60km dash mit broken nose Wednesday, March 26th, 2008 Latest message from Harry. He set out to do the 55 kilometres to Adolfstrom from Amarnas on the 24th March, starting early in cold temperatures of about -24C, initially hoping to do it in one shift. However, feeling exhaustion set in he sought emergency shelter for the night, before setting out again early on 25th March.

The temperature dropped down to below -30C during the night, but by the time he set out at 7am, it was around -24C. Had a good ski into Adolfstrom arriving about midday where he has found satisfactory shelter. The target for the 26th March is Jackvik about 27 kms away. The excellent weather seems to be holding firm for the time being. The shelter I found on the 24th was a private cabin. Coming down from a mountain just at the point when I was starting to get tired, I saw a couple of huts out in the snow by themselves. Skiing up to them to check if they were open I quickly realised that they belonged to someone, and were locked up, a quick search revealed the key. Now I was faced with a choice, technically I would be breaking in, but the alternative was to sleep outside in -40C, and I didnt much fancy it. So after spending the night there, I left a note on the table explaining what I had done and apologising, along with some money to cover the cost of the wood I had burnt to keep warm. Mar 26, 6:39 PM Hi Harry, It was nice meeting you in Amarns and good luck on the last part of your trip. Be careful with your nose! I am taking off for Inner Mongolia on Sunday. Best wishes, Gunnar from Arvidsjaur This was from the father of the family who invited me to dinner in Amarnas, a very kind soul. He also called ahead to a friend of his who ran the tourist station at Abisko - Harry Thursday, March 27th, 2008.

Latitude: 66.49070 Occasionally someone will ask me about what it was like in Afghanistan. Like many others, when faced with this situation, I usually reply that I didn't do anything worth talking about, or that I cant be bothered to talk about it, or change the subject. The truth is that I would like to talk about it, but through experience have learnt that this is a pointless exercise. In the past when I have tried to relate my experiences, I usually come to a point in the conversation where I look up at that person and think to myself, you haven't the faintest clue what I'm talking about. No one who hadn't been through that experience could have the least understanding of what it was to be there.

So it is with this; I'm writing it, and you are reading it. But unless you have done something very similar, you will never be able to understand what I am going through, or what it feels like to be alone in this great white wilderness. Some days are bad in ways which I cannot relate. Being lost and alone and far from help. Each day brings pain and exhaustion, I could end it now but it would mean a failure which would live with me forever - to continue means at least another month of this.