The trip was the first of our self- organized field trips in this course. The full program and location for the trip was up to us, but the trip should include skiing, and practising carrying heavier rucksack, and generally learn more about being in a winter environment. We formed a group of 8 people, and started planning.
Preparations for the trip
First of all, we decided that we wanted to do ski touring, instead of staying in one place and ski from there. We were looking for skiing of 3-4 days, and therefore we needed a route long enough for that time. We started to search routes from www.ut.no, which seems to be one of the best web-page for searching winter and summer tours/ tracks in Norway.
Our main destination was Hovden, a mountainous area around 200 km north from Kristiansand. We found That there was a track of ca. 45 km that would start from Haukeliseter fjellstue (at Haukeli) and end at Hovden. This route would include two cabins, and one night we would spent tenting. As we decided the route, we need a map of the area, and fill in a route card.
The purpose of making a route card is to reduce the risks along the way, and giving information to the person who is in charge of alerting a rescue team in case of emergency. According to what I learned in our lecture, the most important parts of the route card are of course the length of the trip, checking the weather forecast, as well as avalanche warnings in our case, marking emergency shelters/ escape routes, the location to the closest civilization, and access to water.
Other things we set was food groups of two people, checked that we would have two storm kitchens with us, and that since we had to take a tent with us, it would work as an emergency shelter. Everyone of course would take their snow shovels with, and a couple of students had avalanche probes.
This day was mainly reserved for travelling to the location Haukeliseter fjellstue. We took a bus, and as we travelled the scenery started to shift to more and more mountainous. Just before arriving to the destination we passed the treeline. At this point I was super excited because the mountains are a rare scenery for me. It was a really beautiful day, and this was the time of “Vinterferie” skiing holiday in Norway, which we have back home too. Hence, we saw a lot of people skiing and downhill skiing along the way.
We arrived to the destination around 3 p.m., and as we walked to the main cabin we immediately heard some bad and surprising news concerning our plans. It seemed that the weather was about to change radically for the next day, which was supposed to be our starting day. Therefore, we had no choice but wait and see if the weather would turn out any better and try to set off at some point during the next day if possible.
As we had a few good hours of light left, we headed out for a short ski to explore the area. The scenery was absolutely stunning. There were some snow kiters, which I had never seen before, but the place seemed to be popular for snow kiting. As the sun set we skied back, and tried to enjoy the rest of the evening. Lucky for us there was a sauna (one of my favourite things especially in the winter) and an outdoor hot tub that we could use, so this was a great experience especially because of the stunning scenery around us.
I woke up, and immediately went to check the weather, and through window I would see the wind blowing horizontally, and the snow storming viciously. That was enough of indication that we would not be leaving for a while. We also discussed with the reception if the weather would cool down later, but this seemed not to happen before evening, around 6 p.m. Our teacher also texted us and advised us to wait.
Therefore, we had no choice but hang, and wait. At first we were all very disappointed but then started to turn it around, and think that this is part of the learning experience. If the weather says no, it is no and there is no point of killing your mood for it. We played some board games, and because of good group cohesion, enjoyed the day nevertheless.
Later, as the weather settled down just a little bit, we decided to have a go and ski around the local area. It was a great opportunity to test, what it would be like to ski during that kind of a weather. The experience was very educational. First of all, I was only concerned about the facts like the difficulty (near impossibility) of navigation, and vision in general, as well as the coldness that the wind would add. But in addition to that, what I hadn’t considered, and what made it really difficult to ski, was actually the amount of new snow from the snowstorm. And there was a lot of it since it had started last evening, and continued to the present moment. Conclusion, not a day you want to ski tour! Moving forward was extremely slow, and heavy, and this was without the rucksack in your back. Also as we moved to more open terrain the wind started to be specifically piercing, although it was only around -3 degrees. It was quite frightening to experience how fast the wind started to actually hurt the open skin areas of my face.
As this was already the second day of our trip we really had to discuss what to do with the remaining days, would we still go for touring, or stay and ski from the Haukeliseter fjellstue. This turned out to be a bit of a dilemma for the group, and caused a lot of discussion and some frustration among the group members. In terms of our task, this was definitely a storming moment for the group . Like Atkinson describes in his presentation about “group communication”: this was a state of confrontation and debate and people were quite emotional when trying come up with a solution. I noticed myself falling into socio-emotional role (Atkinson) in this situation, and tried to promote diplomatic approach, and provide support to both “parties” as in the ones who wanted to set off, and the ones who wanted to stay.
There were some factors that restricted us from leaving. First of all a student had a bit of a hip injury, and his skiing in terms of length and terrain difficulty was limited. I was also having some symptoms of cold, and I did not feel like setting of to a trip that physically demanding. Other factors were the general skill level of the group that was not very high, and also the lack of experience in spending longer time in a winter environment without having a warm base to come back to. Further, we did not know exactly how the weather, and the terrain would be after a stormy day. Therefore it seemed that there were too many unpredictable elements to the trip.
After discussions, and evaluations over the group and how people felt, we decided to stay at the place, and do day ski trips. We also agreed to spend one night in a tent to get some practise.
Finally! The weather was now optimal and we could head out for our first proper ski tour. As we were planning to tent the next night, we had to take the whole rucksack with is to the tour.
The tour would be 11 km, and the plan was to practise navigating. However, the track was marked with sticks, so there was actually no need for much navigation. However, I was holding a map, and tried to figure out what was what as we skied. For me it was very challenging to pick up from the terrain what was what on the map, because, for example, when trying to find a rock/ island on a lake there seemed to be ten similar bumps, and it was hard to figure which was the one on the map.
As there was basically no wind, the temperature -3 it soon became very warm to ski, and I had to ventilate a lot in the beginning. A surprising fact was that now the snow actually carried us quite well, apparently it had frozen after the snowstorm.
We had to make quite a few stops for ventilating, and after a while waxing the skis. The wax seemed to wear off easily, because the first 4-5 km were more or less uphill, and i guess the rucksacks added some pressure that frayed the wax more than usually. The skiing uphill with a full rucksack on was quite exhausting. Adding the flu symptoms to the equations, I was very happy as we finally reached the top/ flatter terrain. This part of the skiing was very enjoyable, as you could enjoy the view, and not concentrate that hard on going uphill. The scenery on top was indescribably beautiful, and worth climbing up.
It took us around 6 hours to complete the tour. However, the final meters turned out to be difficult for the less experienced skiers. I found it challenging myself, because with a full rucksack on the balance was a lot harder to keep. However, half of the group went down a bit quicker and started to look for a place for tenting.
We found a nice flat spot near a hill, and decided to start building a tent there. At this point the temperature had started to drop, and as we were finishing it was already around -13 degrees, and people were starting to tell they were cold. I personally was warm and still surprisingly full of energy. Therefore, I could not imagine that someone would starting to get first symptoms of hypothermia, which was the case. We were in two tent groups, and separated from the other group, where there was a student who was started to develop symptoms of hypothermia. Luckily we were right next to the main building, and he could go in and warm up. This was quite scary, thinking if we had set out on the tour, and this would be a night that we spent in a tent, and there would not have been a warm place within around 10 kilometers. This occurrence really taught me as a guide to keep close eye on a group, and know that even after a relatively “warm” day of skiing something like this can happen.
After we finished building the tent I went to the main building, and found out that we had camped on ice.
The reception advised us to move our tent on ground, as tenting on ice would add a lot of minus degrees. I guess some things one must learn the hard way. It was already close to the sun set, but we moved the tent higher up the hill which we thought was already ground. It was so difficult to look from the map and the terrain where the shore started so we rebuilt the tent up a slope. I was still a little bit suspicious if we were on ground, and I started to dig through the snow, and as I reached to the bottom it seemed that we were still on ice. However, there was around a meter of snow on top of it and we decided to stay.
On that night, the temperature lowered down to -15 degrees, and I was a little bit cold, but survived my first night outside in winter time. This was a great achievement, but at this point the flu started to take over, and the next morning we started to travel back.
This trip was very educational and the main learning outcomes:
Respect the weather
Do not tent on ice!
Prefer to stay home if you are even a little bit sick
Try to enhance positive atmosphere in a group despite setbacks
Acknowledge your experience level
- Try to keep your gear as dry as possible, and especially spare gloves and socks