Assignment 2: Camping around Svolvaer (22.02.2021 – 24.02.2021)

Planning

L., D. and me planned our trip rather short before we left. The original plan was to go to Tromso for the prolonged weekend to try to see the northern lights. Since we found out shortly before we left that it was also possible to stay at some other place in Norway to camp, we decided to go to the Lofoten. We searched for public transport connections from Tromso and found that Svolvaer could be reached well by bus. Additionally Svolvaer is a (in comparison to the other cities on the Lofoten) rather big city and would be well equipped in case we might find that we unexpectantly miss something.
The other two of my group used an app to find busconnections and purchase tickets but without a creditcard I was not able to use the app. Therefore I had to buy tickets at the busdriver who would often tell me that this was not possible. So my partners sometimes had to get another ticket for me while the bus was already waiting which was kind of stressfull. In order to avoid that in the future I have ordered a creditcard for myself.
The planing of the tour was even harder because none of us had ever been to the Lofoten or another nordic place in winter and we did not really know what the conditions there would be like. Nor had we ever used the special websites which made planing easier but were mostly in norwegian of course. We searched for blue marked winterroutes at UT.NO but did just find permanently (grey) marked tracks that appeared in summer and winter and no specific wintertrails. By then we thought that these ones sould obviously be accessible during the whole year then. We printed out a card on KARTVERKET.NO showing the region around Svolvaer and the named routes. We decided to do a seemingly short walk which would lead us in a small round northwest of svolvaer. There we thought we might have beautiful walks alongside a lake and through the valleys of small mountains. The first difficulty occured when we checked the avalanchrisk on VARSOM.NO and found it reasonable high (3 and it was expected to rise). Since we planned most of our tours following the paths on the map through valleys and caught in between two mountains is not exactly the place to be during avalanche risk we had to think of alternatives. Since the landscape in this part of Norway seemed to consist of mountains and valleys in the end we decided to first go to the Lofoten and see for ourselves what it would be there like. We also considered to ask the lokal tourist information for help. Also the weatherforecast showed a lot of rain which would probably make camping more difficult.

The Trip

The actual trip started as a long bustour to Svolvaer. We started at 10.30 in the morning and arrived at 19.50 in the evening in the center of Svolvaer.
Since we are not allowed to set up camp to close to other peoples houses we walk 2-3 kilometers in the darkness in order to find a place. Moreover the snow is deep and we want to find a safe place where all three of us feel comfortable which means in this case not to go too far away from human civilisation. Here it shows how difficult it can be with different group members that all have different opinions. Especially if the general mood is not that great anymore people tend to think everything unsuited or undoable. Eather more planing in advance (so as to already have an idea where to camp) or a better caring for oneself (eating enough) could help to make this easier.
In the end we decided to stay on a piece of flat ground close to a football field. Flattening the snow and settinng up the tent takes some time and I did my best to keep up the spirit and participate everyone.
At around 12pm the dinner was finally ready and the general atmosphere brightened.
We spent a comparatively cosy night with just -1 degree and slept a bit too long in the morning. Therefore and because of our still relatively poor skills concerning packing and dividing the tasks reasonably among us we set up for our next camping position araund 11am. The path that we followed grew soon into nothing more than a narrow track probably from a snowmobile or something alike. When we followed it we soon realized that it was not exactly going where the path on the map was shown. By now I think we could have noticed, that where there should have been at least a path there was actually nothing to be seen at all due to the deep snow. But back then we were probably just glad that at least there was some kind of track on which walking was a bit easier and it was also not the first time that a track was in reality not where it was shown on a map (see Assignment 1).
When the track led us across the lake the belt of my backpack that is supposed to carry most of the weight came of entirely. I do not exactly know why it broke then and there but maybe my backpack was a bit too heavy loaded and a bit too old, maybe the flight had been too much. It seemes like I need a bigger and more stable one for the next trip that might actually be made for carrying around 60 liters. We decided to have lunch break and see what could be done for reparing the broken belt. Since none of us had brought a sewing kit nor anything alike the answer proved to be pretty easy: nothing. From then on I carried the weight (around 17 kilos) on my shoulders without the support of a belt around the hips. As I know now this is pretty uncomfortable and is getting worse the longer it is carried. Additionally it is less stable on the back and will slide a lot when you move to one side.

After our break we had to move up to reach the goal for the day: the DNT-hut Nokksaetra close to a small lake. But after a few meters the tracks that we had been following ended and we had to walk through knee- to waistdeep snow without any further orientation (just the map) where a good path to the hut could be.


Making our way through the snow

The climbing was by far more tireing from then on and we also grew very slow. But our small group managed to rotate the leading role rather well so we did all not get too exhausted. After some time we took a break again and located us on the map. We soon found that we had just managed to go around a third of the distance from our last stop to our actual goal (thanks also to google maps). Since it was already around 4pm, we did not want to set up camp in total darkness again and the weather was changing we decided to go back in our tracks and set up camp in a small forest. The place we chose was well sheltered from the wind which proofed to be very necessary during the night. It also began raining hard and did not stop until the end of the whole trip.
This time we (thankfully) managed to set up camp a lot faster and everyone was contributing on their own account and we strained the tent roof as much as possible towards the back and the front. (If it is tightened to much towards the sides it caves in and drips even more on the inside.)


Camping

The night was suprisingly cosy again even though I discovered that my sleeping bag got more wet with my cheap bivy bag (from the inside) than without (just from dripping, touching the walls).
The next day we found it impossible to walk back across the lake again and because of the bad weather conditions (wind, rain, hail, wet snow) we decided just to go back this time on the other side of the lake (where we had camped). It felt like a long way back. Since one had a very heavy backpack and was going down in the snow even deeper than the rest of us (sometimes it has advantages to be small and light) and the other one did not feel her foot anymore and could not be moved to drink enough, I went most of the way back in front making a trail in the snow. This was a bit exhausting but it felt good to feel useful for the group. In a way I think we worked together rather well to fulfill a more difficult task than we expected it to be.


Finally reaching civilization

I am still not entirely certain that just moving on until we reached the town was our best option, but because back then we did not find a possibility to shelter us well enough to feel better after a break (not just even wetter, colder and more exhausted), that is what we did. (Maybe we could have built us our own shelter with the tarp?)
When we found a café at around five in the evening we decided to call it a day and searched for a hostel for the night.
Afterwards we discovered that the small toes of one of my companions were all blue and swollen (frostbite) and it took quite some time to get them back to their (more or less) normal coulour. A warm shower and toemassages thereafter helped.


Dry shoes feel like a wonderful luxury

Group dynamics

When discussing the trip afterwards with one of my copmanions I found that we need to work on our communication in the group(!). Apparently there have been different ideas on what to do when, which where not talked about before or during the trip. As an example one just felt a bit “dragged along” and her motivation was therefore not as high as it could have been. I on the contrary just found it strange and a bit annoying that our whole group was not very motivated while I myself was looking forward to and also mostly enjoying camping and hiking.
Again a good preparation together could probably have helped. Since we could not meet enough before the trip and had to organize it in the way that everybody was just planing something it was especially likely to get different ideas.

Also the group like that was new and we did not know each other too well before we started out.
Nevertheless we managed a good preparitaion in some points (for example regarding the food we brought). So the fact that we somehow managed to plan a trip and realize it under these circumstances actually seem to show a somehow working group dynamic.

Additionally I feel like the trip, especially because it did not at all go according to our plans brought us a lot closer together. We got to know each other better pretty fast and found that we could go through the difficulties together. So all in all I feel like the group dynamics improved a lot during the trip, even though I guess that for this we also needed the clarifing talks (and a bit of rest) afterwards.

When it comes to the roles that we took during our trip I feel like all of us were caring for one another in different ways and different situations which made a difficult trip a lot nicer. Moreover all of us seemed to have some topic in which we were acting mostly task orientated. For one of us it was for exmmple cooking or for me the hiking itself. The caring-trait showed nonetheless in these “areas of expertise” as well because the food would be offered to everyone and while hiking we always tried to keep the group together and as happy as possible.

 

What I learned:

  • Start planning earlier (if possible), get help (locals, google maps, descripition of previous trips…) for detailed plans
  • For hiking in winter in Norway: Take snowshoes or skies! Otherwise every meter is hard work
  • I need a credit card. Even other online paying methods or other cards are often not accepted
  • If it can be helped: no camping in high snow during heavy rainfall
  • Food: porridge, packs of mashed potatoes, soup and couscous where you can each just add hot water keep me warm and nurished (add something that you can actually chew for comfort) but this needs a lot of water; snacks
  • Water: melting snow takes a lot of time and gas + will not always be possible: therefore places where the watersupply can be refilled should be thought of while planning
  • Mobilephone charging was more than enough
  • Bring sewing kit
  • Bring a new/ maybe more suited backpack
  • Frostbite can happen even if the air temperature is above zero degrees
  • We could do a kind of buddy check with the backpacks of our partners before we leave, especially if we are rather unexperienced (content but also the way it is put on the back to avoid lack of gear and dorsal pain)
  • Bring an emergency Bivibag or something alike as a possibility to shelter under bad weather conditions