So last summer I went on an expedition to Norway with school and it was amazing and things. I wrote this ‘article’ for the school magazine and I thought I would also post it on here, but it’s VERY long so I wouldn’t bother reading it if I were you, read one of my other posts!
I’m not sure if the feeling was mutual throughout the whole group but on build up day on the 20th of July I was extremely nervous about the trip ahead. It was scary to leave behind everything which seems so normal to us like our phones and internet and of course our parents to embark on this adventure which for most of us would be the longest we had ever been away from home, and not being able to know at all what was going on. However, we were all feeling much more comfortable about this prospect after a hefty BBQ including a lot of grilled halloumi cheese.
Travelling to Norway was extremely exciting (apart from a long and anticipating wait for our cases to come off the conveyor belt in Oslo airport). The plane journey was insane. Most people around me were fast asleep but I couldn’t look away from the window as we were flying over the country. From this high above I could already tell how beautiful Norway was and how different it would be to the environments we were used to in England. There was so much water everywhere in rivers, streams and huge lakes, and so little built up areas. And on the coach journey from the airport all we could see were fir trees and lakes and hardly anything was unnatural or manmade, on the road we were traveling on we barely met any other cars.
We stayed for a few nights in Haugastøl hotel which acted as our base for sorting out all the gear we had and preparing for the different parts of the trip ahead. This was also the home of possibly the best pizza in the world, definitely the best when we had it again at the end of the expedition. One of our sorting and planning days before we properly set off into the unknown we spent some time walking round a lake. This was on a day when the weather was good and we went swimming in this huge lake up from Haugastøl. Unfortunately on this walk Emma Hinchley tripped and sprained her ankle. Emma was in a lot of pain and was taken to see a doctor while the rest of us worried she might not be able to take part in parts, or perhaps all of the expedition. It is so typical and ironic for a major accident (the most major of the whole trip) to happen like that at the very beginning, on the simplest of walks compared to what we would be doing in the following days. Luckily, Emma returned to us just in time for dinner that evening. She had a bad sprain, but she was going to be fine and would be able to re-join the team for most of the activities we took part in.
The first chunk of Challenge Norway was mountain biking. This took place over 2 days, with one day in the middle for the Ice Cap Trek. The mountain bikes had pedal breaks and were hardy to help us tackle the terrain which was at times (especially on the second day) very rocky and difficult to manoeuvre. We carried the gear we would need in panniers on the bikes for the entire distance of the cycle route from Haugastøl to the campsite where we began kayaking, Flam. This was 80km in total on the Rallarvegen bike route descending 1000m. The first day was so hot so we had a lot of ‘fill up stops’ where we could get water from any running source around, which there always was. The views on this day were amazing especially with the weather being so nice the sky was so blue and clear. We saw lakes, rapids, mountains, some of which were topped with snow and so much more, while getting some pretty awful tan lines from the blazing sun.
The first and one of my personal favourite campsites was Finse. We had a small pool which we could swim in, an area to have a fire, a patch of snow for some reason, mountains to go to the toilet, stream to collect running water and even a large rock for Jess to stand on and sing 80s music… We returned to Finse as our final campsite and it had changed so much due to heavy rain and snowmelt. We couldn’t return to the spot we pitched our tents before because it was now a marsh. Because of the hot weather and the presence of so much water, Finse camp the first time round was the home of a mass mosquito attack. These pests definitely were prone to some favouritism. Some of us got away with no mozzy bites at all but Lydia was slightly less lucky, and woke up on ice cap day with 87.
In between the two biking days we trekked up onto the famous Hardangerjøkulen ice cap. We wore harnesses for this with a rope thread through so we were all attached together. We also used cramp-ons on our boots to allow us to be secure in the hard ice. We looked down looming crevasses and into blue water holes while being roped together. The crevasses looked so deep and endless, so jumping over them was scary especially when there was a wide gap to jump. We learned about the ice cap from Carl and Uda who had come from Haugastøl to show us round the ice. Unfortunately we learned that year on year the ice cap is shrinking due to pollution, which we saw evidence of when we were trekking with Uda.
After this we mountain biked ‘all downhill’ for a day. At least this is what we were told would happen on the second day of biking, but in reality we had some big climbs for at least half the day then a huge and scary descent all the way to Flam. I say scary because it really was. Underfoot (or wheel) there were huge angular stones which would jerk your tyres about and send you flinging around in random directions, there were plenty of falls including myself where somehow I ended up with a handlebar-in-bra situation and Freya the queen of falls who mastered 2 almost full body flips. The steepest and most frightening part of this downhill was around 23 hairpin bends which to me seemed impossible to even attempt without getting off the bike. We biked 50k in that day, and we were rewarded with a REAL CAMPSITE with REAL TOILETS. The night we spent in Flam was set up to be the night of luxury in preparation for the kayaking day ahead, but it ended up being the night of the electric storm.
The first day of kayaking ended as soon as it began. We paddled 5k before we found a campsite to stay at, this wasn’t the campsite we had planned to originally stay, but we had set off late, the rain was so heavy and the sky was getting darker so we couldn’t carry on to the next site. This was a miserable point. It was pouring with rain, we were soaking wet and cold, the paddle jackets we had borrowed for kayaking were deceiving in their looks as they were so far from waterproof it was untrue. Somehow we managed to pitch tents in these conditions with a lot of teamwork holding up the outer layer while other people scrambled around trying to put poles in the inner without getting it wet. At this point I was extremely thankful for the dry bags that my clothes and other belongings were safe inside. After the weather and we had calmed, we sat under a tarp and talked with our kayak tour leaders Ervin and Britt-Marie.
Kayaking through the Fjords was a wonderful way to experience such interesting landscapes. Our guides were so friendly and knowledgeable about the history of the fjord and it was so interesting to get to know such passionate people that loved the country so much. In breaks from paddling we would raft up – hold on to each other’s kayaks side by side so we could stay together as a unit without drifting. We played games when we had breaks such as ‘there’s a triangle’ and where Emma Stewart and Allie climbed over all the kayaks without falling in the water. The second campsite on the fjord had the best views and a waterfall that stretched up to the top of the fjord which Alice, Maya and I had a shower under.
On the third day we ended up in Gudvangen. We had a lot to do on this day, arrive, sort out all the kayaks, collect our trekking kit and food and dump our kayaking gear and other things we didn’t need for the Duke of Edinburgh section. Then say goodbye to our guides to get on a public bus with our DofE rucksacks packed with 7 days’ worth of stuff, much to the annoyance of the other bus members, and embark on a steep uphill trek in the rain to find a suitable campsite for the night. In the midst of all of this it was Hannah’s birthday, but luckily we did manage to fit in time for cake courtesy of Britt-Marie and Ervin. The campsite on that day was so far from looking like a campsite when we found it. We had to remove some serious rocks and boulders from the ground before we could put up the tents, but it ended up being another truly beautiful campsite, with views from the ascent we had just climbed all the way down to the fjord we had left earlier that day.
Steve came into our tents the night before DofE to say good luck to us because he, Miss Lynn and Carolyn wouldn’t be there to help us anymore; we were going to be walking in our group of 7 without immediate guidance. However Miss Lynn would of course be watching us while hiding in the hills. At one point we saw them walking behind us on the other side of a valley. They must have been half a mile away but when we shouted ‘Good morning TO YOU’ we sure enough got a reply. When Steve came to wish us luck he gave us some advice which sounded so stupid that we just laughed. He said ‘if you’re lost and fed up girls, don’t worry, just put up a tent’.
Crossing rivers and snowfields was a nightmare, and at times really scary. Everyone’s feet got wet and cold but there was no alternative as the route led straight through some rivers with no bridge or crossing at all. It was true wilderness and there was no sign of this trail being a real path except for red painted T’s on every other boulder.
The DofE trek was 4 days long and on the second day the weather had turned on us. We had headed into the mountains and remained high. It completely clouded over and got to the point where we couldn’t see the next red T in front of us. It was freezing, slippy underfoot; my hands had swelled up to twice the size because of the icy wind and the altitude. We were getting tired and confused about where the path was taking us, the more we climbed the colder and cloudier it was getting and we had no idea where the summit was. To our pleasant surprise, the leaders appeared behind us and caught up to give us a much needed prep talk including similar content to ‘you’re all just flippin’ amazing’. At this point we were over the moon that we’d found the leaders, but we had no clue where the other group was. The last we had seen of them was Olivia walking across the snow into the unknown, away from the rest of her group. We walked on into the icy cloud trusting the path Miss Lynn and Carolyn were taking us on and sure enough as we walked further, we heard a faint whistle. Cathy and Miss Lynn whistled back and in the distance we saw the faint silhouette of Olivia leaping up blowing the whistle. As we got closer towards them we couldn’t believe what we saw. They had become so lost from not being able to see the next T that they had actually put up a tent. When we finally got to them Izzy got out of the tent and she was crying hysterically because she was so happy that we had found them and that she wasn’t going to die. The sight of that was priceless, there was nothing else to do but laugh.
Miss Lynn said she would be happy to sign off our Gold DofE awards right there because of what we had achieved, but we needed to get off the mountain. We spent a cold night camped up there before we could descend, then we were finally back at a more normal altitude, in normal conditions, on the good old Rallarvegen cycle path. The others managed to walk 30k in that day all the way back to the end point at Finse, even with Georgie possibly having the biggest blister in Norway. We decided to pitch our tents near a waffle house that we had stopped at on one of the biking days. We returned to Finse a day later, and it was the happiest and most achieving feeling. As soon as we stopped tiredness hit us like the electric storm had in Flam. All we wanted to do was get back to the hotel, get clean, and eat that beautiful pizza again. Luckily we did just that the day after, and it was so worth the wait.
Norway wasn’t just a 17 day expedition it was much more than that. Training had been going on throughout year 12 and over the course of it all we had really bonded as a group and we had learned so many things. Challenge Norway was one of the biggest opportunities that have ever come my way and I don’t regret taking it for a second. I’ve learnt so many things and if I’m honest I never expected to enjoy the trip as much as I did. It was incredible, a true challenge but a true adventure. Carolyn Bailey was brilliant, there couldn’t have been anyone better chosen to lead us. I feel so much more knowledgeable about adventuring now. I know how to make a ‘leave no trace’ fire, how to pick a successful spot for wild camping and how to be cope with feeling so far away from comfortable and normal things. We travelled, by different means, from Haugastøl to Finse up to the Hardangerjøkulen ice cap and down again, to Flam to Gudvangen to Upsette to Hallingskeid back to the cycle route to Finse then to Haugastøl again to finish. We embraced this whole area and managed to do and see so many things that I will maybe never have the chance to experience again. We had a group talk with Miss Lynn, Carolyn and Steve after the expedition where we talked about our highs and lows of the trip and what we feel we’ve learned. One question asked to us was ‘what’s next?’ and for me the answer would be to take part in more adventures and explore more beautiful places like Norway. I’m sure I can speak for all 14 of us when I say that the skills and experiences we have learned and shared will continue to inspire us to do many similar things, and Norway is the beginning of many more adventures to come.