“So when are you off on your shakedown trip Ash?” asked a North American friend. Shakedown sounds like an unwanted pat down at Airport security to me. However, this alien term actually refers to a short training trip to test out equipment and dust off your skillset.
And so in late February, I headed to the Hardangervidda Plateau in Norway, to do a shakedown of my Arctic travel skills in preparation for a 35-day ski along the sea ice of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. This was my third-time sledge hauling in Norway in as many years.
Hardangervidda is a rather feisty mountain plateau four hours west of Oslo. It's been used as a testing ground by the great and good of the Polar world for over 100 years. In fact, Roald Amundsen nearly lost his life on the plateau in the late 1890s, before later going on to South Pole fame.
Armed with new skis, boots, and clothes I headed into the white for 6 days skiing with just a sledge and my lucky soft toy for company. I had an out and back route planned, taking in some quite lumpy terrain. Too lumpy it turns out. And far too hot.
My new Montane Extreme Salopettes
, complete with drop seat for turbo toilet duties, didn't even make it out of my suitcase thanks to the unseasonably high temperatures. It was a baking -5 as I set off up a steep climb to gain the couple of hundred meters to reach the plateau proper.
Reaching the plateau I headed south into the interior. At it's best Hardanger is a sledders paradise. Huge vistas, gently rolling waves of snow as far as the eye can see, and sub-Arctic sunset's with a hefty serving of pink hue. At it's worst your tent can be flattened by strong winds, temperatures can drop to the minus thirties, and you can be cloaked in 360 degree white out - the former I nearly experienced, and the latter I had a wee taste of.
It wasn't all bad weather though. On a few afternoons, I could ski with just a base layer and my new Montane Protium Fleece Hoodie
on. Although I managed to trash the cuff the rest of the jacket passed the durability test, and I was pretty impressed by the warmth from the thin Polartec lining. The jacket breathes fairly well - important as I can sweat standing still in a freezer, and moisture is the enemy of any cold weather traveller. It's definitely on my list for Baffin.
After six days of schlepping around the plateau, I made my way back to base by forlornly dragging my pulk for a few kilometers along a road, dodging angry motorists as I went. An hour earlier, I had lost a ski (later retrieved) when descending a steep icy slope. A reminder never to switch off, even when close to home. A good mantra to end — or begin — any adventure.
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Ash writes for Explorers Web.