Joe and I have decided that it would be fun, both for ourselves and our readers, if we publish our separate accounts of the same trip on the same day, without having had access to the writings of our trip companion. So if you want to read a good story and see some nice photos (btw all photos are by Joe or Jo), go to Joe's blog at Thunder in the Night.
By Jörgen JohanssonDay 1 Tuesday March 22
Before I fell into the frozen river everything had been going smoothly.
Arriving in Alta on the same plane as famed Norwegian outdoorsman Lars Monsen (who among other things has spent three consecutive years crossing Canada, from the Alaska border to the Atlantic ocean), we stacked up on Beaver gas for our canister stoves and grabbed a taxi.
The taxi took us up the Mattis Valley for as long as the taxi driver felt confident to drive on the semi plowed tertiary (or something) road. From then on it would be rulks and skis for a week. After packing things up we 'girted our loins' and started pulling our famed and incredible rulks. Our respective loads weighed in around 17-18 kilos each and slid almost without effort behind us on this cloudy afternoon.
After about one hour we passed the last houses. They looked more like a professional establishment, a sort of a lodge, than somebodys home away from home, this was obviously where the road ended. Pretty soon we found ourselves skiing on the Mattis River, surrounded by fairly steep hillsides with birches and deep snow.
After a couple of hours, around when the sun was setting according to our research, at 1730 hours, we decided to camp. On a piece of flat land where the river meandered around us on three sides, we tromped some platforms for the skis in the deep snow. Skis and poles in the four corners had our tents pitched in the proverbial five minutes that every tentmaker boasts and few deliver.
Day 2 Wednesday March 23
The morning greeted me with -11 C in my tent. With all sleeping gear dry; down sleeping bag and synthetic quilt, I had slept without puffy Cocoon pants or puffy layer #2 (#1 was a BPL Cocoon smock and #2 a WM Flight jacket) and been very comfortable. But the first night is seldom any problem in winter. Later on I suspected I would need all the clothing I had.
Today we had to find our way up on top of the Vidda. From what we knew this should be possible by following the dwindling Mattis river and its canyon upstream and keep to the left all the time. A problem was that sofar the canyon sides had been steeper than expected and we were now going outside our 50 K map.
A couple of hours of skiing brought us to narrow ravines and a river that was now more of a creek. The rulk proved a bit difficult to handle as a pulk at this point, so I carried it on my back instead. Passing a couple of meters beside a hole in the snow with running water at the bottom I felt the whole side of the hole separate from the snow cover. A big crack appeared running parallell to my skis. This block of snow was more than a meter thick I had time to notice on my way down into the water.
I landed on my feet and chest on the snow that obviously had been bridge and that rapidly turned to slush with the river water starting to wet through my Paramo smock. Fortunately my feet and skiis were solidly planted on the rocks at the bottom of the creek and as I straightened out the cheerfully running water found that it reached me to mid thigh or so. Joe, who had been following a bit behind, was already on the edge where the snow bridge had broken away. I undid the belt buckle and the cheststrap and handed him the pack and rulk which slid up easily on the snow.
Using the ski poles as an intermediate Joe tried to pull me out of the freezing hole, but to no avail. The slush floating on top of the water in my impromptu bath tub was so heavy that I could not pull my skis through it. Reaching down in the cold water I undid my bindings and handed my skis to Joe; one at a time. After this I grabbed the doubled poles he was reaching out with just above the baskets and Joe had me out of the water like a champagne cork on New Years Eve.
First move in a situation like this is always to get rid of as much water from your clothing as possible and I rolled around in the snow a couple of times, knowing the dry snow would suck a lot of surface moisture from my soaked pants and other clothing.
Another option would have been to get into a tent and a sleeping bag to stay warm. This might have been necessary had I been really hypothermic, probably in company with a number of hot water bottles. However, this would have resulted in leaving my wet clothing outside of the sleeping bag, to freeze into cardboard. uselessness. Something that would seriously have hampered our chances to go on or evacuate ourselves at a later stage.
So the option I settled for was to keep the body core reasonably dry and warm and dry out the wet outer garments by physcial excersise a k a skiing. After trying to rid my soaking ski boots and the boot covers that were aleady beginning to freeze rather unsuccefully, I put my wet pile socks away, wrung out the merino socks I had been wearing into the drink and donned the whole soggy lot again. A couple of minutes later we were moving and half an hour later I felt that it all had worked out very well. I felt warm and comfortable. The smock was already dry, the pants were well on their way of becoming dry and we were back in business.
Staying with the river that swung to the left (S), exactly what we wanted, led us into a narrowing box canyon with the dwindling water course less and less obvious among the snow and rocks. At the end of the box, a frozen waterfall. An ever narrower and steeper canyon could be glimpsed swinging away to the left, up towards the plateau of the tundra that now was so close that we could almost taste it. But the two canyon options did look pretty impassable; more like 'Mordorish'.
A step hillside with stunted birches on the left looked more promising. It looked a couple of hundred meters long, fairly steep but not impassable in any way. It seemed to be promising a diagonal traverse towards the narrow, steep canyon pointing towards the tundra. Well up there it should be possible to follow the edge of the ravine up to the Vidda.
I took the hillside option and soon managed to get up well above the canyon bottom. Steep but not impassable on skis and with the rulk on my back, so far. I waved Joe, who was a couple of hundred meters behind me, on up the slope behind me.
After a while the skis would no longer help, sliding on the hard, icy crust that was lightly dusted with some snow flurries from yesterday and today. Sometimes the skis would also break through the crust threathening to unbalance me and my load and topple me down the hillside. Taking off the skis landed me thigh deep in snow, but I floundered forward and got to an open strip among the birches. Here the snow was thin, but underlined with shale and skis seemed to be the best prospect to traverse this piece of ground to the deeper snow and the haven of the birches some 10 meters away.
Before long we both had taken falls; slipped and fallen downhill, only to be stopped by the friendly birch trunks. My slide took me about five meters of sliding and tumbling before some of the friendly black and white shrubs and stunted trees stopped my off pist breakdance. Joe slid longer, perhaps ten meters, which in combination with him being younger, gave him the time necessary to envision parts of his life flickering before his eyes, before a friendly tree knocked the wind out of him and stopped further introspective movie watching.
By now we were beginning to see somewhat of an end to this hillside, or perhaps not an end, but at least a area that was not sloping at 30 degrees, and also seemed to be not that far from the top and the tundra plateau. By this time lunchtime was long since gone and I was getting pretty worn, mentally as well as physically. It was not difficult to take to heart the old, running gag from the Lethal Weapon-movies: I'm too old for this shit.
In the end we managed to drag ourselves and our gear up to that shelf by relaying the pulks and the skis on and in the snow. It worked pretty well to sort of kick a path, and then one of us would pull the pulk and the other would push it from behind. We would then go back and get the other pulk, and then the skis and poles. A couple of stints like this had us up on the shelf with all our gear.
My first move was to get frozen and torn boot covers off, then frozen boots. In one instance I had to pull my foot right out of the boot, leaving the sock inside. I then pried the sock loose from the boot with my hand, it had frozen to the inside of the boot in a couple of places. The boots, having been soaked in the river some 3-4 hour ago were frozen solid in places and seriously soggy in others.
I pulled out my holy, dry socks (never ever let them get wet, they are for sleeping only) from my drybag, put them on and then wrapped my feet in my homemade Primaloft quilt. I was munching on some snacks and a soft mini tortilla or two with some sausage, while at the same time trying to massage some feeling back into my toes. After a while I had to ask Joe to melt some snow for a hot water bottle, which was expedited in record time. Getting that bottle down between my feet felt heaven sent.
So I put my clothes and boots on and ventured out in the hard wind. It is always tricky to judge the speed of the wind without a wind meter, and to me inflation seems rampant when it comes to the use of the word 'storm' in many tales from the mountains. A storm is by meterological definition when winds exceed 25 meters per second. Windspeeds like that will make trees fall and may blow you off your feet. So true storms are not that common. However, hard winds or gale force winds are usually more than enough to impress most people, and I was impressed by this one.
I have been in the vicinity of hard winds and wind meters, so I think I have a reasonable grip on how different wind speeds affect you in winter. My guess is that the windspeeds that I encountered outside our tents that evening were at least 20 meters per second, and I would not be surprised if it the fabric cracking gusts reached storm level.
Having finished with my own tent I stumbled up to Joe's and knocked on the door to see if everything was alright with him. He looked out the tent door, snug in his down hood, and I told him that I was just going to check his poles and guylines before turning in for the night. After having done this I returned to the relative peace and comfort of my own fabric womb.
After having had my dinner I bundled up for the night, closed out most of the whining and whipping sounds of the hard wind with my earplugs, and drifted off to a more fitful sleep than I had really expected.
Lesson of the day: Avoid falling into rivers. Avoid climbing steep hillsides.