Finnmarksvidda Day 3 - on skis, but where?

Here is the second installment about Joe Newton's and my skitrip up on the Finnmarksvidda, or Vidda, at the northernmost corner of Europe.
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 Johansson

My tent after the windy night

Day 3 Thursday March 24
I did not really need to unplug my ears in the morning to realise that the wind was no longer of the capacity that would rattle my teeth. There was a wind all right, but not particulary severe compared to last night, when I fell asleep. I had slept well and a yell in the direction of Joe's tent reassured me that he was still alive and kicking.

Packing up after our night on the shelf
After the usual breakfast of cocoa, coffee, soft tortillas, cheese and cereals I donned my still soaking socks and inserted my feet into the soggy but hot-water-bottle-thawed ski boots and ventured outside. Not too bad. We decided to get out of this place before another teeth rattler hit us and had all our gear packed and ready around 9 o'clock.

Warm and well fed we tackled the remaining part of the steep hillside above our shelf for the night. It was certainly still no picnic, but a scouting excursion showed not only that the top was near, it also showed a way to the top that promised a minimum of excavating and relaying of pulks.

Now, minimum is not the same as none, but at least we knew how to tackle this hillside. Relaying pulks and skis from point to point worked well, even if it certainly was physically demanding. The worst part was were we literally had to hack our way forward/upward with our Snowclaws.
Working our way up the last stretch of the hillside
Working in relays we hacked a passage about one meter deep and15-20 meters long, tramping the loose snow at the bottom into some sort of pretty shifty support for our shoes, sometimes finding a bit of icy snow were toeholds could be kicked. Up this channel we hauled/pushed our pulks, one at a time, to a rock outcrop and then...the ground leveled out and we could see where the stunted trees gave way to the tundra expanse. The last bit was not particulary steep and looked like it could be negotiated on skis, for a change.

After a couple of hours of waddling in deep snow, now with my boot covers frozen flat and unbending like plywood resting in my pack, my wet socks and boots, without the protections of same boot covers, had taken their toll on my toes. It was time for foot warming and lunch break.

Lunch- and foot-cooking in the tent
Since there was quite a bit of snow in the air and the wind was on the increase we erected my tent and crawled into it both of us. Boots and socks off, dry socks on and quilt around my feet and lower body I set about melting snow for a hot water bottle, a freeze dried main course for me and a Mexican soup for Joe. After a bit more than an hour we were back on our feet, and more important, on our skis.

As we worked our way up  the slope among the last birches Joe commented that this certainly was hard work, but at least we were on SKIS. Compared to before lunch we practically flew, and pretty soon we were leaving the last brave birchtrees behind and were up on the real tundra.

It certainly was flat and the hardblown and windpacked snow was easy skiing and we even saw some blue skies for a while, since the snowfall had stopped. However, the hard wind at our backs had increased and pretty soon started whipping up snow all around us. Visibility was soon pretty limited, but we took a compass bearing leading us in the general direction of Kautokeino (that is south...) and moved along at a good clip.

On skis, on the tundra and the wind at your back. What more could a person ask?
The first man-made structure we saw was a reindeer fence, used to separate reindeer herds from different communties/tribes of Sami. We saw a low spot where snow had covered the fence almost completely and easily stepped over it.There was no sign of the fence on our maps, so we did not yet have many clues on exactly where on the flat expanse we were. Back on the 50 K map or not?

Now the wind had increased to the point where the rulks where whipped by the wind and overturned on the rock hard snow with increasing frequency. We slung them on our backs, one of the great advantages with the rulk system, and kept going with them in more comfort that way, almost sailing with the wind at our backs.

First tundra camp
The next man-made structure we came upon was on the map; a huge (in fact a double) power line. Determining exactly where on this line we were right now was more difficult. Since the power line continued outside the map we could still be off the 50 K map. Adding to these difficulities was that visibility was down to almost zero now, due to the hard wind whipping the snow along the ground and blocking out the sun.

I felt that we could perhaps give it another fifteen minutes, and if visibility did not get better we would have to set up camp, probably for the night. We talked this over standing right under the erie screaming from the power lines in the hard wind, but Joe wanted to keep going for a while. Luckily we did and luckily for us the wind decreased a bit, giving us the visibility we needed and also giving us another hour or more of skiing on a course that brought us in the right direction, no matter that we did not know exactly where we were.

Variations on securing the guylines on windward side
At around five o'clock we decided to camp for the night. The wind was still hard, at a guess around 15-17 meters per second. Joe was a bit worried that his tent would be ripped from his hands while he was trying to erect it, but this turned out to be less of a problem than he thought. Pretty soon after we had everything in place, with the pulks as snow anchors on the windward side, the wind decreased another couple of notches and was now only biting, with visibility the best that we had had all day. Temperatures were around minus 8 C when we crawled into our tents to melt snow and cook.

Before turning in for the night, which we usually did around 8 pm, I took some cross bearings from positions we had passed and some waypoints that I had picked from the online map back home. It turned out more difficult than it sounds, since I some waypoints on another sheet of 50 K map than the one it seemed we were on. Finally I got a position showing approximately, within a kilometer or two, where we where. We were indeed back on the map and with these good news on our minds we shut our eyes for the day.

The days lesson: Avoid cold feet. Avoid not knowing where you are.


  1. Love reading about your adventure! Looking forward to the next chapter. About the cold feet issue - will you be doing something different next time?

  2. This of course confirms what I saw from your spot crumb trail: suddenly you were on teh plateau and making good ground. The irony is,sat on my backside, at my desk, in the Netherlands I knew exactly where you were located!

  3. Gaupera,
    On the feet issue: Since the boot covers have served me so well for the last couple of years my thoughts are concentrating on that. I will probably write something on that issue when we get to the gear and technique disscussion

  4. The big question for me so far has been why you didn't have a good map of the mattisvalley. Apart from that the other mishaps can be put on the "shit happens" account. You seemed to cope with that very well though.

  5. Gustav,
    Good question. We got some info from DNT, but that mostly centered on a route from Lakselv. We wanted to pick a route that was little travelled and choose between the Mattis Valley and our exit route for the approach. Obviously we choose wrong. We had also hoped to get some local advice while buying gas, but the man in the sport store was not very knowledgable about our intended route. Obviously we picked the wrong approach. We did have a map, 250 K, and I thought that would suffice. What I should have done was to make a printout of that map border area from maps on the Internet.
    Bottom line is that I had not done the research I should have.


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