Though I'll admit it was nice to finally take a shower, nine days of skiing and snow camping did not suppress my appetite for the high mountains. If it was up to me, I would still be out there. Each day was jam-packed full of incredible experiences beginning with four days at HaukeliseterFjellstue.
This small resort served as the base camp for our schooling. Weather was the constant topic of discussion because during the trip the temperature danced right around freezing. Anything above 0 degrees Celsius meant rain; rain meant soggy clothing and difficult skiing.
Our first day of class was navigation in dense fog, creating a challenge, but it built up our communication, map, and compass skills rapidly. The second day was full of sun breaks and we were able to have a longer day of navigation and testing snow conditions for avalanches.
Side note: The day before leaving for this trip I was able to volunteer with the Norwegian Røde Kors (Red Cross) and be a victim in a mock avalanche drill. This drill was a combined effort of the local police, civil defense, Red Cross, and second year outdoor life students from Telemark University. I was buried under snow next to a tree in a bivy sac and was rescued by an avalanche search and rescue dog. It was amazing to see the agencies work together to respond to the disaster drill.
Day three at Haukeliseter was spent developing our avalanche safety and rescue skills. After shoveling up a hill side to resemble an avalanche, we took turns creating scenarios involving burying backpacks, people, and avalanche transceiver beacons. After making sure the scene was safe and calling 113 (the 911 of Norway) we would spread out over the scene and do a quick sweep of the hill, using the avalanche probes around any visible objects. Next we lined out to do a formal search with the avalanche probes moving a short distance at a time until all victims were found. Another activity of the day was an avalanche baptism where each person was buried by the group for 2 minutes as a simulation of the real thing.
Our last day trip was a shorter ski to a few local peaks and practice pulling an injured team member via ropes and bivy sac. J.B. (the other Linfield student studying here this semester) had the great idea of lining the group out to resemble a sled dog team to pull the victim. That night and the next morning were spent frantically packing and preparing to set out into the wilderness in the direction of the town of Bjåen.
By the grace of God, once we embarked on our 5-day trek the weather was perfect and there was no rain. Along with 4 other international students, three Norwegian students, and our professor Simon we began our 30km trip on skis with backpacks containing everything we would need for the high mountains.
Describing this experience is about as difficult as describing snow to someone who has never seen it before. There are the hard facts: snow is white in color, very cold to the touch, and falls in a variety of patterns from the sky to create deposits on the ground. But this general description does no justice to the way it makes you feel and the relationship you develop with it when living it for 5 days. Similarly, I could try and write about each personality in my group for hours, but each person is just far too unique to fit into a box. But it truly is the people with whom you develop relationships and make memories that make the experience beyond words and something that can never be replicated. I don't remember the last time I have laughed as much as on this trip. If not about a song being sung or a joke being told I was laughing at myself, which is something I am getting better at. It is the comfort of good company that enables me to accept that there is much I do not know with a smile instead of with frustration. I do my best to keep an open mind and take things one day at a time through this learning process.
So in five days we skied by day, set up camp in the afternoon or evening, built 2 snow caves, and navigated roughly 30km. But intertwined were the moments of magic, like seeing herds of wild reindeer for the first time, or dreadfully getting out of the tent in the middle of the night to pee and being awestruck by the 360 degrees of silent frozen nature and magnificent landscape. It's about moments like sharing a package of Jelly Belly jelly beans from a care package from Grandma Judy with friends who had never had them before, and it's the comfort of the glow of a candle in your completed snow cave that took six hours to build. Little snapshots near and dear to my heart that instantly evoke a smile upon reflection.
If you can study or travel abroad, do by any means possible. It will be a grand adventure you will treasure forever.
Berre den som vandrar, finn nye vegar.