Tuesday, November 10, 2009

25/07/09 "What!? You want us to just rolly polly down?!"

I had a leisurely wake up from my first dream at 8am. The dream involved my cousings, Tasha and Gabby and my friends from home all needing to stay at mine but when I got home Mum and Dad had had a party and were drunk and then my ex stormed out onto a bus and got expelled from school. Weird....? Anyway the exciting part of this morning was cracking into our first ever ration pack, we were pleasantly surprised by the crackers and Jam, I didn't mind the porridge and rasins either(oh how things change). However the rat-pack high was extinguished thanks to an unfortunate slip on the stepping stones and a very wet foot and Scarpa Manta. Yet another experience of uncomfortable wetness on this trip for me then...

Armed with ice axes, slings and harnesses we marched up to the glacier, ironically we all began to overheat. Howard and Rob had marked out a safe place to cross the river but due to recent glacial melt the river was flowing to fast over the crossing so we had to walk further up to the snout itself. This was our first experience of the rapid effect an increasing temperature can have on such a delicate environment as this.

Today we were preparing for ourselves falling down the glacier, but thankfully not to our untimely death thanks to our ice axes. At first we didn't have our ice axes just the blls to flip over onto all-fours and not enjoy the slip and slide. Although some of us still hadn't quite mastered the basics it was time to introduce the ice axe. This meant that we could fall from any angle. So we practiced the procedure for such events: head first on front and back and feet first front and back. To finish we were asked to "dive" onto the glacier and "just roll down." I think all of our parents will be glad to hear their children were falling head first down a glacier with only an ice axe to save them.

(My journal says I was desperate for the toilet, why i thought thst was necessary? Must have been really desperate...)

After convincing us to roll down the glacier we had a long chat to the leaders aboout our different schools and particularly the different methods of fire drills(pah, I had forgotten health and safety even exsisted...). Unfortuneately my boots were still wet so i was forced to dry them out on walking poles overnight. I hoped the Arctic wind was going to be dry enough as mud, stones and possible human excretement is not nice underfoot...

Monday, November 09, 2009

24th July

Gabby and I woke up next to manimal today as Tasha had a swollen eye and 39 bites thanks to our new friends, the mosquito's. However that was the least of our worries this morning as it was bucketing it down outside and our "washed" clothes were meant to be drying, plus the tent was far from dry. After salvaging the clothes, hot porridge was on the stove but Clem came in to let us know we could go back to bed as there was no way we were being made to walk up to the glacier anytime soon. The fickle nature of the arctic climate was on display as after waiting in limbo in our tents the weather changed to crisp sunshine and we had to pack up camp to head off.

This was the first test of endurance since our packs had our house, food and belongings and for most this was a struggle, let alone for the cripples of the crew. Some people chose to do two runs but the power three trudged on with our life on our backs. My shins were playing up, Tasha's joints had a mind of their own and Gribbs' leg wouldn't keep schtum. I can admit that I didn't think I could get up the vertical climb at the waterfall but with the help of others we all managed it and Gabby even gave Alistair a mars bar as a symbol of the recent team bonding experience. After two hours we arrived at ABC greeted by cuppa soup and Rivi ta. This bliss was short lived as the ground was not the best for tents; it was either to soft or too had. Soon we gave up with pegs and decided to just use rocks. Callistair had already scavenged to get the majority of rocks on the whole flood plain but that was probably because I would steal one for the girls tents every time they went to get another one.

Gribbs and Laura came back from their second trip and we had some veg chili rice on the hob for them since we knew they would be beyond tired. Ratpacks were also handed out and there was carnage for the Svalbard ones once the news broke they had 2 chocolate bars.This was pleasantly followed by the poo barrel and poo bag routine. Basically we know the routine and no need to go into detail, especially when the tube got full...

Our night was rounded off with a visit from a herd of reindeer who were only a few metres away from our tents. As you can guess the cameras were out in seconds...

P.S. My Blister spontaneously burst today.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

22nd July

The various watch alarms started beeping at intervals between 6:30am and 7am. Tasha effortlessly rolled out of bed while Gabby and I needed that little bit of time to "adjust to the light." Still, even after that there was no sign of movement from the rest of the group so we figured there was time to go to the toilet before we put on breakfast. Apparently not. Golumn came up to the girls toilet and rudely shouted "Do you mind moving?" Naturally we questioned this and he jus tsaid " we need breakfast." The worst thing was he left, to go to the toilet. It would be an understatement we were pissed off. Ironically that morning we made far too much porridge so there was enough for all needed. Of course we got a row for making too much, at least it didn't taste like charchol.

There was a meeting down at the "Tring" and it was from Mark who was obviously used to giving talks to young people about the decadence of money and technology. He was also very into his reflective journals. These were to be a burden on us near the end of the trip when it became known that that had to be filled in before we could get our gold Duke of Edinburgh sections. Mark also showed a clever demonstration about the importance of optimism on this kind of trip. Us as a group chose the tallest and strongest boy, this was Trou (one of the Army boys). Now he had to push up as Mark pushed his arm downwards and visa versa. At first Trou "won" but then Mark showed him a drawing on a bit of paper which the crowd couldn't see. When they did the experiment again Mark "won" and, although there are a few variables that may have altered the results, apparently this was due to the picture Mark drew; it was of a sad face and this made a tiny drop in the lymphocyte count which made Trou slightly weaker allowing Mark to beat him. The moral being a small trigger can have a big effect.

We took more food up from the van to base camp and got sorted with ice axes, harnesses and slings and before we knew it it was time to set up the glacier for the first time. Before we left we got a glimpse of raindeer across the river from basecamp which was just the beginning of the stunnig views on out trip up the glacier. Thanks to the mediterranean weather the landscape was looking at something you would expect to find in Northern Italy not Northern Norway! There was a magnificent waterfall with an almost vertical erratic wall to climb up which then revealed a tempting glacial lake. Freezing cold water sounded like just what we needed after our first ascent! I can imagine we were probably wrong.

We had our lunch at a gigantic overhanging boulder that became known as Diner Boulder. For lunch we were treated to Pitta breads and peanut butter with flapjack for pudding. The day was spent learning some climbing techniques including:
Block - Tying the rope around a massive rock
Spike - tying the rope around a massive spikey rock
Thread - Looping the rope through a crack between two rocks.

Abseiling - South African and Classic(totally preffered classic, it was quicker)
Re-thread knot was the basic 1st step in tying your shoe.
Coiling and preparing the rope to get rid of kinks.

The walk back to camp was lovely and leisurely and we took many photos in caves but the main reason we were late was becuase we weren't great at keeping track of the path. Still we only arrived half an hour after everyone else. Before we knew it it was time to fit crampons which was just more faff before some good old stove faff to finish the day...


Thursday, October 15, 2009


We woke up the one thing we didn't expect in the arctic: intense heat. Unfortunately that was only inside the tent as the weather was still terribly mediocre. A stove lesson was was scheduled at eleven where we realised that the stoves were more than your average camping stove. The lesson involved a lot of petrol pandemonium and some porridge with a very authentic smokey flavour.

Much of the day was spent sorting out base camp beginning with taking food from each group up from the van to camp. Thankfully "pirate", who we now know as Mark, told Tasha, Gabby, Laura, Gribbs and I to sort out the van. This involved us organising all the food into categories such as carbohydrates in boxes and carbohydrates in bags, you must understand that this is how girls do things. Little did we know are organisational skills would last less than a day. More importantly however we got to know all the different kinds of food on offer and we still don't know why we never got the real cereal...

Each group at base camp got a mess tent to keep their provisions in and we got to set up a Tipi. We were encouraged to set up the tipi over ground with the least abundance of heather, this ended up being a very exposed place. It was during lunch that we realised that these stoves were not going to be our best friends as soup was off the menu but there was some complementary pitta bread and corned beef. Thankfully dessert was a step up of digestive biscuits with a nutella topping.

That evening was make or break time, the decision on who was in what "Fire" was going to be announced. My tent had a mutual hostility towards the boys that had been plonked next to us. They were from Dunblane and it would be an overstatement to say they were useless. One was a bossy, egotistical golumn look-a-like and the other one was a gormless giant. Some how I will prove to the English kids that Scotland does have some decent men...

Anyway back to the meeting. It was organised to be at the "Tring" this was a collection of rocks which resembled an area where the Vikings would hold their Parliament meetings, hence the name "Tring" which is the Norse name for Parliament. Mike Devlin the trip leader was introduced himself, everyone else and everything else that might have been possibly rel event at the time. His tendency to ramble was apparent from an early stage. This was more obvious for Tasha and I who were eagerly waiting to find out the fate of the fires...

In the end it was not good. We were staying as we were. Tasha and I even tried to pull the "we have a personality clash with one of the members in our group" but we were told to try out tomorrow and if it is still apparent then they will see. A reluctant Okay and we headed off for our evening toilet break. A member of the leader team stood out from the others, not necessairly in a good way. Lets just say many of us were told to "Check out the BULGE!" Poor Alex was sporting simlilar thermal leggings and was concerned with the idea that he might have been walking around exposing too much aswell...

The waiting room was conveniently positioned next to the fire of 6's cooking area, that was until the toilet was moved further uphill. Anyway, this allowed us to chill with them, and this proved to be great fun. Further igniting our desire to be with laid back happy people. But we wanted to take, at least, Gabby with us to and this would leave a mere 5 in our old fire. This was not a popular idea with Mike. So we went to bed and hoped tomorrow wouldn't be too tough on us physically, due to our crippled state, and mentally, from you know who...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

20/07/09 I cannot believe this was one day...


 It’s today. The journey that I had been putting blood, sweat, tears and tenners into was about to start. Although my trip had technically already begun for me this felt more real, probably since early wake up calls remind me of travelling! I crawled into the shower before realising that it was in-fact my last warm shower for about four weeks. When each of the four explorers were just emerging from their last night in a “real” bed Gabby’s boyfriend, Josh had already managed to cycle over from his house to say goodbye to her and her mum also managed to feed us up by supplying industrial amounts of cheese on toast, she truely surrounds herself with amazing people! As the clock ticked past five we headed to the car and got our bags thrown into the boot then Gabby said her goodbyes to Josh and her family before we headed off to the airport.

I spent the journey watching and admiring the red sun rise up over the dew filled fields, got me all nostalgic I contemplated how alien the next few weeks are going to be, although I am used to being away from my family and friends for periods of time, the fact that we will be stuck in the wilderness living on the bare minimum and where nature has control of you and you have to try and adapt to what it throws at you is something that has become foreign thanks to modern living.

When you go to airports you always loose track of time because they are constantly buzzing with people no matter how early or late it is, they never seem to stop. However the hustle and bustle didn't stop us from spotting the rest of our team who were going to Norway since everyone was in matching T-shirts and looked rather dishevelled. It was weird that we were comfortable and there was no awkwardness considering we had all only met once before. It was actually great to see everyone again, especially Tasha who I had bonded with before the briefing weekend over facebook and when we actually met it was scary how similar we were, something told me she would love Gabby too...

Our kit list was extensive and involved holdalls, rucksacks and day sacks and getting this all under 20kg was a challenge but the moment of truth arrived when I placed my bag on the conveyor belt; 15.9kg! The last minute ditch of toiletries seemed to have done the trick! Since there was in the region of forty of us altogether, check in meant more sitting around than usual before heading to security. At eight thirty everybody went to the gate and got ready to the board but leader Tim seemed quite oblivious to the fact the screen was flashing 09:10 Oslo BOARDING and just as we notified him the voice came over the tanoy asking us politely to board. And so the adventure officially begins...

The whole BSES team were seated together alphebetically and I was next Lizzy, however most of the plane was spent catching up on the sleep we lost this morning. I found myself engrossed in the free Norwegian Airlines magazine, especially the article on the famous Norwegians printed on the tails of certain planes in their fleet, combining two great loves of mine. Arriving at Oslo was very exciting, we appreciated the architecture of Gardermoen as soon as we arrived into to the baggage hall via a glass walkway looking down into the departure lounge, which gave us an insight to where we wanted to go for lunch, even the toilets were special. Alex managed to use this time to catch up with his Dad who lives in Oslo, who many of the leaders thought was just a random stranger. This was also the only time I would be able to get near somewhere to get postcards so I siezed the chance and got 17, which is pretty normal for me!

It wasn’t long before we had to get ready to board the next flight and it was already very apparent that we were not sitting next to each other this time. This plane was smaller and I was in between a rather tough looking Norwegian man and a pregnant Norwegian woman which, as you can imagine, further reduced my space. Plus as the flight went on we all became more aware of the lack of air conditioning, or perhaps it was the five layers, but either way it was best if we slept through the flight rather than feeling ill.

The view out the plane window as we approached Alta was spectacular. It was a the typical Norwegian landscape of snow-capped mountains that dip into the sea fjords filling vast valleys below. Immediately on landing there was an obvious change in temperature as there was that familiar bitter wind I would have hoped to have left behind, thankfully I had at least left the rain and clouds back in Orkney. We investigated the airport, which admittedly wouldn't take anyone very long, and had our last real experience of  "real food" for a long time. We were served by Deg, who knew a fair bit of English, and Randi, a women in her forties who did not know much English. You felt sorry for her when twenty British youths started asking for sausages and chips in very loud English rahter than pølse og chips.

Running to the bus with chips in hand, we all climbed aboard and got comfy ready for a two hour bus journey. Every corner we turned on the winding roads, a new photographic opportunity appeared and a chance to demonstrate our skills as British tourists by scrambling for the best shot from the window. When a herd of reindeer appeared at the side of the road we took as many photos as we could with the idea that we would not be seeing any more reindeer, could we have been any more wrong?

We had a suitable break at a Sami camp which had some stalls selling traditional Sami souvenirs such as Antlers and hides and have our first taste of culture. Although we were all having fun and games looking at the strange gifts I couldn't help but notice the poverty of the camp opposite. It may have been to look authentic to their traditional lifestyle but it was still lacking in basic amenities, which was ironic since the stalls took Visa.

A tunnel or so later we arrived at Oksfjord which looked like your typical fishing town with traditional fishing huts and drying racks mixed with modernised ferries and fish factories. The ferry we were going to catch was not one of the modern, large ferries but a much smaller one, a much smaller one.

Across the fjord we were dumped off at a jetty and then, in groups, we were shuttled off to  the elusive base-camp. Gabby, Tasha, Alex, James and I decided(as an unofficial fire - the groups on the expedition were reffered to as "fires") that we would wait until the last run, as we were living it up down the pier.

The road was right on a cliff edge but what more do you expect from an expedition and when we arrived we were greeted by one of the steepest hills we would encounter on the whole trip and good old Rob, who gave us more to carry. So after plenty of stops, a ripped holdall and two puffs of my inhaler we arrived at "Basecamp," hopefully by the end of the trip this will feel like a breeze. A mysterious man under the nickname of "Pirate" greeted us and guided us to our spot which, as far as we knew, was our home for tonight but would change tomorrow. Putting the tent up didn't go as planned and we needed Pirate's help, he assisted and gave us some quotes to play with ("Be gentle to the poles! Treat it like it were a man") and some facts, such as one person exhales three litres of water at night so we will exhale six litres between us. The moral of the story: it is important to make sure your outer is not touching the inner, or it will get wet.

 It was after midnight before we had the tent up and ready but we had barely noticed as we had our casual first encounter with the midnight sun. Before we knew it we were dying for the toilet and the time had come to test out the infamous Shewee. Gabby went first but we heard nothing back but she seemed to have just disappeared. So Tasha and I had a shot, not at the same time obviously, one of us HAD to be a look out. No complaints from Tasha, but then I tried. It seemed I needed just a bit too much, lets just say the pressure was too much and gravity took it's toll...

Mortified I ran back to the tent only to find out that Gabby had had a much more public display of shewee malfunction involving getting her knickers in a twist, literally, and an involuntary trip in the stream. I think it was safe to say that we were both glad we weren't lone members of the Shewee Hatred Society.


The next day we were off to collect two more expeditioners from Gatwick airport but when we got there the plane was delayed at first and when it did finally arrive we couldn’t see them…We mainly had our eye out for Alistair’s massive head of hair but when we saw the BSES t-shirt belonging to Katie she was next to his bald twin.
Back at the house Gabby’s mum had made us a roast dinner which we did not take for granted! That evening we attempted to sort our stuff out for taking on the plane, my challenge was to get my bag under 16kg. This war a difficult process that involved gabby’s friends helping me and dumping all my baby wipes and most of the other toiletries I had planned to bring. After that I was just on the 16kg limit. Then had to prepare ourselves to actually try and sleep before heading to the airport at five in the morning.


I begun my journey a lot sooner than the rest of my fellow expeditioners(most of them lived in England so getting to London didn’t cost them a fortune) on Friday 17th July as I left my family, friends, house and dog for four weeks. The later was the most emotional farewell, as all other dog owners can relate to. In the morning I arrived at Aberdeen and left to get my train all the way to London town. For baggage weight purposes I had to wear 5 layers on top(underwear, a,T-shirt, thermal, hoodie, fleece and waterproof jacket) and another two layers on my bottom half and although it was raining, I could feel myself cooking. After battling my way through the barriers, a battle I always loose because I am such novice at trains, I found me perch for the next 9 hours or so. I was set to arrive at Kings Cross at rush hour which made the fact I had to get through the underground in full arctic gear sound even more incising since it would be rush hour… The train had wifi so I got on facebook and joined in the conversations about heading out on our four week escapade but the majority of the time was spent on sleep.
Arriving at Kings Cross was rather bewildering but thankfully I was meeting Gabby’s sister, Charlotte, who I thought was just going to take me to Paddington but she, and her boyfriend, drove me straight to Victoria station. London traffic allowed them to make many detours and I ended up getting my own mini, brief yet extensive, tour of London. I think we covered many places on the monopoly board and got the main sights. I felt like a child lost in the big city as everything seemed so big, bigger than on TV. They got me to Victoria and Charlotte helped me with the odd train that splits in half after a certain number of stops, so it was vital I got on the right carriage. If it weren’t for Charlotte and David, who knows where I would have ended up!
Gabby managed to meet me with immaculate timing, although she thought she was late because of an incident with a hundred or so drunken cyclists, and she took me back to her house. Gabby is one of these people who always seems happy even in the worst of times and her positive attitude is infectious as is her massive grin! She can effortlessly make you smile and keep everyone entertained. We pulled in to the driveway and were greeted by two small dogs chirping and sniffing your feet. Inside the house was very nice: the living room had a large stone fireplace and a white leather lounge suite. There was a door to the back garden where I could see the hint of a swimming pool. Her parents greeted me with open arms and told me to make myself at home, just as I did there was a knock at the door. It was Gabby’s “friend” Mel. At first I thought she was coming to visit but as she kept talking it seemed she was asking for somewhere to stay but she seemed to be boasting about the state of her life. She stayed over and I managed to assume the type of situation she was in but it seemed as if she was choosing to live in the down and out conditions of the park bench.