Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Lofoten adventures - Fishy Tales part 1

I spent the last 2 weeks ski touring in the Lofoten Islands in Arctic Norway. Words can't quite describe the place, and pictures don't capture the full glory (on a sunny day), but safe to say this place is magical!

For the first week I was skiing with 4 clients - we flew into Evenes airport and drove down to Lofoten from there.
First things first there was the small matter of Ian's birthday the day before which warranted a gold medal (don't eat it all at once!):

We were treated to an atmospheric introduction to Lofoten, here, Geitgaljern lurking in the clouds:

On the way to Henningsvaer, where we would be staying, the clouds parted to reveal this:

Henningsvaer is a small vilage based around a very busy fishing harbour:

Cod fishing is a big thing here:

A really big thing...:

But there are some great looking mountains too!:

Monday dawned breezy and snowy, and with the avalanche risk at 4 we opted for a gentle tour towards Pilan to get the legs working. Visibility soon worsened and a game of navigating by map, compass and GPS ensued, with a close call with a cornice guarding a stream bed avoided by 6th sense and a brief glimpse of the other side - more of this to follow...
100m higher up the wind really started picking up so we decided to turn around. As we reached the river gully I noticed a pair of skis stuck in the snow on the far bank and found 2 skiers, one lying motionless in the gully. Team 'International Rescue' swung into action, and I dug out the emergency shelter while Dr Nick dug out his bag of tricks (top tip: always carry an Intensive Care specialist with you in the mountains!) and the rest of the guys set about creating a snow shelter and securing the scene.

Dr Nick tending to the casualty inside the group shelter, 'Kristin's rock' visible just to one side:

It turned out Kristin was a local skier and professional photographer - she and her friend had come up (and turned around) shortly after us, and in the murk she had simply not seen the cornice and fallen 2 or 3 metres, unfortunately onto a waiting rock. In great pain, a broken pelvis was eventually diagnosed. We insulated and stabilised her as best we could, knowing that the local mountain rescue team was on its way, but that a heli-evacuation probably wouldn't be possible due to the weather.

It is worth noting that the local rescue team is entirely volontary and very basic - no paramedics, very little specialist kit, and the doctor (when he finally appeared about 2 hours in) had nothing stronger than 'injectable brufen'. This is not a criticism, just a statement of fact, and anyone planning a trip here should take this into account - no PGHM to swing in and swoop you to hospital, no UK rescue team with trained paramedics and strong drugs...

With no other options we carefully transferred Kristin onto the stretcher sledge, and the team took charge of getting her down to the roadhead and a waiting ambulance:

Check out Kristin's website for some great photos: folsland.no - a well-travelled adventurer and tough cookie - how she handled the pain was very humbling.

The incident just shows that even on a local hill, with local knowledge and just a few hundred metres up from the road it is very easy for things to go wrong and a situation to escalate - by the time we found her only 10 minutes after the initial fall Kristin was already shivering violently and I have no doubt that the group shelter and our extra layers of down made a huge difference to her well-being during the rescue.

After 3 hours of rescue duties we all felt ready for some refreshment and headed to Svolvaer harbour-side for an eye-wateringly expensive pint (well, 0.5 litre) of Arctic beer...:

Day 2 dawned much brighter, with only a gentle breeze blowing. As the avalanche risk was still high we opted for a mellow=angled powder day on Smatinden:

The scenery was stunning, and the snow was damn fine too... several inches of light fluffy powder:

The ski down the top bowl was fantastic, so good we headed back up for a second round:

Today we were introduced to one of the features of Lofoten skiing - blue holes. One minute the sun is shining, next minute a cloud has appeared and it snows for 40 minutes, only to clear to glorious sunshine again. The trick is to spot the blue holes coming (or spot the cloud approaching) and be ready for a lightning quick changeover to downhill mode to make the most of the visibility.

A blue hole about to shut on Mark:

Not a bad view to aim for:

A final run in the left hand bowl took us all the way to the valley floor, for a gentle skin along the cross country trails back to the car park.

More to come in Fishy Tales part 2...

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