1231 – ‘BSES Arctic Odyssey’ – Sorfjorddalen, Norway

During the summer holidays this year I spent three weeks in Arctic Norway as part of an expedition run by the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES). This was kindly supported by the Ulysses Trust. BSES run expeditions for 16 – 20 year olds to a number of extreme environments, focusing on personal development, adventure and science work.

The expedition was to Northern Norway, at a latitude of roughly 70 degrees North, so deep inside the Arctic Circle. We flew to Alta in Norway’s Finnmark County. From there it was a three-hour coach journey and short ferry ride to the expedition area.

There were two main objectives of the expedition – one was to complete science work and the other was to take part in adventurous activities and to explore the area. Each fire (a group of about ten people that we were split into for the duration of the expedition) had a different scientific purpose. My fire mainly focused on the atmosphere and how it was related to the hydrology and glaciology of the area. Most mornings we completed some science work before setting off. We took water samples from rivers, the sea, and melted snow from the glaciers and then measured the samples for various pollutants. The conclusion was that Arctic Norway is pretty free from pollution.

I really enjoyed the science element of the expedition, as I love Geography. It taught me a lot about Geography outside the classroom and how climate change is affecting the Arctic. One fire set up time-lapse cameras to take photos of the glaciers every 15 minutes over the three weeks and the footage clearly shows the change in the glaciers over that time. We saw a very real example of how quickly things can change when we came down the glacier after three days on the ice. A large number of crevasses had opened up and a lot of the blue ice had melted. This meant that our route up was no longer safe so we had to find a new one, frequently stopping to put in ice screws. Ice screws are devices that you literally screw into the ice and then attach yourself to in order to prevent a rope team falling down the glacier if someone slips.

The adventure element of the expedition was equally fantastic. Each fire completed three days of mountain training during which we learnt how to use crampons and ice axes and how to walk in a rope team on a glacier. We also learnt how to spot danger signs in this extreme environment. Following the training we were able to go up onto the ice as a fire.

We spent four days up at ice camp. For two days the weather was terrible – very low visibility, extreme cold, strong wind and horizontal snow and sleet. We spent most of the first day in our tents writing songs, playing cards and eating food. On the second we decided we needed to go out and walked 17km across the ice to reach the highest point in the area and walk back to ice camp. This took 6 hours in total and was very difficult because there were no views due to the low cloud and we couldn’t talk to each other as we were roped up 10 metres apart. When we stopped to navigate our extremities numbed up pretty quickly. On returning to ice camp though, we felt like proper arctic explorers and were so glad that we had decided to go out!

For me there were numerous other highlights of the expedition. Here are a few:

Fishing on the coast – we caught five cod and cooked them on a fire back at base camp.Two evenings of yoga on our roll mats because one of our fire leaders happened to be a yoga instructor.Sledging at ice camp on our survival bags.Making cheesecake out of Primula cheese.Making up our own version of the song ‘My favourite things’ which included smelly socks, bivi bags and fishing!

The expedition was an absolutely incredible experience – definitely one of the best things I’ve ever done. I had such a fantastic time and keep wishing I were back in Arctic Norway now. I made lots of great friends and learnt a lot. Thank you so much for supporting me and making the expedition possible.

With thanks to:

Ulysses Trust

In partnership with:

RAF Charitable Trust