After journeying from the depths of Dorset and a good night’s sleep, a filling Norwegian breakfast restores the Canford cadets from their travels. Boots, skis and poles are issued and rapidly the equipment is put to the test in tracks surrounding Hovden. Walking forwards, backwards, standing up (after falling!!), star turns and kick turns soon have us all tied in knots of tangled limbs and the addition of hills into the mixture holds promising potential for further increasing the comedy value to any passing spectator. We all count our lucky stars that we still have another two days to perfect our skills before we set out on the ultimate test; an expedition onto the Hardangervidda plateau. Evening lectures covering essentials such as avalanche risk and winter mountain hazards and emergency shelters further prepare us for the unpredictability of the snowy element, though this is hard to envisage when the skies are blue, the sun is shining and the temperatures are distinctly summerlike. Two more days thereafter keep us occupied honing our skills and then after a mammoth packing session we sleep in anticipation of our great trek on the morrow.
The expedition has arrived but the sun is crumbling under attacks by ruthless clouds. There is wind on all sides. Rain is everywhere. In a stunning move, four officers lead by Major Dolan have got us ready with all the required equipment in our backpacks and the separate groups attempt to flee the weather by taking to higher ground. After setting off in a fine drizzle we slowly climb our way from 850 to 1300 meters above sea level. But as we gain ground and height the meteorological conditions steadily decline. Fourteen kilometres on skis in strong winds, low cloud and horizontal rain is a stark contrast to previous days of fun in the sun. After just over four hours of hard work we reach our destination for the day, Tjørnbrotbu, a small ski-touring hut. But what good will that do with a night outside in prospect?
The instructors’ hard exterior then melted and feeling wet and cold we take a deserved break around the hut’s roaring wood burner, allowing cold limbs to warm up and wet clothes to dry out. Decisions are being made about sleeping arrangements, and to help with the choice Zeus shows us his happy smile, the clouds lift and the sun shines all over again. Very quickly we tramp outside and before we know it Quincys and snow holes are being dug around the hut and a variety of designs are being tried out. Cookers, sleeping bags, roll mats, dry clothes and food gradually find their way into the new abodes – and with the excitement of small children in caves we prepare for our night under snow and ice.
Some of us harbour ambitions and secret plans to steal the ultimate ‘weapon’, a couple of hours sleep in the warmth of the hut restoring just enough energy to face the next day but decide that the discomfort is better than the inevitable uncovering of our cunning scheme. A few short hours later we rise after a restless, yet a seemingly cosy night: it is a period of pupil unrest with some feeling the cold, the tiredness and the lack of sleep. Rebel socks, hiding back at base, have won their first victory ensuring feet are frozen. Breakfast however holds a surprise for everyone: Major Dolan has cooked up his speciality: porridge. The clatter of mess tins can be heard around the ‘servery’ as we line up for our share of warming potion. Sitting in the morning sun should have a further heating effect but for some it will prove too little too late. Belongings are packed – or are they? Pulks are filled and soon everyone is ready for the descent back down the mountain. Early on it becomes clear that wet socks have claimed their first victim and some very unhappy feet get warmed up, dressed in borrowed dry socks and a sleeping bag and then their body is tucked away inside a pulk – a euphemism for a free ride – whilst the rest of the group reap the benefit of yesterday’s hard work; kilometres worth of downhill skiing. Finally, warmed, filled and rested back at Fjellstoge we relax to watch others endure in the screening of ‘Heroes of Telemark’ in preparation for tomorrow’s venture.
Following the expedition the pupils led by Staff Sergeant Bill Billingsley set off for a bit of historical culture; namely to follow in the footsteps of the saboteurs who attempted to destroy the (former) heavy water plant of Vemork. Skis are packed into the minibus together with pupils and instructors, but on arrival lower down the valley it becomes clear that walking is the better option due to lack of snow. Vehicles are organised for a pick up at the end point and we set off on what transpires to be a pleasant trek through the landscape, marvelling at the skiing skills required by the Norwegian saboteurs in 1943. Their entry route to the plant goes through a very steep gorge so we take the more obvious way in, across the bridge! Today the plant is an industrial museum and of special interest to us is the exhibition covering the heavy-water sabotage operations. We are humbled and reduced quickly in the light of the Telemark Heroes’ achievements to weak mortals, but nonetheless feel elated after our own week of achieving so much.
Our thanks go especially to the Services and their instructors for their support, but especially to the Ulysses Trust for its generous support of the expedition.