Exercise Black Viking took place in, what the Norwegians describe as, the ‘Magic Islands’ just above the Arctic Circle. The three islands, better known as the Lofoten Islands, Vagan, Vestagoya and Moseknesoya provided an unforgettable place for our Summer Mountaineering exercise which tackled peaks on each of the islands.
Twelve soldiers from the 4th Battalion the Parachute Regiment spent two weeks in July 2013 on the Islands. Getting there and back was complicated enough, involving eight flights in all. Logistics once on the islands was a constant challenge simply because of the remote nature of the environment.
The Exercise began on the southern most island – Moskenesoya. Using the wild camping at Ai (pronounced ‘ugh’ we discovered) as a base of operations the team climbed the awesome Hermmansdalstinden over a two day period using Munkebu as a high camp location. The summit was reached mid morning. The cloud inversion which we encountered there over the whole landscape, with the Lofoten peaks poking above the clouds, was an unforgettable sight.
The team then caught the small ferry up the Reine Fjord to Vindstand and established camp on the breathtaking Bunes Beach. An ascent of the exposed west ridge of Helvetestinden focused minds and footsteps. The ascent of Helvetestinden was followed by a traverse of Kamen a neighbouring mountain. The team camped overnight on Bunes Beach surrounded by whale bones and seals.
The group then travelled by bus to the middle island Vestvagoya and, using the campsite at Stormfjorden for accommodation, conducted a twenty six kilometre mountain trek from Hagskadet to Valberg, This was part of the route of the Scandinavian Ultra Marathon and was memorable for it’s route finding difficulties and panoramic views of all three islands. Our hosts at the campsite laid on a traditional fire warmed hot tub down by the water’s edge and a local liqueur as a little cultural exchange.
The exercise then returned to Moskenesoy in the south in the face of some pretty bad weather over the northern two islands. It was a pleasure to return to the island that could best be described as a little Patagonia, granite peaks rising needle like from the fjords. The team used a small Rorbuer (fisherman’s hut) at Fredvang that was warm and dry and used this for three nights. An ascent of Markan was undertaken in challenging conditions and then a trek over the mountains to the beautiful Kvalvika Beach were our mountain activities. A group of seven soldiers then undertook an amazing few hours exploring the fjords in sea kayaks.
All soldiers then travelled north to the island of Vagan, and camped at the base of an awesome rock route called Gandalf at Festvag. The final climbing day was spent on a very steep ascent of Vagakallen which was sadly curtailed by bad visibility. The stunning mountain scenery of rock towers and fjords would remain etched in our minds eye for a long time to come.
The Lofoten Islands were an excellent place for an exercise of this nature. One of those taking part described it as ‘like Skye on steroids’. The terrain was challenging, the navigation never easy, the logistics a constant strain and the remoteness of things meant that those who took part learnt much about summer mountaineering and, perhaps more importantly, themselves. The ‘Magic Islands’ certainly worked their magic for us.