Norway is stunning in summer with beautiful slab rock mountains and fresh flowing clear water flowing into the fjords. After several winter trips it was a stark contrast and truly magical to see, when compared to snow capped peaks in the winter. After 10 months of planning it was time to take 12 members of the Regiment to Norway for a 10 day summer expedition to include 2 days trekking, 4 days canoeing and wild camping whilst learning useful survival skills on the way.
Destination Setesdal is a civilian/ military style adventure training lodge famous for running and re-enacting the famous Heroes of Telemark Ski tour with the founder Brian Desmond. After a day of admin, sorting out tents, canoes, rations, final route confirmation and squaring away lessons both theory and practical it was time to set off.
On arrival at our trekking start point we were amazed at how much snow was still on the ground in June! This did slow us down somewhat, as the snow was very soft and particular care had to be taken whilst crossing slopes. River crossings that were normally easily crossed were now fast flowing rivers. Therefore our well rehearsed river crossing techniques came into practice. After the initial shock of the cold water everyone crossed safely.
The second day involved a gentle stroll down the mountain viewing some spectacular scenery to our RV point with the canoes and the start of our canoeing phase.
We were met by Richard Strivens and Matt Price our guides for the reaming phase of our exped. Fun, chilled out and experienced canoeists they were a great addition to the team. After the loading up of kit and some practical skills and drills on the water it was time for the off. Apart from the occasional splashing or broad siding from the instructors everyone was shattered, wet but relieved to see the finish point after the first day. Late afternoon involved knife skills and fire lighting theory including practical lessons. All good skills which would be needed for the coming days ahead.
After the initial blowing ourselves out on the water on day one, day two was more relaxed as the group had learned that canoeing was not all about who could go the fastest. The sun was shining the whole trip, therefore sun cream was plentiful as were the mozzies which were hardcore in the mornings. We stopped off on an island to have lunch, putting our fire lighting skills into practice and cooked lunch. Our final stop was a stunning secluded golden sand beach where improvised shelters in the form of tarps and canoes were constructed.
Day 3, the winds had picked up which made a welcome change. Fishing skills were also improving within the group with several being caught but all too small and released due to the time of year. As the winds were up we tried our hand at sailing with one of the traps improvised as a sail. This was definitely the way to go as we effortlessly sailed down the fjord to our next evening camp site. Once more we pitched camp on a golden beach as the sun set and the winds died down. Improvised shelters were covered along with practical set up as all would be sleeping in their new hand built home. Some of the group’s shelters were better than others in design and location. As one of the group discovered building on a dry swamp is probably not the best when it rains and the mozzies eat you alive in the morning!
With lessons learned we pushed off to our final campsite on a beautiful island where we would bring all our new found skills to bear. Shelter building, fire building, fire by friction, cooking skills, tree identification, knife skills and sharpening, wood carving were all on the menu. By now we thought we were all hardcore survivalists. With a full days paddling, homes to build and meals to cook it was sure to be a hard day. After cooking up our final supper it was off to bed and our luxury lean-to or A-frame shelters. Luckily Norway has an abundance of trees and hopefully wouldn’t miss the few we used to construct our new homes.
Our last day on the fjords had arrived, and with everyone’s fingers still intact apart from a few cuts and grazes we gave our customary clean up and final sweep before setting off for a warm shower and some decent tasty big eats!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Ulysses Trust for their generous grant to help facilitate the organising, planning and participation for exercise Northern Curach. Without your support this amazing life changing experience would never happened. Thank you.
SSgt Matthew Smith