2 years ago, when the expedition was first suggested, it all seemed so distant. But at 3:30am (yes!) Friday morning, our adventure starts. A night sleeping on the school gym floor might not have been quite what was originally expected, but it certainly helped us test some of the equipment loaned by the military stores at Bicester. An added benefit (?), cadets and adults received an early taster of a cold hard floor we might experience in our expedition’s planned night in a snow hole. The early start also ensured our coach and flight connections were smoothly undertaken with little fuss or stress, flying direct from Stanstead to Haugesund courtesy of the world’s favourite airline (RyanAir).
So… we were finally on our way. But, what to expect?
Exercise Norwegian Troll was to be an intensive week’s worth of learning winter survival skills, both physical and mental. We were to tackle cross country skiing, avalanche awareness and rescue skills, and learn key survival techniques in an environment where (on our particular week) temperatures ranged from zero degrees to minus 15. In addition to individual skills and memories that would stay with us for a lifetime, there was also fun to be had (dog sledding) and more physical activities – ice climbing up one of the frozen waterfalls that abound in this area of central southern Norway.
Don’t tell the Cadets, but the ice climbing also tested their team building and communication skills… believe it or not, there’s a certain element of trust involved when dangling from a rope 25 metres above the rest of your group. There’s also quite a lot of communication and encouragement too, who’d have thought Cadets could shout so loudly?
Hovden, Setesdal, Norway turned out to be the most spectacular setting for our adventure training and exposure to Nordic skiing, in a country where people have been skiing for more than 4,000 years and where skiing first became a sport. In terms of scenery, even the very best photos don’t do it justice – although we tried – it’s probably the only time you’ll hear adult instructors telling cadets to get their mobile phones out.
Hovden boasts 170 kilometres of cross-country trails which are daily groomed during the season, from sheltered trails in the forest to the open country. So we were guaranteed to ‘get out there’ into the wide expanse that formed the key to our 2 day expedition, up into the mountain ranges for our ‘overnighter’, venturing 1500m above sea level working with our trained instructors using off-piste markers that led to our overnight camp destination.
This expedition was without doubt strenuous and a certain level of physical fitness was required. But that said, a positive mental attitude and the camaraderie that developed during the course of our week meant that our expedition team worked as one to ensure everyone made it to ‘base camp’. Sadly a change in weather conditions meant another unit’s expedition, run two days later couldn’t get up the ridge.
Once there, we enjoyed(?) the thrill of shovelling 2 tons of snow to make overnight ‘quinzees’, and simpler basic snow holes, for a safe night out of the bitter winter wind [a quinzee shelter is made by hollowing out a pile of settled snow – in contrast to an igloo, made from blocks of hard snow]. Equipment loaned from stores helped make the trek and overnight stay much less painful than it would otherwise have been.
Our expedition proved that individual challenges faced by Cadets, couldn’t have been undertaken without the support and assistance of their team mates, be it skiing, sledding, climbing or digging. Some naturally assumed leadership roles, but others grabbed their opportunities too. It’s not always the loudest that come up with the best solution, and shouting doesn’t always mean that the build quality of your quinzee is necessarily the best…
We all found that there’s humour in everything… even (or perhaps especially) when you’re tired, hungry and miles from anywhere.
Special thanks must go to the Ulysses Trust, for their financial assistance in support of the expedition, our Armed Forces partners for equipment loan, and all the instructor staff involved in the key elements of our training.
2lt Patrick Sebastian
Calday Grange Grammar School CCF