5 years ago, ‘someone’ suggested it would be a fantastic idea to take Calday Grange CCF Cadets to Norway for a ‘bit of Adventure Training’, 2 years later it happened, and who could have predicted how successful it would have been?
Certainly the constant questions from cadets about whether there’d be another trip meant it was only going to be a matter of time. So… yes… in February 2017, we set off on Exercise Norwegian Troll 2.
A late start this time, travelling overnight by coach to Stansted Airport to take advantage of direct (and cheap) flights to Oslo, ensured our transport connections were smoothly undertaken with little fuss or stress (for the cadets at least). Once in Norway the slight matter of another six hours coach travel was also soon forgotten when we reached our destination, Hovden Fjellstoge in Setesdal, warmly welcomed by the hostel staff and our in-country lead instructor Major Jerry Dolan.
Day One kicked off with the first of many truly continental breakfasts with everyone settling quickly into the meals routine that would serve us well for the rest of our time in Norway.
Using equipment loaned by the military stores at Bicester, our first day on the snow found a level playing field (in more ways than one) whereby skiers and non-skiers alike all got to grips with the nuances of Nordic skiing. If I said no-one fell over I’d probably be struck down by thunderbolts courtesy of Thor, the Nordic God of Thunder, so best just to say we all took a little time out to ‘test the comfort’ of the snow.
After venturing further afield over the following days, interspersed with lectures and practical demonstrations of survival techniques and avalanche awareness / survivor location, cadets were soon well prepared for the highlight of our adventure – venturing 1500m above sea level, working with our trained instructors using off-piste markers to spend the night in self-built snow shelters or ‘quinzees’. This all went extremely well, and yet again a great night’s sleep for (most of) the team. Nobody seemed to mind that they had to be dug out the next morning!
The overnight wind and drifting snow proved to be a taster of what was to come on expedition day two… and it was such a shame that, considering the planning that had gone into the expedition, nobody had decided to tell the weather. As we travelled down the mountain, into the valley and joined the main marked cross-country tracks – shouldn’t the weather be getting better? Obviously not…
All our three sub-teams, each accompanied by instructors and staff, experienced differing challenges. Suffice to say this was definitely an expedition to remember. Wind strong enough to knock one of your feet, visibility down to 5 metres – a true challenge – and everyone loved it (once back at base, with a bowl of hot soup of course). Equipment and mental attitudes tested? Box ticked.
In addition to individual skills and memories that would stay with us for a lifetime, there was also fun to be had (dog sledding) with more physical activities – ice climbing up one of the frozen waterfalls that abound in this area of central southern Norway.
Reaching our final day intact our timetable included a museum trip to Vemork hydro-electric plant at Rjukan – location of one of the most important acts of sabotage during the Second World War, where Norwegian saboteurs prevented the Nazis from developing atomic weapons from the heavy water produced there. It was incredible to note how different the outcome of WW2 might have been had Hitler’s project to lay waste to London using an atomic bomb been successful. Our visit involved skiing and trekking part of the route taken by the saboteurs across a valley ridge and down the gorge. Definitely not your usual museum trip by any means rounding the week off with plenty to think and talk about.
As with our previous trip to Norway, this year’s adventure training 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 our week in Norway meant that cadets worked as one to ensure that everyone faced their personal challenges head on, completing the week with a strong sense of achievement and a massive smile on their face.
Special thanks must go to the Ulysses Trust for their financial assistance in support of the expedition, our Armed Forces partners for equipment loan, everyone working behind the scenes to progress our JSATFA and Med Plans, and in particular the in-country instructors involved in all elements of our training.
Will we do it again? Yes we will…
Lt Patrick Sebastian, Calday Grange CCF (ex AGC)