On the 24th March 2018, 12 Officer Cadets and two members of staff from Bristol University Officers Training Corps left for Norway, on a two-week Nordic Skiing Adventurous Training Exercise: Ex CABOT TELEMARK. The Aim of the exercise was to work towards the Nordic Foundation 1 (NF1) and Nordic Foundation 2 (NF2) Joint Services Qualifications whilst undertaking a Battlefield Study on the ‘Real Heroes of Telemark’. The battlefield study involved being ‘immersed’ into the arduous environment and situations experienced by both the British and Norwegian soldiers of the WWII Operations GROUSE and GUNNERSIDE, across the Southern Uplands of the Hardanger Vidda. Those with relevant experience, qualifications and aptitude also worked towards taking on the Nordic Ski Leader course next winter. All participants enhanced their teamworking and leadership skills whilst working in an unfamiliar and difficult environment.
The exercise was made up of four parts: the outbound and inbound travel, a five-day basic Nordic ski training package, five days learning Nordic Ski touring on the Hardanger Vidda, and finally, a Battlefield Study and re-enactment at the Vemork Norsk Hydro Electric Plant near Rjukan. Starting with an 18-hour journey from Bristol to Troll Aktiv, Evje, where we all got some well-deserved rest. In the first five days of initial training, we visited local areas such as, Bornvatn and Eikerapen where we became local celebrities; well on the local Facebook site that is. We gradually increased the distances and the weight of our rucksacks, practising for the challenge of the second phase over the Hardanger Vidda during the following week. Along with skiing, we covered other skills such as an introduction to waxing, use of skins, skating and the elusive skill to many, herringbone skating. During this phase, evening meals were a bit of a competition where the team took turns at creating some culinary masterpieces. An unsuccessful attempt was advertised as bangers and mash but added up as fish fingers and chunky potatoes! It could only get better! These early evenings also consisted of lectures ranging from avalanche safety, snow shelters, rucksack packing and route planning. The enlightening Ray Mears’ documentary, ‘The Real Heroes of Telemark’, illustrating the Hardanger Vidda’s terrain and history was also watched.
The five-day NF2 phase began with a three-hour coach journey and an exhilarating ski-doo ride to the start point, Smerheller Hut. We then did a short but eventful ski to our first accommodation: Fougnerhytta, a cosy hut keeping us warm against the -20Deg C temperatures outside. On the second day, Easter Day and after some chocolate ‘mini-eggs’ we set off for a practice with the pulks, one pulk per six people. Pulk changes soon become slick and efficient. On the third day we set off on the longest leg of 20km, starting first with the length of the Songavatnet lake, crossing into the Valasjadalen valley. This day was great NF2 training, across demanding and undulating terrain. We split into two huts that evening, with one group staying in one of the original huts – well once we had dug it and the wood store out of the snow!
Day five started off by crossing Lake Bitdalsvnt. Following this we covered some undulating and technical ground, where teamwork was vital for hauling the pulk both up and down some steep terrain. After 18 km and horrendous weather we arrived at Reinar Hytte. Following a quick brew and some food we set off to dig our snow holes, a task that took us between 6-7 hours. That evening we declined the warmth and comfort of the hut, for the adventure and icy conditions of our snow holes, well we had spent a quarter of a day digging them! After our night in the surprisingly snug ‘snow-palaces,’ we set off for out last day of the NF2 phase. However, the warmer weather and recent snowfall made the going hard-work with snow sticking to the skis and basically no glide! But we persevered and arrived for a well-deserved supper at the mountain lodge of Kvitavatn. Where we prepared for the historic battlefield re-enactment that was to follow the next day.
This day proved to be adventurous, educational and extremely worthwhile. Following the footsteps of the ‘Real Heroes of Telemark’ allowed the Officer Cadets to gain a real insight into what the saboteurs experienced.
The exercise experience made it apparent, to us all, that we should all try to emulate the characteristics displayed by the saboteurs of determination, perseverance and sheer bravery in our day to day lives and as a modern military. We have learnt so much in the two weeks, a lot about the environment, about ourselves and about this unbelievable story.
It has been an amazing experience and we all have lots of stories to tell.
By OCdt Zoe Spicer