Viking Trail 2018

Introduction

The bags hadn’t turned up at Kristiansand airport on our arrival in Norway; 16 rucksacks out of 20 were missing and cadets Maddy and Freddie, amongst others, were wondering how they would manage the expedition hill walking and canoeing without their kit! Evje, our base camp for 24hrs would give the team time for the bags to arrive but everyone was waiting on tenterhooks after the team journeyed by bus to Evje and set up camp.

By 18.00 there was no news so we made dinner and the leaders contemplated the plan for the next few days.  Then later on 3 rucksacks were delivered. As this was late, the leaders got the 4 senior cadets together where they had to identify what equipment was required for the night’s camping and for the next 24 hrs.

“We need 11 sleeping bags and sleeping mats, and we need a food team to buy breakfast and lunch food.”

The morning dawned bright and sunny and the senior cadet team decided after breakfast to rally round and get supplies in for the next few days as they explained that the first phase of the expedition, hill walking, would be run locally as we didn’t know when to expect the missing rucksacks. It was all hands on deck to get food and equipment organised, then the team was able to enjoy two days hill walking in the local area.

“At least it gave us time to get acclimitized to the Setesdal area as well as the very warm weather Southern Norway was experiencing – a bit like the UK was having.”

Off the team went on a couple of local day walks, the second of which climbed the hill overlooking the village, Fennefossfjellet at 567m.  ‘Foss’ meant waterfall, this was opposite the hill, and ‘fjellet’ meaning hill. On this walk a few cadets noticed a painted shape on the rocks high up; Mr Howie told the group it was a unicorn, painted by some of his colleagues years ago whilst hanging on ropes 200ft up! It was a hard climb up through the woods due to the very warm day and the group had to stop several times to take a drink. After a steep descent and return to camp, the group were hoping the rucksacks had turned up, not immediately however after dinner, 11 rucksacks were delivered except one; Mr Harbison’s bag was missing and it never turned up!

So the team now had some work to do, sort equipment and check it for the canoeing phase which was due to start on the Wednesday from walking out of the hills. We would, however, now be travelling by road to the start of the canoe phase and resume the expedition journey on the Otra river north of Byglandsfjord.

We arrived at the drop off and began loading our canoes with expedition equipment. Mr Howie reminded us with a very useful tip – have the canoes floating before loading them!  This was a good tip that a few of us forgot about throughout the days ahead. We climbed into the canoes in pairs and in crews of three in the larger canoes. This was when we became independent as a group as we journeyed down the river in more remote surroundings.  he aim of our expedition was to undertake a journey by foot and canoe through wild country giving us an experience of operating in a remote region where we would have to work as a team using our camp craft skills, learn how to cook outdoors and look after ourselves. We had tasks to undertake as leaders for a couple of days each for the senior cadets, where through attention to hygiene as well as looking after our equipment to enable us to travel by canoe. Living outdoors meant we had to look after our equipment, especially cookers and tents and not losing parts. There were rotas drawn up for campsite duties at the beginning and end of each day before we could all relax.  This worked well mostly and it meant that everyone got involved in every aspect of expedition life.

The team had prepared well before the expedition as many of the team had been on the annual CCF summer camp and most of us took part in our DofE Silver expedition as well as canoe training sessions throughout the summer term. These experiences did help us during our expedition, mainly camping and paddling the canoes.

The canoeing was good fun, despite many of us getting frustrated with keeping the canoe straight! We zigzagged down the river, swooping paddling sides in an effort to keep straight. We changed paddling positions from front to back, we changed crews and this did not always work out as many of us had got used to our original canoe team member. Still, the meanderings continued but they became less frequent and gradually after a few days, most of us were using the stern rudder to better effect – it took us long enough! Despite these paddling skills taking us a while to improve, the scenery was amazing and we took many stops on bare rocks to have snacks and to fish, as we had brought 5 rods with us.  Freddie was the first to fish and he was determined to catch something to cook for his dinner. Zoe took to the fishing also, showing us all how to cast, but she was still without a nibble and as a few more of us tried casting and reeling in the lines, Mr Harbison was demonstrating how to cast… however no luck catching anything. We paddled on looking for more fishing spots to cast from as well as wild campsites. Our first campsite after a large waterfall Reirfossen, which had been reduced to a trickle due to the dry and hot weather, was wild. There was a ban on lighting fires due to the hot weather so our leaders instructed us to set our stoves up on the rocks by the water’s edge as a precaution. This we did; it was actually quite fun, having the weather to allow us to cook outside all the time, and it kept the midges at bay being out of the woods!

On day 5 we set off in good spirits as we were all raring to get paddling. Our positive energy sped us along the water. The first stop was on a lovely quiet island where we fished and once the leaders had checked out the water depth, we swam – the water being an OK temperature. After departing, we soon stopped again for some lunch. Some would say ‘disaster struck’ as the wind picked up, creating some choppy waves, which challenged the group. It made paddling harder work, especially trying to keep a straight course! After some time, our weary group made it to the campsite Mr Howie had said was ideal. Here we settled down, pitched our tents and began cooking. The second strike of disaster occurred; a local moved us on from his land due to the severe fire risk in the local area. Despite our leader explaining we were taking precautions by cooking by the water’s edge, we had to move. Our leader said there was a possible campsite next to the hamlet across the bay so we headed for this, only to realise our third strike of disaster hit us! There was nowhere to camp. We had to move again. Many of us were by now very tired yet we had to paddle through bigger waves as an evening wind had blown up and it was making our progress hard as we were all very tired. Some heads were down, others battled on and with encouragement from our leaders; we approached the island, which a few of us thought would be OK to camp on. In an awkward wind blowing us onshore, the group bumped their way to a rocky inlet where we gladly climbed ashore. Mr Howie scouted campsites with Murray and Marcus and then got everyone to pitch camp quickly…, all tents were up, and we clambered inside within 15 minute; ah, bed and sleep.

The next morning no one stirred until after 8, and Holly and Theda along with Marcus, Murray and ‘Legs’ (Cameron), had a dip in the sheltered bay. As everyone settled into the journey, everyone’s canoeing was becoming more efficient and with a lighter breeze this morning the group made good progress. A few stops on rocky shorelines gave the team a chance to experience the scenery, then after a lunch stop with islands dead ahead, Freddie spotted a sheltered flat rocky shore with a clearing behind it. After scouting around for camping spots, the team decided it was a sheltered site with large flat slabby rocks down to the water to cook on – a perfect campsite. Most of the team cast their fishing lines throughout the evening with Freddie still looking for that elusive bite. As darkness fell, the team retreated to tents.

The team awoke, some tired, on the final day of the expedition. With a full breakfast eaten, the group headed for a sandy beach where team photos were taken before heading for the village of Byglandsfjord via some more rocky islands where all had lunch. The group came alongside the jetty by Brian’s house – the canoe journey had been amazing, it had tested everyone in different ways as weather, paddling pairs and the cumulative effort of 4 days paddling had made everyone very tired. After landing, it was all hands on deck to wash down and clean canoes and equipment.

The rafting on the last day was on the river Otra and the group split into two rafts. There was a session on paddling a raft with the team learning how to maneuver it as they ran the rapids. There was much shouting and excitement as the group approached the first rapid then the noise from the bank was deafening as the raft plunged into the first white water, which engulfed the raft. Several rapids followed with as much noise and shouting commands by the raft leader. We all got soaked. It was a great end to the expedition.

The team returned to camp to clear up equipment and write diaries. Ex Viking Trail 2018 had been a success; the next cadet journey was already being planned for 2020.

Expedition Diary

Day 1

After an early trip to the airport and a quick turnaround at Schipol, Amsterdam, we arrived at Kristiansand much to our despair only 3 bags arrived and after filling in forms for us we met Brian, our Norway host. We spent an hour driving ing through the scenic countryside and arrive at our campsite in Evje. After setting up our lavuus (a Scandinavian tepee) we went and had pizzas. Eventually 3 bags turned up but we still were missing most of them. we went to sleep with anticipation of what the next day would bring.

Day 2

Our Day began with the limited food divided up for breakfast. With good management, the small supply was able to last a few days. Suncream, towels and other items were shared by the team. The main activity was a 10km walk following the fjord; this involved occasional stops for swims. Later in the day a cook team got to work cooking the evening meal and then the team was greeted with the uplifting news that 4 bags had arrived. Still uncertainty about when the others would turn up so the leaders with senior cadets Murray, Cameron, Katie and Theda give the jog of planning the next day; they had to consider food for meals for the next 24 hrs and what equipment and clothing was needed should bags not turn up.

Day 3

We started the day off by Cameron and Murray getting the whole of the team’s breakfast.  Following this, everyone was keen to go swimming. The weather was very warm and Southern Norway was enjoying a similar summer to ours back home – very dry and very warm with the river warm to swim in. The leaders took it turns to supervise us and after a great swim beside the campsite, the team set off on the second local walk, recee’d by Ms Ward the day before. The hill overlooked the village of Evje and was a favourite walk.  After much deliberation what the painted shape on the hill was, Mr Howie told the group it was a unicorn, painted by some of his colleagues years ago! The group was excited by the thought of a swim high up on the hill, however the team were confronted with the vision of lilies all over the small lake making a swim not possible..Nevertheless, the day was not ruined due to the stunning view which lifted the faltering moral of the participants.  After the steep strenuous and unrelenting descent through pine trees, we reached the bottom.  Back at the campsite, the cadets were exhausted due to the sweltering heat and so most went for a refreshing dip. For dinner, the cook team had russeled up some exped food purchased earlier in the day, hoping that it was going to be used on the hill walking phase of the expedition, but this was still on hold due to the missing bags.  We were still operating from our Evje campsite, which was essentially our base camp until bags arrived or until we had definite news about them.  The leaders called a Seniors Meeting at 9pm where they discussed the plans for the following day but this was interrupted with news that rucksacks had been dropped off at the campsite entrance.  A leader and a group were sent up to collect them and all bar one rucksack had been delivered; Mr Harbison’s rucksack was still missing.

Day 4

During this morning with all our bags we packed up by 9am. This involved an equipment check to be sure we all had equipment for the canoe phase including cookers, fuel and tents.  Our transport took us up the Setesdal valley to the start of the canoeing phase – this meant we were still on track to complete the expedition according to the original plan. Once there, we arrived at 11.20am, we set up our canoes ready to take our equipment.  Mr Howie gave us all a top tip; make sure our canoes were floating before we loading our equipment into them! Some of us forgot this on a few occasions! We set off in canoe teams, some of us were in pairs, others in crews of 3 such were the size of the canoes. Paddling down the wide slow-moving river section we had dedicated leaders and a back up crew to keep the group in formation – this was easier said than practiced and often Mr Howie called for the group to look around to see how the team was stretched out – not good for safety so we had to often adjust our pace and keep in touch with each other to keep together more.  The weather was calm allowing for relatively good canoeing on our first day. We stopped for a break, lunch and for camp at various destinations.  The first campsite was an official one where we set up camp and a team got a BBQ going whilst others tried fishing and some had a swim in a sheltered bay with a pontoon.  The BBQ was great, everyone enjoyed it, chicken, burgers sausages and salad with rolls – a lovely campsite. Would the other camps be as good we wondered?

Day 5

The day got off to a positive start as we were all raring to go after a good nights sleep and glad to be on our true wilderness expedition. Our positive energy sped us along the water.  The first stop was on a lovely quiet island where we fished and swam; the water was quite warm and it was just amazing to have such a lovely spot all to ourselves.  After departing we soon stopped again for some lunch.  Disaster struck, as the wind picked up, creating some choppy waves which challenged the group.  After some time, the weary group made it to the campsite. Here we settled down, pitched our tents and began to cook, eating our evening meal. The second strike of disaster occurred: we were evicted from our campsite due to a local saying we were camped on his land which was to possible and also due to the high fire risk, we should not be using cookers. All was OK as Mr Howie thought there was a possible campsite round the headland from our camp so we had to strike camp, pack up and head off. The third strike of disaster hit – there was no camping possible on the land by the village so we had to get into our canoes and move again. By this time the waves became bigger with the wind strengthening and we grew fatigued.  Finally, we made it to an island Mr Howie pointed out 2km ahead and as we approached it, there were choppy waters where Mr Howie showed us to paddle – we were all really tired. We settled the canoes in a small inlet beached and tied them up to trees then got our tents up for the night.

Day 6

Waking up at the leisurely time of 9am the group were aroused by Theda and Holly who got everyone up to make breakfast. The group embarked on an easier journey. Fortunately the wind was behind us which motivated the group. A rapid pace was set the ground was covered quickly. Soon enough we reached half way and had lunch.  There was plenty of swimming. With some determined paddling we reached the campsite by 3pm. It was very beautiful here and we spent the evening fishing and swimming. After a good meal the team went to bed.

Day 7

The weary team awoke from a well deserved slumber.  We start ed our day by gathering on the shore. The smell of the scrumdidilyumptious porridge attracted the desperate noses of the rave our participants of the expedition.  The warmth of the delicious porridge made many of us feel like caterpillars bursting out of their cocoons into beautiful butterflies which doomed through the air creating a positive energy.  In pairs we began to pack up and set up for a lovely day’s canoeing. One hour into the adventurous journey, we reached a beautiful island where there was a cloud of is out midges. We were getting eaten alive! However, the incredible scenery made us happy as Larries! We had one more stop before our final destination at the luxurious household of Brian’s. We approached the houses of Byglandsfjord where we spotted a motor boat heading for us – this was Brian greeting us and leading us into a jetty outside his house. Once alongside, equipment was handed out onto land and many hands passed bags and kit onto Brian’s front grass. Then we hauled the boats up and started wash the mingin’ canoes and dried the tents. After we’d all laboured cleaning expedition kit, the kind-hearted Brian and his wife treated us with some mouth-watering waffles – it was a great way to end the canoe journey. We departed Brian’s house returning to the campsite where we given keys – these were to cabins, a complete surprise 🙂 We then had dinner which was a tasty spaghetti bologna use then went to bed, rather tired.

Day 8

We left the campsite at 10.30 to go to the White Water Rafting centre.  It was another hot day and the instructors briefed us all and gave us wetsuits, buoyancy aids and helmets. The instructors were from all parts of the world and were very nice and funny. The team was split into groups and made up names for each boat.  The rapids were exhilarating and left each one of us throughly soaked but very happy.  Each raft went down the Rapids twice and everyone got to jump off at the end.  Towards the end the staff treated everyone to an ice cream.  We were all satisfied and sat in the sun, not realising how tired we were. Back at the campsite Murray and Katie walked into the village and bought dinner and we all helped carry the food back to the campsite where we all enjoyed our last dinner together. We thanked Brian and his wife for their hospitality and then we chilled out afterwards, eventually getting to bed late.

Day 9

Today is the end. After 9 days we finally departed once and for all, saying farewell to our fellow peers Theda and Holly. We jammed out to some victorious songs around the lunch table in the airport and enjoyed some lovely warm rolls.

We finished our expedition by going back home with the hope that our bags would manage to meet us on time at Edinburgh airport.

Here are a few quotes:

Walking phase:

“With the warm weather we were all looking forward to a swim in the mountain lake, but were dashed by seeing it full of lillies and vegetation – oh no, I’m so hot…”

The descent:

“It’s so steep and strenuous this descent, is there another way down?”

Canoeing phase during day 5:

“Disaster struck, we are being evicted from our campsite – due to the regional fire risk!”

After a hard day’s paddle the day before, the weary team awoke to:

“The smell of the scrumdidilyumtious porridge attracted the desperate noses of us ravenous cadets”

Whilst camping on an island:

“This cloud of vicious midges, I’m getting eaten alive!’ and ‘ oh look, there’s hundreds of ants, they’re stinging my feet.”

Whilst paddling down the fjord in sunshine:

“This scenery is incredible, I’m as happy as Larry.”

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With thanks to:

Ulysses Trust

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