Mid-August 2019 saw many months of preparation finally become reality as nineteen Gold DofE cadets from Oakham School CCF headed to Telemark in southern Norway for their assessed expedition. After a short flight to Oslo they were collected by the advance party who had driven around from the UK before heading off towards Rjukan which was to be the base for the expedition. After setting up camp in the shadow of the Gaustatoppen, the mountain which dominates the whole area to the south of the Hardangervidda, they met their assessor – a serving Army Reservist and highly experienced mountain guide – who cast his seasoned eye over their camp craft skills. As they prepared themselves, the cadets also had time to mull over the exploits of the Norwegian saboteurs of Operation Gunnerside whose routes across the Hardanger Plateau in 1942-43 they would be following.
Day two dawned bright and sunny and after a lie-in and some breakfast the cadets headed up the valley to start the acclimatisation walk. After the long journey this was much needed and the weather didn’t disappoint with sunshine and temperatures in the mid-teens. We followed the zig-zag path that runs through the trees under the Krossobahnan (the cable car up to the plateau) – the same path that the saboteurs took in 1943 as they made their escape having blown up the heavy water plant at Vemork. It was a tough walk – 500 metres of vertical ascent over 3-4 km- but all did well and the views and cafe at the top proved worthwhile.
The first day of the DofE expedition started quite damp and after some last minute checks and a final briefing for each team from our assessor we set off to the various start points. The weather brightened considerably during the morning so by lunchtime it was sunny and warm – a good start! Day two of the trekking phase saw rain in varying degrees for most of the day which tested them all physically and emotionally, in addition to testing their rucksack packing and waterproofing skills! Two teams stayed at the idyllic hut at Mårbu at the head of Mårfjord, the hearty welcome, warm beds, hot showers and drying rooms provided some respite although by evening the rain had cleared – just in time for them to cook dinner. The third team also had their ‘hut night’ staying at Kalhovd hut further to the south. The third day of the trek was fairly uneventful with all three teams continuing their move southward across the plateau.
The final day of the trek dawned chilly and with a little rain. With all teams within striking distance of the finish line at the top of the Krossobahnan, it would be one last push. The weather remained typical of a Norwegian summer with showers of rain interspersed with warm, sunny spells. Teams 1 and 3 made good time, finishing about 30 minutes apart and in good spirits. Team 2, despite an early start, had a few navigation problems and finished a few km up the valley. Once reunited, we headed back into town to check into the main hostel in town; after a few hours to relax we headed out for the end of trek dinner. The setting was the lovely art deco Kino Kafe – the restaurant attached to the town cinema. After a good chat and a pizza, it was time to wander the short distance back to the hostel.
After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast we headed up to the museum at Vemork. The main purpose of our visit was the site of the ‘heavy water’ plant that the Norwegian saboteurs attacked in 1943 and the associated exhibition. From there we headed for Oslo and the campsite, which overlooks the city centre.
The ‘R&R’ day in Oslo saw blue skies and warm temperatures – perfect for sight-seeing! The cadets could choose what they did and they made good use of their day in one of Europe’s more compact and pleasant capital cities. Destinations included the Viking longship exhibition and the Nobel Peace Prize Museum as well as the Norwegian Resistance Museum.
The cadets all worked very hard over the week and all successfully completed their assessed Gold Expedition. They have also had plenty of time to appreciate all the things that Norway has to offer – especially the amazing scenery – as well as learning about using mountain huts and the concept of ‘city camping’. As ever this endeavor would be much harder to organize without the help of the Ulysses Trust, the grant going a long way to reduce the significant transport costs involved in running such a venture overseas, in turn making the expedition more accessible for a wider range of cadets. It also helps to ensure that this sort of expedition – which really does add to the overall ‘cadet experience’ – can continue to run to the benefit of the cadets and the wider community.
Contingent Senior Cadet Tomek said:
“I defiantly enjoyed the experience of walking through Norway with a group of cadets my age who share a love of the outdoors. This is a very important experience that I believe everyone should have the opportunity go on in order to grow their character and develop aspects such as with determination, teamwork and communication. It was a great honour to be able to travel to a country that I have never experienced and to learn about the history of such a major turning point in our lives during World War 2.”