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Nina’s Arctic Marathon Adventure

Well, it’s hard to imagine now that on a Friday night in the depths of February 2013, I was settling into my bunk at Alesjaure, 900mtrs above sea level and our first base station before setting off on Walk the Walk’s first Arctic Marathon.

Nina’s Arctic Marathon Adventure

Hello All,

Well, it’s hard to imagine now that on a Friday night in the depths of February 2013, I was settling into my bunk at Alesjaure, 900mtrs above sea level and our first base station before setting off on Walk the Walk’s first Arctic Marathon.

We arrived on Thursday, kitted out with boots, skis and snow suits and then went up to the Aurora sky station for a wonderful meal and a hopeful glimpse of the Northern Lights. We were all very excited and playful (as anybody is confronted by lots of deep snow) as we climbed onto the chair lift dressed in our snow onesies…not glamorous but very warm…we had a lovely, lovely first evening. Our guide Robert gave us a magical tour of the solar system and explained how the lights manifest themselves….but sadly the real thing was to stay a mystery on this night. It was though, all very magical as we came back down the mountain on the chair lift. Sophie and I thought it would be a great idea to take a short cut back to our room and found ourselves thigh deep in snow and slightly hysterical! When we did finally find our cabin, and after another round of repacking before the big day, the combination of crystal mountain air and good food made us sleep like logs!

Friday, and time to try out our back country skis for the first time, for some it was the first time skiing on actual snow…I think we were all in varying degrees of emotions from scary, interesting, exciting, funny, exhilarating, loving our guides and overall finding it all very amusing, and that was all in the first hour! By Midday we were packed up and ready to leave on sledges and snowmobiles for the 3 hour journey to Alesjaure, our base station, and starting point of the Arctic Marathon. With the wind chill making the temperature feel about -25, it felt pretty cold, but the sky was cloudless and the brightest blue you could imagine, as it often is in the mountains, and without question, a nervous excitement and anticipation was building rapidly within the group.

Alesjaure was a most welcome sight for all of us, and how lovely to walk through the door to find a cosy cabin with a pot belly stove throwing out lots of heat and a kettle boiling ready for afternoon tea!

At this time of year there are very few people on the mountain so this cosy cabin had been opened up especially for Walk the Walk. Ola and Sara had arrived earlier with all the supplies and would spend the next 2 days keeping us well fed and cared for. Mind you, don’t think for a moment that we just sat back and relaxed…Oh no, we were all told that everybody had to help with the chores, so with that, some went out to try their hand at chopping wood, whilst others went to draw water from the lake. It was completely frozen with a hole drilled out of it so that you could lower the bucket in.. all new experiences but good fun!

What could be better than being in a warm cosy cabin eating good food and enjoying lovely company…well…how about enjoying a sauna? Victoria, Claire and I all decided to try the sauna out, set thankfully a little bit away from the main building for reasons that will become evident…we undressed quickly and clambered into the sauna…ah what heaven just big enough for about 6 people and possibly the only place in a 1,000 mile radius that was gorgeously hot and well above freezing! However when in Sweden do as the Swedes … so in a moment of madness, we duly ran outside naked rolled ourselves in the snow before running back into the sauna. I can personally tell you it was fantastic and wonderful and if you do happen to find yourself on the Arctic Challenge it’s a must!…But that’s not all, as we made our way back to the main cabin, I looked up and was surprised to see what I thought was a plane trail, and then suddenly lights shot across the sky and started to swirl around…we all started to race to the cabin as best you can in deep snow, screaming for the others to come out and see…it was the Northern Lights!… we were seeing them for the first time!

Saturday morning, we awoke to a very different day. Howling winds, and low visibility, the energy in the cabin was one of excitement and tension as we all ate a good breakfast, prepared our flasks of soup for the day and started to put on our layers. The pictures really tell it how it was, we were all completely covered from head to toe as we nervously made our exit onto the start line. Oh my, this is it, a lot of flag waving, a few pictures (although you can’t tell who anybody is), instructions from our guides that we would be in the 2 groups as planned and to stay close to each other. We were off on our challenge!

The wind howled, desperately trying to blow us out of our skis, the powder snow swirled around us in all directions, exposing the icy surface in some areas and all of us felt that the first few hours were a crash course in survival on back country skis. After 5 hours, and only covering 7 kilometres of expected 20 kilometres, our group finally made it to the Kings Hut. Now this sounds grand, but I would call it a garden shed on the mountain, however, it is the only cover and respite from the weather in the area, so it was most welcome. We met up with the other group who had reached it before us and we all took the opportunity to have something to eat. I had been thinking about my hot soup for about the last 2 hours so, with anticipation, I separated myself from my layers and got ready to tuck in …it didn’t taste quite how I expected …in fact, it was awful, so I was surprised that everybody else seemed to be enjoying theirs. What became apparent, much to everybody’s entertainment, was that there were two types of soup mix, vegetable and fruit (Um!!) and I had somehow mixed the two, whatever you do, don’t do it…disgusting and indescribable does not even come close to describing the taste!

As the weather continued to rage, our guides were now very concerned about our safety, taking into account the time it had taken to reach this point, knowing the terrain that lay ahead and that it would soon begin to get dark, they made the decision to call for help and ask the snowmobiles to take us down the mountain for a few kilometres to a less exposed area, and then we would make up the distance tomorrow. Although none of us really wanted to do this, they were the ones with experience. However, the radios were not making contact and they were unable to reach help, so as a group, we decided to press on, but as one group so that Tim and Frederick could position themselves at the front and back and keep us in their sights.

We ended up covering 17 kilometres that day. The snowmobiles did finally arrive as the dark was creeping in and transported us to a safer part of the mountain where we carried on until we reached our second camp. It had been a hard but exhilarating day and although everybody had been quite scared at times, at our celebration supper a few days later, we all agreed it was one of the highlights and that on reflection, we were glad that we had carried on and battled against the weather.

Another night in a cosy cabin… candle light, warmth, good food, a glass or two of wine, all wrapped up with the adventures of the day… were all very welcome! After supper, my sauna friends and I headed into the sauna again. This time we met a lady who was travelling in the opposite direction on a husky sledding holiday. Their team had set of towards Alesjaure that morning, but had been forced to turn back as the dogs had refused to move forward in the extreme weather conditions!

Sunday, and day 2 of the challenge, blue sky and calm had returned. Being lower down the mountain, and with little to no wind, it felt relatively warmer at about – 15º. Although we all felt very excited about the day ahead, the pressure was on as we had to make up the distance from the day before and cover over 25 Kilometres. The terrain on the second day was very different, and whilst in some ways it was flatter, crossing lakes, and travelling through forests, it was nonstop, so all the training really came into its own! As a downhill skier I thought it was going to be easy travelling up and down the forestry terrain, but I was surprised to find that back country skis give a very different experience, and every hill and slope was a challenge. Well done to Claire and Sophie, who had never skied before, both of them had come a long way since that first morning when we tried out the kit…was that only 2 days ago!??

By 5.00pm we had been hard at it all day and were nearing the Finish Line, a tired but very happy band of back country skiers that sang loud and proud on their last bit of the way home….We had done it …WOW we had really done it!

Over the next two hours, the Abisco Nature Reserve would see a team of very happy back country skiers, plus our Guides, enjoying a well earned drink as we all relived the adventure of the past 2 days…again and again…and I think, again  So it was with more than a little sadness that we prepared to leave Tim and Frederick, who had cared and supported us so well. In return I think they felt sad to see us go and, full of admiration, commented that although they regularly take groups on mountain hikes and tours, they had never taken on an expedition like this before, or had the pleasure of being in the company of such determined and focused women. With more big hugs and a great deal of reluctance, we left this beautiful wilderness and our new friends, and headed onto the next part of our adventure at the Ice Hotel.

Monday, we had arrived last night, so it was lovely to wake up in this fantasy world of snow, ice carvings and this famous hotel. During the day, most of the Team had arranged to do different activities, from husky sledding, reindeer racing to horse riding and snowmobiling, all great fun and wonderful experiences. But of course, this was the night that we would be sleeping on our bed of ice! It really is surreal to walk around a hotel completely made of ice, especially as many of the bedrooms have the most amazing ice sculptures where various artists have applied their skills…and you can even find a vodka bar installed with ice glasses to boot! It was this same Vodka Bar that saw the Walk the Walk Team (after a couple of pink cocktails) having Team photos in our bras much to the delight of the barman, who, it must be noted, was wearing a thick cape and a woolly hat more suitable for the -7º temperature!

The celebration dinner followed, and was wonderful to sit and tell our tales and especially when I presented everybody with their well earned medals, and then it was off to our icy rooms. With a constant temperature of -7º, you would think it would be freezing and uncomfortable, but actually it does get very cosy in your sleeping bag and, to my surprise, I actually slept…only to be woken by a very kind lady asking if I wanted some warm lingonberry juice. It’s not really a place for a lie-in as such… but they do have a wonderful warm area with yet another sauna, and you now know how I love a good sauna, showers, and all the important stuff you could possibly want after a night on the ice!

Tuesday, and our last adventure packed treat as we were all transported to the airport on husky sleds…This had been such a very special and wonderful few days. I have wanted to organise a winter challenge for several years, and why back country skiing you might ask?…well, it really is very similar to Power Walking in technique, and whilst we were a mixed bunch of abilities from the experienced skier to the absolute novice, everybody had trained well for the challenge and the novices had been to dry slopes to master some technique, but without question, we all said that after two days and the experience we had had, we all felt we had learnt a new skill.

When we arrived in Lapland everybody’s dearest wish, aside from completing the challenge, was to see the Northern Lights… well, we actually saw them 3 times! When asked again at the celebration supper what was the best moment, not one person said the lights, it was the fact we had all challenged the elements, it was the camaraderie of the Team, it was the fun and the adventure, and all the moments that will stay with each of us no matter what.

Would I do it again?…without question, and if you have just read this blog and are thinking you like the sound of it…just do it, it is an amazing action packed few days. We can’t guarantee the weather, but we can guarantee a fantastic experience that, by the way, will also do a lot of good for the charity!

Nina x

Find out more and register your interest for The Arctic Marathon 

p.s. being able to ski is not essential…you can learn enough on dry slopes here in the UK



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