Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Vigu Winter Fells 2

I was already waiting for spring, in vain of course, since it arrives in the middle of April, when I headed north for the Vigu Winter Fells 2 course. I took the Winter Fells 1 course three years ago. It focused on moving in the fells with heavier equipment, living in snow caves, avalanche safety as well as using telemark technique for the descents. Winter Fells 2 builds on the same foundation, with more avalanche safety and steeper terrain, but instead uses randonnée equipment and techniques.

The night train to Pello was an experience I could live without, since all the sleeping cabins were already taken when I booked the ticket in January. I joined the rest of the gang in Pello on Saturday morning and during the 6 hour drive slowly got into the mood for winter again.

We arrived at Trollviken Lodge in early evening. The place had quite nice views.

Narvik at the other side of the fjord.

Sunday was spent at the Narvik ski center honing up the skills. We started with piste skiing.

We split into two groups for the day. My group had Danni from ViguOffice as the instructor,

Nice views.

Soon we progressed to off piste skiing, of which a good amount is accessible from the ski lifts. This is just next to the lift going up to 1006 m. We started next to this sign, which warns about avalanche risk.

The skiing went ok for me, though a fell a number of times, mostly because my ski bindings were set at too low a setting for the release. After having fixed the release setting I didn't fall a single time for the rest of the week. Back at the lodge we made dinner and started to prepare for a day trip on Monday.

On Monday we split up into two groups again, with Petter Reuter as the instructor in my group. Petter Reuter is one of the few UIAGM certified mountain guides in Finland and he has been guiding for at least 25 years. It was a nice morning.

Skins on...

... transceiver check...

... and into the forest.

The characteristic shape of Rombakstøtta.

Leaving the forest for a steeper section. Petter gives instructions for the section, which in theory had a higher avalanche risk.

Looking back.


We hadn't planned to go to the top and the wind was too hard for that as well. The break was rather cold. Petter enjoys his lunch.

I had a tortilla wrap for lunch. Quite nice.

Gullbrød, one of my favorites. Marzipan covered in dark chocolate. According to Petter you can predict if a Finn has Swedish or Finnish as mothertongue based on whether he or she likes marzipan.

We did see some places having sunshine, but were not there ourselves. Of course, the other group had been on the other side of the mountain and had plenty of sunshine and no wind...

We went up a bit to get the warmth back, before removing the skins and switching into downhill mode. The snow was rather difficult in the beginning with mostly breaking crust.

A bit down the snow got easier, and for a while the skiing was really nice.

The last part again went through rather dense forest.

After three hours up, a food break and one and a half hour down we were back at the cars. Planning, getting supplied and packing for a three day hut trip followed. The avalanche forecast didn't recommend tours above the tree line. A good thing we had a mountain guide with us then.

The next morning we started skiing from Bogen, again with a forest section at the start. The backpacks were now quite a bit heavier.

The forest got sparser...

... and after maybe two hours we were above the tree line.


The skiing continued for hours still...

... until we arrived at Blåvatnhytta after 7.5 hours.

The rest of the evening went eating and resting. The next morning was quite nice at Blåvatnhytta.

Gear drying.

Boys with their toys.

Danni came to check that we remembered yesterday's route correctly on the map. A sharpened match provided the needed accuracy.

Bård is Norwegian, which of course is easy to see.

On Wednesday we went on a trip to Niingen. Not to the top, though.

Lunch break.

Yet another selfie.

Unfortunately I didn't have my Kupilka kuksa for the cup-in-landscape picture.

Ski parking.

Again a bit upwards to regain the warmth after the break.

On the way up we had heard a loud thud, from snow settling. We found the resulting crack, which is barely visible in the picture. If it would have been steep enough this would have been an avalanche.

Going down in a flatlight that made it rather hard to see anything in the snow.

Back at the hut, we continued with some avalanche theory. Petter had found ground under about 2.5 m of snow, and we started digging a hole to check out the possible layer of sugar snow (depth hoar). After digging two meters down, we encountered a harder ice layer. Some further probing showed that no ground was found withing 2.5 m of this, meaning there was at least five meters of snow at this particular place. We went elsewhere for the sugar snow...

Transceiver exercises. The first victim (a dug down bag with a transceiver transmitting) went rather slowly due to me being rusty, but after some pointers I got the hang of it again. I found the following three rather quickly.

Another random place had no ground at 2.4 m.

Even the instructors got to seek transceiver victims.

A rather nice day was followed by a tasty dinner.

At this point everything went very well. I went to the sauna and went about five times to the ice pool to cool myself down. Life was good.

Around midnight, when we all were asleep, I woke up to a headache and churning stomach. A while later I went up to puke and completely emptied my stomach into a bucket. I soon got back to bed, but didn't really get any sleep for the rest of the night, mostly being trapped in really weird fever dreams. Now and then I woke up to notice others puking as well, three of us during the night. Life had been better in the evening.

I was out of the picture for the rest of the night and morning, and apologize to the others that I couldn't participate in cleaning up everything. I managed to get my backpack packed and took an Ibuprofen and slept for two hours before we were to leave. The Ibuprofen worked in lowering the fever and I managed to get up and get ready for leaving. We all left at noon on Thursday. By now just about everyone of our hut was sick, though some still had the worst part ahead.

The weather was nice, but I couldn't enjoy it. With no energy left in the body moving was quite hard and I hadn't motivation for taking more than a few pictures.

Putting the skins on after a downhill section.

Arriving at the final descent.

The snow on the way down was actually quite nice, and I could have enjoyed it, if not for the lack of energy and heavy backpack.

The return from Blåvatnhytta took five and a half hours and was quite a struggle, not only for me. Back at Trollviken lodge I immediately hit the bed and spent two hours shivering in fetal position before getting enough energy to take a shower, after which I slept for another ten hours. The house was rather quiet...

On Friday only our instructors, who didn't get sick, had energy to do anything and went to the Narvik ski center to have fun. A few of us had enough energy to drive into Narvik to check out some things. I managed to eat most of a fish burger, but everything I ate still went right through on Friday.

As to the reason for the stomach sickness, we arrived at no clear conclusion. Certainly not the food, even though there were reasons to suspect it, since one person not eating the same food also got sick. The instructor's hut also had the same water, and they didn't get sick, so it might not have been the water either. The water did smell rather funny after a day in a bottle, so one possibility is that a water bucket in the bigger hut was contaminated. Or maybe we just brought a virus with us from the civilization.

Anyway, on Saturday we started driving home. The weather was excellent.

Thanks to everyone, instructors and participants, for the week. It had bright moments as well as rather low moments, but all in the best company.

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