Archive for the ‘Sweden’ Category

Ski Touring in Arctic Sweden

Sunday, April 12th, 2015
Beaver Attack

Beaver Attack

Team Photo at Skaite

Team Photo at Skaite

Team Jump

Team Jump – note the handy vehicle which is a four wheel drive Volkswagen pick up with a cab to take five people, a big flat bed to take a couple of snowmobiles and a tail lift. What more could anyone ever want!

Our Hosts at Skaite

Our Hosts at Skaite

Svarte making flies under Erik's instructions

Svarte making flies under Erik’s instructions

Making Flies

Making Flies

Return from Kabla

Return from Kabla

Fishing Trip

Fishing Trip

29th March until 5th April 2015

Raffi Ki

Raffi Ki

Lunchtime Fire

Lunchtime Fire

Kabla Mountains

Kabla Mountains

Erik in the Hut

Erik in the Hut

Tsielekjokk Hut

Tsielekjokk Hut

Luckily we were invited for another skiing holiday in the Arctic by Charlotte and Svarte, an opportunity which of course we grabbed immediately. We flew to an airport which sounds a bit like a spicy Greek sausage and is just north of Umea. As we landed a little girl shrieked at the top of her voice “Christmas Trees – Hundreds and Hundreds of Christmas Trees!” which made me smile. We hired a car and headed off for a five hour drive northwards through well hundreds and hundreds of Christmas trees. It wasn’t long before I learnt to just use one foot when driving an automatic. We stayed the first night at Njavre and learnt the delight of the new tree bark toilet.  On Monday morning our gang of six drove up to Kvikkjokk to start the mini tour. Jokk means small river in either Swedish or Sami.

I’m not quite sure who it was (actually I do know but that would be churlish) but someone started to apply some sticky wax to their skis and we all followed like lemmings – more of lemmings later. This was a big mistake! The wax was so sticky that the skis constantly balled up and made progress very slow. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it.  We tried to get the stuff off but with little success. Perspex compasses make good wax removers. So my Lesson Number One is “Go for a ski first before applying any wax”. Bet I forget that before next year. The days ski was to be all uphill save for a long trek across a lake which I normally find tends to be flat. After about 14 km we arrived at the tiny mountain rescue hut of Tsielekjokk. On the whole route we had only met one other skier who happened to be British and was towing a pulka. He had stayed in the same hut which made us worry that he may have eaten all our food but luckily our food drop remained intact. Charlotte and I took an axe and a bucket to try to get some water from the river. This is potentially a bit dangerous but we succeeded without falling in. The hut was wall to wall bodies as it was very small. Once the fire was lit it was very cosy and we all slept well. I suspect carbon monoxide poisoning may have lent a hand. We had a very lazy and long breakfast before setting off on the short distance to the fabulous farmhouse of Skaite where we were guests of the joint owners of the estate. Apart from a large and very beautiful main house there was also the most fantastic log sauna house next to an iced over river. There was a hole smashed through the ice were you can plunge yourself into icy water after the superheated sauna. Quite an experience! In the evening we had a scrumptious meal with a spectacular dug out cake filled with marzipan and cream. This stay was an unexpected luxury. Skaite can not be reached by road at any time of the year. It is only accessible by snowmobile in the winter or boat and a long walk in the summer, although helicopters are often used. The north of Sweden still has places that are 80 km from the nearest road and I mean any road at all, even a track. It is the biggest wilderness in Europe. On Wednesday after a fine breakfast we set off on the 14 km route down to Oarrenjarke which means squirrel peninsular. Every day that we go out skiing there is the ritual of the lunchtime fire. I love fires! There is quite an art to building a fire on snow but with Svarte’s excellent training I think we have the knack of it now. Our last few days were to be spent on day tours from Njavre. The first day Charlotte, Grit and I went to ski up a distant mountain (OK hill). We were able to pass our fire building badge with honours and we only got lost a couple of times. The second day was to be a mass snowmobile ride into the lovely Kabla mountains where we would all have lunch around a fire (of course) and then some of us would ski the 20 km back to base. The Kabla mountains are gorgeous! We saw a fluffy ball of a lemming frolicking in the snow. I haven’t yet mastered steep downhill skiing with these cross country skis so there were some long traverses and flip turns to lose height. I’d love to grasp the graceful Telemark turns. We only got lost once of the way back but still arrived before dark. The final day was another snowmobile trip to go ice fishing. Erik was the winner of the fishing competition by about ten times but Eric is a real expert – we all spent an hour or so one evening captivated by his fly making skills. There were all sorts of tools and clever tricks to produce what I think was called a Royal Coachman. We skied back down the narrow and sometimes steep tracks for last time. We were joined by Eleanor and the lovely dog Rafi Ki. There is a point when the snowplough just will not slow you down enough so you need to choose whether to let ‘em run at a breakneck speed (breakarm in my case) or to bail out into some deep snow. There must be another way! After a big meal of salmon(s) and cakes we said our goodbye and thankyous to everyone for we needed to head of back to the airport very early in the morning. Ryan air decided to greet us both with a £70.00 fine for not checking in online – at least the coffee on their planes is first class! Another lovely holiday – thank you to everyone who made it happen.

Ski Touring Kit List

Saturday, April 11th, 2015

11th April 2015

Last week we managed to escape to Arctic Sweden for a wonderful week of ski touring. Once I find my camera I will put up some pictures and describe the mini adventure but I thought it would be helpful for me, and who knows maybe someone else, if I list the kit that I took. There were a few things that I would have liked but did not take (DNT) and some things I took but did not use (DNU). That doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be used on a future trip. So here we go:

35-45L Rucksack  Lowe Alpine AirZone Pro 35/45,

8 mm rope (10 m) plus small length of 6 mm rope to tow skis (which have 6 mm holes in the front) DNT

Folding saw. Very useful for fires and lighter than an axe. DNT

Shovel. Definitely essential.

Multitool. Leatherman Skeletool. Used a lot.

Matches Sun glasses DNT

Googles – surprisingly good. I used them a lot because I forgot my sun glasses. They did not mist at all and were comfy and warm.

Thermos with gaffer tape wrapped around. Essential when below 10 degrees to prevent water from freezing. Did not hold enough water for one person for a long day.

Water container. If above 10 degrees a light water container would be useful. I drink more in these cold fairly high environments than normal. Probably 750 ml a day plus coffee  DNT

Compass, essential,

Thumb compass DNT but would have been really good. These are made by Silva. I will buy one immediately!

Asnes NATO combat skis. Performed well but I would love to master fast downhill stretches with them. Telemark skiing seems tricky to me.

Velcro strap for skis,

Poles Pole mirror (not yet invented but very handy to keep track on group),

Skins – NATO Combat skis take short skins directly under the boot.

Ski boots – Alpina

Gaiters DNT but Charlotte used hers a lot. I didn’t get too much snow down my boots but on colder weather they could be good.

Hut shoes (Merrel barefoots). Lightweight shoes that you can drive with serve dual a purpose as driving hire cars in ski boots is tricky.

2x Bridgedale liner socks,

3x Devold thick socks Merino,

Glide wax,

Two types sticky wax,

Cloudburst day sack 15L (if going on short day tours these lightweight sacks are perfect)

Food

Oranges – surprisingly good,

Decent coffee and means of brewing it.

S hook (Long one to fit shovel handle and be used to hold pot over fire),

Clothes

Devold Expedition merino top,

Devold Expedition merino zipper top,

Merino Long Johns,

Devold underwear,

Pro Gortex brace trousers Artyrex – brilliant piece of clothing but not cheap,

Gortex or Event shell jacket – Montane,

Rab belay jacket Pertex Endurance and Primaloft – crucial!

Rab Waistcoat Pertex Endurance and Primaloft DNU but it wasn’t so cold this year (last year it was minus 26),

Gortex mittens,

Lighter gloves – my hands overheat in conditions 0 to minus 10,

Spare mittens – they can blow away and people forget to bring them.

Merino Beanie,

Lowe Alpine peaked hat with ear flaps,

One wrap, double sided Velcro for general lashing.

Snood – cosy,

Credit card – one never knows,

Health Card,

Sun screen,

3x Compeed blister pack – crucial,

Down sleeping bag – to pack very small,

Blizard pack – for emergencies DNU,

Dyneema sling 2.4 m circumference – not sure why but we used it as a dog lead for Rafiki this year,

Tibloc DNU,

Side swing pulley DNU,

HMS Screwgate Karabiner,

Spirit Karabiner,

Lenser P5 torch – favourite torch,

3x AA Batteries DNU

Petzl TacTikka Headtorch – reliable even below 20 degrees,

6x batteries DNU,

Phone,

Phone charger,

Camera DMC-FT2,

Spare fully charged camera battery DNU,

Spork titanium DNT,

Plastic mug – bright orange to hang on the back of rucksack to help visibility in bad weather,

Coffee filter mug could be good DNT,

Diary or waterproof notepad plus pen (maybe waterproof) Handy for jotting down emergency phone numbers,

Needle and thread DNT,

Montane technical trousers – didn’t take on tour but great for airport transfers and general use,

Map,

Candle – can be used to wax skis if no glide wax is available.

Well I think that is everything but I expect I have missed something!  The other thing to watch out for is that fellow members take adequate gear – especially water.

Pulks

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

April 2014

Sweden

Being in Sweden they should really be called Pulkka (from the Finnish pulkka) but pulks or sledges will do. The one we used was made of wood to a design of one of Svartes relatives. The design was so successful that it became part of the Swedish army’s equipment.

The empty wooden pulkka.

The empty wooden pulkka.

It was light in weight and Svarte had tarred the based. It had three runners which I think had brass strips on them but I could be wrong – it has been known.

The gear has to be placed so it is well balanced. The large nylon fish type box seems de rigour in the Arctic. Ours had a slide-in lid but we did see a nice touch on Lars’ one which had a wooden lid, foam padded and covered in vinyl so he could sit on it while ice fishing.

Pulkka with fish bow being fitted

Pulkka with fish box being fitted

From the front of the pulkka was attached the skakel which are light poles to attach the pulkka to your harness. You need rigid poles to stop the thing mowing you down on the downhill stretches! Ours were made of bamboo and attached with leather. I suppose this was the “Classic Pulkka” and obviously appealed to a wooden boat owner like me.

The runners were waxed with some “glide”. The waistcoat drew up around everything and was secured by tieing the draw cord.

Svarte prepares the wooden Pulkka

Svarte prepares the wooden Pulkka

The skakel was clipped onto your harness. Our harness didn’t have braces but I think I would have preferred them. The harness felt like it was slipping down from time to time. Padding would help a bit but ours wasn’t and we didn’t suffer too much. On flat ground one person with skinned skis can pull away merrily for a while but on hills or long distances it can be good to share the load. It would be worth considering two light pulkkas rather than one heavy one. To share with two extra people we fed the hauling line (8 mm x 16 plait matt braided polyester) through an oscillant Petzl pulley attached with bungee to the person attached to the pulkka. The two other ends of the line went to each other skier. The pulley meant one can pull ahead slightly and the bungee gave a smooth transmission. I’m afraid the picture was a bit of a pose!

With one extra person pulling the 8 m length of rope was perfect. On hummocked ice it meant the front skier was on her/his way down the bump while the aft person was on his/her way up. Refinements would concern very quick attachment and release of all ropes. Maybe nylon “Cod End Rings” and light Karabiners would help.

It is good to be able to unclip rapidly because the person attached directly to the pulkka can start to run you down on downhill stretches bearing in mind your skis may well have skins on them. Our pulkka was never weighed but we think it was about 60 kg – mainly cheese.

Pulkka pulling with one person

Pulkka pulling with one person

Pulkka with three towing via line pulley and bungee

Pulkka with three towing via line pulley and bungee

Kungsleden – a mini Arctic Adventure

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

March 2014

Sweden

We cross the Arctic Circle

We cross the Arctic Circle

Svarte Prepares the Wooden Pulka

Svarte Prepares the Wooden Pulka

Lunch Stop Showing the Short Skins on the Skis

Lunch Stop Showing the Short Skins on the Skis

It looks like someone has crashed as we cross the heaved up lake

It looks like someone has crashed as we cross the heaved up lake

Last week we returned from Sweden having spent a week tackling a grand section of the Kungsleden in Arctic Sweden.
We managed to miss our flight northwards from Stockholm due to fog delays in London so we arrived to meet Charlotte after a night sitting up on a train from Stockholm to Umea. Charlotte had persuaded the ski hire shop to open specially for us so we could collect Grits skis. I had decided a year earlier to buy a pair of Nato Combat skis with short skins. So armed with skis and Charlottes comprehensive provisioning we drove north to collect Svarte from his forestry conference.
We then continued north through the Arctic Circle and on to Jokkmokk where Svarte was originally from. By now there was snow as there was a distinct lack further south. We were to stay with Svarte’s sister for the night before heading off to the start of the adventure.
On Saturday Svartes other sister drove us to Saltoluokta Fjellstation which we reached by skiing across a frozen lake. A local warden offered to tow our pulka across saving us one drag. This “Hut” bordered on hotel and had a top notch restaurant where we enjoyed our last posh meal before the journey would begin in earnest in the morning.
The weather the previous week had been appalling with winds reaching 47 metres a second but things had calmed down and we were expecting some fine conditions.
Sunday. The first day was to be 20 km with a steep initial climb for 3 – 4 km then mainly gentle uphill through a mountain pass. We were to be pulling the pulka for the first time for most of us. It was quite warm at minus 10°C with light snow. The Norwegian weather site www.yr.no is recommended. We arrived at Sitojaure Stugan in reasonable light. It was close to the equinox so it got dark around 1800. Charlotte brewed up a massive spaghetti on the stove which we shared with the hut warden. We were going to share it with a guest there called Lars but there was none left when he returned from ice fishing. We offered him some nuts and got a beer in return. What a result! Not only that, but Lars offered to take our heavy pulka up the mountain on his snowmobile to save us an arduous tow.

Monday. A shorter day of 14 km but we were originally planning a long detour to Skierfe which is a massive cliff. As it happened it would have taken too long so as compensation Charlotte and I climbed Doaresoajvve (1,083 m) and had a pleasant ski down. I still have little confidence skiing downhill with these kind of skis especially after breaking my arm last year. Gradually I am sure my skills will improve especially with my new skis. The temperature was minus 17°C but fine. We arrived at Aktse hut to be greeted by a wonderful lady who wore strange shoes and, apparently, does massage! What’s more she sold beer! These Swedish “huts” are pretty good!

Tuesday. Down to minus 22°C but clear and sunny. We had 25 km of pulka towing ahead of us. Our progress was pretty slow at about 3 km per hour and it became very apparent that it could be a very late arrival. It made sense for two to go ahead and get the hut prepared and the fire underway while team two pulled away. Svarte and Charlotte were the fastest skiers so they went on and Grit and I pulled the pulka. The pulka weighed about 60 kg (guess) and would slip along quite easily on flattish ground. We had a technique with two people pulling using rubber bungee (gummi stropper) to even out the pull. The ropes were 8 m long and about right. We eventually arrived at a private hut at Sjabtjak at 8 pm and minus 26°C. Interestingly we discovered LED Lenser torches will work at this temperature but if you turn them off they wont come back on. I checked with the manufacturer and they agree that minus 20° is the lowest they effectively work at. Petzl headtorche remained on.

Wednesday. We decided to rest up and do a few hut tasks today but we also found time to drill a hole in the ice and catch an Arctic Chard. I also learned that so long as the temperature is below minus 10° C you can walk around in the snow in your socks without bothering with boots! My Eskimo socks with Bridgedale liners were perfect.

Thursday. Grit had a bad blister and decided it best to rest up until it healed. Svarte, Charlotte and I decided to climb Oarjep Sjabttjakvarre 784 m. We set off through the forest and made a fire for coffee. Actually we ended up climbing the peak behind our intended mountain which was a bit higher.

It may well be Oarjep Sjabttjakvarre one of the mountains we climbed but I have been known to be wrong

It may well be Oarjep Sjabttjakvarre one of the mountains we climbed but I have been known to be wrong

The weather was beginning to close in and it started to snow heavily with reduced visibility. Time to head for the hut. We kept our short skins on the skis as we descended the trickier steep slopes then took them off as we entered the tree line. Skiing downhill with skins is tricky on bumpy paths as the skin catch on the hummocks throwing you forwards. It is best to ski with one ski in front of the other by about a foot length to help with some front to back stability. We made it safely back to the warm hut for our evening meal.

My boots warm by the huts stove

My boots warm by the huts stove

Friday. We pulled the pulka to Klivkok through relatively flat landscape of lakes and woods before making the steeper descent to our final destination. The mountain station here was very well equipped with a wonderful warden who told us about the geology of this interesting delta area. I would imagine a trip here in the summer with a kayak would be as good as it was with skis in the winter although actually it wasn’t winter despite the snow but the spring equinox.  The lady in the shop told us that we had left a credit card and a sun glass case at the Aske hut about 75 km north of where we were. Instead of telling them to cut up the card another plan was hatched.We hired some powerful snowmobiles to collect the credit card! It would be a 150 km trip over the Kabla Mountains. I had only driven a snowmobile years ago and they have got faster! In the dark we hacked across a lake at about 50 kph to Kalle and Ilvers country retreat.

Saturday. Armed with about five SkiDoos we set off at a fantastic pace towards the Kabla Mountains. This was a bit of a treat as we had hoped to ski across them on our trip to Klivkok but ran out of time. Travelling at high speed, some were going at 120 kph, across fresh deep snow in deserted mountains is quite an experience. We reached Aske and once again met the lovely warden with weird shoes. Once the card was safely collected we headed up into the woods to make a fire for lunch. More on fire making and food later. We returned to hand back the snow mobiles and had a fine meal in their posh restaurant. It was soon to be over.

Sunday. We drove back to Umea ready to catch our night train back to Stockholm and then home. Thanks to Charlotte and Svarte for an amazing and educational week!

A tree - presumably a birch tree

A tree – presumably a birch tree

A snow covered tree

A snow covered tree

 

 

 

Some Notes on Sweden

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Isn’t this just the best thing ever!

Semla cake and coffee – heaven

Power lines with snow attached at 400 kg per cubic metre!

Bike rack at Umea Station

Swedish Precision


We know the Swedes make the best adjustable spanners in the world. This precision can also be found in everyday life. English Charlotte had put out the wheelie bin at the end of the road as the Dustmen were due in the morning. Sadly this task was very poorly performed by Swedish standards. When Svarte saw the jaunty angle of the bin he stopped the car and went about rectifying the dire situation. The bin needed to be 600 mm out from the kerb, any more and the postman would not be able to turn his van around, any less and the Bin Men will not collect it. The hinge on the lid must be at a tangent to the main house and the lid must open up with the hinge nearest the house. Charlotte’s sloppy jaunty angle simply would not do. That’s why we buy Swedish made Bahco spanners.
 Swedish and the Cold Weather


Here the Swedes really excel. Just a quick glimpse at their doors will give a good indication of life in a Swedish house. The doors are thick, strong and, of course, precise. I’m not sure what the Swedish word for “draught” is but it wouldn’t surprise me if it didn’t exist. On arrival at a Swedish home it is customary to remove nearly all your clothing. This lets cold cold clothing air out and dry off in the proper area allocated to it. Wandering around in thermals is perfectly acceptable. If you come from England you will be amazed by the fact that the entire house is at a perfect temperature. There is no need to draw the curtains and move away from the draught coming under the French Windows. There are no draughts at all, anywhere!
Next to the entry door you may find a useful gizmo to warm up your boots. It is basically a fan heater with four flexible ducts which you shove down your boots so they are warm and dry when you next use them. There will probably be a big area with proper racks for coats and boots plus skis, sticks, gloves, hats etc rather than the tiddly couple of hooks allocated for such duties in many English homes.
Roof insulation is pretty important. Any hot air should be vented away from the underside of the roof as this can cause the snow to melt from underneath. The melt water will get to the gutter and then freeze. If repeated, the gutter will fill with ice and then the water will be able to flow back into the house. Some old listed houses may suffer from this trait and it is a lot of work clearing ice from a roof.
Svarte was telling me about one bad year (1988 I think) when they had a bad winter with snow, then rain, then freezing and thawing, etc. Snow normally weighs 400 kg per cubic metre but during that year it weighed about 800 kg per cubic metre. By the time they realised what was happening it was too late to save many roofs in Umea which subsequently collapsed under the weight.
Other little tips I learnt regarding keeping warm were:
1) The Ski Doos have a little heater to heat your thumb whilst operating the throttle.
2) Some Ski Doos have heated seats.
3) Birch bark is the best thing to get a fire going so it is stripped off logs before they are tossed onto the fire
4) Don’t shower in the morning as it will take essential oils away from your skin which will suffer in very cold temperatures
5) Cars are plugged into the mains at night to keep the engine warm

Some No No’s


God help you if you are responsible for allowing the lingonberry jam to run out – especially if the main meal was going to be Palt (? Dumplings with a little sausage meat inside). The horror of the discovery of an empty jar caused a slight quivering of the lower lip before turning pale with shock. Thank goodness there were more berries in the larder and with the addition of some sugar and a tiny drop of water a new brew was soon underway. Very nice it is too. I’m not sure what the British equivalent would be, maybe a bacon sandwich with no HP sauce?
Don’t forget the accurate wheelie bin placement
Swedish Food


Well, we did eventually have the Swedish meatballs which I was looking forward too. Made by Charlotte under close supervision by Svarte. I suspect the recipe is secret but I heard the word “caper” being whispered. Excellent they were too. There is of course much more to Swedish food than the meatballs. Here are some of the delights we tried in our short weeks stay:
1) Semla cakes. Wow, these were seriously good buns with cream and almond paste. Normally eaten on Shrove Tuesday.
2) Moose meat. We had a lot of this courtesy of Svarte’s rifle. It’s was great in stew and served cold.
3) Bread knives are made of shaped wood.
4) Smoked Reindeer meat. Perfection but quite hard to get hold of.
5) Kanelbulle. More yummy cakes
6) Kaviar. I didn’t go for this as there is something about food that comes out of tubes which worries me. However this pink fish egg paste was available to spread on our toast if you dared.
7) Punch. This is a powerful rather sweet dessert liquor which was very tasty and morish. Dangerous stuff.

The North South Divide


It’s not quite the same as the British North South divide because the Southerners and the Northerners both have a slight distaste for the people from Stockholm. It is more a “Country People” versus “Town People” type thing. Apparently there is an accent which gives it away. My friend, Anders, who lives in Stockholm but was brought up in the South, says he will tend to use his Southern accent more when he is touring in the country to avoid being pigeon holed as someone from Stockholm.
Swedish Forestry


There are a lot of trees in Sweden! From what I understand, and I could be wrong, most of the forest areas are privately owned and looked after in manageable chunks. Half of these private forests prefer to sell their wood through co-operative groups which ensure a regular fair price for the timber. The co-operative also own their own saw mills. Others will sell their timber direct to private mills. The forests are managed to produce good straight tall trees. Most bent trees and those which are growing too close to a stronger tree are felled. This small diameter timber is used mainly for firewood. In the Umea region it will take around fifty years for the trees to reach maturity. It is a proud moment for the forester to be able to fell trees that they can remember planting. Forestry is a long term occupation and the foresters like to know there will be a stable future to ensure that their high investment will be worthwhile over such long periods.

 

It’s the big ski race day!

Monday, February 18th, 2013

My Broken Arm after the Swelling had gone down

17th February 2013

As usual before a race I tend to detect little pains in my body and I noticed a nagging little ache in my knee. I rubbed in a bit of Ibruprufen gel and packed a few pills in case it played up. Last night we were shown by Svarte how to race wax our skis. This involved stripping the old wax off with a paraffin like liquid and sanding the grip area with some 80 grit sandpaper. The glide wax was applied hot in blobs then smoothed with a hot iron and once hardened most was scraped off again. A final addition of liquid speed gel was applied to make the skis super slippery. The temperature was predicted to be minus 10 and rising to minus 4 so a very sticky grip wax was applied to the grip area and heated with the iron. Then two more layers of cooler temperature wax were applied and cold smoothed and finally a liquid grip wax was added. This took a good few hours. Waxing is neither an art or a science according to Svarte but a religion!

Our taxi arrived to take us to the start. Embarrassingly the “English”  contingent were announced to all. We signed in, got our bibs, grabbed a coffee and headed up the hill to the start line. Charlotte was in for a chance but statistically Grit and I didn’t really stand a chance of finishing in day light and that probably meant we would get timed out (hence we were the only ones carrying rucksacks with sandwiches, water, belay jackets and torches!).

The start banner was raised and off we went. Cleverly we started at the back and I was the last over the start line. Soon the main fleet of skiers were leaving us behind and it wasn’t long before they were out of sight – and that included Charlotte. We plodded on and were thrilled to see number 116 around the next bend. The early part of the race was quite hilly. I felt that I had mastered some of the techniques (in a naff amateur way) including the diagonal stride and double poling. Even the double pole kick was doing ok and I have always loved going uphill. My problem has always been going downhill with cross country skis. I feel pretty much at the mercy of the tracks. It wasn’t great news when we reached the prow of a hill that looked like it was going to be very fast indeed. I suppose most of the racer would love it but not me. So off I pushed and accelerated to a speed well in excess of my skill level and eventually the inevitable happened and I crashed. Sadly it wasn’t a nice soft crash but a rock hard one and I realised I had done something not good to my arm. It really hurt and I thought that just 4km in I would have to pull out. However I found that if I left my right arm dangling I could make some progress with just my left pole. So Grit and I carried on even slower than usual. At 10km we got to the first drink station and hobbled on. The countryside was truly beautiful and with fine weather it made a great day out.

Then an amazing thing happened. We saw 116 in the distance and started to catch up. Finally we overtook our first racer! Very late we arrived at the second drinks station at about 18km. They were keen that we stopped but after some persuasion we managed to get clearance to continue. Now here is a funny thing. You would have thought it was not possible to get lost on a cross country ski marathon because you simply follow the tracks. Grit called out “Do you recognise this?”. As it happened I didn’t I didn’t so we continued. Then I saw the unmistakeable sign of my old ski tracks – going straight into the soft snow at a sharp corner. We were doing a loop! There wasn’t much option but to continue. Now my arm was seriously hurting and without my second pole I would occasionally fall causing a shriek on pain. We plodded on into the evening and eventually the organisers ski doo arrived behind us clearing the track. It was harder now because the beautiful tracks had been destroyed with ski doos out on their Sunday runs. The organiser seemed happy to slowly hang on behind as we picked off the miles. With about three kilometres to go to our third drink station I fell right onto my arm again and the pain was pretty bad. I decided to call it a day. We had made a good go of it ad you can’t do better than your best. The kind ski doo driver got us into his trailer and we sadly made the last few kilometres under power.

Now, we thought we were arriving at the third drinks station at 28km and I was surprised the see Charlotte there. I asked her how she got there and indignantly replied “by skis!”. We had arrived at the finish but seemed to have missed the 10km loop around Olle’s track but added our own loop.

We had a grand reception by the kind and very patient organisers but I soon realised my hand and shoulder were badly swollen. Svarte kindly drove us to the hospital were the x-rays showed I had fractured my humorous. Now I am dosed up with pain killers, my arm in a sling on my way to Stockholm, having said our sad farewells to Charlotte and Svarte who had been our amazing hosts for the week.

The Ski Club of Great Britain is not going to like this!

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

The Amazing Hut

Excellent Safety Precautions on this Ice Clad Roof!

16th February 2013 Umea Sweden

Our Ski Marathon is tomorrow and I’m exhausted! Charlotte booked us onto the local Umea Ski Marathon using her very best new found Swedish language skills. It seemed to go pretty well until the Swedish gentleman asked her what club we belong to, explaining that we had to be members of a club to enter. Charlotte said we are from England and the quick reply was “Ah, Ski Club England!. Charlotte decided this was probably the best we could do with her current language skills. Soon the “England” became “Great Britain” and the Local Marathon organisers were by now thrilled to have three competitors come all the way from Britain to represent their nation.
Sadly the Ski Club of Britain isn’t going to be too chuffed when they realise that they are being represented by two bungling beginners and Charlotte (who at least has mastered the style of Cross Country Skiing). Furthermore we are not even members. So I would like to get my apology in now for dragging an esteemed organisation into the gutter.
Talking of gutters, that is why I am a bit knackered as I offered to help Svarte clearing snow from the roof. It was good fun but thank goodness the local health and safety team were not around. Svarte seems to be able to stand on an icy 45 degree roof in his boots with no problem but I found it pretty hard. The work was a “bit shoulders and lower back” and probably not what the doctor ordered prior to the big race day.
After clearing the roof we went curling for a couple of hours and now I see bottles of red wine being placed on the dinner table which may well be too tempting.
To show my total confidence in the big race I will be taking a head torch and belay jacket!
Better get downstairs for some carbs!

Cross Country Ski Marathon

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

9th February Greenwich

Charlotte is now well ensconced in North Sweden with Svarte. When she asked Grit and I “How do you fancy a ski marathon?” of course we jumped at the opportunity. It was a few minutes later when I began to think, hang on I can’t do this cross country skiing malarky so maybe a marathon is a little bit ambitous. I mentioned it to my friend Hannah (who is off skiing in Canada all winter!) and she suggested we tried Roller Skiing in Hyde Park – www.rollerski.co.uk . So we did. I have actually been Cross Country skiing once before. That was with Charlotte while she was competing in the Swiss Engingen (that doesn’t look right) Marathon. I must admit I didn’t find it very easy and it was really really hard work.

I couldn’t remember any of the technique so I hoped the Roller Skiing lesson would refesh me. Grit hadn’t tried it at all so she was starting from fresh. More importantly I was hoping that after a two hour session there would be some pain somewhere and we could train to improve our fitness in that area. There are two types of Cross Country Skiing – Classic and Skating. Luckily the Swedish Marathon, that we had now been entered for, is all Classic. Classic is, apparently, quicker to learn the basics although it takes a lifetime to perfect. Skating technique is harder to learn the basics but takes less time to perfect. We arrived at the Rollerski.co.uk van in Hyde Park having pre-booked a Saturday morning session. They have a very organised van and instructors on hand. It was a little bit odd because we had three different teachers in one two hour session and I think, as beginners, it would have been best to stick with one instructor. Nevertheless, they went through everything, firstly without rollerskis then, tentively, with them. The Classic Rollerskis have ratchets in the wheels to simulate the sticky wax on the real skis. There is no real need to force the centre of the ski down to get grip but the instructors were very insistant that we transfered our weight from one leg to the other. After half an hour we were tetering about on the devices. I never felt very balanced and, with tarmac all around, a fall would hurt a bit. As it happened we did not fall at all.

After the session sadly there was no pain! So we were still unable to predict what was going to hurt first on the real thing. Our suspicions were our stomach muscles because of all the double poling. We booked another session with the same company but this time a full day at Eton Dorney. Eton Dorney is a rowing lake owned by Eton College and used for the Olympic Rowing. As the Thames has been in continuous flood for so long the lake is currently being used by all the local rowing clubs unable to use the river. The place was packed. We were trying to Rollerski while the coaches were cycling along with their loud hailers. There were some heated remarks! This time we had just one instructor called “oh Boff what a rubbish memory I have” and she was excellent. Full of enthusiasm and patience with some nice teaching techniques. I’m still rubbish but it was no fault of her! This time, although still no pain, it became clear that at lot of core muscles were being used as double poling seemed to be the way to get around at speed along the flat.

Our friend Siggi from Isafjordur in Iceland was visiting London so we met up for a drink at The Grapes overlooking the Thames. Siggi runs Borea Adventures, a company specialising in yachting and skiing holidays (combined too!), so I asked him what will hurt first in a marathon and he said “lower back” without a second thought.

Our plane leaves from London City Airport to Stockholm on Monday morning so I had my last British Military Fitness session this morning. It was good, no aches and pains and I felt quite perky. We have been running 11-13 miles each Sunday and will do one last long run tomorrow. Tomorrow we will meet up with Maxime from Russia – more of that later.

We are looking forward to seeing Charlotte and Svarte and even tentitivly looking forward to the Ski Marathon.