March – a challenging week out in stormy weather
New month, new outdoor adventure!
In our project “The Year of Outdoor Escapes” we have committed to spend at least one night outside every month. This month we extended our escape to a full week – five days on skis and sleeping in a tent. The weather was really far from pleasant, forecasting rain and super strong wind reaching up till levels of storm. The mixed snow-rain falling down to the ground was eating the white snow landscape, with just a blink of an eye, transforming it to an ugly, sad, slushy something which is everything else but inspiring.
In these grey days, it was hard to motivate us to look forward to a week out in the mountains. This time it was however not fully on us to decide if we go or not as we were both committed to attend our final winter examinations in the mountain leader program. Nothing else to do than to bite or tongues, pack our gear, make sure to bring extra clothes, two times more of everything. It was time to get this thing done!
Planning for a whole week out with sleeping in a tent in winter when you know it will be rainy, snowy, windy, warm around zero but also cold up till minus 10, is a challenge on its own. The main three outdoors principles to keep yourself dry, warm, and saturated food wise, can be hard to achieve. Especially the first two ones. Therefore, the packing is of outmost importance.
Going through all your equipment and thinking twice what to take with you “extra” to prevent you from being wet or cold, creating multiple back up plans when clothes get wet or frozen, how to dry things, how to handle humidity in the tent and eventually a wet sleeping bag… all these complex questions must be solved at home, before you get out there. To make a proper plan is the most important part of whatever expedition you do – a one night out or multiple nights. Of course, the longer you are out, the more bulletproof your plan must be. You can survive freezing one night but constantly under one week, that would never work…
Although I felt I have way too many clothes and gear for this trip, I was convinced it will be worth it. We won´t be pulling our pulkas for long distances so it does not matter that this time, it is perhaps 5kgs heavier than usually. The extra things could be my saviours. And I never say no to extra training with pulling heavy weights. 😊
We started on Monday lunch time at Vålådalen. During the one hour drive to our starting point I was skeptically observing the speed of the windscreen wipers.
“Well, the rain is not decreasing… on the contrary… thanks God I have with me two shell jackets because the first one will be totally wet just after few hours. Then I have another 4,5 days to keep fighting…”
Arriving to the parking lot with big water pools on icy ground was as demotivating as the heavy clouds sitting on the mountains like a tight lid. I rather stayed in the car bit longer, ate my sandwiches before the departure, loading my body with some extra energy. Food releases happy hormones, right? Maybe this will be of a small help…
We were a group of six people and looking at all of us standing in the rain covering our heads in hoodies and making last adjustments to our pulkas, none looked really stoked. But no one wanted to admit it. Everyone seemed to be strong and determined. But if I could get inside their heads, I think everyone would be thinking:
“What for a madness are we doing here”?
We departed after lunch, so today´s trip was not long. The darkness would hit us around 6pm so by then we needed to get to our destination and make camp. Although it was still drizzling, we somehow got used to it. Things were wet but after a while, you decide to ignore it. An extra wrap of my bags inside the pulka in a wind shelter bag did a great job keeping my equipment surprisingly dry.
In the afternoon, the rain stopped exactly at the point when we should start pitching the tent. That was a relief! Looking at my shell clothes I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry. They looked super wet from outside but luckily, the membranes in the Gore-tex were still preventing the water to get inside. A good test of my outerwear, really! Being partly proud of this, I started thinking of how I will be able to ever dry this… well, it was not time for that as we needed to pitch our tent..
One thing at a time! …..right!
Shoveling super watery soaked snow for about two hours is quite an exercise. Although everyone was super hungry, we all wanted to be finished with our tents first as the weather should get worse again… When you work and move a lot, you create energy and warmth – so our wet clothes got partially dry. Even the shell clothes to a surprise!
Even if you think your first layer got dry, the humidity, still, fights against you so it is important to change it anyway before you get in your sleeping bag to maintain and create the heat which you can use to further dry the humid clothes. Drying socks, gloves, and linen directly on your skin during the night is a must if you want to use them again the day after. Every night I had my socks on my tights between my skin and my dry merino pants, my linen gloves on my belly and in the morning they were good to go!
We woke up to a frosty morning. The humidity together with the freezing temperatures during the night did the job covering everything into a white layer of rim frost. Nice to look at but when you know things were wet, you also know that everything will be super hard. An old trick of ice drying (brushing) comes to mind – shaking and brushing the frost from the shell clothes which rested in the abside during the night as they were too wet to bring to the sleeping compartment. Not bulletproof but you can partially get rid of the excessive humidity…
The forecast was predicting super strong wind and some snow showers, so the plan was to keep us in the forest instead of going up to the mountains. During the days we did lots of navigation exercises, rescue trainings and build different options of snow shelters and emergency bivouacs using different tools and equipment. We even built a Quinchie! A big pile of snow originating from indigenous people in North America. To build this snow structure takes time but if you are a group, it is a great activity and a team building in one!
The week went super fast. The days were packed with activities and “surprise moments” so your brain is going 100% all the time. You are forced to be always 2-3 steps ahead and think different scenarios and solutions. Although we had long evenings for us, the classical winter activity – to melt snow for all your bottles and thermoses before you go sleep – eats the majority of the evening so by the time you are finished with melting, it is time to make all your evening routines, prepare equipment for the morning, put things into order and then, with tired head and body, wrap yourself into the sleeping bag and get some nice sleep.
The weather changed during the week and we were so happy that the forecasted rain changed to light snow. Although the strong wind followed us under the whole week, after a while, you somehow accept the conditions and adjust to them. After the second day I felt we become a part of the nature and were just accepting whatever was thrown at us.
The decision to bring extra clothes was wise as some things was impossible to dry – like for instance some of the gloves we used for building the different snow structures. Two pairs were so wet that the water was just dripping from them. Then you are at a stage when you cannot dry them anymore. In this situation the best decision is to put them to a “freeze” and leave them as they are… Luckily, with my 5 pairs for the week, I was quite safe and even brought one pair back home which I never had a need to use. 😊
text written by: Simona