Though it is still over two months until departure, The Ultima Thule 2011 Svalbard expedition starts to be somewhat ready to leave gear and preparation wise. For me the two moths of extra time is useful for getting into shape after a knee injury last year.
The expedition has only two official meetings before leaving. The first meeting was a planning meeting with some shooting drills in October.
Ari shooting plates with a pump-action shotgun in our October meeting.
Because there happens to be polar bear in Svalbard, everybody has to know how to handle a rifle and shotgun. In addition to these two long guns we have also one revolver and a pen flare gun to fend of the bears in necessary. When we camp on or near sea ice, we will have a bear watch trough the night, but otherwise we just stay prepared and keep the guns easily accessible.
About two weeks ago we had our second and last meeting, the so-called Final test. We started with a meeting at hotel Tallukka. We discussed about all major issues like logistics to and in Svalbard, final schedules, medical issues, gear acquisitions and sponsors, etc. After a lunch we drove to small harbor of Padasjoki for a short over-nighter.
The expedition on skis
As it was getting dark (it is still mid winter) we skied only a bit under two hours before putting up the camp. The weather was great: sun shine, crisp temperature somewhere below -20 C and no wind. Some wind might have been good training wise, but it was more enjoyable that way. Only problem was that there was some water between the ice and the layer of snow so occasionally skis and sledges got wet and froze. While skiing we saw a big herd of black-grouses flying in the horizon.
As usual, we spent the evening in a warm tent, occasionally visiting out for photos. I tested expedition sized meals with my tent mate Matias and we found out that we can likely eat huge amounts of food in Svalbard. A two liter pot full of food seasoned with butter seems to be a decent portion for two.
Ursa major above the camp.
The weather forecast had promised cold weather – and that was what we got. We had already put out the stoves and got into our cozy down sleeping bags when I heard some steps outside and asked what was the reading in the thermometer. It was -33 C After a little mental struggle I got out of my personal warm haven, put on my boots and down jacket and went to take a picture of the thermometer. The camera didn’t seem to like too much about the -33 C but after warming up the battery for a while it came to life.
We got good arctic temperatures: -33 C!
After taking the picture I dived back to my sleeping bag and fell asleep hugging my hot water bottle.
We woke up at 7.00 am and after morning chores broke the camp and started skiing at 9.00 am. This is the typical rhythm on expedition. Usually the day consists of seven or eight legs, each being 50 minutes of skiing with 10 minutes break with a bit longer lunch break in the middle of the day. But we had only a short stretch to ski and didn’t take any breaks.
The dawn was beautiful and intensively red but for a while my camera objected the idea of working after such a cold night, so unfortunately I missed to most intense parts of the sun rise. The camera itself works but the batteries simply stop working when it is really cold. I have ordered a battery grip that enables using Lithium AA batteries on cold days. They should wok fine down to -40 C.
Skiing back to our cars with beautiful sunrise.
After packing up and starting a car with jump wires we went for of coffee and headed back home. While packing I picked up my keys from the car to put them two my pocket. As the temperature had already risen to near -20 C I didn’t have my gloves on while packing so managed to get a little white frost bite to my finger. The metal keys were still quite cold…
I have still some things to arrange concerning gear and food for the expedition but at least things are pretty well planned and most of the gear is tested and works well. For example I spent the night in my down sleeping bag only and it seems to be plenty warm for the expedition. But to protect the down from moisture I still need a synthetic filling bag to fit over the down bag. And as my down bag is an extra-large special order bag, I would also need a XL sized top bag and those are hard to find. So there are still things to do…
The next thing is another training and testing trip this weekend with Matias. We will be skiing with weighted sledges at Vesijärvi near Lahti, and maybe do some hill training in the old ski slopes of Tiirismaa to test the new skins. Expect a trip report in the beginning of next week.