A month long, 5500 mile 'expedition' to northern Norway travelling through Scandinavia in the trusty Peugeot Partner.
Both Sam and James made videos over the course of this trip, you can find Sam's here and James' here
As part of my geography degree course at Durham we had to collect some research data in order to complete our third year dissertations. The vast majority of people collect theirs either in and around their home area or on a University led trip abroad. However, three friends and myself saw this as a golden opportunity to potentially get some funding to travel abroad independently. Initially we set our lofty heights on the Tien Shan mountains of Krygystan and a Top Gear-esque adventure by beaten up Land Rover all the way from home to the mountains and back again. We wrote an application to the Royal Geographical Society trying to sound as organised and professional enough to warrant a large sum of money being thrown on us for this expedition. Needless to say we weren't successful. Thus, we had to narrow our ambitions somewhat to something slightly more affordable. Next up was the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia. Again we stuck with the driving out idea, this time in a beaten up old 4x4 that we would source off ebay. Unfortunately this time it was the University that refused to permit us to go. Since we were doing research in the mountains close to a disputed border the University insurers determined the level of risk too high. So, after a second rejection we finally, and rather reluctantly at first, opted for the Steindalsbreen glacier on the Lyngen Peninsula some 300+km north of the Arctic Circle. Far enough away to warrant a long trip reaching it, and thus a long time on the 'holiday' part of the trip. Thankfully this was accepted and we managed to scrape together just under £1,000 of funding and borrow the trusty Peugeot Partner from my parents. So, one day after finishing our summer term at Uni we threw everything into the boot of the car and we were off through England, across the channel and through northern Europe to the tip of Denmark where we would be getting a ferry across to Norway. After just over 24hours of continuos driving, save for the fuel stops and throwing a frisbee round a car park, we were boarding the ferry and driving off into the darkness on the other side. The first night's camp on a football pitch by the roadside wasn't quite the vast wilderness we were hoping for and was more a spot of necessity than beauty, however it did treat us to a lake side view and a quick dip in the morning. We then headed up into Hardangervidda, an enormous mountain plateau in speckled with patches of snow for as far as the eye could see. We walked up and up for a few hours until we found somewhere suitable to put our tents on the summit. As soon as the tents were up then the beer came out, a fine brew called Graffenwalder sourced from the supermarket shelves of a German Lidl, and we toasted everything that lay ahead. We'd fortunately read before leaving that Norwegian beer prices were more than any of us earn in an hour, so we made sure we stocked the car up on our way through northern Europe. The car was brimmed with around 90 bottles of beer, 4 bottles of rum and 2 bottles of some mysterious substance chosen because it had the silhouette of a stag on the label as well as the large Tesco shop we'd done to take full advantage of their value range!
Onwards from Hardangervidda we made our way through the fjord region of Norway, with its crystalline waters and sheer rock walls, eventually reaching the Jotunheimen National Park. Here the warm summery weather disintegrated into a wintery storm as we climbed up Fannaråken and were forced to take refuge for the evening in the mountain hut atop the summit, which thankfully had opened its doors for the summer on that very day. This was to be our only paid nights accommodation, but as one of the top 13 most remote "hotels" in the world, we were happy to pay the £5 for a bunk. The next morning we woke up to a foot and a half of snow, and thanked our blessings that we hadn't decided to pitch our tents the previous night! Luckily we had had the foresight to buy our one and only map of the trip since navigating our way down the mountainside with very few reference points would have been made all the more difficult without one.
Continuing our route north from the Jotunheimen National Park, and a cross-country skiing race that was happening in July, we headed towards Trondheim. Buoyed by Sam's musical selection of Miley Cyrus' Party in the USA we made a spontaneous decision to have a BNO (big night out) in Trondheim. With renewed focus the next 300km flew by and with the boys in the back getting the party atmosphere going with some beers we were all set to take Trondheim by storm! Pulling up in car park and getting out the camping stove to cook up another gourmet meal of pasta and chopped tomatoes with our home made mystery spice pot our arrival wasn't quite the red carpet affair that we were hoping for. After wandering around the streets of Trondheim for a few hours still revelling at how light it was at 1am and grumbling at how uninterested the Norwegian girls were in us we realised that we wouldn't be able to pitch a tent in the city and nor were we legal to drive anywhere! Instead we got out our sleeping bags and found some comfy park benches outside a nearby church. I think we were almost as surprised in the morning at seeing the church priest staring at us, as he was of us!
The Lofoten Islands, an archipelago stretching into the North Atlantic, were our next target and lay only a few days drive away. Sticking to our student ways, but more by chance than skill, we boarded the ferry from Bodo to Å for free, saving us around £100! This saving coupled with our accidental free use of the Norwegian Toll roads was keeping the cost of the trip to a bare minimum. The approach to the Lofotens wasn't quite as spectacular as we were hoping, a deep canvas of fog and rain hid the enormous granite cliffs that we were told plunged spectacularly into the deep waters. However the next day with the sun high in the sky we climbed west Lofoten's highest mountain, Hermansdalstinden, where we were afforded 360 degree views. The entire expanse of the archipelago stretched out before us and the greens and greys of the mountains juxtaposed with the deep blue of the ocean and sky. Late into the evening we stayed up there taking in the views and enjoying the endless daylight before descending halfway to a rocky knoll where we set up camp and lay out in sleeping bags tracking the sun as it darted from mountain top to mountain top on its path as it moved its way from West to East.
The next 3 days were spent exploring each individual island but nothing quite matched that first night. Unfortunately the Steindalsbreen glacier and our research beckoned and so it was with some trepidation that we packed our weeks worth of food, camping equipment and necessary research tools into our rucksacks and set off into the rain on the 10km walk to the base of the glacier that we would call home for the next week. I would love to say otherwise, but the 5 days spent on the glacier measuring rocks, in the wind, sleet and sub zero temperature has got the rank pretty low on my list of 'fun things to do'. Not even rose tinted glasses could make me think otherwise. In true pathetic fallacy however on the day we left the glacier the bad weather window that we had been working under finally lifted and we were at last able to see the glacier and its valley in all its glory. If only it had been like that for the previous four days!
To turn this trip into a true Scandanavian journey we headed through Finland and into Sweden and finally reached the Stora Sjöfallet National Park. Here we spent 4 days walking and camping in this pathless wilderness, amongst the herds of wild reindeer a glaciated mountains. It was truly a boys own adventure. Please have a look at Sam's photo journal of our time here. Unfortunately time was running out for us and so we hot tailed it southwards, avoiding the seemingly suicidal elk that would dart across the road in front of us, and back into Northern Europe once more.