New on Sidetracked:

Storms and Silence

Written by Kieran Creevy & Lisa Paarvio // Photography by Lisa Paarvio

A dream project, 3 years in the making. With less than a week to go the weather gods are in a capricious mood. It’s the beginning of March in the Norwegian Arctic and I’m staring out at jagged mountains in their late springtime raiment. Instead of white peaks, grass, mud, and stone are clearly visible.

There used to be a solid sense of predictability to the seasons. Now winters are inconsistent and areas that should be covered by metres of deep powder are scraping by with centimetres, or in our case, bare grass and stone.

Then, it happened. With less than a week to go, the skies darkened precipitously into that beautiful blue black that heralds snow. More than a metre of snow falls overnight. And it keeps coming. Meeting the team at Tromso airport, the car is packed to the roof with winter gear. We drive into the night, surfboards and snowboards strapped tight to the roof, wipers on high against the thick snowfall. Driving slow, but feeling invigorated.

Alarms sound early.Though the skies are dark with fresh promise of more snow, there’s a wonderfully stark beauty to this area – as though the land is painted in monochrome. Mugs of tea in hand and maps spread wide, we fire up the forecasts and avalanche assessment pages. To no one’s surprise, the weather has changed from one extreme to the other. Mountains so recently green and brown now lie deep under the white. The snow we so wanted. But this swift change brings its own risks. From an avalanche risk of 1, it’s now up to 4 on many slopes.

We plan our routes to minimise risks, steering extra clear of any loaded slopes. We add in time to dig snow pits, providing first hand knowledge of what’s actually happening under our skis and boards. Pulks are packed, fully loaded with a week’s worth of food, camping equipment, surfboards and wetsuits.

Clipped into skis and splitboards, we head out, not knowing what we’re going to find, but eager for the search. Our skins zip and hiss on hard packed snow as we climb, smooth strides, accepting we have hours ahead before we reach our chosen basecamp. Wild, open, mountains to our back and black water below.

Tents pitched at basecamp, guyed against potential storms, we’re planning our first foray into the hills when – as if linked by a single thought – all our eyes turn to the inky black sea. Maybe 200 metres offshore, waves are breaking in beautiful curled shapes. Soon Lisa, Ben and Kate are slipping into the liquid darkness, transformed into seals, insulated against the chill. Hours later they emerge, ice forming on strands of hair, the wetsuits beginning to stiffen in the deep cold. Later, in dry clothes, swaddled in toasty warm winter sleeping bags, we listen to the comforting roar of the stove, good food warming us physically and psychologically.

The next day, arms aching slightly from the hours in cold water, its time for our legs to burn. We’ve eyed up a few possible day tours, using it to gain information about the snow conditions, and scout other ideas we have. 4:30am: airbag packs loaded with the safety essentials (shovel and probe), warm gear, snacks and avalanche beacons switched on. We set out.

Sparkles of light reflect off the snow from the beam of our head torches. The land is cloaked in darkness, the heavens above pierced with a million points of light. Snow crunches under our skins as we make our way steadily uphill through deep snow and forested hillsides.

As we get closer to the peak, the first rays of daylight cast their warmth on the land and our faces. In front of us opens a stunning view over the Arctic Ocean, deep fjords and icy peaks, a feast for our eyes. A sense of tranquillity sets in, silent within the team. A moment suspended. In front of us lies a day of loud whoops and hollers, wide grind under ski goggles, hours of carving lines in fresh powder. But now, silence.

There’s something so wonderfully simple about expeditions, especially in winter. What matters gets stripped down to essentials. Earth – what the land gives us, both in terms of food to fuel our adventures, and as a magical playground. Fire – to warm our food and feed our souls, fuelling our dreams. Air – each inhalation of breath that helps to power our muscles, the deep gasps as the slopes steepen on the skin tracks uphill. Water – to keep us hydrated, and the circularity of rain, ice and snow.

Days pass all to fast; gasping breaths on skin tracks, and whoops of elation as we carve lines downhill. Crystals of ice on a water bottle turn a sunbeam into a rainbow on the snow.

Ski jackets steaming at the top of a climb, and warm mugs of soup as we sit on our packs, eyeing the contours for our descent. Climbing skins, damp with moisture, hang on lines in the tent to dry overnight. All these moments against the elation of being able to play in this magnificent wilderness in a world where, two weeks ago, it did not exist.

Written by Kieran Creevy & Lisa Paarvio // @kierancreevy
Photography by Lisa Paarvio // @lisapaarviophotography