BD Athlete Antte Lauhamaa: The Arctic JourneyMonday, November 12, 2018
In a split second I realize I’ve made a mistake right after the first few turns. I had gotten too many skiers on this slope. I was reminding myself to avoid the pillow on the right but now it’s too late—I see shooting cracks around me and collapsing snow starting to move rapidly, accompanied with a white cloud. At the same time, I’m acting on autopilot. heading to skier’s left, away from the moving slab.
It’s all over in a matter of seconds and I found myself shouting at Juho, who is waiting for us roughly 100 meters below to keep out from the incoming snow. The slab is small but I’m already mocking myself for taking an unnecessary risk. We should leave more margin for error since we are too remote to make major mistakes.
We’ve established our camp on a lake that is lying five-hundred-meters below us. Downhill continues from our location all the way to the camp and as we start to approach the howling concert starts—24 Alaskan huskies welcome us back to the camp by singing like their ancestors have done for thousands of years. This must be the meeting song as the pack gets together again.
Exploring the Swedish Arctic
It all started from the idea to bring together two classic ways of moving in the arctic terrain. Nowadays when you can pick a heli ride to go and ski in remote places, dog sledding would be a definite alternative for the machines. Northern Sweden was the most obvious choice for the destination because we could get the best of these two worlds in the arctic mountain regions of Sweden. Due to local regulations we finally ended up with a plan to mush around Kebnekaise massif—we could cover 100 kilometers of terrain in short time and get to ski in untouched terrain.
Juho Ylipiessa is a long-distance dog musher and wilderness guide living in Lapland in Finland. Juho started dog mushing in 2005 and through the years he has participated in Long distance sled dog races in the Yukon, Alaska and all over Scandinavia. Mikko Lampinen is a photographer and a skier having over 20 years of experience from challenging ski tours and expeditions in remote places like Spitzbergen. Jaakko Posti is a professional photographer and videographer who’s known for his ability to create beautiful images in all conditions. I bring in the professional skiing skills by having skied over 20 years in the Scandinavian mountains.
The dogs are a bunch of badass huskies who are named after ice-hockey and football players. Some of them have been competing in competitions like the Iditarod—a 1000-mile sled-dog race in Alaska, so we were not being towed by a bunch of hush puppies.
It took two days to reach our location at Reaiddájávri. Four guys and twenty-four dogs with sleds full of gear and food is no simple task to pick up and move into a remote location. The last ten kilometers were powder-filled from a previous snow storm and it leads us into a high plane where we’d set out our base camp. As the terrain kept rising we had to jump from the sled and help the dogs to move on, but as soon as the sled started to move we were forced to run along with it. The dogs don’t know or care about human walking pace so every time there was a steeper undulation we had to hold onto the sled and run.
After we finally got up to 1056 meters that was the highest point of our trail. We stopped and silently admired the scene. There were chutes running down everywhere you laid eyes on and the skiing potential looked amazing. I felt that we had just entered the chuting gallery of Northern Scandinavia in terms of skiing terrain.
We all knew that we were dealing with extra challenging conditions. I had been keeping track on local avalanche conditions beforehand and talked with the local avalanche professionals, so we knew quite well what to expect. There was a nasty weak layer that created a large-scale problem involving even one fatal accident nearby a few days before we entered the area, so looking at the amazing terrain felt like a siren call.
Western winds had been loading the slopes, and the snowpack had clear signs of instability, so we took an extra cautious start with skiing. The first day proved to be sketchy, so we needed a few easy days before entering the steeper slopes.
The wait was worth it and on the third day we got a really nice skiing day with an easy tour around the Ceakcabákti massif earlier in the day and a nice 500 vertical meter couloir in the evening. Dealing with the sketchy snow had been taking a lot of time in terms of planning and finding the safest spots to ski, so after a successful day out in the mountains, it was easy to feel a moment of happiness when we were skiing back to our base camp after the sunset. Once we started to get closer to our base camp our pack of howling buddies singing their welcome song completed the perfect day.
The joy and reward come especially when you realize you’ve had the stars on your side and your work is paying off. As we learned later it was no easy task to take this kind of team into the arctic highland where there is no beaten path. The sense of teamwork grew when we were sweating our way in knee-deep snow feeling that the ascent to the plateau was still going to last at least a few hours. Setting up the tents and taking care of the team in the dark after a full day involved participation from everyone.
I’ve always admired the great classic adventures such as Nansens’ explorations in the Arctic. The almost inhumane accomplishments he and his crew made was possible not only by the sheer motivation but because they had a team that knew how to play. Our journey was nothing to compare with the great classics, but it was proof that sharing your journey with a great team makes a great adventure. Besides, that’s how football and ice hockey stars are made.