On 10 August the Norway World Challenge Team met up in the newly refurbished Sixth Form Centre for build up day. The team consisted of 16 3rd Years, two members of staff: Mr and Mrs Cucknell and the World Challenge trip leader, the inspiring Elaine Brown – a Mother, Grandmother, Triathlete and National Husky dog racer!
The whole team were excited to see each other to discuss their summer holidays to date and of course how well they had packed their rucksacks. It was only then that they were reminded that all of their bags had to be unpacked, checked by Elaine and then repacked with the additional weight of tents, fuel, cooking equipment, safety equipment and heaps of dried food consisting mainly of the beloved ‘bean feast’.
We packed our bags in the sunshine and familiar environment of the school quad area and before we knew it, time had flown. We had eaten our last fresh salads of the week as well as Aahba’s lovely red velvet birthday cupcakes, not to mention Jo’s pre-birthday cake. Such delights we would remember fondly in the hard trekking days to come. By 9pm we were all aboard the National Express to Heathrow, a reliable but relatively noisy public bus journey to the airport with some quirky drivers.
By 11.30am we were on our flight to Oslo. A short two and half hours later and we were flying over the magnificent fjords and mountain ranges of beautiful Norway. Having arrived at Oslo airport, our journey was far from over as we marched through the airport looking for food that was reasonably priced, all of the team finally opting to eat our group lunch rather than spend £12 on a single hotdog – food in Norway is expensive! No wonder Elaine had advised us to stock up before we left the UK. After a very short flight to Kristiansand airport, and an hour-long journey South to our destination, we finally arrived at base camp; the Trolactive Centre near Evje.
Tired, but relieved to be at our base, we settled into the camp ground well. The girls and boys each taking up residence in large tipi tents called Lavoos for their final 2 nights of a little bit of luxury before the trek. After eating a great first team dinner, we all got an early night knowing that we had a big day of acclimatisation ahead.
Acclimatisation day was about getting our bearings and, of course, food shopping. The students had planned to buy food for our four day trek to feed all of the team. The food had to be, on the whole, dry, light weight and not too bulky. The first challenge was upon us, with just a one hour window to buy all the food for the team in a foreign supermarket with foreign currency and no knowledge of the the Norwegian language. Despite these obstacles the food team were really successful and arrived back having completed their shop in record time and within budget. The menu team split up the food for the days and the food was carefully divided between rucksacks. We then put our hiking boots on, grabbed our days sacks and poles and hiked up a local waterfall to have a swim in a mountain lake! It was a really beautiful hot day and the climb seemed to be a breeze without the weight of a full sack.
The start of our trek was finally here. The team were organised and all food, tents, sleeping gear, waterproofs, first aid kit and water etc had been loaded into our sacks and carefully divided into every pocket and space available in our packs. We put the bags onto the coach and travelled an hour north of Trolactive to start our hike at a closed ski resort. The beginning of our trek guided us up a steep steep red slope. We ravished our cheese and salami lunch at the bottom of the slope, contemplating the climb ahead.
A lovely thing happened before we began our ascent. The owner of the ski slope cafe had come over to do a bit of maintenance and offered us all a free sprite, fanta or green coca-cola. What a treat and what a positive omen we thought.
The first hour of our trek took us upwards and upwards. Following one steep ascent after another we soon realised that navigating on Norwegian terrain is difficult, the maps are very hard to read and the trails hard to follow. The students got used to spotting red dots on boulders, rocks and scree slopes to find our trial. The challenge had begun!
Our first pleasure, a beautiful lake at the top of the ascent. We all bathed our feet and assessed our first sores and blisters under strict instruction to “holler” at any sign of a ‘hot spot’ as this could be an awful lot of discomfort, and could potentially hinder our speed as a team if feet were not looked after.
We trekked on in 20 minute intervals when ascending with a few minutes stop in between. As the landscape levelled out we stopped at regular intervals to take on board valuable water and group snacks like nuts and dried fruits. The landscape is truly beautiful, slabs of rock surrounded by blueberry and cloudberry bushes. Many of us ate along the way, blue faces being evidence of ‘trail snackers’.
When we reached our planned camp ground we decided we could go on a bit further and agreed that we would like to camp off the trail! Nevertheless, we had to ensure it was near running water and we needed flat ground to pitch the tents.
The team found the most fantastic spot, with a panoramic vista to wake up to. All five tents pitched together and the next challenge was upon our doorstep; to ensure every member of the team had a good hot dinner before dark and a good nights sleep. Mr and Mrs Cucknell and Elaine left the students to it and just like that at 11pm the voices fell silent!
It was an early start to day 5 but the students were greeted with pancakes. Not so easy cooking pancakes on a camp stove! A lot of pancake mix later, and a lot of pan scrubbing, we were finally on our way to cover 8km in a day. On the difficult terrain we were averaging about 2km an hour; a lot slower than we anticipated. But we soldiered on despite the change in the weather, the lovely blue skied sunny day changing to a grey, spitty afternoon. We covered a lot of ground that day and we were all relieved to see the camp ground just below the few log cabins in the distance. We set up camp whilst Elaine went to approach the people in the cabin to see if we could make our hot chocolate there in the evening as we realised we had already used an awful lot of fuel and we weren’t sure how long it would last. The team befriended a group of four scouts at the hut and the scouts became legends, not only leaving them a letter of encouragement, but also rescuing and bringing back Mrs Cucknell’s water sandals which had fallen off her sack in the day!
Waking up in the rain is tough, your sack becomes heavier and it certainly has an impact on team moral. We knew we had 12km to cover in a day to get to the next descent flat camp ground and that was going to take a lot of motivation in the pouring rain. We simply had to knuckle down and get on with it. We lost the trail at one point as it disappeared into a gully but fortunately someone sighted a red spot in the distance and we were back on track. The rain was relentless and the mosquitoes were starting to bite, we were nearly at the camp ground but not quite there. Finally a floodplain with a couple of locked up log cabins came into sight. We were exhausted and all ready to stop. Tents were pitched in record time, cold people were re-clothed, zipped into their sleeping bags, fed and given a hot chocolate; early nights for all.
The rain was relentless all night, the river sounding louder and louder as more and more water added to its volume. By morning, the floodplain was positively flooded, there were a number of wet sleeping bags and the river was uncrossable where we had crossed the day before. As the team hastily packed up the tents, Elaine and Mr Cucknell scouted the river for an easier crossing. There was no way out, we were all going to get wet with a knee-to-waste high river crossing. Elaine and Mr Cucknell prepped the team ensuring that they were all aware of our safety rules. Mr Cucknell crossed the river with a rope, Elaine held the rope on the other side creating as much tension as she could. Mrs Cucknell stood at the riverside with the throw rope, ready for anyone who took a wrong step and lost their footing on the riverbed.
The team crossed with great caution and as soon as they got to other side dried off quickly and put a warm layer of clothing for fear of the damp cold setting in. The team were brilliant, sticking together and supporting everyone of the team as they crossed. We were relieved to find out from Elaine that we had walked further than we had thought the day before hand and our next camp spot was only a wet Kilo-meter away. We trudged on in our wet sandals and were elated to see an empty small cabin just in front of our camp spot. We replaced all our wet clothes, Elaine lit the wood burner and we put the pans on for porridge and hot chocolate. We were warm and dry in no time!! and a game of Mafia later, everyone was laughing and back in good spirits.
We made the team decision to soldier onward to the road and finish the 4 day trek in 3 days, the road was 8K away and we felt as a team it would better to walk on, get back to our base camp, dry out our kit and prepare for our kayaking trip tomorrow. On the walk down everyone was elated, stopping to pick wild raspberries and strawberries in between taking in the breathtaking views of the U-shaped valleys and ribbon lakes below. The sight of the road and the Trolactive minibus was a relief to all. Hot showers, a barbecue and an early night meant we were all on good form to pack up and get ready for the next stage of our journey, The Canadian Canoe expedition.
The next day we all spent the morning trying to put the contents of our rucksacks into waterproof barrels, this proved to be quite a challenge but after an edit of belongings and a shift around we finally packed our barrels into the van and headed off to the lake. It was a truly beautiful day and the sky and river were two different vibrant shades of blue. After a short sharp safety course by our river leader Zac, we headed off in pairs in Canadian Canoes across the crystal clear lake, paddling southwards with the magnificent Southern Norwegian mountain ranges in the background.
The landscape surrounding us mirrored perfectly in the water, sun glittered off the clear water as we headed towards our island destination. As we paddled the head wind got stronger and stronger to the extent that we finally had to beach the boats on a steep rocky cliff. We then lifted the barrels out of the canoes and carried the canoes up the cliff and down a trail so that we could re-enter the water at a safer spot. The next part of the canoe trek was tough, for some of us it felt like we were paddling in treacle and could gain no ground but eventually we made it. 30 minutes later and dusk had arrived at ‘The Island’; a beautiful sanctuary of peace and clear water.
The team quickly set up camp with Mr Cucknell and Callum set up a nice camp fire. Elaine, Mrs Cucknell and the catering team cooked spaghetti on mass and added pesto and onions by the tablespoon. We all thoroughly enjoyed it.
Later we enjoyed the warmth of the campfire and the luxury of Elaine’s specialty surprise pudding, ‘Smores’. A combination of hobnob biscuit dipped in liquid chocolate and finished off with a melted marshmallow! An interesting game of fluffy bunnies finished our night off.
We woke up early to a a grey day and choppy waters but we packed up quickly and paddled off by 8am under strict orders of Zac wanting to catch the wind and the current whilst they were on our side. We consequently made it back to the Troll active centre in swift record time. We were back at camp for R and R, an afternoon of blueberry picking and relaxing, catching up with our washing and enjoying the luxuries of hot water and soap.
Our final full day in Norway started with a lovely late wake up, a cooked breakfast and a beautiful sunny morning. We visited a souvenir shop in the local town of Evje and finally prepared for what we had all been waiting for, The White Water Rafting challenge! Wet suited and booted under the direction of Syd, our river leader, we carried our inflatable dinghies to the fastest running part of the river. There were lots of rapids and fast flowing waters, you didn’t want fall in without a life jacket! After an excellent fast safety briefing we were were divided into teams and given our simple directions; forward paddle, back paddle, stop and hold on.
If throwing ourselves down waterfalls at 70 miles an hour wasn’t enough, the river guides then decided to throw us off the cliff individually and make us swim for it! Thankfully our team all swam strong and hard, and with excellent river leaders and professional water kayakers around, we all landed safely on terrafirma. An amazing activity to end our fantastic trip. We ended the day with a cool awards ceremony followed by hot chocolate and popcorn thanks to Zac.
Homeward bound! We were all sad to pack up and go but we all felt better after having an early morning river swim and consuming birthday pancakes for Jo. Ten days in Norway and we all felt like we could keep going, we really bonded as a team and felt like experts in trekking and looking after ourselves on in the wild.
A long day of travel home and finally we arrived at Truro School at 1am, where everyone’s parents were waiting! An amazing an adventure, lots of challenges and 18 new friends. Thank you Elaine and World Challenge for making this true adventure so cool.
Outdoor Pursuits Co-Ordinator