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Tough expedition training on Svalbard

Tough expedition training on Svalbard

In April 2021, Thomas Lone and Even Leivestad Sverdrup carried out tough training program of around one month in Svalbard.

The goal of the Svalbard expedition was to train together and gain experience that would be useful on future expeditions. The guys planned to walk the length of Svalbard, from Sørneset in the south to Verlegenhuken in the north. With a limited time budget, they set out to complete the route in record time. The record is 14 days, and has stood 30 years.

On March 20, they started the journey south. As there is a ban on motorized traffic in Sør-Spitsbergen National Park, they had to pull the 80 kg heavy sleds down to the starting line. This is a 110 km trip equivalent to skiing the length of Hardangervidda.


Insidious sea ice in the ice bay

Challenges were on the way; already from the start of the trip, a low pressure came in over Svalbard, which brought with it a lot of precipitation and wind. The conditions were difficult to pull the sled in, but the guys kept their spirits up and worked long days to keep to the schedule. At Skilfonna, they had to decide whether they should go straight south and cross the sea ice at Isbukta, or take the detour via demanding glacier falls and mountain passes further west. Despite the weather forecast for winds of up to 30 m/s, they chose the fastest route across Isbukta. Even and Thomas navigated their way down to the bay with no visibility in bad weather, and met the sight they feared: All the ice had cracked open and blown out to sea during the storm.

Going back via the mountain passes would cost a lot of precious time. With youthful courage, they set out on a risky attempt to cross the calving glacier that blocks the way forward. With ropes between them, they went up and down crevasses among blocks of ice as big as houses, trying to find a way through the ice maze. After half a day with heavy work, they realized that it was far too time-consuming to challenge the forces of nature. They chose to turn around and return to safer surroundings.

Back at the ice bay, they agreed to go all the way down to the water's edge to see if there was a thin belt of ice along the land. Fortunately, there was a passable road on the ice. The ice belt was barely 70 meters wide, with open sea on one side, and a calving glacier 30-40 meters high on the other. The ice was partly cracked open, but fortunately they came across unscathed.

Tired after a long day, they went to sleep on the right side of the bay. The next morning they saw that the thin belt of ice they had used to cross Isbukta was now completely gone. During the night, the wind and the sea had carried away the ice they walked on the night before.

- The feeling of walking on thin sea ice, between the open sea and a solid wall of ice, is perhaps the wildest experience I've had, says Thomas.

Satisfied with having made it across, they continued their journey south towards Sørneset. In the middle of no man's land, they suddenly heard some unnatural sounds. Far away in the mist, they could see two people shouting with excitement. It was Vincent Colliard and Caroline Côté on their 60-day expedition, filming a documentary series for French-Canadian TV. It was quite a surprise for them to meet someone down here. Thomas and Even shared the information that Isbukta could no longer be crossed, and that the French couple had to take a detour around the infamous Isrygg Pass and Marie Pass.


7 days of hard work in fresh snow and storm

That same evening, Thomas and Even had made it all the way to the end of Mathiasbreen and were able to set up the tent only 6.5 km from the "starting line" on Sørneset. The choice to sleep at altitude was not unfounded. There are many polar bears in the area, and it is safer to sleep up on the glaciers.

The following morning, the boys made their way down to Svalbard's southernmost point. It was cold and sour, so the break was short, but they managed to play a little on the ice floes that floated near the shore. On March 25 at 10:30 a.m. they began to head north again. As they wanted to challenge the record time, the main focus was on the number of kilometers traveled per day. They started well and pushed 30 – 35 km a day. It took a lot of effort to walk such long distances in all the new snow that had arrived. And it was going to get worse.

It snowed for 7 days straight, and kept blowing up to a full storm. The boys clung to the hope of better conditions further north, and worked 12-15 hours every day in all kinds of weather. The routines eventually became very good, and they went on for 60 minutes at a time, with 2-5 minute breaks. There was only one proper lunch break a day, and it took 15-20 minutes. This is how they continued for 7 days up north. They had then pulled heavy sleds for a total of 12 days, in deep loose snow through demanding glacial terrain and steep mountain passes.

 

Thomas Lone is flown out

On 1 April they had arrived in Svea, which is a disused mining area. It was clear to both that the timetable was broken due to abnormally difficult snow and weather conditions. Thomas had sustained several injuries, which he had to take seriously considering that he is going on another expedition in the Himalayas shortly. They decided to cancel the record attempt, emphasizing that Thomas should be cautious and rather save his body for the next project. With the good help of friends in Longyearbyen, they arranged for Thomas to fly out; he got to ride on a small plane that was in the area and was supposed to transport workers who were working on dismantling the building mass of the former mining operation at Svea.

 

Even continues alone - into the grip of the hurricane

Even wanted to continue the journey north on his own, and got the thumbs up from a worried wife on the mainland. Because it is not without risk to walk alone in bear country and over glaciers full of thin snow bridges and ugly crevasses. Even got food and fuel from Thomas's sledge and went on with the hope of reaching Verlegenhuken in the north. There were three good days of moving; 28, 45 and 39 kilometers covered.

Suddenly a crazy storm blew up, with hurricane-force winds (36 m/s) and almost 30 cm of snowfall. Even was lying in the tent for a whole day where he worked intensively with the tent and bardunes to withstand the enormous forces that come with a hurricane. Even made it through the nerve-wracking day in one piece. The next day, Even set out with his skis again. It was still stormy, but the wind had calmed down to just over 20 m/s. With a headwind and another 30 cm of fresh snow, it was almost impossible to move forward. He worked hard for 6-7 hours and only managed to move 4 kilometers forward.

- I was incredibly cold and exhausted after fighting a futile battle in the storm. My face was covered in ice, my vision was impaired and my eyes were bloodshot from all the wind and weather that whipped my face, says Even.

 

Life-threatening extreme storm heading towards Even

There was nothing else to do but set up the tent and conserve energy. As he turned on the satellite phone, worrying messages ticked in. The weather forecast had changed drastically; it would blow up to a whopping 42 m/s (a hurricane starts at 32 m/s), and the storm would last for 3 days.

- With the weather forecast I received that evening, I had no doubts about what I had to do. I really wanted to finish the project, but 42 m/s wind and 60 effective minus degrees is absolutely crazy. It would have been selfish towards my family at home if I continued, and foolhardy of both my own safety and the safety of the rescue services that potentially had to save me, says Even.

Via Thomas, Even informed the Svalbard Governor of the situation and shared the exact position of where he was. Together with the Governor, it was decided that Even had to be taken out before the worst of the storm. At 02:00 in the morning, the Superpuma helicopter took off from Longyearbyen with a full crew to retrieve Even, who was lying very exposed in the open. He was hoisted up with a rescue wire in the helicopter and transported safely to Longyearbyen.

We in Brynje are proud that our ambassadors made good decisions when life and health were in danger. Thomas and Even achieved the most important thing in Svalbard; to get a proper expedition together, as well as test equipment and routines under demanding conditions. The right decisions were made by putting safety first. As the norwegian mountain weather rule no. 8 says: "Turn around in time, there is no shame in turning around".

 

See also:

 

Some of the Brynje clothes used on Svalbard

Expedition Jacket 2.0 M's

Robust cold-climate shell jacket for men designed for high mountain and expedition wear.

10951272
Classic Zip Polo Shirt

10301200
Arctic Longs

10400400
Arctic Balaclava

10407000
Arctic Hat

Our bestselling hat for cold temperatures.

10406000
Active Wool Sock

30303078
Classic Boxer M's

10300800
Arctic Mittens

10403500
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