The arctic, at last!
Stepping down from the plane we fought through the heavy snow swirling across the tarmac and briskly walked into the arrival lounge of Tromsø Airport. It was midnight and after sitting for two hours in a warm jet, we felt very cold with melting flakes dripped down my face. I had finally arrived in the arctic……entering a dream that had been lodged in my thoughts for decades! Over the years I had become a passionate fan of Norway after a number of visits to the classic cross-country ski trails of the Nordmarka area above Oslo and the extensive Sjusjøen Plateau near Lillihammer. Norway’s physical nature and its entire character had become a fascination. So it seemed like a logical move to travel to the far north of Norway and find out more about this narrow Scandinavian land 1752 kilometres (1089 miles) long and just 430 kilometres (267 miles) wide situated on the upper edge of Europe. This would be our first northern visit for both my wife, Jackie, and myself – our opportunity to taste the arctic!
But why specifically go to Tromsø, you may ask? Well, it is a convenient centre to fly to with its regular daily flights from Oslo. But, it just seemed such an interesting place to visit. Tromsø, built on the island of Tromsøya, lies 350 kilometres (217 miles) within the arctic circle and has been a key settlement for both Norwegians and the Sami (Laplanders) for hundreds of years. Historically, the area has played an important part in arctic travel: maritime enterprises, hunting and exploration have all made use of the natural harbour and facilities of Tromsø. It became a gateway to the arctic world. But, above all, there appeared to be many opportunities for a number of arctic outdoor activities to be sampled with an added advantage of having numerous specialists at hand to assist and guide people if required. We just had to go…..and here we were!
Out onto the snow!
The next morning I was standing in ‘Tromsø Outdoor’ in order to collect some hire equipment saving on the transportation of skis and snowshoes from the UK. Magne Aarbø, the owner of the shop, provided me with a Tromsøya Island map and pointed me in the direction of the cross-country ski trails that run within ten kilometres (around 6 miles) across the length of the island. It wasn’t long before I clipped on the skis and was off. Within half an hour, heavy snow was falling as I skied to Nordspissen at the northern end of Tromsøya. As I turned around to head back, I faced the full force of a ferocious wind with accompanying snow rapidly filling up previous tracks. It was enjoyably wild! Over the next few days, other short daily explorations were made onto the island’s ski trails with a mixture of conditions ranging from further blizzards, to more settled weather and from consolidated, to deep fresh snow. The weather was indeed changeable, challenging but fun.
Snowshoeing on Tromsøya Island
One day during our stay, I joined Kinga Legzczak, a guide from Tromsø Outdoor, on a snowshoe tour of Tromsøya Island. Two visitors from Berlin and myself enjoyed snowshoeing amongst the birch trees, over undulating terrain and in the deep snow of the central part of Tromsøya. We trekked along, occasionally crisscrossing cross-country tracks, spotting well camouflaged ptarmigan hidden beneath the trees and gazing at the most attractive high country surrounding us in every direction. It soon became apparent that the snowshoeing potential was endless in this vast upland arctic landscape! My wife’s reindeer sledding for that day had been postponed due to high winds and menacing snows on a nearby island! Kinga explained that she led snowshoeing trips on Tromsøya and Kvaløya islands. She added that Tromsø Outdoor will advise people about the conditions and practicalities of snowshoeing in other areas and can provide guiding facilities to more distant and remote locations. Kinga pointed out that it was always important for visitors to talk to locals before beginning any excursion in order to obtain the most up to date information regarding the suitability of any proposed trips.
Other arctic delights!
That evening Jackie and I realised another strand of our arctic dream as we stood by the coastline on Sommarøy Island looking upwards and all around us at the ‘aurora borealis’ or northern lights. We had taken part in a ‘Northern Lights Chase’ consisting of an hour and a half drive to a location that would hopefully allow for a suitable viewing, all based on local professional aurora watcher’s predictions. We were not disappointed as we were presented to over an hour’s worth of swaying waves and transparent curtains of light green light in front of a multitude of stars in the clear night. The sky was subtly lit up as this polar kaleidoscope gradually changed its colourful tones and hues. It was a unique geomagnetically fuelled spectacle and we stood transfixed!
The following afternoon, we found ourselves on Kvoløya Island dog sledding with one of Tove Sørensen’s husky teams. Tove has lived in the area for years and has 300 Alaskan huskies where visitors can experience the joys of sledding and where she can also train her selected elite dogs for such races as the Finmarksløpet and the Iditarod. The weather was truly wild with a piercing wind and snow. However, Jackie and I thoroughly enjoyed our five kilometre slide as well as a tour of Tove’s kennels. The following day we visited the Polar Museum in Tromsø where we viewed a host of displays illustrating early life in the far north.
I was fascinated by the Roald Amundson antarctic room along with a particular hero of mine, Fridtjof Nansen. Nansen’s exhibition described his arctic exploits including his attempt to travel to the North Pole with his compatriot, Hjalmar Johansen. It described how they were forced to over-winter in a hovel they had made on Franz Josef Land surviving on only polar bear and walrus!
The state of Norwegian snowshoeing
Back in Tromsø Outdoor, I chatted to Magne Aarbø. I looked at the mass of snowshoes hung on the wall of his shop. He told me he began his business on nearby Kvaløya in 2006 but needed more room to expand so moved to the downtown Tromsø premisses in 2010.
His shop now stocked the largest number of snowshoes in all of Scandinavia. He said there had been a great deal of growth in snowshoeing throughout Norway and in other Nordic countries. Snowshoeing was definitely on the increase, and was apparent from what I had seen. Tromsø and the local region had so much to offer any devotees of snowshoeing. I just wish I was staying longer in order to sample more snowshoeing treats.
As we waited for over an hour for the runway at Tromsø to be cleared of snow from the latest blizzard, you could sense an arctic tug wanting us to stay! ‘Oh dear, we’ll just have to come here again,’ I mused to Jackie. Our trip to arctic Norway had not been a disappointment, we had tasted its delights and wanted more. Time to make plans for our return!
For more information visit:
Tromsø Outdoor For general snowshoeing information in the Tromsø area, guided trips and hire of snowshoes, skis and other equipment. www.tromsooutdoor.no
Tromsø Information Centre General enquiries concerning visits to Tromsø and the local area. www.visittromso.no
Tromsø Villmarkssenter Dog sledding on Kvaløya Island www.villmarkssenter.no