The last time I excitedly went into a rant about the race, 78° North and how incredible it’s going to be (whilst on crutches) a mountain guide replied “you can forget about it”. Something I was refusing to consider, never mind accept. Well that was it.I thought that choosing a sport to fall in love with was a pretty safe option. I wasn’t expecting to have to ‘put it on hold’ so quickly and I definitely wasn’t expecting to get my heart crushed in the process.
It was a Sunday, following Nordic tradition I wanted so badly to take a hike. Here in Norway, Sunday is family day. Everything closes. Locals grab their boots or their cross country skis and head out for a day of thrilling adventure in this magnificent Arctic land. It was the most glorious day of the season, the sun was so epically lighting up the fjord and I was in work, bursting with energy ready for 3pm to hit so that I could dart up the mountain Storhaugen and sit on the snow covered rocks just in time for the sun to set behind the mountains. Pretty soon the sun won’t set in the Arctic, I just wanted to take it all in while I had the chance. It’s pretty overwhelming. Getting up the mountain was all too easy that day, even with the large amounts of new snowfall.
I remember sitting there in the midst of it all, the sun was setting, I was this tiny, insignificant human sitting in amongst the silence of this mountain, a mountain so full of personality and danger, me alone, with a full view of one of the world’s most spectacular landscapes. All thought evaporated from my mind as the sun disappeared behind the Lyngen Alps. It was an unforgettable moment. The next few hours is still a bit of a blur to me. Feeling rejuvenated and high on life itself I strapped my snow shoes back on and attempted the climb back down. It’s hard to judge which way is safest, or simplest. It’s steep. I was bracing myself for quite a few falls but I hadn’t considered there’d be one fall that may corrupt the next few weeks of my life. I started following ski tracks, all tracks will lead me home, to the lodge. I got back to the tree line fairly prompt and thought, at least I was half way down. But this is where the difficulty started, I could no longer see the lodge. Snow was getting deeper, I had to venture off the tracks as they were becoming too steep to follow. I fell. I pulled myself back up. I fell again. I was starting to get a little frantic and frustrated about this on-going situation but I continued on, completely unaware that the worst was yet to come. I remember thinking, it’s going to be so good to come home, to put my feet up, relax. Beside a roaring fire. Not far to go. Doing my best attempt at remaining calm. It came to be so steep that I had no option than to try and shuffle down on my bum! I pulled myself back onto my feet, holding on to a tree, trying carefully to plan my route. The next few steps were crucial.
The snow caved beneath my feet and all before I had a chance to control it, I was stuck, up to my chest in snow. I couldn’t pull myself out, my arms were also collapsing into the snow, there was this moment where I was just.. swimming. I took one of my snow shoes off and put it behind my head in order to pull myself out properly, it was a struggle but I managed, I had to. Without realizing that I’d wriggled so much that my foot came out of my shoe and there was me, foot covered in ice. it was -17° down on the coast that day, I don’t even want to know how much colder it was up in the mountain. My sock had froze solid in a matter of seconds. I took my ski gloves off and tried frantically to search for my missing boot down this 5ft hole. It was well and truly buried. I managed to dig, with numb hands until I found it but it was so frozen and stuck that getting it out wasn’t an option. At least not with frozen fingers. I wrapped my foot up in a cardigan and tied it inside the bottom of my celopets, I put one snow shoe under my arm, threw my backpack around me, grabbed my poles and attempted to move forward. Highly concerned for my left foot as I dragged it on through the snow. It felt like dragging a brick. I didn’t want to call for help. I put it off for quite a while before noticing the darkness approaching all too quickly and I simply couldn’t get down without the help of somebody. I still hadn’t realized the severity of it all. I thought it was just a case of getting someone to run up and give me a new boot so that I could walk home.
I called my colleague, she answered immediately even though she was mid shift, I could tell she was worried, they’d expected me to be home hours ago. My battery was dying, I couldn’t see the lodge, I had lost all sense of direction, I was freezing cold, I couldn’t feel my foot, or my hands, I was beginning to feel faint, I was covered in blood after unknowingly ripping my stitches from a nasty bread knife cut a few days previously. Basically, I was in the sh*t. Trying to sound calm and fine on the phone was hard, my voice was beginning to shake and I was trying so hard not to cry as I announced “This might sound silly…. but I think I need help…”Before I knew it my boss/experienced mountain guide was straight on the case. He took over and asked me where I was, my surroundings were literally just trees and snow, I could be anywhere! He told me that he couldn’t come looking for me in the hope that I would keep moving. Very smart of him to do so, because… I did keep moving. I have no idea how I kept moving, but I did. Then he called back, he told me to look out for his head torch through the trees, and to listen out for whistles. I was panicking a lot at this stage because I couldn’t hear or see anything for the next 10-20 minutes. The longest minutes of my life.
Finally! The moment that my heart almost stopped just from sheer and honest relief. I saw the head torch, and I saw these strong men come to my rescue. Another guide grabbed a hold of me and sat me down, wrapped me up in layers of coats, and took hold of my frozen foot. I was shivering like mad, feeling like I was about to loose consciousness. No part of this felt in any way real to me, it felt like I was apart of a horribly realistic dream. My boss got on the radio to my manager who was following close behind with a spare boot and hot drinks. He gave her our exact location and a heads up on the situation.…. By this time I was passed out, I was slightly confused as to why there was an extra person approaching in the distance. They tested my consciousness and got me back down to safe ground. The sight of my team members was enough to make me cry, after being brave and withholding the floods all this time. They got me sat down and out of my clothes, they then inspected my foot to see quite obviously that it was frostbitten. Immediately, they started the defrosting process. It was all very incredible to watch. My initial thought was, ‘Oh God, I’m going to lose my foot’. It was bad, I was a little terrified even though everyone was trying to make me believe that it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. When my foot was taken out of the pot of water, it was the darkest purple. It hurt like hell, the next 48 hours of my life were excruciating. I’ve never even imagined pain like that never mind experienced it. So that’s the story of how my dream was shattered in an instant. How one simple decision can effect your life massively. How I came to realize how fortunate I really am. Even though I can’t walk and I can’t work. I’m just glad that I WILL be able to walk again, I am alive. Never again will I take anything in my life for granted and I have learned the true importance of friendship. I have a lot to be thankful for. It may be a while before I take on Storhaugen again. Despite the fact I could have lost my life to it, this mountain will always have a strong place in my heart.“sånn er livet” in Norwegian is the expression of acceptance of misfortune. A phrase we’ve become all too aware of this stirring winter. And to most of us “that’s life.”