Fjällräven Polar 2017


The sun is shing, snowflakes spinning around in the air. Razor sharp mountains dramatically reaches towards the clear blue sky, Arctic tundra as fa you can see. 300 kilometres wilderness and the only thing that breaks the silence of nature is your own breath, the dog’s paws running across the snow and the whizzing of the sled under your body. Provided with the best of equipment, designed to withstand just those extreme conditions prevailing here, north of the Arctic Circle. Nights by the campfire, new friends, starry nights with the aurora dancing across the sky.

Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? This is what Fjällräven Polar can be and the dream of taking part in the expedition, which takes place once a year, attracts over a thousand of people around the world to apply for it. For only about 20 persons, the dream becomes reality. This year, 28 from 15 countries to be precise. They’re people who worked hard, some of them has spent almost a full-time job during the month the application is open to make their dream come true. Half of the participants gets their spot by an official voting, the other half has been selected by a jury from Fjällräven. This year, I had the incredible luck to be one of the selected.

But the hard work doesn’t stop after the voting is finished. Although the adventure is an amazing experience, it’s no picnic. This we became aware of on the first day, even before we left Stockholm. For a few hours of training, led by Johan Skullman, former Military and Fjällräven’s own survival expert, we learn that out in the Arctic wilderness, there’s no mercy. No shortcuts. It’s up to ourselves that we make sure that we’ll survive and that we protect us the way that’s necessary. Sure, there will be guides with us, but they’re just there to consult. The hard work, we have to do ourselves.

Day 1

Back in school. You have to have knowledge about the conditions you set out to.

People are whispering ang giggling in one of the hotel corridors in Sigtuna, outside Stockholm. The tension is huge. All the participants in this year’s edition of Fjällräven Polar is gathered outside the door leading into the room where all our equipment for the next days are standing. You can almost feel the nervousness and excitement that’s in the air. Suddenly, the door opens and we all run in. The room is soon full of confused people who eagerly looking for their own PolarParka with their name printed across the chest, that is slipped over the backpack containing our equipment. I’m searching and searching and just when the thought hits me that ”what if they missed mine?” I find it! I gently try to remove it from the pack and a water bottle falls out of the hood. Soon, I can’t stop myself anymore, I pull it up and over my head. People running around. Laughing and talking. Jackets slipping on and off. Selfies are taken and Fjällrävens own film crew trying to get through between the now Michelin man looking participants, to make interviews with those who have managed to find the way out of the tent as the jacket feels like.

After a while the group spilts up and we all goes to our rooms to check out the rest of the equipment, try all the clothes and eventually change them to a better size. The content of the bag, along with the huge PolarParka has a value of 4000€! Just that feels incredible. But it’s like Skullman just been talking about, that without knowing how to use all of this gear, it’s worth nothing. And that is what will be one of our challenges the upcoming days. That with some guidance, figure out how to best survive in the wilderness, north of the Arctic Circle.

I finally found my PolarParka.

Day 2

”Stay dry” might be the most important advice we get against the cold, but when the plane takes off for Norway the next day, it feels like a pretty tough challenge. The weather forecast tells us 5 degrees celsius and pouring rain. The whole week. The excitement is slightly dimmed, but when the plane dips down trough the clouds just outside Tromsø and the massive mountains appear, I’m getting goose bumps. This is nothing like the mountains that I previously visited in Sweden, these are real mountains! I realise how much I missed the mountains since my hike along the U.S. mountain ranges last summer. During the bus drive out to Hatteng where we gonna spend the night, I found it hard to concentrate on the information we get. What’s outside the windows has my full attention. There’s something amazing with mountains. To travel between them makes me so peaceful, it’s like travelling through a painting. Everything is so beautiful and even if the impressions are strong, they’re also very few. What you see is what you get. There’s no distraction, no flicker, no pop-up windows, sudden noises or clatter. Everything is nice and quiet.

When we finally arrive, we get a shorter education before it’s time to get practical. For the first time, we’ll try to set up our tents. The weather keeps its promise, the rain flows over my jacket and I constantly stop to shake off the pearls of water that’s collected on my shoulders. For me and my Swedish teammate Olof Garnegård, that like me has a lot of experience of the outdoors, pitching the tent goes quite fast. But our other teammates Jennifer Hsu and Yin Ning who are from Taiwan, has some issues. So after we’re done, we step over to help them and to give some practical advises. For me isn’t the life in the wilderness something new anymore, the challenge is now more to be part of a team and look after everybody, both people and the dogs. When you’re done with yours, you help others. Pretty obvious actually. You’re never stronger than the weakest link.

Johan Skullman shows us how the tent and kitchen works.

Later we will aslo try out our stoves and as I have some problem making it burn, I get a little pissed wondering what is wrong with using a normal gas stove where you just turn on the gas and light it? For the one that we’re using here, we have to preheat it, pump up pressure and look after it. Why does it have to be so complicated?! Later I found put that it’s because that even if there is gas made for winter condition, it will stop working if it gets really cold. And that’s exactly what we’re practicing, to realise the importance of being prepared for whatever might happen.

Day 3

Early next morning, after a night on the floor in Storfjord Skyttelags club house, it’s finally time to meet the dogs and get ready to set off. Our guide Jan Slosar and his fiancé that we already met the night before meet us in Signaldalen together with the guides of the other teams. Jan waits for us with five sleds. One for me, one for Olof, one for Jennifer and one for Yin. The fifth one is Jans. Each sled is pulled by six dogs, which means that we need more than 200 dogs to cover all the participants! And the dogs are excited. They’re barking and howling, eager to set off. When we start to put on their harnesses and attach them to the wire that pulls the sled, I wonder who are most excited for this, we or the dogs? We have getting strict orders to stand hard on the breaks before it’s our turn. If they get any chance they will take off. And you can really feel their strength. When the first participants whizzing off through the woods they plunging forward and the sled moves choppy, even if we use our full body weight to stand on the break.

Even before some of the participants reach the start line, their sleds fall over. For the fist time I get a little worried. I’ve been looking forward som much for this amazing adventure that I have forgotten that it might be a bit scary. But there’s nothing I can do about it now. It’s just to go, challenge my fears and take on the challenges! Let things happen. I enjoy the feeling.

First meeting with the dogs

At last it’s our turn and we will soon realise that this is not easy. The sled is goes side to side of the trail and when it’s leaning it slides down towards the ditch and I have no idea if there even is anything I can do about it. It takes a while before I find the right technique and even before lunch I’ve fallen four times. ”What am I doing wrong?!”!, I frustrated ask Jan while we’re chopping up meat for the dogs during our lunch break. ”Nothing. You’re new, it takes time” he response calmly. His way of simply looking at things and his calmly approach is contagious. It’s just to accept that falling and making mistakes is part of the learning process and that is kinda what will characterise this day. Trial and error. By trying and let it go wrong we can learn from our mistakes to find out how to do it better next time.

Finally off!

We learn by our mistakes. One of my falls the first day.

When we get to the spot where we’ll spend the first night, some of the participants put up there tents in the wrong wind direction. Against the wind instead of along as we have learned. When Johan Skullman steps by he makes them take the tent down and pitch it up again the right way. Do it right or do it twice. Be prepared for anything that could happen. Later at night, after a gathering where we get some good advice for the night, we get the task of building a wind shield out of snow blocks for our tents. It feels a little bit unnecessary, it’s almost calm. But that’s what’s so treacherous out here. The weather conditions can change quickly and if you’re not prepared it can end up badly. There is no room for mistakes or carelessness. As Johan constantly repeats, ”no shortcuts”.

First camp.

Day 4

I wake up by a smattering sound on the tent. After a night with pretty good sleep I now feel how my energy dips when I recognise the characteristic sound of rain. It’s pretty dark in the tent even if it’s late and I thinking that the only reason for that must be that the sky is covered with thick, dark clouds. When I after awhile get myself together and sit up to put my boots on and accidentally hits the roof of the tent, my fears are proven wrong. ”Swooosh” – a thick layer snow falls down the side of the tent and the small space inside immediately becomes much brighter. I open the zipper and look out. I smile, it doesn’t rain – it’s snowing! Stay dry is much easier in snow then rain since you can just brush off the snow from your clothes or gear, it doesn’t go in to them the same way as rain do. And on top of that, it’s also very beautiful!

The weather can change fast in the mountains.

The morning becomes hectic. Both we and the dogs should have breakfast, the equipment shall be packet in to the sleds again and the dogs should get their harnesses on. It takes time and I feel a little bit rushed because of the deadline we have till everybody has to be done. No one can set off before everybody’s ready. But at the same time I lift my foot from the break and my dogs starts running, I leave all stress behind me. Now, only the present matters. The night and morning belongs to the past. It makes no good to dwell or worry about what has happen. It’s just me and the dogs, right here, right now. What will happen later will show, there’s no way I can predict it anyway. I don’t even now how long it’s planned that we should be on the sleds today, how far we will travel, when or even if we will take a lunch break. We have hardly not been given any information about these days and I think that it might be a point with that. To just let go and let the dogs take us where they want to. The day becomes a pure exercise in mindfulness.

To be dressed properly might be the most important thing out in the wilderness and you always have to adapt your clothing after the moment. Put on clothes before you get cold – take them off before you start sweating.

Peace of mind

When you get into the routines, everything gets easier. Even in the dark.

Day 5

Happy dogs. No matter how far we have travelled, they’re always ready for more.

”Okay, listen up! Today we will get to the spot where everybody falls, so I think it’s best that you pack your cameras into your sleds and don’t use them right now”, Jan tells us before we set off the third morning. The spot that all the participants is highly aware of and that previous years has been well documented in the videos is real. And we will get there today. My first reaction is ”no”, I just want to escape. In our group of four, I think I’m the one that has fallen the most, so I’m not super excited for the journey’s trickiest section. Especially since it will be documented, not only by Fjällrävens mediateam, but also by the invited journalists and VIP guest that are with us today. All of them will be there, ready to catch the worst fall with their cameras. I feel the heart beating faster in my body and how my instinct makes me turn and look after the best way out. But there is no other way out, the only way is to stand up on the sled and let the dogs take me closer and closer to the notorious spot. On the way there, I think that it might not be such a bad thing that I fell so much on the sled the first day. That means that I have experience of what it’s like and I’ve also learned how to avoid it. 

Fjällrävens camearteam manage to capture me on film, just when I’m about to enter the tricky section.

Then, suddenly it turns up! A sharp turn to the left, another one to the right and then left again and finally a steep down – and I make it! Even though my legs are shaking, I’m still standing on them and when I travel trough the group of people that have gathered, I smile. There’s truly nothing as satisfying and strengthening for your confidence than defeat your fears and to show yourself that you can do so much more than you think!

The rest of the day flies by and soon we arrive to the camp for tonight. We are soon told that this night we don’t have to pitch our tent, we will sleep under the stars! Together with Johan Skullmans guidance we build a wind shield of snow blocks where me and my three teammates will sleep, side by side, close together to stay warm. 

Now when we have gotten in to the routines, we’re much faster and for the first time we have some spare time. We all have dinner together and there’s time for some small talk. It feels peaceful. As I could continue to do this indefinitely. It feels a little sad that it’s the last night. Both the life out here and my new friends will be difficult to leave.

My teammate from Sweden, Olof Garnegård.

Team Taiwan: Yin Ning and Jennifer Hsu.

Our amazing guide Jan Slosar.

Me.

When darkness falls, all of the participants gathers at an arranged campfire a short distance away from the camp on a hill. Suddenly everyone stops what they’re doing. Northern Lights! A few minutes of dancing green lights in the sky, and then it’s over. But everyone has got what they deep inside has dreamed of, even if it’s not sure it will happen. The conditions must be right. When I later as the last person crawl into my sleeping bag, turn off the headlamp and look up at the night sky through the small gap in the top of my sleeping bag, I can see the sky turning green again. The Northern Lights are back!

Northern Lights by the campfire, could we have had a better last night?

View from my sleeping bag.

 

Day 6

After a really nice night, I wake up by the sunlight tickling my face. The frost sparkles on top of my sleepingbag and I actually still feel pretty warm. I become really surprised when I later get to hear that we had cold record this night, -24°C! Even the other claims that this has been their warmest night. By listening to everything we have learned, practicing it and used our equipment the way it is supposed to, we have been able to stay warm. Mission completed!

But there is one more thing on the list. One last test. Already the first day in Sigtuna, Johan listed a couple of things that you need to master to be able to survive in the wild, the probably most important: To know how to make fire. I’m both fascinated and terrified at the same time. I’ve never been good with fire and it’s actually a dream to be able to do it. I’ve practiced it a little bit the day before, but it’s now that matters. And I hate tests and exams! But the most important thing when you make fire is, as Johan noted, to stay calm – and to be prepared. I take a deep breath. Besides me lies a big pile of big and small branches, lichen and birch bark which we have learned is the best ignition for making a fire.

”Ready. Set. Go!”  The test starts and all the participants attention goes to their soon to be fireplaces. I roughen some fiber from birch bark as Johan has told me. I prepare some dry small twigs that I will use to bring up the first flames. I put my ignition steel against the birch bark and begins to gently stroke the knife along it. Easy… Nothing happens. One more time. Again. Again. ”Of course it doesn’t work now…” I think. I try again. Telling myself to stay calm. One more time. And then – a spark! Some strokes more and soon it begins to smoke. A small flame turn up and I feed it gently with some more bark and dry twigs. As soon as the fire has started, and I dare to add some larger branches. A pat on my back. ”Well done Linda, congratulations!” It’s Johan that’s stepping by, approving the fire. I did it!

The rest of the day will be a nice and easy trip towards the lake Väkkäräjärvi and Väkkärä Lodge. There waits lunch, sauna, a dip in the ice cold lake for those who dare to, dinner and dance. When I later stands in one of the bathrooms of the lodge and watching my own reflection in the mirror, I see a tired but happy face. My cheeks are red and dry from the sun and the cold. I can already peel off some skin from my nose. Then I see two thin white stripes, that as whiskers goes from the side of my nose down besides my mouth. I smile and they disappear. I realise the sun hasn’t been able to burn my skin there, I have simply walked around with such a constant smile in my face that it hasn’t had a chance. And I guess that’s how it is, when nothing has been left to the coincidence, nothing has risked to go wrong, then we can relax and just enjoy. Sure, it has been a lot of hard work and it’s been really tough som times, but still amazing. That, my white dimples proves.

Always smiling

Fjällräven Polar 2017 has been a great experience and adventure. But perhaps mostly a survival guide. An eye-opener from the incredibly simple world we live in at home, a world where we don’t even need to be able to make food for ourselves to survive. We can buy it from someone else. We usually talk about the wilderness as the primitive world. But Johan Skullman has managed to convince me the opposite. That what really is the primitive world, is the one we live in the city. There, we don’t need to think or solve problems. We get light by pressing a button, water flows from the tap. If something’s broken, we call for help or take it back to the store. In the wilderness we must think and do everything ourselves. Get water from the lake or melt snow. Fix the kitchen if it does not work. Make fire. Activate the brain. ”No shortcuts” that Johan, like a mantra repeated several times each day.

Fjällräven Polar has also been a mental challenge. A journey of the dreams. 28 dreams that has come true. By the end of November, I saw by coincidence that Fjällräven had opened the application for the adventure. I didn’t really know what it was, and I spontaneously decided to apply. It sounded absolutely amazing! The application process was chaotic. The website crashed, and soon the people in the lead took off. More and more and more. I realised when they were thousands of voices ahead of me that it would be quite hard to win by the most number of votes. But I still wanted to fight for it. And so did my friends. Close as distanced. If it’s something that I’m really thankful for, it is all the support I received from everyone who voted and shared. All who nagged their friends and family to vote for me.

When I more than four months later, sit down and talk with my teammate Yin the last evening in the wilderness, she tells me about how she managed to get all the votes that led her to number one in Taiwan. It makes me realise how great we humans can be to each other, if we just open up ourselves and expose our hearts and dreams. She explains that her approach was that every evening go out on the streets with a QR-code to her application and simply ask people passing by if they would consider voting for her. A little skeptical, I ask if it really worked, and she then replies that ”If you open up by talking about your dream, by telling them that you have something you’re really passionate about, that you dream of and explains why – people will listen. And most will gladly help”. Amazing, I think and realise that even this is another lesson I will take home with me. We’re so afraid of being hurt or let down, that we don’t even dare to say out loud what we dream about. Shout out your dream and things will happen! Doors will be opened. People will help. All goes if you really want, dare and dedicate yourself to it. As Michelle Van Rossberg from Holland so nicely put it after crossing the finish line: ”If you overcome your fears and you step out of your comfort zone, you gonna experience things that you can’t even imagine”

Last but not least, a big thanks to all the participants, the Fjällräven crew and my amazing team: Olof, Jennifer, Yin och Jan
And most of all: the fantastic dogs!

Read more about Fjällräven Polar:

http://polar.fjallraven.com

Do you also want to set out on an arctic adventure by dog sled? Kent Fjellborg, who actually was the one that came up with the idea of Fjällräven Polar, also runs the kennel where the dogs who took us on this journey comes from. At http://fjellborgarcticjourneys.com/ you can read more and book your own adventure!

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2 kommentarer

  • Vic Hanson
    18 april, 2017 at 21:34

    Congratulations, Ripper! I enjoyed reading your trip report here, sounds like it was a great adventure! Thanks for sharing the story with us.

    • lindaakerberg
      21 april, 2017 at 00:47

      Thank you CopperTone! Happy to hear that you enjoyed it! 🙂

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Me who runs the blog

... is Linda Åkerberg. I'm a 32 years old photographer based in Stockholm, Sweden. Read more about me here

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I dit it! Lobuche Peak, 6119m ✔️❤️ One thing that I've learned through my adventures is how much of our physical strength that is actually mental. We think that we can't do something and therefor we can't. We give up before we have even tried. If we only would dare to try we would be surprised how much we're actually capable of.

One thing that I really wanted to do during my trip to Nepal was climbing a mountain. I picked Lobuche Peak at 6119m, just around the corner from Everest. I had never climbed such a big mountain before, but I really wanted to give it a try.

Unfortunately, 5 weeks before my trip started I had to go through surgery for cervical cell changes. It was not a big thing, but I was told I wasn't aloud to do any kind of training the before my trip in order for my body to heal properly.

This was of course devastating for me. To be able to handle the lower amount of oxygen over 6000m I was in the middle of a really intense workout schedule.  Now I had to stop.

I asked myself what should I do. Should I cancel the plans of climbing the mountain and forget about my dream? I decided not to. I wanted to see how far my own will could take me up the mountain even if I wasn't in the best physical shape.

And this morning I got the answer - my will took me all the way to the top! Such an amazing feeling standing there realizing how much I'm actually capable of, just if I put my mind to it! 💥
The view from this mornings climb to Kala Patthar, 5550 m, was totally amazing! A 360 view over all the peaks around during the time of sunrise. 
In this pic: one of my absolute favorites, Ama Dablam. ❤️ A good advice for all of you planning doing Kala Patthar yourself: dress warm and don't forget extra warm socks and gloves. It's freezing before the sun hits you (which might take a while since it rises behind the highest mountain in the world)!
I made it!!! 💟
All the way from Jiri through the Nepalese jungle, up and pass Lukla and finally through the rocky landscape to Everest Base Camp at 5364m! This i did all on my own, without any help from porters or guides or even the company of friends. 12 days, 182 km and I don't now how many meters of altitudes in total. Feel so proud and happy right now! ❤️💪 But my adventure isn't over yet. Tomorrow I will climb Kala Patthar and the day after that I'll head up to Lobuche high camp from where I will attempt to summit the over 6000m Lobuche Peak! Check out my Instagram story feed to see how it goes! 😘
Today I felt the altitude in a bad way for the first time. After reaching the village of Lobuche my head started aching real bad, but after some rest, water and a short hike up to higher altitude and then back down again I felt much better! It's amazing how your body can adapt if you just gives it time. ❤️
Pic from the short hike with rests of the Khumbu Glacier in the background.
Tomorrow I'm heading up for base camp! 🏔️
Today I walked higher than I ever been before, up to 5090m! Everything went well (even though it was hard) and it feels very good since Everest Base Camp is "only" about 274 m higher!
Now I'm back in Dingboche at 4400m. The hike today was part of the acclimatizing process where you slowly expose your body to higher altitudes. By going up, then back down again your body will find it easier next time you go higher.
Pic from the top of the climb today with views over Ama Dablam.
Today's hike up to Dingboche was very different than the hike yesterday. The clouds were low, the rain kept pouring down and the huge mountains that's surrounds me did not show all. But it was still so beautiful!
As the trail kept getting higher and higher, the landscape changed as well, from green rhododendron forests to rocky and sandy with less and less vegetation. It certainly feels that I'm getting higher. Now at 4400m I'm close to higher than I ever been before.
These guys are so strong. I sometimes struggling with my 15 kg+ back pack (even though I start to get use to it by now) but the porters here carry well over 50 kg, often walking in just plain sandals.
It makes me think about how worried we westerners are about weight and that we have "the right" kind of gear. It seems pretty clear that what you have works just fine - so don't let the lack of proper gear stopping you from getting out in nature!
Getting up early is definitely something that will be rewarding at the Everest Base Camp Trek. You will get clear skies = beautiful views before the clouds comes in, the temperature will be cooler and you can also get the trail for yourself if you're lucky!
Today's hike up to Tengboche was really something else, this is hiking at its best! ☀️
The Everest Base Camp Trek is hiked by tens of thousands each year. The trail between Jiri and Lukla only by a thousand. And it really was something else. I didn't meet many hikers at all, but one of the days I was happy to get company by this cutie. She followed me for hours before she suddenly decided to go back to where she came from. A man told me she use to follow hikers to make sure they not get lost. ❤️

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