100 Kilometres of Snow and Ice
It's not the first time Brits have gone up against Norwegians in a test of polar endurance. Nor the first time Brits have lost the challenge. London-based Charlie Hunter and his team of five knew they were in for a battle when they signed to Expedition Amundsen, a 100km backcountry ski race pulling a 40kg sledge through Norwegian Hardangervidda National Park.
Hunter took part the previous year — one of only six foreigners permitted to enter — and hoped to improve his time this year, convincing a bigger team of “mad Brits” to join him. He planned to sleep less and ski more, and the tactic paid off — they beat his previous record by four hours. Hunter’s team also came in last place, which is not as bad as it sounds given 30 per cent of the competition dropped out, and the rest consisted of, “Amazonian-like women, and hardcore men with beards and big hands,” says Hunter.
The Hardangervidda National Park is a frozen wilderness of black rock, thick snow and jagged, icy mountains. “Our training consisted of running around Richmond Park in London pulling tires,” he says. “We were quite the spectacle.” But pulling tires really was a walk in the park compared to pulling their heavy sledges through 100 kilometres of snow and ice.
Expedition Amundsen must be completed within 72 hours, which includes a mandatory rest time of at least eight hours, spread across three checkpoints — a rule imposed to ensure people actually stop for a break. By the time Hunter’s team reached the first checkpoint, the last of the beautiful, bearded Norwegians were already on their way out again. Hunter recalls them gliding up the mountains, as if the skis were extensions of their bodies.
Hunter and his team weren’t so graceful. While the Norwegians elegantly hopped between two pairs of pairs of skis — one designed for uphills, one for downhills — Hunter’s team only had one pair, so had to stop and labouriously attach skins each time they hit an incline. But while the uphills were tough, the downhills presented their own set of problems. The heavy sledges tended to gather speed quickly and overtake the skiers who were towing them. On one particular downhill section, on the last day of the race, the low light made it almost impossible for the team to distinguish between the sky, snow and rocks. In this total whiteness, Hunter and his team had to descend 2,000ft on an incline comparable to a ski resort black run full of trees, trying to control their runaway sledges. “Not being Norwegian ski gods, we all fell spectacularly,” says Hunter; “I shot into a snow bank head first.”
Despite the struggles they made it to the finish line, getting clapped and cheered for the final two kilometres. “There wasn’t any packing up early because us idiot Brits were taking our time,” Hunter says; “They made us feel great, even though we were utterly and completely last.” There was even a ‘heroes dinner’ once everyone had finished, awarding individual prizes to each person who took part, including a prize for the “crazy foreigners.”
Charlie Hunter took part in Expedition Amundsen with Cynan Rhodes, Charles and James McMillan and Aleksander Johansen. They were sponsored by Outdoorfood, eating FIREPOT meals throughout the trip. If you’re interested in being sponsored by us, please get in touch.