Lyngen Expedition 2023
The winter in Switzerland was a warm one, which was great for the people whose war-ravaged gas heating prices were less of a necessity, but disappointing for us snow seekers.
We determined that the best thing to do would be to go North, way North, up beyond the Arctic Circle, where the snow lies thick and endless over the frost shattered mountains of Troms. The Lyngen Alps, a chain of mountains rising between two fjords, had had a great season of snowfall, and are famous among the ski touring community for their rugged potential.
I was out of shape after several flus had laid me low all winter, and the necessity to climb over a thousand meters of vert every day was a little intimidating, but there was a direct flight from Zurich to Tromsø, and a friend had already booked a cabin - things fell into place quickly.
Falk, Daniel and I flew up early and worked from an airbnb in Tromsø for a few days before hand. This allowed us to acclimatize to the cold air, and explore the Paris of the North before work.
The flight up took us the entire length of Norway, and the plane flew for hours over endless fjords and peaks, a blue and white patchwork to the sea beyond. It was only as we began our descent that the first cloud of snow blew in, and by the time we were on the ground, it was snowing heavily.
The forecast was for small patches of sun between waves of snow for the next few days, followed by a week of clouds and snow. Not ideal, but we made the best of it, timing our work days so we could head out for lunch in the brief sunshine, before retreating to the cozy laptop for the next snowstorm. The walls of snow around our house grew higher and higher.
On Friday, the weather was perfect, and it was tantalizing to be working under perfect blue skies. We rose early and worked hard to get enough done that we could steal an early evening tour. North of the Arctic circle, the winters are dark, but by this point we were close to the equinox, and sunset came around 6pm, but the low sun sank slowly, so the sunsets were long.
We took a taxi to the local gondola, which was mostly used by cruise-ship tourists, and we were the only people in ski gear. The others worried that the lack of tracks in the birch forested face meant that there was some reason we would be unable to descend, but to me the terrain looked perfect. We skinned up a few hundred meters to the local peak, as Daniel took a work call on his headphones. This was our first encounter with the icy Arctic wind, which sucked the life out of any exposed skin in seconds. At the top we watched the spin-drift whip across an icy crust, and prepared to descend into sunset-kissed powder. It was a perfect descent on untouched snow, before we found a skin-track to follow down through the dusky forest to the road, where we could catch a bus back to Tromsø.
After finishing up work for the day, and cleaning up, we headed back into Tromsø to find a celebratory beer and some dinner.
From Tromsø we drove East towards the Breidvik ferry, through low skies and whips of snow falls. From across the grey water and Svensby, the road followed the fjord, then over a small pass to Lyngseidet where we would be staying for the next week.
Our Polish contingent, Bartek, Wojtek and Kasia, arrived late that night, so after greeting them, we got an early night before the first ski tour the next day.
For the first day, we decided to drive all the way to the Northern tip of the peninsula, to Russelv, where we could climb an easy warm-up peak, Russelvfjellet, which was only 800m tall. The morning was clear blue skies, but we had a forecast of clouds coming in at 2, so we wanted to move fast and make the most of the sun.
There was a long and fairly flat approach up a river, before we started the climb. Then, as we kick turned up to the ridge on wind blown ice, several other groups appeared. This was clearly a popular tour.
We had the view down the back to the fjord. The top was windy and icy, so Falk and I headed down quickly. The powder on the back was fantastic, and it was great to swoop through it with views of the sea ahead.
We all regrouped in the valley, and still felt good, so we put skins back on, and headed up the other side for some extra height. My plan was to get to a ridge on the far side to minimize my walking on the flat on the way back. As we climbed the high cloud came in, although it wasn't nearly as bad as forecast, more of a haze, and sundogs and halos circled the sun.
On the ridge to the second summit I was getting tired, the summit was still several hundred meters up. So I headed off on my own to a small summit on the ridge which I had all to myself before a slightly sketchy traverse, then a lot of ice on the way down, but most importantly no walking before the car.
Kasia and I waited in the car for a bit for the others to arrive, and they had not got to a true summit, but also turned back on a smaller one. Falk and I did a few hundred meter walk from the car to get our furthest North point on the way back.
The next day was a late start, as I had had my meds, and it was snowing early. We aimed to be on the mountain later in the day when the sun was forecast. Whereas the previous day had been at the far North of the range, this time we headed South towards Balsfjord on the other side.
After some questionable route finding, minor acrimony, and a river crossing, we had a long slog up out of the forest towards a windblown traverse up towards a rounded summit. The sun came out though and it was another beautiful day.
The summit was so rounded in fact that it wasn't until we got to the top that we had the views of the fjord on the other side which opened up in spectacular fashion. There was a cairn on top which we climbed for some photos.
The snow on the way down was wind-blown, icy and crusty, so not perfect, but still fun, and with some soft patches. Down between the birch trees it was quite nice even. Then on the last face it became heavy then refrozen concrete, and it was nice to get back to the cars.
The next day was forecast to snow, and my body needed a rest day, so while Falk, Bartek and Wojtek went off for a tour, I lazed in the house. Mid morning, there was a gap in the clouds, so I decided to go get some air with a walk and headed down to Lyngseidet. I started to walk around the coast, but the snow came in fast, and after a while in the white-out, I turned back. It was a perfect opportunity to sit in front of the fire with a book and a beer and let the ankle recover.
I read Fritjhof Nansen's crossing of Greenland, which seemed appropriate in this Arctic landscape, and it was gratifying to note that all of the book took part further South than we were now.
The next day also started with snowfall, but the forecast was to improve, so we optimistically decided to head over the ferry to a rarely visited peak back on the peninsula. It was really white out when we started, which made route finding through the forest quite tricky, and we had some ups and downs as we made our way across an alluvial valley. There were no tracks to be seen, and knee deep powder, so we had to break trails and needed to swap leader often as this exhausting work added up.
Up through the forest the snow started to clear up, and patches of blue sky illuminated the steep faces ahead of us. The route led us up into a couloir where we would gain the ridge, then head up to a summit - we had 2 options depending on how fit we felt.
The ridge was steep and there were several drifts that looked ominous, but I was confident that we could make it up on one of several ramps. We couldn't avoid avalanche terrain here, but we could be cautious. The snowpack was pretty solid, but with so much fresh snow, there was always a risk with the steeper terrain.
After we had made it up one of the ramps, the terrain expanded behind into a wide open plain of endless untouched snow. Our first thought had been the peak to the left of us, but it looked windblown and rocky, so we instead turned left and began a long climb up towards a summit ridge. Behind us the panorama opened up toward Tromsø fjord, and the sky emptied into blueness.
At the ridge the wind had picked up, spindrift vortexing over the cornice, and it was bitterly cold. There were several false summits, and Kasia opted to wait at one of those while I chased the leaders of our group to the summit along a flat ridge. The cornice was massive and so it was dangerous to get too close to the edge, but the view down towards Lyngen and the fjord we had crossed that morning on the ferry was breathtaking. But it was too cold to linger, so I skied back to the false summit to convert to snowboard and then we dropped into face of utterly perfect powder, soft, deep and completely without tracks.
I intended to drop over the ramp a little higher up than we had skinned, where there seemed to be a good runout that would avoid a windblown slab. But as I rolled over the lip, I realised I had misjudged and was right in the middle of the slab. There wasn’t an easy way back so I shouted that I was going to straight line it, and then dropped onto the slab, which immediately slid. I was able to cut at the inflection point and so avoid most of the slab, but then immediately went as fast as I could down to get outside the runout zone.
A slab of perhaps 20 by 20 meters of 15cm top powder had slid. It probably wouldn’t have buried me, and perhaps would have just been sluff, but seeing the cracks shoot out from my board was chastening, and as I quickly converted back to skis in case there was any other issues, started to feel the adrenaline hit.
Luckily the others all made it through within issue, so now we had a long flattish descent back to the forest, not my favorite terrain on a splitboard.
By the time we had made it back down into the forest, and through the winding trail of riverbanks, the sun had dropped below the mountains and the quiet of evening was on us. We had an hour to kill waiting for the ferry, but were treated to a spectacular sunset that turned the mountains around us to fire and rose. I walked down to the icy shoreline where perfect reflections doubled the glory.
I think it was that evening that we made reindeer stew to recuperate. Delicious.
The weather remained good the next day, so we opted for the local peak, allowing us to skin from near the cabin. After some route finding, we followed a skin highway up through the forest. The snow was very windblown even in the trees, so we needed to find a good leeward aspect for any chance of good snow.
The views down onto Lyngseidet were great, and then an icy traverse led us past a mountain hut to the beginning of a long climb to the summit. As we passed, the first skiers of the day came down the face leaving perfect lines of turns.
Somehow it wasn’t as cold or windy on the ridge, and the sun was really going when we reached the top, but even still it was a bitterly cold day. I had my 2 layers of thermals, a fleece, a soft shell and a hard shell on the way up, and added a puffy jacket when we paused, but still it was chilly.
Daniel got some amazing drone footage at the summit, where we had a view back to the other fjord and the steep peaks beyond, but faced some drone issues in the cold. Batteries don’t deal with temperatures like this well.
We had an amazing descent, but then waited for Falk and Daniel who were still fighting the drone at the summit. We got really cold. Somehow there was a katabatic wind that dropped the temperature dramatically- I think it must have been -30°c at the bottom, so converting skis was very painful. We went back to the hut to warm up while we waited, where it was a balmy -3°.
And then another icy descent into the tight trees of the forest, where the tracked path led through a gully which allowed some fun natural half pipe play before the flat trail near Lyngseidet.
That evening there was a solar storm forecast, and we discussed where we would go to see the aurora if it appeared. I was pretty beat after the long week, so was happy to avoid touring to see them if possible. We found a potential spot on the map, and then waited to see if anything appeared.
Bartek looked out of the window and said he could see them - at first I thought he was joking, but sure enough, a green cloud had appeared.
Tempers frayed in the mad rush to get back into warm clothes, de-ice the cars, and get moving before they disappeared, but soon we were speeding down the coast and the lights were only getting stronger.
We watched them from a pier by the fjord, and the light-show really began. Visible purples amid the green, waves of light falling on the shore of the mountains, curtains and streamers. If you looked straight up into the heart of the solar storm, you could see the dome of the heavens erupting with plasma.
I tried to get pictures with frozen fingers and undersized tripod, but a camera wasn’t necessary to see the colors like it sometimes is.
As the solar storm began to subside, we headed come, cold but ecstatic at the show we had seen.
Rest and return
I opted for another rest day the following day, and went on a walk down the coast to make the most of the last of the clear skies. Another blizzard was coming in, so watching the bank of clouds roll over was my show for the day. After that it was back to the fire with my book, and time to pack up for a late drive back to Tromsø.
As we checked into our hostel, we could see more aurora above the streets of Tromsø, improbably the sky had cleared and the solar storm had begun again. Falk and Daniel wanted to appreciate them from the warm of a pub, but I hadn't got my fill, so I went down for a cold walk by the water to watch them dance over Tinden, and the harbor.
Our flight was unpleasantly early the next morning, so we headed to the airport with all the snow bags and flew out of winter and into spring. It had been a fantastic trip.