Written by Vapur Pro Team member, Eric Larsen.
I recently returned from short expedition in Svalbard, a group of islands which comprise the northernmost part of Norway. Located considerably north of mainland Europe, Savlbard is half way between Norway and the North Pole and a unique combination of mountains, glaciers, sea ice, cold and polar bears. It’s relatively easy to get to via direct commercial flight and, in theory, you can be sleeping in a tent on sea ice just one or two hours after landing in Longyearbyen. It’s the perfect place to train for polar travel.
At least, in theory, you could be sleeping on the sea ice in a tent.
I left for Norway with the usual collection of overweight duffel bags and gear. Skis (expedition and alpine), snow shoes, boots (alpine and polar), stoves, fuel bottles and more transferred from one place to another via variety of vehicles, people and planes. ‘Moving piles,’ Ryan, my friend and expedition partner for this Svalbar adventure, calls the process of transferring gear to different locations. With each leg, there is always a sigh of relief when all of the bags arrive at baggage claim.
The relief comes from experience, because things don’t always go smoothly. For example. I once traveled for nearly a week in Kolkata, India with just the clothes that I was wearing – my pack stranded at JFK in New York. During my last North Pole expedition nearly all of our cargo shipment arrived in Resolute except, mysteriously, our bacon. If there is one thing you don’t want to go without on the Arctic Ocean… it’s bacon… Actually, I can think of several other things as well, but my goal here wasn’t to talk about polar bear deterrents or the merits of adding butter to your morning oatmeal to increase its calorie count.
After meeting Ryan in Oslo and repacking our gear and food, we arrived at the airport on a crowded Sunday morning. Norwegians go nuts for Easter vacation and take the week to travel just about everywhere in the world. Who would have thought? Not me. But I’m off topic again. We checked four duffels and one ski bag for the direct flight to Svalbard. Pretty straight forward.
A few hours after arriving, we were still waiting in the Longyearbyen airport, sipping out of our Vapur Anti-Bottles, waiting for one duffel and our ski bag to arrive. ‘At least I never have to worry about my Vapur getting lost,’ I thought. It’s lightweight and super packable and as a result, it rarely leaves my side. In that moment, it was also a reminder to “Live Flexible,” Vapur’s motto that definitely applies to more than a way to hydrate.
‘How is it possible to lose bags on a direct flight?’ we asked. Then, loaded our bags onto a bus that dropped us off in the middle of town. Somehow, we then befriended a diesel generator mechanic who drove us around town looking for a place to crash for the night. One day’s delay wouldn’t be that big of a deal.
However, when our ski bag didn’t arrive the next day, even Ryan’s mild mannered demeanor became slightly agitated. As a mountain guide, Ryan has had more than his fair share of delays and obstacles, both pre and post expedition. While flying into Indonesia to guide a Carstensz Pyramid trip, he was delay indefinitely by a volcanic eruption. Recently in South America, he returned to his hotel after leading an Aconcagua expedition to find that all of his clean clothes were locked in storage and the ONE person who had the key was out of town for the weekend.
One of the most important aspects of expedition travel is to be flexible. Logistically, there are a myriad factors constantly in flux. In the U.S., we are used to things occurring on a regular schedule and according to a specific plan. Not all of the world works like that, so when there is a small snafu, it can be easy to over react. In reality, being patient and understanding the situation often offers a quicker resolution.
On the trail, we are constantly dealing with changing conditions, energy levels and more. Trying to obtain a specific goal while ignoring all other factors is, quite simply, very dangerous. To be successful requires assessing and reassessing, making plans and then changing them. In other words, living “flexible”.
The fact that our skis didn’t arrive on time actually allowed us an opportunity to check out more of Longyearbyen, take some fun pictures and hike to a nearby ice cave. Had we stuck to our rigid schedule, we would have missed all those opportunities.
– Eric Larsen