When things went south in the north

I've always said that I will either die from being sarcastic at the wrong time, or because of my stubbornness. I say this as a joke, but the latter almost became an unwanted prophecy.

Tromsø's arctic wonderland

My journey to Tromsø's arctic wonders started in Europe's last dictatorship, Belarus
I was in Belarus - infamously known as Europe's last true dictatorship - when I had enough of the post-soviet experiences. 16 hours before I spontaneously found myself on a plane to Helsinki, I cancelled my stay in Kiev, had my migration card updated and booked a flight to Finland. Forward one more week, and I found myself diving into an arctic adventure I've dreamed about for years.

Arriving spontaneously also meant I arrived without a plan. I usually just wing it when I travel, but some places - places like Tromsø - beg for you to approach things differently. This is what I would come to learn the hard way.

The first hike in Tromsø was a major success. It started out rough, since my shoes weren't suitable for walking on ice, so I had to stray off the beaten path and ascend through deep snow on the mountain side. But when I reached the summit, especially after taking the hard way up, I found myself smiling just from being there.

Snow tells a story about the hikers who were there before you. It keeps a track record of us. On the last peak I reached, I could only see steps of two other hikers and a dog. In other words: I was the third person to be there for a while. I left the mountain with my confidence tank refueled... What would later spill over as over-confidence.

A side story: In Denmark we jokingly call Norwegians "fjeldaber", meaning something along the line of "mountain monkeys". When you've seen Norwegians descending a mountain you realize where the term comes from. They run with a fine-tuned technique on top of the snow, lightly enough to not fall through. On the ice patches they use they regular shoes as if they were skies. Seriously, Norway, is there anything you can't do?! No wonder Denmark and Sweden fought so many wars over you.

The second hike

On the second hike I aimed for something more challenging and remote
The following Friday I set out on a more challenging route. I took the bus as far as I could get, and walked the remaining 13 kilometers to the mountain side.

If the first step of my ascend were filmed, it'd likely end up on YouTube under the title: "One small step for a Danish guy... And he already failed". My right leg very literally sinks to just below the knee in freezing mud and melt water. To make matters worse, it happened several handfuls of times. I'm not even 100 meters on the mountain and my clothes were soaked and cold. Can I get a "Fa'en i helvete!"?

But I sure as hell didn't come all this way to turn around after 100 meters. My apparently naïve plan was to get to the top and let the midnight sun dry up my clothes and shoes, while I enjoyed the view, rested peacefully in my tent.

I looked towards the and still see the sun warming my targeted camp site, reassuring me in my attempt to ascend. I estimated that my goal was less than an hour away. If I powered through, just like I had done on the last hike, everything would be better at the top, right? (Spoiler: It wouldn't)

My climb was continential drift slow. I didn't move fast enough to sustain my body heat, especially not with soaked clothes and a dropping temperature.

I'm a stubborn character; Something I usually translate to hard-working and being a fighter. But honestly, sometimes it just makes me plain stupid. There's a big, fat, red line between stupidity and bravery, and I'm not unfamiliar with playing loose and fast with that line. Unfortunately.

In essense: I kept ascending; Almost every step I sank as deep into the snow as I possibly could. I would climb out and move the next few steps, before sinking again. My legs cramp up. I recall literally crawling onto one of the uncovered patches, laying flat down on the cold rocks or dirt. Still not ready to quit.

I continued upwards, enduring as much of the bone-stabbing cold and excruciating cramps I could muster. I reached a point where I my feet were so numb, I had to try to get them warmer. They weren't just "numb"'ish, they felt like two dead-cold rocks strapped onto my legs.

I carried out my first ever arctic mountain striptease, and jumped into my sleeping bag. I look to the top, and fall into despair as I see the sun has gone too low, and heavy clouds crawl over the mountain top like monstrous sky ghosts, lurking for prey.

Turning around

Admitting defeat kept me alive
The sleeping bag didn't do much. I was still shaking, and I face a truth I might finally be ready to admit: The apparent danger increased minute by minute, with dropping temperature and my inability to regain warmth. The already incapacitating cramps were getting worse, and my body temperature kept dropping.

Reason finally pushed pride aside. Remaining in the sleeping bag clearly worsened my already questionable predicament. I threw a skeptic look at my soaked shoes and pants, dreading the moment I'd had to take them back on. But this was indeed an escalating situation. Staying on the mountain was no longer an option.

I counted to five, took a deep breath, jumped out of the sleeping bag - effectively performing my second ever arctic mountain speed striptease - and took the wet, cold clothes back on, faster than you can spell "clapping teeth".

Every time I sank into the snow during the descend, it was almost as if my bones crystallized to their very core. But no matter the cramps and the pain, no matter how heavy my feet were, I kept pushing through the snow. I kept pushing forward. I had to. Constantly telling myself "as long as I'm in motion, I'm okay".

I have never tried such intense pain for such duration. And I hope to never experience it again, and I hope sharing this story will help you avoid it.

My mistakes

When you travel smart, you can enjoy views like this, much more safely
So, how does this even happen? A seasoned traveller with respect for his own limits. I narrowed it down to failing to ask the right questions. I had everything I needed to overnight in a mountain; I just didn't have everything I needed to overnight on an arctic mountain.

I always pride myself in knowing when to not push further. For self-conflicting interests I failed to do that. My stubborness was fighting itself, until I my body finally gave me a crystal clear command to turn around.

I misjudged the midnight sun in the sense that it goes very low, and will disappear behind the mountains for several hours, leaving your camp site in shadow. The temperature drops quickly. The midnight sun also isn't as warm as you'd expect.

I didn't respect the harshness of the arctic. I figured that even if I got cold, I would find a way to stay warm. But once you're on that mountain, you're wet and freezing, and it's only getting worse, you realize that there's little to no things to improvise with. It's not a forrest, it's a snow-covered mountain side. Bare rock, snow and wind. There's nothing to help you.

I was over-confident. Especially after the amazing hike I did the weekend before. I'm curious, and I cross lines all the time to satisfy that curiosity. So it's essentially a never-ending balancing game to hunt experiences, without pushing myself into danger. I misjudged and failed to balance - Luckily, I can walk away smarter;