The call came three weeks before departure. ‘Can you join our expedition to recreate the epic tale of the Heroes of Telemark? It’s a 9-day ski tour following the exact path WWII sabotage operatives used to slow Hitlers growing capacity to make the nuclear weapons.’
By that end of the day I secured a locum, booked flights, moved meetings and most importantly got the all clear from my family.
The kit list arrived. I had 90% of it sitting in my loft not used in anger since the 2009 Yukon Arctic Ultra. Endurance adventures have been on ice since the arrival of my two boys. Finally, we are putting our head up…
The story of the Heroes of Telemark is Norwegian legend. So who were these hard men that 74 years ago shook the Nazis’? Norway was occupied. The Norwegian King and parliament were safely in the England and 60,000 Norwegians had fled the German occupation. Many signed up to fight for their homeland with the British forces.
In 1942 the Allies were struggling. Churchill wanted to send a message to Hitler and Germany that they were not invincible. The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was created to do just that. The attack made on the Vermok heavy water plant ‘Operation Gunnerside’ was later evaluated by SOE as the most successful act of sabotage in all of World War II.
An advanced party of four young Norwegian men: Jens-Anton Poulsson, Arne Kjelstrup, Knut Haugland and Claus Helberg were selected to be dropped into Norway behind enemy lines by parachute. Their job was to remain in hiding and perform reconnaissance for the destruction of the heavy water plant in Vermok. During the worst winter for decades they survived near starvation to greet six more saboteurs who dropped in four months later. Their hiding place? The Hardangervidda. The highest mountain plateau in northern Europe. With temperatures often dipping to -20C and ferocious winds this is an extreme environment.
Our team for the expedition consisted of six ‘punters’ (including me) and four special forces veterans. Our two guides were ex-military and had special forces backgrounds with recent experience in the conflicts we have seen in the news recently.
What a team to travel in this extreme environment with. We covered 70km on skis carrying all our food and equipment, stayed in the exact mountain refuges, built snow caves and slept in them and learnt in detail the true story of the Heroes of Telemark.
So what did I Iearn?
1. The team is everything. We could not have achieved our objective safely and on time without working as a team. Navigation, hut life, first aid, snow cave collapses and a multitude of small but vital jobs all contributed to the group having an awesome experience. It reminded me of the value of surrounding yourself with a quality team.
2. Personal limits are an illusion. As our rapport grew with the special forces lads and we learnt more about the HOT tale, it was clear that many of us had set personal limits on what was achievable that were grounded in fiction. The truth about what humans can do when it matters is, in fact, the greatest story. In summary, separate reality from fiction, have a clear mission and commit.
3. Connecting to nature is the most powerful decompression strategy there is. In our hyper-connected world it’s so easy to lose sight of this. We had no phone service for 3 days. Bliss!
What is your next challenge?
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