In early April 2018, Julien Colonge and Anthony Calvet, two young semi-pro skiers, set off on a voyage to north Norway for their « Combø Norway » experiment. The idea of the project was to mix ski and kayak, allowing them to access by sea some of the best but inaccessible cross-country ski locations. And to accomplish that, the new Yakkair Full HP3 inflatable kayak was the perfect vehicle, having enough space inside for two passengers along with all the equipment needed for climbing and skiing, and being able to resist the extreme conditions they would encounter. While we wait for the film of their trip to come out this autumn, here's Julien Colonge's astonishing account of their ultra-extreme raid.
After touching down in Tromsø, we set off to the island of Kvaløya, a few kilometres to the west of town. We’d used Google Maps to identify two fjords (Ersfjord and Nordfjord) that seemed promising for combining ski and kayak. But before we could disappear into the mountain wilderness we needed to get a proper understanding of the snow conditions, especially regarding the avalanche risk. So we climbed Mount Buren, an easy enough mountain overlooking Ersfjord, to evaluate the avalanche risk for ourselves. It turned out to be extremely high (4 on a scale of 1 to 5) : a layer of ice, acting as a kind of natural slide, had been covered by more than a metre of snow before we arrived. This meant adapting our plan and route to avoid any slopes steeper than 30°.
So we prepared and loaded the kayak ready to explore Ersfjord and find ourselves a route with slopes not too steep or exposed. Unfortunately the shores of the fjord were very steep with plenty of evidence of recent avalanches. We were forced to abandon any idea of skiing this fjord. But we were happy enough to explore in the kayak, admiring the stunning scenery and seeing if we couldn’t fish something interesting from the crystal clear water. Anthony hooked a very nice looking cod that would be perfect for our dinner.
After spending a chilly night watching the aurora borealis from our tent, we decided to try our luck in the Nordfjord. The weather was perfect, and there were some slabs of ice covering the water at the end of the fjord. We decided to cross the lake to reach an old pontoon we’d made out through the binoculars, and then climb the Rødfjellet, a small mountain with few signs of possible trouble, covered with a good layer of fresh powder with no trace of human activity. Our drone had got too cold the previous night and refused to take off and take photos ! Never mind, the beauty of the spot was already well imprinted in our memories.
After such a beautiful day, when we didn’t see a single person, we decided to go to the Lyngen Alps, a mountainous area well known for its snow corridors running right down into the sea. All the same, some people we know who were already there told us that conditions were extremely dangerous : whole sides of mountain avalanching down at the slightest provocation, making most of our possible exploration routes unworkable. So we drove on as far as the village of Russely, at the northern end of the peninsula, where the slopes are less steep, but where there’s much more serious sea swell. This particular day the swell was big enough to tempt a few surfers out on the water, making the most of some decent waves breaking at the foot of beautiful snowy mountains. Our kayak stayed warm and comfy in its bag this day.
The next day we moved on to the village of Svensby where, just to the south, the peninsula is separated by a perfect, sheltered fjord. That’s where the “Godmother corridor” is, the most renowned Lyngen Alp corridor, a 1200 metre gash between two steep mountain walls, and only accessible by boat ! The plan was to cross the fjord and explore the possibilities on those slopes. A few serious warning signs of imminent avalanche had us quickly re-tracing our steps. After re-crossing the fjord, and narrowly avoiding a capsize setting off, we set up camp just in front of the famous “corridor”, planning to check that out the next day. Unfortunately we were descended on by a sudden snow storm, making every activity dangerous because of the lack of visibility. The weather forecast for this area for the following days was even more complicated, so we completely changed our plan and instead packed up and went to the Lofoten Islands, further south, where the forecast was much more reasonable.
During my first trip to the Lofoten Islands in 2014, I had already identified some interesting looking summits that would only be accessible by boat. Exactly what we were looking for ! First objective : Langstrand mountain, on the opposite side of Austnesfjord from the town of Svolvaer. Next morning the car wouldn’t start, so we set off in the kayak direct from the campsite, turning a jolly 30 minute paddle into a 3 hour work-out into a freezing wind. A few sea eagles were circling the boat, and the view of the mountains all around was totally breath-taking ! Arriving finally at the point our climb should be starting from, we couldn’t help noticing that all the signs pointed to dangerous avalanche risk. Time to activate Plan B, so we climb up nearby Geitgallien, a classic peak in the same mountain range. Despite the thick wetsuits we’d worn we were both frozen through, it took a good 30 minutes to start feeling our extremities again. Anyway, our decision evidently paid off, and we were soon able to leave our mark on the virgin snows of Geitgallien’s south corridor. The return trip in the kayak was much easier, the wind had dropped and the outgoing tide carried us gently back to our destination.
We travelled on to Henningsvaer, one of the most typical fishing villages in the islands. The drying racks were full of cod at this time of year, filling the air with a fairly interesting smell. We’d seen there was another corridor, opposite the village across the fjord, and again only accessible by sea. While we were loading and embarking the kayak a sea lion came to say hello. We paddled a few kilometres along the coast, then the swell started to build, and we no longer had the cover of the island where the village was. The coast was incredibly rocky and there was nowhere at all to get a bit of shelter. This meant abandoning the expedition and returning to our start point. As usual, we had a Plan B, so we headed off to another corridor, on the west face of nearby Festvågtinden. For once the snow conditions were perfect, and I can tell you, skiing virgin snow with a turquoise sea backdrop was a special pleasure, a real privilege !
After these incredible few days, the temperature was steadily climbing in north Norway,. The snow cover was getting very wet and heavy, avalanches crashing down left, right and centre. There was even rain forecast for the last few days of our stay. That didn’t stop us trying a final destination, the island of Senja. The fjords are open to the west side and there was some serious swell. Not the best spot for the kayak, what wouldn’t we have given to swap it for a couple of surf boards for an hour or so ! After a really good hike on the slopes of Segla, the crowning summit of the island, we had to admit the reality of life and nature, Spring was very much in the air. Time to head back to Tromsø, exhausted after 2 intense weeks, but overjoyed by the whole experience.
Like every trip for any kind of outside activity, we were constantly having to change plan because of changing and changeable weather conditions. The snow and swell made our decisions pretty complicated, but it was a total privilege to have been involved in successfully completing the project ! We came back with our heads full of fantastic memories, and just as many plans for combining skiing with plenty of other activities !
Photo & Text credits to Julien Colonge