Marathon running has been put on hold for the time being.
The last time I excitedly went into a rant about the race, 78° North in Spitsbergen and how incredible it’s going to be (whilst on crutches) a mountain guide replied “you can forget about it”. Something I was refusing to even consider, never mind accept. Well that was it.
I thought that choosing a sport to fall in love with was a pretty safe option. I wasn’t expecting to have to ‘put it on hold’ so quickly and I definitely wasn’t expecting to get my heart crushed in the process.
As I’m sat by the window staring out into a snowstorm in this magical place, all the memories from the past few months came swirling back to me. This experience has made me into a person that I am proud to be! I can’t help but remain smiling even though my life has been put on hold - so to speak.
I guess now you’re all curious to know how I got myself in to this predicament. Inevitable really, with my recurring string of injuries. Luckily for me I’m one of these people with the belief that everything happens for a reason and good things are sure to come. This is nothing but a minor set back in an otherwise long and adventurous life.
So here we go. The story of how I went from ‘The girl who runs 28 miles a week, to the girl who’s been hopping about on one leg for the past 2’.
It was a Sunday, following Nordic tradition I wanted so badly to take a hike. Here in Norway, Sunday is family day. Everything closes. They grab their boots or their cross country skis and head out for a day of thrilling adventure in this magnificent Arctic land. It was the most glorious day of the season, the sun was so epically lighting up the fjord and I was in work, bursting with energy ready for 3pm to hit so that I could dart up the mountain Storhaugen and sit on the snow covered rocks just in time for the sun to set behind the mountains. Pretty soon the sun won’t set in the Arctic, I just wanted to take it all in while I had the chance. It’s pretty overwhelming. Everything is overwhelming here, I can’t take a trip into the closest city without getting all teary eyed, it’s just unexplainable what this place does to me.
Getting up the mountain was all too easy that day, even with the large amounts of new snowfall. I’m fitter than I thought. I don’t know why it came as such a surprise to me. Mountain Storhaugen is noted the safest. Well on one side, many people have died up there simply due to misjudgement. (falling over the edge…whoops).
The mildest winter in over 150 years has forced avalanches to be at peak danger level the past weeks, and the number of deaths are fastly taking count. But the chances of an avalanche occurring, this side of Storhaugen is so low risk that it’s almost not possible. The concept of avalanches terrify me. Now, I’m not about to tell you all about this epic story of how I survived a slide, because very few people live to tell that tale. I just thought I’d fill you with some local knowledge as to how dangerous it actually is around here. It’s not for the faint hearted.
I remember sitting there in the mist of it all, the sun was setting, I was this insignificant, tiny human sitting in amongst the silence of this mountain, a mountain full of personality and danger, me alone, with a full view of one of the world’s most spectacular landscapes, all thought evaporated from my mind as the sun disappeared behind the Lyngen Alps. It was an unforgettable moment. A moment that I was extremely lucky to experience.
The next few hours is still a bit of a blur to me, in actual fact it still feels like I’m stuck in this horribly realistic dream. This could have been so much worse.
Feeling rejuvenated and high on life itself I strapped my snow shoes back on and attempted the climb back down. It’s hard to judge which way is safest, or simplest. It’s steep. I was bracing myself for quite a few falls but I hadn’t considered there’d be one fall that may corrupt the next few weeks of my life.
I started following ski tracks, all tracks will lead me home, to the lodge. I got back to the tree line fairly prompt and thought, at least I was half way down. But this is where the difficulty started, I could no longer see the lodge. Snow was getting deeper, I had to venture off the tracks as they were becoming too steep to follow. I fell. I pulled myself back up. I fell again. I was starting to get a little frantic and frustrated about this on-going situation but I continued on, completely unaware that the worst was yet to come.
I remember thinking, it’s going to be so good to come home, to put my feet up, relax. Beside a roaring fire. Not far to go. Doing my best attempt at remaining calm.
It came to be so steep that I had no option than to try and shuffle down on my bum! I pulled myself back onto my feet, holding on to a tree, trying carefully to plan my route. The next few steps were crucial. The snow caved beneath my feet and all before I had a chance to control it, I was stuck, up to my chest in snow. I couldn’t pull myself out, my arms were also collapsing into the snow, there was this moment where I was just.. swimming. I took one of my snow shoes off and put it behind my head in order to pull myself out properly, it was a struggle but I managed, I had to. Without realising that I’d wriggled so much that my foot came out of my shoe and there was me, foot covered in ice. it was -10° down on the coast that day, I don’t even want to know how much colder it was up in the mountain. My sock had froze solid in a matter of seconds. I took my ski gloves off and tried frantically to search for my missing boot down this 5ft hole. It was well and truly buried. I managed to dig, with numb hands until I found it but it was so frozen and stuck that getting it out wasn’t an option. At least not with frozen fingers.
I wrapped my foot up in a cardigan and tied it inside the bottom of my celopets, I put one snow shoe under my arm, threw my backpack around me, grabbed my poles and attempted to move forward. Highly concerned for my left foot as I dragged it on through the snow. It was froze solid. It felt like dragging a brick.
I didn’t want to call for help. I put it off for quite a while before noticing the darkness approaching all too quickly and I simply couldn’t get down without the help of somebody. I still hadn’t realised the severity of it all. I thought it was just a case of getting someone to run up and give me a new boot so that I could walk home! I called Charlotte, she answered immediately even though she was mid shift, I could tell by her tone of voice that she was worried, they’d expected me to be home hours ago. Anyway I told her that I needed help. My battery was dying, I couldn’t see the lodge, I had lost all sense of direction, I was freezing cold, I couldn’t feel my foot, or my hands, I was beginning to feel faint, I was covered in blood after unknowingly ripping my stitches from a nasty bread knife cut a few days previously. Basically, I was in the shit.
Trying to sound calm and fine on the phone was hard, my voice was beginning to shake and I was trying so hard not to cry as I announced “This might sound silly…. but I think I need help…”
Before I knew it, Graham (my boss/experienced mountain guide) was straight on the case. He took over and asked me where I was, my surroundings were literally just trees and snow, I could be anywhere! He told me that he couldn’t come looking for me in the hope that I would keep moving. Very smart of him to do so, because… I did keep moving. I have no idea how I kept moving, but I did.
Then he called back, he told me to look out for his head torch through the trees, and to listen out for whistles. I was panicking a lot at this stage because I couldn’t hear or see anything for the next 10-20minutes. The longest minutes of my life.
Apparently there was this proud moment back at the lodge where Charlotte and Martin were stood outside watching Graham and Florian (other experienced mountain guide) strap on their skis and set off, up the mountain in search of the lost team member.
Finally! The moment that my heart almost stopped just from sheer and honest relief. I saw the head torch, and I saw these strong men come to my rescue. Graham grabbed a hold of me and sat me down, wrapped me up in layers of coats, Florian wrapped my bloody hand up and took hold of my frozen foot. I was shivering like mad, feeling like I was about to loose consciousness. No part of this felt in any way real to me, it felt like I was apart of a movie. Graham got on the radio to Pernilla who was following close behind with a spare boot and hot drinks. He gave her our exact location and a heads up on the situation.…. By this time I was passed out, I was slightly confused as to why there was an extra person approaching in the distance.
They tested my consciousness and got me back down to safe ground. To where the guys were waiting for my return. The sight of them was enough to make me cry, after being brave and withholding the floods all this time.
They got me sat down and out of my clothes, Flo then inspected my foot to see quite obviously that it was frostbitten. They then immediately started the defrosting process. It was all very incredible to watch. My initial thought was, ‘Oh God, I’m going to lose my foot’. It was bad, I was a little terrified even though everyone was trying to make me believe that it wasn’t as bad as it seemed.
When my foot was taken out of the pot of water, it was the darkest purple. It hurt like hell, the next 48 hours of my life were excruciating. I’ve never even imagined pain like that never mind experienced it.
Days passed, it’s a waiting game. Even still. 2 weeks on and I’m still no further forward to knowing how long this is going to take to heal. I’m on friend - banter basis with the doctor, my visits are becoming that regular.
So that’s the story of how my dream was shattered in an instant. How one simple decision can effect your life massively. How I came to realise how fortunate I really am. Even though I can’t walk and I can’t work. I’m just glad that I WILL be able to walk again, I am alive. Never again will I take anything in my life for granted and I have learned the true importance of friendship.
I have a lot to be thankful for.
It may be a while before I take on Storhaugen again. Despite the fact I could have lost my life to it, this mountain will always have a strong place in my heart.
Charlotte’s taking one for the team and doing our race solo. She’s going to do so well. I’ll be sat at the finishing line waiting to cheer her on! Svalbard will be a massive adventure in itself, I’m still as excited as I was 5 months ago, just for different reasons. Bring it on.
For me in the meantime though, it’s time to relax, it’s time to seek greater knowledge and to make the most of the rest of the season. With or without the use of my left foot.
“sånn er livet” in norwegian is the expression of acceptance of misfortune. A phrase we’ve become all too aware of this stirring winter. And to most of us “that’s life.”