12.12.2019

POLAR NIGHT EXPEDITION LAPONIA - TRAINING (2)

See previous post for an introduction of the trip idea, equipment and the team!

from Valentine Drouillard Dr, @Les.Engeges

We are aiming to reach the North Cape from northern Finland. Departure on December 27, 2019. At this time of year, it will be a total and icy night, punctuated by northern lights. Not a single ray of sunshine for three weeks. Temperatures will range from -15°C to -40°C. A polar night and amphibious expedition. We will therefore have to orientate ourselves at night, through snow-covered plains and forests, mountains, lakes and rivers. At the end of a 200 km journey we will reach the sea. That's when things will get tough!


TRAINING SESSIONS (2)

1. LOIRE RIVER by NIGHT

To reach this most northern point of Europe we will have to cross a last inlet, with our 60 kg of equipment per person. To overcome this challenge, we have chosen to rely on our packraft. And this weekend, we are testing this choice in a representative environment: the wild French river par excellence, the Loire.

Midnight

The principle is simple. A starting point, a destination point, several kilometers apart. You must connect the two points, to the compass by walking straight ahead, whatever the obstacles. Fields, forests, brambles, rivers. Draw the azimuth despite difficulties, lights off. We learn to orient ourselves at night, anxious to prepare for this polar night that awaits us for our next expedition, starting on December 28.

4 AM

We inflate our packrafts and lights them with garlands. Launching is difficult because the shoreline is steep and the cournat carries the boat away as soon as it is launched. We load our bags, and start paddling.  Eric and Thomas in the Anfibio Delta MX, Maxime and Valentin in the MRS Adventure X2. Forward! Forward! 

The Loire offers us its wild atmosphere. Its wooded banks, deserted islands and sandbanks. From time to time a fish jumps in front of the packraft and makes us startle. The lights of the city glow on the horizon. The sound of the water rocks us. We are surprised by the poetry of this river. The packrafts shine like fireflies and the atmosphere is magical.  But the cold quickly numbs us and it is in transit that we finally disembark, 200 m from the car. We deflate the packraft and fold them carefully, repressing some chills.



2. THE ATLANTIC OCEAN

Night 1

We leave the camp at 11pm for a quarry flooded by the sea. The place is worthy of a movie set. Dark, standing water enclosed by high, steep, vertical buttresses. Above, at night, the clouds and the moon, which bathes the quarry with its halo of light. We feel tiny.



Once this moment of poetry is over, we return to the concrete things. Our three raft packages (one Anfibio Delta MX and two MRS Adventure X2) are inflated and illuminated. Facing the water, we are already in order of battle. 

We dock the empty pulka to our smallest raft pack, the MRS Adventure X2, designed for one person. We use a short strap so that the pulka is as close as possible to the ship. This will make it more manageable and limit its pulling force on the boat. 
One of us takes to the water and starts paddling. The raft pack goes to sea and the pulka follows. It floats. Good news! We repeat the experience by adding weight to the pulka and loading 40 kg at the front of the raft pack. The coupling is slower but also more stable.
On this smooth sea everything works. What will happen in the event of rough seas? In preparation for the test the next day we are experimenting with a more appropriate training. We grab a few carabiners and ropes. 6 knots of capstan later and the three raft packs are stowed together. The most massive of them, a true flagship, is in the middle. He'll take the weight on board. On both sides, the two lighter packrafts will act as wingers with a simple paddle.



It's not a catamaran but it works! We are stable, mobile and this composite boat is easy to handle. We quickly realize that using a single paddle instead of a double paddle has another advantage. Water no longer runs off in the raft pack and on our gloves. We are relieved: in Lapland, in a cold atmosphere, these drops would have quickly frozen on our hands, which would have caused serious "inconveniences".

Night 2

We are still by the fire when we get equipped. It's 11:00. It is dark. The thermometer displays 6°C. The wind blows to bend the trees and we can hear in the distance the waves crashing on the beach. It is without much conviction that we are putting on our goretex for this frontal launch project. We know we have a beating to do. We know that the ocean will push us back to the beach. Which we'll still try to cross, no matter what.

These conditions are much more difficult than what we will find in Lapland. But we are in training and training must be difficult. The wind is so strong that we have to raise our voice to communicate. It's not a big deal. Everyone knows what he has to do, everyone knows his mission. 


However, the wind makes things difficult and it will take us 30 minutes to assemble our three packrafts and pulka in one piece. After a fail in a massive wave we took a second round with the following resolutions:

(1) We need to be more persistent, more offensive and move faster between waves. We have to pass them in record time and get on our packraft and paddle with all our strength. 
(2) We must avoid at all costs that our boats fill with water because we will be nailed to the place. In the next round we manage the paddling way better and acting as a team. With these experiences we will us ready for our expedition in Lappland.

How to iluminate your packraft? See our tipps and tricks section!