When I applied for the Balthasar Award I thought it was a mere pipe dream that I might actually be selected and be able to carry out the couple of things that have been on my bucket list for many years. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be possible for me to go dog-sledding in the Arctic Circle or ice climbing at Kandersteg International Scout Centre, let along chuck in a little bit of touring around Europe and ANZAC Day at Gallipoli to top it off. As a lover of the outdoors this was a prime opportunity to spread my wings and partake in some adventurous activities I might otherwise not have had the opportunity to experience.
There is nothing like spending a week in Switzerland, waking up in the morning to a postcard-like view out your window with snow everywhere. These were prime conditions for skiing at Kandersteg, fresh powder and minimal stacks but the long runs were an absolute killer on the legs! The staff members at Kandersteg were great, very friendly, smiling faces, forever playing jokes on a young Aussie travelling by herself but always up for a beer down at the local “Das Alps”.
Ice climbing was a whole other experience in itself, my first challenge was trying to break the language barrier with the instructor – thank god for my school-girl German! I’m still not sure if I was saying “purple monkey dishwasher” or “What do I do now” in German but I managed… just! Crampons firmly attached and ice picks at the ready, looking up at a 40 metre ascent was a little daunting to say the least… “but hell, I’d rock climbed before, how hard could this be?” I swung once and the pick sat awkwardly in the ice, I swung again and the pick ricocheted off the ice and my hand slammed into the cold hard surface. Third time lucky? Success! I stepped my feet onto the ice and felt like I may fall at any time in this position. I felt a little ridiculous only a couple of feet off the ground, but with both my feet and tools in the ice, the only direction to move was upwards. I was amazed at how quickly the blood began to drain out of my forearms… my only option was to start climbing faster to get to the top quicker. Victory was mine and I was hooked! A day of climbing left my body feeling like death warmed up but the experience was well worth any pain.
The weather in the Arctic Circle in Sweden was a lot colder than the Alps of Switzerland, with temperatures averaging anywhere between -15 and -35 degrees Celsius. But apparently these were perfect conditions for the northern lights and dog-sledding. After being introduced to the dogs and learning how to harness the team it was time to learn the art of dog-sledding. Practice was had behind a snowmobile to get the ball rolling with only a couple of near misses and a rather friendly Santa Claus (or “Larry Christmas” as they call him) cheering us on. Picture this… four Alaskan huskies are frantically barking, jumping up and down and sideways, their born-to-run bodies eager to pull the sled that is hitched behind them. The barking comes to a halt as soon as the sled’s brake is released, as the sled pulls forward the yelping is replaced with the whoosh of the wind and the sled carving the snow. Roughly 30-40km is covered per day and the dogs need as much help as possible from their musher to make the distance bearable.
A great week was spent in the middle of nowhere, where the Sami people reside to follow the reindeer. Small lodges are stayed in and saunas and fires are the only thing that keeps us warm during the freezing nights. The wood needs to be chopped, the water fetched from the well and meals need to be prepared not only for us but also for our dog teams. Put aside the frozen hair that breaks off, your skin sticking to metal and an ice axe that can provide a deathly blow when becoming lodged into someone’s buttocks.. and what makes it all worth it is the companionship between you and your team, the thrill and adventure and the lights that launch themselves through the sky each night.
The memories from these particular activities will be forever lasting and I made some great mates along the way. The added bonus for me was that through the people I met along the way, I had to opportunity to go hiking across frozen lakes to wilderness lodges and watch brown bears in the wild in Scandinavia. This trip changed my life and has given me a new outlook generally and I can’t wait to pick up my bags and go travelling for some more adventure in the near future.
If you’re a lover of the outdoors and adventurous activities then I strongly recommend applying for the Balthasar Award for the experience of a lifetime!