It was last year taking an old Army friend, whom I served with, through his Level Three Emergency First Aid Course we started to talk about a World War Two Special Operation I was interested in. It was the 1943 attack on the heavy water plant at Rjurkan, Norway by six Norwegian members of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) made famous by the movie ‘The Heroes Of Telemark’ and in order to halt the Germans making the atomic bomb, it was one of the most successful Special Operations of World War Two. As we were chatting away Phil mentioned that he goes to Norway each year to the Telemark area. Phil is highly qualified in bushcraft and surviving in arctic conditions, having been working in Norway since 1983 with the British Army. I was then asked if I fancied coming out, I immediately said ‘yes’.
I work training people in anything from basic first aid to catastrophic bleed management, also working as a remote areas medic. Apart from working in the UK in the mountainous regions of Wales and Scotland, most of my work has taken me to the desert; Algeria, Tunisia, the UAE, Qatar, Egypt and Iraq. This would be the first in an arctic region.
Tenth of February this year I arrived at Oslo Airport to meet Phil and some Danish friends of his, to travel to a place in the Norwegian wilderness called Gala, a six hour journey from Oslo in the car.
Sunday morning was getting used to cross country skiing, something I had not done since I was in Austria in 1996!!!!
This was my first trip to Norway, to me it is a beautiful country, but a truly hostile environment to work in.
Through Phil and Jan (a member of the Danish Army), over the next seven days I was taught how to work in this cold environment and also taught basic survival skills. For them both I ran my first cold weather Level Three Outdoor First Aid Course.
When you work in this area, either or an expedition or just cross country skiing, you have to make sure your clothing and equipment is in top order, also yourself.
For this I am now going to put down bullet points under the headings on how best to work in this condition, to some of you, you may know this, to others it may help you…
Food For Fuel
- You can burn 400/500 calories per hour doing cross country skiing, take into account having a backpack on with about 25lbs of kit in it for survival… Breakfast was hot porridge, coffee and water so you don’t dehydrate.
- “Nutty bag” – break up chocolate bars & chocolate raisins and put into a bag to eat on the go, then put it in your jacket so it doesn’t freeze – nothing worse than biting into frozen chocolate!
- Flask of tea or hot chocolate, always a great moral booster.
- Water – there are two trains of thought on this. If you are carrying it, make sure the bottle is not filled to the top as it will freeze, also make sure the bottle has something wrapped around it, you can get bottle covers, I used an old arctic sock, still worked.
- One thing I was taught was put Ribena in the bottle but, with hot water – very refreshing and also the human body does not waste energy heating it up. Tastes great when you have some with your “nutty bag”.
- A pack of sandwiches for when you stop is a must.
- Evening dinner – stock up on pasta, pizza, any high carbs, you will burn it off the next day.
The Right Clothing
- Socks – on the Tuesday we had the first day of sunshine, so went for a six mile cross country ski around the lake (first time skiing with a pack) I had on an old pair of arctic socks. On my right foot I had an old injury of a fracture at the top of the toe. The cold penetrated the sock and all I can explain is that for the past two miles skiing with the most excruciating pain. It was straight down the shop to buy some 85% pure wool Norwegian socks.
- Always wear your clothes in layers, have a long sleeve wool t-shirt as your base layer, as they don’t sweat.
- When you stop layer up straight away and get hot drinks in you.
- Hats – make sure no wind can get through and make sure the ears are covered up to avoid frost nip, which can lead to frost bite – more on that later. Carry a spare one for when you stop or lose one.
- Gloves – Inners and outers, always carry spares – great morale boosters if you take off sweat soaked gloves or after you have fallen over .
- I was skiing in a Berghaus light weight goretex jacket , this was due to it was snowing everyday (except the Tuesday). At one point on the Thursday, it was -17 including the wind chill factor, so it was hood up as well.
- Carried in my daysack was a fleece, with spare gloves and hats and a stow pocket North Face bodywarmer.
- Sun Glasses – When it was really bad I had on ski goggles, better weather I prefer (and highly recommend glacier glasses) the best ones are the Vuannet Glacier as worn by Daniel Craig In the Austria scene in Spectre, but if you haven’t got around £300 then you can get them for £80! The eyes can get snowblindness from the reflection from the snow.
One of the many tips that Phil taught me, from when he was working with the Norwegian Army in the 80’s, was that on the way back to camp they would slow down skiing so that they did not cool down too fast and then sweat to cause a chill. All these lessons are valuable In this harsh environment, if you fail to take advice from the people who are experts, then you will suffer severe consequences.
First Aid In Remote Areas
As we were skiing along (especially on the Thursday when the weather was horrendous) you are looking for places to make emergency shelters should a medical emergency arise. Treating a casualty with a fractured leg, you have to consider not just the fractured leg but, hypothermia setting in. Do you build a shelter to await medical evacuation or make an improvised stretcher to carry the casualty to a suitable place where helicopter evacuation can be brought in. Medical conditions such as asthma can be severe in cold environments due to the cold air affecting the lungs. In these environments it is advisable to always carry a comprehensive first aid kit, I recommend highly the Mountain Leader First Aid Kit from Lifesystems. I am sometimes shocked as to how many people go into the mountains without having a hearty breakfast, you are burning up calories and you are also more likely to start going down with hypothermia, which can be fatal. Prevention is better than cure, hot meals at all moments.
One of the things you will find in Norway in the wilderness are Lavuu Shelters, where you can build a fire inside to keep warm. These shelters are marked on the maps, so always good to note where they are on the tracks for not only an emergency but also a break or for shelter from the snow.
One of the things Phil and Jan taught me was how to make a fire, an important part of survival (the others being food, water, shelter and a positive mental attitude).
Traditional methods were used, including a flint and steel. If you watch Ray Mears and Bear Grylls it takes minutes but when it’s cold, the wood is frozen, you have been outside getting strips of silver birch and “old man’s beard “ off the trees when it’s snowing, blowing a gale and your feet are getting like blocks of ice it’s a lot different, it takes ages!
Fire is great for morale, drying out wet gloves you’ve dropped in the snow, thawing out after you’ve fallen over, wasted energy getting up and got frustrated and getting your feet warm again after you’ve stopped cross country skiing.
Equipment To Carry In Your DaySack
- Spare gloves and hat.
- Bothy bag, gortex bivvy, roll mat and light weight sleeping bag.
- Spare socks and gortex socks
- Flask, chocolate and food.
- Gortex trousers
- Fleece jacket.
- Head torch and spare batteries.
- First Aid Kit, lipsall and suncream.
- Map and compass.
- Powerpack for your mobile phone.
My experience in Norway was fantastic. I learned loads about working in such an environment and self administration, from how to cope with emergencies out there and how to treat casualties in a cold weather environment.
I will admit I found the cross country skiing hard work, well, especially the downhill bit with a pack on!
Unfortunately I could not get to the heavy water plant from where I was, it was during my training out here I was thinking that on February 17th, 1943 the six Norwegian SOE Saboteurs parachuted into what was the worst winter in years and had to ski to their target through snow storms, not using the modern gear we have today.
Next for me is to travel to Scotland to Drumintoul Lodge in the Cairngorms to see where they trained for the operation, walking the hills in period dress, then to follow in the route of the saboteurs in Norway, both this summer, then next year on the 76th anniversary.
This week’s post comes courtesy of Julian Woodall, a lover of the outdoors and a remote areas medic.
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