This story is about two tough fellows – motivated to their daring journey by a woman. The summer was rainy so Stefan Wiebel could not go paragliding. So as an athletic alternative, his wife Irmi gave him an inflatable boat. Stefan started paddling eagerly on his local river, the Saalach, at Bad Reichenhall. And during these trips, the 42 year old male nurse started to get itchy feet again. Going off on adventures, feeling as free as a bird in the air. Stefan has already cycled to Mont Blanc by bicycle with his paraglider in his bicycle trailor. And he has travelled for four months through South America using public transport, and on another trip cycled 4000 kilometres from Mexico to Costa Rica. That was a while ago. It was high time for a new trip, thought Stephan. Travel fever is a chronic thing.
Stefan Wiebel, known only by his nickname »Wiebei« at home, is given a gift by his colleague, Stefan Wörz: a weekend kayaking on Lake Chiemsee. Stefan Wörz is an experienced paddler who is keen as mustard on longer paddling trips: »It is a brilliant way of moving forward. You can spend days in a boat with your equipment – it all looks so different from the water than from the river bank.«
Kayak beginner meets ski touring newcomer
Stefan Wörz infects Wiebei with his paddle virus. When another friend starts raving about ski touring in Norway (»Endless snow and mountains, often you can start skiing straight from the ocean!«), Wiebei knows exactly where he will be going for his next journey: to the fjords. With ski and kajak. And with his friend Stefan Wörz, who is in fact a newcomer to ski touring, but an expert on sea currents and tidal matters. They christen their project »Go with the tides«. Planned duration of the do-it-yourself cruise north of the Arctic Circle: six weeks!
»I spent hours in front of the computer, studying maps, always looking for the perfect round trip«, says Wiebei. It was a matter of course for the Bavarians that they didn’t want to make use of cars or ferries. Neither did they want lifts. Only the journey there and back was to be by car. »A round trip is not only appealing because of the changing landscape, but also because you arrive where you started«, says Stefan.
Finally, Wiebei discovers the perfect round trip north of the Arctic Circle, in the Lyngenalps. The mountain range extends into the fjords over a length of 60 kilometres, the mountains rise out of the ocean and extend up to 1800 metres in altitude. Amongst experienced mountaineers and ski touring experts, the Lyngen Alps enjoy a reputation demanding respect. For Stefan and Stefan, it is important that the snow will most likely reach all the way down to the water. From boat to tent, from tent to ski – and a few metres of a flat river bank in between will do.
From Reichenhall towards the North Cape
They prepare their dream tour meticulously over many months and paddle on lake Chiemsee no matter what weather. They test the storm features of their folding boats loaded with 150 kilograms equipment and they practice emergency scenarios in case they capsize in the Norwegian Sea. In Wiebeis’ garden, they camp out on the coldest winter night at a temperature of minus 17 degrees, a test for the batteries of their mobile phones and cameras too.
In March 2012, it gets serious: the duo gets going towards Tromsö in a full camper van towing a trailer behind them. The 3300 kilometre drive from Bavaria to just short of the North Cape takes more than three days. When Stefan Wiebel and Stefan Wörz finally arrive at the most northerly university city of the world, they are condemned to play a waiting game. Bad weather, lots of rain, even more fresh snow as well as a fierce wind makes a start impossible. They spend the time waiting in the company of a man from Reichenhall who emigrated to the area and who passes on some more tips for their trip.
And then, off they go. After a last night in the dry, and a warm shower, the men set course towards the Lyngen Alps. They move towards the north, want to pass through the Ullsfjords, circle around the northern tip of the peninsula, and then travel south to Lyngenfjord, crossing it in a westerly, then easterly direction – depending on wind and weather. They are to get out of their boats twice during the round trip, dragging them over the land in order to finally set course towards Tromsö again.
Paddling blind but with GPS
Zero visibility. Short but heavy snow showers sweep over the two Stefans, covering everything in a white nothing. Within seconds they loose their sense of direction. Squalls and waves whip the kayaks around like toys, sleet batters against the paddlers’ faces.
»You get an eerie feeling when you see such a wall of weather coming towards you, because you never know how bad it is going to be«, explains Stefan Wiebel. In case of emergency, the paddlers took throw bags, torches and flares with them. Stefan Wörz: »Falling into the water is a no go. You won’t swim for long in the four degree cold water…«
The GPS rescues them. They follow stubbornly the direction of the instruments – through the Ullsfjords, around the Lenangsöyra peninsula and further to the west coast of the Lyngen Alps. An impressive distance of more than 20 kilometres. As if nothing had happened, storm and snow suddenly stop. »The weather changes all the time up there, and unbelievably fast!«, adds Wiebei.
The visibility is suddenly perfect, the wind comes from behind. In a happy mood again, the paddlers unpack their simple sails. They gain ground again and move forward quickly, past steep cliffs. Then it’s back to the vastness of mountains and ocean. The only thing missing is a suitable place to get off the water. »I would rather not pitch my tent underneath obvious avalanche-prone slopes«, says Stefan Wiebel. In the end, the Bavarians decide to turn around and paddle ten kilometres back to the last camp ground. This time, against the wind. It‘s hours later before they reach a little fishing harbour. They are as hungry as wolves, their hands stiff with cold. Minus 15 degrees are not unusual up here. »Stefan poured warm tea into my gloves – oh well, they were already wet«, remembers Wiebei. Later in the evening, they unpack the boats and pitch the tents. »We were totally knackered«, they say in unison.
My tent, my castle
The search for the campground turns into a daily challenge. The ideal camp should be safe from avalanches and easy to reach by boat. And not just that, the tides need to be taken into account as well as the need for a convenient starting point for a wonderful ski tour. As the tour goes along, the two Stefans perfect camp life: »The dilemma was whether to take the west bank to get the last sun in the evening, or rather the east side where the sun would wake us in the morning. If the sun shone at all...«, explains Stefan Wiebel.
Especially at the beginning of their journey they are pretty lucky with the weather, several dream days in a row create perfect paddle and ski conditions. Not even the two and a half hours spent packing and unpacking every day bother them. Seagulls fly curiously above the campground, reindeer observe the paddling skiers from a safe distance, and even further out in the open sea some whales practise long jumps.
Unpacking and packing is always the same procedure. Both Stefans have waterproof bags close to hand containing a change of clothes, tent and sleeping bags. Tramping down the snow covered ground is the best way to warm up. Standing still means freezing. The question before pitching the tents: You on the left, me on the right? »You need a little bit of privacy, especially when it comes to personal hygienic and so on«, explains Wiebei. »One reason why our friendship did not suffer during those six weeks is probably because each of us had our own tent. Your own little nylon home is unbelievably precious on a tour like this.«
Stefan Wörz nods: »You are outside the whole day, in any wind and weather – it is fantastic when you can lock out the wind in the evening. Heat from cooking in front of the opening to the tent blows in, and it feels a bit like home.«
No soul in sight, and also no mountain rescue
»Keep the distance«, shouts Wiebei to his buddy Stefan. As an experienced ski tourer, he takes over responsibility on the 1355 metre high Nordmannviktinden. The snow is untouched, but also compressed, because there is always a strong wind blowing in the Lyngen Alps. Wiebei is fascinated by the ski tours with fjord view: »You always make your own trail, and there is absolutely no soul in sight. What a different scenery in comparison to the alps, where you are seldom alone. On the other hand, you need to be extra careful – if something happens, there won’t be a mountain rescue team that saves you.«
Hence the need to keep a big distance apart while ascending. In case of an avalanche, only one of them would be buried and the other one can help. But Wiebei will not go that close to danger – his planning is very safety-conscious. »We missed out on a few beautiful hills because they seemed to be a bit tricky«, he says. They also do not conquer the highest mountain along the route, the Jiehkkevárri – days with rain and snow make a safe ascend impossible.
However, if a ski tour works out, it is very special. Divine views over mountains and the sea, and after each descent the Stefans can ski directly to their tents. The last sunlight dries their clothes. The reward: coffee on a snow-covered beach. They hardly meet any other skiers – and if they do, their reputation precedes them: »Aren’t you the ones with the kayaks?« Most of the ski tourers have booked a Ski&Sail journey. The ship takes them comfortably from one starting point to the next. One of those encounters gets Stefan and Stefan a warm shower in the Lyngen Magic Mountain Lodge. »They invited us«, boasts Stefan Wörz. »Not that we needed it – but it felt really good to sit down in an armchair after weeks of sitting on the ground.«
Chocolate – no matter what sort, as long as there is a lot of it!
Other than that, the Bavarians practise minimalism. On the morning of his 49th birthday, Stefan Wörz gets waken up by Wiebei with a big breakfast: Toffifay candy, wholemeal bread and milk coffee. »Yummy! And all those carbohydrates!« grins Stefan on his big day. The food is rationed exactly. The lads are never really hungry, but they are also never really full. Only twice do they have the possibility to buy food. On the top of the list: chocolate. No matter what sort, as long as there is a lot of it!
After 42 days and nights on the mountains and on the sea, Stefan and Stefan enter the city of Tromsö where they are welcomed by a friend with a BBQ on the beach. The report: 355 kilometres, 79.5 hours of paddling on 19 days, 13 days skitouring – and ten days in the tent when it was too windy or snowy to move forward.
Placid Stefan Wörz and lively Stefan Wiebel succeeded as a team. »It was our goal«, explains Wiebei, already dreaming about the next trip. »Maybe even further north, where it is even colder and lonelier. For example to Svalbard...«
150 kilograms of luggage per person
Six weeks on the move with equipment for paddling, skiing and camping – how does that work?
The keys to this logistical challenge are 5.45 m long double-seat folding boats by Klepper which can be adapted to one-seaters. Oversized luggage (skis, ice axe, solar panels for batteries) are on the deck; every centimetre inside the boat is filled. Extract from the food list: per person 46 x travel lunch, 6 kg bacon, 3 kg coffee, 40 chocolate bars. The complete pack list and a description of the tour incl. a map is available online. Stefan Wiebel talks about the tour with a multi media presentation. Find the presentation dates on stefanwiebel.blogspot.de.
11. März 2013, Interview: Kathrin Thoma-Bregar