Chris Raven is in Norway with a mission to walk the Knivskjellodden trail.
By Chris Raven
I have always been intrigued to know what lies at the top of Norway, five hundred miles beyond the Arctic Circle and at the very top of northern Europe. So, here I am at the start of the Knivskjellodden trail and waiting patiently for a storm to pass by. I occupy myself by munching on salty licorice, and having an animated discussion with my brother about polar bears. “Hang on, polar bears and penguins don’t live together in the wild?” I nod, and explain to Simon that polar bears have never even seen a penguin before. “They’re poles apart!” I laugh, flicking a Dunder Salt ball into my mouth. “The polar bear lives in the northern hemisphere and penguins live in the southern hemisphere.” The conversation then focuses on the chances of being mauled by one of these huge carnivores. I pull up my collars and peer out into the mist, half expecting a bear to suddenly appear at my window with its sharp teeth dripping with saliva, but I confidently smile knowing they are 470 miles away on Svalbard.
The road to Nordkapp (Photo by Chris Raven)
Destination: Norway. A beautiful country in Scandinavia famous for the Fjords, the midnight sun, oil, the cheese slicer, the paper clip, Nobel Peace Prize, Vikings, Edvard Munch Expressionist painter – painted The Scream, lefse, a flat bread, fish and A-HA – Famous Norwegian band from the 80’s.
Mission: To walk the Knivskjellodden trail (18km return – starting point just off Highway E69).
Location: Magerøya Island, Finnmark, North Cape, Norway – 3,330 km from London – 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 1,306.3 miles from the North Pole – 71°11’08″ latitude.
Fellow adventurer joining the mission: Simon Raven – a passionate explorer with exceptionally long piano fingers.
Arctic Experience: A little (I once built an igloo in the garden when I was seven).
Clothing & equipment: Scarf, hooded top, walking boots, gloves, binoculars, umbrella and one dollar plastic ponchos (forgot to bring a waterproof coat).
Risk factor: Medium/high (may trip over rock, stray off trail, fall off a cliff or get eaten by a reindeer).
Reindeers on the move. (Photo © Chris Raven)
With the worst of the storm finally over, we emerge from the car and inhale the fresh morning air. We stretch our aching muscles and look in the direction of the North Cape Plateau over a flat, barren, boulder-littered tundra. It’s not as cold as I first thought, approximately 5°C. Fearing the storm may return we throw on extra warm clothes, and remember the wise words of a drunk Swedish gentleman we’d met a few days ago in a bar in Hammerfest. “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Simon puts three pairs of socks on his hands (he forgot his gloves) and finds the start of the trail. The Knivskjellodden will supposedly lead us to roughly 1,500 metres further north than the supposed Nordkapp latitude, and placing us at the true northerly point of Europe. For the people who do actually make it to the Nordkapp Globe Monument, my lips are sealed and your secret is safe with me. Walking across the flat, spongy, treeless tundra, with its sharp craggy rocks and boggy puddles, we hit another patch of mist and drift off the trail at various points. Simon is surprisingly calm considering we could realistically perish out here and struggling to see the orange markers painted on rocks, we are forced to backtrack in a bid not to lose our way in this inhospitable terrain.
Danger of getting lost: Mist making the hike extremely difficult. (Photo © Simon Raven)
After an hour or so we begin to make our descent down to sea level. The mist has completely lifted now, and the views of the silver waters of the Barents Sea and the eerie black cliffs of North Cape are clearly visible. With the temperature slowly rising, we begin to see the presence of more wildlife, and a dozen reindeer’s run by with young fawns hugging their mother’s side. A dotterel sings a warning call from a rock and we are astonished by how unthreatened it is by our presence. To our left, a skua swoops overhead and crashes into a small blue glistening pond. The Arctic seabird flaps its wings and dips its head under the water before going airborne and disappearing over the dark hills.
Views of the Barents Sea. (Photo © Chris Raven)
The clouds overhead begin to look menacing, casting shadows over the landscape. It feels eerie and prehistoric. The orange arrows keep us marching in the right direction, and scrambling down a steep slope we finally make it to the open sea. A large white-tailed eagle launches itself off a jagged ridge, and cranking our necks we watch in awe as this giant bird of prey circles overhead and glides on the air thermals. Making our way cautiously over deep crevices and past little yellow and pink flowers, we eventually arrive at a pebble beach. The markers lead us away from the beach and we scramble over more boulders until we reach the furthest point north. A cormorant skims above the ocean and a flock of seagulls cry out a high-pitched “Caaaa-Caaaaa”. We seem to be the only ones on the trail, and sucking in a lungful of fresh air we enjoy the notion that we are possibly the only people in Norway at this Arctic latitude. It feels like we are the last humans on the planet.
“Look, over there!” Si smiles, his eyes wide with excitement.
In the distance I see a round pink buoy and a spike with a yellow ball stuck on top of a concrete plinth. It’s the finish line of our trek, marking the furthest point north. We glance out across the Arctic Ocean, waves swell and crash against the cliffs. I smile at the realization of where we are on the world map. We are now closer in latitude to Greenland and Alaska, and the island of Svalbard is the next big land mass before reaching the North Pole. I feel privileged to be able to stand here with Simon and experience this amazing Peninsula; just as the great English explorer Richard Chancellor may have done when he passed by this exact point in 1553 in search of the Northeast Passage.
Marking the furthest point north. (Photo © Chris Raven)