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Writer - julien Ondedieu Pictures - julien Ondedieu Developement - Ludovic Drocourt Proofreader - Nicolas Lelarge

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Vake is probably the most difficult race of snowkite that exists: six hundred kilometers north of the Arctic Circle on the snow, through canyons and hills, icy lakes and rivers. Two riders team travel the two hundred kilometers race across the fifteen checkpoints that cover the distance. without assistance, except maps and GPS. Alex and Julien are lucky to be on the starting line in 2013. Sometimes sliding at top speed pulled by their kites, sometimes touring slowly when no wind. Towing their sledge from seven a.m. till ten p.m., as long as the regulation and the polar light allow it. Except that the GPS trackers has to stay still in the bivouac, often in the middle of nowhere in this polar desert.


Adventure


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ne afternoon of November the telephone rings. Alex informs me about a great race, the logical following of our adventure towards Kilpisjarvi last year. The event is planned in April, and the weeks before we trained a lot. Flysurfer, Norrona, Cumulus, and MX3 supports us with enthusiasm. Bags are ready, our plane leaves Paris and the next day, at Kirkenes, the organisation coach comes to bring the participants to Berlevag. We pile up in a big gymnasium for an ultimate check of kites and equipment, everywhere brains smoke to know what to remove, and what is missing? During the dinner the race meeting puts the set, outside it is the snowstorm and it will blow all night long.

On the starting line, in the middle of nowhere, with strongs gusts, we choose to start with our small kites, six and ten meters for safety. The green flag is raised far off but we do not see it in the blizzard, we hear nothing but the wind, we just see everybody rushing towards the line. Kites touch, lines get tangled, some teams are fair play, others doesn’t respect the race rules.


The wind sprays snow everywhere, then it decreases halfway between checkpoint one and two. Once kites changed, with bigger sizes we go upwind fast and catch up several teams, but the first are far. away The GPS indicates the second checkpoint is less than a kilometer. away As soon as we pass the checkpoint, the wind fall again, we follow the South by trying to get up on the hills. The first canyon to cross gets closer while the wind still gets out of breath. Alex passes but i can’t. I continue ski touring and we lose one hour in the race. On other rim, at the top the big kites fly again, following the South. We move forward since hours and the hunger torments, cereal bars seem very thin, the GPS indicates checkpoint three in one and a half kilometer. Days decline and the wind disappear then we decide to set up tent and sleeping bags While the snow melt on the stove to rehydrate the dry couscous and tartiflette. Then it takes twenty liters of snow to do three liters of water which will quench us tomorrow. It is soon eleven PM, we fall asleep in the freezing atmosphere of the tent.


In the morning the steam escapes from the cooking melts the hoarfrost on the walls of the tent, we dress, eat, then tidy up. Speed3 19m² and 21m² pull us pleasantly up to the checkpoint three then towards the canyon of Langdalen. Here no wind, we go down then, the ski skins stuck under skis, in T-shirt and the side zips of my pants wide open , I move up hard, to the nausea. Alex is in front of and I pull the heavies sledges...with the kites he usually pulls both. We rise rather fast, we caught up five teams this morning. At the top, on the other rim the wind blows hardly and we leave at top speed, the screen of the GPS shows often more than forty kmh, we slide to south-southwest. By going down the hills of Davgecearu there is neither track nor wind. It was a strategic error to go down here, hidden to the wind. It is necessary to walk to rise during forty five minutes before finding a regular breath, it made us do a bend, pass three times under electric lines, navigate tight to the wind. The wind fades, we move forward for ten hours. The time to eat an energetic bar and the two bigger kites glide silently to pull us up to a small pass.


The three teepees of the fourth checkpoint are visible, finally. The GPS indicates two kilometers to go. Our painful legs slow us down . Alex pulls both pulkas, his harness cuts its pelvis but he always moves forward silently. We slide slowly towards the checkpoint the GPS indicates half a kilometer to be still browsed, we are so slow. We cross an ice-cold road and we arrive at Checkpoint. Here two hours of break are imposed by the regulation, anyway it is already 7pm, then we shall camp here for the night because the race stops from 10 PM till 7 AM. Alex feet are very painfull . I feel broken, everywhere, exhausted, every muscle of all my painful body.


This night the weather report announces a strong blow of wind then we dig in the snow to protect our shelter. Here we find the others. Evgeniya and Lyudmila warms themselves and the Americans rest, Nick has tempered socks. Most part of the foreign teams are at the end of race. The Swedes and the Russians slide well, quite as Kinetic Warriors, The British. Other than that, the Norwegians dominate the race. We discover for the first time the ranking, we had gone raised of five places early in the afternoon but the option which I chose at about four PM we made them lose. I am admiring brave of every team and completely stunned by the performances of the head of race. The Vindcraft team is approaching the finishing line. Tomorrow the checkpoint six must be passed before three PM, what makes more than sixty kilometers browse in a straight line in a few hours. It is not very probable that we arrive on time. Three miles watts of the titanium stove hardly melt the snow in the pot. We eat a double ration this evening: Tartiflette for me and Couscous for Alex! The blows of wind shake the walls of our small shelter, we fall asleep warm in our sleeping bags.


When our eyes half-open the light is already strong. There is no wind this morning, we shall not arrive at the sixth Check before fifteen o’clock, then we choose to leave the race here. We thread our clothes warmed inside our sleeping bags, our freezing ski boots and we compact our gears in our backpacks. A bus comes to get back five other teams forced to stop here for lack of time. We leave bitter. In the bus for Vadso our bodies warm themselves, I fall asleep.


We spend the next days to observe the GPS signal of the teams still on the snow. The first ones arrived. We have a walk in Vadso on the small harbor. Organisators take us to Vardo to welcome the last finishers before leaving to Vadso to offer to the winners prizes. Everyone rests finally, we take care of ourselves. The teams scatter by sharing the wish to come back someday to go faster or to be more efficient , finish maybe, win why not.


less than 1550g warm until -30째C

The power of a handmade sleeping bag filled with the finest down keeps me warm but light Julien


Your Turn

How to go: To follow the tracks of this beautiful adventure, the simplest is to take the plane until Kirkenes. The city is every day served by flight from Oslo. Then, you can join the harbor station by bus to take the ferry which go to Vadso, Vardo, Berlevag, and the other seaport of the North of Norway. You will find schedules and rates on the Hurtigruten website. A public bus makes the connection between the harbor and the airport. But in this direction, it is sometimes crowded by travelers who want to take their plane too.

About the weather: We left at the beginning of April. In this period the sun gets up before five o’clock to sunset in the evening after seven PM. Light remains strong till ten PM. In lands, it made minus twenty Celcius at night and around minus ten during the day. Two days later the temperatures were positive in Vadso. The weather is very changeable on the peninsula of Varanger. The first day we used all our kites from six meters to twenty one. The meteorological site yr.no offer detailed forecasts. You will find information about the snow on the website of senorge.no.


Ski shoes + ski touring, Tlt speed bindings Harnesse Photon Fil Carabiners Ski touring pole (pair) Ski skins (pair) Snow shovel Helmet Rope ( 10m 6mm diameter) Backpack Exos 58L Sledge Kites speed 3 21, 19, 15, 12, speed 4 10 et unity 6m FLYSURFER GPS Etrex Legend GARMIN + 8 lithium batteries Talki walkie Map and compass Go pro +2 batteries Safety kit Sleeping bag Excuitic 1200 (-30째C) CUMULUS Mattresses Neoair Xtherm XL THERM-A-REST Tent Twin-Sisters by MSR microrocket Stove + 1 pot MSR (the windpro II will be great) Dry food MX3 Balaclava + gloves + mittens by NORRONA Bib pant Trollvegen + Falketind jacket by NORRONA Polartec Fleece Trollvegen jacket + down jacket by NORRONA Shirt 29/ + stretch tights + socks by NORRONA

Number per team

Type

Number per pers.

GEAR 1 2 1 2 2 4 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 1 1 2 1 >1 3 >1 1 >1 1 2 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 2 1 1 1 1 12/40 24/80 1 2 1 2 1 2 2

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Varanger Arctic Kite Enduro