Vake is probably the most difficult snowkite race that exists: six hundred kilometers north of the Arctic Circle on snow, through canyons and hills, icy lakes and rivers. Two riders teamed up to travel the 200 kilometers race across the fifteen checkpoints that cover this distance. Without assistance, except maps and GPS. Flysurfer teamrider 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 with hardly any wind. Towing their sledge from 7 a.m. till 10 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.
On an afternoon in 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 weeksbefore we trained a lot. Flysurfer, Norrona, Cumulus, and MX3 supports us with their enthusiasm and product. 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 last check of kites and equipment, everywhere brains steam to know what to remove, and what could be missing? During the dinner the race meeting takes place, outside there is a snowstorm going on, so it will blow all night long.
VAKE 2013 photos by Liz Palm
On the starting line, in the middle of nowhere, with strongs gusts, we choose to start with our small kites, six and ten meters and go for safety. The green flag is raised far away 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 each other, lines get tangled, some teams go for fair play, others decide not to respect the race rules. The wind sprays snow everywhere, then this decreases halfway between checkpoint one and two. Once we changed kites, with bigger sizes we go upwind fast and catch up several teams, but the first teams are far away. The GPS indicates the second checkpoint is less than a kilometer away. As soon as we pass the checkpoint, the wind decreases again, we head 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 it, but I can’t. I continue ski touring and we lose one hour in the race..
On another ridge, at the top the big kites fly again, pursuing to the south. We move forward since hours and the hunger increases, cereal bars seem very thin, the GPS indicates checkpoint threein one and a half kilometer. Days decline and the wind disappears, then we decide to set up the tent and sleeping bags. While snow melts on the stove to rehydrate the dry couscous and tartiflette. Then it takes twenty liters of snow to create three liters of water which will hydrate us tomorrow. Before we know it’s 11 p.m., we fall asleep in the freezing atmosphere of the tent.
In the morning the steam from the cooking melts the hoarfrost on the walls of the tent, we dress, eat, then tidy up. Our Flysurfer Speed3 19m² and 21m² kites pull us pleasantly up to checkpoint three then further towards the canyon of Langdalen. Here no wind, we decide to go down then, the ski skins stuck under skis, in my t-shirt and the side zips of my pants wide open, I move up hard. Alex is in front of me and I pull the heavies sledges.. With the kites he usually pulls both. We rise rather fast, and caught up five teams this morning.
At the top, on the other ridge, the wind blows hard and we leave at top speed, the screen of the GPS shows often more than 40km/h, we slide further to the south-southwest. By going down the hills of Davgecearu there is neither a track nor wind. It was a strategic error to go down here, this place is to far hidden in the wind. It is necessary to walk up during 45 minutes before going into regular breathing, it made us crawl, bend, pass three times under electric lines and navigate tight to the wind. The wind fades, we move forward for 10 hours. Time to eat an energetic bar and the two big Speed3 kitesglide silently to pull us up to a small pass.
The three teepees of the fourth checkpoint are visible, finally. The GPS indicates just two kilometers to go. Our painful legs slow us down. Alex pulls both pulkas, his harness has cut into his pelvis, but he always moves forward silently. We slide slowly towards the checkpoint, the GPS indicates half a kilometer to go, we are so slow. We cross an ice-cold road and we finally arrive at the checkpoint. Here we have a two hour break, imposed by the regulation, anyway it is already 7p.m., then we shall camp here for the night because the race is stopped from 10p.m. till 7a.m. each day. Alex’s feet are very painful. I feel broken, exhausted, every muscle in my body is painful.
This night the weather report announces stronger winds, we dig in the snow to protect our shelter. Here we also find the other teams. Evgeniya and Lyudmila warm themselves and the Americans rest. Most of the foreign teams are at the end of race. The Swedes and the Russians race well, just like the Brits. But the Norwegians dominate the race. We discover the latest ranking, and found out we raised five places early in the afternoon but the choice I made around 4p.m., made us loose our disctance again. I am admiring all teams and am completely stunned by the performances of the ones in the head of race. The Vindkraft team is already approaching the finishing line.
VAKE 2013 photos by Liz Palm
Tomorrow, checkpoint six must be passed before 3p.m., that makes more than 60 kilometers to go in a straight line for some hours. It is not very likely that we arrive on time. We eat a double portion this evening: Tartiflette for me and Couscous for Alex! The wind blows and shakes the snow from our small shelter, we fall asleep in our warm sleeping bags.
When our eyes open, the light is already strong. There is no wind this morning, we shall not arrive at the sixth checkpoint before 3p.m., we therefore choose to leave the race here. We put our clothes warm inside our sleeping bags and put our freezing ski boots in our backpacks and pack up our gear as compact as possible. A bus comes to pick us and other teams up, that were force to stop as well because of lack of time. We leave bittered. In the bus to Vadso our bodies warm themselves, I fall asleep. We spend the next days to observe the GPS signals of the teams still on thesnow and in the race. The first ones arrive. We have a walk in Vadso around the small harbor. Organizers take us to Vardo to welcome the last finishers before leaving toVadso to award the winners their 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 , or maybe just finish, why not.
Experience your own Vake?
To follow the tracks of this beautiful adventure, the simplest is to take the plane until Kirkenes. This city is every day served by flight from Oslo. Then, you can go to the harbor station by bus and take the ferry which to Vadso, Vardo, Berlevag, and the other seaports in the north of Norway. You will find schedules and rates on the Hurtigruten website. A public bus gives you the connection between the harbor and the airport. But in this direction, it issometimes crowded by travelers who go by plane as well.
Read original article: Flysurfer News:Varanger Arctique Kite Enduro