After making sure that we dressed for the conditions, we were ready for our snowmobile trip. None of the guests had driven a snowmobile before, but it is easy to learn. The accelerator is on the right hand side, the brake is on the left. There is also an emergency brake that stops the engine immediately. Two people share a snowmobile, swapping between being the driver and the passenger.
To the pots
The water freezes every winter in the long, narrow Lang fjord to the south west of Kirkenes. It was only a short drive over the ice on the fjord. At the centre of the ice there was a point marked by ribbons, and when we got closer, we saw that there was trapdoor embedded in the ice. While our cameras whirred away, the trapdoor was lifted up, revealing a square hole in the ice. The hole was starting to freeze over again after temperatures had reached -26C the night before, so it did need some blows with the axe and quite a bit of sawing with the ice saw to open it up.
A snowmobile was used to lift up the crab pots from the bottom of the fjord. With a few extra helping hands, the pots were placed onto the ice, and five or six large crabs were found inside. One of the crabs was carefully lifted up for everyone to see and we all had a chance to hold it. A photo session while holding a crab is mandatory, of course. These crabs have a sharp claw that you will want to avoid, but this is easy enough.
Tundra and taiga
Where the trip starts, at Sandnes just south west of Kirkenes, the vegetation is sparse, and this landscape is known as tundra. However, further up the fjord the birch trees are taller and snow-laden branches lean over the fjord ice. Further in still there are more and more pine trees, and this is the beginning of the deep coniferous forests of the Pasvik valley, part of the coniferous forest belt that stretches all the way to the Bering Strait, known by its Russian name, as taiga.
In the 1800s, the Norwegian authorities encouraged settlers from Southern Norway to come to the border areas of South Varanger. Those who could not afford to emigrate to America instead came north. In 1869, a large family arrived from Namdalen in Trøndelag, carrying with them their livestock and some furniture and belongings. The family was dropped off at the head of Lang fjord, and after walking a few kilometres in they found they could go no further. They settled at that point, naming their settlement after their home valley.
Namdalen becomes a village
After a while, Namdalen became a village which encompassed six farms. Lack of road connections and television signals (according to some) meant that the farms were abandoned and the village deserted around 1970. We visited the first house that was built in the village in around 1870 in the southern Norwegian log cabin style. We drank coffee and listened to stories about the people who lived there and of how the war affected Kirkenes. Our guide was from the Pasvik valley, and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of local history.
A feast of crab
We eventually headed back to where we had started. A fire had been lit in the Sami lavvu tent, and we were served freshly cooked crab. We were given a huge pile of crab together with bread, mayonnaise and white wine. The simplest meals are often the best, and this is certainly true when it comes to king crab. The price per kilogramme for king crab in Oslo is astronomical, but here you can eat as much as you like. You could say that the trip ended on a culinary high.
A whole host of winter excursions are offered in Kirkenes. Barent Safari, our operator for this trip, (www.barentssafari.no), offers a range of snowmobile trips during the winter, and the company also has an extensive summer programme.