Helena Spinks was one of four intrepid photographers who recently attended our ‘Arctic Icons’ tour in Norway. Here Helena relates the roller coaster of emotions that is wildlife photography in extreme conditions.

When I first considered the Northshots Musk Oxen tour to Norway I was concerned it would be too tough. However, I was desperate to photograph these iconic animals so I convinced myself I had plenty of time to improve my fitness and prepare myself for my biggest challenge yet.  But, as the weeks and months went by and the intended visits to the gym didn’t happen, it dawned on me as our departure grew closer that I should have been a LOT fitter.  I was apprehensive to say the least!  To make matters worse, whilst traveling on the Arctic Odyssey tour a week previously, Niall Benvie mentioned he’d been on a similar trip.  Excellent, the chance for some inside information and hopefully my mind put to rest. “How was it?” I asked.  “Great” he replied “but it nearly killed me”.  At first I thought he was joking but I soon realised he was not – my stomach churned.   This time perhaps I really had bitten off more than I could chew.  However, he went on to explain it was due to the lack of correct clothing rather than fitness.   So, I kitted myself out with some extra warm gear and worked on my mantra “I can do this”.

We all arrived safely in Trondheim, but unfortunately my baggage (with all my nice warm gear) did not.  And, as it became clear that it was not going to be with me until late the next day my apprehension grew – this was not a good start!  However, as we arrived at our destination in the Dovrefjell National Park my concerns were quickly forgotten.   The location was stunning, our accommodation quite unique and luckily for me the Hotel Manager’s daughter was my size!  Bring it on I thought.

This tour is not recommended for the faint hearted.  We had to master walking with snow shoes on snow up to 4 ft deep, endure the extreme cold winds for many hours, climb up long steep hills carrying heavy gear (500mm lens recommended) and be ready and willing to scramble back down again fast if the musk oxen decided they didn’t like the look of us.

I was not used to this extreme environment and therefore pushed to my limit – both physically and mentally.  But, I had absolute faith in our guide Roy Mangersnes who knew this area and the animals well.  With his excellent encouragement, support and leadership the experience was truly amazing and the rewards immense.  To be in such a pristinely beautiful location so close to these awesome animals was special beyond words.