Trips like these always start off innocuously enough. A simple email promising unmatched adventure. The itinerary includes lots of blended malt scotch, imbibed on the same Norwegian glacier where Irvin Kershner filmed the opening of The Empire Strikes Back. There’s also a chance to hang with legendary explorers and environmentalists Tim Jarvis and Baz Gray. The duo will even be teaching you how to survive in the Arctic. The whole thing seems to have been perfectly tailored to fit your tastes in travel.
You write back in all caps: OH, HELLS YES. Then you start to get pumped.
See, I consider myself a bit of an adventurer. In my early 20s, there wasn’t a trip that I wouldn’t take. Cross Afghanistan during wartime? Duh. Climb a mountain to a coltan mine in Eastern Congo? Sign me up. Sail across an ocean in a 54-foot sloop? Naturally. So when Shackleton Whisky came calling with the chance to learn arctic exploration skills in the spot where some of the greatest explorers cut their teeth — Finse, Norway — I was hyped. I was ready. I was, as I told my editor, “the perfect person for this trip.”
In retrospect maybe I should have thought about it a bit more.
The trip started with a mellow day spent exploring Oslo, Norway. I love beer and food, so I used my time to dig into the local scene. My take is that Oslo is an odd duck of a European city. It’s fairly compact and walkable. There’s WiFi literally everywhere. You can pay with credit cards for everything — even public toilets. There’s a surprising amount of antique guitar stores, which was a lovely surprise. It’s safe, clean, and convenient.
It’s also crazy expensive. Not a place to run your finger down the menu and say, “I’ll have one of everything.” Still, I was in town and owed it to the Uproxx team to go bar hopping for “research.” Not surprisingly, there are some great bars in Oslo with high-quality local suds on tap. The cellar at Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri was probably my favorite spot. But it’s so expensive — $12 for a basic, local lager is steep by any metric; $20 for a more upmarket beer — that you’re left cringing with every order. Even a nice batch of reindeer jerky couldn’t numb the sting of spending nearly $100 on about six “research” beers.
The good news is that when things are so insanely expensive, there’s little chance of drinking enough to get hung over. The next morning, I shrugged off my beer crawl and went to the train station to take the four-hour journey up to Finse. As per usual, I got in a good nap. When I woke, the train was darting through what my old man’s generation called “God’s Country.” It was some Polar Express-type stuff — we wound along an icy river as huge white-capped mountains rose from either side. Cabins dotted the walls of rock and trees. I even saw a moose lapping up some water from a river.
I met with my fellow journalists and a handful of social media influencers in the dining car where our host was happily plying us with $10 cans of “cheap” Norwegian macro lagers. Outside our dining car, the world started to change. The vast, thick forests gave way to scrub brush and even vast-er whiteness. Then the trees were gone altogether and we were hemmed in by pure white glaciers and drastic peaks. The air was thinner. The energy was quiet. We’d officially arrived at Hoth.
Waiting for us on the platform were Tim Jarvis and Baz Gray. These men are legit legends of the adventurer world, famous for recreating the incredible Antarctic missions of Ernest Shackelton and Douglas Mawson in period-appropriate gear. Jarvis has crossed Australian deserts, set records to the South Pole, and basically given us all a reason to believe in the indomitable human spirit. Gray spent his years in the British Armed Forces training elite soldiers in Arctic survival (and general badassery) and, later, partnered with Jarvis on his more insane expeditions.
And here they were, on the train platform ready to put us through some hardcore training.
We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. Jarvis is very tall — taller than me and I’m 6’4″ — and lanky, with the reserved demeanor of a man who’s seen past every horizon. Gray, on the other hand, is always ready to crack wise and then pull you back to earth with a harrowing anecdote. He has the intensity of a life-long, very elite soldier for Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. It’s the perfect yin-and-yang; ripe for a buddy comedy about exploration.