Claire Leenen is a born adventurer. With just a backpack, she hiked North America’s famous 2,650 mile (4,265 kilometer) Pacific Crest Trail in 2015 and is tackling the 1500km Via Dinarica across Eastern Europe in summer 2016. She always takes her SPOT tracker with her to keep in touch with family and supporters back home in the Netherlands.
In February 2016, in the height of winter, she was one of a pair of volunteer guides leading a group of 11 on a week’s trip snowshoeing from cabin to cabin following the winter route in Reinheimen National Park in Tafjordfjella, Western Norway.
All participants were physically fit and had outdoor, camping, hiking or other winter overland experience. Most of the trekkers had made one or more trips with the same organisation.
Things went smoothly until the fifth day when heavy snowfall and poor visibility meant they were making very slow progress. By the afternoon they knew it would be difficult to reach the next cabin safely. They also realised that returning to the cabin they had left that morning was not a viable alternative. They then started using a side trail to leave the area but this too was not a good option since they were moving so slowly.
They returned to the main winter trail and hiked to an emergency cabin where they spent the night. Thanks to a stove and firewood they were able to keep warm and, as they carried food, they did not go hungry. As the cabin was designed for five people, not 13, they did not get a lot of sleep.
The next day the weather and barometer had not changed; big snowflakes were still falling. It was not safe to head out. But that meant they would not have enough food to hike in tough, slow-going winter conditions the following day. The problems and risks were mounting: lack of sleep, the size of the group, snowshoeing speed and the fact that there were no cabins to shelter in on the trail back.
With no other means of communication, and conditions still severe, Claire pressed the SOS button on her SPOT satellite messenger.
Volunteers from the Norwegian Red Cross were immediately alerted but it took them six hours to reach the group because of the deep snow. They referred to it as ‘snow wrestling’.
The group was eventually transported safely by snowmobile back to their hotel, exhausted and very grateful to the Red Cross for their help. Claire’s faith in SPOT was reinforced through this experience, and she will certainly continue to keep SPOT close at hand on her next adventure.