By Conor Mihell
Norway has long been regarded as the birthplace of backcountry skiing, with a rich Nordic history captured by the legend of the Birkenbeiner and the graceful, bent-knee telemark turn. It wasn't until the 1975 British Nordkapp expedition that traced the Norwegian coast from Bodo to Nordkapp that Scandinavia became recognized as a world-class paddling destination. And while skiing remains Norway's favorite outdoor pursuit, the nation has become recognized for its burly Class V whitewater and spectacular North Atlantic coastline of rockbound islands and fjords.
In 2009, Scottish alpinist and paddler James Baxter embarked on what he calls the "ultimate Norwegian adventure." Baxter, then 49, started his journey in January, skiing the length of Norway, from south to north. In May he switched to his sea kayak, paddling 2,000 miles back to his original starting point along Norway's exposed North Atlantic coast. For Baxter, the nine-month, 3,800-mile epic [Click HERE to read more] culminated more than 20 years of ramblings in Arctic Scandinavia and inspired him to create a self-described "whopper" of a travelogue, Norway: The Outdoor Paradise, a hefty 448-page hardcover he self-published in 2012.
"Initially I was quite nervous as I finished [the expedition] and wondered what to do," says Baxter, who likened the trip to a "spiritual pilgrimage." "Then I felt the joy of having completed it … [and] after a week I slowly eased myself back into my old life and started writing."
The result is a comprehensive guidebook to all-season Norwegian adventure, complimented with 847 photographs and illustrations and a detailed account of how Baxter went about planning and executing his expedition, from choosing gear and provisions to the friendly people he met along the way. For backcountry skiers and paddlers looking to embark on their own Norwegian adventures and armchair travelers alike, Baxter's book is essential reading. What Norway: The Outdoor Paradise lacks in literary acumen it makes up in its impressive level of detail. The ski and paddle legs of Baxter's journey are broken into shorter sections, each one described through his own experience. Maps document Baxter's route and color photographs showcase the scenery along the way.
Baxter also touches on his expedition's raison d'etre—a campaign to raise money for The Antahkarana Society, a Bozeman, Mont.-based organization that has been developing education programs, building schools and working to preserve indigenous Tibetan culture in the Himalayas since 2004. "I've always been interested in having some sort of education project to work on," said Baxter in a 2009 interview. "The people of Nepal are humble, generous and simple, but they're also extremely poor and there are no schools. The Antahkarana Society does great work. All the money is going where it's needed."
In the back pages of his new book, the ever-humble Baxter briefly describes the Limi Valley of Nepal, an unknown and practically inaccessible Himalayan region that stands to benefit the most from Baxter's work: His Antahkarana fundraising efforts raised $13,000 to support education in the remotest reaches of Nepal.