This is the story of Jan Baalsrud, a Norwegian soldier who in March 1943 took a task force of 11 commandos into the fjords aboard the Brattholm, a fishing vessel full of explosives, with the intention of sabotaging the Nazi occupation in Tromsø. They were quickly discovered in Toftefjord following a tip off, the ship was abandoned and scuttled, and Baalsrud survived both the explosion and the gunfire that followed. After swimming to shore and shooting two German soldiers he was the only crew member to evade capture, and remained in hiding in the mountainous winter terrain for two months until escaping into Sweden.
What happened over those nine weeks remains one of the wildest, most unfathomable survival stories of World War II. Baalsrud’s feet froze solid. An avalanche buried him up to his neck. He wandered in a snowstorm for three days. He was entombed alive in snow for another four days and abandoned under open skies for five more. Alone for two more weeks in a cave, he used a knife to amputate several of his own frostbitten toes to stop the spread of gangrene. He spent the last several weeks tied on a stretcher, near death, as teams of Norwegian villagers dragged him up and down hills and snowy mountains. By the end, Baalsrud was less a hero than a package in need of safe delivery, out of Nazi hands. For decades, his escape made him into a Norwegian national folk hero, even as the man himself remained frustratingly opaque, almost unknowable. – Robert Kolker
This work was part of a commission for the New York Times Magazine, written by Robert Kolker in 2016. Guided by Tore Haug and Are Grønvoll, we retraced his steps to learn the feat of the journey – you can find more in formation on the story by following the link here: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/