Archive for January, 2009

Day 31. Finse to Kongshelleren

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Distance 27km | Time 9hrs | Ascent 930m | Descent 690m

Day 31 Hardangerjokulen from Sankt PaalI had a late night organizing things, writing, charging batteries and phoning but I still did not sleep so well. I was still up at 0700 and packed before breakfast at 0800. I have an enormous breakfast. At least 3000 calories. It was like the breakfast of a condemned man. I then set of near 0900. I could not get away from the hotel quick enough. It was not such an easy going place as Haukeliseter.

I left in minus 15 and climbed the valley to the north of Finse. There were scooter tracks which led up to a small shelter at Klemsbu. This was not the best route as the other side was steep, but I decided to chance it. The map showed it was 1 in 5 and the advised winter route went a longer way.

As I reached the shelter the clothes were coming of fast. The chill of the morning was now replaced by the heat of the sun. I was down to a vest on top.

The views were fantastic. To the south just beyond Finse lay the huge dome of the Hardangerjokulen icecap. You could see it in all its glory from here just across the valley. The almost flat, slightly rounded dome of ice resting on a ring of steeper cliffs and crags.

From the shelter I continued up to Sankt Paal, a rounded hill on the crest of Hallingskarvet. Hallingskarvet is a well known landmark and mountain ridge in this region, and primarily to the east. It gives these mountains there generic name, namely Skarvheimen. I could enjoy the views from Sankt Paal in perfect conditions. Windstill and under the blazing sun. Even in my wool vest it was to warm.

Day 31 Looking west back across the frozen Ormsvatnet LakeThe descent down the north side of Sankt Paal was not a problem. The steeper sections were easy to avoid as I sped down some 400 vertical metres descending diagonally across the remnants of small glaciers and snowfonns to reach the outlet of Ormsvatnet lake. The north side was in the shade and considerably colder.

From Ormsvatn lake it was a very pleasant ski eastwards down the gentle valley to Geiterygghytta cabin. It was closed and had no self service facilities. I knew this before and decided to go all the way to Kongshelleren cabin today, another 12 km. I felt fit though and in these conditions I was not worried about getting to the cabin in the dusk.

I bypassed Geiterygghytta and started straight up the hill to a saddle. It was and easy ascent treading between outcrops and keeping to the smooth glistening snowfields. About half way up I came across a trampled road of reindeer tracks and then a bit beyond a herd of about 50.

Day 31 Reindeer moss is a lichen reindeer dig for in the winterThese were wild Skarvheimen reindeer and not used to human interaction unless they were being hunted, previously with arrows and in the last few hundred years with gun. As soon as they saw me some 500 metres away they were off. Initially they seemed confused as to which way to go but then they moved behind me.

I was going to the snowfield where they had been resting. All the outcrops nearby had been scraped by their hooves, removing the snow to get to their favourite food which is reindeer moss. This is a tennis ball size fluffy bundle of cream coloured lichen.

Day 31 Wild landscape with reindeer prints around Gieteryggen cabinWith the reindeer gone I carried on in the glorious weather cresting a small saddle and then descending slightly to climb into a significant gap in the mountains, one of them called Bolhovd. As I reached the saddle the sun set behind me and the smooth mountains to the north turned a shade of rose, then strong pink as the sun disappeared in a blaze of yellow and orange in a cloudless sky behind me.

Day 31. Evening glow as I approach Kongshelleren cabinI still had 5 km to go but I knew it was flat and the clear evening would ensure the light lingered long. The temperature fell quickly to minus 20, so back went on all the clothes again. For the last hour and a half I single mindedly drove towards the cabin not stopping. Indeed I don’t stop at all now except for the odd drink and today’s breakfast was still fuelling me.

At late dusk, just before the head torch would be put on and Venus and the crescent of moon were bright, I reached Kongshelleren cabin. It was a pearl Easy to heat, well stocked larder and once warm had a rustic and cosy ambience. It was only then I realized how tired I was. After a simple dinner I fell asleep in front of the fire. When I woke I was too tried to write and went straight to bed.

It had been another magnificent day. In fact today surpassed even yesterday as the best yet on the tour. Long may it last. Tomorrow should be an easy day to Lungsdalshytta cabin to let my body recover a bit after the last 2 days.

Day 30. Kjeldebu to Finse

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Distance 23km | Time 7hrs | Ascent 700m | Descent 530m

Day 30. The day starts to warm upI had thought it would be a long day so was ready to go at 0800. There was a slight breeze which was bitterly cold. I was well dressed for the cold. It was still dawn when I set off but pretty soon the first rays of the new day were turning the mountain tops a golden orange. It all the promise of a perfect day.

I made very good time over the easy ground and after a couple of hours was at a junction where I could either go over Helvetes fjell, Hells mountain, or round an easier but much longer way via Finnsbergvatn lake. The latter route would have taken me past an archaeological site where stone age dwellers onwards have waited for migrating reindeer to cross a neck of water. When the reindeer were half way across they were ambushed by the hunters in small boats.

Day 30 Hardangerjokulen from Helvetes fjellI choose the route over Helvetes fjell as there were tracks which went this way and it was easy to ski on them. The route over was very scenic and much easier than the map indicated. There were some wonderful views down to the plateau of Hardangervidda and also up to the Hardangerjokulen icecap which I was skirting round. There were lots of hare tracks up here.

The weather was now absolutely fantastic. Windstill under a deep blue sky with the sun beating down. If I turned south I could feel the sun burn my face. Generally I was heading north though. I climbed up to 1400 metres before descending down the north side of the pass to Midnutvatn lake. It was a glorious and lovely descent in soft snow.

January really had kept its best to last. It was a magnificent day. Easily the best yet on this tour. I was also making very good time. It was just after 1300 and I only had a couple of hours to go to Finse. The terrain was pleasant and easy.

An hour before Finse I met some other skiiers. They were heading to a cabin called Kraekkja where they would camp as it was closed. We chatted a bit and then passed. The remaining hour to Finse was a delightful descent in the full sun. Ahead of me was a long steep ridge called Hallingskarvet. Crossing it would be tomorrows task.

Day 30. Looking south from Helvetes Fjell to Hardangervidda plateauFinse itself marks the northern edge of Hardangervidda, the end of the third section. It had been very kind to me. Hardangervidda can be a vicious place in bad weather.

Finse itself was hosting a kite-flying weekend. There were 150 people attending and the only hotel, Finse 1222, was completely full. I managed to find a bed in a shared room. In contrast to Haukeliseter this hotel was not nearly so friendly or down to earth.

Day 30 Approaching Finse with Hallingskarvet beyondI had a great shower and then picked up my maps for the next section from the post office and dispatched the ones I had used. After a heavy supper I wrote the blog and did my washing which the hotel was very good about.

I had planned to spend a rest day here but felt quite fresh still. The busy, noisy atmosphere of the hotel did not sit easy with the peace and quiet of the last few weeks and I could not leave quick enough. In addition the weather forecast for the next days is a cracker so I will be heading north again tomorrow.

The next cabin, Gieteryggenhytta, is closed so I will have to go to the next again at Kongshelleren. Given the marvellous conditions and my improving form I felt up for it.

Today had been a really stunning day, I could not fault it at all. The hotel let things down a bit but it was irrelevant in the grandness of today and the completion of crossing the Hardandervidda.

Tomorrow I will start the fourth section, Skarvheimen. It will take about a week and take me to Tyin and the start of Jotunheimen. I have skied in the Skarvheimen before. In fact it was my first ski trip. I did it in 1983 together with a friend Jonas. Are you still eating handfuls of raw garlic Jonas?

Day 29. Garden to Kjeldebu

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Distance 15km | Time 5.5hrs | Ascent 520m | Descent 190m

Day 29. Garden and its many cabins in the morningIt seemed the forecast for the next days is great and the atmospheric pressure is going up and up. It stands at 1020mbar now. Given this I did not have to hurry, but wanted to be at Kjeldebu cabin in time to enjoy it. So I left at 0830.

The lady who ran the hut camp I stayed at, explained the route to me yesterday. Initially it went through the rest of Garden keeping beside the frozen river. It was a good skiers path and although icy was easy to ski along until the next leisure cabin village of Maurset. Here the skiers track crossed to the north of the arterial, but deserted, road.

Maurset was a village of about 500 leisure cabins built up round a downhill ski resort. Generally the cabins fitted in and many were with log walls with turf roofs. Some however were quite incongruous with the environs. The ski track then left this village and crossed to the south of the road again climbing adjacent to the road up to a pass.

Day 29. Typical Hardangervidda landscape of upland plateau in untypical weatherI made good time and was at the pass by 1100. Here I crossed to the north of the road for the last time and started across the plateau to Kjeldebu cabin. The ice of the last few days was soon replaced by soft drifted snow. My skis which had been noisily clattering across the icy surfaces of the last 2 days to my relief fell silent. My tendons tense from digging the skis edges into the icy surface could also relax.

The weather which was a bit grey when I started suddenly cleared up. I was soon in my element again pushing one foot in front on the other, gliding whenever possible, across the increasingly sunny plateau. At the end of Sandtjorna lake I came across a line of branches or twigs stuck into the snow. These “kvisters” are an ancient way of marking a route.

The kvisters are placed about 30 metres apart along a route. In the Easter time when ski touring is popular with many Norwegians these kvistered routes are set up between many cabins. They are a godsend as even in poor weather, up to a small storm, one can push on to the cabin if caught out. They have saved many lives in their time.

I liked this kvistered route because I knew they took the most sensible and easy way to Kjeldebu cabin. I could forget navigating and concentrate on the simply marvellous scenery. At last I was in skiing heaven. I have had many emails and comments where people have said how jealous they were. If only they knew the reality. However this afternoon they would have had good reason.

Day 29 Hardangerjokulen icecap en route to Kjeldebu cabinThe sun was out in full force and I was shedding clothes quickly as I rose and glided down across the glistening white landscape. To the north rose Hardangerjokulen, a large icecap some 10 km in diameter. Its smooth surface coming to an abrupt halt at its circumference with a line of cliffs and crags. Between these crags flowed the occasional glacier which petered out quickly on the surrounding plateau in a series of moraine ridges.

Day 29. Kjeldebu cabins near HardangerjokulenBefore I knew it I crested a rise and below me lay the cabins. It was only 1400 and absolutely marvellous to arrive with such good time. I leisurely lit the fire and melted water and then basked in the comfort of the self service cabins main room. It was too cold to go and bask in the sun outside.

It seems January has kept her best to last. Tomorrow is a very long day of some 30 km to Finse and it is perfect I have the best weather to do it in. I can now look forward to the wonderful green orange hues of a cold sunset and a cosy evening in front of the fire.

Day 28. Hadlaskard to Garden

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Distance 24km | Time 8.5hrs | Ascent 290m | Descent 570m

Day 28. Looking into Berastolsdalen after climbing from ViveliI was up early and away from the hut at 0800. I was a bit worried about the distance and conditions today and needed an early start. 0800 was the earliest I could have left without a headtorch.

It was very icy still. Obviously this area was in the rain shadow of the massive dump of snow the Setersheiene received recently. Still it was quite fast and I could double pole down the frozen marshes and river bed.

Just before Hedlo I came across some moose tracks. They had been nibbling the willow and birch which was plentiful here. Moose belong more to the forests of the east rather than the fjord regions, which I was almost in so I was surprised to see them.

The fast icy run continued to Viveli with a couple of more awkward sections of river to avoid. In some sections where it was faster flowing over small rapids it was open. In one of the adjacent frozen marshes there was a flock of about 200 willow grouse.

The willow grouse are very closely related to ptarmigan but occupy the willow scrub zone. In winter they take on the same white camouflage as the ptarmigan and they are impossible to tell apart from a distance. So I might be mistaken.

Viveli itself is a tourist lodge surrounded by a score of private cabins. It was deserted with all the roofs covered in snow. Luckily there was a snow scooter track from here up through the birch forest I wanted to go to a road head. Without this track I would have been an extra hour navigating the humps of the forest.

Day 28. Summer farms or stols in BerastolsdalenThis left me just before the roadhead in high valley just at the treeline. There were some summer farms in this valley. The scooter tracks continued to the eventual roadhead. The road then dropped about 800 metres down to Eidfjorden in a series of hairpins in precipitous terrain.

I was not going down so went east up the valley past the summer farms and across more frozen marches to a gentle watershed some 5 km or 2 hours away. At this watershed I should have been able to see Hardangerjokulen, a large round icecap which sits on the northern section of Hardangervidda. Unfortunately it was too cloudy and the whole thing was shrouded.

From here there was a lovely descent to Garden which took a good half hour. Garden sat on the road in a much larger valley. Sometime it was a bit steep for my tired legs. Private cabins, perhaps a 1000, stretched up and down the valley from Garden. They did not intrude too harshly into the environs.

At Garden there was a small shop which also rented out tiny log cabins, with a bunk bed and electric cooker. I bought food from the shop and then settled into the cabin. It only had a electric heater and I missed the raw effective heat from a wood stove. Eventually it warmed up though. The lady who ran the shop and cabins, a very outdoor type, explained tomorrows route to Kjeldebu cabin.

It was still light when I arrived. It was not as bad as I thought at all in terms of conditions or times. It had been a bit barren and the large icy sections and scant snow did not contribute to the winter wonderland picture.

Day 27. Litlos to Hadlaskard

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Distance 21km | Time 7hrs | Ascent 200m | Descent 420m

Day 27. Sunrise after leaving Litlos cabinWhen I woke at 0630 the skies seemed clear and were still full of stars, with a warm glow to the south. Again it was completely windstill.

I had breakfast and was away by 0830. It was very cold outside, perhaps minus 15 or even 20. The snow was becoming firmer now after a few days and it squeaked as my ski pole twisted in it.

I went directly north to Skadvatn lake initially. Behind me was a yellow sunrise but to the north the whole sky turned a bluish purple as the sun came up, perhaps as an indication as to how cold it was. As I reached the north end of Skadavatn lake the first of the suns rays warmed me slightly.

It was going to be a rare day, a perfect weather day. At last after a good 2 weeks since the last one across Blasjoen. Frost sparkled in the sun as my skis drove forward towards the large knoll of Brakanuten. If I was going south I would have needed glasses to avoid snow blindness.

Day 27. Looking south down my tracks from BrakanutenIt was fantastic at last skiing with a clear view. I could relax as I skirted round the odd snow drift or meander up the occasional smooth open gully to the pass on the east of Brakanuten. It was marvellous skiing, almost spiritual in its rhythmic meditation.

At the pass I took the short skins off as they were slowing me up slightly and it was mostly down now for another 12 km. I gently descended passing many fox tracks. There were also a few ptarmigan signs. It seems in the bad weather these birds simply bury themselves up to their necks as I passed many pockets with droppings in them. Obviously with a foxes keen smell they have to sneak up on a semi buried ptarmigan without disturbing it.

Just before Aremot the nice descent ended in a short steep drop. It was easy to see where to go as I took my skis off and walked down. In poor visibility this would have been a nervous dither, had I even found the spot to descend.

I was doing well as I only had 8 km to go and it was just 1230. This rapid progress was mostly due to the being able to ski and push on rather than gingerly fumble around in the white. Having said that it was beginning to cloud over quite rapidly.

The last 8 km took 3 hours as although I was following the river bed, I had to keep to the side as it occasionally went into a gorge. It was still quite easy though despite being knolly. What I did notice was how the snow was much icier here and how relatively little of it there was. It was almost as if it had received none of the recent heavy showers over the last fortnight.

As I approached the cabins willow scrub and some birch appeared. Willow scrub loves wet places so I suspect this is a marshy area in the summer. The cabin itself was large. It looked a old seter or summer farm which was restored.

Inside huge lumber walls were protected by newer planks on the outside. These log wall fitted perfectly into each other without a gap anywhere. Great craftsmanship from a century ago. So well do these log cabins fit together it is possible to number the logs, dissemble them, transport them and resemble them somewhere else. In fact it is often done.

It was great to be able to do all the cabin chores, like get wood and light the stove and collect pails of snow to melt with a couple of hours daylight remaining. It had clouded over completely now and some of the tops around the cabin were in the mist. I though had a whole evening in front on the fire to relax and read. I looked forward to it as it will round of an excellent day.