Sunday, 20 November 2011

Norway, HardangerJokulen: Day 3 Part 2

Really sorry about the delay in getting this Part 2 out guys. The dislocated shoulder debarkle has left some nerve problems which meant I’ve been pretty much unable to type with any efficiency for weeks.
Continued from Part 1…….
It was beginning to feel as though there had been a nuclear blast and we would never see the sun again. It was simply claggy and flat and there was no view at all of the surrounding mountains as we moved along the track. My feet were cold and though we were moving with pace I was feeling colder all of the time. Paul confessed to feeling the same so we made some corrections with jelly babies, chocolate fudge and sickeningly buttery flapjacks.
Soon the terrain changed to a green, boggy and undulating environment and the cloud showed signs of weakness in the distance, allowing a little more light through than we had been used to all day. Suddenly we spotted movement ahead as small black blobs below us and as they approached we all exchanged greetings in English and discreetly checked out each other’s kit. I'm sure they thought we were mad with our strange, small bags and flimsy shoes. These four guys were literally carrying enough to re-stock an entire DNT hut for the winter - perhaps they were?
We reached a wide, deep but rapid-free river crossing at the end of the long steady descent but there was no procrastination this time. We just waded on in, deeper than before, just getting on with it. We were now tuned to the environment and I like to think it was playing AC/DC.
It was quite a chore with all of the swapping through descents then ascents and time felt as though it had stood still. There wasn’t much to see, the wind was picking up and we were hungry beyond belief. This continued for a while longer until we crested the next climb to catch a glimpse of Sysenvatnet through a cleft to our right.
On the map this had looked like an impressive body of water but from our position looking down across the lake to the opposite shore and beyond, it felt much larger. From here the view was impressive and full of drama. We could see the next micro weather system rolling in, sometimes giving way to short blasts of sunlight through the cloud cover as it blew on in closer towards us. The hazy, blurring signs of rain could be seen sweeping across the lake among the low cloud so another drenching was inevitable.
The thought of more wasn’t at all threatening now, we couldn’t get more wet or cold and on the other side of this hill was our saviour, a beacon of warmth, safety and self-service hospitality. Somewhere down there was a group of huts, or even just one, and all we had to do now was locate it and follow the red T’s for our reward!
We took the advantage of our elevated position to scan the landscape but neither of us could set our eyes on anything resembling the wooden huts of Kjeldebu. Both trying to recall the mental image of the map we just kept moving whilst looking out into the distance. The problem, you see, with this landscape (as we’d quickly realised on day 1) is there isn’t a lot to enable the mind to put a perspective on the size or distances when just looking out into the vista. We knew the hut could be right in front of us and we’d easily miss it with the naked eye.
We pressed on and over the summit which quickly turned into a cartilage-crushing, muddy descent - though this didn’t bother us any more as we both agreed it was just a case of putting one foot in front of the other. We were so in tune and adapted that we were on autopilot and able to take in the views whilst scanning for dark square shapes in the distance.
Our knees hurt, our inner cores shivered and the day had turned into an epic - Not just in terms of distance and terrain but experiences and feelings, which had left us both mentally tired. The route down was quite difficult with water making any indent into a bubble-rimmed puddle and every rock a slippery gamble.
It was soon after this that I caved and pulled the map from Paul’s rucksack as the suspense of the huts got too much. As soon as I opened and oriented the map I knew. We were a long way off the huts yet, perhaps another 3-4 miles at least, but distance wasn’t my biggest issue. It was the unforgiving terrain ahead and the start of yet another heavy downpour from above - we were being screwed every way we looked and it was obvious by now that we were being tested. Paul wasn’t happy and let the world know as he shouted a heartfelt “B*LL*OCKS”! I returned the map and picked up where I’d left off, hysteria now very much kicking in as I walked off giggling (in the same way you do when you’ve hit your funny bone) for reasons I still can’t explain.
The recent blow had left a stench of doubt around us and now we started to prophesise about the huts being closed or full. We both agreed a night in the tent tonight would be damp and miserable but I’d already resigned myself to this as a worst case scenario and to be fair it wouldn’t be all bad once we’d gotten into our dry clothes. It would be getting dressed in cold, wet clothes the next day that would be the test of our metal!
Oddly, despite our current disposition we started to muck about and ramble on about childish but quite funny scenarios as we ‘worked’ along. Paul took great pleasure in recounting our meeting with the German lorry driver as we both bumbled down the track in hysterics! Odd how the mind reacts to raise the spirits and despite its random content was welcome all the same.
It felt like we’d never reach the next junction which would indicate a mere 2 or so miles to the huts. We were reminded of the true scale of the environment we were in as we approached the next bridge which wasn’t far from bring engulfed by the ferocious falls.
The soundtrack was loud and relentless and we just stood and stared in amazement as the water began to reach up on the rock steps leading to the bridge. We crossed as slowly as we dared and watched as the white water threw up clouds of cool mist into our already soaked bodies. Had we had enough energy and inclination left we would have loved to have waited to see if the water level would actually reach the bridge.
After this the next half an hour passed without too much effort and the terrain seemed to gently rise upwards though the ground got soggier. As we rounded a cleft to the left a small, obviously private, hut clung to the hillside. It was small and painted dark blue and came so close to being occupied by two cold, dejected Brits and it doesn’t even know it! Trudging onwards the waves of self-pity returned with the tailwind, which by now was almost pushing us along to the huts. Still invisible though, they seemed to want to leave it until the last minute before revealing themselves and at was looking as though the tent could make an appearance after all.
The Gods weren’t finished with this day’s walk just yet and we were then presented with another high bridge to cross the small ‘vatnet’ to our left. Suddenly Paul stopped without warning and was fiddling around trying to find his camera. I had no idea why he wanted a photo at that point as raining, windy, cold and exposed it wasn’t really time for photo in my view.
It wasn’t until I reached the top of the steps on the bridge that I noticed the huts and turned back to see Paul, now grinning and with a skip in his step. “Mate, its on, its properly on. Can you see any sign of smoke from the chimneys?”. I stopped half way across and squinted to see if there were any signs of life. There was nothing and even if there was the stiff wind would disperse any smoke in an instant. The only thing that stood out for me was the sheer size of the buildings and the fact that there appeared to be a complex of huts ahead – not at all what we were expecting.
Our day’s walk still wasn’t over just with two more river crossings to negotiate as the track doubled back twice, worryingly taking us away from the huts for a time. We both said very little during the next 5 minutes as we followed the river towards the huts trying to avoid the extensive boggy areas as they tried to provide one last unrewarding challenge.
Passing the large hut on our left, we were faced with some choices. There were 3 more large huts and a toilet/storage block which was quite over-whelming after our fairly wild and isolated day. Water squelching off our shoes and water dripping from our chins and clothes, we located the main hut, signed in and were half way through completing the payment form when a young, female and wind-swept face appeared from the the communal living area door. She spoke no English and on further investigation was with a young man so (grinning) we made our excuses with pigeon English and hand gestures and moved to the next hut. We weren’t sure if that was the right thing to do but it seemed a little awkward and they had made themselves right at home and so much so that it felt as though we were disturbing them. After all, a secluded mountain hut with only a wood burner and candle-lights would fit my bill for a romantic hideaway any day of the week*.
On reaching the first hut we decided this was the one for us as this had the best view and a large dedicated drying room - with its own stove! After doing a quick sweep and general assessment we dumped our wet gear and set about lighting the stoves. There were only a few matches in the box on the shelf and having exhausted those I resorted to using the Jetboil to get mine going**. I was cold and ridiculously hungry and fire lighting was not on my list of fun things to do before feeling comfortable. Stoves lit we hung up the wet gear and ventured back out to see what delights the store room had to offer as a supplement to our only meal of the day! Never have two people been so pleased to return with a huge tin of Reindeer balls (not literally) in thick gravy with a pouch of jasmine rice. A ‘Come Dine With Me: Mountain Hut Special’.
Sitting down at the table and reviewing the map, it became apparent how tired my body was and it ached until we’d cooked and eaten. We lit the remains of a few candles and just sat reviewing the day. It had been huge both in terms of terrain, distance and experiences and as tough as it was out there we both agreed we’d do it again in an instant – what idiots!
We made the hut our home and laid everything out to dry or to air and sat looking out into the darkness as the wind and rain pounded the windows in a relentless display. The hut had two wash rooms, a drying room and three separate dorms with bunks and thus positively a mansion for two! To take advantage of the palatial space over the tent, I left Paul in the lounge/diner (where he slept below a leaky window) and slept in a dorm for 8! I barely had chance to get myself horizontal before falling asleep to the sounds of the outside trying, quite literally, to get in!
*Not today, you understand? Any date with stubble is a big “no, no”!
**God bless you Alan Sloman.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Norway, Hardangerjokulen: Day 3 Part 1

This is another long post folks as this day really was an epic. Its in two parts so get a tea and a scone and get comfy….
I woke at various points throughout the night, hot and sweaty each time. Not only was it toasty in the hut the my Cumulus Quantum sleeping bag was just too much even when opened out and draped over me. I had to think it was made worse by the fact that we had been slowly getting used to the colder conditions in the hills over the past two days but whatever it was I ended up sleeping in base layers until 7am the next morning.
I hopped out of the bunk and off to make tea while Paul dozed, listening to his iPod. Looking out of the window it initially seemed to be damp but not raining and I watched the thinning remnants of an inversion rising up from Eidfjord, over the dam wall and eventually dissipating into nothing. I pondered the map while the large steel kettle came to the boil on the gas hob. We had some options today and could take some time to explore the glacier before heading off on our way south-east, though where to we hadn't yet decided.
We pottered about gathering our things from the various hanging places and once again breakfast was eaten out of a real bowl - though the Spork made an appearance to keep it all real! My camera had a new friend in the form of a modified zip-lock bag that allowed the camera to be clipped to my chest pouch harness (used by my OMM chest-pouch) but be relatively free from light rain whilst taking the odd photo. If it rained all day again then it would have be stowed in the dry-bag and back in the pack but this at least afforded the opportunity to have it out in between showers.
By 9am we were packed, the hut tidy and the map stowed having decided we would just saunter on along the trail and see where we got. In reality we wanted to reach the junction at just south-east of Leirhalsen before the track turned east to give us some more choices on day 4. With this in mind we tightened our shoes clipped on our gaiters and left the hut behind. I stepped out with high hopes for the weather as the stable door was thrust back at me in the wind and after fighting to get it open again was met with a nice fine drizzle. Excellent I thought.
It became apparent just how much water had fallen overnight when we stepped off the wooden deck and onto completely waterlogged ground surrounding the hut but we didn't really care and headed off chatting taking photos and drinking from the many newborn streams cascading down from the high rocky cliffs above. The trail was all over the place today, seemingly taking us up to go down and vice versa when a perfectly good natural level route seemed to exist each time. I got over it but Paul was particularly annoyed and confused by this which entertained me no end after a while!
Irrelevant of general moods, it was a shame to have to walk with hoods up and restricted views - not that there was much to see. The cloud was low and heavy with moisture and it was fairly cold in the mix so we moved quickly until the glacier opened up into full view on our left. It was immensely impressive but it was virtually impossible to gauge the scales from our position and no reference points. Despite the rain we were both excited to explore so turned east off the track and headed up the steep, rocky ascent to meet Mr Rembesdalskaka and see what delights he had in store for us.
During the progressive ascent there were two immediate observations: 1) the icy cold breeze falling down off the glacier and into our pale, wet faces and 2) the deafening roar of the falls above and blasting on by to our left. Initially we had some reservations about getting too close as we could see large boulders of pale blue ice had recently separated from the front of the ice shelf. Unusually though I insisted we press on and get up close as this was an opportunity not to be missed. The route up was predominately rocky and very slippery with lots of moss and algae making for a nerve wrecking climb at points. There really is nothing but rock, small shrubs, pools of water, moss and more rock.
It was clear that this place was rarely dry and with the huge volume of water gushing out beneath the glacier it was no surprise that each flat, sloping slab of granite was like a skating rink (only without the crash barrier or the show-off spraying you with ice). It wasn't a matter of if you'd face-plant or coccyx crush but when! I was consciously trying to take as many photos as possible but the spray from the falls along with the rain just soaked the lens despite my attempts at drying and shielding. I wish someone could have filmed the scene as I lost my patience after a few cycles of this and just waved my hands in the air, shouting obscenities at the Gods. I was starting to get the hint that they weren't happy with my photographic intentions and at one point I contemplated asking Satan for help – it was that frustrating.
We continued climbing and slipping and negotiating short scrambling sections until it was literally towering above us. At this distance the scale of the glacier is acutely clear and its gives off a graduated blue-white colour that is nothing short of amazing.
The effort had been worth it though and we explored the cavernous ice caves as they glistened in a deep blue mirror effect and the sound of water echoed all around.
At this distance we could feel the sheer force of the water undercutting the glacier and exiting with a relentless violence as the sound thundered through our rib cages. The water was carrying heavy loads of silt which left it a cloudy brown with just a hint of that glacial blue-grey that almost begs to be touched as though it has some sort of healing power.
I hadn't seen anything like that in my tiny life and I took it all in as best I could, even closing my eyes at one point to try and somehow concentrate harder! The landscape is harsh, unforgiving – its freakin prehistoric - and it shows its teeth as it gnarls at you and tries to force you into turning and running away. It's the senses that keep you there and gobble it all up like a forbidden fruit – an addictive natural narcotic.** Moving on............
Needless to say, Pauls ridiculous idea that there would surely be a place to cross further up the falls turned out to be, well ridiculous, and the feeling of slowly soaking through was starting to take hold and deliver the odd shiver - since we were hardly moving . It was slightly annoying to have to back-track all the way down so we could cross the bridge which, from here, seemed like it was made for Borrowers. As usual we weren't entirely resigned to our fate and wasted far too much time looking for any 'leap of faith' that might be vaguely achievable but our arch-enemy Scale caught us out every time as we approached each 'possibility' to find even a gargantuan leap of Neil Finglegton would struggle to make it let alone our hobbit like dimensions. Wet and just a little dejected we made the treacherous descent to the bridge, nearly losing Paul to the falls along the way as he slid, seemingly in slow-motion, down a huge stretch of granite rock and only just stopping short with his feet literally being licked by the foaming rapids. In hindsight its funny but there and then we both just exchanged the acknowledging look that we needed to be mindful of our situation and caution was a good friend to hang out with - sometimes.
Reaching the bridge we then began a just as treacherous climb back up the opposite side of the valley in the cold, fine mist that cooled and drenched our universe. There was a lot of banter prior to this point but I was certainly not feeling in a jovial mood. Out of the mist a sign-post appeared pointing west to Eidfjorden, North to the hut we had just left and south to Kjeldebu – another hut but gave no distances (this is normal). We pondered whether or not our detour to take in a view above Eidfjorden was worthwhile considering the conditions but despite agreeing it was pointless we pursued it anyway. A couple of miles further in the increasing rain we stopped and made eye contact, shook our heads disapprovingly and turned 180 degrees to rejoin our original route back on the main trail.
It was lunch time and we were both hungry but we weren’t stopping now that we were wet, cold and feeling just a little sorry for ourselves. The executive decision was taken there and then with no debate. We'd head to Kjeldebu hut and despite the distance and cost, stay another night and take the opportunity to dry out. As we walked heads down and increased pace we tried to recall the route and the junctions from the map and from our collective memories felt we had a good chance of making the hut by late afternoon. We might have been a little down but now we had an aim, a target and that target ended with a wood-burning stove and a real seat for a poo – we hoped at least!
The terrain was now more grassy with lots of small unnamed 'vatnets' (tarns) scattered along the way and even in the poor conditions we both commented with some frequency just how good some of the spots would be to pitch a tent. In good weather they would all have been sublime.
We trudged away the hours putting one inov-8 in front the other and ascended a bit, then dropped some, then ascended a lot, crossed some bridges over furiously fast water and then suddenly it got more interesting. We were in a bowl, surrounding by high rising rock faces, small tarns and our familiar friends the red 'T's. This itself wasn't any more or less interesting than normal but what raised the game slightly was one red T stopping dead at the edge of a swollen river which was almost exclusively white water and then just making out the familiar red blurriness of another T a good twenty meters away on the opposite bank. Neither of us had logged this in memory from our time gazing down at the map! Paul made it all better by shouting 'boll@cks' at the top of his voice (mimicking the greeting we had received from a German lorry driver we'd met at Stansted airport 3days earlier) and proceeded to make his way upstream hopping with purpose across the boulders with a view to finding an alternative crossing point. I was slightly perturbed by this obstacle because through the mist all I could see upstream was steeper, faster white-water and it was clear that this was the preferred place to cross. Under normal conditions this might be a fairly normal ankle high wade to the other side but with the sheer amount of rain and run-off, this was now a very different river and I was honestly frightened to cross. This fear marked a turning point in my mindset and confidence on the trip, where I'd let Paul lead on such obstacles and I'd just hang back and be typically risk averse when it came to water.
It was deep. I didn't need to test it with my pole to see this but did and the force of the water grabbed at the pole and I imagined what that would be like dragging on my legs and feet. How high would it come up and would it stay that high or get worse in the middle? The unknown was exciting and head-shrinking in equal measure and all that went through my mind was that we had never encountered a crossing like this and an error in judgement or otherwise would bring less than desirable consequences to an already tough day! I joined Paul further up the falls.
The noise was amazing and the atmosphere was thick with spray and mist. Each rock we tested was either unstable or offered no traction and the only chance at a jump was asking for trouble since there was no telling what lay in wait at the next hurdle. My mind was made up and I knew I didn't have the metal to risk it higher up and returned to the red T as my H&S head took control. I wasn't entirely confident that Paul would make the same decision so I constantly stopped and gestured for him to follow and he successfully avoided each attempt as he concentrated hard on calculating the risks. Paul is amazingly good on his feet but I wasn't so sure he had the legs for any of the opportunities I'd seen upstream. 5 minutes later I was stood at the same position as before and just staring across to the other side. Suddenly my right foot was in the shockingly cold water albeit not where I'd intended as the flow pushed hard against my shins. It was suddenly up my knees and with the shock of the cold water surrounding my lower body and the sheer force of the water pushing against my best efforts I was aware that panic was just a neural pathway away. Amazingly my body just sucked it up and I went at it with gusto - almost accepting whatever fate the Gods had in store. Displaying absolutely no poise, little balance and clenched glutes, I edged further in as rocks tipped under my weight and the white water disorientated my every sense in an attempt at delivering some proper misery. I was now half-way and worked out that the stepping stones that once offered safe passage had been shifted and offset in the deepest section but the latter third was still in-tact and walking diagonally up-stream I met them and clambered up so only ankles were submerged. A short few hops later and I was on the other side to the sound of a deep, dog-esque panting sound. Turns out it was me.
Looking back across it looked every bit of the undertaking it had been and from this vantage point it looked worse! It genuinely was bad and I knew this because of the caution Paul was displaying as he crossed. I was quietly worried that Paul would suffer for my success - as is the nature Karma. Nevertheless it was an identical crossing to mine complete with stumbles, wobbles and elation at reaching the other side. We gripped gloved hands in a victory shake, brothers in arms style, and continued on as though we'd taken it all in our stride. I guess in a way we had and it was exhilarating. More deep glacial white water for us please!
** something clearly happened to me out there, I now appear to be writing like Nigel flippin Slater***
***No offence Nige.
To be continued.....

Monday, 3 October 2011

Norway, HardangerJokulen: Day 2

I woke a little confused of my whereabouts until the sound of Paul snoring and rain crashing into the fly-sheet put my mind in order. I sat up and looked around to find the moon still toying with me outside, arching across the sky and occasionally being swamped by thick clouds. The sound of rushing water was almost deafening and feeling just a little paranoid I unzipped, an annoying series of zips, to check we hadn't been washed downstream and onto the open water of Finsevatnet. I untangled my earphones and moved my iPhone to the pocket in my sleeping bag and the next thing I knew it was morning. Apparently the sun was up but that was debatable and the familiar sound of rain and running water was dominant. It was fairly cool in the tent and once out of my sleeping bag it was hard to resist the lure of my down jacket. The Western Mountaineering Flash is hard to resist at the best of times let alone first thing in the morning in a cold, slightly damp, tent.
Paul was doing his best to ignore my incessant faffing but failed miserably when he heard the sound of the Jetboil blasting into action. He set about trying to escape his sleeping bag whilst looking around frantically to locate his cup. In my view simply no amount of warning can prepare you for the speed at which this fiery little beast can boil water. It’s too bloody fast in fact because it boiled around 500ml of water before I could even think about getting my cup and teabag ready. There and then I decided that there is absolutely nothing relaxing or gentle about 'Jetboil mornings'. They are simply an abrupt, brash affair starting with a butt clenching “BUUUUFF” as it ignites, then the loud hissing thrash of the burner and culminating in the dull rumbling and chaotic gaggling sound as it lets you know how happy it is to be evaporating your precious water. Moaning aside, I don't often sing praises about the Jetboil but for a one trick pony it does that one trick very well indeed and this titanium version is almost light enough to justify its place on the team.
Coffee, tea, and muesli eaten (oh and a protein shake for Paul) and we were ready for action. We checked the map, began the great re-packing effort and headed out into what was now a fine drizzle. The Scarp II went down as easy as it always does and we were soon on our way to re-join the track heading south towards the Rembesdalsseter hut and beyond towards the head of Eidfjorden. We had seen from the map that the terrain and scenery had great potential for drama and we would be passing very close to the outlet glacier of Rembesdalskaka and hopefully some decent photos. Paul was unaware of how jealous I was each time he pulled his camera from his hip belt in the drizzle whilst I had to resort to my iPhone to avoid repeatedly stopping to retrieve or stow my SLR.
Nevertheless, the going was good, we we're on our adventure and I soon forgot my camera envy and lust for my Ixus and just soaked up the freedom as though it would be my last. The colours and formations of the landscape seemed to change at every glance and left no doubt as to who was in charge around here. Each time we got comfortable the rain would roll on in and just as we got used to that it would stop and throw a bit of wind into the mix. It was like some sort of melting pot of experiences, an assault on the senses and, ready or not, our bodies and minds were adapting quite readily - almost instinctively, to our new environment. We were slowly finding a certain Zen and things started to step up as we climbed higher and increasingly further away from the daily grind.
The trail was still very well marked but we had to laugh when we found the trail simply stopped beneath a great hunk of sheer vertical rock and then just continued at the top! This was also yet another example of how hard it was to get a perspective on the land and the sheer scale of our surroundings as what looked like miniature snow banks from a distance became impressive towers of stubborn ice, laughing in the face of 7 degrees Celsius! We looked back at the top of a short climb up through a wide but steep, babbling stream to see the last of Finse and its symbolism of civilisation for another 4 days – it was an absolute joy.
We decided that we should celebrate with a cup of tea and a chocolaty snack (rock and roll) and we sat sipping our drinks whilst watching the dark heavy clouds moving away in the distance, thankful for a break in the rain. We sat in relative silence just absorbing the view and (in my pathetic romanticising mind) I like to think we were both reflecting on the trip so far, relishing the experience and fortune and wondering what delights and challenges lay ahead of us – I certainly was.
Here it didn't matter about financial reporting, intellectual property rights management or whether you want muscavado or Demerara sugar in your double-shot, skinny latte. Here, it was about agility, self reliance, stamina and camaraderie. It was almost primal and the more we lived it the more the senses heightened and our bodies and minds tuned in. Despite its proximity to Finse (and perhaps with the help of the weather) it felt quite remote already and it was hard to ignore the excitement and fortune - as the adventure took hold and swept us along.
After the break we practically bounced along, exploring last seasons cornices and snow banks with gay abandon. My feet were damp but warm and even a dip in an icy stream for a photo didn't damage the spirits so I was loving the freedom of unlined shoes – for now at least.
The morning was full of adventure with river crossings and bridges of varying drama, distant views of the glacier as it met its glacial lake, and large expansive outcrops on the ridge above. Probably the highlight of the morning for me was the frequent waterfalls that thundered down off the glacier above and into the surrounding lakes – it was nothing short of a privilege to be there watching in absolute delight as my eyes tried to soak it all up and store it in my awful, floppy disc-like memory.
We were making good time as usual and Paul was hinting about having lunch right there and then. I mean, what else were we going to do, we had huge towering rock faces, waterfalls, lakes and boulders for chairs so it was a no-brainer to stop a little early. Once again the jet boil did its thing (almost blocking out the sound of the waterfall just 300m away) and, once again, I wasn't ready for it. I had a mountain dilemma here people – to eat the Fuizion main meal I saved from last night or opt for a mug shot and save the Fuizion for lunch later on in the trip. The stress out there was unbearable at times! Just as I decided on the mug-shot rain invaded our quiet little spot and the result was a miserable scene of two twerps sat on rocks eating semi-rehydrated food in a downpour. We ate then packed away and didn't say an awful lot until we'd warmed up a few hundred meters down the track. No matter how much experience I stack up outside I'm always surprised at how quickly you lose body heat when stopped and conversely how quickly you warm up on the move having eaten.
The trail was getting less less forgiving and after a long, flat, hour of walking it was clear that from here on in it was a knee crushing descent from here at the peak of Lureggane down to Rembesdalsvatnet. Not only was it a test of knees and thighs, every step on the steep slippery marbled slabs tested poise and balance and it made for some interesting waling techniques in attempt to stay vertical!
The amount of water coming down off the surrounding hills was astonishing and everything within few meters just seems to be moving or rushing or dripping with it – including us, and by now we were both thoroughly wet through a base layers. We'd both chosen not to bring over-trousers as we rarely, if ever, put them on so it seems a bit pointless to bring them and today was the same since we both appeared to get wet from wind driven rain entering our hoods and running down our backs and into our trousers.
The descent was hard enough on the body without the minds taking a beating from the miserable conditions that seemed to have set in for the day with no intention of respite. By the time the trail turned back south again after a short westward stint everything was wet – even Paul's lined shoes which made for interesting outbursts from Paul as they got heavier and more uncomfortable! The Gods must have sensed our wretchedly unhappy tone and suddenly out of nowhere we caught a glimpse of 3 dark solid shapes off in the distance below – the DNT huts! With renewed vigour our pace increased and we both speculated whether as to whether it would be open and if it was would someone have the fire on so we could warm up and dry out? Once again, we were ahead of our planned schedule and we decided we would at least check it out before moving on back up the other side of the valley and onto the start of Eidfjorden. Once we’d started the wildly exaggerated speculations on what awaited us at the hut (Paul’s recurring idea seemed to start and finish with a group of friendly Norwegian women) it seemed to take an age to get there. The closer we got the longer it took and it was soon obvious that no-one was home and if they were they didn’t much for the wood burner- bummer.
Would it be locked, would it be full (we very much doubted it) or would it offer itself as a comfortable pit-stop to dry our clothes and enjoy a hot drink before setting off again? Eventually it was time to to find out and we both set off in a surrounding pattern to assess the situation. All was quiet and both of the larger huts were open and well stocked with firewood, food and bedding. Choosing the larger hut of the two we entered the stable-style door dripping from head to toe as we read the instructions and checked for further signs of life.
It was pretty nice to see that we were the only ones around and we dropped our bags, kicked off our shoes and headed into the main room. It was quite frankly amazing in there and there was a large wood burner, a sink, a gas hob, a large cupboard of tinned and packet food and two large bedrooms with a total of 10 bunks.
We both just stood there laughing at the incredible good fortune this provided and took no time in getting the fire going and hanging up wet clothes. Reading the visitors’ book it appeared we had two options: we could either pay the 70Kr. camping fee and use the facilities provided we had vacated by the property by 6pm or we could kick back and stay the whole night in the hut for 290Kr. This was truly cool beans and with just under a couple of hours until 6 we had a chance at getting warm and dry before heading off.
With the stove roaring away in the centre of the room, the hut was incredibly cosy and with its view over the large, the large frothing waterfall coming down the opposite slopes oh and the whopping great glacier above to the left you’d have to pay hundreds of pounds for week in this setting. It comes as no surprise then that we decided to stay the night and got comfortable reading the books, taking photos and just listening to the wind and rain howling away outside. An incredibly pleasant finish to a challenging day – fact.
The time flew by and we seemed to just occupy ourselves for hours, just pottering away doing nothing in particular at all. The hut was now very warm and stepping outside for water and a wee reminded you instantly what a good idea it was to stay until morning. We hoped that by then the weather might be showing signs of improvement so we could able along nicely and explore the glacier before moving on up to Eidfjorden in the afternoon and hopefully an incredible view by which to pitch the tent. Fetching water from the fast flowing stream below the hut, I almost found myself in a bad place as a gust of wind knocked me off my delicate balance whilst wearing Paul’s ridiculous flip-flops. It felt as though the weather was seriously moving in and I returned to the hut and sat by the window in candle light to watch the sheets of rain move across the bloated lake below.
With bowls and cutlery there for the taking we smuggishly ate our Fuizion meals at the table, discussing how simply amazing the recipes are and were glad we hadn’t opted for the cheaper offerings available – there simply is no better freeze-dried food available – factoid.
It had been another eventful day but despite the weather, the tough terrain and the fact this was only the first full day - it was starting to feel like a real adventure. Admittedly though adventure is blinking-well tiring and after selecting our bunks we hit the iPods once again, but I know I was out cold before the 15 minute sleep timer kicked in....

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Norway, Hardangerjokulen: Day 1

Here it is folks, and you can be forgiven for thinking that this is an unbelievably long post for what is effectively 2 hours of relatively easy walking and that would be because it is! My solution to this is to grab a beer, wine, Gin or (really get into the spirit of it with) a White Russian and get comfortable before reading on.....

Sunday 11th September 2011
With heavy heads, a rather large red suitcase and Paul's home-made, garlic-ridden salami pitta sandwiches, we left Oslo behind on a 5 hour train journey. This was the Bergensbanen people, we were headed to Finse – it was on.


Thanks to Paul's obsessive compulsive disorder (days and days of revisiting the NSB booking site) we had first class seats (facing the direction of travel I might add) with free tea, coffee or hot chocolate for the entire journey – rumour has it that I had more of this than NSB had ever accounted for but I can say this: I touched heaven's gates that day.
Apart from the fact that this journey is one of the most picturesque train journeys in the world, it was fairly uneventful on the whole and before long we were hearing announcements for Finse (pronounced Finseh) over the train's intercom. Still feeling a little rough, it suddenly dawned on me that we would step off the train and onto a platform and have to embark upon this adventure we had organised for ourselves for 6 whole days. Leaving the free hot drinks behind was bad enough but I could already sense the isolation that would ensue from the scenery flashing by the large window to my left and it had been a while to say the least.

As we got closer to Finse, it seemed as though the whole train became more and more excited and rightly so as you leave lush green rolling hills and fjords at the entrance of the tunnel and exit to a large mountainous expanse with views over the giant Hardangerjokulen glacier. As the train slowed people flocked to the windows, pushing and leaning over for a glimpse or a precious photo. The view was impressive, dark and foreboding and the thought that we would absorbed by this landscape in a matter hours had my skin tingling and my mind racing with excitement – and maybe a little trepidation. The train stopped, the doors opened and we stepped off into a noticeably cool wind looking at each other in acknowledgement. Within the seconds the train was heading off towards the exit tunnel and we just stood and watched for a moment trying to take it all in. I felt like I'd been there :before and my unhealthy obsession with the live webcam might explain this...


As always, it isn't long before the brain kicks into auto and we both headed immediately to the ticket office to make the final preparations and drop off the case as planned. To our disappointment the office was closed until 5.30 so we set about packing and getting ourselves 'trail ready' whilst we worked out what to do. I had rang ahead a few weeks before and was told the only place to leave a bag during this “busy time” was the ticket office and for a small charge (50Kr). However, upon my enquiry at the Finse 1222 hotel I was surprised to learn that the large drying room off the main seating area and bar would easily accommodate our clumsy red suitcase for the week and free of charge to boot. “IN YOUR FACE LEFT LUGGAGE FACILITY, IN YOUR FACE”. Dropping off that case, walking out of the hotel and into the wind and heavy rain was pertinent – It was finally, well and truly, undeniably 'on'.


Shouldering the packs felt worryingly unnatural and revealed two things: 1) it had been a while; and 2) they were heavy and we both noted, with some regularity during those first few hundred meters, just how heavy we found them. I had an excuse (and a valid one in my mind) since I was carrying a fixed 1.6kg of camera equipment, whereas I think Paul's problem was the sheer number of flapjacks and home-made Rice Krispie cakes he had been 'forced' to bring should things go badly wrong. In reality though it takes at least one large hunk of Rice Krispie cake to get him out of bed in the morning!


Paul wanted to record the actual track data on his GPS so he set about playing with that as I locked my poles into position and made a hash at adjusting the hood on my Mica. A quick photo and we finally set off heading west alongside the train tracks.


Earlier on the train, Paul had suggested the crazy idea of changing our route to take an anti-clockwise direction and so instead of heading south towards Blåisen (an outlet glacier just south of Finse) we would be heading out west along the open shores of Finsevatnet. We didn't plan to walk very long today, primarily as we had little daylight left and tomorrow we'd hit the route with some gusto after we'd got some sleep following our antics in Oslo. Whilst this was meant to be an easy first foray into the Norwegian wilderness, the rain had something to prove and it joined the wind to pelt our faces and exposed hands. The views across the lake looked bleak and moody and were enough to ensure that we never felt comfortable in the first hour on the trail. It quickly became apparent that there was no need for the map since there are large red T marks all along the main trails and having already picked an area for a potential pitch we simply followed these across slippery rocks and boggy pockets of land, passing lots of privately owned huts along the way.


My camera was confined to its dry bag in my pack and I was a little gutted that I was unable to use it in the conditions. I told myself to be patient and just looked on as Paul snapped away with this Cybershot, shielding the lens from wind driven rain in all directions. Soon we passed the last of the huts and we were left with just ourselves and edges of the Jokulen for company. Suddenly we could just hear a dull but constant thrashing noise above loud patters of rain on our hoods. We both knew this was the river crossing before our eyes confirmed it but nothing really prepared us for the sheer volume of water rushing within it. The bridge was in great condition and very sturdy but it was still exhilarating to climb the steps and walk across for the first time. Looking down released a dose of adrenaline as heavily sedimented green-white water thundered through a natural granite bottleneck. The bridge bounced and swayed as I carefully crossed, always keeping one had on the thick, cold cable handrail. Exiting the bridge and leaving the river behind the constant patter of rain returned to our ears and an expanse of boulder and bog opened out ahead.


We'd been walking for just over an hour and decided that we should look for a spot to pitch the tent before it got too late. The only issue with that was the sheer amount of bare rock that lay in every direction and the chance of shelter from the wind seemed to diminish with every step. Paul spotted a flat area off to our left and quite a way off the trail but to me it just looked like wet grassy silt deposit between two spurs of the river above. Nevertheless I headed over to investigate to find it was dry and spongy and would hold an Easton peg quite nicely. It was going to be tight with the Scarp II though as the footprint is quite large and a boggy section to the south and a moderate waterfall to the north demanded care around camp.


Within minutes of laying down our packs, the tent was up, NeoAirs inflated and down garments lofting nicely. The ritual and ordering of setting up camp was set and things became more relaxed as the rain eased and the clouds began to disperse. It wasn't long before the rain had stopped completely and the late evening sun made a brief appearance for photos and a quick recce of our temporary home. We had around a 30 minute window before the sun disappeared behind the peaks to the west and when it did, by golly the cold moved in. It was like somebody had opened the freezer door as icy-cold air tumbled down from the jagged plateau above.


We retreated to the tent in down clothing and we set the new Jetboil Sol Ti going for the first time. It was decided that since food was likely to be short on this trip that we would save our Fuizion meals and opt for a lunch in light of our short 'easy' day and within minutes we were consuming Mugshots and Peperami with hot chocolate to finish. Astonishingly I had a phone signal (God bless those crazy Norwegians) and I checked in with Charl by text as the trials of the day got the better of Paul who zonked out instantly after eating – poor little sod.


With hot food goodness pulsing through my veins I decided I'd head out and check out the potential for some night photography. I mean, I'd lugged a 330g Tamrac Zipshot tripod up here so I may as well get some use out of it hey? I gathered my camera bag, remote timer, head-torch and gloves and shuffled out of the tent and into the cold, bluey darkness. The sun was just losing the battle with the horizon to the west but to the east the moon was blazing a trail across the late evening sky. It glistened brightly in the still, shallow pool below me and my mind saw a time-lapse series right there. I framed up and experimented with a few shots to determine my exposure before reaching for my tripod and letting its lightweight, tent-pole legs open themselves out. My experiments at home had taught me that this tripod is really only an emergency tool but its uses can be expanded when combined with a taught-line hitch knot, some bungee cord and a tent peg to prevent it from moving in the wind. The light wind was super-cold and I worked quickly by the moonlight to get the tripod secured to the ground. Excited thoughts of the converted sequence passed through my mind as I set up the remote timer with the camera and then I reached for the camera to attach it to the mounting plate. It was difficult in the dark to line everything up so the head-torch had to come out and I cursed as it ruined my night vision. However, the head-torch was not going to help find what wasn't there (short of a frickin miracle) and it was clear that the threaded nipple had fallen out of the tripod head and was apparently lost forever. Whilst disappointment kicked in about all of my great idea's for wide angle panning scenes in HD video, time-lapses and long exposures over Norway's incredible vistas, my heart sank even more at the thought that I'd be lugging a completely useless 330 gram tripod around Norway for six frickin days for no reason whatsoever! I'd sacrificed my lightweight principals for my photographic dreams and felt betrayed by the Gods who now seemed to be laughing as they looked down at my pathetic time-lapse failure. Without this double ended screw the tripod is even more of a useless pile of scheiße (if that's possible) and I had to resist the urge in the ensuing mountain tantrum to simply launch it into the river below. I literally had to go for a walk in the eerie, slippery granite darkness to calm down before returning to my camera and the well-anchored tripod - having had a little word with myself. Still not completely free of my mood I took a few high ISO hand-held shots before returning to the tent to escape the increasingly cold wind. Dejected, I climbed into my blue bag of feathery joy did the only thing I could do given the circumstances and the lack of any booze – I reached for the iPod and rocked myself to sleep.


I want to say a special thanks to Elbow for getting me through that long night and you guys should know that there's a Tamrac Zipshot tripod in my cupboard which owes its miserable life to the sonic beauty of The Bones of You.* Needless to say this was not the end I had in mind for that first day and now the pressure was on for some good Karma to come my way**

*with maybe just a little help from my Phonak Audio 122s
**most preferred in the form of flapjacks and home-made Rice Krispie cakes....