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....


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to the rest of the report.

Marcus said...

Thanks Robin, it'll be on its way shortly but my evenings are bit tight at the moment....

Alan Sloman said...

I'm hooked.
You can't stop now!

When's the next thrilling instalment?


(Word = impen)

Anonymous said...

that landscape looks challenging purely in terms of the amount of rock present!

Excellent update. More please :)

Marcus said...

Thanks folks, I'm on it right now and I'm just a bit worried it won't be worth the wait......

Alan Sloman said...

In that case we will all storm off and never speak to you again...


or we could sentence you to a lifetime of writing gear reviews...