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....


Alan Sloman said...

Fantastic Pictures.
We could do with a few of those huts over here...
Day 3 soon?

Marcus said...

Cheers Alan, we certainly could. They really do offer an unbelievable level of comfort and the serviced ones even sell booze...apparently. Only issue for us Brits is cost at £30 per night

You'll be pleased to know we got one of the stoves going using a jetboil - which I recall is a particular skill of yours.....

Day 3 is just coming to a simmer

Martin Rye said...

Roll on day 3. Cracking tale and superb photos on day 1 and 2 so far.

Marcus said...

Cheers Martin, much appreciated

Working hard to get Day 3 out soon....