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.


Anonymous said...

Dislocated shoulder? Poor lamb. I broke and dislocated my right shoulder about 20 years ago - nasty, you have my sympathy and wishes for a full and speedy recovery.

Another ripping yarn on the Hardanger! You captured that familiar soaked-through-to-the-marrow feeling so well that I had to go and towel myself down. Those four guys you passed were carrying LOTS OF FOOD in their enormous rucksacks. Possibly many tins of Reindeer Balls...

Alan Sloman said...

What can I say?
Wonderful! Epic, indeed.

This was going to be my treat for not getting on the Challenge this year, but then I got a place, so it will have to remain my first choice for the year when I don't get on.

And it's All Your Fault, Marcus!

Wonderfully written and fantastic photos, especially in the circumstances of head down, soaking wet and pretty miserable and tired!

Blogging at it's best, Sir!

And yes, a gas stove always does the business starting a wood burner.

I had been waiting for this post - and well worth the wait it was too!

Marcus said...

Its been an interesting time resting up and I never would have thought I'd be itching to go back to work! Importantly its getting better and I hope to be out soon....real soon!

Thanks so much for the positive feedback, I'm so pleased that people are enjoying my ramblings and despite my poor English too! I'm working on Day 4 and hopefully I'll have everything down shortly.

The Hardangerjokulen seems like a lifetime ago and I'm genuinely sorry that it has taken so long to do the write up.

Alan, if you do ever get a chance, get over and see those crazy Norwegians. Smuggle in your own booze though as you'll find yourself sober the entire time owing to the sheer cost of the bloody stuff!

Matt C said...

I stumbled across this blog last week, and I've been waiting eagerly for this instalment... so thanks, I'm really enjoying the write up.

I've only done one 'summer' (September) trip to Norway, but a dozen or more in the winter including 3 or 4 to the Finse area. The DNT hut system is fantastic, and a real godsend when the Norwegian weather does its worst. But I just can't imagine a system like that ever working in the UK!

In winter they stock up the huts by skidoo. I'm not sure about summer - they may re-stock again as the winter season ends.

I hope the shoulder improves, and I'll look out for Day 4...


gordon@myoutdoorlife said...

stunning scenery!looks like a great adventure. i would love the opportunity to hike through europe