Tuesday 21 February 2012

Norway, HardangerJokulen: Day 5

It was quite a windy and cold night, most likely it felt more so than it really was since we'd gone a bit 'soft' from the hut experience. I removed my ear plugs once it got light and just lay there snoozing to the sound of the water lapping up on to the rocky shore. The wind was still there but there was certainly no rain this morning and for that I thanked the Gods and offered Paul as a sacrifice in the hope that it would continue.

Soon, there was a soft warm glow through the tent fabric, casting a strange hue inside the tent making all of our clothes look aubergine in colour. It was the tell tale sign of the low sun on a clear morning. The tall slope rising up from the shore of the fjord meant that we'd not see it and nor would it super-heat the tent until much later. Neverthless the prospect of both was enough for us and we both just lazed around in our bags, being immature and generally yawning a lot. This ritual happens most mornings when Paul and I go away and its more about who will crack and make the mornings tea rather than our enjoyment of lazing around on our Neoairs. I generally find that its nothing to do stubborness either and more about how desperate you are for that morning wee!

Drag tent sunrise

As usual I caved first because the feeling of kidneys and bladder aching in protest isn't something I enjoy, whereas Paul does this sort of perverse thing for fun. I didn't mind really as I wanted to get out and take a look around and do a weather 'reccy' as it were. What I did mind was cold, wet shoes...

On the way out of the tent I passed a strange looking spider just on his (or her) way in. Since I didn't want Paul to be too lonely in the tent I left the mesh open a bit so he could have some company. I obviously didn't make the entrance obvious enough as it clearly never made it into the inner tent owing to the distinct lack of dramas or sounds of Paul scrambling around inside trying to get out. Shame really, it might have been a beautiful friendship but now we'll never know.

Me dragiedfjorden

It was pretty damn cold and the clear air seemed to nibble at every bit of bare skin. My Western Mountaineering Flash Jacket was proving to be an incredible addition to my kit list and the hood (though making me look 'special') was needed and very welcome this morning. It really is incredibly light and warm (considering its weight) and is thoroughly recommended.

The Jetboil Sol Ti took no time at all to boil some water for tea and was already boiling itself to oblivion by the time I returned with another full platypus from the nearby stream. Paul hadn't moved and he complained that his legs were still aching from our pilgrimage on day 3. Eventually he found the energy to raise a hand from within his bag and take ownership of his cup of tea. My new insulated aluminium mug was working a treat and causing burns to my lips way after I ever expected. Paul likes to point out that it isn't as pretty or technical as his insulated Hurtigruten mug, complete with lip guard and lid, but I like to remind him just how much he paid for that mug and so it can be as technical as he needs it to be to justify the enormous expense! I'm not at all jealous of it you understand and nor have spent hours on eBay trying to find one before the trip. That didn't happen*

Pitch dragiedfjorden 2

The sun was just peeping over the top of the hill behind us now and we were feeling the warmth spreading through the tent until the wind would come along and replace it with a fresh, cold air. Whilst we sat and ate breakfast and drank numerous teas, we decided that today we could probably just sit tight and spend two nights here. It was a nice spot, the weather looked good and we could spare the time. In the end we couldn't commit so decided to see what the morning would bring and how we felt before writing up the minutes and finalising the whole deal.

I, for some reason, decided that I would go for a swim and a wash, you know, seeing as it was soooo nice out. The problem, as I quickly discovered, was that bare skin was like a meal to the cold wind and as such as I stepped out in Icebreaker boxers I immediately regretted it! Cut back to minutes earlier when I'd shaken off Paul's (now quite wise) words of discouragement thinking I was the bigger man. At the waters edge I was suddenly feeling a bit sheepish. It wasn't that I was bothered so much about the imminent cold that the water would bring to my goose-pimpled skin but more the issue of getting warm afterwards. Paul and I had struggled to get warm in the tent in the early part of the morning and I could see that 'x10' happening after this little adventure. Soon I got bored of procrastination and just got in.

Shivering, back at the tent, I sold Paul the dream that it had been a life changing experience, the freedom, the freshness and most all the thrill - whilst he played back the video he had taken of me and laughed like a girl. He was right, it was a bit ridiculous, but I took smugness out of the fact that I wouldn't be using wet wipes today, oh no sireee Bob. "Only fresh vatnet water for me these days Paul. Im all about luxury my alcohol-wipe-dependant friend"!

After my little dip I proceeded to put on all of my clothes. All of them. Not for any reason and definitely not because I was feeling hyperthermic - just because I could. We lazed around for a few hours, listening to iPods and enjoying the warmth of the tent. I came around from my snooze to see Paul sat up with the map. "What dya reckon? Lunch and then back on it?" he said. I nodded and before we new it we'd eaten lunch and the tent was back in the bag. It had been amazing to leave the tent up until gone midday and just take the decision to move whenever we liked. No people passing by, no fear of angry land owners popping up out of nowhere. We were literally nowhere and we were kings!

Dragiedfjorden panorama

We decided that we'd just walk north along the rest of shore and then head north-east along the trail to Finnsbergvatnet below the peak of Finnsberg. It looked like a great spot, nice and sheltered and may even get a view of the Jokulen from the top of Finnsberg. The distance was a approx 3 miles and was an easy walk over nice terrain.

It was all going well along the trail as we approached the falls and the bridge near the hut at Larsbu so it was nice when things got mixed up a bit as I slipped, got my pole wedged in a rocky crevice and hit the ground to the sound of splintering carbon fibre. The casualties were adding up on this trip. and for those who may need a reminder, the things broken so far are:

  • Expensive Lightweight Tripod
  • Expensive DSLR Camera
  • Expensive Carbon Fibre (Titanium Goat) Walking Pole

Now lets move on…..

Afternoon trail

Me, storming off in a mood, having broken my pole!

I wasn't happy about this but nonetheless took comfort in knowing that this incident was probably the end of failures or breakages for me. Thing come in threes and as far as I was concerned that was me done. I cursed the Gods and vowed to get my revenge and walked on in silence trying to work out just how and what it would be.

Approaching falls

The trail crossed the bridge, passed by a number of unnamed vatnets and climbed up to cut the eastern shoulder off of Finnsberg. We were now walking in base layers and celebrating with some mountain beat-boxing and odd musical improvisation. Our pace was slow and relaxed as we knew we'd be at our planned spot in no time. Standing at the crest of mild climb, next to a large salt-lick, we could see wild-camping paradise below. Next to the lake was a large, reddish, flat area just perfect for a tent. Provided it wasn't a bog it would most certainly be spongy and flat and lovely and lots of other adjectives to help visualise the scene.

Finnsbergvatnet tent

Spot the tent

We dropped down along a rocky path heading straight for the small stream as it met the trail. Jumping across it told us everything we needed to know and we just dropped the packs and out came the Scarp II. The only distraction from our tent erecting objectives was the argument about who was sleeping on which side. This was important, you see, because Paul had made it so when he 'bagsied' a particular side on the first night - claiming it was a 'preference thing' and nothing to do with the view or wind direction at all. I thought it was rather unfortunate that Paul's preferred side faced away from the late afternoon sun and into a slight wind - and so did Paul! So much so that when I stood my ground and explained the principal of why I wasn't swapping, Paul threatened to allow me to keep my side but would unpeg the tent and rotate it 180 degrees so he could have the view and I the wind. As tempted as I was to let him do this, I walked to the water's edge for some quiet time! When I got back there was an apologetic tea waiting - which I drank with a smug grin on my face until we both just creased over in laughter!

Early pitch finnsbergvatnet

Paul enjoying the view from 'my' side

We sat on a some large rocks listening to and watching the nearby falls, chatting and taking photos (with my flippin iPhone) and just relaxing in the evening sun. I sat in the tent and called Charl (I still had a mobile signal!) and Paul scrambled up Finnsberg to see if the Glacier was visible and to watch the sun disappear over Helvetashorga.

Finnsberg boulder

I noticed as soon as the sun went down by the plummetting temperatures inside the tent. It was such a strange feeling to be away so long and be so far away in the wilderness and still be able to call Charlotte. It made me homesick and I missed her. It's strange how you can be having the time of your life but yet it doesn't seem 100% complete without loved ones to experience it with - No offence Paul.

It was about 40 mins after leaving for the ridge line that Paul returned out of breath and looking cold. He was happy he'd been but admitted he was chilled to the core. There was only one thing to do and that was to cook and eat - which we did and then proceeded to climb into our Cumulus sleeping bags and pondered the map to work out a plan for the morning. It had been an easy day with a total result with the weather and the pitch so there was nothing left to do to complete such an awesome day other than to drift off listening to Phantogram (mixed in skilfully with Paul's snoring) followed by about 12 hours sleep. "Goodnight Norway".

Finnsbergvatnet dusk

*It did.

Sunday 19 February 2012

Norway, HardangerJokulen: Day 4

I slept right through so assumed that the night was uneventful but woke with a start wondering where the hell I was. My body still ached and outside my sleeping bag the room was cold. I enjoyed the silence for a while before venturing out of the bag and over to the window to check out the weather and was 'surprised' to learn that it was still raining!

Kjeldebu view 2

Paul's night had been uneventful too but the leaky window had caused him to have to move a couple of times to avoid damp cushions as the water seeped closer and closer - sweet justice!

The clothes and other items we'd set out to dry were all good to go, except my new SLR which had taken on more water than an SLR really should and was still acting up. It was not a good situation since I'd carried it all this way and now it seemed as though it was giving up the ghost. Photographically this trip was just not meant to be! My big ideas of a mountain movie about two mates escaping the traps of city life had been hampered by tripod issues and and the latest disaster meant that was now just a romantic dream.

We got dressed into warm dry clothes (a pure luxury), ate breakfast and drank tea whilst we lazed about the hut deciding on our next move.

Late start kjeldebu

The rain was still coming and we decided that we had time to wait and see what the afternoon would deliver. We sat around just perusing the map and deciding what Fuizion meal we would have for lunch - owing to fact that we had a spare following yesterday's missed lunch and last night's tinned balls! Paul was working his way to eating two meals for lunch whereas I was simply happy to eat food out of the rain and look forward to a future glutinous evening - should I be with a ravenous hunger.

We were soon getting restless, so we ate, packed our bags, put the last of the fire out, restored order to the hut and ventured out. The wind was still pretty strong but the rain had stopped so we took our chances back on the trail.

Rather than retrace our steps to reach the junction, we decided to head due east and pick up the trail after it passes the north shore of Fisketjorna - a smallish vatnet to the north east of the hut. We stopped for one last luxury poo in the toilet block and we were back on it!

The feeling of warm dry clothes was incredible and we both fully appreciated the good fortune. Mine was short-lived, at least in the foot department, as the waterlogged ground made friends with my socks. We'd seen the first river crossing on the map and I decided that it was just not worth risking my dry Sealskin socks within minutes of leaving the hut. Moments later I was loving this decision.

Once again the sound of the river reached us before we saw it and the track we'd been following faded away at almost the same time. We trudged on waterlogged moss to find that once again we'd under-estimated the width and pace of the river. In fairness to us tough, the rain had dumped a whole lot of water into the table over the least few days and it was almost impossible to gauge how swollen the river would be. There were no two ways about it, this was going to be another epic crossing.

As before we headed upstream to begin our sweep of the options.The steep gradient meant fast water and a LOT of noise. Looking back down to the vatnet it was clear that it looked shallower further down if not a bit wider, so we headed down to take a look. In some ways it was riskier because the river had split into two defined strands and each of these was seemingly broken up by rocky outcrops. This temped us into thinking that the sectioned approach was safer when in fact it turned out the sections in between were deep, and almost silent, as the water rushed past. With wet feet and poles I ventured in where I thought was a good entry point and immediately found the water up to my knees. Ahead was a bushy embankment and with this target in mind I spread out using my poles (far more than I should) to give 4 contact points with the ground. The rocks moved with my weight and soon it was all I could do to keep myself from laughing. In my minds eye I was looking down on myself - a bambi-like creature looking quite pathetic trying to cross the river.

My feet were now really cold and this was beginning to move up my legs with shocking speed. I found a large slab and stepped up onto it and another large step later I was on the bushy island as the water tried to reach up and pull me back in. I looked back at Paul who hadn't entered the water but was looking a little apprehensive. I realised that I had selfishly used both poles where one might have sufficed and I quickly threw one back over -  despite Paul's protests. Soon Paul was stepping and wobbling like a drunk leaning on a stick, the sight of which I could only respond to by creasing over with laughter. I like to think it was just this type of encouragement is what got him across in the end.

There was barely enough room for two on the small island and Paul being Paul decided not to bother stopping and carefully passed me by. It got deeper and deeper and looked like it was going to be filling Paul's trouser pockets if it had carried on. Out of nowhere Paul found what must have been stepping stones but were now below the water level by a few inches, which meant on stepping up he was well out of danger. I ventured over but the feeling of ice cold water creeping up my thighs threatened to bring on panic. On reaching Paul's position we both stepped over the large submerged boulders until we were half way across. Once again the sound of our panting was the only sound we heard above the river! We were having to shout to hear each other but eventually I understood what Paul was saying and pointing at as I looked upstream at the epic scene ahead. We were standing ahead of huge foaming rapids and if there was ever a photo I should have taken it was then. Sadly my SLR had killed three of my four batteries and was safely inside a dry bag in the bottom of my pack. I just hope my memory of this scene is never lost from my mind.

We still had another 10 metres or so to go and after that it just looked like ankle deep watershed. We moved quickly along with a pole each until we finally reached the soggy bank on the opposite side. Feet and shins were well and truly numb and wet and neither of us hung around to reflect on the crossing, we just moved on in the direction of the track.

We soon warmed up and our pointless conversations started up again but in the main the weather was the recurring topic. The rain came and went but most of the time is was behind us which meant for much easier walking. We crossed many

Langehaugen panarama

more rivers (from streams to shallow rivers) with striking confidence and eventually the sun threatened to break through the thick rolling clouds.

The open vistas were just massive and especially so now that we were beginning to climb up to Langehaugen and leaving the windy shores of Heimsta Olavsbuvatnet behind. The route from here was undulating and mainly covered in low cloud. We had all but given up hope of seeing the sun and even more so when we looked back to see a hint of blue opening up back out west! We plodded on discussing how far we might go today and whether the opportunity of a great pitch was more important than distance. We'd spotted signs from the hut that the next set of huts were along this trail but had no intention of reaching them and definitely no intention of staying. Provided that we could stay dry we were craving a night under sil nylon again!



We dropped down into a small basin and passed by a very atmostpheric unnamed vatnet which would have made a great pitch. Sadly it was doused in low cloud and, besides, it was too early to stop. The track began to climb out of the bowl gradually over the next few 500 metres or so and then our trip changed for the better as Dragiedfjorden came into view when we crested the hill. I've never been so emotional to see such a small patch of blue sky! I was so overcome I dropped by pack and dug out my camera just hoping it would work…..thankfully it did.

Vista dragiedfjorden

We both just stopped and took in the view which were just amazing but with no sense of scale to help put it all into perspective. I tried and just decided it was…..well…….VAST! We hung about taking photos of the views and each other with me having to remove the battery after every photo - which I enjoyed immensely.

Paul dragiedfjorden


The low, dark grey cloud fired on past overhead and just seemed to get thinner and thinner before our eyes. We fired off shot after shot just to make sure that if this didn't last we'd have proof that the sun still existed and had shown itself on the trip! At one point we were even treated to a shadow.


Beeb dragiedfjorden


We decided to check out the map from here to try and work out a pitch point using the view to help us make out the distant terrain. Suddenly the light changed completely and huge patch of clear sky drifted overhead and moved quickly into the distance. I nearly wept.

Blue sky glimpse

We got over our emotions (just) and carried on descending south west towards the next junction. Here was a signpost for two huts: Kreakkjahytta and Halne fjellstova. It occurred to us that we should be able to see Kreakkjahytta and sure enough on closer inspection - we could. It certainly looked completely different to the other two huts we'd been used to and even from here we both thought it looked like a huge complex. It was literally in the middle of nowhere but we could make out a Caterpillar snow plough and some boats near the shore.

Kreakkjahytta hut

We rambled on down and Paul talked about moving back into his house following some bad times that we don't talk about on blogs. He seemed quite excited about the prospect and for some reason was banging on about Bosch appliances! Had the clear sky had some sort of strange affect on his mental well-being?

It seemed like no time at all had passed and suddenly we were heading north to the huts. We had decided that the site was so massive that they must sell beer and have showers and it was the least we could do to drop by and be sociable. You know, rock up and say 'Hi' to the lovely Norwegian peeps and regail them with our stories of drunken Oslo nights, water-damaged SLRs and lighting fires with Jetboils. It was only fair…we thought.

As we got closer to the complex the scale of the place became apparent. We could hear the distant sound of an outboard engine but pretty much nothing else. It didn't look particularly busy and as we entered the rear courtyard it was looking a lot like we might be the only guests tonight. We'd have to just tell the warden our entertaining and educating stories instead. The outside lights were on but we could see no other signs of life. We knocked the door and looked through the window of the main building but all that presented itself was a dry-suit and some hefty boots. It wasn't looking good. On the western edge of the building there was a tall cage and upon spotting this the largest dog I've ever seen presented itself by jumping up onto it's large kennel. The sound of air entering and leaving its lungs was enough to rattle my rib cage and I kept back in case it decided to make the most of two unexpected visitors.

We tried a few other doors, which were open, but nobody was around. Paul was gutted that his shower and beer prospects (or should that be beer shower) were rapidly demishing and said as much just as a tall, bearded, grey-haired man emerged from the rear door of the main building. He explained (in a very serious tone) that the hut had closed for the season just yesterday but the next hut along would be open for a few more days if we wanted to head over there instead.

We didn't.

Dejected, we said our farewells and pulled out the map to spread it across one of the picnic benches. From here our route would follow the eastern shore of Dragiedfjorden so it seemed a no-brainer to head off over in that direction and see if we happened to come across a dream pitch. Paul's idea was to simply pitch the tent by the hut but this idea wore off once I reminded him of the dog and the warden's fairly harsh tone. There was nothing left to do but walk on and head north before the sun went down.

As always with these things, you see a spot, walk to it, find it isn't in fact even close to being flat and rejoin the path and the process starts all over again. There was a small and quite nice looking island on the southern tail of the Fjord so we found a dry way across only to be denied a worthy pitch once again. The sky was getting moody and the sun was dipping lower and the race was on to find a pitch without having to don a head torch. We pulled out the map and decided to head for the small peninsula that might give us more options on the north east shore so with head's down our pace quickened and we soon began to find some 'flattish' options. Paul took a gamble and wondered off onto the peninsula and a moment later I could just make out the sound of his voice before the landscape swallowed it up. I couldn't make out the words so I just headed on down to where Paul stood right on the edge of the water. It was soft with a bouncy undergrowth and just large enough to take the Scarp II. It was on.

Shore dragfjord

It rained lightly as we pitched the tent but, as usual, it was up in no time at all. Neoairs were inflated and sleeping bags lofted whilst we got the jetboil on for dinner. The rain gradually faded completely and even though we'd started late it had felt like quite a long day on the legs. It was all good though, we had a flat pitch and we just stood examining the views whilst the light faded and were grateful in the end for the opportunity to pitch the tent and sleep outside. I turned on my phone to find I had a signal (Un.be.lievable) and Charl had sent through news of an improved forecast for the next few days. Clear with temperatures dropping gradually it looked like a period of high pressure was winning through. Did this mean we'd have a few days of sunshine and views - we didn't want to let our thoughts run wild only to be disappointed, but couldn't help doing so all the same.

Would we wake tomorrow to an incredible sunrise? Would it be a base-layer only day? What else would our route have in store? I went to sleep listening to Edward Sharpe, eager to find out.

Late pitch dragfjord