Monday 9 April 2012

Norway, HardangerJokulen: Day 6

Finnsbergvatnet morning tent

Friday, and an absolutely incredible Friday it was too. We'd been in the wilds of Norway for 5 full days and living the dream. Yes, home had seemed far away and an absent comfort at times but there was no denying that it had been an absolute privilege to be here. The freedom of wild camping in Norway was refreshing and almost alien to us. Despite being in charge of our own destiny it felt as though we should be up and moving once we'd eaten and had the first cuppa of the day - it took some effort to shake this feeling and we were envious of the Norwegians and their utopian outdoors world!

Whilst perfectly clear it was also incredibly cold and overnight the temperature had dropped considerably leaving a shimmering layer of frost all over the tent fly. I had a bad back from too many hours on my Neoair and needed to get up to stretch a little and was almost frantic with the need of some toilet relief! Exiting my bag was shiver inducing and I bounced about on my mat trying to get my trousers on whilst making a right old racket. Paul soon stirred and we both exchanged grunts as I unzipped the fly, donned my cold shoes and headed on out to a brisk but bright paradise.

The small tarn next to the tent had a good layer of ice all over it which gave a good indication of how low the temperature had dropped over night.

Frozen bog

It was glorious - Nuff said. Not a cloud to be seen, the sun just popping over the shoulder of Finnsberg and casting long distorted shadows across our soft, flat, green mattress. I turned to look at the lake and listen to the sounds of the cascades as the sun tried to warm my back. The sun was neve goig to be enough however, so I was still relying heavily on my Flash jacket. Did I mention I love my down jacket?
Frozen bog flora

I fetched my sleeping bag and draped it across a large boulder to take advantage of the sun and light breeze. Whilst back at the tent I'd tried hard to disturb Paul's sleep but it was a wasted attempt at evil. I decided I'd make the most of the tranquility and wandered over to the shoreline to skim stones. This was nice but quite difficult, as the wind whipped up the waves which would swallow (what I considered to be) my greatest ever skims.

Bog flora

I sat for a while wondering what was happening back home and specifically what were people doing instead of this? Most likely colleagues would be making their various ways to work, probably stuck in traffic and counting the hours for the weekend to begin. My weekend had began six days ago when we flew out to Olso, had an epic night out with some incredibly hospitable locals and now was sat enjoying day seven at the shore of a remote lake at around 1200 metres.
Then my thoughts swung to Charl, what was she doing and what about friends? It's very easy to get lost out in a place like this - mentally rather than physically that is. At first apprehension and excitement combine to leave a mindset that is cautious and aware, whilst prolonged thoughts for loved ones and home are ever present in the background. Then instinct kicks in and thoughts of home become concentrated towards the end of each long day. I'm not normally an emotional character but out here I wasn't just treasuring the freedom, beauty and experience of each passing day - I was truly appreciating what love, friendship and companionship really meant. What is was to understand how it feels to need something and more importantly someone. Make no mistake, being out here was a dream come true. However, I couldn't stay here indefinitely regardless of how much food or equipment I had. Survival is but one facet to human life and I hadn't been able to bring the one thing that I needed just as much as the essentials……Charlotte. If I cold get Charl out here doing this, I'd be made and I set about the impossible task of working out how I could make this incredibly unlikely scenario a reality - whilst firing up the JetBoil.

With the blast of pressurised gas igniting my thoughts were returned to the 'here and now' and I wondered how far we might travel today bearing in mind how close to Finse we now were. Paul must have tuned in to my frequency as he emerged from silnylon grunting and scratching. We drank some tea, checked out the map and, with our routine now at military precision, packed away with effortless speed. We decided we'd take a nice stroll north, enjoy the weather and make the most of the chance to stop and drink tea out of the rain. The option was there to continue on to Finse which was more than reachable before sun-down but this wouldn't be necessary or worthwhile considering out train wasn't due until 12 the following day.

Clear blue

I was now using only one pole and it must of been a sorrowful but entertaining sight for anyone watching - my splintered pole hitching a ride in my pack! I wondered whether this was a sign from the Gods that new poles were available and waiting to be tested. You never can tell the true message of the Gods at times but I was certain that I was on the right track this time!
We passed a raft of clear, dark blue tarns as the track weaved its way north. It was roasting in the sun and starting out in two layers quickly became very unnecessary. We stopped to take photos every few hundred metres and the irresistible urge to drink tea by the water got the better of us.

Calm vatnet

We remembered our adventurous but miserable first days out on the track and praised the DNY hut system like a biased parent or lover! It was all going to work out OK this walking in the wilderness lark. We'd came with an open mind and would leave with it full of experience, memories and aspirations. Paul wanted to come back in winter and we tried to picture how very different and hostile this place would be. There was no way we had the skills to tackle something like that but we never say never any more and we promised to look at winter skills courses and weigh up the possibilities over a beer in due course.

Base layer time

Anyways, we quickly blocked the thought of sipping on an ice cold beer and concentrated instead on lunch. I attempted to record some audio of us reviewing some gear and talking about our experiences thus far but we quickly found this to a painful and unwarranted assault on a potential listener. Delete.

Lunch panorama

We were climbing up gradually now and we agreed that a bite to eat would be our reward for reaching the high-point and with any luck we'd be able to see the glacier whilst we ate. This prophecy came true and we were soon boiling water next to the clearest, coldest mountain tarn we'd seen - at least since the last one! It was couscous and chorizo for me whilst Paul lived another dream with a Fuizion meal and didn't he let me know it! There were groans and sighs of enjoyment which I easily ignored by talking over them and giving the impression I hadn't heard them over all of the other noises like the…………noises - all of the wild noises!

Blue tundra

The reality was it was quiet. It was peaceful, warm (provided we kept out of the breeze) and most of all it was a great vantage point to look out across where we'd been and where we were headed. From here we could see endless crevasses like deep cut wounds on the blue/white glacier. The map showed there was a hut out there somewhere and from here we knew the trip to that hut would be epic. This gave way to the (quite obvious but better avoided) observations that we'd seen nothing of what this small corner of a beautiful country had to offer. There was nothing for it - we'd have to come back and purely in the interests of……

Tarn glacier

We soon started to feel the cold having been stopped in just our base layers so it was nice to stow everything away and get back to walking in the warm sun again. From here we had a short, easy decent but made difficult by our eyes always being distracted by the jokulen to our left. We'd both wanted to get up close and had originally hoped to do so via and outlet to the north east called Blaisen. Our last minute decision to take an anti clockwise route had meant that we'd not had that opportunity when we'd first envisaged. Looking back it would have been miserable but in these conditions it would be incredible.

Tarn glacier2

Even if we had the time, it was quite a way from our current position so we trundled on talking about the possibility of camping just below it - weather, time and suitability of a pitch permitting. The landscape was easing up a bit now and climbs or descents became less obvious and smaller bodies of water seemed to open up everywhere. Most of the route had now become almost exclusively rock with the track staying hard and dry nearly all of the way. Had the weather in the east been like this the whole time whilst we'd been punished over in the west day after day?We decided it was best left unanswered and continued our way along in relative silence. Feet were beginning show signs of fatigue and the unfamiliar hard ground wasn't helping at this stage in the game.

A larger body of water opened out upon what had started to be termed the 'moonscape' and we saw two men in the distance fishing off the rocky outcrops of the vatnet. It was odd to see other human's again but nice to know there hadn't been an apocalypse in the 5 days since we'd seen another soul. Perhaps there had but nobody had told these two dudes fishing like they hadn't a care if they caught anything or not!

Paul on moon

Given that we were still a ways out from Finse, we wondered if these two had come from a private hut nearby but we soon spotted their shelter off in the distance on a dead-flat silt marsh just below Blaisen. It was so flat and green we made a bee-line both thinking (but never saying) that this would make an incredible pitch. The area was massive and was showing all of the signs of being soft if not a little damp! Jumping the river at its narrowest point I ventured on to find it exactly as expected - bouncy, a little water-logged but almost measurably flat. It seemed to hold a peg well but for some reason Paul hung back taking photos and didn't seem too interested in stopping. I rejoined the path where Paul then decided he might want to take look himself - how very rude! I decided to stand my ground and dropped my pack, pulled out a jelly baby and propped myself against a perfectly shaped rock. As Paul began to make his way onto the silty bed it became apparent how easy it was to lose sight of the sheer size of this place.

Paul siltmarsh

We pondered making our way over to Blaisen but also liked the idea of a pitch that could see the glacier and Finse from the same spot whilst making for an easier departure in the morning. The map suggested that the river weaved its way down to a flat area about a kilometre further along. It was indicated as marsh but we decided to take the risk anyway. We'd have a shorter trip in the morning to catch our train and it would have the views we wanted - provided we could find a decent spot.

Blaisen pitch dilemma

From here Finse was just visible with the railway tracks carving a clear scar on the landscape. It really was blue as far as the eye could see with no signs of any changes on the horizon. We dropped down passing tarn after tarn - each as pristine as the next. Paul walked on ahead as I stayed back at a gushing stream to record some audio on my zoom H1. There wasn't an awful lot of point in this but at the time it seemed like a great idea!

Finsevatnet finse

I caught up to Paul who was now traipsing around in tall, almost orange, grass but not looking satisfied. Paul's pitch finding face and stance is really quite a beautiful thing and should be witnessed at least once! Its beautiful because he's bloody good at it. He can spot a patch at just the right size for a Scarp II from a remarkable distance. It's not just that but his hit rate for a spot that is level, has views and will be remembered is commendable.

Paul, I hereby salute you. For this…and only this. Oh and your incessant pestering that I should come to Norway with you for a wonder. I understand that this is partly because you wanted to share this incredible place and the experience and partly because the last time you came here alone you nearly died and might have made a few silly mistakes in your calculations.We'll say no more about this as not to detract from the praise I've just given only a few sentences earlier! Moving on.

It was now 3.45 and the sun, although still definitely up, was making a rapid descent in the direction of the hills to the west. Even now the temperature was noticeably lower then just 3 hours earlier and we both wanted the tent up and a chance to relax and watch the sunset over the Jokulen one last time. By 4.03pm the tent was up on a spot that can only be described as 'money'* by all accounts. It was the only soft, flat spot on the bend of a fast flowing river of rapids and only around a metre or so higher than it.

Blaisen sun

To the west was the glacier and to the north-east was Finse. To say we were connected with the surroundings wouldn't do it justice and needless to say there was no petty squabbling about sides this evening.

Final pitch finse fetene

We sat around by the river washing socks and feet but the grey, silt-heavy water was genital shrinking cold so we soon thought better of that and cooked food instead whilst watching the sun sink lower behind the hills to west. For a brief moment the wind died down and everything was bathed in a silent cast of orange.

Dinner styygelvane

Sunset middalen

We looked back over to Finse and from here there were no signs of life, no sounds, no movement and very much like an abandoned mountain village. We sat out in down jackets until the sun totally disappeared at 7.09pm. Then, something really cold happened, and we retreated to our sleeping bags like a proper pair of girls! Out here there is no hiding from the cold or the wind. It finds you wherever you hide -  except of course inside a cumulus sleeping bag and topped with a Western Mountaineering Flash down jacket - seemingly.

For some reason Paul was eager to do some more sound recording so I pulled out the H1 and Paul lay there just talking at it - summarising the high and lows of the trip. It made for a monotonous hour or so of recording but I let him carry on seeing as he was so content just muttering away  - poor little sod!

It was hard to accept or comprehend that we'd spent the last 6 days wondering about in the Norwegian wilderness and even harder to think that by this time tomorrow evening we'd (most likely) be drunk in a Bergen bar regaling some polite, but clearly unimpressed, Norwegian folk about our trip. We lay in our bags talking through the days and nights and vowing that we'd be back. Paul likes to look forward a little more so than me and he masked his sentimental thoughts by banging on about an Epic night still to be had in Bergen. To be fair I was looking forward to it too but I find it harder to re-adjust when faced with the bold assertiveness of civilisation. My thoughts were far from Bergen and were, once again, back home and looking forward to seeing Charlotte.

I caved before Paul and had to make a hot drink. Paul tried (and failed) to take a decent shot of Finse which by now was well lit and looking very appealing. They had beer over there for christ's sake and we were freezing our nuts off making hot chocolate! We must have been mad just sitting there watching the lights whilst sipping on our drinks in the freezing air when, just 30 mins or so away was a small place serving beer in glasses!
By 9pm it was already frosty out and I opted for one last toilet break before hitting the sack for the last time. Earphones were pressed into place and I hit play on Bob Marley's 'Legend' album before realising that it wasn't fitting of my mood or the place and opted instead for Lykke Li. I found it hard to settle even with a soft voice to send me off. Paul, on the other hand, had peaked a little early with his sound recording efforts and was already curled up in a ball and starting to impinge on my tent space. I decided to stay away a little longer to ensure there would be no spooning!

The wind was picking up again and it was getting colder at an astonishing rate. Arms were moved inside the sleeping bag and the draw cord cinched down nice and tight to avoid any drafts. This was clearly what was needed as the next time I woke was to the sound of a small bear snoring…..

*google it.


Alan Sloman said...

Another great read, Marcus.

Marcus said...

Thanks Alan,

Its been far too long and really is just a case of getting it done now!

Matt C said...

Another great write-up, thanks. You're making me yearn to get back to Norway in the summer! (Preferably with the sun shining)

You mentioned wondering about a winter trip - it's fantastic but potentially very harsh at its worst. The hut system really helps (although a few folk do camp). You really need to ski. A small minority use snowshoes, nobody just walks, but to cover any distance it has to be skis (nordic rather than ski-mountaineering, certainly for areas like the Hardangervidda).

I'm not long back from a trip from the north down through Skarvheimen that ended at Finse. If you'd like a sense of the winter terrain and range of conditions, my (very amateur) photos are here -

Anyway, thanks again for a great read.

Marcus said...

Cheers Matt and thanks for reading!

I'd love a winter trip but don't have anywhere near enough experience (or gear) to tackle the Hardangervidda in Winter. I'm working on this small problem with the hope of improving skills in preparation for next year.

I'll take a look at your photos now, I'll just fetch my tea and the biscuit jar...

Camp Stoves said...

I always enjoy these type of blogs. Thanks for such a nice post!!