Norwegian Ski Touring, March 2012
This year's ski touring trip took me back to Norway and the excellent DNT hut system. I signed up with TelemarkSkiCompany for their Skarvheimen Traverse, a route I'd last completed independently in 2004. I also added a few extra days onto the end of the trip hoping to do a bit of solo touring in the Hardangervidda region.
After an overnight in Oslo and a 6 hour bus journey we arrived at Borlaug Vjendreheim (youth hostel) late in the evening. The warden told us that the previous week had been unusually warm with rain even over the high tops - consequently the snow cover was mostly refrozen and icy, with any loose snow blown clear by the wind to form only intermittent drifted patches.
(It'll take me 7 or 8 posts to complete the report, maybe more depending whether the photo placement behaves...)
Day 1: A taxi took us up the hill to the start of the route at Breistolen Fjellstue (1000m). Our destination, Bjordalsbu hut, lay 13km away at 1580m, so a steady climb with just a couple of moderate descents along the way (total ascent 930m, descent 380m). The weather was overcast, -7c, with a 20mph wind making the windchill around -20c.
We soon opted for climbing skins rather than wax for better uphill progress on the icy surface, although they do make anything downhill rather jerky and unpredictable, as a couple of the group, adjusting to lightweight, freeheel kit discovered! But the group travelled pretty well, reaching the empty hut around 4pm, getting the woodburner lit and snow melting, before preparing dinner.
We were joined later by a further 3 British guys and, a couple of hours after dark, by three more (a Norwegian, a German (sometime OMer "Icewitch" - small world) and a Brit) who'd skied a hefty 30+km day. As it turned out all three groups followed the same itinerary for the week, skiing separately but meeting up every evening.
Day 2: The weather looked promising (sunny, -6c, and only a light breeze) for a straightforward ski 18km to Iungsdalen hut at 1110m (total ascent 180m, descent 650m), and it definitely turned into one of those days when you appreciate why you get out there and do this stuff - hopefully the photos show why.
The route climbed and then descended gently over a series of frozen lakes, then followed a sweeping, descending traverse around the edge of a wide bowl, before droping down a valley to the final lake and a 4km approach to the hut sitting on a rocky bluff.
We'd expected to be using the simple self-service hut again but arrived to find the wardens opening the main hut for us, so enjoyed the luxury of hot showers, excellent food and especially a cold beer (you just don't dwell on it costing £8 for a half-litre!)
Day 3: A slack day in the schedule. The nearby tops would have offered a good day-trip, but with the cloud down and some of the group preferring a light day, we opted instead for a simple 9km round trip gently up the valley to an unlocked hut that offered us shelter to eat lunch. Along the way we also took advantage of our leader's skills to brush up on, or learn something of, emergency shelter bulding and snowpack/avalanche assessment.
Day 4: A marked change in the weather, -3c, snow falling and a strong southerly wind (40+mph). We kitted up and headed out for a 15km journey uphill to Kongshelleren hut (1460m). Fortunately the wind was mostly across our path rather than head-on, but visibility was challenging, especially gauging the angle and direction of slope on the main climb of the day. (You find you don't take many photos on days like this.)
We kept moving, apart from taking lunch inside the group shelter, and reached Kongshelleren around 3:30pm, again embarking on the 'hut-housekeeping to get inside, keep the snow out, get the temperature up and then eat and drink. The storm raged all evening and trips outside for any reason were kept brief!
Day 5: What a difference - stepping outside at dawn we could actually see where we were, and it was great. -6c, bright and almost still. I think everone's spirits lifted as we breakfasted on pancakes and got ready for the journey to Geiterygghytta (1225m), only 13km with a level first half followed by a descent, a climb and a final descent to the hut (total ascent 440m, descent 670m).
Although cloud meant the distant views came and went, it was another fantastic day. Reaching the hut mid-afternoon some opted for a further short ski across the valley, while for others the attraction of a shower and a beer proved more enticing. The only slight downer was the weather forecast for the next day...
Day 6: The final full day of the tour. It should have seen us heading to Finse hut (1223m), situated on the Oslo-Bergen railway line, a twisting 20km line through wonderful knobbly mountain country including the high pass of the Kyrkjedor (Church Door) at 1540m. But the weather was foul, +1C with slushy, wet snow blowing straight into our faces on a 50mph SW wind.
We battled about 2.5km uphill before someone volunteered that they weren't sure about tackling the entire route. In a quick conference, and despite the pressure of onward travel arrangements, a couple of others concurred, so we turned back. Wind-assisted now, we were soon back down to Geiterygghytta to sit out a storm-bound hut day and concoct an escape plan for the final morning (there was no way out that day for sure as the road a few km away was snow-bound and closed )...
Day 7: The weather was almost as bad but the warden assured us the road was now open and a taxi arranged as long as we skied down to the mouth of the road tunnel about 4km away. An early breakfast saw us on our way around 8am, and as the routed veered north and out of the direct wind the going got easier, until we climbed over the snow bank to the road and skied back into the wind along it the last km to the tunnel.
Relief turned to anxiety as the clock ticked and the taxi failed to appear, but at last it arrived and a 70 minute sprint along icy roads got us to Al 20 minutes ahead of the train. Most of the group headed from here back to Oslo for their flight connections, while a couple of us took the train the opposite way to Finse hoping for a bit more skiing.
Days 8 & 9: Unfortunately the weather remained dire for the next 3 days, temperatures just above zero and winds constantly exceeding 50mph (the strongest overnight gust at the hut measured over 200mph!). To avoid total cabin fever I got out for a ski around the lake and a trip up to a small hut on the edge of the Hardangerjokul glacier, but it was just as well that Finse hut, as well as the convenience of indoor flush toilets, now also offers wi-fi and its own micro-brewery.
Cheers! THE END
(PS. Photos in this album)
Sounds like a fantastic adventure Matt!
Fancy bumping into Icewitch
At £8 for half a pint, I can see why a microbrewery would remain 'micro' or smaller...
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