Half a day in the car from Gjendesheim to Oslo, the other half at Oslo airport. Reading about the terrorist attack in Stockholm on the front pages of newspapers. It all feels unreal.
Glitterheim to Gjendesheim, 23 km.
A slog of a day. We’re coming down from the mountains and running out of snow. It’s the end of the season, and according to the local folks, they haven’t seen a winter with this little snow in some 60-odd years.
Up, down, along mushy snow and around bare patches. Skins on, skins off – and even skis on, skis off, where the bare patches are too many to ski around. Sunshine and a nice icy lake in the middle provided a bit of a break. But the further we went, the worse the conditions were. Some slopes were too patchy to ski, but the snow there was so mushy and deep that we kept sinking thigh-deep into it and getting stuck when we tried to walk on it, so we walked from one rocky juniper patch to another. Finally towards the very end we ran out of snow entirely and could simply walk.
Knowing that this is the last day of our trip, and tomorrow means going back to civilization with all its trappings, does not make things any better. I’m doing my best not to think about it.
A rest day and optional day trips from Glitterheim, where we’re staying for two nights. Ascent of Styggehøe, 10 km, and skiing Øvre and Nedre Steinbuvatnet, 9 km.
The initial plan for today was to ascend Glittertind, Norway’s second tallest mountain. But considering yesterday’s quite tiring skiing, and the continuing high winds, and the long day we have ahead of us tomorrow, we decided against it. 1100m of ascent and descent, with high wind and on a mostly icy surface, would have us all quite exhausted.
Some of us stayed in the hut and read; others went out for short walks. I joined a group that skied up Styggehøe, a somewhat less exciting mountain that happened to be nearby. We actually had clear skies today, but it was still windy enough that we only stopped quite briefly for coffee and photos at the top. The skiing was nothing special and neither were the views, frankly.
Back at the hut some of us felt that the morning’s 10 km outing was not enough to count as a proper day of skiing and talked about going out again in some other direction. Having learned on Wednesday that not enough skiing leads to not enough sleepiness, I joined in, even though I knew I’d slow the group down – the other goers were among the strongest skiers in the group. But the gentlemen said they didn’t mind.
We climbed a short slope right behind the hut and then skied back and forth along/across two lakes, Øvre and Nedre Steinbuvatnet, beneath Glittertind. On the way out, we had the wind in our faces and the going was hard, so we made stayed on the snow on the side of the lake. The wind kept spinning up into whirlwinds, which were pretty to look at (and I’m quite miffed that my camera decided to stop working at this time) but hit quite hard when they hit me. On the plus side, the snowy whirlwinds were easy to spot in advance so I could brace myself.
On the way back there was no more slogging through snow. Instead we raced back across the icy lakes with the wind at our backs. Point the skis in the right direction and pole away, with the skis humming along the ice. According to the GPS unit of one of the guys, he had skied the lake at an average speed of 18 km/h. I was not quite as fast but nevertheless I felt like I was almost flying. This was the most fun I’d had all week! The speed and power and focus made for an almost ecstatic experience.
Back at the hut, we still had time to kill before dinner. The couple in charge of this hut were celebrating their 10-year anniversary as caretakers, so they had a knitted friendship banner/scarf project going, that visitors could add to. I felt I had done enough reading already so I was definitely up for some knitting.
Plain knitting is a decent way to make time pass, but there was time for something more fun, so I embellished my knitting with an embroidered Warthog logo for the company organizing this trip – Warthog Off Grid Adventures (web site, Facebook page). Orange, of course.
Spiterstulen to Glitterheim, 17 km.
The day’s skiing started with a steep ascent that I personally found quite unpleasant. Those of us who had no climbing skins did some last minute shopping at the hut at Spiterstulen and bought skins. An absolute necessity on the steep, icy slope, and a new experience for me.
Skis with skins on behave quite differently from skis without skins, which is of course the whole point, but it also means that a different technique is required. You have to plant each ski strongly and deliberately to get the best grip, and make a conscious choice for each step of a traverse, depending on the conditions – edge or skin?
Higher up the trail got flatter, but the weather worsened again. Yet more blizzard, with winds reaching gale force today, and gusts of over 20 m/s. Visibility was so bad that we were forced to stay almost within touching distance, so as to not risk losing anyone. For the strongest gusts of winds, everybody stopped, planted their poles and braced. If you didn’t, you’d either be blown off course, or bowled over, plain and simple.
And again I enjoyed this experience, despite everything. Definitely more than I enjoyed the seemingly endless, frustrating ascent in the morning.
The inclement weather only had two downsides, really. (a) no views and no photos, and (b) instant chill as soon as we stopped. As long as we kept moving, I was warm with my two thin layers. When we stopped, the warmth was sucked away instantly. I resorted to sheltering behind the gentlemen in our group.
Leirvassbu to Spiterstulen, 15 km.
An easy day: short, and gently downhill pretty much all the way. But the blizzard stayed with us for another day and for the first half of the day, visibility was crap again. We skipped lunch break entirely and ate our sandwiches when we got to our destination for the day. Our only snack break was spent crouched up between a large rock and the drifts of snow that had accumulated around it.
Speaking of snacks, I’ve come one step closer to finding the ultimate winter trail snacks: Skotte bars. (Viennese) nougat with raisins and chopped nuts, covered in dark chocolate. They are less chewy and faster to eat than Raw Bite, which is otherwise my preferred trail snack, and unlike many other, more popular chocolate bars they contain no toffee that becomes inconveniently hard in cold weather.
Hot drinks are almost more important than snacks. Last year on the Kungsleden we stayed in self-service huts where we made our own drinks, just like we made our everything else. Here in the fancy schmancy Norwegian DNT huts, the staff make hot drinks for you. At exorbitant Norwegian prices (40 kr per thermos flask!) but on the other hand there’s a whole menu to choose from. Coffee? Tea? With milk or sugar? Or even hot blackcurrant cordial for those who, like me, prefer non-caffeinated drinks.
Lunch is packed sandwiches that you make yourself, from the materials in the breakfast buffet. Also at exorbitant Norwegian prices: 17 kr per slice of bread, which means 70 to 100 kr for a sandwich lunch where I’ve done almost all the work myself.
By now I’ve settled into this whole skiing thing. I have re-found my ski technique. I’ve figured out how to best organize my pack so that I can easily access everything I may want during the day’s skiing.
The muscles that were sore yesterday are getting used to being used hard. (I’d expected some soreness in my hamstrings and hips and glutes, but I was surprised to notice how tired my forearms were yesterday evening. I guess I’ve been gripping the poles too hard.) The small blister on one toe, due to tensing my foot when pushing off, is in retreat now that I’m taking care not to tense that foot any more.
It seems I am quite a bit stronger than last year. Thanks to my twice-weekly circuit training and regular day hikes, I guess. Most of the time I do not feel my pack at all – if it weren’t for all the straps, I’d forget it was there. When I checked it in for the flight, it weighed in at about 9 kg. Minus the clothes that I’m now wearing rather than carrying, plus a litre of drink, it should be just under 10 kg.
We arrived in early afternoon, which left us with hours of time to kill. The weather had improved, and one of the guys went out for some more skiing. I thought of joining him but hesitated and missed my moment. So instead I went for a brief photo walk with another guy. It was a pleasant mini-hike, but afterwards in the evening I had trouble falling asleep, because I hadn’t tired myself out enough during the day.
Day 2: Gjendebu to Leirvassbu, 21 km.
From Gjendebu hut right on the shore of Lake Gjende we headed upwards, first through scrubby, sparse birch and juniper forest and then onwards above the tree line into fells/fjäll: snow, mountains, a line of sticks to mark the trail, and not much else. Gradual ascent most of the time, except for one long lake (Langvatnet) and a few small ones – covered with snow, unlike yesterday’s lake – and one steeper uphill section next to a waterfall.
The morning started out cloudy, but the weather gradually got worse as the day went on. High winds and fine, stinging, icy snow made the going rough and meant that most of the time we couldn’t see anything of the presumably beautiful landscape around us. Just snow. Occasionally the clouds broke and we got beautiful views for a few brief minutes, and then it was back to blizzard again. Our lunch break was a hurried, huddled affair in the lee of a tantalizing locked hut.
I found the adverse weather perversely enjoyable. There was something oddly exhilarating about being opposed by something as implacable and impersonal as a blizzard, and still going on. The blizzard was infinitely stronger than I am, but at the same time I was stronger than the blizzard.
I could of course only stand up to the blizzard because I protected by a combination of ancient and modern technology. Wrapped in a layer of windproof Goretex all over, with a wool top, mittens, buff and hat to keep me warm, and goggles to protect my face. I’m not too fond of wearing goggles, but I’ll take them over eyecicles in my eyelashes and tears streaming down my face, any day.
The day ended at Leirvassbu hut. “Hut” is almost an insult to what was basically a hotel in the middle of wilderness. All of the huts on this year’s route are full-service huts with all kinds of comforts, including electricity, hot showers, restaurant dinners etc. But this place is one step above the rest, especially its restaurant. (Waffles! Espresso!) The decorations in traditional style stood out as well – the other huts have been much more utilitarian in style. It even had phone network coverage, so once we’d gotten out of our gear and had our showers (which are always the first priority when we reach a hut) the gang headed straight for their phones and beers.
Day 1: Gjendesheim to Gjendebu along the frozen Lake Gjende. 21 km.
Today’s skiing was icy, flat, and monotonous. Ice is not the most comfortable ground to ski on. Most of the group described this as their least favourite kind of skiing; I actually quite liked it. You say monotonous – I say meditative.
For this year’s trip I bought my own equipment. I would have enjoyed last year’s trip a lot more if I hadn’t been struggling with the rented skis. Even though it took me a while to find my “skiing legs” and technique again, I could feel from the very start that these skis will work for me. This year I was not at the tail end of the pack, struggling to keep up. Not the fastest either, but that’s as expected, given the composition of the group. (8 strong men with (ex-)Army physique, 1 lady who goes skiing every weekend near her home in Geneva, and then myself and another “ordinary” lady.) I don’t mind being among the slower ones, I just want the skiing to be enjoyable rather than frustrating.
The clear air and wide vistas made it quite hard to judge distances. Sometime in the afternoon I spotted a thing that looked man-made. A shed belonging to tonight’s hut, I thought – the hut itself is probably behind a spur of the hill, like the place where we stopped for lunch. A few kilometers away perhaps. But after the next hour or so of skiing, the hut looked barely closer – it turned out that the “shed” I saw was in fact the whole hut complex, and quite a bit more than 2 km away.
I’m off for a week-long ski tour today. Last year I toured a part of the Kungsleden; this year I’ll be skiing in the Jotunheimen natural park.
Otherwise it’ll be pretty much the same. I’ll be travelling with the same company, and half the group are the same folks as last year.
Yesterday was packing and charging day. I pack light and leave most optional extras behind. Somewhat selfishly I assume that other people will be bringing stuff such as duct tape that could be good to have in an emergency, but is heavy and unlikely to see any use. The two heaviest parts of my pack will be (1) electronics (phone, camera, Kindle, charger, extra batteries) and (2) food and drink (thermos, water bottle, snacks). Learning from last year, I’m bringing an extra camera battery and compensating by packing fewer extra clothes.
Today is transportation day: commuter train, Arlanda Express, Norwegian flight to Oslo, and then a 4-5 hour car ride to Gjendesheim hut.
First thing this morning we revisited our favourite rides from yesterday and got to enjoy them with no queueing. Then we tried out some new ones, watched a “4D” Lego movie, had ice cream – and actually spent some time looking at Miniland, the Lego miniatures at Legoland. To my surprise the kids were not really interested in this, so I spent some time there on my own.
The miniature models varied quite a lot in their level of detail and sophistication. At one end of the scale were some of the architectural details. Looking up close it was obvious that these models had been built by someone who knew all the itty bitty Lego pieces by heart and could utilize them to their full potential, picking just the right one for each spot. One of my favourites was this pillar from the park of Amaliehaven. For comparison, a photo I found of the original pillar, a sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodoro:
The Statue of Liberty stood out at the other extreme, crude in its lack of detail: the folds of cloth and the curves in her face were jagged and coarse, 4 blocks wide in places. I wonder if maybe it was among the older models, or perhaps built on a budget.
The grand finale of this summer break: a two-day trip to Legoland. We arrived this afternoon and will spend most of the next two days in Legoland. Adrian spent almost all of this afternoon and evening at the window of our hotel room which overlooks the park, waiting for tomorrow’s visist.
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