7.29.2009

Rondane Day 4: Langluppdalen to Rondvassbu

I awake and peer out from under the tarp. To the East the valley is clear and we still have a clear view of the North wall of Rondslottet. To the West hangs a bank of low cloud. The scene a mirror image of the previous evening. I get myself moving. It had stayed dry in the night and so had I. Just a little condensation on the outer shell of my bag. Nothing that ten minutes in the breeze won’t solve. That is as long as the breeze isn’t carrying more wet with it.

The plan for the day is to cross Ronslottet and Vinjeronden, perhaps also Storronden, before heading down to Rondvassbu for the last night. The last forecast before leaving Holland had promised great weather in the first days but a wet end to the trip. It had seemed unlikely that we would be subjected to more than one wet night so the idea of taking the minimum of shelter and using a hut to ensure the last night was a dry one had been tabled at the last minute. It had also been noted that DNT huts served beer.

The early start we’d promised ourselves is taking shape. Each reeling off the now familiar routine and preparing for the off. It looks like we’ve made the right call and that conditions are good enough to have a stab at the high traverse but as we get about our business that wall of cloud in the Western end of the valley drifts eerily towards us. I stand and watch as it slowly floats along, ruler straight, until it swallows us up. Although the mist is thick it’s thankfully short lived carrying through as quickly as it arrived.

Breakfast consumed and gear packed only the additional job of striking the tarps is left. Pegs are pulled, guys are neatly skeined, rain is shaken off and all is packed away. We’re on the move by eight. A quick scan of the map had told us that angling upwards on a line along the southern side of the valley would take us directly to the DNT path and save us having to loose height to find the intersection. But first comes a short boulder hop across the valley. Having chosen the wettest valley in Rondane to overnight in, and then having decided to fill water bottles from the moving water of the Langluppbekken on the other side of the valley before starting the climb, we are surprised to find that water is hard to come by. The stream can be heard but not seen. Making it’s way deep down under the jumble of boulders. We have to back track some way before we we’re able to top up. Taking my lesson of day two on board I fill my two litre platypus to the brim. An extra kilo for the climb but I’m a long way through my food and besides water will certainly be scarce on top.

We reach the DNT path and turn right to address the first job of the day. Just shy of eight hundred meters straight up. Based on what I’d read we’d be on one continuous boulder field from top to bottom. I find my rhythm quickly. My rucksack carries much better than on the first days when my load had been at it’s heaviest. The hip belt is now doing the work and, my shoulders free, I am better able to find my balance. Or perhaps, with all the practice of the last days, I’m just getting better at boulder hopping? The conditions definitely suit me better though. The sun still shines strongly but now intermittently. Drifting cloud providing periods of shadow and time to cool off. It’s a hard climb, but the view back into the valley provides entrainment enough in the short pauses. The changing cloud patterns providing extra interest and inviting me to look through the lens of my camera at every turn.

The upright stones embellished with a bright red letter T which serve as way markers on the DNT paths provide targets for each burst of effort and reassurance that we are heading in the right direction. Not that navigation on this stretch would be hard without them. The contours say that up is always good. Down, on the other hand, is bad. Down to the right certain death without a parachute, down to the left a good deal steeper than you’d take on without the need to feed an adrenaline addiction and really good insurance cover.

Navigation largely taken care of by the DNT, the forecast for rain in the afternoon brings with it an extra concern. We plan to be at the second summit, Vinjeronden, before things get ugly and to avoid having to do the worst of the scrambles in the clag on wet rock. I keep checking my watch and gauging our position as best as possible managing to get a good fix on our position as the path closes on the North wall, a gaping gully opening up, reflected as clear as day in the contour detail of the Turkart. Willem-Maartens altimeter is spot on. As near as damn it 1960m. Just over 200m to go and clearly we’re now covering ground at a respectable rate. No longer off the bottom of Tranters scale.

I’m better at up than down. I think that the group also climbs better than it descends. Before I’d left for Rondane, Roger, of Nielsen Brown Outdoors fame, had recounted his traverse of Rondslottet. He’d done it in the opposite direction, taking eight hours for the full traverse, finding the climb enjoyable but the descent into Langluppdalen over boulder tough. His words go through my head on more than one occasion and serve to make me thankful that events had lead us to start out from the North. Thankful for the moment that is. Perhaps Rogers enjoyable ascent would turn out to be gnarly in reverse?

The last two hundred odd meters pass quickly enough, just a couple of snow fields, complete with man traps, have to be crossed but prove crossable with care. Funny things summits. Sometimes they play hard to get. How often does it happen that, just as you think you’re on the final rise, you reach the top of the incline only to find that the summit has run away and is pulling tongues whilst singing na na na na na and leaving you with another stiff climb? Rondslottet it appears is of the other variety and just jumps out and says boo when you’re looking the other way.

The summit of Ronslottet is a wondrous place. At this, the highest point in Rondane, an otherwise wonderful stretch of wild country, is more evidence of human intervention than in the rest of the park put together, the areas around the huts excluded. After hours of boulder we’re greeted by a relatively tidy arrangement; big cairn, sign posts and numerous walled shelters, the interiors of which are clear of boulders. It strikes me that it would all make for a more than comfortable summit bivvy. It also strikes me that you can better get there early to bag some space. We’ve seen in total, in three days, and thirty something kilometres, around twelve people. Only two have been close enough to exchange words. It’s clear that a fair proportion of the humanity that drifts through this place converges on the few square meters of this summit.

It’s cold enough to require down jackets and woolly hats when at rest. Wrapped up in extra layers we sit at the foot of the cairn and wait for a pan of water to boil. The view over the North wall, and in all other directions, being obscured by cloud takes the attraction out of a circuit of the summit but a cup of hot stock seems like a good compensation. Besides, there’s something strangely enjoyable about sitting on a cold mountaintop in the swirling mist. After three days of uncannily good weather and long views I at last feel like I’m in familiar territory. Mountains, complete with real mountain weather. There’s no mistaking where we are. It’s a good opportunity for the group photo and Willem-Maarten does the honours with the self timer.

As the water just starts off on a rolling boil the burner sputters and wheezes and the last gasp of gas burns blue and the flame dies. The antique canister has delivered two main meals and a couple of brews. I guess two such canisters would have got us round. Still, we’ve done the decent thing and cleaned up the old stock and whoever next comes through Mysuseter expecting to find gas will find a well stocked shelf.

Three stock cubes go into the water, one chicken, one beef and one lamb, something to please everyone, and the salty liquid goes down a treat. Even more so because Thim has conjured up yet another rookworst. It’s early but nevertheless I work my way through what’s left of my rye bread and pate and trust that what remains of my trail mix will see me over the next summit and down the other side. It’s looking like I’ve judged things just right. I’ve got breakfast for the morning and a few hundred grams of trail mix. Arguably a little more room for error would have been warranted but I won’t go hungry and I won’t be packing out much by way of unused food.

As we wallow in the afterglow of a hot drink on a cold mountain it starts to rain. Sleet to be precise. This isn’t according to the contract. It isn’t supposed to rain until later in the afternoon when are safely on our way back down to earth. In unison we get about stuffing down jackets safely into packs and pulling on rain shells. That horrible moment, the one when you’ve taken off your warm layers but have not yet got up enough steam to drive off the cold, passes quickly and before I realise it we’re making our way down the initially shallow slope. I guess this next bit could require some careful navigation so I pull out a set of A5 maps I’d printed off for just such an occasion and string the little Ortlieb map case around my neck. My fear is that, in the mist, we’ll miss the right line of descent to the saddle that stands between us and Vinjeronden. The contour details suggest that this is something you really don’t want to do. Although I keep in touch with the map it turns out not to be necessary, the marker stones are spaced closely enough to be visible under such conditions and, use tracks run across the stretches free of boulder. The route weaves back and forward through a lunar landscape of snow and rock but we find ourselves on the steep descent soon enough. Very steep in fact. However, we are back on one those Rondane staircases and although Rondane stone is indeed slippery when wet, with hands and feet the descent is doable, enjoyable even.

We have to drop just 200m to the saddle and I find myself looking back up the ridge after what seems like just a few minutes. Viewed from the bottom the ridge is intimidating, draped half in cloud, steep and long, a chaotic jumble of rock. I think back to that first glimpse of the western face of Steet on the Smiubelgin ridge. How I’d sucked in my breath and concluded that there was no way up the thing. That I was looking at the baddest of bad steps. Was it not for the fact that this traverse is waymarked and described in Scandinavian Mountains I might have had the same feeling about this ridge. A mix of vantage point and prior knowledge makes all the difference it seems. Not for the first time I make a promise to use guidebooks when planning. Sure, I like nothing better than to spend an evening pouring over a map, interpreting the topography and planning my own routes but it wouldn’t hurt to listen to what others who’ve been before me have to say.

I take a couple of photo’s of the ridge as the lads descend. They look okay on the screen but I can’t catch the full drama of the thing, it somehow looks lower and broader than in real life, the wide angle end of my zoom foreshortening the feature. I guess it would be better to put some distance between myself and the ridge and use some zoom but there’s not enough room to do it.

A few strides further and the climb back up the other side starts. More boulder, more steep but only a couple of hundred meters and then the top of Vinjeronden. Our fifth top but only our third above 2000m. We might have bagged twice as many or more had the first day worked out differently. Still, as Ronald Turnbull advocates, it’s a good policy to save a few for later.

As we make the top the weather starts to clear and we are treated to long views once again. Veslesmeden, the one that got away, looks back with a rye smile. Can we still be so close to where we started? Storronden, the one we might still do glowers at us from beyond the next col. The col itself sandwiched impressively between the hanging Ronhollet and the Storbotn corrie. The corrie, sketched in plan view, just one step to the North but five hundred vertical meters below. This is what I came for.

We languish a little on the top and then, cautiously, make our way over the edge. The slope, at first invisible over the convexity of the edge, reveals itself as we descend the first few meters. This decent holds no surprises. It’s all laid out in front of us. Just shy of 300m, not as steep as the last one, but still on boulder all the way. I take my time, taking photo’s of the group descending ahead of me, contemplating Storronden and the climb we might do to bag another 2000m top. Part way down I strip back down to my base layer. I’ve been lazy and left it too late to remove layers and my base layer is wet and, despite the blue skies and warm sun, cold in the breeze. I pull on my windshirt and move along. I pass a couple on the way up. It seems to me that they’ve made a late start if they intend to get over Rondslottet and further, but then I remember that it doesn’t really get dark.

By now I’m a long way behind the others. Willem-Maarten is already approaching the flat of the saddle. He’s consistently and significantly faster than the rest of the group. Sure footed over rough ground and, although he estimates himself to be less fit than in previous years, I guess he’s still much fitter than the rest. I wonder if he will ever get fed up of hanging around on saddles and summits waiting for us to catch up? Then again, if you’re going to do some hanging around then why not do it on a saddle or a summit? The next time I look he’s chatting to two people who’ve just reached the saddle out of the Rondhollet valley. At least he’s got company.

A little way further and I pass Willem-Maartens newest acquaintances. A man and his young son heading up to the top on an out and back from Rondvassbu. Know that I have kids I realise just how special this is. I assure them that I’m the last in the group and that they’ll now have the mountain to themselves.

I arrive at the col and the group doesn’t miss the opportunity for one last deep discussion about what to do next. I find straight down into Rondholet an attractive idea. I feel we’ve done enough for today. We certainly will have done by the time we make Rondvassbu another 500m below over who knows what sort of terrain. I voice the thought but as I hear the words come out of my mouth I already feel a pang of regret. Storronden is within reach, not without effort, but definitely within reach. At once I feel a mixture of conflicting emotion, the idea of going on and making a big day bigger appeals. Take on the challenge! Be a man! However, my guess is, that the additional 800m of descent, quite steep, over the broad western ridge will take all of the pleasure out of the achievement. It surprises me but the idea of arriving in the valley, tiered but not broken for a change also holds and attraction. Then there’s that beer we talked about. Why did we do that? Who mentioned it first? That should be against the rules! My minds made up. Probably. I think.

Willem-Maarten says he feels he’s got another top in him and clearly wants to go for it. Thim is in two minds but I think he’ll go for it given an excuse. Theo and Jef are ready to make their way down. Perhaps they know themselves better than we do? Willem-Maartens comment gets those emotions all rolling around in my gut again but now with an added twist of guilt added for good measure. If I don’t go then I’m holding Willem-Maarten back. I fight down the emotion. I’m for heading down. Probably. I think.

After a few minutes lazily taking in the view, Storbotn no less impressive when separated by just 200 vertical meters, and chewing on snacks we shoulder packs and move off. Downwards. Do I really want to do this? Every step down is an extra step back up and there comes a point when all that head wrestling becomes pointless. When you’ve added another fifty, hundred, hundred and fifty meters of back up it no longer makes sense to turn back. Storronden is duly put back in the vault for safe keeping. Descending the boulder filled slope into the head of the lovely Rondhollet I can feel my thighs burning and I know I’ve made the right choice, the sensible choice, but there’s still a tangible feeling of regret hovering in the background.

The Rondholet is a beautiful valley and the steep descent from the col out of the way a pleasant walk. We make our way down the valley at a leisurely pace, soaking up the surroundings, each, I think, coming to terms with the fact that the trip is drawing to a close. I ask Willem-Maarten if he’s disappointed we didn’t continue over Storronden. He seems okay about it. It occurs to us that our first bivvy would have been in this valley had we not have elected to do the trip in reverse and as we move down the valley we comment on possible sites. A little way down we find the site of all sites. An island, large, flat and grassy, framed by a split in the Rondholbekken. Fresh running water and a soft bed with a great view. What more could you want. We decide to take another short break and jump the near branch of the stream flopping out on the island. Do we really want to spend the night in a hut? We still have an unused evening meal and enough meths to prepare it. If we get a reasonably early start we can still catch the bus from the spranghaugen car park. The traditional discussion ensues. What about mosquitoes, we must surely be deep in enemy territory, just look at all the green. What about that beer? It’s just down there. Too far to fetch and bring back but still only just a little way further. I surprise myself again.

On the way down the valley I’ve been processing the idea that the trip is drawing to a close and I’ve got used to the idea and whilst this site is a corker I don’t fancy sleeping in a buzzing cloud of angry mosquitoes. Besides, right now, there’s no discernable difference in smell between my armpit and my boot and the opportunity to have a shower before returning to civilisation would be welcome. God help the poor people who share my train carriage if I don’t. The deal is done.

As we drop down the last stretch of the path to Rondvassbu we pass two Norwegian lads heading up. They’ve made an even later start than the others we’d passed earlier. Presumably they’d come straight from spranghaugen having caught the afternoon bus. They were sweating under their loads, stooping forwards to counterbalance litres of gear in big, bombproof, Bergan packs. One of them has a fishing rod strapped to the outside of his pack. An image of myself, twenty odd years earlier, when gear was too precious to leave at home and the whole point of the exercise was succeeding inspite of the load on my back. They stop for a chat. They intend to head up Storronden and later to continue over Rondslottet. I wonder what they mean by later but don’t enquire.

As we make our way down the steep bank into the hut complex my legs tell me that the game is over . Willem-Maarten returns the favour and asks if I was disappointed that we had decided not to bivvy. I reply that I’m looking foreward to a shower, a beer, a good meal and a night in a bed and that, if anything, I’m disappointed in myself for finding all that such an attractive proposition.

The shower is great, the meal better and the beer the best of all. Worth walking half way round Rondane for. I sleep almost as well in the bed as I had done in the Langholet corrie.

7.22.2009

Rondane Day 3: Langholet to Langluppdalen

The wind didn’t abate in the night as it had on the lower slopes of Randen. It had changed direction though. As we bedded down a fresh wind had been blowing from the North. Early on in the night it changed its mind, blowing from the South, from where we too had come, sharpening its edge over the snow fields we’d picked our way through before funnelling through the saddle at the head of the Langholet. We’d arranged our bags according to the wind. Feet into the wind so that it would skim over us and go on its way. Half awake in the early hours I became aware that I was lying in a windsock. I pulled my sleeping bag up over my shoulders, zipped my bivvy bag half shut over my head, stuck my face out of the opening and pulled the excess fabric in under my chin. I gratefully noted that, either due to the wind or our altitude, there were no mosquitoes and slept further.

The wind still blew in the morning. I was glad of my down pullover. The days start was relaxed. Muesli, brew and packing. Time to take in the majesty of my surroundings. Four of us where up and about. Theo slept in and took breakfast in bed. My mood had changed. I’d bivvied high in a spectacular corrie, a truly wild place, and any negativity from the day before had washed away.

The change of plan means that we have a very different day ahead of us. The intention is to follow the Langholet down into the Doralen, find a suitable traverse to the Bergedalen and head up to the Bergdalstjonnen. Perhaps even heading further into the Langluppdalen. Including that last stretch would make for a big loop of fifteen kilometres or more. We’d exchanged climb and descent for distance but I didn’t expect the technicality of the day before. We’d be passing through rough country but for about half of the distance on waymarked paths. For the other half we’d be following an old route, the use of which is now discouraged, but which I expect, although less used, will still bare the old route markings. Navigation should be a doddle, the incline, both rise and fall, gentle and although we’re promised more of yesterdays weather today water should be plentiful. The outcome of the day is as certain as these things can be. However, the reasoning behind moving up into the Langluppdalen is to get into position for a crossing of the DNT route over the big 2000m tops Rondslottet and Vinjeronden on the last full day. However, the good weather is set to break in the evening and our experience on Smuibelgin suggests that high up in Rondane could be a challenge in wet weather and low visibility. In the mountains, there always seems to be a bogey man lurking just around the corner.

We move off through the wide, boulder filled Langholet. I feel good. Little by way of stiffness from the exertions of the day before and no sore spots or blisters. Hooray for light packs and boots! Hooray for the Neo-Air, widely spaced contours and thick beds of dry moss! We can see about a kilometre or more down the valley and it’s clear that we’ll be on boulder for at least that distance. Rock-hopping, however, is a much more enjoyable sport when played on a flat field. As we move through the Langholet it occurs to me that we’ve been extremely lucky, had we not caught site of that gravel bed in the distance, had we not made the effort to backtrack and check it out, we’d have had a long and difficult walk to the next suitable pitch. I don’t see another half decent pitch for quite some time.

It turns out to be a fascinating route. A day spent looking up at rather than over the edge of the frighteningly precipitous cliffs of the Smiubelgin and Sagtind group. First under the near vertical Trolltinden wall then under Vassberget. Sore and Nordre Smedhamran on the opposite side of the valley are our constant companions. There is plenty to catch the attention and the long curving aspect of the North bound route means that the vista opens up slowly. Enticingly. First you get a little more of the Langholet, then a peek into the Doralan, then look over your left shoulder and you get a little taste of the Verkilsdalen, the desolate head of which we’d peered down into over the edge of Ljosabelgen. Can it be that we are so close to where we started? Bit by bit the Doralen valley opens up until, when the traverse of the western flank of Nordre Smedhamran is complete, the path straightens out and the full vista reveals itself. We can see right down valley, its floor a hotchpotch of glacial debris, its mouth a massive terminal moraine.

All the way down the valley I’ve been looking ahead for signs of reindeer. The use of the Langholet track, long a popular DNT Route is discouraged because it runs through the heart of Reindeer country. Apparently this wild heart of Rondane is home to one of the most important herds of non-domesticated European Reindeer that still roam in Scandinavia. It’s said that if these beasts get spooked that they will bolt, running for several kilometres before coming to a stop. To avoid risk to the animals the DNT has closed the route. Instead of the thick read of the major routes the Turkart now shows a faint black dashed line. Before travelling, whilst still mulling over alternatives, I’d brushed up on my wilderness etiquette with my Norwegian friend Randulf. He’d said that it was acceptable to go through the Langholet but that caution was warranted. That we should be prepared to reroute to avoid the Reindeer if necessary. In the high-walled Langholet itself, avoiding the reindeer would be difficult. Rerouting would entail turning back. Once out of the Langholet we would have more options with room to manoeuvre on the open ground at the foot of Nordre Smedhamran. I’d like to see wild reindeer, but I’d prefer to see them lower down the valley and at a distance.

Once out of the Langholet the going gets easier too. So easy in fact that for the first time in a day and a half I can walk without looking at my feet. The big boulder field gets left behind and we find ourselves on a narrow but clear path running through patches of vegetation and short stretches of boulder in turn. The path suggests that there is still some traffic through the Langholet. The way markings of the DNT, boulders marked with a red “T”, are still clearly visible. The sun beats down still but the sun cream makes regular rounds and water is, as anticipated, in good supply with becks running at intervals across our path. We make good time, but also make time to stop and take in the scene. We even stop for an early lunch and, luxury of luxuries, boil water for cuppa soups that Thim supplements with a rookworst conjured out of his food bag.

We continue further loosing more height and the path parallels the bank of the Dorae through knee high dwarf birch. The valley bottom, which looks flat from on high, brings with it more up and down than I’d expected. We find ourselves skirting the steeps banks of an impressive lateral moraine and on occasion the path runs over the top into lush green fields of cotton grass. Once again we see some people in the distance. Kayakers on the opposite bank of the Dorae? Seems unlikely that the water is deep enough. Besides, on closer inspection, if they are kayakers then they’ve lost their boats. First signs of a change in the weather appear. The sun continues to shine but now dark clouds jostle for position with the fluffy white ones we’ve grown accustomed to. This all makes for extra photographic interest but, as we approach the Smedbekken, it starts to rain. We give it a few minutes before donning waterproofs but the rain gets heavier and, convinced it’s setting in, finally give up and pull on jackets. The stream is more than we’d bargained for. The thing is wide and in full flow and there’s no obvious crossing point or a bridge. The latter a clear disadvantage in choosing to follow a non-maintained route. After some searching up and down the bank it looks like we are going to have to wade but then Willem-Maarten appears to have found suitable stepping stones. Too few to cross comfortably but with a bound and a well placed leading foot it should be possible to cross. Wet rock requires faith in friction or Vibram or both. Willem-Maarten gets the honour of trying first and crosses with dry feet. One by one we follow without incident.

A scan of the map suggests that it’s a good time to leave the path, cutting the corner over open ground to make for the Bergedalen. It’s warm, oppressively so wrapped in Paclite, and as the rain subsides I don’t hesitate in stripping back down to my base layer. The others follow suit. What then follows is an easy jaunt over gently sloping ground decorated with reindeer moss and bilberry bushes. The same landscape we’d experienced on the walk in. The landscape that gives Rondane its autumnal reputation.

As we traverse the shallow slope, just south of west, Digerronden shows the way. From this perspective the mountain appears as an unfeasibly perfect pyramid of scree. Weathered round with flowing contours and steep sides. All the drama of its northern corrie hidden from view. We had toyed with the idea of bagging it without packs but 600m of head-on scree doesn’t appeal and an out and back would leave a lot to do before evening. Equally the traverse of the full ridge to Hogronden is far beyond what we can realistically achieve in the rest of the day, perhaps even in a full day, especially since the weather is looking uncertain. As we make the path, and turn back on ourselves, heading South West along the Bergedalen, the idea gets killed without so much as a discussion. We find ourselves scooting along the winter route which connects the Dorralseter hut with Rondvasbu and Bjornhollia. Although not the main summer route it’s well scarred. Bamboo canes placed to guide Nordic skiers lie by the side of the track. Right now it’s hard to imagine Rondane in a whiteout. Talk turns to that winter trip we’ve been promising ourselves for so long. Perhaps we should consider skiing from hut to hut in Rondane?

We break for a snack. It’s time to decide, once and for all, precisely what we are going to do today. From where we sit we can just see the western end of the Langluppdalen. It’s grey, cloud filled and uninviting. The alternatives on the table are to make camp by the Bergdalstjonnen just a few kilometres further along the track, to proceed up into the Langluppdalen or to take the boat along the Rondvatnet to the Rondvassbu hut. Although Theo doesn’t seem too perturbed by the last option it’s quickly ruled out. One night in a hut is an acceptable proposition but two is out of the question. Staying in Bergedalen would leave more options for the morning: the boat and an out and back in the Rondslottet group, the high route over Rondhalsen with a detour to bag Veslesmeden or, the original plan, a traverse of Rondslottet from the north albeit with a longer walk in. The group seems uncertain again. Memories of the first day coupled with the view of the clag hanging in the Langluppdalen casts doubt over the traverse of Rondslottet. We now know that the DNT paths are well marked but how will it be crossing all those boulders in the wet? How severe are the scrambles that we will encounter, predominantly in descent.

Notwithstanding the uncertainty the only real choice is to carry on into the Langluppdalen. We gauge, on very recent experience, that the traverse of Rondslottet to Ronsvassbu will take us around nine hours if we start from the pass. The extra kilometres and climb from the Bergedalen might be stretching things just too far. To boot, the area around the standing water of the Bergdalstjonnen is most likely mosquito heaven. On the other hand, after overnighting in the pass, and having assessed the weather in the morning, we can always run away with tails between our legs. In the worst case we can still use the boat. The group, now resembling a weak coalition, makes for the Langluppdalen. Loose coalitions are something you have to get used too when living in Holland.

The walk up through the Bergdalstjonnen and the climb that follows are actually very pleasant. As we close on the Langluppdalen the sky, now a patchwork of blue decorated with lightly laden cloud appear less foreboding. Rondslottet does its best to intimidate though. The shear vertical wall of its huge northern face, black and streaked with snow filled gullies, dominates the view. The thought “are we really going to go up that?” streaks through my mind on more than one occasion but I do my best to suppress it. A little way back I had wondered if the valley walk under the Hogronden ridge would heighten my disappointment of not being up there but Rondslottet steals the limelight.


The otherwise uneventful walk along the main path is spiced up by the crossing of the Galenbotn downfall. The cut is filled with snow but the stream can be clearly heard running, at full pelt, somewhere underneath. Great, a snow bridge! Willem-Marten is given the honour of going first yet again. Lucky boy. He follows old footprints to the otherside. Instinctively we cross one at a time. I’m across second, the best policy where snow bridges are concerned I think, and sense a photo opportunity. The rest cross without incident but the photos are still nice enough.

As we move up the final kilometre towards the pass we stop once again for a snack break. It’s not been long since the previous rest stop but tea time is approaching and reserves are getting low. We lounge out of the wind in a small grassy hollow. A perfect place to bring through the night albeit a bit close to the path. Flat, soft and sheltered. However, I insist that the more distance we put behind us now the less we’ll have to do in the morning. After a while we move off, I sense some reluctance. A few steps further Theo calls for another discussion. It’s clear that he doesn’t relish the idea of all the hard ascent and descent associated with crossing Rondslottet. The idea that we might have to do it in adverse weather will certainly take all of the fun out of it. I reiterate that we are taking the best option and that things aren’t set in stone. Overnighting at the pass puts us in the best position to make the call and backing down remains an option. I’m not sure Theo is convinced but he moves off anyway. A little way along the track we are passed by a couple heading in the opposite direction. These are the first people we have encountered within speaking distance since leaving Mysuseter over forty eight hours earlier. At least catching sight of the Norwegian lass is sure to have cheered Theo up.

It’s been another great day. Different but still a great day in the hills and, although less adrenaline filled and easier underfoot , the time to put down my pack is getting near. I’m surprised in fact by how much this route has taken out of me. As we approach the top of the pass we find ourselves back in a place of boulder and scant vegetation. The pass summit is wide and flat and holding a surprising amount of water. Rondane has been relatively dry up until this point but this place would give the great moss a run for its money. Looking out over the plateau it’s clear that a good lie will be hard to find. It looks best up against the northern side and we head that way fanning out as we do. I meander from green patch to green patch but they are unanimously saturated. Finally, after some minutes I see what appears to be a low stone wall. I’ve seen these things several times in the last days. Apparently wild campers are resorting to clearing stones and building walls to create level pitches with some shelter. Not exactly “leave no trace camping” but right now I’m not complaining. Next to the wall is a good, dry site which I may otherwise have walked straight past. I wave and the others join me.


The weather is closing in again. Low cloud drifts through the valley and a bank of cloud hangs low in the valley to the east, backed up against the pass summit. If I could be bothered to walk half a kilometre further I might get a nice shot the cloud inversion. I can’t be bothered. For the first time in the trip we break out the tarps. The curse that has followed me all my life resurfaces. Apparently I can’t take a shelter out of my rucksack without it starting to rain. At least I now feel at home. The pitch is small, just big enough to lie five, so there’s no point in pitching the tarps separately. Instead we opt to pitch the big tarp and tag the micro tarp onto its end, extending the coverage. We need just to cover five torsos and the bivvy bags will take care of the rest. Pegging out is hard, we are sitting on a meagre layer of green with the now familiar Rondane boulders just under the surface. Nevertheless, violence overcomes all obstacles, and all available guys get used. Against my principles we move stones placing them on the unconvincing Ti nails as extra security. My principles apparently dissolve rapidly when faced with the prospect of a rough night. The result is a weird construction comprising two tarps and four walking poles. I’ve been known to strike and re pitch my shelter several times until satisfied. This evening I suppress the urge to put together a more photogenic, drum-tight shelter. This thing will do. It will serve its purpose and it’s not going anywhere in a hurry. We quickly throw our sleeping bags into bivvy bags and get them under the tarps.

The evening meal is prepared using the meths burner. Patience is required and what’s left of the border of Willem-Maartens plate gets incinerated. In order to keep pot washing to a minimum we eat out of the big pan. Standing in a circle in rain shells, Jef holds the pan in the middle, and we take turns to spoon Thims curry into our mouths. Freeze dried curry but spiced up with chilli and finished off with curry leaves and coriander. It’s good. We lick our spoons clean and follow the curry up with yesterdays unused desert. Adventure Foods, apple and apricot compote. Just add cold water and go. Great stuff.

The pots get washed and while we drink a brew Jeffrey checks the weather forecast on his blackberry. Things should clear up in the night but close in again in the afternoon. We agree that we should aim to be starting the descent at 2:00PM to get the worst out of the way before the weather turns. We do our sums and decide we need to be underway by 8:00. We turn in and as we try to find sleep are serenaded by rock falls high up on Rondslottets sinister face. The mountain is doing it’s best to put me off but I resolve not to let it get its way.

7.16.2009

Rondane Day 2: The Smiubelgin Massif

I wake to an angry buzzing noise. It’s light and wind-still and not what you’d call toasty warm. It takes a few moments to register where I am. I finally place the view and the penny drops. More than one penny in fact. Not only do I now know where I am but I’ve realised the angry buzz is emanating from a swirling cloud of mosquitoes above my face. I reach into my bivvy bag, extract my head net from my blue roll-top (red stuffed with spare clothes for a pillow, blue for things I need to hand) and pull it over my head tightening the neck cord. I’m lying with my head outside of the bivvy bag, and am wearing a down pullover but my sleeping bag is pushed down around my waist as if it where a half bag. I pull the sleeping bag up around my shoulders and close up the bivvy bag leaving just my face exposed. As I was fumbling around in the roll-top I’d caught sight of my watch. It’s 3:00AM.. Benjamin always wakes at 3:00AM. I’m so far from home can it be that Benjamin still wakes me up? Or was it the mosquitoes? Whatever, it occurs to me that we are not going to be short of daylight on this trip. There’ll be no spectacular sun sets but, on the upside, we’re not likely to get benighted.

When I awake again the sky is a bright blue and the profile of the distant hills is softened by haze. It’s 8:00AM. I think that for once I may be the first up but as I roll to my right I see Willem-Maarten and Thim brewing up and eating breakfast. Jeffrey is busy packing his ‘sack. As always, Theo is yet to surface. I go for my usual morning stroll, equipped, as ever, with my trusty orange trowel and find a place from which to admire the view while I excercise. Who was it that said men can’t multitask? Trowels, I find out, don’t function too well at this elevation in Rondane. A Pneumatic drill would be a better bet (if a little heavy).

I join the others, enjoy a breakfast of Muesli premixed with full-fat milk powder and chocolate flakes, and follow it up with a cup of strong tea. Theo appears and I then get on with the business of packing. I have to think about it. As the days pass a ritual will evolve and the process will become automatic. I’m usually doing it blindfold on the third morning. On these long weekends that’s just in time for the walk out. It’s clearly going to be another hot summers day. I decide, once again, to forgo the merino base layer and change into my coolmax shirt. Now, crumpled and decidedly less fresh under the arms than it was when I first pulled it on the morning before. Still, I don’t expect an invitation to any formal occasions any time soon. The primary business of the morning is, after all, to climb the four hundred odd meters of scree which looms over our bivouac. Even if my shirt wasn’t already sweaty it certainly soon would be.

The groups attention turns to the North. To the southern slopes of the Smiubelgin Massif. After scanning the slope left and right and chewing over numerous suggested lines we decide to walk straight up the thing. Or at least straight up to the foot of Vesleranden to get a better look. Willem-Maarten, Jef and Thim set off arrow straight. Theo and I drift west to fill up our water bottles at the stream we crossed the evening before. As we approach the stream we see a man in the distance. It looks like he’s washing in the stream. He’s the first person we’ve seen since leaving Mysusteter the eveing before. Had he slept in the shelter next to the DNT path marked on the Turkart? We fill our water bottles and head after the group. I’ve chosen a one litre platypus even though the map suggests water may be scarce higher up the slope. I just don’t feel like lugging and extra two kilos up the hill and, besides, I can get the one liter platty in and out of the side pockets of my rucksack without stopping to take it off my back. We cross the path, quite a modest affair, certainly not the mile wide erosion scar so typical of the lakes and some of the more popular Munro ascents, and make our way across Vesleranden.

As we approach the top an obvious line up Ljosabelgen opens up. We will indeed go straight up the thing, following a blunt ridge running south-south-west from the pyramidal summit of this wonderfully named top. The Big Blacksmith, Storsmeden, keeps his Bellows, Ljosabelgen and Brakdalsbelgen, on his left hand and his Hammers (presuamably the translation for hamran?), Sore and Austre Smedhamran, within easy reach just to the North. His mate, The Little Blacksmith, Veslesmeden, sits to his right. I suppose, next to their day jobs, the whole group play parts in some mythical tale or other. I love this about Norway. There’s such a thin layer of Christian civilization dusted over a deep and cavernous pagan history.

We continue up the slope. At around 1450m all forms of vegetation have lost their grip on this land. Only poison-green and iron-brown algae can earn a crust here and they coat the rocks on these south facing slopes in abundance. Progress is slow. The terrain is very rough. Loose scree, fields of jumbled boulders and old snow in alternate bands. The snow is the worst, steep enough to require that we kick steps and hiding what’s beneath creating ankle twisting man traps. It’s one saving grace is that the run-off provides a cool drink. My golden rule for the day is to drink from every available water source.

Both the terrain and frequent stops to take in the view take their toll on the pace. Nevertheless we climb steadily and before long the incline steepens and the ridge begins to take form. The goal isn’t Ljosabelgen itself. The idea is to make the main ridge of the Smuibelgin group and from there to begin the traverse North-West to Storsemeden and beyond. This in itself sparks another route discussion. Theo and Jef, preferring to save their energy, not to mention their knees, for the 2000m tops later in the day look for an alternative. We agree after consulting the map, that a traverse of the slope around the Korkatbekkbotnen Corrie should be straight forward and would spare them some significant climb. The group separates agreeing to meet up at the col. Thim, Willem-Maarten and Myself, still feeling invincible, proceed towards the minor summit.

A little more sweat, several more snow fields, and some use of hands gets us to the top. And what a top. Ljosabelgen, at 1948m, isn’t aware of it’s diminutive stature. The top stands proud and the North face drops away precipitously for five hundred odd meters into the bottom of the remote Berkilsbotn. It’s rare, these days, that I get to stand on a top. It’s even rarer that I get to do so under clear skies. The valley below seems close enough to touch. The three of us spend quite some minutes on the top just taking it all in. Few words are exchanged.

Inevitably, attention turns eastwards to the main ridge and the traverse, first to Steet and then on to Storsmeden. The traverse looked straight forward on the map. In the flesh, from this perspective, it looks gnarly. The ground drops off sharply from the peak where we stand. So sharply that it’s hidden from view. Unable to eyeball a line, we’ll have to move down with caution and take the option to retrace our steps if things get too technical. Looking further afield, what we can see of the ridge, mainly around the col, looks fine. Airy, but broad enough and blunt. Of most concern it appears to be still holding some snow. Best to stay shy of the northern edge with its precipitous drop. The ridge sweeps up in a wide arc, first over the little round cap of Hoggbeitet then disappearing momentarily before continuing more steeply to the foot of Steet. It’s impossible to gauge properly from here but the face of Steet looks like one big mess of loose scree and boulder. The first two thirds of the two hundred or so meters from the col look rough but doable and then comes a jumble of slabs that look more like a climb than a scramble. It’s not clear how this bad step could be bypassed since it seems to be flanked on one side by a very steep , scree-filled gully and on the other by adrenaline producing exposure. I exclaim to the others that I don’t think the climb to Steet is within our capabilities. They don’t disagree. We start off down. Uncertain about what’s in store for us. If we can’t get to the top of Steet then our whole route plan will be thrown on its head before lunch on the first full day. However, thoughts of the next peak soon get put to the back of my mind, my full attention goes to my feet and where to put them next.

Once I get over the edge the drop to the col looks a little friendlier. More of the slope comes into view. The route will take us down a steep and quite sharp ridge, still intimidating, but the Rondane stone is a layer-cake of old sediments eroded and exposed into a natural staircase. With care, facing in when necessary, and maintaining three points of contact when possible, I pick my way down. Thim and Willem-Maarten, Willem-Maarten especially, are quicker in descent than me. I see them reach the snow field running down the last of the slope to the col and stride out confidently over it’s surface. I know already that the snow will slow me down even further. Once on the snow, still quite steep, I find the rounded heels of my boots don’t bight as well as I’d like. Note to self: make sure your next pair have aggressive heals since, given your ineptitude in descent you need every advantage available. On the steepest part of the slope I resort to side stepping and using the sharper edges of my soles. Am I being overcautious? In retrospect I’m not sure. This isn’t ice but wet, coarse, old snow. If I fall I’m unlikely to slip a significant distance, even on slopes as steep as this. But, and this is a big but, any kind of injury here could, at best, put the kibosh on the whole trip and, at worst, we’re a half days walk to the nearest help. I think on balance it pays to be cautious. Willem-Maarten and Thim are now at the col and for the first time since separating I see Jef and Theo too. As I rejoin the group another route discussion ensues.

It seems that the confidence of the group has taken a knock. Theo and Jef point out their line of traverse to the col, from where we stand an impressively straight line, seemingly without a meter of descent, is traced through intermittent snow fields. From here, the slope looks uncomfortably steep. Theo, assures me it didn’t look any better standing halfway up it. We are clearly not interpreting the map very well. Steet looks more intimidating than ever. There is no evidence of use tracks which might otherwise give us a clue as to the best line of ascent. We are either in a place rarely visited or Steet is not done from this side? It seems we have few options, dropping down through the Krokatbekkbotn corrie and follow the DNT route to Rondvassbu and onto the Rondhalsen, perhaps picking off Veslemeden, seems to be the best. If we could make the Bergdalstjonnen this evening it would at least put us within shooting distance for the start of the planned route on day two. However, we decide nevertheless to stay high and cross the shoulder of Hoggbeitet thus getting another view of the climb up to Steet before committing to an early decent. This latter turns out to be a good policy. Although we are more or less resigned to giving up on the initial plan, as we cross Hoggbeitet, Steet starts to look more possible. Persepective is everything. I’m sure, on a more typical grey day, with more restricted views, we wouldn’t have had second thoughts. We resolve to climb Steet and, since the col which follows is back in guidebook territory, if we do so are confident that the rest of the planned route should be within our grasp. The only problem that remains is that we are making desperately bad time having covered about 3.5km (less than a third of our route) by midday. That said, we still choose to stop for lunch. The view of the Klarabotn corrie is worth savoring. Jefrey breaks the spell by setting off early, in his words, so he has a fighting chance of not being the last man to the top.


The climb to Steet turns out to be quite straightforward. Technically at least. We chose to avoid the bad step by passing slightly to the North. Exposed, but not as bad as the view across the col had suggested. Hairy moments weren’t, however, completely avoided. On the steepest part of the scramble we find we have chosen a line though barely stable rock.When large rocks wobble under your weight it’s one thing but when they slide laterally as you reach for a hold that’s something else entirely. So this, apparently, is the ground the guides are referring to when they mention "instability" on other routes? We choose to move through as quickly as possible and are relieved as the gradient lessens and we top out on Steet. We’re making better time now. Compensating in some small way for the mornings dawdle. However, as I approach the top I feel the first twinges of cramp in my thighs. This is another gem of a hill. Again, at 1996m, it’s not one of the popular 2000m peaks and seems rarely visited. We have it to ourselves on a fine day. A day that’s turning out to be one of my finest mountain days yet. We pause for a few minutes. Schedules shouldn’t get in the way of the reward. What’s the point in making the investment if you’re not going to enjoy the profit?

The others start down towards the Langholet col. This is the last descent before we’ll finally get the chance to tackle the first of the 2000m tops in our sights. I drink a gulp of water which, like the rest of the group, I’ve been supplementing with snow and whatever melt water I can find, and head down the hill. I descend cautiously as ever but this time my progress is hampered by cramps. Now more severe than I’d experienced a few minutes earlier. I arrive last at the col and instead fof eeling positive about being back on plan, worries about route choice are replaced with worries about my physical condition. What to do about cramps? Under such situations my sports teacher used to press a salt tablet into your hand. Although I’m sure that’s no longer considered good practice I can feel a layer of salt crystals on my face and my cap is traced with salty tidemarks. I reach into my foodbag and extract a stock cube and an isostar tablet. I chew on the stock cube and whilst pulling the inevitable face drop the isostar tablet into my platypus followed by more snow to replenish my now dwindling water supply. While we rest some figures appear high on Storsmeden. A group of four or five people? The first people we've seen since teh washing man a 9:00AM this morning.We move on towards Storsmeden.

The first part of the ascent is over snow once more. Higher up the snow field becomes very steep but the others choose to kick steps as far as they can. I choose to bypass the snow in its entirety, rock hopping along the edge of the snow field. I keep taking little sips of the isostar flavoured melt water collecting in my platypus. Either this or the stock cube appears to have done the trick and the cramps have stopped. I make slower progress than the others but ascent is what I’m best at and I know I’ll catch up when they’re back on rock. As we climb, I recall the description on Scandinavian mountains. There is a lot of scrambling ahead but its bark is worse than it’s bite. In a couple of places it was advised to drop south of the ridge to avoid difficulties. The rest of the climb reads like the route guide. Sustained scrambling but once again on the now familiar Rondane staircase. In a couple of places I find myself realy climbing. Just two or three linked moves, nothing serious, and without real exposure but nevertheless, hands and feet on vertical rock. The rock here is of the stable variety at least.

Its seems that each of the tops we bag this day is the best so far. Storsmeden has every bit the feel of a “real mountain”. Rondane is named for its rounded peaks. The stubby roots of mountains which would once have given the Himalaya a run for their money. However, nobody seams to have told The Big Blacksmith. This peak is not without drama. There’s a substantial summit cairn around the bottom of which just enough summit is left free for the group to sit comfortably. I remember a real feeling of exposure. I also remember the views being spectacular. I have to resort to memory on this occasion however because it seems I only took two photographs in the whole fifteen minute period I was at the summit. There is a reason for this. I was too preoccupied with either getting into the shade of the cairn or getting wrapped up against the cold. It seams strange looking back. I’d spent all day, apart from the lunch break, in a short sleaved shirt and at that point I was suddenly unbearably cold whilst the sun was still beating down. I recognized at the time that I was starting to feel the effects of too much sun exacerbated by taking in too little liquid. I can remember reading the map to get a feeling for the onward route and taking several minutes to orientate it with the ground. Alarm bells were ringing in my head. I was reaching my limit and needed to get down, get rested and, most importantly get a lot of fluid inside me in a hurry.


The hundredth route discussion of the day ensued. The next stage of the planned route would take us from Storsmeden to Veslesmeden across a sharp arĂȘte involving just shy of 20m of descent and reascent. We knew that this was to be the crux of the days route. The guides had clearly labeled this as one of the most difficult ridges in Rondane. From the top of Storsmeden it looked hard, however we were now getting used to things looking hard. Worse, it looked like the ridge was holding a lot of snow. To compound the issue, by reversing the overall route, we had elected to do this ridge the wrong way. The three bad steps between Storsmeden and the col would have to be down-climbed. With heavy packs. It’s hard to gauge the feeling of the group in retrospect. I’m certain Willem-Maarten would have gone for it. He’s by far the fastest and most confident over rough terrain. Although I’m not sure, Thim probably would have gone along with that decision. I guess Theo and Jef didn’t relish the idea of all that descent and ascent regardless of the technicality. Willem-Maarten, forever the alpinist, tabled the option of sleeping on it, settling in for a summit bivvy and tackling the route with fresh legs in the morning. I came very quickly to my own conclusion: that the only realistic option was to return the way we came. Doing so would mean the three day route plan was just as scuppered as if we’d turned back before Steet. But, on returning to the Langholet col, we would open the possibility of a circular route which avoided Rondvassbu until the last day. This route, a long, lower level route linking the langholet, doralen, bergedalen and langluppdalen valleys, had been on the table very early on. It had been dropped in favour of a route taking in more high peaks. It would mean we’d miss out on the traverse of the long ridge from Diggerronden to Hogronden, a traverse I’d long looked forward to, but, in return, it offered a day of change, something other than rock hopping on high ridges, would take us through the remotest area in Rondane and would suitably position us to do the traverse of Rondslottet and Vinjeronden as planned on the last day. It was a good compromise and the group went along with the idea. All that stood between us and a suitable starting point, a bivvy in the head of the Langholet valley, was four hundred meters of steep descent.

That descent passed uneventfully enough. At least for four of the group of five. On one of the longer scrambles off Storsmeden Jef kicked a rock loose and Theo, some way further down the slope , stopped it with his head. The incident, which I heard rather than witnessed, passed with a laugh and a Joke at the time but I later understood that Theo was a little shaken by it. It always seemed to me that the moving in a relatively large group as we do increases the risk of such things. For me the most notable thing about the descent was the effort it sucked out of me. I was glad to reach the col. The relief was, however, short lived because I still had a little less than two hundred meters of descent northwards from the col to make the valley floor. What’s more most of the decent was over snow with no viable alternative. My favourite. Note to self: don’t hang around before buying those boots with aggressive heels. The group strung out, Jef Thim and Theo made the valley floor in good time. I took quite a bit longer, mostly side stepping down, until low enough to glissade without risk of hitting any rocks. I say glissade because it sounds more dignified than “slid down on my arse” but the latter is in fact what I did. Willem-Maarten hung around high on the slope for some minutes. As we watched him from below we were certain he was going to launch himself into a long, fast slide, but to our surprise, and my relief, he walked down to join us. I guess he was waiting to see that everybody else got down okay. Perhaps he was contemplating nipping back op to bag Veslesmeden after all?


One thing the Langholet wasn’t short of was water. I had a long, cool and very enjoyable drink of it. We then, in the style adopted for this trip, decided to prepare a meal where we sat and move on to find a suitable bivvy on full stomachs. It was a good call. We used the ingredients I’d packed in, partly fresh food, enjoying a stew with meatballs and beans, supplemented with instant mash. It was good. The kind of good that you only seem to get after a hard day in the hills. As ever the world seemed like a much better place after a feed. I’d also packed in a dessert but we decided to save it for later in the evening and after washing the pots moved down the valley looking for a bed.


As it turns out that’s a challenge in the Langholet. The valley is not dissimilar to the Lairig Ghru. It’s a jumbled mess of boulders, mostly small ones, none large enough or flat enough for a man to lie on. For a while it looked like we would have to drop down a long way to find a suitable patch of ground. Perhaps as far as the standing water of the Langholvatnet or beyond. But as we passed down the valley I spied what looked like a flat area of fine shingle off to the left. Although it looked dry this was presumably the bed of one of the dislocated lengths of stream marked on the map. We decided to keep it in mind and proceed a little further to get a better view down the valley. We got our view but it suggested nothing but more of the same interspersed with patches of wet green awaited us. A shingle bed started to look more attractive and we made our way back.

What we found was incredible. It was indeed a fine shingle bank, clearly some times under water, but it was now bone dry and mostly covered with a few centimeters of soft moss. The risk that this area would flood this night seemed remote. The risk, however great, seemed to be worth taking in payment for a good nights sleep. We set up our bivvy bags. Again forgoing the tarps. Deciding to save the dessert for the next night after all, we brewed up using the meths stove. The thing was every bit as bad as we’d anticipated. Without the Trangia windshield, the Trangia burner is transformed from a thing of wonder to a remarkably inefficient lump of brass. Even with the windshield from the Stella Plus tightly wrapped around the pan it threw out a dancing cloud of ineffective orange flames. It boiled water okay, after a long wait, but it also incinerated everything within reach. This included the edges of Willem-Maartens plastic plate which doubled as a pot lid. Nevertheless, a hot brew before bed was welcome and a little more gas had been spared.

The cold evening wind of the night before also blew along the Langholet. Here it was colder and stronger, presumably due to the extra 300m of altitude and the funneling effect of the col behind us. It still wasn’t cold enough to pose a problem though. I was comfortably warm in my down pullover and again used my sleeping bag as a half bag for the first half of the night. This night the wind didn’t abate and the Mosquitoes stayed at home. As I lay on my Neo-air, with my rucksack under my legs, both supplemented by a few centimeters of luscious moss, I started to run through the events of the day, especialy the appalingly low tally of kilometers, but decided that the time for analysis was later. I had the best nights sleep I’ve had in months.

7.12.2009

Rondane Day 1 : Amsterdam to Mysuseter and the Walk In

It’s 4:25AM on Friday morning. My alarm is set for 4:30 which should give me a half an hour to throw on clothes, pack the last of my food, eat a bowl of cereal and intercept the taxi driver before he rings the doorbell. A fine plan but Benjamin woke at three for a feed and I’ve lain awake since. Another five minutes in bed is an attractive proposition but the rest of the household have just found sleep so it seems wrong to wait for the alarm. Reluctantly, I swing my feet to the floor and deactivate the alarm. Today I travel to Rondane for my first major backpacking trip in ten months. Although the decision to go was made just a few weeks earlier it seems like an age has passed. Preparation and planning has filled my spare time for weeks. As the realisation that the trip is about to start gradually burns its way through the early morning fug, the fatigue peels away. Today, it seems that four hours sleep is enough. The excitement of what’s ahead powers me through the morning ritual. Dressed I roll down stairs and am just stuffing the bag of frozen food into my rucksack when, out of the corner of my eye, I catch sight of a well set grey haired man approaching the house. It’s the taxi driver. Unusually he’s ten minutes early. I wave. He gets the message and walks back to the car without ringing the doorbell. I shoulder my pack and walk out of the house. Unless there’s enough time at Schiphol I’ll be going without breakfast today. As I climb into the car Jeffrey bids me good morning. So far so good. At least two of the group will be on time for the flight.

Twenty minutes later, the taxi fare paid, we walk through the revolving door into the departure hall. To our surprise Willem-Maarten is waiting by the check-in desk. He had said that he’d be taking the train but that, the NS schedule being what it is, he would be cutting it fine. Apparently Thim had SMS’d in the early hours, while en-route home from a concert, to say that the trains were delayed. Liesbeth had brought Willem-Maarten by car. After a few minutes, Thim sauntered up through the departure hall. He’d been catching up on his sleep in arrivals downstairs. Clearly I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get a good nights sleep. Theo arrived and we were complete. Ample time to check in and grab a coffee and a bight to eat on the way to the gate.

The journey ran seamlessly. The flight to Oslo, the bus to Otta and then the minibus up the steep valley side to Mysuseter all connected conveniently and ran, more or less, on time. Only the Mysuster bus was slightly delayed. In the way of these relaxed small community services ten minutes here or there didn’t seem to concern the driver. The run up from Oslo had been long. The bus is not my preferred mode of transport and five hours of bus is , for me, about four and a half hours too much. As long bus journeys go, however, this was bearable. I had a double seat to myself and there was a WC. The scenery helped. The most annoying thing was the break. For a moment, about twenty minutes outside of Otta, it looked like we were ahead of schedule but a half hour stop for refreshments soon put paid to any idea of hitting the trail earlier than planned. Stepping out of the bus was a shock. We’d come a long way north but the temperature in the valley bottom was 28 degrees. The sun was burning hot. Last minute decisions to pack a peaked cap and a light shirt with a collar seemed to be good ones. Because we’d flown we had been unable to bring fuel. We’d opted for a gas burner for this trip. Largely due to the infallible availability of gas canisters. We took the opportunity during the pause to look for gas in a nearby service station. They had canisters alright, but only large ones. Prefering to carry two small cartridges, thus spreading the weight over two rucksacks, we trusted that we would be able to pick up fuel at the Mysuseter store. After all, in e-mail correspondence the store owners had clearly stated that they stocked “a diverse supply of canisters”.

As we drive into Mysuseter the sun is still shining brightly. It’s 3:30PM and I’ve been on the move for eleven hours. Mysuseter, a small ski centre and gateway to the national park, is one of those small northern communities that looks out of place in summer. The paraphernalia of winter, snow scooters, snow ploughs a ski tow and the like, look out of place in the green. Mysuseter, I think, would look much better under a layer of snow. The bus skids to a halt on the gravel road in front of the store. We’re here at last! We jump down from the bus, retrieve our rucksacks, pay the driver and walk, in unison, the few steps to the store. Willem-Maarten and I go inside to buy gas. It soon becomes clear that we have a problem. The mail had said “we stock a diverse supply of canisters”. What it should have said was “we posses an eclectic collection of antique gas canisters only one of which has a screw connector”. We freeze for a moment while we take in the situation and compute the consequences. I estimate, under ideal conditions, that we need two 355g cartridges for the trip. Before me I see a single, Italian-made, rusted, 355g Butane/Propane canister that looks like it may have already done four laps of Rondane since it’s first sale in around 1965. We have a problem. We have predominantly dried food. It can’t be eaten cold. We’re heading into high alpine territory where no wood can be found. Unless we radically change the route and camp below the tree line (which basically means outside of the national park boundary) cooking on an open fire is out of the question. After a short discussion with the storekeeper, who offers to have a supply of canisters sent up from Otta with the next bus, sixteen hours from now, we’re left to scrabble around on the shelves looking for an alternative. The only viable one available to us is to purchase a Trangia burner and stand and a liter of meths to supplement the gas canister. We guess that if we use the meths to boil water for brews that the gas will stretch to preparing all of the planned main meals. It’s an unfortunate situation. The purchase, which includes a soviet engineered heavy gauge steel support for the brass meths burner, together with fuel brings, at a guess, an extra 1.5kg to the party. Furthermore, there is no windshield. I have two ultralight meths stoves sitting in my garage at home which, at a tenth of the weight, would have been far better suited to the job in hand. Still, beggars can’t be choosers and this way we get to stick to the planned route without diversions to purchase fuel or collect wood.

In the meantime It’s started raining heavily. Big globs of cool summer rain fall through otherwise clear skies. I change out of my coolmax shirt into a merino baselayer as planned and throw a wind shirt over the top in an attempt to keep things reasonably dry. Thirty seconds later I find myself changing back into the shirt. Getting wet without overheating seems to be a better policy than sweltering in a merino top.


The rain slackens off and after quickly consulting the map we head out of the village along a dusty gravel road looking for the DNT route to the Peer Gynt Hut. The original plan would have taken us along the road to Rondvassbu but we’ve made a last minute decision to do the route in reverse. The weather forecast is good for the first two days but is then set to turn wet. The original route would have put us on the hard, technical Veslesmeden to Storsmeden traverse in the wet. Most likely in low cloud and poor visibility. This way, although it means the first full day after the walk in will be a demanding one, at least we’ll have fine weather for it.

I find myself walking at a good pace along the easy surface through a jumbled collection of houses and cabins. On most trips this is a period of uncertainty. What am I letting myself in for? Have I packed everything? Have I got the right kit with me? What’s in store? Normally it takes time to adjust to the feel of unfamiliar footwear and the weight of a big pack. However, this time I fall easily into a rhythm. Perhaps I’m right to be confident in my preparation and kit? Perhaps the clear summer skies and warm air are lulling me into a false sense of security? Whatever it is, Rondane is certainly welcoming us in with open arms and a warm smile.



Whatever the reality we make good time and soon pick up signs for the Peer Gynt Hut. No need to navigate for a while at least. A little further we are given our first glimpse of the high tops of the central massif and a little further still we cross a bridge over a lively mountain stream and leave the road behind us. It seems that in no time we’ve left civilization behind us. The steady stream of holiday homes petering out, we find ourselves on a well trodden path undulating alternately over knolls decorated with birch scrub and then through shallow marshy valleys. A signed path leading up to the 1000m top of Kasen provides a momentary temptation. Discretion being the better part of valour, we pass by without making an extra unplanned ascent. The coming days will provide enough excitement and demand enough effort. With every short climb we emerge a little higher until after just a few kilometers we break through the tree line. What lies ahead is then a spectacular open subalpine landscape. The lower slopes decorated with stunted bushes. The higher slopes yellow and green with lichen and moss. Beyond lies the array of rounded high peaks from which the park takes its name. This is the Rondane landscape I’ve seen in a thousand photographs. The foreground and the backdrop are unmistakable. The colours are, however, more subdued than I remember. The stereotype landscape photograph of Rondane is taken in the autumn when the birch and berry foliage burn with the deep red flame of the year end. It will be a few weeks before the short northern summer yields to autumn and Rondane puts on its party dress but that’s not a problem. We are being treated to a more subtle but nevertheless breathtaking show. A dose of clear, early evening light is painting a different picture under sparkling blue skies and fluffy white clouds. The vegetation is almost luminescent in this shallow light, providing a seemingly artificial palette of greens and yellows to compliment the sky. My camera stays out of its bag and is seldom lowered from my eye.

This is turning out to be a fine walk-in. As the path levels off and veers towards the hut we strike off north east up the Ljosae beck. With the north western slopes of Randen on our right hand we climb the gentle slope. First across a deep carpet of bilberry scrub and dry moss. Later over boulder fields and patches of old snow. From here the hooked ridge of Smiukampen and the top of Ljosabelgen , familiar to me from evenings spent pouring over the map, overlook our progress. As we cross the snow I wonder what we’ll find higher up the hill. The thought is only fleeting though. Today we won’t climb much higher. The intention being to find a suitable bivouac at around the 1400m contour. We’ll worry about the high ground and the ascent tomorrow.



As we climb the vegetation thins and rock takes its place. Gone is the thick mossy bed we’ve strode across for most of the evening. It becomes clear that comfortable campsites are few and far between. The higher we go the fewer there will be. We decide to take a break and prepare this evenings meal before moving on to find a bed. We cross a fast flowing stream and put down our bags. The mood is relaxed and we soak in the long views of distant ranges to the west as a pan of soup heats on the stove. It’s still light and the sun shines but a chill wind picks up and suddenly it feels ten degrees colder. I’ve been walking in a short sleeved shirt but now I find myself donning a fleece and shell. A reminder of where we are. Hot soup fortified with pasta and sausage is a welcome, warming meal. A second course of rice pudding sets us up for the night. Fed and watered we wash the pots, pack up and move on. Meandering along just above the 1200m contour we find a series of reentrants offering some shelter from the wind and a softer lie. Under different circumstances it seems these spots might be wet. Tonight they are dry and are highly likely to stay so. We spread out and each man seeks out a suitable space. Bivvy bags, sleeping bags and mats appear from each rucksack.


Before long my bed is made. I’m not fully out of the wind but as compensation I have a room with and endless view. What’s more, I hope that the wind will keep the bugs at bay. In any case it’s not cold. It seems highly unlikely that the frost promised by the Norwegian weather service will show up. After taking a last stroll to the east, just far enough to sneek a view of the Rondvasshogde and take a last photograph, I return to my bivvy, and wriggle inside. It’s now gone 11:00pm and its still light. I lie looking at the view, feeling privelaged and smug. Privelaged to be here in Norway, smug because I'm here under such conditions that I can lie out without a shelter. Thats the best sort of camp there is! I hand onto that thought until sleep finds me.


For more photos follow the link: Rondane set

7.09.2009

Back from Rondane



I'm well and truly back! It's two days since my return and those two days have been work days. Jumping straight back into life after a trip is never easy. The pace is so different. This time it seems harder than ever. I had a great trip. The weather at the front end was as good as was promised. In some respects too good. At the back end things got a little wetter. We finished off with the weather that Roger was travelling headlong into. Things didn't go to plan. We had to make changes to the route as early as the first full day. In particular the tally of 2000m tops was far less than it might have been. Nothing serious though. We still got three good long days and some spectacular bivvies in a fantastic location. I'll post a full account in due course. Right now I'm working through all of my photos, converting raw files and uploading the best to Flickr and the rest to Picasa. I like working the photos. It's an opportunity to replay the trip, good bits and bad bits, and to get my head around things. When I've enjoyed the afterglow a bit longer I'll share the fun. Right now you'll have to make do with the steady stream of new photos on Flickr.

7.02.2009

D-Day

It's here at last. This week I've been counting off the days like a kid on the run-up to Christmas. I'd promissed another post on gear selection but it's been a hellish week at work. Suffice to say, with food and water, I'll have around 10.5kg on my back on the walk in. Add to that 1kg of camera gear slung across my shoulder and you get a weight that I'm more than happy with. Better still it looks like for once we've hit the jackpot and the damn rain pants are staying at home. In their place will be a coolmax shirt. There'll be more about gear on my return.

I'll be getting an alpine start in the morning. A taxi will collect me at an unholy hour and whisk me off the Schiphol. I should be swinging my rucksack up onto my back at 4pm. By late evening I'll be looking for a good bivouac at around 1400m.

The latest forecasts are good for the front end of the trip. Sun and clear skies for Saturday and Sunday. Night time temperatures of 10 degrees C are predicted. Monday could be wet. We decided on a new strategy at the last minute. We've ditched a tarp so we have just enough silnylon to cover our heads incase things turn unexpectedly bad. In the process we've lightened one rucksack by around a kilo. We'll also do the route in the opposite direction. We'd been saving the most spectacular ridge for the last full day but wet conditions could kill that plan. Now we'll try to get the traverse from Ljosabelgen to Veslesmeden under our belts in the sunshine on the Saturday. Like wise the Digerronden to Hogronden traverse on the Sunday. If things turn out as forecast on the Monday we'll head for Rondvassbu and either a low level camp or a night in the hut.

The lights will be out here for a week or so.

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