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Oh, and I've been keeping some other stuff close to my chest too. A plan's been hatching for some time now. I'll be heading back up North for some wild time in the first week of July. Yes you guessed correctly. Norway again. It's not out of my system yet. This time I aim to get really high. Not the height you measure in meters though. Oh no. The height you measure in degrees, minutes and seconds. Tickets are booked and I'm off to Hammerfest, a hair-raising 70° 39' 50” North, to catch up with my old mate Randulf. He plans to whisk me off to Seiland, a snaggle-toothed little island just across the water. What it lacks in altitude it makes up for in attitude. It may only rise to just over a 1000m at it's highest point, Seilandstuva which roughly translates as “ Seilands Tussock”, but it's home to Norway's Northern most glaciers, Seilandsjokelen and Nordmannsjokelen and the next thing to the North is Svalbard.
It's going to seem like I've been keeping secrets but the fact is I've just not had the time to keep you all up to speed. I'm writing this post from my "authentic South-Western Style" hotel, room in Golden, Colorado. Yes I said Colorado. Work has dealt me a cushy number. It's been a while coming, what with the crisis and all, but I now have the opportunity to take a peak at the Colorado School of Mines. As a bonus, I've got a full Sunday to "recover" from the journey. I spent the night at 6000ft. Today I'm going to see if I can better that by another couple of thousand on the trails that start right here in the town. Should be interesting. I've only got the bits and pieces of gear I could squeeze into my carry-on luggage. Light trail shoes, no snow-gaitors and no spikes and it snowed 30cm on friday. The enterprise will however be fuelled by a cattlemans breakfast.Wish me luck!
Sleep had been harder to find but I was still awake early. I'd spent the first hour or so after bedding down nursing a raging thirst. An endless loop of lying in my bag until I could bare it no longer, the faff of loosening the draw cords, sitting up with a shiver, reaching for the flask at my feet and sipping another cup of hot water. I don't know what it was. Perhaps I'd drunk too little on a long day of exertion? Perhaps the two main meals I'd stuffed my face with added up to too much dehydrated food? Perhaps they weren't fully rehydrated? Whatever the reason the first part of my night had been restless and the inevitable trip to the toilet to unload the string of hot beverages had postponed sleep until at least a normal adult bedtime. When sleep eventually came it was a good deep sleep. Despite the night being clear, and consequently colder, perhaps -15ºC, I'd not felt cold. In fact I'd been warm as toast. It took another call of nature to wake me and another fifteen minutes of shall I shan't I to get moving.
By the time I emerge the first pan of water is reaching a boil and Thim and Willem-Maarten were already breaking camp. I don't have to wait long for breakfast and it's not much longer before breakfast is finished. Just a few minutes fumbling in a foil bag with a too short spoon whilst wearing an ill-fitting mitt, followed by a few minutes more shovelling food with a bare hand, trying to stuff it all in before losing the feeling in my fingers yet again. Breakfast tastes good nevertheless. Theos probably tastes even better as he takes it in bed for the second time this weekend.
We spend the next hour and a half or so packing up. Retrieving snow anchors and pegs buried under two feet of hard compacted snow, shaking the frost off fly and ground sheets, stuffing stuff sacks and loading rucksacks. Much of my food's been eaten but somehow there's less space in my rucksack. That or it's harder to pack up the tent on the snow than on my living room carpet.
They say it's not over until the fat lady sings. As I strap the snow shovel to the back of my pack I'm sure I can hear Birgit Nilsson warming up in the valley below. Whilst I'm settling into the idea of a gentle downhill along the tracks Willem-Maarten is putting in earplugs and working on an alternative plan. One that involves avoiding the tracks to within a stones throw of the car park. A discussions ensues. Thim chooses to get more practice in track. The remaining three choose to pretend we're in the wilderness for a little longer. We agree a rendezvous and go our separate ways. As we move off I glance around one last time. Two big holes in the snow and a deep trench remain. A big dump of snow or the spring thaw will have to come before we've left no trace. Beyond the camp I catch sight of the view. It's not one I'll forget in a hurry.
What follows is more of the afternoon of the day before. Breaking trail in thick snow, meandering between trees and finding shallow diagonal lines up the steepest of the slopes. On the way in we'd climbed constantly. The route out cross-country seemed shallower and I was expecting that, somewhere along the line, we'd encounter a steep or two. It never came. Dealt an easy ride all the way I was free to take in the surroundings. Two and half days, the two full days and all of this morning, had been spent under clear skies. As we make our way out there's just a light layer of wispy cloud on high. I reflect on our luck. As I do so our luck gets even better. At first I think we're getting a dusting as wind dislodges snow from the trees but then I realise it's snowing. Fine white flakes are dancing downwards throwing an extra layer of magic over this already magical landscape. Not enough to make life difficult but enough to set the scene. My weekends complete.
Too soon we hit the track. Not long after we're amongst the huts that just three days before had been half hidden in mist. As I hit the top of the long downhill, that first climb in reverse, I remember the sense of foreboding I'd carried in. Three days in the dry cold, simple days without cares separated by long, deep sleeps have apparently well and truly erased those feelings. It occurs to me that I'm feeling physically fit too. Was it the antibiotics or the dry cold that had chased the last bacteria out of my lungs? For the first time in the weekend I reach the bottom of a slope without a single fall. It suits me to assume that a weekend in the snow is a good cure all.
We arrive at the car park and, assuming Thim has already dumped his bag and headed back out to practice, take lunch. As we sit in the sun and eat the last of our bread a slow stream of locals ski through the junction. Our second close encounter of the weekend. All passers by get three nods and a chorus of hallo. Most react in some way. One stares and, without so much as a glimmer of recognition, skis on. We can’t help but laugh. Willem-Maarten offers an explanation suggesting that we too don’t utter greetings to all and sundry when we’re walking through Amsterdam, when its’s too busy it’s just not expedient. Perhaps in Norway the threshold is a little lower?
When lunch is done I prepare to head back out onto the track. To make good use of the last half hour before. Returning to the car I realise that Thims ‘sack is not there. He’s not been back. There’s a moment of subdued concern for Thims well being but it’s soon put to rest with a mobile call. He’s on his way down the last run. We head up to meet him and as we approach the huts catch sight of a relaxed figure gliding at speed between the huts. Thim skis past with a wave and smile. Practice makes perfect.
I’m the last back to the car. I’ve bled every last minute out of the weekend and have to pack up in a hurry. Bags are packed for the flight, skis are tied onto the roof, layers of sweat and salt are scrubbed off with a snow bath and then we're spinning out of the car park and back into the world.