8.16.2010

Walking the dogs: Seiland 44-68hrs


Kangias high pitched whine wakes me a couple of times in the night but other than that I sleep soundly enough. I wake warm. Not hot like the previous morning but uncommonly warm given my situation. This morning it's not a sweltering tent that provides the motivation to rise but an awkward lie. The pitch that looked so nice had put me on a convex bed. Lie with both feet and head lower than your waist for a night and you're guaranteed to start the day with back pain. There's a consolation of sorts though. As I crawl out of the tent sharp pain shoots through my knee and the pain in my lower back fades into the background. Over muesli and coffee I inspect my knees, old rivals of mine I know them well, today they're different. As I poke one side fluid bulges out of the other. The left is the worst, swollen and reluctant to flex. I've been here before. I find I use my knees a lot when hiking. This is not a good development.

It's another slow start but I'm getting the hang of it. We drink coffee, chew the fat, discuss what we might do placing the emphasis on “might”. I'd quite like to see the glacier. Seilandsjokelen, Norways Northern most glacier is just to the west. Five kilometres as the crow flies with five hundred meters of up. Randulf talks me out of it, gently suggesting that the knee situation should be taken seriously and pointing out the the nearest tops, two hundred meters shy of the glaciers eight hundred, are in cloud. We consider following the outfall through the Guicavaggi to the coast where there's another large lake and some buildings, probably disused houses. The stream may offer some fishing opportunities on the way down, the lower lake will certainly hold fish and the buildings may offer Randulf with a photo opportunity. We agree on the apparently light option that we can do with light packs. Some more milling around and the essentials are packed, dogs are on the leash and we're heading out of camp. My watch says it's gone two in the afternoon. I can't decide if that's late or early. It could be either.

We follow the shoreline, pick up the outlet and start picking our way downstream. As we descend the undergrowth gets thicker and we soon find ourselves back in birch wood. The trees slow progress, tripping, snagging leads, whipping faces, obscuring views and making route choices that much harder. The stream drops into a narrow gorge and we climb again, high above the left bank, looking for a way round. We find ourselves on steeper ground. A mixture of rock steps and damp greenery makes for tough going. After some effort we get a better look at what lies ahead. If we stay on this bank we'll soon have to descend steeply and climb back up again bushwhacking all the way. From where we stand the opposite bank looks like a better option so we zigzag back down towards the stream, stopping frequently to scout for the best way to avoid steep rock, and search out the least treacherous place to cross. Dogs and men safely across we traverse more steep green and weave through more birch. We arrive at an edge. In next to no distance over ground the stream drops what looks like forty meters or so. Closer inspection of the map reveals we've been conned. A little more attention to the contour detail before setting off might have lead to another choice of easy day. Although the stream drops only two hundred meters in three kilometres, it concentrates most of that drop into three sharp steps. We're looking over the first.

We follow the edge looking for a way down. More tree dodging and climb brings us to a likely spot. One bad step will put us in a rocky chute running back under the rock face, with the edge for a handrail we could loose a lot of height over a boulder staircase or alternatively cross to what looks like steep but easier ground on the other side. It all looks easy enough. but then we have dogs. Randulf holds both dogs while I down climb face to the rock. Then come the dogs. It takes some coaxing to get Thule over the edge but Kangia doesn't need asking twice. Once over the step we pick our way back down to the streams edge. Thule moves, more or less on command, the rest of the way down without hesitation. Greenlands apparently sense when a situation is serious enough to take heed of their handler.

Pool

It's hot sweaty work in the undergrowth. As the slope levels out I catch sight of what's in store. The stream splits and meanders across a stretch of level, marshy ground bounded left and right by high flanking valley sides and in its rear by the steep rock step. A lost world of silvery water and luminous birch dotted with dark glassy pools begging to be fished. These are just the sort of pools, isolated, accessible to small fish, inescapable to small fish grown big, that could hold something well worth catching. We choose to take a break. Randulf tries his luck but his luck runs only to a couple of returns.

Mirror Mirror
What's left of the afternoon deals us more of the same. Slow progress on a route that alternates between bushwhacking and stream crossings. Moving forwards and downwards always wondering what's rushing over the next rise to bite us. The remaining two steep sections bark louder than they bite. Although the map suggests potential for treachery they´re easier in descent than the first and we reach the lower lake, the Vuolit Guicavakkejavri, without having to scramble. The dogs at once alert to something unseen as we skirt the eastern shore looking for a suitable day camp. Reindeer have most probably passed through here. I check my watch, we´ve averaged something like one and a half kilometres an hour. It occurs to me that a path, constructed or use-worn, however meagre, makes such an incredible difference.

We find a nice spot at the southern end of the lake. There´s a fire ring, used more recently than any we´ve seen along the way and the first real sign of life. Low life it would seem judging by the discarded beer cans. An annoyance I hadn´t expected to encounter here. We revert to form. Dropping packs, we brew up, put up our feet and lay back. We fish a little. Randulf sleeps a little. I fish a little more. My effort is rewarded with another good fish. In the late evening, bothered by mosquitoes, we move to the top of a rise away from the waters edge, set a fire and make a meal. Chicken curry, courtesy of Real Turmat.

Mining Gold

There are moments when life seams surreal. This is one of those moments. I´m sat in the wild North eating curry with a friend made over beer and curry in the big city. The sights and tastes don´t match up but the company does. For most of the afternoon I´ve been watching the sky. Slowly but surely its mood´s been changing. The cloud base gradually lifting, the light warming. As I eat I watch the last of that process, watch the air become translucent and the light turn golden. The impact of the fall of light amazes me once more. We´ve spent late afternoon and evening in a nice place. Under this new light that same place has become a fantasy landscape. Up and down, near and far, sky and ground are abstract concepts the whole melted down into a single topsy turvy scene by the power of reflection and shadow. I reach for my camera and mill around taking photos. I notice Randulf is doing the same

Flower Garden

We sneak away from the dogs and Randulf strolls and I limp through the last kilometre of the valley to the shore. We find the buildings marked at the edge of the park boundary. An old house, still being used by someone but with a meter wide hole in the roof. A barn, rickety, filled with the detritus of previous human existence. I spot two rusty childrens bikes through a low doorway. Lower down, on the shoreline, a boathouse, connected to the shore by a stony slipway terminating in luminescent bladderwrack. Two nailed lapstrake double enders lie rotting, one within and one up against the boathouse. Faerings I guess. Years of neglect and exposure have done nothing to conceal their beauty their lineage so clearly Viking. This is another unexpected. I hadn´t imagined that I´d spend precious wilderness time snuffling through the waste of forgotten lives but it's fascinating. Who had lived here in such isolation? Who had left here with childhood memories of running free through the meadows and cycling around the house? How had this family fuelled their existence? Cameras run hot.
We head back up to the lake, collect the gear and dogs and start the return trip. It´s just shy of ten thirty. My instinct is telling me that it´s foolhardy to still be out so late but the truth of the matter is that we we´d have to take the whole of July before getting benighted. By that time, only having food for three more days,  not having packed a head torch would be the least of my worries. To save my knees more abuse, Randulf takes both dogs. This isn´t without consequence since a little way into the walk Randulf finds himself at the epicentre of an explosion of overexcited play fighting dog. Shouting commands and pulling on leads has no effect. Ear pinching extracts a passable impression of pigs at slaughter and restores calm.

Dog Fight

Now that we know the route, the climb is, on the whole, easier than the descent. Scrambling with dogs remains a challenge, especially since Randulf now has both dogs and dog-to-dog synchronisation is called for. I find myself, on more than one occasion wondering why I´d deemed it sensible to leave my Spot Tracker back at the tent. As we walk back into camp its long gone midnight. I feel surprisingly beaten up. So much for the easy day. It´s late but there´s time enough for a supper of fresh fish before bed. As we eat we whitness another lightshow. The Gressnesfjellet is cut in two its base in dark, cold shaddow its top bathed in warm, golden light. Randulf toys with the idea of heading up to take some photographs but instead just eats his half of  my prize fish.



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