Huldreheimen: Days 4 and 5


For some time I lie awake listening to the wind. Hard and unrelenting, moaning through the stove pipe, beating on the windows. The evening before, as I'd turned in, slipping into my warm bag dried over one of those turbo charged Norwegian wood stoves, all had been still and I was hoping for a crisp, blue-sky-day to follow. Here and now, that seems to have been false hope but it always sounds worse when you're inside. It does always sound worse when you're inside right?

Loo View

When I wake again the wind is still raging. I think briefly of the tent, is this a local wind or has the camp been getting a beating while we've been away? The morning ritual demands an exchange of down cocoon for down jackets and woolen hat in preparation for the walk to the chapel. As I step outside and wrestle the hut door shut I realise the “always worse outside” rule doesn't always hold. At least not in Norway. Done with worship, I head back to the hut to prepare for the day. I wonder what this day will bring. One certainty, we'll be going out in this. This is our last full day and we have to get back to camp.


Breakfast, pack up and suit up. Just another day at the office. The routine, as always, is fluid and effortless after a couple of days. In the course of the first three days everything has shaken down until the order of the roll call has been settled and there's a parking space reserved for all items. I deliberate on what to wear and decide to don everything but my down insulation and my big pile mitts. Well, almost everything. Deciding to keep my long johns on I grant my merino shorts, faithful companions of the last three days, a rest day. There's nothing else in my spare clothes dry bag when I shove it deep into my rucksack. Even the few semi-permanant residents will get a run out today. Today is a buff and goggles kind of day. I look across at my compatriots, three suited and booted extra terrestrials, and see we' re ready to go. I pull those bastard boots onto my feet again and step outside.


We exit the hut and strap on snow tools. Today two pairs of skis and two pairs of snow shoes. I've decided to give snow shoes a go. It means walking with skis strapped on my pack but they seem to make more sense over the rough, snow-poor ground that we encountered the day before  and will have to cross again today.  As we head off, the thermometer nailed over the door of the hut is reading minus seventeen.Willem-Maarten shouts through his buff and over the bluster of the wind, that every man should take care of his nose.

That Way!

We climb back up through the little valley that will take us up to the wind beaten top of the day before. Yesterday this had been a sunlit haven sheltered from the wind. What a difference a day makes! Today it's a wind tunnel and a taste of things to come. As I climb over the crest and the cairn comes into view I´m at once exposed to the full force of the wind. A mear gale rather than a storm but the strongest gusts are enough to knock me a little off balance. Skis strapped onto my pack in a high A don´t help. As I keep nosing forwards I become entranced by this place again. The few hundred square meters of  exposed rock and ice under my feet may not add up to a dramatic peak but the view is quite special. Perhaps just this day? There's movement of snow and cloud. There's bright blue in the distant sky and softer blue in the ice patches. There's stark black and white of rock and snow. There's drama, in my eyes at least, in the movement of  men through this alien landscape. I snatch as many photos as wind chilled fingers will allow.


As I pause to take another image, mitts hanging from idiots cords, I become aware that my legs are cold. I suppose the result of dawdling to take photos. I set off again at a good pace intent on getting blood pumping. It works, but not completely. Today is an experiment in winter clothing and whilst my jacket appears up to the task my trousers aren't. As I move, face into the wind I feel the wind ripping through the cloth and heat being stripped from my thighs. As I move further I become aware of a stinging pain in a place where, those of the avaerage sexual persuasion, would least want such a pain. As I drop over the edge and start the descent into the long North West valley back to the brennhoa I do so with my sticks in one hand and the other hand clutching my crotch. The associated facial expression is at least hidden under my buff. Half a kilometre further, though lower on the hill, things havn't improved and I need to rememdy the problem. That's not as straight forward as is shoud be given that I left my shell trousers in the tent. The boys form a wall to windward while I strip off  boots and trousers, pull my spare underpants on over my long johns and stuff my big pile mitts down the front. As I move off with a  crotch full of improvised insulation I promise myself  I'll think twice and then twice more before stripping down my kit so ruthlessly in future.

Before setting out we'd discussed our options. We figured that somewhere along this valley we could leave the track and, rather than doggedly repeat yesterdays route in reverse, head North somwhere East of the high ground  to cut our own tracks for a change. The subject is raised again. I cast a no vote. The thought of battling through this and navigating through untracked snow doesn't appeal. The thought that there's a chance that this could get worse is rattling around in my head. Perhaps I'm letting my dick do the thinking again?


Further along we stop for snacks. Uncommonly we do so standing on skis and snow shoes, backs to the wind. It's clear to all that this will be a short break. The best state to be in is in motion. I raid the snacks stuffed into my chest pocket and take a slug of hot water out of my flask. No sooner have we stopped, or so it seems, than we're on the move again. The option to go cross country seems to have passed us by.

We cut a corner and start the climb to brennhoa. As I stomp past the little slope we played on the day before it occurs to me that the wind has eased a little.  I loosen my hood a little and drop my buff from my nose and mouth. Looking back momentarility I realise we now have the wind on our backs. It doesn't seem to make sense since we've turned just nintey degrees. Winds in these places, funnelled as they are through the gaps, are local and unpredicatble.


I top out by the big route sign, clearly built for deep snow but now an oversized tripod with waymakers pinned high up where the text is hard to read, and decide it's time to switch back to skis. The snow shoes have served me well. Moving through the patchy unveven snow  was easier than on skis n' skins. Something I find surprising is that I've been able to keep up with the skiers. Every tool seemingly has its place. Now though I want to profit from the long downhill that  in know from yesterdays outward trip is just around the corner. There's a little up and down before the descent. The ups are still difficult on these skis on this snow. Energy is wasted backsliding every second step and I have to check my stride in an attempt to firmly plant my fishscales before delivering a reined in kick.  In contrast even the slightest down hill has me gliding with ease. Wind from behind is always nicer but never more so that on skis. Soon enough I'm making a long, wind assisted glide down the hill.


All of a sudden, in what seems like no time, we're leaving the main track and crossing the flat before the steep climb to svarttjonnholet.  We decide to pause for lunch. Theo heads off into a sheltered dell to scout out a spot. He calls us down but I refuse, point blank, to join him. I'm buggered if I'm going to expend the energy to climb back out of the thing on this crusty shit. Theo, of course, has to do just that. Feeling mean as hell, and guessing that a bite to eat will make me a nicer person,  I move a little further along the track until I find a more accessible, if less sheltered, spot. We sit on packs, backs to the wind, and eat lunch. The sun shines and, with a cup of hot soup in me, I start to take in the scene. Between gusts it's actualy warm under the sun. Our lunch spot is sandwiched somewhere between winter and spring.

Passing Through

I switch back to snow shoes for the steep climb up to the huts at svarttjonnholet. First there's just the small issue of that long stretch of wind ridged snow. The going is immeasurably better on snow shoes. Somewhere between my ears hangs an image of me gliding effortlessly over scandinavian snow. It's hard, when plodding along on snow shoes, not to feel a twinge of disspointment. Reality and fantasy, however, seldom coincide. Skis on this rubbish are, I think, just long, heavy and inefficient snow shoes. On the steepest section I even engage the heel lift wires. At once I understand why they're there.

As I reach the crest and make a line for the huts I see people. Not my people but other people. Two men on skis heading in the direction of Espedalen. At first we don't approach them but it seems expedient to assertain where they intend to overnight. If they're heading for the Tonabu then we have one less option. Willem-Maarten starts up the conversation. Two words into the first sentence it's clear that they are Dutchmen. Willem-Maarten keeps speaking English regardless. They indeed intend to sleep at the Tonabu. While chatting four more people appear, two men two women, heading from Espedalen. We assertain that this German party are intent of overnighting in the Storkvelvbua. Willem-Maarten passes on some information about the route.  It's now two in the afternoon, they're on skinny skis and are carrying light packs. I don't envy them. Under my breath I wish them luck with daylight and wind. They head off down the slope and, a minute later, there are  Germans lying all over the slope and skis making a break for freedom. Having been treated to a glimpse of ourselves we let the Dutchmen make some ground and then leave this rush hour corner behind us.

Couch Potatoes

The tent is still standing. Like a rock! The snow-sofa is bathed in sun and I sit a while, wondering just what all the fuss was about. Here and now the natural violence of this morning seems a million miles away. I feel a sudden pang of deep dissapointment. Why hadn't we made a day of it and gone off-track? Why had I advocated such conservatism? Would I have made another call had I have carried and extra couple of hundred grams of windproof clothing? Instead of sunning myself here I could have been experiencing the real Gausdal Westfjel. I could have been getting some more of those late-evening-in-Oyer sensatations. As it is I've now got several hours to brood on another uncomfortable night in the tent.


To keep my mind off things I get on with melting snow and sorting out my gear. The others get on with finishing the igloo. The structure, although it's clearly wilted a little under the sun, is still standing. Two or three courses and a cap-block should deliver a warm dining room and sleeping space for two. I watch quary master Thim cut blocks and the structure grow. Then, as I'm milling around and looking the other way, I hear three men shout in surprise. I look back just in time to see, for a split second,  a compeleted igloo. Reality then dawns. While passing over the cap-block Theo has fallen through the wall. As a result we now have an open plan igloo. A space closed in by a precarious overhanging wall with a gaping hole in the front. Open plan living is better suiteded to warm climates.  At best it'll be a sheltered place to eat. Our fate is sealed. We'll be four men in a tent again.


We pass the evening in camp. I don't find the energy or enthusiam to make a trip, to explore the area, to climb one of the minor tops adjacent to the camp. Instead I sit around moping and allowing my excrutiating footwear to take charge again. We sit in the demigloo and eat.  I set a fire with air dried wood. Cunningly placed infront of the opeing to the half standing snow shelter so that heat is reflected by the back wall, all I achieve is to smoke the inhabitents out of their burrow. With tears in our eyes we head off to the tent. In the full knowledge that I'm heading full steam into a wall of misery I trudge through the cut in the snow to the tent and wait my turn to climb in.  It feels like a bad day. A day in my beloved Norway the highlight of which was a chicken jalfrezi. I tell myself that, often, the best days turn out to be the ones we didn't enjoy at the time. As I crawl into my bag I force myself to make a mental image of that wind swept top with the 360° view and tell myself that right there I got a big fat dose of the very cure I need to keep me going and that the spoonful of curry was just to help the medicine go down.

To my great surprise I awake to the realisation that my night has been warm and comparatively dry. There's still some moisture on the outer and especialy the foot end of my bag but this time it's not collapsed. Perhaps I've learnt a lesson? Unfortunately, right now, I'm unsure what that lesson may have been. I havn't done much else than switch around the order of my sleeping mats.

Water Works

So this is it. The last day has dawned. Eat, fill flasks pack up and set off just like yesterday. This time though there's the small matter of breaking camp. Thim does most of the work and digging out snow anchors realy does involve some work. His efforts deliver a tent bundled into it's stuff sack and all pegs and parachutes are accounted for. The latter is a small wonder.

We set off, cover the couple of hundred metres to the marked trail and get straight into a nasty section that needs to be herringboned. Out of the shelter of the camp it seems that there may be less wind today. Some ups and downs bring us back to the Angsjobua but not without incident. A short, steep, off-camber traverse has three of us, all those on skis, practicing recovery after a fall. I enjoyed it so much I did it twice. At the hut, Thim decides to switch back to skis for the easy section, mostly on pulled tracks, that will follow. We set off again into what now decidedly feels like the last leg of the trip.

The first stretch is gentle down hill on use track. For me it goes well and instills confidence for the steep fast descent into the valley that I know awaits. This run brings us back to the tracks pulled by the fjellhotel. The first machine made tracks we've seen since shortly after leaving the Tonabu on the morning of the first day. As we wait to regroup, as if from nowhere, the wind picks up again. Thim arives, snow shoe shod and carrying skis. He announces that his skiing carrier is over.

Slip Slidin' Away

As we set off down the track, for the skiers at least, the difference is remarkable. I kick, and as long as my kick zones bight, the tracks take care of the rest. Even on the shallowest of down hills I barely have to work. If  I stand in the tracks the wind keeps me moving forwards. First the tracks then the  forrestry road. Things as always go faster in reverse. The road is nothing less than a narrow, twisting, bullied piste. Billiard table flat by comparison with the surfaces of the last few days. We again wait to regroup and then it's every man for himself and the long awaited fast run home. Gliding down I pass a string of day folk heading up out of the valley. None with packs. All presumably intent on doing a circuit of the tracks. If it wasn't for my cautious, perhaps overcautious, partly ploughed decent I would feel superior. As it is I guess I again just look like an Englishman away from home.


All too soon, I arrive at the bottom. Red faced and exhilerated. I'm greated by Theo and Willem-Maarten both wearing wide smiles. Despite the urge to climb back up and do it all again I stay put. It's a long sweaty climb and I've had enough of those for the time being. Only Thim is missing but he duly arives, also smiling, a couple of minutes later. Skis, of course, are faster downhill but the difference, even over a couple of kilometres of fast descent, is smaller than I would have imagined.

There follows the usual process of trying to shoehorn the gear back into the bags and holdalls it came in. Flight ready we leave the carpark and head back down Gausdal to Lillehammer and after recharging with grille polser, hit the main road to Oslo. I'm not sure what the cause is, perhaps the extra day, the cold night or the wind, or my cruel shoes but this time I'm ready to go home.



Huldreheimen: Day 3


I'd been cold in the night. In fact it was one of the coldest nights outdoors I could remember. Colder even than that bone chiller under the shelter stone in 1991. I'd been out for a piss in the small hours. Though pre-armed with a piss bottle I'd not been able to find it and after fumbling around in the dark for several minutes I'd resorted to taking a trip. Cold before I left I was much colder afterwards. The trip had sucked all the heat out of me, my feet in particular, and my down. After that I'd spent hours, eyes screwed shut but fully conscious, balanced on my side trying to keep as much flesh out of contact with my mat as possible. Sleep had been, needless to say, fitful.

As others start to move I'm still reluctant to get out of my bag. It doesn't make sense. It would be better by far to get up and get moving. To get blood pumping back around my body and into my feet but discomfort and cold don't make for clinical application of logic. Instead I lie watching the others rise, order their kit and one by one leave the tent. Only when Willem-Maarten shouts an offer to put hot water on my freeze dried breakfast do I find the motivation to move. Some say that swearing is unnecessary. Personally I find that there are times when it really helps. Like when putting cold feet into frozen , ill-fitting boots.

Cold Camp

As I order my kit and pack the things I think I'm going to need for the day the explanation for my cold feet swings into sharp focus.  Dark, wet clumps of down are visible through the outer. The foot of my bag is wet. Not damp but wet through. The rest of my bag has faired better but the foot end now has the insulatory capacity of two sheets of wet yellow pertex. I feel the need to swear for the second time today. As I prepare to leave the tent I find the missing piss bottle under my sleeping mats.  I've apparently done a Jorgen, but thankfully before I'd filled the thing up. We're up to three bouts of swearing and I'm yet to eat breakfast. I exit the tent to find Willem-Maarten running laps round the unfinished igloo. Clearly I'm not the only one feeling the cold. I begin to realise that setting up this sleepy hollow, though keeping the wind at bay, has perhaps invited deep cold into our temporary home.

A quick conference reveals that only Theo has had a comfortable night. Both Thim and Willem-Maarten have had a similar experience to mine. Over breakfast we discuss the plan for the day. We have two choices; make a circuit and return to the camp for night three or head for a hut. Though the former promises to deliver some fine off track experiences we choose to head for a hut. It's the only sure fire way of drying out boots and breathing life back into down bags. Storkvelbu, can be reached over a dog-legged ten kilometres or so of staked route. Storkvelbu becomes todays objective. It feels a bit like failure but I tell myself it's a success of planning that Storkvelbu is an easy pitch away.

We fill flasks and go about packing up. With a hut as our goal we can pare down our loads and leave some gear and food at camp. Thim, the least comfortable on skis, chooses to leave them behind in favour of snow shoes. I'm undecided. I want at some stage to try snow shoeing but I'm reluctant to rule out skiing for the next two days. Thim graciously offers to carry the second pair of snow shoes to keep options open. As I rub blister cream into the yesterdays hot spots on my insteps I think things through. Thoughts of ice and steep sections in the first few kilometres of the day has me reaching for skins. I'd sooner fix them on now than after I've warmed up and found my rhythm.  Packed up, and happy that the tent is locked down we head out.


The first kilometres up to the Svarttjonholet take us over the rise and fall of a used but unprepared track. It makes for easy navigation if not for ultrafast progress. The snow is irregular wind-sculpted hard pack. The tracks left by those who've skied through before us are now in negative, the soft unworked snow around them having been stripped away by the wind to leave them protruding. At the crests we encounter sastrugi, in the dips deeper snow. The deeper snow, though it tempts me away from the track, is full of false promise and each time I succumb to temptation find myself calf deep with skis submarining under a hard crust.

As the hut at the Svarttjonholet comes into the view my attention turns to my feet. Numbing cold has now been replaced by burning pain. Yesterdays hot spots are back with a vengeance and every heel lift, left and right, has me wincing. I toy with the idea of stopping to put on blister plasters but my stupidity gets the better of me once again. Rather than break the groups freshly found rhythm I bight down and do my best to enjoy the view.


I arrive last at the hut to find that Willem-Maarten has already checked it out. Another hut we'd earmarked as possible shelter in a storm is locked. Still it's nicely situated and the view of the little group of 1400m tops just to the North is free for all to enjoy. I add Storhopiggen to my ever growing  list of peaks to be climbed another day and head off in the other direction. I descend the steep hill granny-style with skins still fixed and so,  uncharacteristically unpreocupied with falling, can look around. The little tops I'm intent on putting behind me were photogenic but it's the view west and North West that steel this particular show. In the foreground a birch studded flat extends into the distance. In the summer most likely a marshy hell now the perfect charcoal drawn winter scene. Criss crossed by swathes of woodland the view is so long that the furthest trees are just suggestions.  Barely discernible black lines on white paper. Behind the furthest trees rises the forecourt of the Joutenheimen. In one turn of the head my list of unclaimed peaks increases ten fold. Long evenings studying the map had promised this view. Now all of Norway is at my feet, the promise has been kept.

Half way down I pause to watch Theo and Willem-Maarten negotiate the slope. We're apparently back on form. In no time there are casualties all over the hill. Neither can execute more than half a turn on the irregular crusted surface. I watch intently as they rise, pick up speed, initiate a turn, promptly bury the outer ski under the crust and collapse once more in a tangle of rucksack and man. They nevertheless pass me and in two or three goes are schussing down the run out. I'm slower, but am glad not to have had to recover from so many falls. Rising from the dead costs more energy than I'd care to burn so early in the day.


There's a kilometre and a half of that winter scene to cross before we pick up the DNT route and swing Southwards for the long gradual climb to the pass through the Brennhoa. It turns out to be close to a kilometre and a half of sastrugi. I keep moving, trying to maintain a rhythm but the lumpy shit under my skis requires that I keep checking my stride and correcting my balance. What should be a wonderful traverse of a picture postcard landscape becomes unpleasant toil. Apart from the few occasions when I force myself to stop, to look up and take in the view and to take a photograph, I just look at my feet and keep moving. As I finally catch up to the group they're already preparing a snow bench for a break I'm dipping and in danger of letting my foot discomfort become the focus of all of my attention. I sit down, pull off my cruel shoes and set about taping up my feet and bending my head back into shape with hot soup, cold sausage and muesli bars.


The DNT route makes for easier skiing. Still no pulled tracks but it's been run over with a snow scooter and has seen more traffic. Before starting out I'd moved to strip my skins but Theo and Willem-Maarten had encouraged me to wait. Their scales haven't been biting and we now face a couple of hundred metres of climb. As a result I find myself still shuffling forwards on skins. My feet are still bothering me but my mood is better. We climb with the long westward view on our right hand and the higher we get the clearer my head gets and the more I start to enjoy myself. The top of the Brenahoa is a nice place to be. For the first time this trip I feel like I'm back in the mountains I strip my skins with a smile and prepare myself for a a long easy descent.


It's with an ear-to-ear smile that I finally catch Willem-Maarten. He spys a smooth wind hardened slope to the right of the track, climb it and descends with a telemark turn. It's a short slope but seeing the opportunity to have some fun we dump the packs and practice some turns while we wait for the others to catch up. Then they catch us up and we just keep playing. This is a chance to enjoy the place, warm up cold skills and to try each others skis out.

Rock Mountain Sky

Although we've not long since had a break we choose to lunch here and, despite it being on the exposed side, climb the small knoll to take lunch looking west. I'm not likely to get tired of this view in a hurry. The light is long and a bronze tint is draped over the icy foreground. Distant peaks look hard and jagged. There's not a lot of snow here, rocks stud the snow field before us and the tops are a patchwork of white and brown. I guess the skiing up there won't be so great either. As we enjoy the view and our lunch the wind suddenly picks up. There follows a sort of communal knee jerk as, without saying a word, the group rises packs up and gets moving.

Passing Through

Before long we're turning the corner and heading round the back of the Brennhoa and starting the long South Easterly climb that willll take us past the northern shoulder of Nordre Langsua and up to the Storkvelbu. The climb begins with a sharp shock and I find myself herringboning up a steep icy bank. Thankfully it's short. Above the bank the climb is gradual.  As we climb we pass over ground increasingly beaten up by the wind which here is funnelled between the surrounding high ground. We cross ice hard snow and patches of grey blue ice in turn. Theo stops to fix skins. I join him. Loosing glide has to be better than wasting energy propelling skis backwards with every other kick.

Light and Shade

The higher we get the stronger the wind, the more snow there is in the air and the less snow there is on the ground. Drifting snow dances over the tops of my skis but at times there's precious little under them. On the final steepening climb I find myself skinning over a mix of ice, rock and twigs. I look up and see Willem-Maarten walk and then scramble, skis slung over his shoulder, through rocks ahead. I zigzag taking a longer route around the same rocks and then at once I'm topping out on a wide flat, high and exposed. The wind here is strong  and violent but in our backs. Today this is no place to dally but I do nevertheless. I can't help it. These places, so often described as barren are far from it. They're full. Full of texture, full of light, full of energy.  Full of something that keep pulling me back.


We pass a large well built cairn and it's obvious we're back into the land of the DNT. A few meters further and we drop into a v-shaped valley and just like that the wind stops and I feel sun on my face. As I drop through the little valley a collection of neat huts appears in the route of the V. A few meters further and I'm amongst them. Thim, who's covered the whole distance on snow shoes has arrived before me.


We're spoilt for choice. We have one key but it opens two huts. After some debate we choose the smaller of the two. Then, all at once, the great outdoors is safely shut away outdoors.



Huldreheimen: Day 2


I wake early but roll over intent on staying horizontal for a while longer. Although I'd opted for a bench (only fair since I'd made Thim sleep on my sofa the night before) it's comfortable and even the inside temperature doesn't invite activity. Willem-Maarten is up and about, setting a kettle of water on the stove for breakfast and flasks, already preparing for what's to come. After a few more moments of contemplation I find myself pulling on cold down in preparation for the morning ritual. My bowels must surely be my number one inspiration.

Outside of the hut the day hits me in the face like the slap of a wet cloth. All at once I'm on a Norwegian Fjell in winter, the wind is blowing, intermittently but hard, and brings with it flurries of snow. Falling or drifting? It's hard to tell but there's a light covering of powder in the tracks we left the evening before.


Regardless of the less than adventurous surroundings breakfast is a pouch of expedition oatmeal. Packing follows and, a night in the hut requiring little to be unpacked, it's with uncharacteristic speed that we're heading out of the door to bind on skis and get moving. Stripping off layers and getting started is never pleasant but the contrast between the hut and the great wide open adds several levels of reluctance to the whole. For the second time today reality slaps me up. With little hesitation we're off. At first backtracking the route of the night before but we soon leave the wide, prepared trail for a birch twig marked, snow-scooter trail. From here on in this is the most we can expect. No more piste-bullied snow and ruler straight ski-breadth grooves in which to plug-n-play. Now just hard pack and use tracks requiring at least some concentration and control of the skis. It feels good to be heading in the right direction, both metaphorically and physically, for the first time since since six yesterday evening.


Going is surprisingly difficult on this stuff. Use and wind have made for an uneven surface and my fish-scales aren't bighting down on the cold morning snow. As we pass through the scrub the wind rises and ebbs. One minute just a background noise the next a solid shove in the back. Each gust carries before it a tide of spin-drift snake-dancing through the trees following the contours of the snow covered ground. The wind is at once visible, it's nature, chaotic raw energy, betrayed by tracer bullets of powder snow. The lower legs and feet of my companions dissapear intermittently into the ground hugging white out. I'm thankful that the wind isn't stronger and that it's my heels and lower legs that are taking the beating instead of my face.


We ski at a steady pace for an hour and half and on reaching the Northernmost tip of Nedre Angsjoen, break for a drink and a snack. From the map I'd expected just a single hut but there's actually a whole complex of buildings on the ground. Although the map suggests there's an open hut here none of the buildings saving a two-by-two outhouse is open. We'd looked into the possibility of using the marked hut for our first night but had been advised that it wasn't “suitable for spending the night in”. Apparently that's the Norwegian way of saying “It's locked and you would have to sleep in the dunny”. Although expressed in a strangely roundabout way we are now very happy we heeded the advice. Using one of the huts as a wind break we sit, munch and sip in the sun. It's realy quite comfortable this land of fairies. Sat here I'm again overwhelmed by a sense that the trip is yet to start in earnest.

Wind Scoured

We move on following the undulations of the marked trail along the western flank of the frozen lake, sheltered in the dips and buffeted at the crests. Another kilometre and a half of the same puts us in the area where we'd intended to make camp on the first night. We're still intent on making camp here the plan being to dump a fair portion of our carried kit and to make trips from a static base. A change in that plan isn't a happy option. By engineering a base camp into the arrangement we've opened the door to packing in more gear; two pairs of snow shoes to experiment with, an igloo building tool, a snow saw, an extra burner and some other bits and bobs will come this far and no further.


We scout around to the South of the track but find no inspiration. I'm taken by surprise, again, at just how difficult it is to move off trail. Sometimes irregular hard pack, sometimes crust covered powder, more often than not containing an abundance of twigs and branches the snow never instils confidence in fish-scales or edges. Crossing back to the North of the track we drop into a birch-flanked re-entrant running South-South-West up to the Northern side of the little lake Vardtjonna. The aspect just right and the dip just deep enough to put us out of the wind, and although there's a risk that we'll be pitching in a cold trap, the wind is viscous and we are seriously tempted. We decide to make our home here. Its midday and if we get a move on with setting up we may yet get chance to do a circuit before dark. Setting up however, will involve more than just putting up a tent this time. We have a five man tent which is, at a pinch, big enough for four with gear but our aim is to build a snow shelter to accommodate half the group. With one shelter in the bag we can play around developing winter skills with a safety net. We stamp down two platforms, extract the necessary gear and promptly sit on our asses and wait for the platforms to harden up.


The sight is a pleasant one. It offers a good view of the high ground to the South and West and complete shelter from the wind that is clearly still playing around the tops. Setting up the big mid is straight forward but takes me longer than I'd anticipated. Given that the tent will be standing for three days I want as many pegging points and guys tied down as possible and we're so surprisingly short of snow that getting snow anchors set proves to be tricky. Factor in the additional effort required to cut down the home made pole extension, again due to the shallow snow depth, and for walling in the periphery of the single skin and the whole things takes me over an hour. I really need to get quicker just in case I ever really need to be quicker.

First Course

Finished with the tent I go and take a look how the others are progressing with the Igloo. The first few blocks are down already and Thim is shovelling snow into the home-made Igloo tool as Willem-Maarten packs it down. It appears that, the powdery Huldreheimen snow is less than ideal for the task in hand. That, or as reported by so many others, there's a skill to this that needs to be developed. Still it looks to be coming together. Surely if slowly.


Before long we're all involved in the build. The Igloo tool is set aside in favour of sawn blocks quarried from the wind hardened flat stretching out in front of the Igloo sight. The structure grows more quickly but it's still difficult. Some blocks stick, others don't. Snow, it seams, is a many faceted substance.


Afternoon turns into early evening, breaks are taken to snack, melt water, and construct a sheltered kitchen area. I mill around taking photo's, watching the change of light and the lengthening of birch cast shadows as the sun begins to dip. We all enjoy the last warming rays of sun as we add some more courses to the Igloo and then, with the realisation that we won't get done this day, eat our eveing meal under a cold dark sky and prepare ourselves for a night in a tent just big enough for four.



Huldreheimen: Day 1

Evening Glow

Some idiot had checked in and then hadn't boarded the plane. Offloading the bags together with the interminable taxi to the furthest Schiphol runway added an extra hour to the journey North. The loss of two of our bags, thankfully temporarily, at Gardemoen another 30 minutes. Looking at the same problem from the other end we now have an hour and a half less daylight to get where we want to be: up the hill, onto the fell and beyond the tree line to a likely looking camp sight. Here, in the car park next to the Espedalen Fjellhotel, out of the wind and under a warming sun, the plan still seems doable. Here in the car park, cradled as it is between the steep sides of the Espedal, the severe weather described in the Norwegian meteorological office bulletin doesn't appear to have made an appearance. I know, however, with some certainty, that up on the tops things are very different. I've just spent the last ten minutes gorping up at the long ridge of the Leppkampen from the passenger seat, jaw dropped open, watching a long shimmering plume of snow being stripped from the hill and carried hence. In an earlier mutation of the plan we'd have been heading right into that maelstrom. Thankfully not today. Hopefully not today!

Starting Out

Twenty minutes of faff sees us on skis with packs on our backs. We move off through the car park heading for the steep bank which will take us to the tracked route across the lake. I know I can get down the bank in one. This time out I've got skis and boots that afford more control in descent. Armed with that knowledge and the confidence it instils I push off down the hill checking my speed with a light plough, make a nice controlled turn to my right and a fraction of a second later find myself sprawled flat out on the frozen lake. At least this way I get to practice returning to vertical carrying a full pack. That's apparently a skill I can't do without.

We cross the lake, herringbone up the opposite bank and proceed to faff around for another few minutes trying to identify the right track out of the valley. After a short up and back down on the wrong track we hit the forestry road that should serve to make our lives easy for a good portion of this afternoons route. Steep but machine-prepared, compacted snow should make for an easy enough climb.

Skinning Up

We cover a half a kilometre or so of not so steep and then the climb out of the valley starts in earnest. In parts it's steep and slick enough to require real effort and concentration and before long two of the group are fixing on skins. I choose instead to walk the steepest sections with skis slung over my shoulder. The compacted snow makes for easy walking and I'm glad to keep the my skins safely in the bag for now.

The climb is uneventful. A long drawn out affair through tall pines. Sheltered but in shadow we get no indication of what's in store. No sneak preview of the planned route. No long view to hold the eye, draw attention away from the toil and pull us up the hill with the power of promise. The work rate is high enough to force a sweat but the effort not enough to keep me focussed on what I'm doing. My mood isn't good. The euphoric buzz of the first few kilometres of past trips hasn't shown up. My head is still too full of life, the journey and luggage incidents and as we climb further, and the light quickly fades, positive thoughts are few. If we stick to the plan we'll be skiing and setting up camp in the dark. Not ideal. Not as intended.

We reach what, at first sight, appears to be the end of the road and start out along a narrow trail leading off into the trees. Realising this isn't the right trail we backtrack, find that the road continues further into the gloom, and carry on as before. A little later conifer gives way to birch, the slope shallows out and we get our first view of Megrundskampen. With the view comes the wind. A little later still we pause, layer up and take on calories. Chewing snacks and weighing up options we decide to fall back on our contingency plan. Tonight will see us, instead of setting up camp above the Ovre Agnsjoen, in the Tonabu. The Tonabu, though marked on the Tuurkaart as a simple emergency shelter, according to local knowldege, is in fact a well equipped and comfortable open hut. The detour North will take us three kilometers or so further from where we want to be but will keep us below the treeline, negate the need for setting up the tent and put a roof over our heads on what seems to be shaping up to be a blowy night. Deal done, and aware of the ever fading light, we pack up and move along.

Evening Sky
The route to the Tonobu is prepered but a combination of use, freeze-thaw and wind has made it less than well prepared. Nevertheless it's well signed and easy to follow. The shelter offered by the leafless stands of birch is intermittent and the route offers enough exposure to the wind to suppress any feeling of disappointment. Tonight, it seems, is a hut a night.

The last kilometre offers some interest in the form of a short steep section of track and a descent in the dark but it's short lived. The rest of the evening, saving a short trip outside to stand and stare at the stars, is spent in the comfort of the hut with full bellies, hot tea and a crackling wood stove. As I ready myself for bed it's with a strong sense that the trip is yet to begin in earnest. Still, I'm in Norway, and experience tells me that that means there's real potential for improvement right on my doorstep.

Hut Life


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