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!
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.
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.
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.