4.10.2011

Huldreheimen: Day 2

Wind


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.

Waymark


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.

Wind

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.

Break

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.

Platform


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.

Shelter

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.

Build


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.

Home


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.

Primin'

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