Yesterday we'd loosened our limbs over just 8km of gentle undulation. Today we'll head further West. Across the river and then up, up, up. All the way to Sylan. If the fancy takes us and the conditions permit we'll camp. If it doesn't and they don't we'll have huts, spartan and luxury, to choose from.
It'd been a cold night, perhaps deeper than fifteen below, but I'd stayed warm and, thankfully, dry. No frozen foot end and no collapsing down. It seems synthetic over down is the way to go. Jorgen said it was. Breakfast in bed is also the way to go. Willem-Maarten sets up the stove and we make a hot porridge with the last of last nights melt. I relish mine. Hot, fruity, creamy richness to stoke the fire and get the blood running. The down side: what goes in must come out. Shoes must go on and early morning constitutionals must be taken. As these things go this one was comfortable. Thims construction will be remembered for a long time.
There's no rush. It's a fine morning, cold and crisp but the sun is shining. We lay bags out, black side up and sit on the other side of the bench, the side we dug for just such an occasion, to drink coffee and fill flasks. Only then do we get on with the business of striking camp and packing up. As we finaly head out I feel a pang of sadness to leave such a camp behind. Just a pang. It's short lived. The day ahead is one of promise.
The first bit is steep down through deep snow and tangly trees. We find the track and follow it some more, still heading South, but wanting really to head West. A half kilometre or so further we see them. The curly clawed tracks of the dog-like, bear-beast the others had seen lolopping across the hill side while I was off taking photos. A wolverine most likely but my cub-scout days are long behind me.
Along the way we leave the track following a scooter trail in the hope that it's rider blazed a trail across the river for us. A chance to cut both the corner and some fresh tracks. I find it surprisingly hard going. Rutted old snow and sheet ice taking turn to throw me out of my rythym and off balance. The others are already scouting the river bank ahead when I make my first fall of the day. When I rejoin the others I'm in a worse mood than I started off. The news that the scooter tracks cross the river cheers me up. For a while at least we can leave the marked route.
We cross quickly and gain the other side then snake through a cluster of knolls and stands of trees. As we climb away from the river I pause, take out my camera and capture a few images of the others passing round the head of a small valley decorated at it's head with an infeasibly large cornice. Zoom in a few millimetres and all at once you're high in the Alps. A different environment altogther. I follow the tracks of the odd couple in front; skis to the left, snow shoes to the right, and when I rejoin them we pause for a break. By now we're exposed to a sharp, biting wind and although we look for shelter we don't succeed. Moving trumps sitting still. The break turns out to be very short.
Then begins the climb. At first over icy, wind-blown hard pack, later over the cut up mess of the marked route. I find it a long, slow, toiling climb. I fall behind and then starts the now familiar routine of pushing to make up ground and easing off to avoid breaking into a sweat. Balance is hard won and I have to work hard to control my wayward limbs. Every lapse of concentration sees my kicking ski heading back down the hill or my upper body overbalancing. Cold, gradient and lack of skill are each greedily feeding on my energy. Trying to make ground is costing me enjoyment. The group dynamic is sitting awkwardly with me today.
When I make the crest the others are sat on packs looking out over a long view of a rugged massief. I join them. The wind, apparently local or temporary, has dropped and instead we are treated to blue sky and strong sun. When the going is this good we generally can't get going. This time is no exception and we lol around chewing on snacks and warming our bones. It takes me longer than it should to work out what we are looking at. It's the Helagsfjellet; from this side a fine pyramid pointing skywards from what, in the Summer months, must be the wet mess of the Handolan valley. A foreshortening light is pulling the peak to within an arms length but in fact it's fifteen kilometres and one fold of the map further South.
At our feet lies, at a friendly incline, a wide sweep of untouched white. Resistance is futile. I step into my bindings and pole off to make the first of a few circuits: half a dozen wide turns to the bottom followed by a couple of minutes effort to earn some more. It's infectious. Soon Willem-Maarten is laying claim to his own lines. For the first time this trip it feels good to be on skis. Drop the pack and my, albeit meagre, skill set can be put to good effect.
Overnighting here isn't an option and we decide to head further along the route and check out the emergency shelter at Gamla Sylan before dark. It's starts out nice. Sylan watches our progress, as we drop towards the Langtjarnen enjoying the last of the sun until the descent, both ours and its, throws a long, cold shadow of the Fruntimmersklumpen over our path. The wind picks up as quickly as the sun drops and we find ourselves moving West over a rutted off-camber track into a biting wind. For a moment there it had been spring. Now Winter has returned.
I count off my strides for the last couple of kilometres to Gammla Sylan. The counting usualy a sign that I'm looking in rather than out. Spending more time wondering why I'm doing it than sucking the joy out of doing it. When I finally step out of my bindings and duck under the low lintel of the emergency hut thoughts of tents have been pushed to the back of my mind and I'm glad to step inside.
The relief is short lived. The others feel uncomfortable about staying here the night. We'd understood these simple shelters where in principal intended for emergency use only but the sign on the wall suggests it's more than mere principle. A short debate sees us back outside and back on our skis to cover a second last two kilometers in the hope of a bed at the Sylarnas Fjallstation. I expect that, when I get there, I'll be less glad to step inside.