6.05.2013

Jamtland Days 3 and 4: A tale of two huts

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Waking up had been easy. Something to do with sleeping so deeply? Perhaps more to do with the days promise? As huts go this one surely has to be amongst the best. If location, location and location are the three most important things about real estate then this hut ticks all the boxes. Apart from the incident with the bunk ladder it's dealt us a more than comfortable night. I'd felt the suck of air as the ladder, compadre still attached, plummeted past my foot to land with a thud. I consider myself lucky to still have a toe.  Nevertheless, for all its charm, and that includes the smiling  girl behind the desk, I'm glad to turn my back to it and slide off back towards Gamla Sylan; the last two kilometres of the night before become the first two of the day after.


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The air is clear. The sky is blue.  To the front, where we're headed, is a softer landscape blanketed in white but over my left shoulder is the grey-veined bulk of the Sylarna massief.  It's crisply cold but wind still. The sum of the parts has the makings of a fine mountain day.

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Inevitably we find ourselves in traffic. If we let it happen we'll be on a main route all day and it'll stay this way. We determine not to let it happen and at the first opportunity we exit left leaving the track in favour of fresh white. The simple act of short-circuiting a dogleg makes a world of difference. Perhaps it's all in my head, but as I put a couple of  hundred metres between me and the track I take back ownership of the route, every placement of a ski becomes my own, I'm left to breath, ski and look at the landscape without distraction. As we slip easily across the valley to the start of the climb we find two sets of tracks. One made by a beast on skis one by a beast with six padded paws with poorly manicured nails. We wonder who had been chasing who.

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We take a line just a sliver West of North, aiming for the dip to left of the Vestre Endalshojan where the track should reappear under our feet. The climb is simple enough. Scales are good enough to get me straight up  and, for once, without too much reliance on the arms. I can save my brute force and belligerence  for a later hour. We stop short of the track, perhaps motivated by a collective reluctance to rejoin it, and turn our backs to it to take a standing break. I chew my muesli bar looking back over the shallow valley  at the flexing muscles of Vaktklumpen. I get a strong sense that my day can't go wrong. It's good to be outside. It's good to be alive. It's good to be in the North.



There are only a handful of contours between us and the broad top of the Western Endalshojden. So few in fact that it would be rude not to pay a visit. Instead of rejoining the track we look left and right and when it's free of traffic we cross.  This climb, unlike the last, is beyond the capabilities of my scales. Our wide traverses evidently not always wide enough,  belligerence now comes in handy. Daylight quickly  appears between me an the others and as quickly as I got into the mood, I get back out of it. By the time I rejoin the others at the top I'm sweating and swearing. Pissed off for not having the technique. Even more pissed off for not skiing clever: two minutes spent sticking on skins, or two hundred metres further over ground, would've taken the teeth out of the slope and kept me dry and breathing easy.

Reindeer Herd


After a pause for breath I nod and we all move off looking for a safe line down the other side. Confidence waning I follow my own nose rather than the leader. A short way down, beneath the convexity, a  long view over the Spaajmetjaahte and to Lill-Ulvafjallet beyond opens up. It's just gone midday but the light is soft. Filtered through cruising clouds in a now greying sky. Looking down I first see the tracks, subtle snail trails in the snow, white-on-white. Then, right on cue, a heard of reindeer, twenty head or more, enter stage left and, when they sense our presence, lollop off to exit stage right. I watch, envious of their agility, as a big stag pauses to cut a pose, turns his antler-heavy head as if to look me square on, and then kicks his heals to disappear over the crest and out of sight. I take a few pot shots but, with a lens too short even at the narrow end and  a sensor too severely cropped, don't have high expectations. I think of the Three in Norway. A story of the first Englishmen to play in these hills, set not too far South of here but in a different time entirely. a time when shooting deer involved, rather than glass and light, cordite and lead. A  story of two parts, familiar in it's emotional rejoicing of the Northern wilds but foreign in it's manner of rejoicing. Much killing and eating. I'll be taking that stag home with me but for both of us there'll be more hill days.

By the time I lower my camera the others are some way down. Thim, on shoes, free to choose a direct line. Willem-Maarten, on skis and more competent than me, snaking down with a few turns. With a head still full of magic I push off on a line. I manage three whole turns before I hit an icy patch and the sudden change in speed delivers a,  now all too familiar, earful of cold snow. Less familiar is the pain. As I shake myself down I realise that this is my hardest fall to date. On or off piste. My head clears but my thumb still throbs. I push on down, now more cautiously, without any intent of closing the ground between me an my friends, They'll have to wait.

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When I do join them again it's back on the track. We decide to lunch, wrap up warm and sit on packs but the wind is up again and cutting deep.  It's a short lived break much of which I spend thinking about Theo's dad. As I poke my toes back into my bindings it's not without reluctance; in front of us is a long downhill on cut up track. There's also a steady stream of traffic heading the other way; the evening shift heading up for an easy night in the big hut.

I start off on the track but soon step off to right to find fresh snow and decide my own destiny. Patches of snow are followed by patches of ice and rock. The latter invariably on the steeper sections. I cover the two kilometres or so to Enkalen without a tumble but now physically tired, thirsty and with demons in my head.

We break again.sitting next to a bearded Swede I drink the last of my water and make a mental note to  bring a bigger flask in future. I recognise the Swedes shoes: they're the ancient, canoe-length adidas shoes I noticed in Sylarnas. The wearer had passed me with easy strides on the run out. He recognises Dutch. I wonder how much he's understood.  He's headed out today. Just a short weekend  and back to work for Monday. When this one's over we have another half to go. He advises us to spend a night in a snow hole rather than a tent and, after five  sentences and an efficient exchange of the salient information,  with a nod moves off down the track. It's almost certainly the second longest conversation I've had with a Scandinavian on the trail to date.

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Fed up of trailing behind I pack up quickly and move off  ahead of the others. Now at my own pace determined to drop the pointless preoccupation with keeping up with others. I leapfrog along the track, stopping to take photographs and looking around. Breathing the air. Sucking up the scenery. Bent on finding my rhythm and putting the demons back in the box. It works fine. I find some peace and start to enjoy it again.

Expecting to be overtaken any moment it doesn't happen. I start to wonder what's going on. Did they take another route? Have I gone off in the wrong direction? I check the map but the route choice is simple. Scanning to the right I see movement between the rocks and figure out they've  decided to take a line paralleling the track. I keep on along the track but the spell's now broken. Inner peace replaced with concern. Unwarranted concern, but concern all the same. A little later, concern becomes concentration as I once again find myself trying to stay upright on broken ground.

When I finally make the intersection with the track to Storulvan the wind has picked up and temperature has dipped. I'm still alone and the others are out of sight. I decide to set up the stove and melt snow for a brew but half way through realise none of the cannisters are in my pack. I consider moving on to the shelter at Ulvatjarnen but it's not in plain sight and there looks to be a half  kilometre or more of gnarl y contour between me and it. A waste of effort if the intention of the others is to head out to Storulvan.  Confusing if the others don't guess what I've done. Sitting and waiting seems like the only thing to do.

I sit for fifteen minutes and then fifteen minutes more. Doubt sets in.  I'd left Enkalen without too much by way of exchange. Did we agree on something I don't remember agreeing? I hope they've not decided to head out to Storulvan or seen another black blob heading East and decided I have. My best guess is that they've decided to bag the little top of Stor Ulvafjallet and as I sit I scan the ridge. As I sit I simmer to the point of deeply pissed off. Pissed off at having no option but to sit here. Pissed off at my own stupidity for not having packed a cannister. Pissed of at not being asked to join in. Pissed off at the fact I'd probably have said no anyway. Pissed off for being cold and thirsty. Pissed off and cold seems to be a running theme this time out. Thirsty just adds another layer.

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The hillside in front of me looks steep so I guess they'll drop off the gentler Western end. First I see a rock move. Then another. Then I see they're heading slightly North of West. That's good because it shortens  the distance and my wait. My intention is to bury my mood but when they arrive I can't help but show my frustration. Thim understands and he makes good with an apology. We agree to  brew up in the shelter and head off. This time I'm happy to strap on skis and get moving.

By the time we make the hut I'm warm again. We  lean skis against the gable and duck through the doorway. It's a different kind of hut entirely. A roof, a floor, table and benches. Bothy like. No more than necessary. We set up the burner and sit in silence. I watch the blue flame listening to the hiss watching the snow give up the fight anticipating the mood-changing hot liquid that will follow. The familiar and welcome sound of the burner is interrupted by a revving engine and the stamp of heavy boots. The door swings open only to be replaced by a huge uniformed Swede. I can't work out if he owes his size to his frame or to his coat. He spouts some Swedish, I mutter the ritual appology, and his companion, a woman who's now squeezed in behind him says they've come to test the emergency telephone.  She asks if we intend to stay the night. Willem-Maarten responds that we didn't think that was allowed but that we would like to if possible. The woman repeats that the huts are only meant for emergency use but then adds, with a wide smile, that it's winter and that the need to eat and rest constitutes an emergency.  As long as we don't set a fire we're welcome to stay. In the discussion that follows we learn that the temperature in valley had dipped to below -30°C the night before. The temperature inversion takes me by surprise. In the christian world it gets colder the higher you climb but up here amongst the heathens things work differently. Sylarnas the thermometer had read only -15°C. Still, the penny drops. They're happy to leave us safe inside the hut; they think the Dutch can't survive a night in a tent at thirty under zero.

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Outside is grey, cold and windy. Fine snow falls slowly and steadily. We spend a comfortable night inside. Wide benches make  good beds and, even without a fire, bodies and burner raise the hut temperature a few degrees above discomfort. We sit in bags, read, chat and brew up in turns. A different experience entirely to a night in the tent but it's what I need. A night away from the hubbub. Even in the hut I get a the feeling that I'm in the outdoors rather than looking at it from behind a window. The understanding of why I do this returns.

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I open my eyes to a view of the wooden roof. Relieved it's still there I sit up and fire up the burner. There's something to be said for such bijou accommodation. Today's the day we need to back at Vaernes. We eat, pack, armour up and head outside to strap on the hardware. It's as cold and windy as the soudtrack playing through the chimney had suggested. It's also flat and grey. Not a white out but close. Close enough to deliver that nausiating loss of depth and distance perception we take so for granted. Close enough to force some peculiar route choices on the way back over to the track: avoiding steeps that didn't appear, backing up out of gulleys that first looked flat.

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Once on the track navigation is made simple, just put one ski in front of the other and count off the big red crosses. Staying upright is more difficult on the churned up, frequently off camber, well trodden route. I see Willem-Maarten fall. The end strait, that should be simple, turns out to be the trickiest bit of the trip for him. For me it's just more of the same.

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As we drop first into and then through the Stor Ulvan valley the trees grow in stature and group closer together. A couple of long glides add some excitement and another nose full of snow for me but then the hut appears through heavy falling snow. Another one's over. A mixed bag. Sometimes the mountains of the mind are steeper than the ones underfoot. I think about thinking about how I do this in future but decide there'll be lots of time for reflection and for the making of new plans. Right now I settle for a smile from a hut girl and a hot drink.




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