Day 4: Lost, soaked and hypothermic on the Hardangervidda

August 30, 2016 – 29 miles, 5,279 feet of climbing

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At 6:15 am we rose, flicked on the light to our musty hostel room, and blinded ourselves as our eyes adjusted from an otherwise dark world. A quick gathering of our shelter, sleeping bags and clothes that were drying on every possible hanging place over night, organizing them into our pack, putting on our still sopping wet socks (a most unpleasant morning experience) and we were leaving the secure warmth of civilization and stepping out into an ominously damp morning. Clouds hung low over the plateau, and if it didn’t rain on this day we’d be seriously blessed. We actually started the day without rain jackets or pants on, a situation that would change in less than an hour and not change back until 13 hours later.

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After a few non-flow-inducing kilometers through flat bog, the trail turned right and started a steady climb away from Liseth and up onto the Hardangervidda. Sheep greeted us, perhaps wondering what in the world we were doing up there on this obviously poor weather day. I must admit, the same thought crossed my mind. It wasn’t too long before a thick mist started falling, so we stopped, geared up with Gore-Tex, and carried on up the mountain.

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This was the first morning where I didn’t really warm up despite the climb…it was very cold out, perhaps 40°, wet…perfect hypothermia weather. We’d have to be diligent to avoid that dangerous foe. We came to an intersection where we had one last chance to head back to familiar terrain and the main route to Finse. But, for better or for worse, we decided to forego that familiarity and take the western route around the large ice cap. Based on the map, it looked straight forward. We would soon learn maps don’t always give the whole story.

We headed due north into the wind and rain, hoods up and heads down. The land was mostly undulating grey rock, and with a thick fog hovering over the surface it took diligent attention to find the next marker. Earth and sky blended into one as we walked through the fog. I had initially resisted putting on my gloves, as I didn’t want them to get wet, but soon my fingers became numb so I relented. Wool gloves when wet are not comfortable, but they are warmer than nothing at all.

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We hiked on for a few hours and the rain never stopped. The terrain was spectacular – raging blue rivers coming off the ice cap and every now and then, a slight view through the fog of the ominous ice cap. It looked like something from the movies – Greenland, the North Pole, Svalbard – not of the civilized world. We were a long way from downtown Oslo and comfortable coffee shops with warm hot cocoa and whipped cream. I was aware that the margin for error in these type of conditions was pretty slim. A broken leg or other debilitating injury in conditions this cold would require fast action to keep the victim warm.

We were growing hungry, no doubt our bodies working overtime to stay warm, but there was nowhere sheltered to stop to grab a quick snack out of the rain and wind. We found a flat mossy section and elected to set up our tarp, a strategy we utilized a few times on our Colorado CDT hike last year in the San Juans in similar conditions. We’re able to get it up in about 90 seconds, and soon we were snacking on peanuts, cheese and chocolate in relative comfort. We could still see our breath, and the rain was beating down on the millimeter thick tarp, but we were, for the moment, out of the wind and wet.

We ingested as many calories as possible and felt them course through the body almost instantly, like 94 octane gasoline in a car. It was tempting to stay in that tarp longer – we were warm – but the reality of our day didn’t allow it. We packed up everything except for the tarp, which I stuff in an outside pocket on my pack for easy access, delaying the process of stepping outside for as long as possible. Upon stepping outside, a gust of wind ripped into us and I was shocked how cold it was. And then, once again, we were out in it.

Stomach’s full, zipped tight in Gore Tex, hood up, every inch of the body covered with fabric except for the immediate face, it was possible to let the mind drift. Wild places, the rawness of it, and thoughts that, despite the discomfort, this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. The draw of thru-hiking is far beyond simply wanting to tick off trails and routes. There is purpose and flow to the day that makes just makes sense to me, to my mind, my soul, my body. I feel like, in some bizarre twist, I’m built for it. I like discomfort, find motivation in it. I have long, gangly legs…a serious hindrance in alpine ski racing, but a benefit when trying to cover ground on foot. I don’t know – hiking in wild places just feels right for me like few other things in life have.

dsc07055We entered a land of pure ice wonder. Raging rivers, massive snow banks, glaciers, ice caps, cold, rain, wind. Hostile land to be sure, too brutal for extended use without solid shelter and food, but such a privilege to experience our world at it’s most real, it’s rawest, to feel it and be inundated in it. As cold and windy as it was, I’d take that reality over sunny skies and 72° anyway of the week. We came over a rise and there it was, the Hardangerjokul, the ice cap, sheer, white, inhospitable and absolutely awe inspiring. These are the reasons we save our money and come here…the raw, wild and never seen by us before. Basically, creating those moments we’ll remember on our last breaths on this planet.

dsc07059In the distance we saw what resembled a sign post. It was…we had reached an intersection. According to the map, we should continue on straight, but below the direction arrows was a soaked, tattered sheet of paper that once had been completely wrapped in plastic. The words were faded and bled, but we were able to make out the basic gist. The trail that we wanted to take had been wiped out in a flood from the ice cap, and we had to take a diversion. The note warned us not to leave the flagged route, as we would likely fall off a steep ravine into a dam. In our cold, wet state of mind we were not sure what it all meant, but since the trail going straight looked non-existent and the trail heading left looked partially existent, we decided to take the latter.

The trail continued on for a bit in a normal fashion, albeit due west, a direction we were not supposed to go according to the map. We hit what looked like another intersection with yet another of the tattered signs. Heading due north, with no apparent trail in sight, were little orange flags. What else were we to do but head down the route and hope for the best. Our map had become hopelessly soaked despite being tucked deep inside my Gore-Tex anorak…indeed, everything was getting soaked. Stopping for more than 60 seconds led to a shiver, so we just kept moving. The trail descended steeply and then went straight back up probably the steepest hill of the entire trip. And then, after a slight bit of easier walking, we saw directly below us a huge lake with a damn on the far western edge.

The trail dropped like a free fall. Straight down, and when not straight down it hung precariously above 30 foot tall, soaking wet cliffs. A slip here and who knows when you’d stop tumbling. Below, the dark lake and the dam sat, unmoved, still, lurking. We hiked and slid our way down the mountain, doing our absolute best to avoid injury. It was exceptionally slow going and it required 100% mental focus. The trail was not really a trail at all, but a series of slick, muddy footsteps of other travelers who had to detour the ice cap flood.

About an hour later, soaked, bruised, battered and more than a little wired, we reached the bottom, crossed the concrete dam with big drop offs on either end, and started climbing rapidly up a jeep road. We still held out hope that we could make it to the creature comforts of Finse for the night, but to do so would require hustling. But we were also getting hungry, bordering on another bonk, and to let that happen would be slower than any other option. Since we were actually slightly warm because of the climb, we decided to stop for three minutes and shove all the food and calories into our mouths that we could. The feast was fruitful, but by the end of the three minutes the shiver picked back up…it was time to move again.

The spaced flags took us around the reservoir across high, table-like rock mounds. No problem I thought – we’re heading directly back to the trail we left, past the dam and flood. Once we hit the trail, it would be smooth sailing right to Finse. And then, with more than a hint of excitement and “we told you so,” we hit the trail. We were feeling so confident we actually skipped the luxury of turning right, hiking a kilometer and stopping in a hytte for 15 minutes. We had found the trail, and we were going to Finse.

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Immediately the trail started climbing, which according to the now destroyed and soaked map, was what we were supposed to do, or at least that’s what I remembered the map said. When we ran into a haggard and soaked looking group heading towards the hut, we confidently strode by and with more than a little hop and pride in our step, told them we had hiked 20 miles and were going to Finse that night. In retrospect, they looked a little confused, and there was a reason for that.

We moved quickly through the heavy rain and fog over undulating terrain dotted with lakes and snowfields. I made a mental note that I couldn’t really see the ice cap which we were supposed to be circumnavigating, but on the other hand it was so rainy and foggy that you couldn’t really see anything. We took turns leading, blazing our trail towards Finse. On our left we passed a huge reservoir, so big that you could not even make out the other end of it. The wind howled from the west and the rain continued to beat down.

We passed the lake and were getting hungry. It was getting later in the day and it would be good to see if we could unfold the sponge map and figure out how far we had to go to Finse. We erected the tarp yet again, and were soon sheltered from the increasing rain and wind.

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I pulled out the map and oriented us as best we could. Hmm, interesting, there doesn’t appear to be a big lake we pass I thought as I scanned our route. And we should be heading more east, but for the past two hours we’ve been heading due north. With disbelief and more not wanting to believe, it hit me – we were on the wrong trail, a trail heading due north, completely off the map to who knows where. For at least two hours we’d been heading the wrong direction. I told Elaine, “I think we’re on the wrong trail.” She didn’t want to believe it, and sensing that this could be a major disappointment that could seriously alter our trip, refused, in her ever optimistic way, to believe it. And, as we took down the tap and headed on, I wanted to believe it too.

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Except for one small problem. The trail kept heading north. Due north, like the wrong trail on the map. At some point in time we resigned ourselves that we’d hiked two hours in the wrong direction, had about an hour to go until darkness, had walked ourselves right off the map, it was puking rain and blowing like a banshee, and it felt like it could start snowing at any moment and we were borderline hypothermic. I can’t say we handled this development with grace. More like a few minutes of cursing, before putting the head down, making decisions and going forward. I’ve had a few experiences in my life where the mundane turns a little more critical in the outdoors. I get in this bizarre, almost manic, state of mind and body. It becomes a world of total focus, on being very alert because room for error is limited.

We continued walking. The rain kept pounding down. The wind rose. It began to get a little darker. The creek crossings got a little swifter, a little scarier. The land resembled something out of Lord of the Rings, endless undulating rock, not a smooth spot in site. We needed somewhere to camp, but in this harsh land, there was nowhere protected or even soft enough to drive in a stake. It was a world of wet, windy, slick, grey rock, in every direction, endless, harsh, wild.

We dropped down a ravine. What was this? In front of us, a tiny rock hut, no bigger than a backyard shed. Were my eyes deceiving me? Elaine confirmed that indeed, it was a hut. Unbelievable luck. We came closer. And we noticed smoke. Somebody was here. On a day where we saw almost nobody, somebody was in this hut. I opened the door, looked in, and saw six startled Norwegians. The place was packed, not even space to stand. I closed the door without uttering a word, put my head down, said something in disgust, and continued on.

We couldn’t catch a break on this day. First the washed out trail, then the missed turn and now the jam packed hut with no room for us. Bad luck. Some days reward you and some challenge. This was the latter. It was seriously getting dark now. The terrain was still rocky, and it seemed like we might be walking in this dream nightmare all night.

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On the horizon, we made out some faint power lines. Grey, massive, ominous. They crackled in the rain, a foreign sound in a wild place. To the right, a grey creek raged, cold, frothing, zero life. We went a little further and found a slight patch of moss on a more flat area. It was almost dark, so despite the unaesthetic feel of camping under massive power lines, this would be our rest for the night. We began to put up the shelter when Elaine made a grizzly discovery…a family of dead mice on the ground right where we wanted to camp. Urgh. We searched around for another five minutes, now seriously concerned about hypothermia as we had stopped moving in earnest. Finally, we found a spot.

We strapped the tarp to our pack so it wouldn’t blow away – a mistake like that could be fatal at this point in the game – and began staking it out. The wind was ripping and it was not an easy job. Since it’s a pyramid tarp, there are about four inches of opening between the ground and the shelter, and with the wind howling we wanted nothing to do with that. We took an extra five minutes and piled massive rocks around the shelter, blocking the wind and making it as weather-proof as we could.

And then, relative respite. With the wind blocked and the bottom of our tarp sealed off, it was actually comfortable, especially once we removed our wet base layers and put on a dry layer that never, ever comes out of a plastic bag in our pack until we are out of weather. Our shelter wasn’t as elaborate as the cabin a few miles back, but it was warm and it was our home. Soon our little stove was roaring (we did have to vent some to not get carbon monoxide poisoning), the water was boiling, tea was in hands, warm, steaming, amazing. We feasted on cheesy noodles and listened to the wind howl and rain beat down as a very difficult day on the Hardangervidda came to a close. Sleeping bags zipped up, lamps turned off, heads tucked in, stomachs full and bodies exhausted, we slept in peace as the tempest raged outside.

Harteigån to Liseth: Day 3 Hike Across Norway

August 29, 2016 – Nedsta Soltjørni to Liseth – 23 miles, 2,867 feet of climbing

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There was a noticeable change in the weather overnight. The wind picked up and by the time we woke there was a light drizzle pitter-pattering on the tarp. Survival instinct said curl deeper into the sleeping bag, while our ambitious itinerary said get up and go. Motivation was still high, so we did the latter, despite the grey day.

A deep fog had moved over the valley of moss, and it was bone chilling. This was a morning for all layers, including rain top and pants. As the trail descended for most of the first part of the day, it required more layers than normal since exercise induced warming wouldn’t happen for some time.

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After the chilled ritual of pulling camp and shaking out the near frozen tarp, we made our way down a narrow trail on the side of a lush canyon. Waterfalls roared to our right, while sheep on the hillside wandered above us to the left. The sheep looked completely unfazed by the weather and I was glad that two of my layers were indeed wool so I could at least pretend to be as warm as they were.

There is something about hiking on a rainy morning with your hood up that lets you isolate into your own mind. I rather enjoy this state of being, simply following Elaine through the narrow path, as fog, rivers and mountains surround. Sometimes it’s good to be quiet and just enjoy the sound of footsteps on trail and rain drizzle on hood. We talk to much in our society…it’s better to listen.

The trail made its way down the valley to a more lush land, filled with blueberries and thicker brush. After indulging in a short berry feast, we crossed an ice cold river. On the other side was a tiny hamlet of three dark wooden cabins, complete with a sod roof. An elderly woman with a bucket was heading into the brush near one of the cabins, no doubt on the hunt for blueberries. A lucky, rare life she had. Of course, who knows what tragedies she has lived through – we all have some – but at least from the external appearance this was an ideal life.

dsc07009dsc07010We continued descending. We had been in this country before, last winter, on a ski between Hadlaskard and Torrehytten. Free of snow, it was drastically different. Travel would indeed be easier in the winter, for in the summer a dense brush and bog replaces a perfect winter cross country skiing surface. Fortunately a trail cut through the brush, making for quick going. We soon were crossing an elaborate suspension bridge right to Hadlaskard Hytte.

dsc07011dsc07014dsc07016-recoveredHadlaskard is one of our very favorite huts – remote, well equipped and located in a spectacular valley. Upon arriving, a couple from the Netherlands was leaving, and we shared stories from the trail and plans for the future. They were heading to Trolltunga…we were simply heading north to somewhere in the Jotenheim Mountains.

We stopped at Hadlaskard, dried some of our clothes, ate some Raman, and made a navigational choice. We had the option of heading up and over the central Hardangervidda on an exact route we skied earlier in the year. It would be straight forward and likely boggy. We also had the option of taking a trail on the west side of the plateau that dropped into the town Liseth before heading back up and circling the remote Hardangerjokul ice cap. Given that we have a penchant for new adventures, we chose the latter.

dsc07017dsc07018The trail worked its way down valley before rising onto some smooth rocky terrain that provided outstanding travel. We passed through a few remnant hamlets from the stone ages, and the combination of that and sheep on the hillside made for a medieval feel to the afternoon. Clouds raged below us, billowing down the glacier carved valley. We finally left Hardangervidda National Park and made our way down to the creek bed.

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dsc07029The trail turned heinous here. Rocky as can be, deep mud trenches and trick brush slowed our pace down to a crawl. Fortunately the berries were good at this low, birch forest elevation, and we feasted between struggling through the tricky terrain. We passed a shelter with a roof made of a section of rock that must have weighed many, many tons. If the weather was bad, this place would hold up.

dsc07026dsc07027As we continued down valley the trail got more and more muddy, to the point where it was quite comical. We would sink to our knees in the mud, the black muck pulling us down. Streams were a respite to clean the feet, and then it was back into the mud to repeat the process.

Before the trip began Elaine and I had a scheme to hike nine days to this spot from the north and then compete in the Hardangervidda Marathon which started in the nearby town of Eidfjord. After figuring out that the logistics to do this would be challenging at best, we decided to scrap the marathon plan. Nevertheless, we were now on a portion of the course, evidenced by the copious flagging the race organizer or a volunteer had placed a few days earlier.

What a course it was – a muddy trench with thick, thick brush all around. When it wasn’t a muddy trench, it was super slick rocks and sheep poop. (We checked times of the marathon upon getting home…winning time was five hours…not exactly the Boston Marathon smooth travel). We climbed yet another pass and it began to rain. The descent to the hamlet of Liseth was perhaps the slickest trail I’ve ever been on, and both Elaine and I took numerous crashes on our way down the steep gully. There are popular trails in Norway, and there was this one…it looked like nobody had used it in months.

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dsc07031As the light rain came down and the fog re-rolled in, we were not sure what to do for the night. The map made it clear that once we hit the valley we were in for 5-7 kilometers of bog before the trail eventually made its way back up onto the Hardangervidda. We hit the river at the bottom – absolutely raging in power and volume – crossed a bridge and just relaxed for a few minutes. As we stopped, the sun peaked through the clouds and a rainbow arced over the northern horizon.

We enjoyed some leisurely road walking before heading up a dirt road to the town of Liseth. According to the map, there was a “hikers pension” there. After a long day, a warm shower and bed seemed like the right call. Our goal for this trip was to spend frugally, but this seemed like a luxury too good to pass up. Besides, everything was soaked and it would be nice to dry out a little bit. We passed two horses, and the scene of the rainbow arcing over them made the whole thing look like a real-life Lisa Frank painting. And at the very end of the rainbow was our lodging for the night, the Liseth Hostel.

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dsc07040We were soaked to the bone and I imagine quite the sight to see, but the hostess was extremely friendly and for some reason charged us an inordinately cheap fare for the night. We went to our room, pulled out items to dry and quickly made a mess of the place! We were hungry, so we took our chances that we might be able to get some dinner. No problem whatsoever – tonight’s meal was salmon, potatoes and hot cocoa – to which we happily obliged. It was fantastic fish, no doubt caught in the Norwegian Sea about 10 miles west of where we were. We enjoyed the warmth and luxury of civilization for one night. It was a brief respite, for the next day would test our mettle to the hilt.

Reindeer Skull Camp to Hårteigen: Day 2 Hike Across Norway

August 28, 2016 – Nibbetjørn to Nedsta Soltjørni – 21 miles, 4,150 feet of climbing

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What’s a natural alarm? How about a brisk wind blowing from the west, rippling your tent, letting you know that nature waits as an honest partner, never too easy and never too hard. We woke on day two, calves a little stiff from 8,000 feet of climbing yesterday, but honestly we didn’t have time to listen to that nagging cry.

A quick pull of camp while simultaneously trying not to freeze and soak the hands while shaking the wet tarp and picking up frozen aluminum pegs. Mornings can be rough when things turn a little brisk. There is only one thing to do: move.

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The predominantly rock terrain crossed a number of short, 150 vertical feet, climbs and descents, over and over again, demanding snap from legs that gave a lot of snap the day before. After an hour or so of this, the route began descending, and to our left, it appeared the world dropped away. We scrambled up a mound and jaws dropped. Words don’t describe this view, and thankfully they don’t have to.

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You just have to soak it in at such times and realize these moments of perfect pureness are brief in life, and need to be savored. We continued on along the ridge and made our way to one of the most bizarre and non-pure scenes of the entire trip: Trolltunga.

Trolltunga – which means Troll’s Tongue – is an iconic Norway tourism destination, gracing the pages of travel magazines, Lonely Planet guidebooks and YouTube drone videos. And there in lies the problem. It is a mob scene of ridiculousness. It’s literally SnapChat central, the place to do a handstand on the rock and send it to your friends on Instagram. The direct route to Trolltunga is no slouch, and every day folks have to be rescued from the large vertical, rocky climb on the edge of the North Atlantic Ocean. We were glad we took an alternate route with no people even if it added a day to the trip. People fall off Trolltunga too – perhaps a handstand gone awry? We observed the chaos (as well as the toilet paper strewn around and about on the cliffside) and quickly made our way out towards more sane locales.

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It’s amazing how easily it is to avoid the crowds. If you see a tourist destination, go someplace else. Ask the locals too – they know where the gems are much better than a British guidebook. Or, just head 500 meters from the destination and find your zone again. And so it was as we headed east away from the fjords and onto the Hardangervidda.

This area is the heart of Norwegian water. There is water everywhere. Water in lakes, water in copious streams, water running from snowfields, water permeating every rock and crack in the area. As such, it’s also a huge area for Norwegian hydropower, with reservoirs and human impacted waterfalls weaving their way through the wilderness. It allows the country to be powered by natural, non-polluting sources. Industry uses it too…my Dale sweater is made from the power of waterfalls in the Norwegian mountains. It’s not perfect, but it’s as good a source of energy as I’ve ever seen.

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This was an exciting day as we were heading into an area where we actually skied back in February on our winter jaunt across the Hardangervidda. Our destination for the evening, somewhere in the vicinity of the mountain Harteigan, was almost exactly where we slept six months earlier. That was sort of the motivation for this trip – we were wandering around the hut, found some patches of tundra popping out through the frozen wasteland, and decided we needed to come back here during the snow-free(ish) months.

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We worked our way east across the rolling, Lord of the Rings-esque landscape marveling in the abundance of water, rock, snow and green. We eventually made our way to Tyssevassbu, one of the very few DNT self-serve huts that has electricity. This is possible because this hut is in the middle of Norway’s hydroelectric hub, and it was nice luxury to be able to charge our electronics while enjoying a snack of hot ramen and solbaer drink. Even on nice days the climate here is raw, the cold wind a constant reminder that things can get brutal in a hurry. Any respite is welcome. As we were leaving the hut, a woman showed up who looked at us in disbelief when we told her we hoped to be at Finse in two days. I’m not sure if her reaction motivated us or made us wonder if we were insane – probably a bit of both!

It was time to head back onto the trail. It meandered over the high plateau, crossing stream and snowfields, with the massive flat-topped mountain Harteigen acting as a lighthouse for our campsite for the evening.

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As the day moved on and the kilometers grew, the temperature began to drop. We were both beginning to experience something of a bonk, with cravings for food moving to the forefront of the brain. Yet the beauty of the landscape acted as something of a distraction, and we began to enter that strange zone where discomfort actually accentuates beauty and wildness. There is something very ancient about feeling this way, in perpetual motion, in a bit of pain, yet overwhelmed by beauty.

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We crossed into a ravine and descended down a slightly sketchy snowfield with a river running underneath it. I tentatively led the way across, hoping the bottom didn’t drop out and we both ended up in the river. Fortunately, it held. Harteigen emerged in front of us, and we knew our day was nearing an end.

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Except for it wasn’t. The trail did one of those annoying meandering things that turned a kilometer into three, and when you are very hungry and bonking that’s not fun. After another half-hour, we made it to Torrehytten (Thor’s Hut) and cooked up four packets of Pasta-di-Parma. This was a decision triggered by extreme hunger, but it was too much as we struggled to eat 3/4 of the feast. Stomachs loaded and temperature still dropping, we headed out into the wild to find camping for the night.

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After another 30 minutes of hiking we found a flattish plateau with thick moss. A fair bit of hemming and hawing later, and we settled on a campsite, pitched the tarp and, as the wind howled and light drizzle started to fall, settled in for a  cozy night of sleep in the heart of the Hardangervidda.

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Odda to reindeer skull camp: Day 1 of the hike across Norway.

August 27, 2016 – Odda to Nibbetjørn – 20 miles, 8,517 feet of climbing

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It’s amazing what a night of sleep can do to take care of physical ailments. Be it a bad headache or feeling car sick from an 8-hour bus ride, a solid night’s sleep, even if it’s in a rainy pyramid tarp in a muddy field with Norwegian teens ripping up and down the road all night on motorcycles, will do wonders for the spirit and the body.

As the first light glowed off low clouds, we rose. There was a lot of work to be done – expressly walking a long way across Norway – and daylight was wasting. We quickly got ready, pulled down camp and filled up our water bottles before anybody else in the campground even stirred. A quick “before” photo at the campground and we were soon walking through the early morning dampness towards the fjord and Odda.

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The click-click of our trekking poles tapped on the pavement and echoed off homes, schools and yet-to-be-opened stores. The first steps of a thru-hike, no matter how long, are always a “feel it out” situation. How does the body feel? Labored or smooth? What about the pack…too heavy or just right? That was a pleasant surprise. For the previous month we’d both been hiking up the hill behind our house three days a week with packs loaded with 50-pound bags of beans. Walking down those early morning Odda streets, I knew this pack was lighter. That boded well.

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We didn’t pack quite enough food for this trip, planning to supplement some of our dinners with snacks from the huts and towns we’d pass thru. In our rush to get out of Oslo, we’d failed to pick up one of the main staples of a thru-hike: cheese. When you are tired, cold, bonking and starved for protein, cheese is hard to beat. We decided to wait 30 minutes for the grocery store to open, enjoying the morning quiet and the views to the north. This would be the lowest elevation of our entire hike – sea level on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

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The market opened, so we picked up two very large cheese blocks (probably the heaviest single item we had for the whole trip), a little pastry and fruit for breakfast, and a bag of Cheez Ballz for later consumption on the trail. There is nothing like cheese and salt to quench the cravings of thru-hikers. Those chips would come in handy later on.

As we walked down the street, we got smiles from people driving through town, even more so than when we walk down the streets in Norway with skis. We obviously looked the part of hikers, tights with shorts over them, wool tops, ski caps, backpacks and trekking poles. I think in Norway, while skiing is celebrated, the simple act of walking is revered. It seems everybody walks. Most, old and young alike, like climbing to the top of mountains. Walking is part of life in Norway, and there is no better thing to do than go for a walk in nature, in the mountains. I think this is why people smiled at us.

Across the river, onto the other side, and up through a subdivision right to trailhead. I’d looked at this squiggle on the map months before from home in Colorado. There was no other information other than the contours of the map and the way the trail worked its way up them. It was surreal to see those symbols on the map transformed into real life.

The trail went up. Almost comically so right from the start. This was no manicured Colorado switchback route. This was a near vertical wall, hiking on your toes with no way to drop the heel, legs driving, lungs bursting type of climb. We were fortunate though – we were at sea level and our packs were lighter than what we’d trained with. It was doable, and it was even at times satisfying. Hard work and preparation yields results.

We entered into a pine forest and stumbled upon bushes and bushes of wild raspberries and wild blueberries. Memories from my youth of picking berries in the woods outside Oslo and in Vermont came flooding back. It was early, but we ate nonetheless. Berries are one of nature’s best treats, and a little vitamin C after days of immune system depleting travel is something to take advantage of.

The trail went up and up steeply. One-thousand feet of climbing turned to 2,000, turned to 3,000 in a remarkably short amount of distance, maybe a couple miles. We chuckled a nervous laugh from time to time…it appeared Norway was not messing around. Eventually the trail broke out of the woods and into a green lush wonderland with a small barn in the middle. The fjord dropped away behind us, and we simply stared at the mountain on the other side of the valley with an ice cap glacier on it. The western fjords were delivering a punch of beauty and challenge right off the bat.

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As we climbed further, we were met by a constant companion for the next nine-days, sheep. Just like the U.S. uses public lands to graze cattle, Norway uses the land to graze sheep. The sheep are used for wool and meat, and are the top livestock animal in the country. I can’t complain, as I have a couple Norwegian wool sweaters that are unbelievably comfortable and warm! For all the synthetic fabrics used to make clothes, wool can’t be beat for warmth, lack of odor and functionality in wet and variable conditions.

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The trail kept climbing though not as steep as before, leaving the sheep country behind and entering into a rocky tundra landscape.  From this vantage, we could see the massive ice cap to the west.

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After 72 straight hours of travel, this high vantage point, combined with the big climb and a night of sleeping on the ground, far from airports, hotels and cities, reminded me why we travelled all this way to hike. As the wind picked up and landscape unfolded, we were once again adventurers, and this made us happy.

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Norwegian trails have a different marking system from American trails. Often, there is no trail, as routes will take you across rock, river and snow, surfaces non-conducive to trail treads. This is not to say there are not trails in Norway, because there are, but in the region we travelled there was probably an absence of trail tread 80-90% of the time. While there is not tread in many places, there are large cairns spaced every 50 to 100 feet. The cairns are marked with a large red “T” representing the last letter of DNT. Volunteers come out and repaint them every year. Intersections are also very well marked, with posts propped up in rock piles, giving clear direction where things are.

In this regard, backpacking in Norway falls in a weird middle ground. The tread is much rougher than the Colorado Trail or that found on popular 14ers in Colorado. It’s also rougher than the Indian Peaks. More often than not, there is no trail. It’s more like Alaska in that way…use rock, river beds and ridges to get around. But, on the other hand, the entire “route” network is exceptionally well marked. There are these massive cairns with giant red “T”s on them at close range (a necessity in a country with such wild weather, fog, snow and white-out conditions). Intersections have signs that would rival road signs in the U.S. There are huts every 15 miles or so. You can choose to sleep and eat in them or not use them at all. They are not luxury but they are not shacks by any stretch.

For Elaine and I, autumn backpacking trips are used in part to build a base for ski season. The nature of the Norwegian trails allows us to hike steadily without having to check navigation every two minutes, but also provides extremely varied and challenging terrain. We can push our bodies, but also enjoy a wilderness experience.  That’s what makes hiking in Norway so unique and that’s why we came here.

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We passed an older couple heading quickly down from the mountain we were heading up. They were much more bundled up than us, head-to-toe in Gore-Tex. They shouted something in Norwegian through the wind, to which we responded a common response, “Beklager jeg snakker ikke norsk så got (sorry, I don’t speak Norwegian so well.)”No problem, the entire country speaks fluent English and they can switch between the two languages easily (this makes it very hard to learn Norwegian). They told us we were heading to Møyfallsnuten at 1,450 meters and that we could stamp our book at the top. I wasn’t sure what they meant, but I could tell they were happy and having the time of their lives. It seems Norwegians rather like hiking on the tundra in windy conditions. I have to agree – it’s much more enjoyable and satisfying that 85° days with perfect sun and no wind. The harsh weather keeps you alert and alive.

We made our way to the top of Møyfallsnuten and its accompanying cold, gale force wind. We stamped our journals and signed our name in the book (tucked into a little cubby built in the rock), and by the time we were done our hands were starting to not work so well from the cold. It was time to move on. To the west, we saw clouds moving towards us quickly. We descended into a little ravine in the rock and put on more layers, including long pants. They would not come off for the entire rest of the trip. We continued across snow fields, into a fierce wind. Licks of rain touched our skin, but it never reached downpour state that morning. While it didn’t rain right on top of us, it rained hard all around us. As the sun broke through sucker holes, the water was illuminated and rainbows shot up on all sides. This was a typical pattern – there was only one day on the entire trip where we did not see at least one rainbow, and that was because on that day we were in a pouring rain fog from first light to last. If Norway changed its name to “Rainbowland” it would not be an inaccurate description of the country.

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There was an incredible amount of snow on the ground for late-August. The ice age was not that long ago up here. Traveling on snow was no problem, and usually a respite from tougher terrain. It’s smoother and softer than talus, and a snow-confident traveller can make good time across fully supportive snow fields.

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We navigated through the snow and rock covered plateau to its edge, and then began a steep descent down to a valley with a small cabin and a raging river. It was back into the land of green and berries, and after 5,000 plus feet of climbing and lots of calories burned, we were happy to supplement our walnuts, dried fruit, cheese and chocolate with fresh berries. Next up, our first experience with a swinging suspension bridge. Basically, you climb a ladder to get onto the bridge, walk across as it swings precariously, and then go down a ladder on the other side. They were great fun and a nice little shot of adrenaline on endorphin filled days.

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After the river, the trail climbed steeply again to a rocky and snowy valley. A light rain picked up, forcing me to tuck my camera in my jacket. Because of the wet weather, this remote, talus filled valley felt exceptionally wild. By accident, we ended up taking a little detour to the top of the 1,446 meter mountain Einseten. It was a good detour, as the climb was very fun and top offered an exceptional view of the surrounding rock, snow, mountains, waterfalls, glaciers and fjords.

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After Einseten we backtracked to the valley and continued east, past a small lake with grey mountains rising into the clouds around us. We shouted at the walls, and were answered once, twice, three and four times with echoes, bouncing from one wall to the next, wildly and indiscriminately. Happy and alive feelings overwhelmed the senses.

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We continued through the wild valley, past an alpine lake and then up the other side to a high pass. The fog and drizzle moved back and the light started dancing through the clouds. Fog ripped past the peaks, being blown at a pace similar to an airplane.

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We continued on over undulating, rocky and wet terrain, carefully stepping to avoid twisting an ankle or worse. We filled our water bottles and drank directly from streams, sans filtering. There were many stream crossings, but we’d given up on dry feet long ago.

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There was no trail surface to speak of, but there were massive cairns guiding the way. It was some of the most spectacular terrain I’ve ever hiked in my life, like something out of the imagination. The mind dreams there are places like this on earth, but this was the first time I ever had proof. I was coming to the realization that this might indeed be my favorite day of hiking ever.

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We rounded a bend and came across a huge waterfall, dropping off an ice cap from the plateau above. The cascade echoed off the rocks and mountains, creating an overwhelmingly beautiful scene as the wind howled from the north.

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The day was progressing on, and we were beginning to think about setting up camp. It had been a hard day with more than 7,000 feet of climbing over very difficult terrain. But, wilderness doesn’t care so much about the concerns of humans. If anything, as we got more tired the terrain got more difficult. We did a number of map checks to find potential campsites and make sure we stayed on course.

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We worked our way along the northern shore of Langavatnet and came across a discovery – a tiny emergency cabin tucked under a rock mound with a sod moss roof. The door was no more than three feet tall, but the inside was cozy.

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In addition to the regular DNT huts, there are also a number of emergency cabins tucked in the hills. If conditions get bad enough, these could keep you alive and even comfortable. Most are privately owned, but there is an ethics in this country that wilderness cabins should remain unlocked. Similarly, there is an ethic among the people of Norway not to abuse this. The entire system is built on trust. Almost all the cabins are stocked with some food, wood for a fire and mattresses for sleeping.

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While certainly fatigued from a long day of travel, we were not in an emergency by any stretch. Besides, one goal for this trip was to sleep outside as much as possible. We would move forward, but not before taking a nice little snack break on the stone built picnic table and bench right outside the sod roof rock hut.

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The route headed north. We entered an area that is used heavily for hydroelectric power. Norway has an enormous amount of water and a lot of steep vertical slopes that can harness that water and create an energy source that is much less environmentally impactful than fossil fuels and even wind farms. The western fjord region is ideal for this type of power, and we crossed a couple dams that are used for this very function. Elaine is a tremendous outdoor woman, but like all of us has a few fears. Her biggest fear is dams and potential for them simply breaking. Perhaps not rational, but who among us doesn’t have some fears that are not overly rational? As such, we moved quickly over the dams!

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The day was seriously getting late now and the terrain was not letting up one bit. We identified on the map an area with small lakes and what appeared to be flat terrain called Nibbetjørn and made that our target for the day. It was a harsh landscape, attested to by the reindeer skull we found near our destination. I can only imagine how wet, windy and brutal winters are in this place. Such conditions yield a harsh toll.

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We found a flat spot near some tiny alpine lakes and decided to camp. It was less than ideal terrain, as the ground was so soggy it would barely hold a tent stake. We gathered as many large rocks as we could and tied our shelter to them in hopes that if a big wind came over night, they would hold. Soon the shelter was up, and warming up quickly as we cooked pasta and tea before spending our first night out in the Norwegian wilderness. Despite a stiff wind and the sound of rain on our shelter we quickly fell into a deep sleep after one of the single best hiking days ever.

Powder(ish) skiing in September

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Alex, Danielle and yours truly (R to L) with Andrews Glacier in the background. A fine ski for September 25th! Looking up we basically hugged the right side up top and then crossed over and skied the left side on the bottom. Pretty much fresh turns the whole way!

We’ve learned many things on this six-year spree to ski at least one day every month. One thing that is a near guarantee is that the skiing in August and September is marginal at best, horrible at worst. And yet, two nights before our chosen date this year, the wind howled, our little cabin shook and it snowed on the divide. Would the streak of angry sun cups, dirty snow and bullet proof ice patches end with this wintery development?

The day started with a groggy meeting at 8 am at the Rocky Mountain National Park visitors center, which required a 6:45 am departure from home. A salmon colored sunrise shimmered through the golden leaves and left a glow on the white capped mountains. Winter may not be here yet, but it’s coming…you can see it in the sky. It’s a different shade of blue and grey from summer – flatter, shallower, more menacing and much more expansive.

Elaine and I broke our isolationist pattern and skied with another couple who have been customers at Neptune Mountaineering for a couple of years. They are also serious skiers, hailing from Lake Tahoe and Jackson Hole. We’ve been trying to carve out space to ski with them for some time, and today it finally happened. Alex and Danielle were the perfect partners – fit, sensible, calm and funny. I was immediately impressed with Danielle’s ability to handle stressful situations, as the Bear Lake parking lot was full. Rather than lose her shit as I might be prone to do when situations of too much crowding prevail, she kept her cool, kept smiling, and lo and behold found a spot within minutes. Clearly surviving the weekend rush requires a patience with crowds that Elaine and I do not have. It’s good thing we work 95% of all weekends!

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Up the Flattop Mountain Trail. Hallett Peak and low clouds loom in the distance.

Our destination for the day was Andrews Glacier, and we decided to take the longer but more satisfying circle approach from Flattop Mountain. Flattop is a popular 3,000 foot climb from Bear Lake. It was the first mountain I climbed in the park way back in the early-90’s…I scaled it in stiff soled SPD mountain biking shoes and then ran back down. I still have a damaged big toe nail on my left foot from that act of brilliance!

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Up the right side, south on the divide, down the glacier and the long walk back. It’s a lot of walking for just a little bit of skiing!

We climbed smooth and steady, chatting and enjoying an ever increasing amount of snow on the trail. While at the bottom it was just a dusting, by the top it was at least three inches deep, drifted to quite a bit more in certain spots. We got a lot of obligatory, “are you really skiing” comments, to which we gave the affirmative.

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Nearing the summit of Flattop Mountain. The snow was a respectable depth up here of at least a few inches.

We turned left, departed from the trail and headed south on the Continental Divide into a real winter wonderland. The snow was deepish and the ptarmigan were out in force, turning white just in time for winter. The divide was an absolute treat with zero wind and improving views of Longs Peak and the Indian Peaks to the south. Past Hallets Peak and Chaos Canyon, across some talus, up a rise and we were at the top of Andrews Glacier. We feasted on cookies and cocoa while changing into ski boots. I did a little scouting and noticed that the left side over the knoll had fresh snow on it and nary a suncup in sight.

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Conditions were quite ideal on the Continental Divide – barely any wind and gorgeous. The iconic 14er Longs Peak is the tall mountain on the left.

The first turns of the month are always a little dicey, and this was no exception as the fresh snow was grabby and a little punchy. We tentatively found our balance and then made our way over the knoll, hop turning for safety sake before letting the skis run out a bit. These were real turns, not the contrived death snow we normally encounter in September. We milked the left side as much as we could and then headed onto the face, hopping a few small crevasses along the way. And then the culmination, 30-plus turns right down to Andrews Tarn in snow that would be worthy of January billing.

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Fresh snow in September is a rare treat. Elaine and Danielle enjoy it!

For Alex and Danielle this was their 34th straight month of turns, and for Elaine and I our 72nd straight month. Six years ain’t bad! The numbers matter little however…it’s the adventure along the way and the things you see while seeking out those silly little turns. And today, it was just about hanging out with good people who have similar goals and priorities.

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Did it! The streak lives on!

Stoke was high as we put our shoes back on, slapped our skis onto our packs and made our way down the talus moraine to the lakes below. Danielle, who works in the hydrology field, showed us nitrogen study areas along a perfect stream. We proceed on, enjoying the leaves, the trout swimming in the lakes and the endless questions from tourists about whether or not we were really skiing or just completely insane. Perhaps a little of both?

After six hours in the backcountry we finally made our way back to Bear Lake, lounging in the comfort of the car, savoring the snow, wind and sun and enjoying the afterglow of a great autumn hike in the mountains and probably the best September turns any of us have experienced. It was a very good day, and a great start to the season.

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Elaine enjoys a few inches of new September snow on top of a glacier dating back from the last Ice Age.

The first three days – Traveling from Eldora to Odda

Wednesday , August 24 thru Friday, August 16  – Travel Days: Eldora —> Denver —> Munich—>Oslo—>Odda

Traveling from Eldora, Colorado to Odda, Norway is not an easy or quick affair. We left on a crisp Colorado, late-August, Wednesday afternoon from our little cabin in the mountains. On that cool morning, I saw the first dusting of snow on Bald Mountain, an annual ritual of change. The first snow of the year heightened the happiness level on an already very exciting day…we were also going to Norway! I finished packing and went for a quick roller ski to offset the effects of traveling for the next three days.

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Bald Mountain the day of a departure from Colorado and the first snow of the year.

And then it was the last minute debates over what to bring, the final lock-up of the home, the drive down the canyon with the last minute chores, dropping Stella off with Jenny and finally the “everything is done we can just enjoy it now” drive down E-470 to Denver. Found parking with ease, took the shuttle to the airport and checked in at Lufthansa.

Lufthansa! This is no run-of-the-mill airline. This is not Frontier. This is German efficiency, professionalism and high quality. For folks like Elaine and I, who scored these tickets at ridiculously low prices the day after Brexit, it felt like a major coup. As trans-atlantic flights go, this one was maybe the best I’ve ever been on. The plane was quiet, the food good and best of all I managed to sleep for 4 hours! That never happens for me on a plane. I admit however, part of the cause of that may have been the Lufthansa stewardesses almost insistence that passengers take free wine and brandy. For lightweights like ourselves, that was plenty to make sleep a desired option. Even better was waking up somewhere over Holland, being served warm cocoa and croissants, and knowing that in less than one hour we were going to be touching down in Munich, Germany, home of Bayern Munchen, BMW and beer.

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Lufthansa – where stewardesses try to get you drunk. Elaine enjoys a before bedtime brandy. Very classy!

Germany is known for its efficiency, which is a good thing, given our modest five-hour layover and a 45-minute train ride each way to get from the airport to the city center and back again. In our pre-trip planning, this was a silly, off-the-cuff idea I proposed to Elaine. Lo and behold, she was all in. Honestly, there was a side of me that just wanted to sleep, but that’s not the Dan and Elaine way. We followed bright yellow signs shouting “TRAIN TO MUNCHEN” through the ultra-clean, somewhat sterile airport tunnels. We cleared customs and were blasted by a very warm, late summer day as we entered a huge outdoor atrium with five BMWS and five Porches parked outside.

Off to the train station. We almost got stymied right off the bat. Tickets are purchased on a machine that takes bills up to 20 Euros. We only had 50s. We decided we’d pay with a credit card, but as is always the case every single time we come to Europe, our bank put a stop on our card as soon as it read a foreign transaction for security reason. Easy enough to deal with, but we were in a time crunch. I was about to give up, but Elaine solved the problem, heading up to well-dressed German Herr, asking him if he had change for a fifty. He did, and we were in business. We managed to buy the tickets and hop on the train to Munich (we hoped) about half a second before the doors slammed shut.

We passed through lush farmland dotted with meticulous German homes and cottages. And then it was into the industrial part of town, passing the factories of BMW and Porsche and giant images of Bayern Munchen football (the real football) superstars. Our destination was Marienplatz, which I believe means town square or something similar. Upon train arrival we emerged out of the Subway hole into a new world. A cobblestoned square, thousands of people, a massive cathedral, stores selling fancy clothing and a completely different language. That type of moment is why I love travel, the initial shock to the system, the feeling of newness, of adventure.

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Off the train and into the bustle of Marienplatz in Munich, Germany for two hours of exploration.

We didn’t know where to start, so, like many before us, we headed right to church. Elaine and I are hardly the religious types, but European churches draw you in. They are massive, austere and overwhelmingly gaudy on the inside. You can’t help but look. We headed back out and decided to turn right. It was a good choice, as we soon found ourselves at what must have been the equivalent of a farmer’s market. Only this was not your typical farmers market. Hundreds of vendors were selling luscious fruit from Spain, fish from the Mediterranean, mushrooms from the Black Forest, lamb shanks from northern Germany, cheese from France and wine from Spain. This was not the outer-regions of the continent that we always go to. This was definitely not Tromsø. This was a hub, a cross-roads of sorts, a big city in mainland Europe.

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Mushrooms galore at the farmer’s market in Munich.

After an obligatory walk through the empty and depressing Hofbrau Haus, we decided to eat lunch at the farmer’s market. We ordered two sausages (Elaine never eats hot dogs, but she said, “when in Munich!”) and two very large steins of a beer that somewhat resembled Budweiser in appearance but tasted much better. We were not alone – this is apparently the customary drink of choice in Munich at 11 am. In addition to hordes of adults enjoying sausages and beer for brunch, we noticed a number of children who couldn’t have been more than ten years old being given a stein for sipping from their parents. They start ’em young in Germany.

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Beer and sausages for brunch. When in Germany do as the Germans do!

We have a co-worker named Zach at Neptune who is a big fan of Austrian schnapps. We spotted a small bottle of something called Pear Obschler with the distinctive Tyrol logo, and seeing how it only cost five Euros, decided to buy a bottle for Zach. We momentarily debated whether we could even get it onto the plane, but then came to the alcohol driven decision that if a country lets 8-year olds drink beer, surely they will allow you to take a bottle of sealed authentic Austrian schnapps on a plane

Our time in Munich was up. Just two hours in one of the greatest cities in the world, but at least it was two hours where we went it for it and squeezed every little bit out of life we could. That’s a good thing to do…our time here is too short. Back on the train to the airport, into the atrium with the Porches and BMWs, through a breezy customs and security (everything is efficient in Germany) and it was onto our next Lufthansa flight.

Except for one little hiccup: that bottle of schnapps. Being an honest American type (just ask our presidential candidates), I told the woman working security that I had the bottle and wanted to confirm it was OK. Very nicely she said, “oh, maybe not…can I see”…trailing to…”this is very good…I don’t think you can take this on the plane…too bad.” What the hell! Sorry Zach, I guess the baggage security crew in the Munich airport had a fun night.

Frustrations like that die quickly when you are on a plane to Norway for two weeks of backpacking in the Norwegian wilderness. As we flew north, the sky got cloudier, and by the time we descended into Oslo we were in a downright fog. It was pre-cursor for the adventure to come.

The next hours were a blur. Checking into the Anker Hostel. Wandering the rainy streets of Oslo looking for food. Trying to sleep and jet-lagged badly. Up early the next morning. My first breakfast at McDonalds in a decade. And then it was off to the DNT office.

The DNT office in Oslo is a gem. It’s a government run group that basically promotes hiking, skiing and huts in the country. Pay your membership dues and you get a key for all the huts. They have maps for every region of the country, books galore and all the last minute equipment you need, including fuel, a necessity for people flying into Oslo to begin their adventure.

When we told the clerk of our plans we were met with skepticism. We mentioned we hoped to hike 30-40 kilometers a day and she told us rather matter-of-factly that we would “kill ourselves.” Nevertheless, you can do what you want in Norway, however stupid, so she pointed us to the right maps, and Elaine and I formulated a plan. Basically, a hike from Odda, through the western fjords, across the Hardangervidda to the Jotunheimen Mountains, our exact exit point very much dependent on pace and where the bus happened to be when. Between the Hardangervidda and the Jotunheim was an area called Skarvheimen. We knew absolutely nothing about Skarvheimen, but assumed it would be smooth sailing.  We were also told that it is customary practice to drink all water in the mountains without filtering because, “there are no small animals this year.” This was shocking news, as this is never the recommended practice in the U.S.

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Arriving in rainy Oslo, Norway.

We would deal with all that later. It was time to catch the bus to Odda. Before boarding, we went to a sandwich shop, where we had a very interesting and entertaining experience with the girl making sandwiches. She was almost a caricature of the typical blonde and blue Norwegian and ended every sentence with an inquisitive sounding “ya?” Except it wasn’t really a question. “You want butter on both sides of the sandwich, ya!” “I love America, ya!” “Do you want a cinnamon role, ya!” It was a great experience that had Elaine and I chuckling for days. We mimicked that interaction quite a few times over the next week, particularly when the hike got heinous!

And then it was an endless, nausea inducing 8-hour bus ride to Odda on some of the most twisting roads I’ve ever been on. It was a beautiful ride, and the weather at Haukeliseter on the Hardangervidda was ominously cold and rainy.

There was a major revelation on the bus ride that impacted the entire trip. I was surfing the web, checking out the countrywide bus schedule. A day earlier I read a prominent announcement on their homepage that stated “bus service to the Jotunheim will continue throughout the fall.” But I failed to read the fine print. Upon clicking the link, it actually said “bus service to the Jotunheim will continue ON WEEKENDS thoughout the fall.” We had planned to use 11-days to hike our already ambitious route, ending on a Tuesday. It turned out bus service ended on Sunday afternoon, forcing us to pack 11-days of hiking into nine. There was really nowhere to get out before, and we were in Odda, unable to switch course without losing at least another day or two. We were going to have to hustle and hope the terrain allowed us to move efficiently. Remembering the skepticism of the girl in DNT office, I realized this was no sure thing.

In addition to this problematic news, I made the mistake of eating my food too quickly and almost paid the price on those curvy roads. I managed to keep it down, but by the time we got off the bus in Odda, rain beating down and the day darkening to night in this town in a deep fjord, I could barely stand up.

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After three days of travel, we arrived just before darkness at the start of our hike, the tiny, wet fjord town of Odda.

We didn’t have a place to stay, but we knew there was “Odda Campground” about two miles away back up the hill from where we came. I felt terrible – probably the worst of the entire trip – on this walk, still very car sick. We staggered into a very busy campground, paid our Kroners to the disinterested counter girl, and found one of the few remaining flat spots that wasn’t in a mud puddle. About a 100 meters away, Norwegian teens raced up and down the nearby dirt road on 2-stroke motorcycles. We skipped dinner, and settled into a restless, uneasy sleep. The rain began to beat down, muffling the voices of the lonely campers next to us. It was an odd, wet and unglamorous spot to begin our hike north across the Norwegian wilderness.

Norway Bound!


It would not be an inaccurate statement to say Elaine and I have a thing for Norway. We’ve been there twice in the past two years, and as I’m writing this are heading over there for a third time. What can I say…it’s an awesome country that speaks to us in a number of ways. Of course it’s the hotbed of skiing, and in particular the kind of skiing Elaine and I like to do…Nordic and AT. There is so much passion and stoke for skiing in Norway, and it draws you back for more. The system of huts, the network of trails, the mountains that drop right down to the sea, the public transportation…it’s custom made for skiers. And while it is expensive, the abundance of public transportation, hostels and such make it possible to survive and even thrive without going broke. 

While we love skiing, there is a lot to see in Norway when the country is not white. It is home to a system of interconnected trails that is likely unmatched anywhere in the world. We wanted to see and experience that. Point-to-point travel across wild places brings us more joy than anything else in the world. And so, on the day after Brexit, when a $450 ticket from Denver to Oslo popped up on Hopper, we decided to jump on it. 

This trip is different from our previous two. This time we’re going there to hike. On our winter trips we missed out on some of the highlights of the country, namely the fjords and the mountains in the Jotenheimen Mountains. Simply put, there is epic stuff here that needs to be experienced…Trolltunga, Preikestolen, Bessegen Ridge and the highest peak in the country, Galdhoppigen. These are places we both want to go.


It’s a simpler trip. We’re not lugging around heavy ski bags, but instead just have our Hyperlites and backpacking gear. We plan to hike good distances and camp every day. It’ll be considerably cheaper, and we plan to only use the huts if the weather is horrible (quite possible – August and September are the rainiest months in Norway) – or we need some extra food to supplement what we’ve brought from Colorado. 

We’re not really into just picking off the popular destinations without having to work to get there. It feels much less rewarding and we feel less connected with the place. We want to log some good miles and build more base before ski season comes about. The best way I’ve found to do that is a long backpacking trip. This one certainly isn’t the PCT or CDT in size, but it’s no slouch. The goal is 300 miles in 12 days, which should be a sufficient push to build fitness. We’re starting in the fjord town of Odda, hiking up to the Hardangervidda and then making our way north across the high plateau, over a glacier and into the Jotenheimen Mountains. Along the way we plan to eat as many berries as we can, see reindeer, enjoy that high latitude light, smile a lot and live well in a wild place. We’re not completely sure where we’re going to finish (possibly the town of Sota Seter) but basically the plan is to go as far north as we can to catch a bus to Lillehammer in two weeks. This is not a designated trail or pre-defined route…we’re figuring it out as we go. 


Once in Lillehammer, our final goal of the trip is to visit the Fjellpulken factory and check out sleds. Fjellpulken makes sleds designed for ski trips. We’re doing a race in February that requires we each pull one, each weighted at 44 kg, and we also have aspirations to ski across Greenland in the future, where such a contraption is an absolute necessity. Fjellpulkens have a proven track record in polar exploration and we’re excited to check out their factory in Lillehammer. And while we’re there, we certainly hope to hike to the top of the ski jump and get fueled and energized for the upcoming Nordic ski season. It’s the hotbed of the sport and that kind of passion rubs off strong. 


Now it’s time for some sleep. Our plane touches down in Munich in six hours where we have five hours to see explore that city before it’s back to Oslo and the gateway to the Norwegian wilderness.