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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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.