What makes Scandinavia so interesting for a long thru-hike is that there are very little boring sections between Lindesnes and the Nordkinn. Finnmark, at the very end of the trip, is probably the longest one, but I hope to quickly bypass the endless tundra plateaus by packrafting some of northern Norway’s main rivers. Then there is the part in Trondelag in Central Norway which is mostly below treeline with long bog sections and high bug pressure. But the first ‘boring’ section is the very first week, from Lindesnes up to the southern fringes of Setesdalsheiane. Some people doing the Norge pa langs even cover these 150km by bike. I am, however, not so concerned about this part: mentally I am still very brisk, the landscape will gradually open up with the mountains looming, and it is a perfect opportunity to get in top shape before the real deal starts. I don’t deny that because of work (I was in office until the day before leaving) and the lack of fine scenery back home, my physical preparation has been insufficient with only 4 days of hiking, some running and a few hundred bike kilometers in the weeks prior to my trip. I can use some easy kilometers as a starter.
It is 16h30 by the time I leave Lindesnes. I sneak out again without paying and start walking the asphalt road towards Sprangereid, which I follow for about 1km before choosing for the gravel road towards the Syrdal farms. A path should connect those farms with the hamlet of Stusvik, but it quickly fades near the Heggetjørna lake and only half an hour into my walk, I am already bushwhacking through thick forest and searching for a way down along the steep granite cliffs, which offer nice views on the North Sea coast. I eventually reach the gravel road connecting Stusvik with Sprangereid.
The rest of the afternoon and evening are a relaxed stroll, first on the gravel road towards Sprangereid, then on the asphalt road to Lyngdal. The last clouds disappear while the evening light gets softer and I enjoy the views along the fjords. In Sprangereid, a channel has been dug a few years ago to connect the Lenefjord with the open sea, so strictly spoken the Lindesnes peninsula is now an island, and Lindesnes Fyr no longer the southernmost point of the country. I walk a total of 16km and find a fine bivouac spot along the Grønsfjorden a bit before the bridge across the fjord at Jasund.
The following morning I sleep long to recover from the long travel. It is already past 10 o’clock when I finally start walking. The weather is splendid again. I cross the Jasund bridge with nice views on the Grønsfjorden and Lenefjorden, the last time I will see the sea for nearly 4 months. Gravel and field roads lead me up to the Traelandsvatnet, where I start a first short off-trail section. I have spent a lot of time on planning this week in order to avoid asphalt roads as much as possible, thereby connecting the scattered paths and gravel roads through short off-trail sections. I quickly realize these off-trail sections are not like the ones on the tundra or around the treeline I am used to – at 1 to 2km/h I struggle through thick bushes and stumble across long sections with tussocks. Luckily it is only a short stretch and quickly I find connection again to a gravel road which l follow all the way down to the village of Lyngdal.
It is Sunday but as I know from some pre-trip research the local Bunnpris-shop is open. I buy some food to get to Knaben, as well as a few apples which I eat while walking a field road upstream along the Lygna river. As I cross the main road from Kristiansand to Bergen, the Sorvestekspressen bus from Nor-way, which I have taken the day before to get to Vigeland, races by. The driver is the same guy as yesterday. He recognizes me and stares at me with a perplexed face as I wave him hello.
According to the maps I have, the field road which I follow upstream along the river should start to climb up the slopes a bit further. But it fades instead and I end up bushwhacking through beech forest again while traversing a steep slope above the river, which thunders down through a shallow gorge. Eventually I reach a nice meander and the terrain eases. I have to find another way to climb off-trail up to the Haegeland farms however, 200m higher on the plateaus. I find what I was looking for a few hundred meters further, where a creek slides off the slopes on steep rock slabs. It is hard work climbing up, but easier than bushwhacking and I quickly gain the plateau where I find connection to a gravel road again. A few easy kilometers follow, through meadows, bogs and forest along the Vintland hamlet up to Lille Kvelland.
After my late start, it is already 17h30 and I start to feel the fatigue. I decide to start looking for a bivouac spot somewhere on the path towards Vidringstad… well, what was supposed to be a path according to my map. I do not find the trailhead and ask a guy working near one of the farm buildings. He has just bought a house here, but shows me where he thinks I should enter the forest. A quick check on my compass tells me he is wrong and I continue north on a section with knee-high tussocks until I reach the western point of the Kroketjørn. The path does not exist at all, and that would be more often than not the case during the next few days. It is hard to find a descent bivouac spot near the lake which is surrounded by dense bush, bog and tussocks (or a combination). The evening is sunny and warm and I have a full wash in the lake before going to bed.
The bushwhacking and tussock-swearing continues the next morning towards Vidringstad and further north up to the Havetoft farm. I woke up with glorious sunshine again, but the clouds thicken and it starts raining slightly for some time while I take a break near the Solvang farms. The rest of the morning bring more gravel roads with some short but hard off-trail sections in between, especially the one near Svartevatnet. Around 13h I reach the trailhead of one of Norway’s southernmost DNT-trails at the shores of the large Gaustadvatnet. Although vague at some places, this is a real path with markings. I quickly gain a small pass and climb further up to point 494m, where I have the first nice panorama of the trip. The landscape is clearly getting more rugged further north and I can see the first snowfields looming. The sun has come out again and I take a long break while enjoying the views and the cuckoo’s songs.
I descend towards the Sandvatnet on the path and find connection to a field road which I follow further down into Kvinesdalen. Normally my plan was to stay high on the valley slopes and combine some paths with off-trail sections, but because of the difficulty of the terrain I am tempted to take the asphalt road through the valley. There is only little traffic. After I take a junction to the right and climb up to the Gaselandstjønna lake. I had hoped to find a bivouac spot here, but there are more farms than I expected and horses graze in the meadows along the shore. The best place I can find is a recently fertilized meadow next to a gravel road where jeeps regularly race by. The evening brings clear skies again.
The landscapes really starts to change the next day. The first section is still a combination of gravel roads, an off-trail stroll through a tussock plain and finally a longer asphalt stretch through Kvinesdalen. Around noon I reach the farm of Mygland, where I start following the Litleane upstream. The stream ripples down rock slabs and invites for a long break. After a fine walk along the river I walk a last gravel road up to Ettestol. The valley opens up, the farms disappear, and I am finally into the wilderness.
I will now walk up the Litladalen for about 15km before crossing over to Knaben, my first resupply point. There is a faint tractor track during the first few kilometers, but this gradually disappears when I cross a few bogs although a path is indicated on the map. In reality, the entire stretch will be off-trail. The valley gradually opens up with scattered groups of pine trees along the river and on the slopes, which are dominated by the typical rock slabs. At one place I pass a group of trees which has very recently been burnt down. The last few weeks have been dry and warm in southern Norway, but I’m still surprised to find the traces of natural forest fires.
My goal for today is the Ytre Bjørnvatnet, of which I know it should offer fine bivouac spots. My progress is considerably slowed down by the more complex terrain. I reach the lake at about 5 o’clock. There are even some beaches along the shore making for the finest camp of the trip so far. It is cooler than the last few days, but the weather remains fair and I wash some clothes which rapidly dry because of the wind. When the sun disappears behind the Bjørnvassfjellet, it quickly gets cold and I go to sleep a bit earlier than the previous days.
The wind drops during the night and under a clear skies the temperature drops below freezing. The sun rises earlier every day, however, and I have to get out of my sleeping bag at 7am because it is getting too hot inside my tarp! It is a glorious morning with remnants of fog drifting across the warm lake (at least relative to the air temperature). I’ve been incredibly lucky with the weather so far. During the first kilometers I even find back a scent of the tractor track again, which allows me to cross the outflow of the Indre Bjørnvatnet over a wooden bridge. I pass a cabin a bit further, and that is the final end of the track.
The rest of the walk up the valley is off-trail. Because of the dry weather, and because most snow in the catchment area has already melted, the level of the Litleane stream is very low and I can walk some sections through the riverbed, which mainly consists of flat, easy-to-walk rock slabs. The (non-existing) path on the map climbs up the west slope of Skarkefjella and then traverses towards Knaben at an altitude of about 700-800m. Looking at this slope, which consist mainly of very steep rock slabs, I immediately realize it would not be wise to attempt such a route. I continue following the river instead all the way to the Indre Litladalsvatnet. Unfortunately, the easy stretches through the riverbed mostly disappear and I have to cross some peat bogs. After a short but steep climb I cross the 730m pass and start the descend into Knaben. At a certain point, I suddenly nearly fall into a 50m deep mine pit, one of the remains of the Europe’s largest Molybdenum mines, which were operated here in Knaben from 1885 until 1973. It was even the only operating Molybdenum mine in Europe during the second world war, and hence the town was repeatedly bombed by allied forces. After the closure of the mines, the town was nearly completely abandoned, but recently an increasing number of people have been employed in tourism.
The town of Knaben offers a strange sight. Sand deposits induced by the mining activity have silted most of the Knabetjødn lake, forming a vast plain of about 1km². There is a small shop, where I buy some bread, cheese, yoghurt and fresh fruit, which I all immediately eat right in front of the building. I then walk towards the Knaben Leirskole, a kind of vacation center for schools. I have sent my first food drop here. When I reach the center, I do not find anybody, but the doors are open and I already start charging my electronic devices inside. There is a phone number on the door. I call the guy and he comes to help me out, but apparently the post service has not delivered my package yet (which was sent from Kristiansand 4 days earlier). I start to panic a bit, but at that very moment a red car drives up the parking… with my package! Phew!!! I reorganize my bag, take a shower and hit the trail again at 14h30. After a few minutes I meet a group of about 50 kids, guided by a massive man, who turns out to be the guy I’ve been mailing with pre-trip to arrange my food drop!
On old mining roads I climb up to Sandtjørn. And at that point the real deal stars. There is a path all the way to Salmeli… according to my map… but inexistent in reality once again. Off-trail, I traverse above the lake and cross the plateau east of Storafjellet. I’m now at an altitude of about 800m and snowfields are getting more numerous and extensive with every meter I climb, and, more alarming, with every kilometer I progress north. According to the snow cover maps I’ve consulted before leaving, snow cover should dramatically increase when approaching Setesdalsheiane, and that appears to be very much the truth. On the places where the snow has gone, it has gone very recently and the tundra is still in its brown winter coat and soaked with water. My feet inevitably get wet, and they won’t get dry again for many weeks to come…
The terrain gets more complex when I descend into the Austøldalen. I wade the river (which is still fed by many melting snowfields) and detour around the Hellartjørni along the northeastern shore as the terrain along the southwestern shore looks more difficult. It’s a beautiful stretch with wide views on the steep valleys in the west. I feel I’m starting to run out of energy while bushwhacking up towards the west and along the lakes on the Venelihei plateau. While descending towards Storhom there finally is a scent of a path again. Because I’ve spend such a long time in Knaben, it is already 19h30 by the time I reach the lake. I find a nice bivouac spot right at the outflow and enjoy yet another sunny evening.
The weather has changed the following morning. Low clouds race through an overcast sky, hunted by a cold northwesterly wind. Luckily it remains dry. The path gets better while I descend further towards Salmeli, a group of farms in the Kvina valley. In Salmeli, I will start a long, 500km section on DNT-paths all the way through Rykjefjellheiane, Setesdalsheiane, Hardangervidda, Skarvheimen, Jotunheimen and Breheimen. Apart from a short stretch before reaching Suleskard tomorrow, it marks the end of the patchwork of gravel and asphalt roads, inexistent paths and off-trail sections that has characterized the first week. I’m happy to cross into the mountains for such a long time. The first DNT-route towards the Kvinen cabin is only 20km, yet the DNT uses 10 walking hours as a guideline. It quickly turns out why: the route walked very little and after a few kilometers the markings mostly disappear. After climbing out of the boggy Svoldal, I mostly choose my own track on the complex terrain with many steep rock bands which make orientation pretty hard at times. My progress even becomes very slow near Badstogfloni, an inlet at the western edge of the artificial Kvifjorden lake.
But orientation is not my main concern. I feel pain on my shin just above my left ankle. At first it feels like a bruise, but gradually the pain grows more intense and I start fearing a shin splints injury. I struggle on for a few kilometers but am eventually forced to stop at the inlet about 3km south of the Kvinen hut. I sit down for a while. When I walk towards the small stream near my camp to fill my water bottles and take off my shoes, my lower leg is stiff, painful and swollen above my left ankle. At this point I start to be seriously concerned I have an injury at my ligaments, which would mean the end of my trip. In any case, the pain is now so intense that walking has become horrible. I don’t see how this could heal within a reasonable time.
My world collapses. My dream lays shattered on the rocky beaches and the brown peat bogs around the Kvifjorden lake. I feel like a dolt, a nitwit, a wanna-be. A website, sponsor proposals, prose about an unprecedented trip and Europe’s ultimate wilderness adventure. And now look at me, lonely and defeated, shedding a waterfall of tears before I have even seen the first real mountain. I go to bed without eating and without studying the map for tomorrow.
Of the next day I do not remember a lot. I decide to try to get to Suleskard, a small town 26km further up my planned route. There I should find an unstaffed DNT-hut with road access, where I can try to recover with relative comfort and hitchhike to the nearest doctor. The weather is overcast and after a while it starts raining moderately for the first time. I cross wet plateaus with extensive snowfields towards Hønetjørni, and then further north towards Sirdal. Needless to say I do not enjoy the walk at all because of the weather, and because I am in big pain. My injury has not gotten any better during the night. In Sirdal I find connection to the road. I take a long break beneath the porch of a vacaction cabin. There is mobile phone coverage again and I have an emotional call with Elien to inform her about the bad news.
It is another 8km on an asphalt road to get to Suleskard. Remarkably, my injury hurts much more on the very flat, hard surface than on the uneven paths on the plateaus. Walking is now just horrendous. I don’t give a shit about my idea of entirely self-propelled travel at this point and try to hitchhike. But hitchhiking has universal rules. Nobody takes soaked hikers. I give up after half an hour and two painful and very wet hours later I reach Suleskard. I pick up my second food drop in the local shop (which is larger than I expected, but still too small for a full re-supply) and get the key for the Adneram Turisthytte cabin. As this cabin is situated along the road, it cannot be entered with the standard DNT-key. The cabin is the first godsend of the day: spacious and luxurious, with even an electric cooking system, and a shower! There is not much I can do now, but wait and hope…
Lindesnes – Linddalen (16km, +220/-250, 3h30)
Linddalen – Kroketjorn (26km, +630/-330 6u10)
Kroketjorn – Gaselandstjonna (30km, +770/-710, 7h10)
Gaselandstjonna – Ytre Bjornvatnet (28km, +400/-300, 6u20)
Ytre Bjornvatnet – Storhom (22km, +970/-830, 7u15)
Storhom – Kvifjorden (20km, +730/-610, 7u00)
Kvifjorden – Adneram Turisthytte (26km, +400/-550, 6u25)