I could not have stranded at a better place than in the Adneram Turisthytte. As is the case most DNT huts, there are two separate cabins. I sleep inside the smallest one, while a large group of children with their parents occupies the big. They are off for the weekend. I am stunned by the Norwegians once again… in 8°C temperatures and pouring rain they go for a swim in the icy river next to the hut. But the group is my luck. One of the parents is a doctor and he examines me. He supposes I have an inflammation of a tendon because over-exercise. Anti-inflammatory drugs, ice and a few days of rest should do the job. I have everything I need close at hand: a small pharmacy in the Fjellbuttikken store, a freezer inside the hut and a sofa and a book to kill time.
I cannot deny the whole situation stresses me. My friend Joris will join me in less than two weeks, and I should get to Finse, or at least Liseth (at the northern end of Hardangervidda) by then. Losing more time would be dramatic for my entire planning. After one day of rest I don’t feel any difference yet. I already start thinking about buying a bike and bypassing the Setesdalsheiane along the road, still travelling self-propelled and staying on schedule. But during my second day of athlete-like revalidation, I start to notice significant improvement, and decide to try continuing tomorrow, and gradually increase my daily mileage. My 12-day goal will be Liseth instead of Finse, a 212km distance (instead of 246km).
If you have to cover 2700km in 4 months, 212km may seem little for 12 days. But apart from my fear of a new inflammation, I expect this part to be one of the hardest of the entire trip. Snow conditions in the mountains of Southern Norway are exceptional this year because of significant snowfall in the first half of winter and a relatively cool spring. Some places in Setesdalsheiane and Hardangervidda have not been as snow-rich at this time of the year since decades. I also expect many difficult river wadings as summer bridges are mostly constructed in late june.
After two days of rest I finally start walking again on the 11th of june. I hope to get somewhere between the Taumevatn and Storevatn cabins. I walk the asphalt road up the Kregdedalen instead of the faint path at the other side of the river to have an easy start. The weather is fair, but soon the sky gets darker towards the south. I still feel my injury, but it is not really painful. Regularly trucks pass by transporting enormous boulders to the Storevatn dam. After 8km I reach the junction of the DNT-path towards Storevatn. “Well, you’ll probably not see any humans for an entire week now”, I say to myself while I’m crossing the first snowfield. Less than a minute later, I meet 3 Germans of around 50 years who are making a tour of 10 days in the area. Their initial plan was to walk to Haukeliseter like me, but they turned back because of the snow. The oldest guy is a doctor and he immediately says I am crazy to walk with trailrunners. After a short chat I continue walking while they take a break.
The path towards the Taumevatn hut mostly runs through birch forest, with many swampy sections and snowfields. I have a nice view towards the waterfall thundering into the Store Holmevatnet. The snow cover is clearly more extensive than a few days ago further south at the same altitude. I reach the Taumevatn hut in the early afternoon. My leg still feels fine and I decide to continue. I starts raining however and I take a long break, during which the Germans arrive. They will sleep in the hut tonight and have a short stage up to Storevatn tomorrow. At three o’clock the rain eases and I hit the trail again.
The scenery changes dramatically during the 3 hour stretch towards Storevatn. With every meter I climb, the snowfields get more extensive. I ford thundering torrents (and am lucky to find a summer bridge across the two most powerful ones) and during showers the landscape transforms into a haze of grey and white. By the time I reach the Storevassani, at an altitude of 960m, snow cover has increased to over 50%. The lake is still covered by intensely blue ice, and thaw mist makes the setting even more dramatic. Most of the path is still covered by snow, but melt-holes have formed around most cairns and I can keep following the ‘official’ trail. I note a helicopter at the outflow of the Storevatn. A team of 4 guys is constructing the summer bridge across the river – and most certainly I am the first hiker to use the bridge in 2012! I walk along the western side of the Storevatn lake and reach the hut with the same name half an hour later. The weather clears and I camp a bit above the hut. It is the finest evening of the trip so far. I start to feel confident with my leg. The evening brings a dramatic sunset with intense alpenglow. The mountains roar with meltwater, somewhere between winter, spring and summer.
I wake up with clear skies again the next day, but cumulus clouds quickly start to form after I start walking. Snow cover increases further while I climb up to the Vardetjørn lake and cross a pass (1150m) before descending into Hudadalen. The views over the southern Setesdalsheiane are immense. I’ve never walked such an endless melting limbo-land before. Thundering streams dig their way through meters of snow and I cross the traces of reindeer herds and wolverines. The official summer route becomes very hard to trace at higher ground and I mostly choose my own route. After descending towards the Savatn (928m) a harder section follows, first on accidented terrain over point 1004m, then a traverse through birch forest and boulders (and very wet terrain) on the southwestern slopes of Breidanuten with splendid views on the artificial lake Svartevatn. I eventually reach the Kringlevatn hut (940m) and take a long brake before continuing.
In continue north through the Breidadalen on the DNT-trail towards Storsteinen. After the junction with the trail to Sandvasshytta, I have to wade the stream flowing through the valley. It is the first major wading of the trip, but the weather is nice so I don’t mind doing it three times in order to make a video (and get the camera back after reaching the other side). I then climb out of the valley while the weather gradually deteriorates. By the time I reach the plateau (1130m) between the Breidadalen and Ulvtuvtjønn it starts to rain slightly and I decide to call it a day. I need some time to find a good bivouac spot as most of the tundra is still covered by snow and it is hard to find any liquid water.
I have dome doubts about my route for the next day. My initial plan was to follow the DNT-trails east of the vast Blasjø lake. But there are a few serious rivers to cross on this stretch (notably near the Hovatn and Krossvatn cabins) and that could be dangerous to attempt without summer bridges. (Note: in retrospective, it would probably have been possible to cross these rivers with snow bridges or across frozen lakes. But I did not foresee how much snow there would be around Blasjø at this point). Therefore I choose to follow the service road along the western side of the lake towards the Oddatjørn dam, climb up to the Stranddalshytta cabin and join my planned route again near the Kaldevatn lake. But after a few kilometers of hard work with some steep terrain between the Ulvtuvtjønn and Djupatjørn lakes, I face a major problem when I reach the base of the dam at the southern end of the artificial Blasjø lake. The winding road climbing up to the dam on the western slopes is still completely covered by snow, and the climb is way too steep to attempt without crampons and ice axe. A corniche collapse while I’m studying the slopes takes away my last doubts.
I only see one way out: frontally climbing up 100m on the dam, which consists of large boulders. The slope is about 40°. It actually turns out to be easier than it initially appeared and I quickly gain the dam. Those who thought choosing for the road was choosing for the easy option, are wrong. Apart from some very short stretches every now and then, the asphalt is entirely covered by meters of snow. In fact, it is virtually impossible to track the road on most sections and I choose my own way north, although orientation is made significantly easier by the electricity line along the shore of the lake (which screws up the views on the other hand). The amount of snow around the Blasjø is insane, over 90% snow cover at 1100m altitude. I could easily have skied these stages… if I had been a better skier. The scenery is just alpine with frozen lakes and overhanging corniches. Apart from being a physical nightmare, the terrain remains technically easy. The only tricky section is a very steep traverse and descend towards the road crossing between the Undeknutvatnet and Blasjø lakes. My plan is to get towards the Oddatjørndammen, the dam at the northeastern end of the lake, but a few kilometers before I get there the weather quickly deteriorates with dense fog, making orientation virtually impossible and progress on the accidented terrain dangerous. I pick the only snow-free flat spot I can find for my camp and have to melt snow as there is nothing liquid around.
The night brings some rain, the morning overcast and cold, but mostly dry weather. I am happy I stopped yesterday as the last few kilometers towards the dam are peppered with corniches and a very steep traverse above the frozen lake. The view from the dam makes the hair on my arms raise. The valley slopes further downstream are dramatically steep and covered with snow all the way down to the valley floor at 700m. I have to climb one of these slopes in a few hours to climb up from Ovre Moen towards Stranddalshytta. But my first problem is descending into the valley. The slopes I see here are not an option. Unlike yesterday, descending the dam is a one-way ticket to serious problems. As this dam is oriented NW instead of south, the boulders (and the deep holes in between) are still covered by snow. Searching for a solution, I walk towards the northern end of the dam, climb up a rock band… and find a feasible way down in a side-valley through which the service road along the northern shores of the lake descends. Yes!
I struggle down towards Ovre Moen, an old cabin deep in the valley. It starts raining and snowing slightly and the cloud base lowers to about 1100m. After a break I start the very steep climb up the northern slopes of the valley. Snow cover quickly increases but I climb up without major problems. Looking back I can see a tractor clearing the road, which is still covered by meters of snow. I don’t know what the hell this guy did wrong to the mayor of his town, but at his current speed of 1 meter per minute, it appears to be a more ruthless punishment than cleaning the town hall with a toothbrush.
After crossing a small plateau along steep rock bands, I get the Stranddalshytta cabin (1090m) in sight. The lake in between is solidly frozen and instead of detouring I just walk across. Surprisingly, I am not alone here. The hut opens in 10 days and the warden is doing some repairs in the meantime. He is just enjoying a coffee break. I wonder if anyone will even attempt to walk this way in the next few weeks. Although it starts to snow again with +2°C temperatures, he does not invite me in. I take a short break to eat something and then continue east. After a very steep traverse above the ravines separating point 1134m and point 1142m, I reach the Venaheia plateau. These sections are amongst the most impressive of the entire trip. With sleet, snow and fierce winds hammering my face and low clouds racing by the place is so amazingly remote and deserted. Battering on through the snow, soaring muscles and accelerated breath. What a feeling!
The winter markings, willow twigs in the snow, are still up on many sections, significantly easing orientation in the foul conditions. I cross the pass south of Urskar (1176m), descend to lake 1042m and then zig-zag through accidented terrain towards the southern end of the Kaldevatn lake (1115m). At first I attempt to follow the summer route east of the lake, but the terrain is very hard with numerous steep rock bands to cross, which are often hidden by dangerous overhanging corniches. I descend to the Kaldevatn again and walk the entire length of the lake for about an hour. It is a weird feeling to walk a frozen lake through a white landscape just a few days before the summer solstice. Eventually I reach the northern tip of the ice plain, climb up a bit and pitch my tarp on the only patch of bare ground I can find. I take water from a small puddle and filter out the particles through my liner socks. What a day it has been! The weather becomes calm and dry and I just feel it will clear tonight.
And it does… and it also gets very cold that night. Even though I have put my shoes in a plastic bag and inside the inner net of my Cricket Tent, they are solid like rock when I wake up. But not only my shoes are frozen. Also the snow is hard like bone and easy to walk. My progress up to the Kyrkjesteinskaret is very fast. The scenery is magnificent, the icy mountains glister in the magic light. I am surprised to find the relatively recent trace of another hiker crossing the pass and descending at the northern side. His steps are of good use. It would have been hard to descend the steep slopes on the hard snow. The Kyrkjesteinsdalen is one of the most dramatic places of the journey so far. The valley floor is a battlefield of enormous blocks of snow caused by corniche collapses high on the steep slopes. As I progress further north an immense view gradually opens up. During the descent towards the old cabin of Mostølen, I walk from winter through spring right into summer. I take a long break in the warm sunshine and dry my tarp in the meantime.
I am able to check the weather forecast on my mobile phone. It does not look good for tonight and tomorrow with strong wind and rain. I decide to try to get to the Bleskestadmoen cabin and sleep inside. This is the lowest stretch of my Setesdalsheiane crossing. After the hard stages through the snow, I enjoy the stroll through the birch forest upstream along the Gaukstølaa river a lot. The views back through the green valley with scattered lakes and some very nice bivouac spots (notably near the Gaukstølen and Skitstølen cabins), with the white mountains as a backdrop, are stunning. I cross an increasing number of snowfields again while approaching the pass (980m) south of Moltenuten (1079m), before the final descent above the Valajuv ravine and through birch forest (with snow fields as low as 750m) towards Bleskestadmoen. Although I have walked 9 DNT-hours, I arrive at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I have a wash in the icy river and wash as many clothes as I can. They quickly dry as the wind already starts to pick up. A group of 20 volunteers from DNT arrives in the evening (it is Friday) to do some repairs and repaint the hut. They will also put planking on wet sections of the path from Bleskestad. A helicopter makes several drops of firewood. The pilot is the same as near the Storevatn a few days ago and he waves me hello during take-off. I have a nice chat with a young volunteer who has done the GR20 on Corsica last year.
The night brings foul weather with strong winds. I wait it out a bit in the morning and get moving at 9h30. It is still overcast, but dry for now. I immediately have to wade the river in which I had my wash yesterday. The water level has raised considerably during the night. A second wading quickly follows when I reach the Klauvskeimoen plain, which is very wet and boggy. The climb up to Reinskvelven, the dam at the southwestern side of the Sandvatnet lake, is a bothersome task. Progress is very slow on the wet and slippery rock slabs, and to make matters worse it starts to rain again. I take a break underneath the porch of a cabin along the lake.
There is a service road along the western shore of the lake, but again it is completely buried by meters of snow and I slowly work my way north. Some traverses require caution. At the western tip of the lake the road stops and the cairn-spotting on the DNT-trail towards Haukeliseter begins. I need over an hour for the first two kilometers. The terrain is accidented and because of the poor visibility the best route is often not so clear. I make a lot of unnecessary altitude meters. The rain intensifies and my goal for the day becomes the Holmavasshytta cabin. It is the most miserable walking of the trip so far, with a serious river wading of the Tverrana somewhere on the way. After that the path climbs further up and traverses the southeastern slopes of the Endanuten and Fitjanuten. Snow cover is about 100% and most cairns are still buried, but my altimeter guides me towards the hut. I arrive early, but very wet after a short stage. There is no liquid water around the hut and I melt snow on the stove. Later in the afternoon a group of 4 young Germans doing a 3-day tour arrives. They thought to have a summer hike, but that clearly was a miscalculation. They carry kilos of fresh food and liters of wine – I am happy to get some! I feel tired a go to bed early.
The night brings more rain and when I wake up it is still wet with a low cloudbase at around 1200m. This worries me a bit as I have to cross a high pass today, the Turistkardet (1340m). The remaining distance towards Haukeliseter is only 17km, however, so I just wait and hope the weather improves. The Germans leave at around 9 o’clock. While I’m alone in the hut, the emergency radio suddenly starts to beep. A bit confused, I answer the call. Turns out the mountain rescue service is testing all radios in the sector. They are happy to be informed about the conditions around the cabin. In the meantime, the cloudbase starts to lift and at 10h30 I leave.
It is easy walking today – I just follow the traces of the Germans who are, I have to say, very good in spotting cairns. I can see 4 tiny dots climbing up to Turistkardet. The cloud base has lifted above the pass, but lowers again when I start to climb. Assuming that the Germans have crossed with good visibility, I just follow their traces through the fog. They guide me across without major problems (but finding my own way in the fog would not have been easy without GPS). I quickly descend below the cloudbase again and today’s problems are over.
The rest of the day is a relaxed stroll (yep I’m getting used to the snow) through the Vassdalen, along the Kjelavatn and towards Haukeliseter. The weather improves and I even enjoy some sunshine. The steep slopes of the Kistenuten, with many scars caused by corniche collapses, are impressive. The bridges across the rivers are already up and progress is fast. I reach the hut by 4 o’clock in the afternoon. It is Sunday afternoon and very busy. Haukeliseter, along the main road, is the most frequented DNT-hut in Norway. The main building is rather a hotel, with a big restaurant and souvenir shop. I pick up my third food drop, which should get me across Hardangervidda.
It is good to enjoy the luxury of civilization again (for 1 night). A shower, dry shoes and socks, electricity. And food. After a call home I go to bed. Tomorrow morning I will start the next mesmerizing part of my trip: from south to north across the vast Hardangervidda, in wintry conditions. Europe’s largest mountain plateau. 10000km² of hardcore nothingless. I have passed the first test, but that was only the beginning.
09-10/06/2012: Rest in Adneram Turisthytte
11/06/2012: Adneram Turisthytta – Storevatn (19km, +550/-160, 6h00)
12/06/2012: Storevatn – Breidadalen 1130m (17km, +580/-410, 5h40)
13/06/2012: Breidadalen 1130m – Venaheia (20km, +350/-320, 6h10)
14/06/2012: Venaheia – N-point Kaldevatn (22km +690/-640, 6h40)
15/06/2012: N-point Kaldevatn – Bleskestadmoen (21km, +480/-920, 5h40)
16/06/2012: Bleskestadmoen – Holmavasshytta (15km, +610/-190, 5h20)
17/06/2012: Holmavasshytta – Haukeliseter (17km, +560/-720, 4h40)