I sleep long in Haukeliseter and enjoy a good breakfast with bread, ham, cheese and fresh fruit. The weather has not improved during the night. It is overcast with a cloudbase at around 1500m, which lowers further to about 1250m while I am packing. This is a bit alarming as I have to cross numerous passes up to 1400m today. I expect close to 100% snow cover on higher ground, so orientation could become a problem in bad visibility. The weather forecasts for the coming days are good, however, and I start to hesitate about my planning again. My friend Joris will join me in less than 5 days. As my injury caused me little problems on Setesdalsheiane, I decide to stick to my initial plan and try to reach Finse, a 115km distance and 40 DNT-hours. I will need to give it full gas to make that.
My main concern for the Hardangervidda are the multiple serious rivers I will have to cross. Some summer bridges will probably not be up yet and discharge will be very high because of the snowmelt. Snow bridges and frozen lakes will probably allow me to avoid some wadings, but I am not so sure this will work out for the lower crossings.
A steep climb on a very wet path guides me away from the noisy highway and into the wilderness. I can easily track the summer route towards Hellevassbu during the first few kilometers. This area is more popular than Setesdalsheiane for multi-day hikes, as is attested by the numerous and often very high cairns. While I climb up towards the pass (1350m) west of Vesle Nup (1510m), snow cover increases dramatically and I climb through the cloudbase and into the fog. My compass guides me across and down to the Mannevatn (1238m). I skirt the lake and cross the next pass towards the Holmasjoen. The views on the massive north face of Nupsegga (1673m), one of the most characteristic mountains of the Hardangervidda, are dazzling. My first pair of trailrunners, which I had already used for some hikes at home, start to disintegrate. There is a big hole in the mesh of my left shoe above the toes, an annoying but harmless defect. Annoying because some snow enters my shoe with every step, causing a constantly replenished melting iceball on the inside.
The first and second summer bridges, across the outflows of the Holmasjoen and lake 1260m, are not up yet, but I avoid wading by crossing the lake and a firm snow bridge. In the meantime the cloud base has lifted a bit and I can cross the highest pass of the day (1390m), NW of Armoteggi (1465m), in good visibility. The descent is steep with hip-deep snow. Needless to say I don’t see any other hiker again today (nor tomorrow and the day after tomorrow). On some places on the central Hardangervidda I am probably the only human being in a radius of over 20km. I struggle on towards the Simletindvatnet. The crossing of the Bora river feeding the lake is one of the critical points of the week. I am very happy to find the summer bridge already constructed, although I have a hard time getting down at the other side as the little staircase is rotten.
I continue upstream along the river, which has dug its way through meters of snow. I take a break and think about pitching my tarp (and even already send my SPOT-message), but just when I am about to organize my stuff it starts to rain and I decide to continue to the Hellevassbu cabin anyway, which I reach 45 minutes later. I feels like I am getting addicted to the luxury of the cabins, at least during bad weather. But why not use them when they are there? I pay very little as a youth member of DNT, and there will be enough camping to be done during the next few months. The weather forecasts I have seen this morning predicted clearing skies and a frost for tonight. I decide to wake up very early, at 4am, to make maximal use of the hard morning snow and have a big day tomorrow.
My plan does not work out, however. I sleep terribly bad and set my alarm clock at 6am instead of 4am during the night. But more importantly, it does not clear at all. When I have a pee at 4am the outside thermometer still indicates +1°C, and the snow is still soft. I eventually leave the cabin at 7h30. It is clearing a bit with around freezing temperatures, but it feels incredibly cold due to an icy easterly wind. Although I wear my liner gloves, the cold causes a deep and painful fissure in the skin of my left thumb, which I will eventually struggle with until august. Because of the cold, I do not take any break longer than 5 minutes until I reach Litlos in the early afternoon.
Apart from the cold, the improving weather allows me the fully enjoy the shear extent and remoteness of the southern Hardangervidda for the first time, especially when I climb up the pass (1430m) after passing the Sigridtjørni lake. From the pass, I have a wonderful panorama, and the Harteigen mountain (1690m), by far the most characteristic landscape element on the vast plateaus, comes into view for the first time. I gradually descend towards the abandoned shepherd huts of Sore Belebotnen at the southwestern end of the Kvennsjøen lake. The summer bridge across the narrow but powerful Vetla Kvenno river is not up yet, and I wade across while blocks of melting snow and ice rush by.
Only a few hundred meters further the next major river crossing, the Kvenno, awaits me. Luckily there is a summer bridge here as this is a very powerful river, although I would have been possible to get to the other side on snow bridges. I traverse underneath the Prestkona (1364m) and start the final descent towards the Litlosvatnet. There is another river to cross during this descent. The summer bridge is not there yet, but I find a rather fragile snow bridge to get to the other side. I finally get Litlos, a large staffed hut (though not at this time of the year) at the other side of the lake, in sight. There is one last obstacle however, the Sledalselvi river, the most powerful of the day… and the bridge is not constructed yet. I find a place to ford about 50m upstream of the location of the summer bridge, and although it takes me about 5 minutes, I reach the other side without major problems.
I take a long break out of the wind in the self-service part of the Litlos cabin. While I go to the toilet, tragedy almost happens. I may sound a bit weird, but while peeing, I can never resist having a look through the hole to see the impressive pile of shit below. While I’m doing so, my sunglasses drop from my head and start their fall down to mother earth. I am able to slam them out of their deadly course and against the wall just before they fall through the hole and unite with decades of human waste. Phew! Losing my sunglasses would just immobilize me during sunny weather because of the risk of snow-blindness.
The wind drops and the temperatures lift during the afternoon. It is delightful walking on the route towards Hadlaskard. I have already done this section during a trip in 2006 and it is my favourite route on the Hardangervidda. This section has everything the Hardangervidda is all about: The Hjolken mountain (1428m), guarding the pass north of Litlos like a small Harteigen, the remoteness of the upper Grøno watershed near the Brakanuten hill (1376m), the fierce Grøno river thundering through a small canyon upstream of the magnificent meander at Aremot. The kilometers fly by, and before I know it it’s 6 o’clock. It is a splendid evening and I camp close the river right near Aremot. Despite the difficult terrain this morning, I have covered 28km, and spirits are high to make it to Finse.
The night brings frost, the morning an overcast sky and, a bit unexpected, moderate rain. I wait it out a bit, which is not bad as I now feel it has been a long day yesterday. Eventually the rain stops and I start walking a bit before 10 o’clock. The second part of the trail towards Hadlaskard, downstream along the Grøno river, is a bit less exiting (although that could also be because of the dull weather). It takes me longer than expected to get there. There is a summer bridge across the Veig in Hadlaskard, and as it is a key point for many people on multi-day hikes and because the river is very powerful and dangerous (read: impossible) to cross here, I expect it to be up. But it is not. Some non-publishable swearing follows. I will have to detour along the left bank.
I climb up to Skinfjellet (1238m) with nice views back into the Veig valley. Snow cover here on the Central Hardangervidda is clearly less than the last few days (< 50%). Even at 1200m I can easily track the path. I descend into the Olbogo valley near the shepherd huts of Fogerli, and then follow a vague path north towards the summer bridge across the river near the outflow of the Vatnalivatnet lake. Luckily this bridge is up as the river is more powerful than I expected. I climb across the Nugaugane plateau and finally get the Veig valley into sight again when approaching Viveli. The weather has started to clear and I take a long break enjoying the view.
I descend into the valley sliding down on extensive snowfields. The section downstream along the river is the wettest of the trip so far. Because of the meltwater pulse some sections of the path are entirely flooded, and the parts in between are often deep swamps. I am happy to reach Viveli near the year-round bridge across the river, which here thunders down a series of waterfalls in a shallow ravine. Viveli consists of a series of vacation cabins, but so early in the season there is nobody around yet. I take a long break along the river. It is already nearly 6 o’clock in the evening, but because of the improving weather I am tempted to continue for another 8km a try to see the sun set from the Hallingehaugane (1300m), a rounded summit a few kilometers before reaching the main road at Liseth. It will become a very, very long day of not less than 11 DNT-hours.
The terrain is lower now, however, and progress through the birch forest in the direction of Berastølen swift. But even though I am attentive, I miss a junction and end up on the parking lot at the end of the road climbing up through Holmadalen. There is one parked caravan with a couple enjoying the evening sun. I have to pay for my mistake: an extra section on a very swampy path towards Berastølen, where I pick up the regular DNT-trail again. It is past 19h and I am just knackered. My final goal is not far now, however. I take a last break, scrape together my last energy and climb up the southern slopes of the mountain. The landscape baths in soft evening light. It is a wonderful evening, pity I am so tired. The last twenty minutes towards my bivouac spot on a plain about 100m below the summit are a steep off-trail climb. I arrive well after 8 o’clock in the evening, cook my dinner and and read a bit in my book. At 21h30 I climb up to the summit, very slowly as all my muscles sore. But it was all worth it. The view stretches from Hardangerjøkulen to Harteigen, from Vedalsfossen to Sysenvatnet. The most rewarding evening of the trip so far.
The night brings a good frost. The sun rises earlier every day and when I wake up at 8 o’clock I can just have breakfast in one thin fleece layer. I start to walk about an hour later. After descending to the DNT-trail again, a wet section follows down to Skitsete. Six years ago, I already climbed up this path coming from Liseth, but it is surprising how little I remember of the terrain. Much of the descent is on rock slabs, which are wet and slippery because of the continues meltwater supply from higher on the slopes. I eventually reach the main road and decide to make a detour to see the Vøringsfossen waterfall again, which I regret as soon as I get there. Busloads of tourists are dropped here for half an hour before continuing their drive towards the fjords. It is a harsh confrontation with civilization again and after taking a picture I rush away again.
A maze of gravel roads and paths gets me to the Liseth Pensionat where I take a longer break before continuing. It is warm and sunny and can walk in T-shirt all day long. A wet path with occasional planking gets me to Gryteskarsete, where I start a steep climb to reach the plateaus west of Sysenvatnet. Snow cover at 1100-1200m has increased dramatically again compared to yesterday. On the first section I can follow the traces of a few daytrippers, but when I get further away from the parking lot I have to spot cairns peeping above the snow again. I make good progress and reach the junction with the path towards Finse at the northeastern side of Sysenvatnet in the late afternoon.
The last critical river crossing of the Hardangervidda section is coming up. The Leiro river drains much of the southeastern Hardangerjøkulen ice cap and with the warm weather I expext a lot of water. At the location of the summer bridge, the river flows through a gorge with steep flanks. Although the bridge is not constructed yet, there is a metal bar across the river. But the snowfields to get there are just too steep, and sliding down would mean a fall into the whitewater. I continue upstream until I reach the southern end of a slower, braided section about 500m further. The water is hip-deep in the first channel, and I am relieved to reach the other side. The next week in Skarvheimen has no difficult river crossings, and after that most summer bridges should be up. The hardest wadings of the trip should now be behind me.
The final section of the day up the Leirodalen is one of the most spectacular of the trip so far, with fantastic views on the heavily crevassed Vestra and Austra Leirbottskaka glaciers. Endless, deep snowfields make me start to feel the fatigue again, however, and at the Skaltjørna lake (1136m) I call it a day. I am happy about my progress the last few days. It is another 14km to Finse, where I should arrive tomorrow before noon to catch a train to Geilo, arrange my next food drops and then get back to Finse in the evening when Joris will arrive. I want to take no risks on the timing and set my alarm clock at 5am.
After three very long days on highly demanding terrain, such a short night is too little for full recuperation. Happy it is only a short stage today. I have wet feet from the very start as I stumble into the water while trying to cross the inflow of the Skaltjørna lake by hopping from boulder to boulder. A steep climb to lake 1360m follows. The snow is a nightmare today. It has been freezing a bit tonight, but not enough to form an ice crust sufficiently strong to support my weight. I crash through up to my knees every step, kilometer after kilometer. I don’t take a lot of breaks though. It is becoming overcast with a rapidly increasing easterly wind. The lack of color in a >90% white landscape makes the scenery less interesting than yesterday, my mind is set on getting to Finse as fast as I can.
Because of my long walking days, I have not been able to wash myself or any clothes during the last 5 days and I stink like a swine. I make it to the town at 10h30 in the morning. All my hope for a shower was on the Finsehytta, a very large staffed DNT-hut, but it is still closed (although I find an open door at the back side) and the water locked for winter. The Finse1212 hotel has not opened yet either, but a girl is arranging some stuff at the entrance. When I ask here, she says it is impossible to take a shower there and I just go to the train station to wait to get to Geilo… But 5 minutes later she comes back with the key of her own apartment 50m higher on the hill! The only 2 other people I see in Finse pass by on a snowscooter… and when the train arrives people get out with skies. I have a very satisfied feeling while the train rolls down into the green valley. The first long solo stretch through the snowy mountains of southern Norway has been completed, I am on my planning again after my injury, and the next few weeks, during which I have company, sure will fly by. More snow is on the program for the high plateaus of Skarvheimen, but then summer conditions should start to kick. It just feels like the gates to the north start to open.
18/06/2012: Haukeliseter – Hellevassbu (21km, +770/-580, 5h40)
19/06/2012: Hellevassbu – Aremot (28km, +700/-700, 7h50)
20/06/2012: Aremot – Hallingehaugane (31km, +950/-900, 8h05)
21/06/2012: Hallingehaugane – Skaltjørna (27km, +900/-830, 7h55)
22/06/2012: Skaltjørna – Finse (14km, +330/-250, 4h00)