I have the first major logistic stop of my journey in Geilo. Besides buying food for the next 5-day stretch to Breistølen, I also send food drops forward to Breistølen and Sognefjellhytta. This will allow me to stay in the mountains again for over two weeks without having to worry about resupply. The cashier at the local Rimi supermarket has big laugh every time I buy my next batch of muesli, cookies and pasta, which I then stow in a cardboard box and carry to the post office. After a few hours I am finished and spend the last few hours before catching my train back to Finse posting a blog update in a hotel and enjoying a hamburger in the gasoline station.
At 8 o’clock in the evening I take the train back to Finse and meet Joris, who has traveled from Belgium today, in one of the wagons. I guess he gets a bit nervous when seeing all the snow on the way up. It is already late in the evening and because of the close to 100% snow cover there is virtually no opportunity to camp near the village. When it starts to rain, our decision is made: we walk towards the Finsehytta and enter through the open back door I have found this morning. We pay for a beer (which turns out to be alcohol-free) and our overnight stay by leaving cash money and a little note at the reception.
After the long days on the Hardangervidda, the plan is to take it easy on the Skarvheimen plateaus. I feel my body could use some shorter stages and Joris has to adapt to the walking and the snow. When we leave from Finse it is still overcast with regular drizzle. One of the highest passes of the trip (1660m) is on the menu today to cross towards Geiterygghytta. It will be no surprise to read we walk on snow nearly all day, with little views because of the low cloudbase. As we approach the Klemsbu shelter, it starts to rain moderately with grueling gale force winds from the east. We stumble into the hut for shelter, but only the porch is open to hikers. The inside thermometer indicates +2°C, but still it is a relief to take a break out of rain and wind.
During the descend towards the partly frozen Omnsvatnet lake nice views towards Vargebreen and the dramatic Satedalen start to open up. Unfortunately it starts to rain again while we skirt along the Bakkahellertjørnane lake and eventually get the large, staffed Geiterygghytta, which is situated along the old road towards Aurlandsdalen (now a dirt track), in sight. The summer season has started last weekend and because of the foul weather we decide to sleep inside again, although we have to do our cooking outside. There are 4 more guests; a group of 3 international students and Fridun, a doctor originally from Harstad but now working in Voss for a year. We have a nice chat and she has a lot of tips for Joris when he is going on honeymoon sailing around the Lofoten Islands in September.
Fridun joins us for a few kilometers the following morning until we reach the junction between the paths into Aurlandsdalen (where she is going) and the trail towards Kongshelleren (our goal for today). We cross the pass east of Bolhovd, a characteristic peak which is indicated in my planning as a possible climb. Unfortunately it is still overcast with some slight showers drifting in from the south. Hence, after a short break we continue our traverse on the northern slopes of the Bolhovskarvet, a stretch with wide views north towards the more rugged mountains along the Aurlandsfjord.
The weather detoriates during the early afternoon with regular rain showers. As there is no wind at all, thaw mist drifts over the snowfields and makes the landscape a fairytale scenery. After skirting along the southern shore of the frozen lake 1458m we reach the Langavatnet (1448m). The outflow of lake 1458m is still covered by snow and we end up with water up to our knees as we crash through at one point. Fortunately, the river is slow and has a low discharge, so the situation is not at all dangerous and we just have a good laugh.
After walking up along the western shore of the Langavatnet we get the Kongshelleren cabin in sight. Without having talked about this, I think at this point we had already both decided to sleep inside tonight. It would have been hard to find a good bivouac spot at this altitude anyway – not only because of the extensive snow cover, but also because the surface below mostly consists of very rocky and/or wet tundra. The summer bridge across the outflow of the lake right next to the hut is already up, but the river is clearly more powerful than in summer because of all the meltwater – half of the river has to be crossed on fragile snow bridges before. It has been a short stage and we make it to the hut relatively early. A bit before sunset some bright spells lit the sky in a dramatic mix of pink and orange – a splendid view to go to sleep with.
The weather has cleared a bit the next morning. It is still mostly cloudy, but the cloudbase has lifted way above the mountains. The first 6km of the day consist of a walk along the shores of the Kongshellervatnet and Volavatnet lakes. The slopes are mostly south-facing, and the terrain is a mix of long snowfields and meltwater-soaked tundra again. From the pass east of the latter lake, a massive views into the Iungsdalen opens up. The terrain is clearly getting more rugged – this is really the transition zone between the plateaus of the Hardangervidda and the dramatic mountain scenery of Jotunheimen we will reach in a few days.
Snow cover gradually decreases when we descend into the valley. After a last rain shower the weather finally really starts to clear and by the time we are all the way down we walk in t-shirt. Some swearing again when we reach the summer bridge across the Iungsdalselva, however. The framework of the very high and robust bridge is up, but the planking to walk across is not. I wade the river to the other side, but Joris is not so enthusiastic about this option, constructs the whole thing himself, and reaches the left bank with dry feet and a big grin on his face. We walk the last kilometer towards the Iungsdalshytta. The hut opens in a few days, but the staff is already there doing some preparations; we buy a coke which we drink outside in the sunshine. Swallows swarm around the hut and the bottom of the roof is lined with nests. In Belgium, there is a saying ‘one swallow does not make spring’, but here even an entire swam clearly does not – it has been freezing mosts nights during the past two weeks.
As we climb into the Fødalen valley, we are immediately marveled but the sheer beauty of the place. The crystal clear river meanders from the one powerful waterfall to the next, and cliffs rise nearly vertically from the valley floor, where snowfields glister in the fierce summer sunshine. Meltwater cascades down the steep western flanks. This is really what Norway should look like at the verge of summer. When we climb up towards the Klevavatnet, the views get ever more impressive. We choose a bivouac spot near the lake and climb up the Klevahovda (1342m) in the evening to absorb the overwhelming scenery.
Unfortunately, the weather has deteriorated again by the next morning. It is overcast with a stiff breeze from the southeast. The cloudbase is still above the mountaintops, which is not bad as we has to cross numerous high passes (up to 1700m) today – it is in fact the highest stage of my entire Scandinavia traverse. We immediately start with a steep traverse above the Klevavatnet lake, and subsequently climb up the steep southern slopes (which are luckily mostly devoid of snow) of Helvetet. There is mobile phone coverage and we have a short break to check the weather forecasts. Looks very good for the next two days, but a bit dubious for today. The intentions of mother nature become clear only seconds later when it starts to rain and the cloudbase plummets.
We quickly descend towards the Trollbotn lake and climb up a very steep slope towards Jutultjørne (1500m). From this point on, we walk in a grey cocoon – the conditions are close to whiteout. With full concentration and altimeter and compass close at hand we slowly progress along the Valevatnet and climb all the way up to the pass south of Skavlevatnet (1700m). Every now and then, a cairn peeping above the snow reassures us we are still on track. It is a relief though when the visibility suddenly improves a bit on the next descent and we see a glimpse of the Ovre Bjordalsvatnet lake. We walk the shoreline and cross the outflow of the lake on some kind of imaginary snowbridge as it starts to rain moderately. The Bjordalsbu cabin and its warm stove are waiting for us though. The weather remains unchanged and we call it a day.
Later in the evening a group of three, two fierce Norwegians and a German desperately trying follow them, joins us. One of the Norwegian guys turns out to be a madman who has nearly made it to the Guiness Book of Records a few years ago when trying to climb all Europe’s 48 highest points in less than 4 months. After having climbed 47 in a record-breaking time, he eventually had to give up 150m below the summit of the extremely difficult Shkhara (5068m), the roof of Georgia.
As promised, the weather has cleared by the next morning, although some low clouds still drift through the valleys. I quickly climb up the Ruskussogen (1693m) near the hut, a summit offering nice views on the lake and the endless Skarvheimen plateaus. We eventually leave a bit before the Norwegians. It is nice walking in the snow, which has become a bit harder tonight because of eradiation under the clearing skies. When we reach a small col east of point 1581m near the Nedre Bjordalsvatnet, an impressive view north opens up, and the dents op Jotunheimen loom for the first time in the distance.
A descend on snowfields, boulders and finally easy tundra terrain guides us down towards the Starsjøen lake, where we have some problems crossing the various inflows of the lake by either crossing fragile snow bridges, trying to jump across or hopping from boulder to boulder. Once across an unimportant pass at the northern side of the lake, we start the long descend towards the main road. As we descend, the colour of the tundra changes from brown to green and we spend some time looking for our first reindeer. It hasn’t been a successful trip from a wildlife point of view yet – apart from some snow grouse and a deer in extreme southern Norway nothing notable yet. Not even a lemming. Last year apparently was the peak year of the lemming cycle with the tundra buzzing with activity. I will not see one single living lemming during my entire trip, just like on all my previous walks in Scandinavia.
We eventually reach the private hut of Breistølen, where I pick up my next food drop. After a break along the main road to organize my stuff a bit we continue north, climbing up the slopes of the Mørkedalen with great views down the valley. We veer around the summit of Søre Kluftenosi and gain the pass southeast of Nordre Kluftenosi. As the weather is so nice, we decide to push on a bit, for which we are rewarded with splendid views back on the steep eastern slopes of this mountain, consisting of meltwater-flooded rock slabs glistering in the sunshine. We finally spot our first reindeer and find a bivouac spot underneath the massive east face of Masseringsnosi (1742m). I hesitate a bit to attempt climbing the peak in the evening via the north ridge, but it has been a long day already and it’s still a 2km one-way walk to reach the base of the ridge, so I eventually decide to stay. As soon as the sun disappears behind the mountains, it gets colder and we flee into our sleeping bags.
Under a clear sky and with no wind it gets very cold during the night (the temperature drops to -4°C in a nearby weather station). Our bivouac spot has an unobscured view towards the east, however, and the sunshine makes it a sauna inside as early as 7am. During breakfast we suddenly notice a very large reindeer herd on the slopes at the other side of the valley. We will see many more reindeer throughout the day.
We quickly reach the Masseringstjørni lake, of which we have to cross the outflow because of the steep slopes of Masseringsnosi dropping right into the lake. As this looks like a nasty crossing again, we just walk across the lake on solid ice shelves. A bit upstream of the lake, we have cross the same stream again and this time I manage to get very wet when trying to jump across. Luckily it is one of the finest days of the entire summer – sunny and warm – and I don’t mind too much walking with soaked feet for some time.
We gradually climb up the west slopes of the Sulefjellet until we reach the Suleskaret pass (1500m). The Suletinden (1780m) dominates this col and with this weather the peak just looks to inviting to bypass. We leave our bags, traverse the south face and finally gain the summit without too much problems via the western ridge. The views are astounding. The entire Jotunheimen mountains, with the impressive Hurrungane range and all the famous summits like Galdhøppigen (Scandinavia’s highest mountain), Glittertind and Knutsholstind suddenly are surprisingly closeby. And then there is of course also an endless view back all the way to the Hallingskarvet plateaus. We enjoy the views for an hour or so and then boulder-hop and snow-slide down to the pass again.
After a steep descend towards the Ovre Sulevatnet lake we push on towards the Sulebu cabin, spotting many reindeer again on the way. We take a break next to the main hut and are joined by an elderly couple (75+!) while doing so. The man is very interested in my walk and you can see the memories pass through his eyes with every place I name. He has been in Haukeliseter )at the southern edge of Hardangervidda) for the first time in 1943 and walked virtually every mountain in Southern Norway ever since.
After a nice chat we continue our descent into the valley and towards the Otrøvatnet. Snow cover is clearly decreasing now, even at 1300m it is less than 50%. Down in the valley it is warm summer weather. We make a little detour towards the Nystuen hotel in search for a shower (Joris is travelling back tomorrow evening and would like one… and I wouldn’t care either), but everything is closed. We walk the road for some kilometers towards the hamlet of St-Thomaskyrkja, where the path further north towards Jotunheimen climbs out of the valley. According to some signs along the road, there should also be a lodge here – but we find nothing. There is a tap next to the church however and I wash my hair and upper body, Joris decides to jump into a lake this evening instead.
A very steep climb guides us up a side valley – but we end up on a path at the wrong side of it and have to traverse back towards the DNT-route through thick bush, an energy-consuming detour at the end of a long day. Eventually we reach the Kyrkjeskardtjørne lake (1213m) and call it a day. Joris enthusiasm for a wash dampens when he sees ice drifting across the lake… but he still does it! Respect. It is a splendid evening and I climb up the Kyrkjenøse (1308m) near our camp to enjoy one of the finest sunsets of the trip.
As predicted, the weather quickly deteriorates during the night and we wake up with lashing rain. There is not a lot of choise today, however: Joris has to catch a bus this evening 16km up the trail near the western tip of Lake Tyin, and Elien will arrive at the same moment. We pack our stuff and start a soaked walk. I take only one picture today.
To make matters worse, the cloudbase suddenly descends when we reach the western side of the Slettningen lake. It will become the most difficult walking day of the entire trip with close-to-zero visibility; we do not find many cairns (still mostly buried by snow) and rely on compass and altimeter to find our way northeast along the Austrefjordtjerne and towards the Ovre Ardalsvatnet. We follow the shore of this lake until we reach the Slettningsbu cabin at two o’clock in the afternoon. It is 7 more hours until the bus comes, with only 4km still to cover. We take a long break in the hut and eat pancakes and fruit salad. When we leave the hut again hours later, the weather still hasn’t changed half a millimeter.
We hope to descend below the cloudbase on our way to the valley floor, but that never happens. Elien sends us messages the bus is over half an hour late because of foul weather near Oslo and Joris has quite some stress and even considers hitchhiking as he has a 10-minute change in Ovre Ardal. Pity there is nearly no traffic, and the few cars passing by only spot us 10 meters before rushing along. Miraculously, the clouds lift a bit just when the bus arrives. Elien jumps out, Joris jumps in and the bus speeds down the valley where he will eventually be just in time to get back to Oslo. The mist falls down again and we camp right next to the road, enjoying a bottle of wine and some patato chips Elien has brought before going to bed. It is good to see each other again here, right at the planned location. The jagged peaks of Jotunheimen do not feel to inviting in this kind of weather, but they pull on us like a magnet. One of the most dramatic bits of Scandinavia is coming up.
23/06/2012: Finse – Geiterygghytta (14km, +490/-490, 5h00)
24/06/2012: Geiterygghytta – Kongshelleren (12km, +320/-90, 4h00)
25/06/2012: Kongshelleren – Klevavatnet (19km, +300/-480, 5h45)
26/06/2012: Klevavatnet – Bjordalsbu (13km, +600/-300, 4h30)
27/06/2012: Bjordalsbu – Masseringsjørni (20km, +510/-700, 6h10)
28/06/2012: Masseringstjørni – Kyrkjeskardtjørne (26km, +990/-1160, 7h30)
29/06/2012: Kyrkjeskardtjørne – Tyin (16km, +230/-360, 5h40)