Day 36-40: The Lesja fiasco

During a 4-month trip, some sections are better than you could ever have imagined. But there are also days which are utterly disappointing. This could be because the landscape is less interesting than you expected, because of foul weather, or because of small, unexpected problems. It’s the kind of days you know there will be some of, but the problems causing them feel trivial and at the next dawn you have already forgotten about them. But when a more serious problem, like a physical injury, lasts for many days, you lose the flow of the journey and soon feel desperation. That is exactly what happened during the Reinheimen crossing. Just hearing of writing the name of the place where it all happened still makes me feel sick. It was in the town with the pitiful name of Lesja.

Things don’t look bad though when we leave Bismo. We have just completed a splendid Jotunheimen/Breheimen crossing, finished some logistics (sending forward next food drops) without any problems, and the warm summer weather is still holding. Spirits are high. Sweating like horses and plagued by hordes of flies, we climb up a steep trail through pine forest to climb onto the plateaus of eastern Reinheimen. Reinheimen is a recently established National Park (2006) which encompasses an amazing variety of landscapes – from the steep granite walls, fjords and glaciers of Tafjordfjella in the west to vast tundra plateaus with rounded hills in the east. As the name suggests, the park is home to some of the largest wild reindeer herds in Scandinavia. We will cross the eastern half of Reinheimen in a nearly straight line from south to north to end up near the village of Lesjakog, where we will then veer northeast into Dovrefjell.

Junction of the paths towards Aursjoen and Nysaeter

Junction of the paths towards Aursjoen and Nysaeter

Climbing up the Reinheimen plateau on a vague trail

Climbing up the Reinheimen plateau on a vague trail

Around the tree line the path bifurcates. The main trail continues towards the Aursjoen lake, what remains for us on the way to Nysaeter (a hamlet in the Lordalen valley) is not more than a goat track through the brush with occasional blue markings. There are no DNT-trails in this part of Reinheimen, so we are condemned to local trails of dubious quality. In the meantime it has become overcast with a rapidly lowering cloudbase. As we near the Svarthovden hill (1229m) we are engulfed by fog and orientation gets hard because of the lack of an easy-to-follow route. We call it a day.

Slight rain falls during most of the night. In the morning the rain stops, but the cloudbase remains below our bivouac spot. We get going anyway and helped by compass and altimeter we find our way north until we start the traverse on the west slopes of Horrungen. The trail remains vague with only a huge cairn every 100m, but that is too little in the dense fog. While we traverse towards the Vesle-Utla stream, the clouds start to lift and orientation becomes easy. After a good hour we reach the Stor-Utla stream. The river is pretty powerful and crossing it involves some serious wading.

The Aursjoen lake as seen from near Svarthovden

The Aursjoen lake as seen from near Svarthovden

The Stor-Utla river on the Reinheimen plateau

The Stor-Utla river on the Reinheimen plateau

At the other side the quality of the trail suddenly improves, and the rest of the day is an easy stroll on tundra terrain. We skirt along the Jehanstjønne and descend towards the large Fellingvatnet lake. Once again we do not cross any other hiker. My ‘other-hiker-counter’ since Lindesnes is still only at around 20, plus some daytrippers near Sognefjellhytta. Although most of the walk is at an altitude of about 1300m, we hardly encounter any snowfields in Reinheimen – and that will also be the trend for Døvrefjell. After a full month through snow and along frozen lakes, the tundra is finally in its summer dress.

Climbing up towards Jehanstjønne

Climbing up towards Jehanstjønne

The Lordalen valley as seen during the descent towards Nysaeter

The Lordalen valley as seen during the descent towards Nysaeter

After crossing a last plateau we start the descent into the Lordalen valley. It has been fair weather for most of the day, but now the cloudbase starts to come down again. We know from the weather forecast tomorrow will be a bad day with rain. As the second part of our intended Reinheimen walk crosses the vast Digervarden plateau at an altitude of over 1600m, probably with extensive snow cover, we decide to walk northeast through the Lordalen instead. A long section on a gravel road, but one we can do in any kind of weather. But there is more. During the descent towards the Nysaeter hamlet in the valley, Elien’s knee starts to hurt. We cover three more kilometers on the gravel road before finding a bivouac spot right next to a vacation cabin.

The Lora river in Lordalen

The Lora river in Lordalen

Camping near a vacation cabin in Lordalen

Camping near a vacation cabin in Lordalen

The next day it soon starts to rain with a very low cloudbase at only 900-1000m. It is a boring day, on which we cover 18km on the gravel road through the forest. But hey, we are happy not to be on the plateaus right now! Elien’s knee does not get any better. She is in serious pain for most of the walk and we start feeling anxious. Continuing like this is clearly not an option. We are happy to reach the buzy main road through the Gudbrandsdalen, go shopping in the local supermarket in Lora, and then hitchhike to Lesjakog where I know there is a camping called ‘Lesjakogvatnet camping’. We rent a cabin to have some more comfort. The friendly, old camping manager allows me to use his computer for two hours and I post a blog update with some pictures.

We take a day off. I do some gear maintenance in the morning (seam sealing of my rain pants and my drybag, which both start to leak a bit). In the afternoon, we try to hitchhike down the spectacular Romsdalen valley, which comprises the highest vertical granite walls in Europe – about 1700m! Hitchhiking is not easy in Norway. It takes us almost two hours to get a drive, and we are lucky to have an Estonian guy willing to drive us back up in the evening. Although the valley is spectacular, it all feels like killing time and trying to forget about our serious problem. Will we be able to continue hiking, or will this be the end of the transscandinavian dream? My schedule is pretty tight and I won’t be able to catch up again on the solo sections if we lose several days. Before leaving, I knew all too well things like this could happen – it happened to me after one week in Suleskard and now it happens to Elien. Still I feel stressed. Although it try to reassure her we can just do something else if it doesn’t get better, she feels incredibly bad about the whole situation and ‘ruining’ my dream.

Rest day at Lesjakogvatnet camping

Rest day at Lesjakogvatnet camping

Now I have to tell you that after over a month in the mountains and hardly encountering other people, just being in a buzy valley and doing nothing is harder than it sounds. I feel the noise, the traffic and the people make me feel uncomfortable and nervous, and my body just wants to get going again. It is amazing how quickly the thrill of the previous weeks is gone and the civilization, combined with our problems, give me a helpless and depressed feeling.

The next day brings some slight improvement and Elien decides to get going again in the afternoon. We try to hitchhike back to Lora to continue our walk, but after two hours of huge trucks rushing by and boring mobilehome-tourists brainlessly staring at us, we give up and cook dinner in the camping kitchen. Eventually we take the bus at 18h30 in the evening. Before even letting us in, the bus driver asks us whether we have money to pay.

Frustrated with everything called ‘civilization’ we finally start walking again, six boring and noisy kilometers along the highway towards the town of Lesja. Luckily there is a seperate bike lane. In Lesja there should be a dirt track climbing away from this shitty valley, onto the plateau and towards the Skamsdalen in Døvrefjell. We wish only one thing and that is getting away from the trucks, the noise, the staring people and everything with a name starting with Lesja. But Murphy is not done with us yet.

Our 1/100000 Turkart is not too clear where the dirt track exactly starts. We ask a few people, and run back and forth several kilometers along the highway because of their different advices. More trucks, more noise, more ugly farm buildings, more frustration. Somehow we eventually end up in the Lesja train station, and I collapse. The desperation and the feeling of being trapped in this horrible place have defeated me and I cannot stop crying. I want only one thing and that is being back in the placidity of the mountains, and never have to get down into any valley again. Now it is Elien who has to cheer my up again. We eventually choose for the safest option to just get out of here today, and that option is to follow the highway for three more kilometers towards the east, and then climb out of the valley onto the Baklihaugen plateau. This also means we condemn ourselves to 20 more kilometers of gravel roads before we will reach the Skamsdalen valley, but honestly, we don’t give a shit.

Elien’s knee doesn’t feel great yet, but our smile gets wider with every step as the sound of the valley dies away. It is midnight by the time we reach the plateau, and in the twilight we pitch the tent right next to the gravel road. But we are out of Lesja. Never to come back.

Stages:
07/07/2012: Bismo – Svarthovden (11km, +840/-40, 3h30)
08/07/2012: Svarthoven – Lostølen (19km, +280/-560, 5h25)
09/07/2012: Lostølen – Lora (19km, +80/-400, 4h10)
10/07/2012: Rest day Lesjakogvatnet camping
11/07/2012: Lora – Baklihaugen (16km, +420/-80, 4h10)

Map Bismo - Lesja

Map Bismo – Lesja

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