If you were to ask me now what the very best part of my trip was, I wouldn’t hesitate too long. It’s hard to describe the flow I’m in after over two months on the trail, a flow where everything except the most primary things feel absolutely trivial. The only things that really matter are eating, sleeping and walking. It’s a flow where you never look ahead more than one day. Then there is also the physical aspect: my shape is better than it ever has been, and I have the feeling I can just do what I want without ever getting tired. The combination of both makes for a dangerous but addictive feeling of youthful invulnerability. It makes me feel one with my environment; the mountains, the grazing reindeer and shifting weather. It gives me a pure and overwhelming feeling of happiness. It makes me feel complete. Despite all the astounding moments I’ve experienced in the mountains, this is a feeling of another level which doesn’t occur to me too often. The last time was during an evening climb on the Pic Sacroux in the Pyrenees in 2010. And now it happened again, in the Børgefjell National Park, the gateway to the mountains of Northern Norway.
But first I have to make it to Børgefjell! And that soon proves to be a challenging undertaking. After the splendid evening, the weather has changed during the night along the Luru river. It is now overcast with some drizzle every now and then. Swarms of mosquitos buzz around my head. The day starts with a serious off-trail sections through pine forest and deep swamps. I ford the Medalaa river and then find connection to a series of old tractor tracks, which guide me northeast for a few kilometers up the southern slopes of Gusliklumpen.
The main course for today is waiting. I have to cross the Gusliklumpen plateau and descend into the Sanddalen valley, a long off-trail section. I don’t have a good day and experience the next few hours, through horrible terrain, as some of the hardest of the entire trip. First I struggle up the hill through thick forest en brush, with difficult navigation. Once I’m finally above the treeline I notice I am too far west on the hill. I traverse back to my intended route, and then fight my way further up through brush and peat. It feels like I am not making any progress. I’ve walked for over three hours when I finally reach the summit of Oystre Gusliklumpen (631m).
The terrain doesn’t get any better on the descent into the Sanddalen, but now at least the topography is helping me a bit and I make it down easily. I find connection to a gravel road, which I follow upstream for a few kilometers until I reach a bridge across the river. On the other side I leave the road again and climb up the steep flank of the valley on another gravel road, which I follow for nearly two boring hours through the forest. I finally reach the old farm buildings of Berg, the trailhead of the DNT-trail towards Skorovatn. Two pickups, probably of fishermen, are parked on the small parking lot. I feel my body is nearly done for today. I continue climbing through the pine forest for about half an hour until I reach a plateau (440m) near the confluence of a few streams, south of the Bergfjellet (571m) hill. It a mosquito paradise, but I don’t have the energy left to climb above the treeline.
The DNT-trail towards Skorovatn is a typical one for Central Norway: it is cross-country walking between some occasional markings rather than hiking a real trail. I climb above the treeline near the Tjønnrølet lake and the terrain gradually becomes easier after that as I climb further up the Skardfjellet and the vegetation becomes more scarce. After some rolling terrain east of the Skardfjellvatnet I get the large Reinsjøen lake within view around noon. As the lake’s name predicted I spot a solitary male bull with a huge antler near the southern shore.
My mood makes a dip when it starts to rain, rain which persists for most of the afternoon. The terrain also becomes less enjoyable while I descend towards the Midtre Nesavatnet and the tundra makes way for long bushwhacking sections. I take a short break at a cabin near the lake, then continue up towards the Kroktjønna, where I reach the junction with another trail. I opt for the shortest way towards Skorovatn. After a steep, short climb away from the lake I reach the tundra level again and progress towards the Gruvfjellet becomes easy. After crossing the plateau I stop near a group of lakes just before starting the final descent into the town. It’s a bit after five o’clock in the afternoon when I arrive and the weather starts to clear. The view from my bivouac spot makes me a bit emotional: the vast Tunnsjøen lake, the first of a series of large lakes, lays at my feet bathing in the evening sun. It will mark the start of a new episode in my trip: the episode in which I will combine hiking with packrafting.
The conditions are just perfect the following morning: clear skies and a tiny bit of wind from the west. I wake up early and start hiking a bit after seven in the morning. My plan is to make maximum use of the conditions and have a really big day. I descend to the still sleeping town of Skorovatn and start following the asphalt road towards the Tunnsjøen lake. As I want to cross both the Tunnsjøen and the Limingen lakes today by packraft, I decide to continue walking along the quiet road for a few more kilometers and put in near the Tunnsjøenelv bridge instead of near the Stallvika farms (which I initially planned). That makes my flatwater packrafting distance for today 22km instead of 27km, which could have been a bit too much for a first day.
I inflate my raft on the Jakopsundet lake, a western branch of the Tunnsjøen. It is a brilliant, sunny day and I paddle in t-shirt. When I near the Tunnsjøenelv bridge, I feel my progress becomes very slow and I have to fight to make it to the bridge. Below me, cristal clear water races by in a channel at least 5m deep! I have not studies my maps thouroughly, and have just tried to paddle against the outflow of the entire Tunnsjøen lake! I feel ridiculous when I take out and start walking along the road again with my packraft strapped to my shoulder. Continuing on the outflow like this, it would clearly take some time to cover the last few hundred meters towards the lake!
I walk for a kilometer until I reach the Tunnsjøen near a group of vacation cabins. And that is the real start of the packrafting: a 15km flatwater section along the northwestern shore of the lake. In intensely enjoy my sunny day on the water and enjoy the surroundings from a new perspective. Pine forests, gravel beaches, a horizon with snow-capped mountains and the small, bowler hat like island of Gudfjelløya in the middle of the lake, its summit rising nearly 500m above the water level, are my scenery for the day. Every now and then I pass a farm building, where cows curiously stare at that tiny yellow boat passing by. One bull chases me on the shore.
Around 4 o’clock I reach the northern tip of the lake. I pack my raft, take a break to eat and drink, then continue walking on the asphalt road towards the Limingen lake. It’s a 9km section, but I don’t care too much. Hardly any car passes by on the entire stretch and the views on the nearby mountains, their summits rising up to a bit over 1000m, are pretty enough not to get bored. I inflate my raft again when I reach the western tip of the lake near Gjersvika. It is already well past six in the evening when I start a 7km evening raft across the Limingen lake.
I becomes one of the finest evenings of the entire trip. The wind drops entirely and the lake, measuring 25km along its axis, becomes flat like a mirror. Every stroke brings me closer to delirium. Knowing this moment is unique, I take my time for the crossing, and remember I’m almost disappointed when I finally reach the Sagvika farm, just 2km short of Røyrvik, in the evening hours. It is still warm in the sun and I have a wash in the lake to finish the day. I’ve been on the road for well over 12 hours and covered a dazzling 41km. The coolest of this all is that I’ve almost done a double stage today… which will allow me to have some extra time in the mountains!
It gets cool (+2°C) during the night, but when I wake up the sun is already high in a perfectly clear sky. I cover the last kilometers to Røyrvik, where I am happy to find a Joker supermarket (which saves me a frustrating hitchhiking day). I buy supplies for the 4-day stretch through Børgefjell, plus an entire bag of fruit and yoghurt which I all eat in front of the shop before continuing. I subsequently walk 2km of asphalt road until I reach the bridge across Hovden, the southern outlet of the Vektaren lake. I inflate my packraft and cross the lake from south to north (5km). After taking out I continue walking for another one hour and a half along another quiet asphalt road until I reach the harbor of the Namsvatnet lake.
From this little harbor, there is a regular boat service across the lake towards the Børgefjell National Park. But I spot something else: a little building in the harbor is open to visitors… and after a short inspections, I am happy to find a shower inside. I don’t hesitate to have a good wash (first shower in 10 days), and also use the electricity sockets to recharge my camera batteries and phone for an hour. It’s already nearing 4 o’clock when I finally start crossing the lake by packraft.
Some slight showers are active around the lake and a headwind from the northwest, causing small breaking waves, has picked up while I cross. I paddle as hard as I can to win the fight, and beach my raft near a cabin about 100m east of the lake’s dam. A couple is renovating the entire building. They invite me in for a cup of tea and some cake. The man knows the area very well and we go through my plans together. He discourages me to try rafting the Namsen river downstream of the dam because of very low water levels. We work out an alternative route along the Karivatnan and Sjurtjønnin lakes to climb into Børgefjell.
I follow the river downstream along a jeep track up to Kanflyen, and then climb up a very faint trace through thick brush until I reach the Karivatnan lakes. The stream connecting both lakes makes for a good wade. The terrain gradually eases when I climb further up through birch forest towards the Sjurtjønnin lakes. It is already half past seven in the evening and the retrospective views in the soft evening sunlight are stunning. I continue climbing up until I reach the western tip of a small lake (699m) above the treeline, where I pick a bivouac spot at the western tip of the lake. Two fishermen from Trondheim pass by in the evening and tell me about the bad fishing conditions this year. Because of the cold weather in july the water is colder than normal, which apparently is very bad for the appetite of the fish. The evening brings some dramatic skies. I’m in a good mood. Tomorrow, I’ll be in the real mountains again. Unless most hikers staying in the less mountaineous eastern part of Børgefjell, I’ll try a 3-day off-trail crossing of the seldom visited western mountain ranges, which should offer the most dramatic scenery of the entire National Park.
After all these fine days I wake up with rain again the following morning. I make the best of it by sleeping long and reading a bit in my book. By noon it gets dry and I decide to leave. After a short climb I reach the Gyojnedhsealma pass. A traverse on slippery rock slabs high above the Bleikarvatnet follows, and after crossing a second pass I descend towards the large Jengelskardvatnet lake. There is a good breeze from the northwest, but I decide to inflate my packraft anyway and fighting agains the crosswinds I make it to the other side of the lake. I portage the outflow for a few hundred meters and then continue rafting the length of the Langvatnet lake. By the time I reach the northern tip of this lake the weather has suddenly started to clear.
I pack my raft again and start climbing in a northeastward direction along the Kyllingen lakes and towards the pass north of Store Kjukkelfjellet (1030m). From this pass, a massive view east on the immense Tjohkelenjabke plateau, infested by swamps, small lakes and probably mosquitos, opens up. The views keep improving as I cross towards the Vajavatnet lake via a little-known ledge. The mountain scenery is now dense and wild, with the Vajavatnet to a large extent still covered with ice and with small glaciers draping the eastern slopes of Gaksfjellet. I have to wade across the outflow of the lake, and then steeply climb on rocky terrain in a N-NNE-direction to the pass separating points 1225m and 1219m.
I leave my bag on the pass and climb up the latter summit, which dominates the Tjohkelenjabke plateau and all its water. But even more impressive, and presumably even one of the finest views I’ve ever seen in Scandinavia, is the view north through the Bissiedurrie valley. The large Nordre and Søre Bisseggvatnet lakes, connected by a river serpenting its way through the valley, rest deep in an impressive mountain scenery of glacier remnant, scattered snowfields and rugged mountains, the highest summits enveloped by clouds. It’s the view which I still automatically associate with the name Børgefjell. The mountain scenery in this little known National Park is much more wild than I had imagined.
I stay on the top for quite a while before descending back to the pass, picking up my pack and then sliding down a series of steep snowfields towards the Søre Bisseggvatnet lake. A large herd of wild reindeer races by on the way. I walk towards the northern tip of the lake, wade the powerful inflow and find a place to camp right at the other side. Because of my late start it is already near 8 o’clock in the evening when I get there. I cook, continue reading a bit and go to sleep.
I have put my alarm clock early the following morning, but when I wake up at 6 o’clock it is calm weather with a very low cloudbase, so I continue sleeping a bit. By 8 o’clock the weather has changed dramatically: the clouds break and makes way for a perfectly clear sky. I start packing as fast as I can: I have a dream today and that dream is to climb Kvigtinden (1699m), the highest mountain in Børgefjell. Its summit is less than three hours of walking away!
Not a single cloud remains when I start hiking. It looks like it’s going to be an extraordinarily fine day. I climb up towards the Kvigvatnet lake (1090m) through increasingly rough and rocky terrain. I then have to traverse the slopes above the frozen lake to be able to climb towards the pass (1250m) northwest of the Kvigtinden summit. But most of this traverse above is still covered by an extensive snowfields, which is icy and hard like bone because of the overnight frost. The slope is about 25-30°. At a certain point I cannot progress any further because I would just slide down into the lake. I don’t have crampons nor an ice axe, but I work out a different solution: by scratching tiny stands in the icy with the metal tip of my trekking poles, I am able to provide myself with the necessary grip for my feet. It takes a while, but after some time the steepest section is behind me and I can continue in a more comfortable way.
I soon reach the pass an descend on the other side on endless snowfields. It’s amazing how much snow remains still in the mountains in august. When I reach a cluster of frozen lakes (1180m) I decide to leave my pack and try go summiting Kvigtinden (1699m). I take a very short break to eat something and then start racing up as fast as I can. Some grey stratocumulus clouds are already appearing and I really want my first big mountain of the trip (ánd my views from the summit!).
I easily gain the northeast ridge at an altitude of 1350m, and start tracking the ridge towards the summit. Two rock bands at 1400-1450m call for some easy scrambling, but I close in fairly easily. It’s a race against time though with clouds already hugging the summit every now and then. The final 20m are a bit less clear again with some easy scrambles. By 11.40am I have reached the highest mountain of Børgefjell and the first major peak of Northern Norway. I am ecstatic. Huge crevassed glaciers tumble down the eastern slopes of the mountains, with horrifying bergschrund where they meet the bedrock at the upper side. At their lower end the mountains make way for the endless rolling hills and wastelands of eastern Børgefjell. Through the thickening clouds I only get scattered views of the mountain scenery in the north and the west, but what I see of it is wild and deserted. Yep, Børgefjell surely is one of these areas I really want to visit again in the future.
After some time on the summit I descend back to my backpack and take a long lunch break after the intense morning. Good I did the race: it has become overcast with a cloudbase below the highest summits. A steep descend on snowfields and rock slabs guides me down towards the Austre Masskardsvatnet lakes, which I round along the northern side. I continue east, wade the outflow of the Simskardvatnet lake, and then start traversing the vast tundra plateau east of Simskardvatnet at an altitude of about 900m. The walking is as perfect as it can be: easy, rolling off-trail tundra terrain, top-class mountain scenery in the west and dramatic skies with showers ravaging the main Børgefjell ridge, but quickly dying away when descending the eastern slopes. I continue my dry walk in the rain shadow while admiring the raw interaction between all the elements of a true wilderness. Wow.
The view gets even better when I climb the tiny Giedtietjahketje (958m) summit, with a panoramic view on the entire northern half of the Børgefjell range, the glaciers sliding down the eastern slopes of Golvertinden and giving birth to wild, milky rivers like the Mjølkelva, which thunder down through tundra and birch forest, set to flames by the afternoon sun peeping from in between the towering cumulonimbus clouds. I exclaim my wonder, my marvel, my bewilderment aloud for hours and hours to every reindeer or snow bunting wanting to hear it.
After descending towards a small lake (717m) on the plateau northeast of the Giedtietjahketje (958m) hill, the evening is of an extraordinary beauty and just finishes the job: a perfect walk on a perfect day.
I descend into the Susendalen valley on a very wet old jeep track the following morning. To finish the Børgefjell adventure, I still have something exciting on the menu: packrafting the Susna river. I put in near the Sormo farm and immediately pass from the one rapid towards the next, all of them fairly easy PR2-3 water. Although there are roads and scattered farms on both sides of the river, I don’t experience this proximity of civilization as troublesome. The roads can seldom be seen from the water and there is virtually no traffic. On the other hand, I enjoy some very nice views on the summits of northern Børgefjell from my raft. The river continues meandering through forest and grassland with gravel bars in most bends. After a bit more than an hour I reach the Ivarrud bridge. As the river gets a lot wilder further downstream with PR5 water in a series of ravines, I take out and start portaging along a quiet gravel road on the left bank.
I continue walking on this road for 11km until I reach the confluence of the Susna river and the Unkerelva river. The river becomes calmer again from this point and I put in again. The character is completely different and much wilder than on the first stretch, however, with the river running through densely forested ravines, with almost no sign of roads or farms. Because of the bedrock running into the river, with narrows at some points, the rapids also have a different character. As I don’t want wet clothing, I portage the wildest one, a PR3-4 just upstream of the Nerli farm, where the river gets squeezed through a 5-10m narrow with a serious and very fast wave train. I get some water into my raft in a rapid a bit upstream of the Kolmila bridge. The rafting is great fun though and way too fast I reach the outskirts of Hattfjelldal, where I have to take out.
I pitch my tent on a small, cozy camping at the southern side of the village and go to the supermarket to go shopping for the next stretch towards Umbukta. I also send some maps back home. And of course I have a hamburger at the local service station. I rains slightly during the evening. I get my laundry done with a real washing machine, take a shower, and then just chill inside of the camping building with a can of coke and a bag of chips while watching athletics at the Olympics in London. Oh boy, what an incredibly intense week it had been. And when I watch the weather forecast for the coming week, I immediately know the trip is growing towards its momentum. A long series of brilliant sunny days is predicted. It only takes seconds before a new big plan is born: I want to go sleeping on the summit of Okskolten (1912m), the highest mountain in northern Norway.
04/08/2012: Luru River – Nordelva plateau 440m (27km, +870/-620, 7h30)
05/08/2012: Nordelva plateau 440m – Gruvfjellet (24km, +820/-510, 7h05)
06/08/2012: Gruvfjellet – Sagvika (41km, +310/-640, 10h05)
07/08/2012: Sagvika – Sjurtjønnin lake 699m (28km, +380/-100, 6h30)
08/08/2012: Sjurtjønnin lake 699m – Søre Bisseggvatnet (21km, +790/-710, 5h40)
09/08/2012: Søre Bisseggvatnet – Lake 717m (26km, +1260/-1320, 8h20)
10/08/2012: Lake 717m – Hattfjelldal (35km, +120/-610, 6h30)