Langfjellene Ski. Section 2. Breheimen
Breheimen is a mountainous and glaciated national park between Reinheimen and Jotunheimen. It has a good handful of mountains over 2000 metres, most of which have large glaciers on their flanks. I intended to ski for 3 days through it from Pollfoss in the NE to Sognefjellshytte in the SE.
I left Pollfoss in bright sunshine and skied up the cleared road to Framrusti 6-7 km away. I assumed this road was cleared because maintenance snow scooters occasionally needed to access a hydroelectric dam further up the valley. It was bitterly cold in the shade of the hillside and forest, perhaps minus 25 °C.
At Framrusti I had to leave the sanctuary of this snow scooter track and head SE up a km long summer path in the forest to a saddle, called Bråtååsen.As I suspected it was still deep, virgin, forest, snow which dismayed and worried me. The snow was just so deep and loose this year it was easy to get bogged down. I had a hunch though that the 2 km descent down to Bråtådalen valley on the other side was clear.
It seemed that this track was used as a thoroughfare for some foxes and they had slightly compacted some snow which had subsequently frozen, so by following their tracks I only waded through 25 cm of snow rather than 75cm. I was very grateful to our canine friends As I climbed out of the shade in the valley the temperature warmed and the forest branches, thick with snow, sparkled. I was lucky with the fox tracks as they took me all the way to the saddle where a great view quickly unfolded down to the valley and I was ecstatic to see the snow was compacted by some scooters and occasional skiers.
It was a fantastic run down to the old wooden farms around Mork in Bråtådalen valley. Their century old wooden walls darkened by decades of sun almost smelt charred in the bright sunlight reflecting off the snowy fields. All the animals on these farms were inside for the winter months. There was a another farm nearby with the abandoned long sheds of fur farming, once prevalent in Norway but now frowned on.
The main road in the valley at Mork was cleared of snow and mostly asphalt and icy gravel so I walked the 300 metres to the boom. Here the road continued but as a private road and it was not cleared so often or throughly, so it was covered in hard packed snow, almost ice, but there was a ridge in the middle where the vehicle tyres had not been and it afforded good and fast skiing. The road was virtually abandoned with just a car an hour, so I could ski down the middle of this snowy furrow for a quick 5 km
I passed a few clusters of old summer farms at Dyringen, their turf roofs were groaning under the weight of the heavy snowfall and the picket fences were all but buried.Soon after Dyringen I reached the north end of Liavatnet Lake. I thought there might be snow scooter or ski tracks along it, but there were none.
None the less I headed down through the thick snow to the frozen lake to ski across it. There was a magnificent view of Tverrådalskjrkja at the far end of it. However, after a km I realized it was a mistake trying to ski across the lake and headed back through the birch trees to the snowy track. Climbing up through just 100 metres of deep soft forest snow to gain the track again took me nearly half an hour as I floundered about in the waist deep loose snow.
Once on the track again I sped off on its gentle undulating curves through the mixed birch and pine forest for about another 6 km to reach the summer farms around Sota Seter which was almost like a living museum. People had been coming here every summer with their sheep and cattle to live in these gorgeous wooden cabins and barns, taking advantage of the lush mountain meadows, for centuries.
One collection of these timber buildings had been converted into Sota Seter lodge by the Norwegian Tourist Association (DNT) and catered for skiers in the Spring and walkers in the Summer. Sota Seter is the epitome of Idyllic Norwegian mountain scenery and culture. It is a staffed lodge only, and there are no self-service facilities when it is closed.
Chris and Christine, ruddy after a days skiing in the sun, were relaxing in the traditional lounge and gave me a warm welcome. As did the host, who was from Lom and knew a few people I did. We were the only guests on this first day of it opening for this Spring on 16 March. The food served in the evening was mostly local as the DNT try and promote this in their staffed lodges. Later John also arrived, he was an Irishman living in Switzerland who had just discovered the delight of Norwegian ski touring, and also planned to ski south to Hardangervidda. By bedtime the temperature dropped to -26°C
The next morning the temperature was down to -32°C and it stung my face and nose so I had to pull my balaclava down as I set forth through the idyllic scattering of summer farms in the bright sun. I was wary about the route as on two previous years I missed it and had to wallow in deep forest snow to get up to the treeline. That was no option this year with its huge accumulations with there was no hope of wading through steep, virgin, forest, snow.
I found the route and could see why I went wrong previously as it went in the wrong direction to my intuition for almost 2 km, traversing up through the birch trees eastwards before turning south to climb past the treeline and into Tverrådalen, a high hanging valley where the ski trail was marked with twigs. There were fantastic views west up Mysubyttdalen towards glaciers and north down the white expanse of Liavatnet lake of yesterday.
I was the last one and I could see the others climbing up the moraine mounds at the bottom of Fortundalsbreen glacier at the foot of the magnificent Tverrådalskyrkja mountain. I had climbed this mountain in what seem like another lifetime 16 years ago on my mission to climb all the 2000 metre mountains in Scandinavia (see www.scandinavianmountains.com)
I followed the twigs onto the glacier and up to the saddle. To the east of me is a renowned wind carved bowl with 50 metre cliffs.It is called Heksegryte, or the Witches Cauldron, and is dangerous in poor weather, as it is easy to ski off the cliffs if one navigation is suspect. Some 4 hours after leaving Sota Seter I eventually got to the watershed on the glacier where Chris and Christine were relaxing in the sun having lunch; and what a spot they picked!
It was spectacular enough behind me with Tverrådalskyrkja rising steeply up out of the glacier, but the real view was to the south. The whole of the Hurrungane massif rose unimpeded some 25km to the south.I was a breathtaking sight of what was my playground for a whole summer in 2002. Just a couple of peaks to the south of the massif were hidden behind their taller siblings in front. Each peak to me conjured up a happy memory. This was a cherished and meaningful view to me.
Just to the east of this angular alpine massif was the Smørstabb Massif with its large graceful glaciers carving away at narrow ridges. Again each of these peaks had memories, all of them good and I remembered warm summer days with Arne Instebø and Tone Søvdsnes 16-18 years ago. We spent days climbing and wandering amongst small brooks tumbling across high mossfields, and meadows of glacier buttercups watered by alpine snowfields on the way up to the summits. I lingered at this memorable spot cherishing the memories while Chris and Christine headed down after John.
I eventually left elated and almost euphoric with the memories and landscape and headed down the south side of Fortundalsbreen Glacier. I made wide swings as I found the snow too erratic to telemark. Although I have skied some 10,000 km in the mountains of Scandinavia my skiing is not technically that strong and I have to have perfect conditions to enjoy an downhill ski. What I lack in skill however I make up for in strength and tenacity.
After an hour I caught up with Chris and Christine and then overtook them as I blasted on down the ski track to Nørstedalen and the hydroelectric dammed lake. The track was generally wide enough to ski down but occasionally if it got to steep i traversed across the hillside in zig zags. The dammed lake was short but due to the danger of falling between ice blocks the route marked with twigs followed a tortuous path along its eastern shore.
From the dam it was a fast and exciting 3 km down the rest of the valley until it merged with a bigger valley by the DNT lodge at Nørstedalseter, a very cosy atmospheric tradition lodge with perhaps 50 beds at a squeeze. When the lodge is closed there is a 4-bed self-service cabin where I had previously stayed.
John was already here and so where a group of 4 girls from Stavanger including Kaja and Kari-Anne. It was quite early in the season so when Chris and Christine arrived the 8 of us made up the full complement of guests; while 3 week later at Easter it would be jammed with guests with many sleeping on mattresses on the floor.
It was again cold in the night and about -25°C when we set off. Although Sognefjellshytta was not open the girls had already arranged to stay they, but cater for themselves so it was easy for Chris Christine and Myself to ask the owner for the same arrangements. The alternative would have been the old cabin at the nearly Krossbu which is the worst DNT cabin I have had the misfortune to use.
It is a surprisingly long route to Sognefjellshytte/Krossbu with a lot of accent and descent and the forecast was for snow showers in the afternoon and night so I left early. I was the first and forged a route up the slopes of Vetledalen to the east. It was a sustained climb for about 700 metres. There was a bit of respite when I crossed the shelf where the Grønevatnet lakes lie and another across Liabrevatnet Lake, but this was offset by a couple of very steep sections which were taxing and I had to zig-zag.
The two girls caught me up at the top but I remembered there was an easier way than the marked route slightly to the east, and took this avoiding a climb up and over a knoll. By now the blue skies of the last 5 days had vanished and snow-laden clouds had covered the sun sending the first of the big flakes down in the still air.
I sneaked round the hill and started the long descent to Storevatnet lake. Initially the going was easy, but the final descent to the lake was steep and the visibility had deteriorated so much it was difficult to make out the contours of the slope. I just managed to get to the bottom without crashing, but my legs were like jelly as I spilled onto the lake. I looked up to see the others coming but only Kari-Anne was skiing down, the rest were walking.
There was no reason to stop as the weather was misty with some snow flurries. I skied across the lake to the small dam in the south and then started the final 6 km section. It was tiring as there was quite a bit of uphill and my skis were slippery. After a while I stopped to put my skins on and save energy. I also had a snack and waited for the others to join me. The final kilometres seemed to take forever, and there was little to see as the weather was now closing in.
We all got to Sognefjellshytte at the same time after a 10 hour day. Krossbu was another half hour so we were glad to see to see lights on and a snow plough clearing huge drifts of snow from the entrance to the building, and some people shovelling it off the roof.
Raymond, the owner, arrived just after us and let us in to the west entrance of the annex. we followed him down the corridors with drained fire hoses laid in the corridors so they would not freeze towards the original timber lodge. The gap between the annexe and the lodge was now connected with a huge and very modern atrium, like a giant geodesic greenhouse. It was an impressive space, and although 15 metres high the snow drifts were up to the roof on the lee side.
Although Raymond was not open he looked after us well and provided showers, 2 man rooms with bedding, boiling water and even a free beer each. We rehydrated our meals in the old dining room looking out of the window to see it was snowing heavily and spindrift was blowing around in the force 6 wind. From here we would leave Breheimen and ski into Jotunheimen. I had wanted to go over Smørstabbbreen Glacier to Leirvassbu and from there to Fondsbu, a spectacular route. But in poor visibility it would be pointless and wiser to go to Fondsbu via Skogadalsbøen lodge with the other 4, who were becoming my ski-trip family.