Langfjellene Ski. Section 5. Hardangervidda
I had breakfast with Laila as the sun was beating down on the lake outside. Already the lake was full of skiers heading up the icecap of Hardangerjøkul and kiters eeking out the breeze on the lake. The promised high pressure was arriving. I left late at 11 and joined a procession of skiers heading south, most of whom were day trippers with small sacks. The lonely hillsides of Reinheimen and Breheimen 2 weeks ago, or indeed exactly here 6 weeks ago, were a far cry from this.
It was very easy skiing up in well formed tracks on a gentle slope for about 6 km. The sun was out and I was now fit enough to maintain a good pace. Indeed, I caught a lot of people up including the musical entourage of Daniel Kvammen who had stayed and performed at the large DNT lodge at Finse. Henrik was amongst them and I chatted with him for half an hour as we skied along in the sun in the most perfect weather.
After the top, just beyond Brattefonnvatnet lake, I decided the weather and conditions were good enough to go a different way to Kjeldebu cabin. It was shorter and offered better skiing. I had only been this way once before and remembered it being spectacular. While the other skied down to Midnutevatnet lake I veered off to the south across virgin slopes, unblemished by other tracks or twig markers, and traversed up to the frozen tarns between Helvetesnutane and Helveteshorga.
was a lovely ski up and I got a great view over the huge empty flat expanse of Hardangervidda to the south of me. The descent down the other side was wonderful as I headed south west across the undisturbed hillside making my own tracks. I continued south west and went to the north and west of Lassheldrenuten, and then across Lassheldretjørna lake (1227m).
Looking to the west the entire landscape was dominated by the huge Hardangerjøkul ice cap and the rampart of cliffs which supported it. These ramparts were only broken in a few places where glaciers tumbled down from the ice cap onto the mantle at the bottom of the cliffs. I met a couple of guys coming up across this lake and explained the route I had taken to them, as they were going to Finse. .
I followed their tracks down, traversing under a large snowdrift which I would not have a picnic under and continued down to nearly the south end of Lake 1154m on the valley floor. Here I met the marked ski route which had taken a big detour to the east. It was now a pleasant ski down good tracks with the sun in my face for a couple of km across Langavatnet lake.
At the south end of this lake the ski route climbed 100m comfortably up slopes for about 2 km to cross a shallow ridge on a tundra like landscape. At the top I started a wonderful descent for just 2 km down to Kjeldebu cabin. I glided practically the whole way down and it was over in 10 minutes.
Kjeldebu was a large self-service hut with 2 separate cabins. However there was a warden here at peak periods, but due to the Norovirus scare there were only some 20 people while usually there should have been 100 during this Easter holiday. I took the same room I had 6 weeks previously when I was the only one at the cabin. There were a few interesting people here one was Kjell Aage Oprann who is about my age and I was to spend the next 3 days skiing with.
Kjell Aage and myself decided to ski all the way to Sandhaug the next day. It seemed a lot at 30 km, but the route was easy, and virtually flat except for the first few km. It was bitterly cold when we set off at around -30°C but as the sun started to rise it warmed up. We skied separately for the 7km to Dyranut lodge as Kjell had problems with the waxing on his skis, and was slower on the steeper climbs, but we met up in the lodge there for a second breakfast.
After Dyranut we skied together south across the lake, which was again busy with kiters as this was another popular spot for them, and then down the wonderful slope into Bjoreidalen. This gentle downhill run allowed us to virtually stand still while we glided down the 3 km into the shallow valley. It was almost free 3 km.
There was now a gentle climb up and and another easy descent for 10km to get to the east end of Langavatnet. The terrain was so flat here it was difficult to distinguish the uniform frozen expanse of the lake from the near level undulating tundra on this vast “peneplain” It was an easy ski and we had covered it in well under 3 hours so paused for a snack.
After lunch Kjell Aage powered up the next gentle slope and left me behind. He now had a great glide on his skis while mine were slippery. Often when I kicked forward on one ski, hoping for a glide on the other, all I got was the ski I kicked on slipped back and I lost momentum. I stopped to apply just a bit (some 30 cm) of Swix Blue Extra, just about the only wax I now use, and the difference was so tangible, as the skis did not slide back anymore.
After a few km of beautiful easy skiing in perfect conditions I caught up with Kjell Aage and we skied together chatting for an hour or so. However Kjell Aage was developing a pain in his groin/hip area and it was getting a bit painful for him to take large strides. I left him to continue at his own pace for the last 3 km which were largely downhill anyway.
I had been to Sandhaug before some 4-5 times but had always stayed in the self-service cabin as the main lodge was not open. I was curious to see what was in the large building which I had only seen with dark windows and covered in huge snow drifts. There were only some 20 skis outside which was a good sign. Without the norovirus scare there would have been 100. There was a man with a sledge just unpacking. I said something to him about his ski boots.
Despite the fact I had my balaclava pulled down like a bank robber he recognized my accent (the English seldom get rid of their accent while speaking Norwegian). He said “I know you”. It was Martin Madshus Sandbakken who I skied with for a day a few years ago near Finse. He and his girlfriend Tera Lyons were skiing across Hardangervidda now in the same direction as me.
I went in and got a bed in a dormitory as all the rooms were full. There were 30 beds in the dormitory but only 5 were used that night. Kjell Aage arrived soon and got one nearby. It was a great evening in the lodge. I had plenty of great folk to chat to, there was a great traditional living room and dining room, the food was delicious and plentiful, and the host entertained us with amusing stories.There were only 35 people there while there should have been nearly 200 according to the host..
Kjell Aage and myself set off after a later breakfast, while Martin and Tera got away early with their large sledges. We headed west across Nordmannlågan lake and started climbing up beside the Besso stream bed on the other side when we came across a huge swathe of reindeer tracks. There must have been over a thousand animals in this herd, and it had just passed in the last few hours.
The marked route took me an odd way from Bessevatnet lake to Bismamarvatnet lake by going a tortuous route via Øvre Bessevatnet lake and lake 1330m and height 1415m. This seemed very long winded to the usual route I go, which is through Dimmedalen. By the time I realized I had already followed the twigs of the marked route so I was committed to it. I caught up with Martin and Tera just after Engelstjørn lake and we had lunch here. The sun was warming but there was a bitterly cold breeze which chilled my bare hands quickly.
I continued on my own after lunch up the slope towards the top of which was a great view north to Hårteigen, a prominent nunatak rising steeply from the peneplain of Hardangervidda. At the the top of the slope I passed between two knolls and then started a fantastic descent. The wind had gone and the sun warmed the air as I sped down a rounded stream bed which curved from left to right like a bobsleigh track. I zoomed down going up each side turning at the high point before heading down to the stream bed again and heading up the other side. After 10 minutes of this fun I was spilled onto Ambjørgsvatnet lake.
It was so warm crossing this lake and skiing up the slope by Holken hill on the far side I was sweating even though I was just in a thin shirt. My glasses were steaming up and I had to stop frequently to clear them. So I was ready for the luxurious, cool, breeze created with my final gliding descent down to Litlos lodge. Again I had stayed at the self service here some 5 times, but never seen inside the lodge.
The lodge was cosy and smaller than I thought. I got a bed in a small dormitory upstairs and soon Kjell Aage joined me, his groin strain causing him problems. Martin and Tera had everything they needed in their sledge so carried on to try and put a few more km in before they would set up their tent to camp. It was forecast to be -30°C so there was little envy from Kjell Aage and myself.
As we were sitting in the living room after the excellent dinner an arctic fox sauntered along the valley. The staff said it was a frequent visitor. It was indeed a bitterly cold night and I had to wander out to the toilet block a couple of time after the sun went down. The large moon and clear skies made a head torch unnecessary.
The next morning was stunning with bright sunshine and the Norwegian pennant flag was hanging limp from the flagpole. Kjell Aage, myself and another guy, Gaute Aas, skied across the lake as a trio chatting and relaxed in the perfect conditions. After possibly the most pleasant 5km of the trip we got to the south end og Kvennsjøen lake. Here Martin and Tera were just finishing packing up.
I let the other go on while I chatted with Martin and Tera, accompanying them up the slope a bit while the others went on. Their sledges, almost unnoticeable on the flat lake suddenly became a burden as they heaved them up the steep slope. Half way up I said my goodbyes and headed on up to the shelf where the Tuevatni lakes lay. Once up it was a glorious ski and and am sure Martin and Tera would be looking forward to it.
By the second lake I came across Kjell Aage and Gaute Aas. They were the epitome of Norwegians in the Easter mountains. The had inherited a snow bench facing the sun built by previous skiers. Having laid out their foam mattresses they were shooting the breeze and lapping up the sun while they ate their packed lunch.
I stopped and chatted with them for 10 minutes before carrying on over the pass at Tueslaet. It was almost too early for lunch and I wanted to get over this easy pass and head down to Bjørnabotn before I stopped. Once over the pass it was a wonderful gentle glide down the other side for 2 km to the shallow valley floor. I also inherited a snow bench at the bottom in a real sun trap. As I ate my lunch Martin and Tera gracefully glided past with their sledges chasing them down the hill. Kjell Aage and Gaute Aas soon arrived and we sat there chatting, drinking coffee and enjoying the weather for a good hour, as there was no hurry.
In the early afternoon we cruised us the gentle slope to the south for the final run down to Hjellevassbu cabin. The climb was hot and again I was sweating at the top. The route down the other side was an exciting 2 km. I pretty much let my skis go into a fast glide. Occasionally the thought crossed my mind “if I crash now it is going to hurt” as the trail was a bit icy due to the amount of skiers snow plowing down here over the last 2-3 days.
Luckily I made it to Hjellevassbu cabin unscathed. It was also a self service cabin but the DNT had a warden present for this busy period. I managed to get a 2 man room for myself and Kjell Aage much to the wardens displeasure. He was a grumpy Dane who had been volunteering for this role year after year. The more he bossed people around the more they cold-shouldered him.
We all sat outside against the south facing wall for a couple of hours until the power of the sun diminished and the shadows grew. On the north side of the hut where the thermometer was in the shade it was already -25°C and dropping. I intended to get up very early the next morning at around 0330 and ski to Haukeliseter to catch the only bus so went to bed early, which was part of my rationale for getting the 2 man room.
When I woke it was naturally dark but there was a full moon, the second in the month so it was a blue moon. I quietly packed up and set off at 0400. It was bitterly cold and the thermometer said -38°C, the coldest temperature on the trip so far. Hjellevassbu lies in a cold hollow and with the clear skies and very high pressure it was hardly surprising, even if it was nearly April.
I skied up in the moonlight without my head torch, and noticed there was a good shadow of myself across the snow from the moon. The 2 km climb up was slow as I did not want to breathe too heavily and inhale the bitterly cold air. Once at the top it was magical. It was still just 0500 but already the sky was beginning to lighten and this, with the moonlight, caused the mountains to glow as if they were luminous.
When the sun eventually appeared an hour later it was about 0630. It was still bitterly cold and I kept my balaclava on all the way to the bottom of the valley and across to the small hut at the south end of Åmotsvatni lake. I stopped here to eat a snack and put my skins on for the final climb of the trip.
By now I was fit enough to saunter up the 300m climb. The ascent soon started to warm me up but the low sun had done little to raise the temperature and it was still perhaps -25°C. I passed a few tents by Mannevatn lake and thought one might be Martin and Tera’s, but I later learnt they had gone all the way to Haukeliseter last night and taken the night bus;- which was impressive!
Half an hour later I was at the top of the saddle at around 1350m, to the west of Vesle Nup. There was a great view here to northern reaches of Setesdalsheiane, the most southern mountain area in Norway.. I was not going into them but just skiing down to the road between them and me where my tour would end.
I looked round mournfully at Hardangervidda which was now bathed in bright sunlight, It would be my last look for a while. I reflected on my remarkable tour of 19 days where the weather was so kind to me not only did I not have to have a weather day but I never even used my wind trousers and jacket. It was unheard of to have such a long period of stable weather. With some sadness I turned to start the final descent.
Without skins my skis were very fast and I had to snowplough down the steep slopes for the first kilometre. The freeze thaw cycles of the last 5 days had made the surface of the snow both icy and unpredictable and I kept to where many other skiers had roughed up a path. The long snow plough was exhausting on my legs and I was thankful when I reached the bottom.
With very slippery skis I struggled across the undulating ground for another 3 km. It would have definitely been worth my while putting wax or skins in retrospect but I kept thinking the downhill would start soon. When I did reach the last steep downhill I was slightly anxious the snow conditions might be difficult. I started off and managed a few zig-zags in the hard, polished snow which was very uneven and realized it was going be a nightmare.
It was not a difficult decision to take of my skis and walk down. Plenty of other people had done it and there were good steps. Had I skied I would have had multiple crashes and done some damage, to either myself or my equipment on the hard snow. It just took 5 minutes to reach Haukeliseter lodge. This mix of traditional and modern buildings lay beside the main road between Oslo and Haugesund, and was a major thoroughfare through the mountains.
I took my skis off and clipped them together with rubber straps, plunged them into the snow and went into the lodge. I booked a ticket on the only bus that day, which was due in 2 hours time. As I ate a snack in the restaurant I bumped into Bjørn who I had a meal with just 6 weeks ago when I gave my talk at Finse. He had just led a group over Hardangervidda, and it was their tents I passed 3 hours earlier.
The bus stop was just outside the Nansen cabin, one of the oldest and most traditional buildings at Haukeliseter. It was of course named after the explorer who stayed here while training for his polar expeditions. The bus was punctual and it whisked me away from the mountains and down to the snowy forests of Telemark and delivered me to Oslo 6 hours later. It had been one of my best ski trips.