Hardangervidda Ski 2023
Hardangervidda Ski 2023. Day 00. 07 March 2023. 0 km. 0 Hours. 0 m up. 0 m down. After getting everything I needed together at my friend Hartmuts’s house in the Oslo area I spent a day fine tuning everything and checking the sledge and stove again. I was then ready for Hartmut to drive me to the bus stop in Asker where I got the Haukeliekspressen Bus at 1100. It went from Oslo to Haugesund over the mountains passing Haukeliseter. As the bus headed west and climbed slowly my fears about the lack of snow were soon allayed. Some 5 hours later when the bus reached Haukeliseter at roughly 1000m altitude there was heaps of snow and every lake and river was frozen and covered in deep drifts. It was a beautiful day without a single cloud in the pale azure sky.
The bus stopped right outside Haukeliseter Fjellstue, a cross between a mountain hut and a simple hotel. It had a cafe. I got off with a large group of students who were studying at Bo college and doing a degree in Outdoor Education. There was about 10 of them and they were heading off straight away to make a basecamp at Mannevatnet lake where I would pass tomorrow. I needed time to repack my pulk (sledge) and prepare more. I had planned to spend the night at Haukeliseter Fjellstue rather than ski for a couple of hours and camp. It was just -5 C degrees but it was forecast to get down to -25 C degrees in the night and would remain very cold for much of the next week. However, on the plus side there were no storms forecast.
I got a simple small 2 bed room with a electric cooker and a shared shower and bathroom in the corridor. Room 105. It was perfect for my needs and it meant I could prepare everything in the warmth. I decided to save a dehydrated meal and eat in the cafe that evening. However I could use the cooker in the room for an early breakfast and boil water for the day in my room to take with me. I had 7 days worth of food and 4 litres of fuel for the whole trip. I intended to avoid the 4-5 cabins en route but they are always there as a safety net in case I need them. These cabins are roughly 20-24 km apart. As the sun set around 1730 the temperatures outside fell away very steeply and by twilight at 1900 it was already -15 C.
Hardangervidda Ski 2023. Day 01. 08 March 2023. Haukeliseter to Simletindvatnet Camp. 20 km. 8.5 Hours. 580 m up. 320 m down. It was bitterly cold in the night, perhaps – 25 C. However the morning was glorious and the skies were clear blue. The Norwegian pendant was hanging limply from the flagpole. It took me a bit of time to get all the equipment into the pulk and I did not get going until 0930. I decided to go a new way as the usual steep slog up the hill would have been hard with the 45-50 kg pulk. It was the way the receptionist at Haukeliseter also suggested. It involved going NW up Stavatn lake for a few km to Uleva. It was an easy ski and it seemed the group of students also took this way last night. After 3 km I had to cross the road but as luck would have it there was a bridge here and I could sneak through on the frozen ice which was covered in drifts to the north side and into the bay, where the cluster of cabins at Uleva where grouped together.
I now had to climb and it was no mean feat with the pulk. My small kicker skins were struggling to get traction so I stopped after 15 minutes of struggle and put on the full length ski skins. They made a big difference and I could now haul without fear of losing grip. It was a heavy pull up the slope and it took me a good hour just to climb the 200 metres up to a knoll marked 1204m. However this was not the top and I still had another 150m to climb up to the saddle to the west of Vesle Nup. By the time I got there I was tired, having strained and struggled the whole way up. It is definitely easier with a 15 kg rucksack, however the route I took today was much better than anything else I have tried here.
The sky had clouded over by the time I got to the saddle and views were disappearing quickly, obscured by a thin veil of fog. However, I could still see a good couple of kilometres but the warmth and the generosity of the sun was gone. The descent to Mannevatn and then down to Bordalen was quite fraught. The light was quite flat and I could not see the surface of the snow well. Also it was a bit steep to go straight down. However when I traversed, as I would with a rucksack only, the sledge kept tipping over and it was an awful nuisance to right it as I had to take the harness off. In the end I discovered it was easiest to take my skis off a walk down with the sledge pushing hard.
Once down in Bordalen the going got easy again. I just followed the gentle valley floor to a small cabin, which I usually just see the chimney of, but this year a whole wall was visible. At this cabin the track split and I took the NE fork up to Åmotsvatnet lake a kilometre away. There is a Statkraft cabin at the lake but it is well locked. I had been going for 5 hours now and had a mouse gnawing my stomach. So I skied past the cabin and stopped on the lake. I poured some hot water from the Thermos flask into a dehydrated meal and impatiently ate it while it was still crunchy. The hot chocolate was now lukewarm, which given the paltry insulation and -15 C temperatures was not too bad.
I was now refreshed and had a spring in my step again. However, it was already 1500 and I intended to stop and camp at 1700. The freezing fog returned and a wind appeared and it was very cold. The valley was gentle and it was easy to make good time. I crossed a few small tarns and lakes, almost indistinguishable in the landscape. The valley gently climbed and I could see Simletind at the far end where the was a saddle before the descent to Hellvassbu Cabin. I could not reach the saddle so decided to camp just after a tiny cabin called Knutsbu. It was on the edge of Simletindvatnet lake but I could not see the lake. I camped among a cluster of rocks in the false hope they would offer shelter should the wind get up.
It was a terrible place to camp as the snow was dry and sugary. The pegs could just not hold. I supplemented them with skis and ski sticks. It took an hour to get the tent up and bundle everything in. It was bitterly cold perhaps – 20 and I soon got the petrol stove going to melt snow and make the drinks and dinner. It was a dehydrated meal again and very tasty. I eventually got into my sleeping bags at 1930 and ate supper within them. I could feel the warmth returning to my chilled knees soon afterwards. I made a valiant effort to write the blog while a gentle breeze buffeted the tent and was done by 2130. My hands were cold and I could not wait to finish and snuggle into my sleeping bags. It was -25 outside I guessed as the digital thermometer ceased to work. It had been a slow day, but apart from the poor camp spot, it was successful. With a rucksack only I would easily have made it to the cabin in Hellevassbu, but it was not that type of light and fast trip.
Hardangervidda Ski 2023. Day 02. Simletindvatnet Camp to Camp near Litlos. 09 March 2023. 20 km. 8.5 Hours. 470 m up. 530 m down. It snowed on and off all night and the breeze flapped the ripstop of the tent. I had not pitched it in a good location and it was difficult to find a level bed in the night so I slid off the Thermarest mattress a few times. It was perhaps minus 25 outside and there was a steady light shower of frozen condensed steam and breath falling on my bivvy bag all night. It was quite a miserable night really made worse by the fact I had to half extricate myself from my multiple sleeping bags to pee into a bottle. The amount surprised me; about 10 times with 3-400 ml each go. At least 3 litres in all. I wondered if the impermeable vapour barrier I was sleeping in somehow forced the would-be perspiration through my kidneys instead. The vapour barrier was essentially a plastic bag inside my down sleeping bag to prevent perspiration moisture entering it and freezing. Outside the down sleeping bag I had a synthetic bag and then outside that I had a goretex bivy bag to stop falling condensation. These four layers were very warm and cosy but they were a kerfuffle to get in and out of. The tent was also very good and I felt secure in it whatever the weather.
I woke for the last time a 0600 and noticed it was light and the sky was clear. I lay in my sleeping bag and got the stove lit to melt the nearly 3 litres of snow I needed. As I finished the sun burst over a mountain and hit the tent at about 0800. I could soon feel the temperature inside rise to about minus 10. I eventually got up after breakfast by 0900 and started to pack up. The sleep system was great as once I had extricated myself from the sleeping bags I could just zip the whole thing including the mattress into a square waterproof bag which sat on top on the sledge. However taking the tent down was fraught as I had used most of the guys as the snow was so sugar-like and coiling the guy ropes up and storing them was fiendishly cold on the hands. Once down the poles could be parted in half and then the whole tent wrapped up with the poles still halfway in the sleeves and the whole tent could be bundled into a long bag to go on the bedding bag. I eventually was completely packed up by 1030, which was very late really, and my hands had been painfully cold doing fiddly tasks for a good hour.
I continued to ski up the valley to the west of the craggy Simletind which rose steeply above me. The valley was broad and flat bottomed and the snow on the floor of it was firm and easy. It took about an hour to reach the gentle saddle by which time the sky had completely clouded over and the odd snowflake fell. I knew there was a steeper descent down to Hellevassbu cabin and was a little excited as to how the pulk would fare. It was difficult but I managed to ski all the way down. The pulk was on the cusp of tipping over as I traversed across the slope, but as soon as I started to make the turn the drag wire pulled the top edge and it would turn over then, but as I completed the swing it would right itself and the momentum would tip it the other way and I would have to manoeuvre down slope to right it again. I made 3 turns and it happened each time until the slope eased and I could go straight down to the valley floor. I went to the east of the cabin as I knew temptation lay within and I wanted to avoid that.
From the valley floor there was quite a steep climb up the north side but I had the full skins on and that gave me great traction. None the less I was straining considerably at times up some of the steeper bits with the 50 kg sledge. It was unnecessarily heavy but I wanted to test everything for Sarek in 3 weeks. It took me a good hour to climb the slope to the saddle between the smaller hills of Buanuten and Sandvikenuten. At the top the smattering of snow, almost a frozen drizzle, became a bit more consistent and it started to build on my jacket. Just on the other side I saw a lone skier come up the slope towards me. We met on the frozen lake on the north side and chatted for a good 15 minutes. He had come from Finse and been out for 4 nights so far one of which had been minus 35 C. He had a huge 170 cm Acapulka sledge and the top of the range Helsport sleeping bag. He had also done Norge På Langs and we could have chatted for hours had we been in a cabin together but it was a bit miserable here in the snow so we parted. I carried on down the hill to the bottom by the west end of the large Øvsta Bjørnavatnet lake by which time the sun had returned and it was clearing up again. I had to have a toilet break here and had forgotten paper and had to use snow which although it had warmed to perhaps – 15 was very cold on the hands and ringpiece as I made some 10 snowballs. I was going to have lunch here but my hands were simply too cold so I continued up the hill towards the third saddle of the day, called Tueslaet.
It involved another 120 metre climb. With a 15 kg rucksack this would have been small fry but with the 50 kg sledge it was a haul. About half way up I met yet another skier who had come down on his own from Finse and camped. We chatted for a good 5 minutes in the sun. When he left I stopped for lunch. It was a freeze dried meal into which I put some hot water from the thermos and a litre of lukewarm chocolate. It gave me the strength to power on up to the saddle.
From the saddle I started a beautiful ski in the late afternoon sun, which now had an orange hue to it. I crossed the two Tuevatni lakes and then started to ski a high balcony. I had skied it a few times and always remember it being fantastic. On my right and to the north was the great snowscape of Kvennsjøen lake. It was frozen solid and covered in so much snow it was difficult to see where the edge of the lake was. On my left hand side to the south was a line of small mountains all covered in huge drifts and cornices and the lower slopes were plastered in deep snow. As I skied west I had the sun in my face and for the first time in the trip I was hot with beads of perspiration starting to form. To the west were some clouds but they merely enhanced the dramatic mountains and where the sun shone through them there were tinged with orange. I enjoyed this ski for a good hour before the inevitable descent started. Initially it was a delightful slope and the pulk pushed my skis enough to overcome the friction of the full ski skins, however the last section was much steeper. With a rucksack I could have traversed down the slope turning occasionally but with the pulk it would have tipped over. I therefore thought it best to take my skis off and walk down for 15 minutes. It probably saved either me or some equipment from getting damaged.
I had intended to camp when I got to the bottom of the slope on the surface of Kvennsjøen. However I could not find anywhere sheltered, although it was a still and calm evening. It was only 1700 so I decided to ski across the lake towards Litlos cabin. It took an easy hour in the tranquil evening to reach the northside and there I found a nice spot. I whipped the tent out of the bag and quickly put it together using my skis as the anchor at one end and pegs for the other. Now the sun had gone it did not take long for the temperatures to drop away from the minus 5-10 they had been all afternoon and by the time I wriggled into my sleeping bags it was minus 20 and still falling. My sleeping bags were warm but I was too tired and it was too cold to write. I was asleep by 2100. When I woke up for a pee it was bitterly cold, perhaps minus 30 and I could feel the cold burning my nose and cheeks. I wrote the blog the next morning from 0600 while waiting for the sun to hit the tent, and staving off the bitter cold with the petrol stove.
Hardangervidda Ski 2023. Day 03.10 March 2023. Camp near Litlos to Sandhaug. 26 km. 8.5 Hours. 410 m up. 330 m down. It was another bitterly cold night. My body was warm but where my face was exposed I could feel the sting of the cold and the rims of my nostrils froze with each inhalation. As a consequence I inadvertently snuggled down into the warmth of my sleeping bag which meant a lot of condensation. At one point the edge of the bivvy bag had frozen onto the sleeping bag. In the morning I got the stove going about 0730 and melted 2.5 litres of snow for breakfast and the drinks for the day which went into the thermos flask and the insulated Nalgene container. The steam produced by the melting was phenomenal and some condensed on the tent. After everything was boiled I brought the primus into the inner tent and it quickly warmed it up but I was worried about carbon monoxide fumes. Eventually it was time to zip up the sleeping bag into the “polar bedding” pack, throw the stove into the large soft cool box and break the tent poles in half and roll the tent around them and bundle it all into the tube bag. It did not take long to pack all up, perhaps half an hour, but my fingers always got very sore in the cold. It was however a beautiful morning again with no wind and a warming sun. Eventually I set off at 1000.
I skied north to Litlos, about 3 km away. As I approached it in the sun I saw a group of skiers coming towards me. I knew they were a group from Ousland Explorers who were crossing Hardangervidda and camping. Ousland Explorers is run by Borge Ousland, arguably the world’s greatest living explorer with some jaw dropping trips under his belt including the first solo unsupported crossing of Antarctica. He had collected a team of some of the best guides in the world and now runs expeditions to Spitsbergen, across Greenland and to the North and South Poles. I chatted with the guide, Katinka Gyllenheimen, for 5 minutes. She oozed competence and Polar experience. I left them and skied past Litlos hut and then on up the hill over the saddle on the south side of the rocky knoll called Holken. It was quite a haul up to the pass but the weather was great and I had the tracks of the others to follow, and well within the hour I was there.
Here at last I had finished with the majority of the steeper uphill hauls which I had had a series of since leaving Haulekiseter and I now felt I could dispense with the full skins. They gave excellent grip on the climbs and I had great traction with them and it saved energy on the climbs but on the flat they made every step count. I took them off and put on my short mohair kicker skins which allowed an excellent glide. I skied down the other side of the pass with a smooth glide and got to Ambjørgsvatnet where the other 6 had camped the previous night in 3 tents. There were views to the north here and to Hårteigen, a distinctive nunatak on Hardangervidda.
After crossing the frozen lake I had another climb up an open valley ravine. On the north bank were huge snow drifts and the ski route, which the others had also taken, went slightly to the south of the buried stream. There was the occasional steeper climb where I had to herring bone due to the lack of traction on the skins but after a good hour’s climb I made it up to the watershed just to the south of the knoll of Flautenuten. Thereafter I had a beautiful descent in the sun for a km where I stopped for lunch. On a previous trip here, some 10 years ago, I had seen a herd of about 300 reindeer here. But I think this same herd got struck by a unique bolt of lightning 5 years ago which killed 175 of them.
After lunch at 1400 the route continued NE past Engelstjørn tarn and then climbed a small saddle before descending to Bismarkvatnet. It would have been preferable to go directly onto the Bismarkvatnet without the saddle, as I usually do but there were great tracks over the saddle and this made the climb worthwhile. About half way down the lake the tracks left the lake and went north following a lovely series of open valleys and small frozen tarns until it reached Bessevatnet. It was a fast ski here on the gradual descent on good tracks and I almost forgot I had the sledge. Any small climb quickly reminded me though.
It was now about 1700 and I just had a long very gentle descent to Nordmannslågen, a large lake with a few shallow islands, which were barely discernible in the snow. As I started the shallow descent I saw the familiar Hardangerjøkulen Icecap. It was bright in the evening sun, especially as it rose above the darker cloud covered hill below it. Once on the lake I began to harbour thoughts about getting to Sandhaug and camping nearby. It was still nearly 5 km away, but it was flat and I had great tracks to follow. I saw a fox in the distance here, it was running from me, ever wary of humans. On the lake it took well over an hour to ski the remaining 4 km in the late evening. There was a glorious sunset with a rose tint to the sky and snowfields. I got to Sandhaug well before 1900 in the middle of the twilight.
Here I made a terrible error. I was seduced by the thought of the warm cabin which beckoned me like a siren. It stood before me just 500 metres away. In it was a stove, a comfortable bed, a gas kitchen, soft chairs and above all a small pantry. My choice was that, or setting up the tent and battling with freezing fingers until I got the petrol stove going when I could crawl into my damp sleeping bags. Then endure an uncomfortable night pissing into a bottle until the freezing dawn where I would have to extract myself from the warm damp cocoon and endure stinging fingers again until I was packed up. Despite the promise of a calm night in bitter, but clement, weather the choice of the cabin overwhelmed me and I was soon in front of a roaring stove.
There was more to the decision than where to spend the night. The cabin represented failure and defeat. My aim had been to ski across Hardangervidda camping all the way to see if I could make a tour through Sarek in a few weeks time for 12-14 days camping all the way. Pulling a sledge and camping in the winterscape down to -30 was now almost beyond me. It was like a realisation that I would soon have to retire from my office job and prune roses for the rest of my life. Of course pruning roses in my case meant doing ski tours exclusively based in cabins and huts where I could still travel for weeks at a time but with a light backpack and a good book to sit in front of a fire if there was bad weather. My winter expedition days were almost over and it was with sadness and relief I realised this when the temptation of Sandhaug cabin overwhelmed me. My reward was a marvellously warm and comfortable night at Sandhaug.
Hardangervidda Ski 2023. Day 04. Sandhaug Rest Day. 11 March 2023. 0 km. 0 Hours. 0 m up. 0 m down. After a lovely night in the warm cabin where I slept like a log I was still tired in the morning, with my body aching. I looked out of the window and there was a good breeze whipping up the spindrift and the odd flurry of snow from the overcast sky. I just did not feel ready to leave my cosy place beside the stove and venture out into the bitter cold again. Now my purist dream had been shattered by succumbing to the temptation of the cabin I had no virtue to maintain, so I went back to bed for another hour. When I woke the spindrift was still flying off the tops of the small drifts outside. I put more wood on the stove, made myself a coffee and started to write with the sun coming through the window.
I felt pangs of guilt occasionally as I looked outside and whatever pessimistic slant I tried to put on it was a perfectly good skiing day and I should have been heading north. However I was physically tired and I was not looking forward to a night in the tent. I wrote for a few hours and had a siesta. By the time I woke it was early afternoon and I looked out of the window again at the patchy sky and breeze still lifting snow off the drifts.
All of a sudden I saw 3 huge sails in the sky coming down the lake. I later found out they were 15 square metres each. Under each sail was a small kiter being dragged along at about 15-20 km per hour. They were dragging small sleds behind them. They neared the hut and started zig-zagging back and forth across the frozen lake, manoeuvring their kites expertly to keep the lines from the kite to them taut. Sometimes I could see they were leaning right over to save themselves being pulled over. After a while they stopped outside the hut, laid down their sails and came in. They were all from Bergen and perhaps 45-50 years old. They had all been kiting for 20 years. I immediately warmed to them and they spoke great English, as they were all professional IT managers, and I struggle with the Bergen dialect. They were called Rune, Terje and Gunnar. Gunnar seemed to be the most experienced and an outgoing and cheerful character with the most confident English. They took a room and then went out to play without their sledges. Now they were jumping off the ground and flying for 10 seconds in the air before landing again.
As I watched them two skiers also arrived, both with sledges. They came in. They were both senior nurses in their 30’s and they had been camping for 2 nights also. They were called Kristina and Sarah and they had also been seduced by the thought of a night in a warm hut after the bitter cold of the last two nights.
We all settled down at about 1700 in front of the stove. I could just keep up with the conservation with the two Oslo ladies and chatted mostly with them but struggled with the Bergen men. However it was a great evening which so often gels in these self service cabins where outdoor people gather. They were Norwegians of the highest calibre and it was great to be in their subtle, cheerful and thoughtful company. We chatted about jobs, outdoor trips, families all interspersed with kind jokes until it was completely dark outside.
By now the easy weather of the day had withdrawn enough to let a gale pass through and it was foul outside. I went out to get some snow in the big pan to melt water and came back 2 minutes later white with spindrift. It was like the stage set to Ice Station Zebra outside. However it made the warmth of the cabin and the joy of the collected group even kinder. We carried on chatting for another couple of hours until the candles burnt down to the holders by which time it was around 2200 and we all went to our various 4-bed rooms to sleep.
Hardangervidda Ski 2023. Day 05. 12 March 2023. Sandhaug to Halne. 34 km. 11.5 Hours. 450 m up. 550 m down. All 6 of us left the cabin, each group heading in a different direction. There was no wind so the 3 kiters from Bergen had to set off on their heavy randonee skis, however they felt sure the wind would arrive in the morning and they did not need much. The two ladies headed off to Litlos and I think I took the wrong track and started heading NNE as I usually do towards Langavatnet lake. I must have missed the sign at the cabin to Stigstu, which must have gone NEE. With a good surface to ski on and visible tracks underneath I thought little of it. In fact the snow was excellent and what a Norwegian would describe as “silkeføre”, with hard, neve snow underneath and a dusting of new powder on top. I made good time and I hardly noticed the pulk of the very gently undulating terrain.
I remembered there should be a junction somewhere to veer more NE but it never appeared and as I veered instead more to the north I started to get worried. By the time I got to Langavatnet after 9 km I realised I had missed the route, which everyone I met said was marked. It must have started right at the Sandhaug cabin and I missed it due to being fixed on my usual rabbit run. I could see I needed to head east across a series of frozen swamps and lakes to pick it up. It was still a good morning with blue skies and no wind and the skiing was easy, especially on the flat. I made light of the 4 kilometres until I reached a red tent I had seen from perhaps 2 km away. I made for it, curious as to who it was as it must be either a longer distance skier/camper or someone from Finse doing polar training. There was a chance I might know them or have heard of them. As I got to the tent, I saw the line of twigs marking the track I should have been on but missed and the tent was near them.
The tent belonged to Lars Christian Iversen. I did not know him as he was a young lad on his first longer winter tour. He had all the right equipment and looked very competent. We chatted and he told me he was from Harstad and was a final year medical student. He was everything I admire about a Norwegian: Friendly, good at everything he turned his hand to, hard working, not interested in material things, and above all modest. He had seen a large herd of wild reindeer pass nearby yesterday. I had lunch while I chatted with him and then I set off along the line of twigs, which were placed each year to mark the skitrail. It was pretty flat all the way to Stigstu about 6 km away. Stigstu was a very lonely single lodge in the middle of this frozen wilderness. It was quite small with a tired red paintwork covering the wooden cladding and flaking white windows with drips of brown rust where the hinges were. It was completely locked up and there was no sign of any snow clearing for an imminent opening at Easter, but I heard it was open at Easter.
I had been going 19 km already but thought it was too early to camp at about 1530 so decided to push on for another few hours. The weather had closed in a bit now and it was completely clouded over with the odd flake about. From Stigstu the ski route, marked with the twigs, climbed considerably for a good hour. It was perhaps not that considerable for those with a rucksack, but with a pulk/sledge it was a relentless haul. As I climbed the snow got slightly heavier and the wind started to pick up spindrift. Camping here would not have been fun, but the 6 kg tent could have easily tolerated this.
After the long climb there was a flatter undulating plateau and then a long descent. The visibility was dropping now to a few hundred metres and I could not make out the lie of the land ahead. On and on I plodded with an occasional descent. One was so steep I tried to traverse but the pulk tipped so I walked the steepest bit. The pulk certainly had its limitations and I think this model had a design flaw in that the runners were just two close together. I was starting to loathe it. I came over another small rise with thoughts in my head about camping and suddenly spotted the distinctive red and yellow of a Helsport Extreme tent, much loved by Norwegian outdoor enthusiasts. I went up to them and chatted for a good 10 minutes.
They said the forecast was poor with much snow over the next 36 hours and a good breeze. It meant a misery of a camp. However they said that Halne Fjellstugu was open and it was perhaps 5 km away. They also thought much of this 5 km was down hill which the map also showed. It was already 1800 so I knew I would not make it in the light and dug my 3 head touches out. There were some lovely long descents and I had both the luxury of their pulk tracks and the twigs to guide me. However at the end of a long descent I had to switch on the touches.
It was just then I realised how heavy the snow was as it swirled around in the beam of light. The wind picked up considerably now and I still had a good hour to ski. For the next kilometres I just followed the track the two campers pulks had left. It was initially a small trench 50 cm wide and 10 cm deep but it was filled in with spindrift now. This gave me and my pulk a beautiful glide. It was difficult to tell if I was going up or down as my world became a bubble of illuminated spindrift and snow rushing from right to left. It brought back memories of skiing Norge På Langs when I was always slower than the early dusks during the January months. There is something very calming about skiing in the dark in the snow, a bit like swimming in a wild lake, and you can be quite sure no one else is doing it.
After an hour of darkness I started to see the lights of cars on the snowy road. The skiing couple I had met earlier told me the best thing to do was to follow their tracks, now almost vanished, along the south side of the road and then cross to Halne Fjellstugu directly at it. If I did anything else I would likely end up in a deep snowy slot where the road was, and be unable to climb the side of this slot when the snow plough came along, and the driver would be unlikely to see me in the mild blizzard. It was good advice and I followed it and was soon dragging my snow covered sledge into the foyer of the hotel with the Serbian manageress saying “no problem”. I was too late for dinner and was dead tired so I just had a dehydrated meal in my small room, filling the bag with hot tap water. After my first shower for a week I slept like a tired dog as the snow swirled in the lights outside. After breaking my purists pledge at Sandhaug of crossing Hardangervidda solely camping I no longer felt guilty about the warm room.
Hardangervidda Ski 2023. Day 06. 13 March 2023. Halne to Krækkja. 5 km. 2.5 Hours. 160 m up. 130 m down. After a large typical Norwegian buffet breakfast with fresh warm bread and a large selection of toppings I packed my pulk in the foyer and then dragged it out into the mild blizzard which was raging outside and had been all night. It was forecast to continue all day. However the forecast for tomorrow was much better with sunny periods, and I imagined everything would be glistening bright white under a blue sky. So I decided to do the 5 km to Krækkja today in the poor weather and then hoped I could plough a lonely furrow in the new snow to reach Finse tomorrow, knowing that there would probably be good tracks for the last half anyway. I eventually left at 1030 and following the Serbian manageress’s advice went up the hill behind the lodge to get to the ski route.
It was a bloodsome error and I got into a total pickle on the steeper hillside. The sledge tipped about 4 times before I got to the bottom of an unnecessarily steep section over a small ridge. It was too steep to ski up so I had to drag the loathsome pulk directly up the slope for a good 10 minutes, sinking up to my knees in new loose snow with every step. I was cursing and furious with my predicament. I would have been better off going west on the north side of the road for 500 metres and then turning north when I picked up the line of twigs. I had saved 2 sides of a triangle of perhaps 300 metres but it had cost me nearly 500 calories and a good hour of struggle.
Once on the ski path marked with twigs the going became much easier. There was no benefit from previous skiers as all the tracks had been obliterated by the mild blizzard, however I knew that there would be a firm base under the 15 cm of new snow either to the immediate east or west of the line of twigs, if not both. I just had to find it and then follow it. The twigs were about 30 metres apart and I could see about 3 or 4 of them before they vanished into the white. The twigs were put up along all the popular ski paths, connecting mountain huts each year in Early to Mid March all over Norway. They were cut branches from saplings which were stuck into the snow. There must be at least 2000 km of marked ski routes in the mountains and I dare say over the years they have saved 100’s of lives of people who would have otherwise got hopelessly lost in a snowstorm.
I followed the twigs up the hill in a whiteness only broken by the occasional boulder which protruded from the snowfield. Where there were no boulders there was nothing to distinguish the land from the land from the sky and were it not for the twigs giving some reference it would have been like scuba diving in milk. I seemed to generally climb for a good hour only aware I was climbing because the sledge became heavier. At last I reached some sort of crest and started the gradual descent. Again the twigs here were invaluable because it showed me the lie of the land and the gradient of the slope. Without them I would have been afraid of going over a drift or even cornice which I could not decipher from the landscape.
The descent was in fact absolutely lovely with just enough snow to stop me careering off down the slope. My skis were largely continually buried in the 15 cm of new snow and just occasionally did the surface ruckle when the ski tip passed underneath it. I glided smoothly down for a good 20 minutes until I could start to see more features as the snow and mist thinned. Suddenly the long grey shape of the large Krækkja lodge appeared out of the white some 500 metres away. IInitially it was easy to mistake it for a rock perhaps 20 metres away as the veil of white distorted perceptions. The last bit was across a lake and it was easy with the lodge now giving perspective of scale.
The lodge was open and the host was welcoming when I stepped in covered in spindrift. He gave me a small room with a bunk bed and a lukewarm heater. It was perfect to drape the soggy tent over as I decided to pack up the tent and the arctic bedding as I hopefully would not be needing them tomorrow. It should lower the centre of gravity in the sledge and make it more stable for the final day to Finse tomorrow. I knew from previous trips there were some steeper climbs here.
After sorting myself out I went down to the cosy small lounge which has a stove and a small library where I intended to write. I was initially the only guest and riffled through the book case where I was delighted to see my book on Hurrungane, which was well thumbed. As I started to write the lodge warden came in to lit the stove and I mentioned my book to him. He said he had been looking at it just yesterday. I spent the next 3 hours relaxing and writing in the warmth with the stove quietly heating the room and the blizzard, outside slowly diminishing.
My peace was broken around 1700 when 12 Icelandic skiers arrived from Finse and took over the lounge. They were middle aged and noisy. The Icelandic group turned out to be very easy going after all and there was a group of 4 Germans also. We ate together at a big table and there was a large amount of good food. The Chef, Hugo, used to work for a friend of mine at Finse Hotel.
Hardangervidda Ski 2023. Day 07. 14 March 2023.Krækkja to Finse. 23 km. 9.5 Hours. 540 m up. 490 m down. After a great breakfast I was keen to get going early and packed the pulk up in the sunny wind. There was a fair bit of spindrift about and any tracks would be filled in quickly. I said goodbye to the very nice host, Per Martin, and set off about 0830 knowing there was a train from Finse at 1800 and another at 0200 in the morning. I wanted to catch the former.
Initially the route was a bloodsome slog in deep snow. I struggled up the first small hill with my arms straining in the ski poles to get traction on the small ski skins. This hill was a minor one and it did not bode well for later in the day. After a short descent I was onto the frozen Drageidfjorden lake. Its surface covered in small ridges and pockets of snow. It was not quite full sastrugi but was slow and laboured to ski across and the force 4 wind was directly into my face. At the end of the lake I took one look at the slope coming up and decided to change skins to the full length ones which I would need soon anyway after Finnsbergvatnet. They made an enormous difference and I could now climb without the physical and nervous tension worrying I might slip back. It was a gradual climb into the wind for nearly an hour until I reached the gentle crest. The descent down the other side was steep but with the sledge packed up and the centre of gravity lower I tried to traverse a bit, making a circling descent down to the surface of the Fiinnsbergvatnet. There was an archeological site on this lake as the early Norsemen of the iron age used to drive reindeer across the narrows here and then ambush them as they swam across the strait, spearing them from small boats.
There was a group of 6 on the lake with very large 170cm acapulka sledges, one size bigger than mine but twice the volume. The group were all well dressed in matching jackets and on the side of each pulk “Shackleton” was emblazoned. I thought there would be two Facebook acquaintances amongst them and there was, namely Louis Rudd and Wendy Searle who owned and managed the adventure firm. Both were accomplished polar explorers especially Louis Rudd who had crossed Antartica twice. They were both at my talk in Finse in 2018. There were also some other polar explorers and climbers in their group, one of whom had climbed Mt Vinson 19 times and Everest 7. I could have chatted for hours, but they had to push on with their enormous sledges up the slope and I had a train to catch so we parted after 15 minutes.
After the jolly chat with Louis and his team I crossed the rest of Finnsbergvatnet to reach the bottom of the climb which I had steeled myself for. The slope was not nearly as steep as I remembered and with the full skins on I made short work of the initial part of the ascent, climbing 100 metres to some tarns buried and indiscernible under huge snow drifts. I was warm after the climb and stopped here for lunch in the bright sun. However as I ate a wind from the north arrived and the skies clouded over. Soon the odd snowflake sped past. The small hills of Midnuten vanished next and were soon gone from view just half an hour before they were basking under a bright blue sky. It was forecast to change but much later in the day and I had hoped to get to Finse before it arrived.
By the time I had the pulk harness on and was ready to set off again there was a mild blizzard. The tracks of the previous skiers were fast disappearing and I was soon having to stride through small drifts of snow where nice tracks had been just an hour previously. I did not dare to take my full skins off until I had crossed Midtnutvatnet lake and Brattfonnvatnet lake as I knew there were some small rises on this stretch and it would have been hard work climbing them with the stiff breeze against me in short skins. At last I reached the highest point and knew there was pretty much a very gentle descent all the way now for the next 6 km to Finsevatnet Lake.
I changed skins here to try and get some glide on the descent. It was cold on my hands changing over as I did not want to get threads from gloves on the skins glue. When I set off there was not quite enough incline to overcome the stiff breeze and the very gradual slope, but I could still take long gliding strides. My face was getting blasted by the wind and I had to cover my nose up to save it from getting nipped by the icy blast. After a good hour I approached Finsevatnet lake and passed a group of 4 heading out. They were going to Haukeliseter and by the look of the weather forecast were going to have a rough time of it. They were already thinking about camping tonight. I looked at my watch and realised I would not make the 1800 train so would have to take the night train at 0200 or spend the night.
I decided on the latter and crossed the lake and went straight to the Finse Hotel where I had stayed before. I expected it to be busy and welcoming but it was deserted and unfriendly. I enquired about a room but it was eye-wateringly expensive and the meals were the same. I dug my headtorch out and skied the 500 metres to the DNT lodge on a frozen promontory. With the wind behind me I made quick time. The place was heaving and the welcome warm, and they offered me the only bed in a 12 bed dormitory. It was exactly what I wanted. I had a dehydrated meal for dinner, filled with warm tap water and sat in the large cosy living room to eat it before crashing out without a shower.
The next morning I skied over to the train station by the hotel which was stunning in the bright sunny weather. Yesterday’s snow still covered everything. Here I dismantled the pulk’s drag in the warm station waiting room and chatted with a few Germans who were all doing the same. They had a range of wheels and trolleys which they were bolting onto the bottom of their sledges to ease their train connections between here and Germany. I gleaned some good information from their homemade engineering as moving a 40-45 kg sledge across platforms is the stuff of nightmares, especially if there are no station trolleys. The train was punctual and 4 hours later I was in Sandvika where my friend Hartmut was picking me up.
I had not enjoyed the tour as much as I hoped. It had started off well as a purist endeavour to cross Hardangervidda camping every night. However I was seduced by Sandhaug cabin and after that the purist challenge ran into the sand and the tour became much softer and more comfortable. However I still had the pulk to drag behind me with all the camping equipment and this greatly slowed me down and restricted my choice of routes. I had gleaned enough from the cold nights camping to allow me to modify a few things for my next trip to Sarek which I now resolved to do – starting in a week’s time.
Hardangervidda Ski 2023. Haukeliseter to Finse. 8-14 March. 7 Days. 128 Km. 49 Hours. 2610 metres up. 2350 metres down.