Langfjellene Ski. Section 4. Skarvheimen.

Mads and Natacha wanted to go to Slettningsbu and then Sulebu as they were following the “Massiv Ski Route”. I could go directly and Ola explained a route to me, and said most of it would be marked. Even if it was not the weather was starting to clear and after 3 day of misty conditions there were views again.

I went south along Tyin Lake for 3 km then cut up across the road and up the slope to Galdstjernet lake. I was was back into the mist now, but the route was marked with wooden twigs as it veered west and undulated across the tundra like landscape. As the marked route started to descend into the big bowl with Bjødalstjernet Lake in the bottom of it, I left it and slowly traversed round the hillside keeping height.

This meant I had less to climb on the south side of the bowl to reach the lip where Slettningen Lake lay. The sky was clearing now and the views were opening up lifting my spirits. In fact the ski along the south shore of Slettningen Lake was a delight. Just beyond the end of it I veered south and prepared for a steep descent. I remembered coming up here once and it was difficult as it was wet snow..

29. The descent from the route between Tyinstølen to Kyrkjestølen marks the end of Jotunheimen. The mountain in the distance is Suletinden in Skarvheimen

However, this time the snow was perfect. It was a foot deep, light, dry and consistent and I had a great ski down the valley for a good km linking turns in the virgin bowl with no other tracks. After this it got much steeper so I just traversed the slope weaving between the trees. Where I did not have the confidence of managing a turn I stopped and did a step-turn before traversing another 200 metres again in a series of long zig-zags.

Near the bottom I looked up to see Mads coming down. He was a great skier and made it look easy, Natascha was far behind him and she was following in my zig-zags. At the bottom of the slope we reached Kyrkjastølane, which was an old collection of summer farm buildings and a chapel, whose idyllic past was now compromised by being beside the main E16 road between Oslo and Bergen. Adjacent to one of the cabins here we found a warm sheltered terrace with a bench and had lunch in this sun trap.

After lunch we crossed the road and climbed up onto Filefjell. I knew the way so lead off with Mads and Natascha following. I made good time up the hill as my ski fitness was starting to return. We chatted as we climbed up onto the plateau of Filefjell. I was soon out of breath trying to keep up with these two, who were both police officers and triathletes, so at the top of the hill I took my foot off the gas and let them ski off.

30. On the Filefjell plateau between Kyrkjestølen and Sulebu cabin

It was about 5 km across the high plateau of Filefjell to reach Sulebu hut. The sun was warm and I was skiing just in my shirt as I glided over the undulating plateau. I arrived at the huts at about 5 pm, but the hut which Mads and Natacha had chosen was quite full with a large mixed nationality group, so I when into the other hut.

There was only Kaja and her friend Morten, who was joining her from here to Haukeliseter. This cabin had provisions, wood and long rows of beds so there was plenty of room. I chatted with Kaja but Morten was a man of few words. Before bed I went through to the other cabin to make a plan with Mads and Natascha about skiing all the way to Bjordalsbu tomorrow which was 30 km away.  

It was a cold morning when I went over to the other hut. Natascha and Mads were ready and we set off. Initially we skied across the flat but then we had a steep climb up to the saddle, called Sulesharet, between Suletind and Sulefjell. My lungs were hurting in the cold morning air as I breathed heavily to keep up with the young triathletes. It was a dull day with low cloud and the fantastic view to the mountains between Bygdin and Gjende lakes in Jotunheimen were obscured.

Mads and Natascha skied off down the other side, but I wanted to avoid this rapid descent and lose my height gradually, so I traversed down the slope for almost 2 km and caught up with them. It was to be the only time I got the better of them. We skied then as a team chatting to each other for another hour by which time we had done another 5 km to reach Masseringstjøni lake. Here we had previously discussed leaving the normal marked route, and taking a easier short cut I did a few years ago, but in the other direction.

Instead of veering west, climbing a 100m ridge and then having a steep and difficult 400m descent to Breistølen followed by a 400m climb to Starsjøen, we continued south from Masseringstjøni lake down the open wide valley with easy skiing to Eldrevatnet lake. Mads and Natascha shot off and flew down the 4 km in a flash but I was tired and zig-zagged from side to side in the poor light. One one misty sections I was disorientated, like scuba diving in milk, and hit a small snow ridge which sent me tumbling.

At Eldrevatnet we regrouped and had a snack before crossing the road and heading up Øljusjødalen to our south. It was quite a steep valley but we kept to the east of the frozen stream ravine, and crossed it some 2 km after crossing the main road. The weather was clearing now and there were large patches of blue sky letting the bright sun through.  We now headed west to Nordre Halsatjøni lake and climbed in a gentle arc up to Starsjøen.

31. Hurrungane from the south as seen crossing Starjøen lake near Bjordalsbu cabin

Before Starsjøen the weather had cleared sufficiently to give us a wonderful view north to the southern side of Hurrungane, the massif which I cherish so much. The wind was starting to pick up though and there was a river of spindrift flowing across the bright snows surface. With the sun on it every small undulation and ripple was crystal clear, while it had been lost in the mist an hour ago.

We skied across Starsjøen lake and picked up the official ski route, marked with twigs on the other side. We had saved ourselves some 200 metres of ascent and descent and a couple of km coming this way, and had easier skiing to boot. Now my route finding was over I did not have the energy to keep up with the other two who were as fit as professional athletes.. While I put skins on for the upcoming climb and had another snack, they continued and were soon two dots near the top of the slope.

32. Natascha Vingereid and Mads Skipanes crossing Starsjøen lake en route from Sulebu to Bjordalsbu

The last 4 km were into a near gale, however, the sun was out and I did not need to put my gore-tex jacket on. It was a long climb at the end of a long day and I found these last 4 km quite taxing. Virtually the whole way I could smell wood smoke from Bjordalsbu cabins, which gave me false hope it was just round the corner. However, I just took my time at a more sustained pace and was not exhausted when I got there.

The hut was busy with about 10 people already there and I could see another 10 coming up the slope behind me.  It is a self service hut but the I managed to find a 2 bed room for myself, laid my stuff out and then I got my provisions and settled down. There was a great atmosphere in the hut with plenty of chat and laughter across the candle lit tables with a large stove burnt in the corner drying everyone’s clothes to a crisp. I found the hut book with my first entry in 20/03/1984 from my first ever ski trip in Norway from Tyin to Finse.  

I had a lazy start. I knew the route today and looked forward to it. It was still respectable at 17 km but it was perhaps the easiest 17km of the trip. The wind was still a good force 4 from the south but the visibility was good. There was a small gentle 100m climb across a series of lakes to the high point. Patches of mist and shafts of sunlight were making it very atmospheric.

After the high point there was another series of lakes with the gentle slopes between them just enough to glide down. It was the most relaxing of skiing. However it was soon to get even easier with some fun sections as I started down a near continuous 10km slope and the wind disappeared

The sun came out and I could feel it’s warmth, despite the cold air rushing past my face as I sped down. Quite a few times the marked trail dropped quite steeply and then crossed a flat section but I avoided this combination by veering to the east side of the valley and slowly traversing down until I was level with the end of the flat section, and ready to start the whole traverse detour again at the top of the next steeper section.The consistent firmness of the snowpack, and new snow covering it, made perfect conditions, what Norwegian call “silkeføre” or silky conditions.

As I reached the bottom at Djupvatnet lake I noticed the the sun was bright and the wind had completely vanished. I stopped for as snack on a mound of snow and could feel the heat on my face. I put cream on my chapped lips, nose and ears to save them from more sun. There was a family of Norwegians sunbathing in a snowy hollow basking in the sun’s reflected rays.

33. Approaching Lungsdalshytta lodge with Lungsdalen valley in the background, which is the way up to Kongshelleren Cabin

From here is was a short relaxing kick and glide across the lake for an hour to Lungdalshytta lodge. The last 200 metres were up a steeper slope and my skis were slippery. I was too lazy to stop and put the skins on so I had to work my arms hard to stop myself sliding back. It had been such a short easy day I could almost treat it as a rest day.

The lodge was not too busy. Mads and Natascha were already here and during the afternoon about 20 people arrived. I got my own 2 man room again and had a great shower and clothes wash. The lodge was very traditional and had a cosy living room to read and relax in with many groups gathered and chatting while waiting for the meal. The meal when it came was superb with local dishes from the produce of the summer farms like Rømmegrot and smoked trout. I had a vegetarian dish which was delicious and enough for 3. If was the best food of the trip so far.

34. Inside the stue, or living room, of Lungdalshytta lodge. This lodge has its own summer farm and much of the produce is served to the guests.

After yesterday’s easy day I was ready for the 28 km to Geiterygghytta. The route took me up Lungsdalen for a solid climb of 600 metres over 8 km. The sunshine of yesterday had gone and now It was a gentle wind and light snow, but the visibility was not too bad as I slowly climbed past Eivindbotn. It was here an outlaw, Eivind Fredlaus, used to hide when during a 20 year period in the 1700’s when  the authorities were after him. It must have been bitter in winter when he fled to his stone hut here.

35. Heading up Lungsdalen to start the climb up to Kongshelleren cabin some 15 km away

At the top of the climb I reached a plateau with the two Volavatnet Lakes on it. As I was skiing across these lake to Kongshelleren hut there was a party of 8 coming towards me. They are formed 4 pairs and had got their windshelters out and threaded their ski skicks through the loops on each side. Each person then grabbed their skicks and stretched the sail between them. With the force 4 behind them each pair was wizzing across the flat lake with the nylon sheel billowing in front on them. I had done this on my own sometimes but the pain in ones arms was too much to bear after 5 minutes of fast excitement.

Kongshelleren hut was a smaller self-service cabin. Apparently it had been very busy the previous night with many people sleeping on the floor. This is often the problem with the self service cabins around the Easter week, –  which was still a few days away. I just had my lunch here as a group of 15 arrived from Geiterygghytta. They said it was busy there last night also and likely to be tonight as there was a well known musician on a ski tour there with his entourage.

It was another 12 miles to Geiterygghytta, and I remembered it being mostly down with a couple of kilometres of a taxing uphill. The downhill bit was most of the first half but the gradient was not enough to give me a free ride except down into a valley at the end of it. The uphill bit was strenuous and seemed to go on more that I expected. Just when I thought I was at the top it veered of in an unexpected direction and climbed even more, mostly unnecessarily I grumbled to myself.

However the last 3 km from the top of the climb to Geiterygghytta lodge were a fantastic downhill glide, with the occasional exciting steeper bit where I had to leave the established track and make my own way, traversing across the hillside. It was a fun descent, but I was glad to arrive at the lodge as my legs were burning with effort.

I was distraught to see so many pairs of skis outside, perhaps a hundred pairs. The lodge was going to be busy. When I went in the couple running the place where a little stressed sorting visitors out with sleeping arrangements. The lodge is quite near the road and easy to get to so there would be many skiers here due to that, add to this the proximity of the Easter holiday and the 30-40 music fans and entourage of Daniel Kvammen and it was overfilled. I along with 50 others would have to sleep on mattresses on the floor in the living room once Daniel’s concert was over.

The lady barked at a few people who complained, and also me when I asked where I could put my rucksack, so I felt a bit put out and considered continuing to Finse another 6 hours away. However, just that moment she had a cancellation and sought me out to offer me a bunk bed in the annex, which I took at once and forgave her stern tone earlier.

The food was good and the concert was busy. In fact there was no room to watch it, so I sat in the parlour and chatted to other guests. One was Henrik who I met a month earlier when I went to Finse Hotel to give a talk on my trip and he had been in the audience. As it happened Henrik was a friend of the Daniel, the young musician, so he came and chatted to us when he paused for a break.

I was looking forward to ski to Finse Hotel, where I knew a few people who worked at the hotel. Daniel and his musical entourage were also going to Finse but they would be staying in the DNT hut which would no doubt be chaotic. I set off quite early after a great DNT buffet breakfast into the dull overcast day with low cloud. I started with Mads and Natascha but they were on a mission to catch a train back to Oslo so we said our goodbyes.

It was getting significantly fitter now and it did not take long to head up the valley to Omnsvatnet, as the tracks made by many skiers had not been driven over by snow scooter. I had a good glide and my skis slid nicely in the slots left by the skiers of yesterday and already this morning. I ignored the marked route which seemed to take a unnecessary deviation to the north halfway along the lake over some large knolls and continued to the west end of the lake, where I met the marked route again.

From here is was a long sustained 200m climb up the slope to the south for about 2 km by which time I reached the barely discernable remnants of the Omsbreen glacier, which were now just patches of smooth “firn” snow. It was windstill at the top and a bit misty, with large snowflakes slowly drifting down out of the sky. It was quite busy and I I must have passed 10 skiers coming down just on this descent.

From the top I readied myself for the long run down to Finse. It was steep enough to get a good glide, but not so steep so that I had to work hard to control the direction of my skis. My rucksack was lighter now and I was fitter, so I could be more adventurous on my turns. It was 6km all the way to Finse and I loved every minute of it. My legs were burning when I finally got to the bottom but I was exhilarated.

Finse was busy. It was quite a shock to see so much going on and a train was just digorging its contents as I arrived. I skied across the train tracks once it had gone and made for the Hotel. I have known the manager, Laila, for some 18 years having first met here when she was working at Turtagrø in Hurrungane. She was a friend rather than an acquaintance, and I was greeted with a big hug.

I had been to Finse some 6 week previously to give a talk at the Expedition Festival when I skied across Hardangervidda in early February from Haukeliseter and had not seen anyone for 5 days. I was vague on my expenses for this previous trip, and the hotel felt they still owed me so I got a very big discount. After I showered I went upstairs and kept bumping into people I knew so it was a very sociable afternoon..

In the evening I dined alone in the large dining room until I was joined by Laila and her Canadian boyfriend, who was a Richard Gere lookalike to a T. He was a enthusiastic kiter and Finse was a mecca of snow kiting. Indeed he had come all the way up from Ljosland in the previous week. We had a few beers together in the evening before I went to bed.

36. Finse is on the railway line and an easy destination to get to so is popular with wintersports enthusiasts. Snow kiting is especially popular here

Finse and the area was very busy. There was a lake in front of it which was teeming with kiters and looked like a wintery Bruegel painting with hundreds of people enjoying themselves on the snowy surface. Easter had just started and Norwegians flock to the mountains like the proverbial lemmings for the Easter week. For the visitor it is a time to avoid as the huts are all very busy and usually I would have expected to sleep on the floor in at in least 3 of the next 5 lodges and huts.

However I had a stroke of luck as Laila explained to me people were avoiding Hardangervidda and indeed Finse. The had been an outbreak of Norovirus in one of the huts and this had spread to all the huts on Hardangervidda. The press had got hold of this story and blown it up out of all proportion so it became a National story. I was also in luck with the weather. The  forecast for my next and final leg across Hardangervidda was absolutely stunning with 5 days of horizon to horizon sunshine and no wind as a heavy high pressure dominated Southern Norway.

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