It is December 31st 2014 and together with my buddy Ulrich I am in Beitostølen at the barrier to the winter-closed Valdresflye road. Many months of planning are behind us, every minute in our spare time we spent to it during the last six months. Everything is in place, the logistics of supply packages is organized, and now has us Morten, a friend from Fagernes, released from the car at the barrier. We want to start here, because the conditions in the mountains further south were too bad in our opinion. The large and partially regulated lakes are not safely frozen, during December it was just too warm and the temperatures were too inconstant. We don’t want to take any unnecessary risks and therefore we do not start in Lindesnes, but here in Jotunheimen, where the conditions seem to be better and above all to be safe.
We now start into a great adventure in which we do not know what to expect. The unknown is waiting to be discovered. I do not mean Norway itself, which we both know from many trips pretty well. No, I mean the unknown conditions in the mountains and the experiences that await us. We are curious if our planning comes up, whether we have chosen the right equipment and if our planned route is really as good as we think of it. We have 90 days left for our adventure, then we’ve to be back and to work again.
Just after a few kilometers as we reach Bygdin lake we are confronted with the hard reality. The lake is not frozen at all and the road, which we follow here is lying partially open in front of us. The black tarmac provides a big contrast to the white surroundings, with much effort we carry the pulks of the snow-free parts. Large parts of ice, which are interspersed with split, slow down our pulks and the plastic runners suffer from this conditions. Hopefully it is not going on like this. After a relatively short first day of hiking we decide to put up our tent with a beautiful view over to the Bitihorn. We don’t want to rush anything, it's the New Year's Eve and we’re happy to stay the first time in our tent. With brought cans of beer we clink glasses to the start of our tour and fall asleep through the New Year's Eve.
We follow the Jotunheimsvegen over to Dalseter Hotel, from where we follow the Peer-Gynt ski run. The days are exhausting, but we slowly get used to being out all day and having always the heavy sled behind us. It is going well, the trails allow us a good pace. The planning of the route has swallowed a lot of time, Ulrich has with incredible meticulousness picked out the best ways and tracks. A Sisyphean task, which starts to pay off now. Then, the first major hurdle comes with the Gudbrandsdalen in sight. With a lot of strength we walk the numerous vertical meters down to Vinstra and back up from the deep valley. High above the valley, we build up our tent in the moonlight on the forest.
From Vinstra we head towards Rondane. Thanks to the trails and seter-tracks we are making good progress. Only once did we end up in a roadless valley full of deep snow, which costs us an incredible amount of energy and time, our strength is severely tested. About the wonderful Rondablikk hotel, where we are the only guests and have the whole place for ourselves, we come to Rondvassbu. In complete darkness we reach in the glow of our headlights the winter hut, not even the moon has shown us the way. We're totally exhausted and decide to have a day of rest the next day, which will bring us new strength. The relaxed rest day goes by with much idleness and we recover well. When we want to start the next morning Ulrich is caught with diarrhea, probably anything in the food was bad. We have to stay here another day, to go on would not be possible and just absolutely negligence. I use the extra day off for a trip to the wonderful surrounding, Ulrich is slowly recovering. These are the things that you cannot expect when planning such a tout, but unfortunately these things will happen again and again.
After this unexpected break, it's the next day, Ulrich has recovered enough that we can go on. On the way from Rondvassbu to Dørålseter there is very little snow, time after time, we have to carry the pulks by hand or have to drag them over stones and gravel. We are moving forward with difficulty, the ratios sap our strength and our patience. When we follow the track from Dørålseter out of the Rondane mountains the next day, we go through a tough test once again, the snow has been partially full blown away, we run over the frozen gravel and bare ice. Disillusionment and frustration is spreading, no one imagines that the winter in Norway’s fjell is like this.
But it's no use. We fight our way moving forward and run for Alvdal and then to Tynset, afterwards to Tolga and further to Røros. In the old mining town, we get a first supply package with new food. The sleds are once again fully loaded with food, as Mother Nature shows us the next day briefly who is the boss. Very powerful wind tugs at us and we sink cursing into deep snow. Only with great difficulty we are moving forward at a very slow walking pace, but nobody said it would be easy, quite the contrary. We swear like hell the whole time.
In the afternoon we cross the great lake Aursund and we’re allowed to stay at incredibly nice Norwegians home, we just knocked on the door of their house. Next we arrive at Vaektarstua after long stage, in this hotel has Thor Hayerdahl wrote his book about his Kon-Tiki expedition.
An exhausting day awaits us the next morning, we want to walk over the lake Nesjøem to the DNT hut Storerikvollen. The lake is nearly 20 km long and well after dark we reached the hut. Just before the hut we have missed the way and a belt of birch blocked us almost the direct way to the winter hut, we always stick to the branches of the trees with the sled. Much later than expected, we finally sit in the cabin and just want to go to bed, close to the goal can sometimes be so incredibly far.
Next, we reach the Kluksdal and go for Storlien in Sweden, where we have a rest day in the local STF station and we have to get new skis. The first pair has not withstood the split, the gravel and the little snow, the climbing zone is completely done. It is not so easy to find the right ski, we have to take the train to Meråker in Norway. But we choose the wrong ski, we don’t get along with the skis with short skins instead of a climbing zine we were used to. Our pace with this skis is to slwo. So we are pretty upset about our wrong decision. We go back to Storlien and replace the new skis against newer ski which have a climbing zone. To do this we need a whole day, we have to take the train for a one hour train ride to the Swedish Åre the next morning and back again to Storlien in the evening. This action of choosing the wrong ski cost us two full days and throws us back in our schedule. A bitter experience that we had obviously not scheduled. But it's no use and there is no long time to be angry about this. We go ahead further north, with the Blåfjella-Skjækerfjella National Park is a very exciting fjell area waiting for us.
Now we go back to the Norwegian side of the border and going to cross the national park. We’re passing the village Vera to go from there to Gaundalen. Progressing well, despite the difficulties which occur here due to the unknown route. Shortly before the remote hamlet Gaundalen we make a fateful decision and deviate from our planned route. Instead of 4 hours, we need two full days to reach Gaundalen. Cursing, exhausted and completely frustrated we spend the night here at Steinar’s place, a man who lives far from any roads and paths alone here on the farm. In the summer he likes to take his airplane for going shopping, in the winter he takes the scooter for two, three miles to go to Snåsa and shop there. A whole new world for us, we are from the densely populated Ruhr area. Even for Norwegian standards a very special area. There are probably only three of these farms left, which are so far away from any road access. Also the next yard Gjevsjøen, which is 30 km away, is of this kind, and it’s also far away from the nearest road.
We conclude to continue our hike from Gjevsjøen over to Sørli and Nordli. For the Blåfjella-Skjækerfjella National Park stormy weather is predicted, and our food is running out, we do not want to be stuck without food in the storm. Shortly before Nordli we stay at a family’s place in the countryside, we meet them by chance and find out that they are German emigrants, what a coincidence. And so we spend the evening together with the family in Sørli at the annual school musical, which is organized by the student’s on this evening in the school of Sørli. A great evening, we find ourselves in the midst of the "normal" Norway, far away from all the usual tourist attractions which German tourist are normally think about when they go to Norway.
With the Børgefjell the next major challenge is waiting for us a few days later. It is announced bad weather and storm, we must hurry up to avoid being hit by these weather conditions. At least two days, we will need to traverse the Børgefjell if everything goes perfectly. At minus 25 ° C and beautiful weather we run 40 km the first day and the next morning we find ourselves in a whiteout. We do not make it down to the safe Susendalen this day, the storm is faster than us. And so we are experiencing the stormy night in the fjell, which we wanted to avoid. A great wall of snow and our trusty tent protect us from the elements. The tent proved that some strong gusts, they cannot harm it. Stoic and well anchored it rides out the storm without problems, only our nerves are strained. We are relieved as we reach the safe valley after once again difficult conditions this day. Glad to finally be in safety, light drizzle, plus-degrees and thaw are awaiting us in the valley, a nightmare when you are on a winter tour. But at the wonderful Furuheim Gård we find a comfortable home for the night.
The weather the next day does not bode well. About Northern Norway, a violent storm is brewing. It is spoken by the strongest storm of the last 100 years. In this prediction, we are glad that we are no longer in the fjell but in the warm room. But the storm rages not only on the coast, no, here far in the inland it affects the weather, too. For the next few days large precipitation in the form of rain are announced and afterwards big amounts of snow will come. Not a good combination, the risk of avalanches will increase considerably. The rivers and streams will swell due to the rain in the next few days, possibly the thin ice will break on the lakes or the rain on the ice will stay there as overflow water. We do not have a good feeling and think about what to do.
Either we wait for better weather here in Susendalen, which would mean that we cannot go to the mountains at least a week. Or we consider a different plan. Feverish we consider what to do. Finally, we decide to go for radical plan, we want to go further north to go ahead before the bad weather will come. We want to take the train from Trofors to Fauske and then want to ahead to Abisko the next morning. This means that we leave out a few hundred miles, but we do not have to sit around twiddling our thumbs. Shortly before Fauske, after a few hours on the train, we ask the conductor if we will catch the bus from Fauske to Narvik? There we want to spend the night and in the early morning we want to take the train from Narvik to Abisko, there is better weather predicted for the next few days. The conductor disappears and phones the bus company. With bad news he comes back, all buses here in the north are set. No bus will go due to the bad weahther, we will only come to Fauske, not further. Our beautiful plan to beat the storm and the bad weather failed. Totally frustrated we get off from the train in Fauske and think what to do. It's snowing, it's windy and no one is on the road. Everybody stays at home in the warm house. And we hang around at the abandoned train station. We decide to stay in a local hotel and have center ourselves. How do we proceed? What shall we do?
The weather is not getting better, quite the contrary. Now the way to Abisko is probably cut by the expected snowfall, the road and railroad line from Narvik to Abisko probably closed. Frustration is spreading, as we decide to have a night on the decision. The next morning we discuss all possibilities, but always we come to the same conclusion: To go further, we would need at least a week, rather two, to wait for better weather, everything else would be only a false and dangerous activism. We do not want to endanger us and we don’t want to sit around for a week or two. Our dream, to go Norge på langs in 90 days in winter is no longer possible. A bitter realization, all well prepared plans are done, Mother Nature has rained on our parade. We were running well, have made a good mileage and now the storm "Ole" slows us down. What can you do? Nothing!
Without much further ado, we take a decision: We go back to the south and stop our Norge på langs plans. We cannot make it anymore in the available 90 days, nature has revealed us the limits and forces us to pause and reflect. If Mother Nature is against us, you cannot go on. We have learned the hard way how small you are out there in the fjell. A strong storm or a wrong decision and you are in great danger. We do not want to get in danger, we want to return home safely. And so the decision is rock solid, even if it is incredibly difficult to give up your own big dream.
Soon we sit in the train again, this time southward. Against the power of the nature there is simply no chance. We have learned humility to the elements and their forces during the past unbelievably intense weeks. We got an exciting lesson in Norwegian Friluftsliv, the winter can be quite adamantly but also be incredible beautiful. The tolerance to make mistakes is quite low. We learned a lot about ourselves and our skills. It is always the art of taking the right decisions at the right time to come back home well and alive. And this decision we have made together with the fantastic Norwegian nature.
We'll be back, I promise! Ja vi elsker dette landet!