Norge på langs 2015 - Nature on a grand scale

It's December 31st 2014 and, together with my buddy Ulrich, I'm in Beitostølen at the barrier to the winter-closed Valdresflye road. Many months of planning are behind us, occupying every minute of our spare time over the last six months. Everything is in place, supply package logistics are organized, and now Morten, a friend from Fagernes, has dropped us off 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, it was too warm during December and the temperatures were too inconsistent. We don’t want to take any unnecessary risks and therefore we're not starting in Lindesnes, but instead here in Jotunheimen, where the conditions seem to be better and, above all, safer.

Photo: Morten Helgesen

We're about to start off on a great adventure , not knowing what to expect. The unknown is waiting to be discovered. I don't mean Norway itself, which we both know pretty well from lots of previous trips. No, I mean the unknown conditions in the mountains and the experiences that await us. We are curious about our planning, whether we've chosen the right equipment and if our planned route is really as good as we think. We have 90 days left for our adventure, then we have to be back at work again.

Just after a few kilometers we reach Bygdin Lake and are confronted with the hard reality. The lake is not frozen at all and the road, which we're following, is lying partially open in front of us. The black tarmac provides a stark contrast to the white surroundings, and with a lot of effort we carry the sleds across the snow-free parts. Large parts of ice, which are interspersed with tarmac, slow down our sleds and the plastic runners suffer. Hopefully things won't continue this way. After a relatively short first day of hiking we decide to pitch our tent before a beautiful view over to the Bitihorn. We don’t want to rush anything, it's New Year's Eve, and we’re happy to spend the first night in our tent. With cans of beer we clink glasses to the start of our tour and fall asleep before midnight.

We follow Jotunheimsvegen over to Dalseter Hotel, and from there we follow the Peer-Gynt ski run. The days are exhausting, but we slowly adjust to being out all day with the heavy sled behind us. It's going well, the trails allow us a good pace. Route planning has taken a lot of time; with incredible meticulousness Ulrich has picked out the best route. A Sisyphean task, which starts to pay off now. Then, we face the first major hurdle with Gudbrandsdalen in sight. It takes a lot of strength to walk the numerous vertical meters down to Vinstra and back up from the deep valley. High above the valley, we pitch our tent in the moonlit forest.

From Vinstra we head towards Rondane. Thanks to the trails and tracks we're making good progress. Only once we ended up in a roadless valley full of deep snow, which costs us an incredible amount of energy and time, and tests our strength severely. After the wonderful Rondablikk Hotel, where we are the only guests and have the whole place to ourselves, we reach Rondvassbu. In complete darkness we use the light of our headlights to find the winter hut, not even the moon can show us the way. We're totally exhausted and decide to have a day of rest the next day, to recharge our strength. The relaxing day passes with plenty of rest, and we recover well. When we want to start the next morning Ulrich has a bout of diarrhea, probably something bad in the food. We have to stay here another day, it would be impossible and foolish to continue. I use the extra day off for a trip in the wonderful surroundings, and Ulrich slowly recovers. These are things that you can't anticipate when planning a trip like this, but unfortunately these things will happen again and again.

After this unexpected break, it's the next day and Ulrich has recovered sufficiently for us to continue. On the way from Rondvassbu to Dørålseter there's very little snow; time after time we have to carry the sleds by hand or drag them over rocks and gravel. We're moving forward with difficulty, the terrain is sapping our strength and our patience. When we follow the track from Dørålseter out of the Rondane mountains the next day, we're faced with more testing conditions. The snow has been partially full blown away, and we're walking over frozen gravel and bare ice. Disillusionment and frustration spreads, no one imagines that winter in Norway’s mountains is like this.

But it's no use. We fight our way forward and progress to Alvdal and then to Tynset, afterwards to Tolga and further to Røros. In the old mining town we pick up our first supply package of new food. The sleds are once again fully loaded, and Mother Nature shows us the next day  who is the boss. Very powerful winds tug at us and we sink into deep snow. With great difficulty we move forward at a very slow walking pace. Nobody said it would be easy - quite the contrary. We swear and curse the whole time.

In the afternoon we cross the great lake Aursund and we’re allowed to stay at some incredibly nice Norwegians' house - we just knocked on the door. After a long day we arrive at Vaektarstua, staying in the hotel where Thor Hayerdahl wrote about his Kon-Tiki expedition. An exhausting day awaits us the next morning. We want to walk over Lake Nesjøem to the DNT hut Storerikvollen. The lake is nearly 20km long and it's well after dark before we reach the hut. Just before the hut we lost our way and a stand of birch blocked our way, tangling our sleds in the branches. Much later than expected, we finally arrive and want to go straight to bed; the goal can sometimes be so incredibly far.

Next, we reach Kluksdal and head towards Storlien in Sweden, where we have a rest day in the local STF station and get new skis. The first pair has not withstood the tarmac, the gravel and the minimal snow, and the climbing zone is completely destroyed. It's not easy finding the right ski, we have to catch the train to Meråker in Norway. But we choose the wrong type, skis with short skins instead of a climbing zone like we're used to. Our pace on these skis is too slow. We're pretty upset about our wrong decision. We head back to Storlien and replace them with newer skis which have a climbing zone. We spend a whole day doing this, taking the train to Åre the next morning and back again to Storlien in the evening. Choosing the wrong skis cost us two full days and throws our schedule off. A bitter experience that we had obviously not planned. But it can't be helped and there's no use being angry about this. We head further north, with the exciting Blåfjella-Skjækerfjella National Park area waiting for us.

Now we go back on the Norwegian side of the border and cross the national park. We pass the village Vera and go from there to Gaundalen. Progress is good, despite difficulties with an 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, who lives far from any roads and paths alone here on the farm. In the summer he likes to fly his plane when going shopping, in the winter he takes the scooter for two or three miles to Snåsa and shops there. It's a whole new world for us, compared to the densely populated Ruhr area where we're from. Even for Norwegian standards it's a very unique area. There are probably only three of these farms left, so far away from any road access. The next farm Gjevsjøen, which is 30 km away, is also like this, removed from surrounding roads.

We continue our hike from Gjevsjøen over to Sørli and Nordli. Stormy weather is forecast for the Blåfjella-Skjækerfjella National Park, and our food is running out. We don't 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 immigrants, what a coincidence. And so we spend the evening together with the family in Sørli at the annual school musical. It's a great evening, and we find ourselves in the midst of the "normal" Norway, far away from all the usual tourist attractions which German tourists normally think about when they go to Norway.

With Børgefjell the next major challenge awaits us a few days later. Bad weather and storm are forecast, and we must hurry to avoid being hit by the weather. For at least two days we'll need to traverse the Børgefjell, all going well. At minus 25 °C and beautiful weather we ski for 40km the first day, and find ourselves in a whiteout the next morning. We can't make it down to the safe Susendalen, the storm is faster than us. And so we experience a stormy night in the mountains, something we wanted to avoid. A large shelter wall of snow and our trusty tent protect us from the elements. The tent withstood some strong gusts, without being damaged. Stoic and well-anchored it rides out the storm without problems, only our nerves are strained. We're relieved to reach the safe valley after another day of difficult conditions. Glad to finally be in safety, light drizzle, plus-degrees and a thaw await us in the valley, a nightmare when you're on a winter tour. But at the wonderful Furuheim Gård we find a comfortable bed for the night.

The weather the next day doesn't bode well. A violent storm is brewing in Northern Norway, perhaps the biggest storm in the last 100 years. With this forecast we're glad that we're no longer in the mountains but in a warm room. But the storm rages not only on the coast. Indeed, far inland here it affects the weather, too. For the next few days heavy precipitation in the form of rain is forecast, followed by large amounts of snow. 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 lake ice will break or the rain will stay as surface water. We don't have a good feeling, and consider what to do.

We could wait for better weather here in Susendalen, which would mean staying out of the mountains for at least a week. Or we could think of another different plan. Feverishly we consider what to do. Finally, we elect for a radical plan, heading further north before the bad weather comes. We take the train from Trofors to Fauske and then want to go further to Abisko the next morning. This means that we miss a few hundred miles, but we don't want to have to sit around twiddling our thumbs. Shortly before Fauske, after a few hours on the train, we ask the conductor if we can catch a bus from Fauske to Narvik. We want to spend the night there, and take the train from Narvik to Abisko the next moring, where better weather is predicted for the next few days. The conductor disappears and phones the bus company. He comes back with bad news: all buses here in the north are cancelled due to the bad weather, we can get as far as Fauske, and no 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 about what to do. It's snowing, it's windy and no one is out. Everybody's at home in their warm houses. And we're hanging around at the abandoned train station. We decide to stay in a local hotel and evaluate our situation. How do we proceed? What shall we do?

The weather is not getting any better, quite the contrary. Now the road to Abisko is probably cut-off by the snowfall, and the road and railroad from Narvik to Abisko are probably closed. Frustration spreads, so we decide to sleep on it for a night. The next morning we discuss all possibilities, but we come to the same conclusion: to go further, we would need at least a week, maybe two, to wait for better weather. Anything else would be dangerous and foolish. We don't want to endanger ourselves, 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. It's a bitter realization, our well prepared plans are over, Mother Nature has rained on our parade. We were going well, made good miles and now the storm "Ole" has slowed us down. What can you do? Nothing!

Without much further ado, we make a decision: we return south and stop our "Norge på langs" plans. We can't make it anymore in the available 90 days, nature has limited our progress and forced us to pause and reflect. If Mother Nature is against you, you can't go on. We've learned the hard way how small you are out there in the mountains. A strong storm or a wrong decision and you're in great danger. We don't want to get into trouble, we want to return home safely. And so the decision is rock solid, even if it's incredibly difficult to give up the dream.

Soon we're sitting in the train again, this time southbound. There's simply no arguing gainst the power of the nature. We've learned how the elements teach you to be humble during the past unbelievably intense weeks. We got an exciting lesson in Norwegian outdoor life, that winter can be quite demanding but also incredibly beautiful. There is little room for error. We learned a lot about ourselves and our skills. Making the right decision and coming back home well and alive is an art. We made this decision together with the fantastic Norwegian outdoors. 

We'll be back, I promise! Ja vi elsker dette landet!