02 March 2013


My down jacket, snowshoes, down slippers and all my other serious winter gear had been gathering dust in my cupboard for three years. Three! I had been stressing out about work too much to venture out into the snow for that long. But sometimes things change. They would come out again.
This time, the trip would go to Dovrefjell, a little bit north of Jotunheimen, the venue of the previous snow hike I had attended. And the group would be quite different too: in Jotunheimen, there were only two people joining I’d not met before. This time there would be 6; half the group! But Roelof had met quite many of them, and spoke positively about them, so I trusted that would be fine. People who like this kind of thing tend to be lovely. 

I suffered a bit from hike preparation stress. Would my backpack arrive in time? Would the meals I would compose be any good? Would I be able to find mind face mask? All such things. But I got all done, and on the morning of Valentine’s day I walked to the office, pack on back. The fun had begun!  

At 5 I took the train. I arrived on Gatwick, where I came across the Norwegian check-in machines; I decided to check in right there. Then I found my hotel. It was one of those where you get a bed and a bathroom and basically nothing else. A bit like a sleeper train. It worked for me!

My tiny hotel room at Gatwick Airport


The next day I flew to Oslo without incident, and after some wandering around I found the hikers that were already there. Two of them were new to me: Lieven, the Flemish guy (Yay! For those who are unaware of this: Flemish sounds very sexy in most Dutch ears), and Thomas, who would turn out to be the kit-fixated and –fixing chap. 

The others would all be on the same flight. And it was delayed. So much so that we figured we would miss the train we had booked to Dombås. But when they finally appeared at arrivals, they urged us to dash for the train; maybe it was delayed too! And what do you know: it was. We tried to put all of our extensive luggage out of the way, and made ourselves comfortable, looking at the snowy landscape outside. 

When we got to Dombås, a minibus with trailer awaited us. Lazy? Well, half of us had luggage in a sled, and these are best dragged over snow, and not asphalt. Four of us didn’t get in; we gathered all fuel bottles, and walked to the gas station, where we filled them all. I was chosen to do the filling: to my shock, I was the most car-ish person there. And certainly in the car top 2 of the whole group. What, me? I started talking driving lessons in my thirties. I remember the panic when I had to steer a car over public roads for the first time. I have never owned a car that was less than 16 years old. I regularly bike heavy bags full of kit in strange weather and at strange hours over 7.5 hilly kilometres just to avoid having to drive myself. And I’m the most car-ish person? Dear! This is a rather particular group of people. 

 The corridor of the youth hostel

Having purchased some 15 litres of fuel we walked to the youth hostel. There we checked we had all the tents, snow shoes, first aid kits and whatnot. All was accounted for! And we decided on who gets the one pair of flashy snowshoes, and who gets the extensions. Then we went for dinner.
Dinner was another nice opportunity to reconnect with those I knew and to get to know those I didn’t. And after dinner we got ready for a last night in luxury. 


The next morning we packed all our stuff. The luggage sleds were assembled, the food distributed: we had enough food for 12 people for 8 days. That’s a lot of food. And some of the men turned out to eat like orphanages. Lieven, for instance, turned out to be a triathlete: he just can keep on eating. But we manage to find a place for all of it, and soon we set off. Clumsily, in the beginning; as I said, these sleds aren’t meant for the road. And as soon as we found a snowy path, it was so steep that all sleds slid off it sideways and came to a halt at a birch tree. These first few kilometres took forever. But after a while we found ourselves on a ski track that took us out of town. 

 Ready to go! Back row, left to right: Thomas, Remco, me, Jitske, Marc, Jytte, Onno, Lieven, Jacoba. Front row: Thias, Felix, Marijn. Pic by Felix

Getting the sleds off the road isn't easy! Pic by Felix

 This is better: a proper ski trail (løype)

At the first break we put on our snowshoes; so far it hadn’t been necessary. But now we would venture into deeper snow. Marijn gave a small instruction to those who had never walked on such things before. And then we were off. Still on a ski track. And we were still going slow: quite often, one of the sled pullers would notice something going wrong, and would have to adjust something. But the day was bright and beautiful, and the views got better and better. And when we had lunch we were already looking out over the barren hills. And after lunch we finally left the path. After some walking through the dwarf birches we walked up a hill, past the last little tree, into the nothingness that was our goal. It was beautiful! 

Snowshoe practice

The view 

Leaving the løype

The last tree!

The view as seen through my glacier glasses

We picked some random place to pitch our tents. We quickly reached a routine: some would pitch tents, some would dig a kitchen and build a wall to provide shelter from any wind, and I would, as soon as the tent was up, have a snow shower. I don’t like going to bed sweaty. I shared a tent with Jitske: a fortunate configuration, if only for good old times’ sake. And my first meal was put to the test, and approved of. Good! And later, in the tent, I checked my feet: I had noticed some rubbing, and was wondering if I was getting blisters. There was nothing to see. I slept in while listening to the sound of snow on the tent roof.

The Dovrefjell-in-February idea of a pretty flower!

Camp in the middle of nowhere

 A fine kitchen under construction



The next morning I would have getting-up-early-and-starting-to boil-water-duty. When I got up, the camp was covered by a 5cm layer of fresh snow. So I took some pictures before I assembled the first stove. Breakfast snow melting tends to be the least popular part of the day: it’s cold, it is boring, it takes forever (you need to melt snow for breakfast, and for the whole rest of the day, which is well over 10 litres), and most of the time you’re just sitting still, but sometimes it gets very hectic, if two pots of water boil at the same time, and you have to mind both stoves, fill two thermal flasks, fill two pots with snow, and all of that at the same time. And Murphy rules, so the latter occasion always happens when you’re on your own. And after the first dinner/breakfast session, we also noticed we were using up fuel faster than we should. We had to be more efficient! 

Our camp the next morning at 7

When the sun was up it was clear it was another beautiful day. More overcast than the previous day, but still lovely. After breakfast I tried out our new policy of not leaving any waste; not even toilet paper. There are two ways of doing that: one is burning it, and the other is not using it in the first place. And why would you? There is snow as far as the eye can see. If you make small, elongated snowballs, you have free, eco-friendly, most toilet paper. Or rather, toilet snow. It works! Even though it does lead to you warming up your hands under your arms for while afterwards before you’re ready again to move on. 

 What the world looked like, the next day

When we left, we continued on the plain, until we entered a fairly narrow valley. In that valley, we saw we had actually walked parallel to a road. It wasn’t kept snow-free though, so it had been invisible. In the narrow valley, the wind had partially uncovered it. We kept on walking, until we encountered a low hill to our left; we wanted to camp behind it, as we hoped for some shelter. It was a bit steep, though, for people with sleds; some walked down with the sled in front of them, and some just let their sled slide down on their own. All worked out well! And we went to our routine: tents, kitchen, shower, dinner. I had felt rubbing again, but I ignored it: I had seen the day before it didn’t lead to blisters. 
One orange-trousered Belgian in a white world

There was a road underneath all that white! 

Jytte lets her sled go downslope independently

Our second camp

Jitske makes dessert!


The next morning the world was rather white. After breakfast, which we did a bit more efficiently (key words seem to be small pots, and more coffee modesty, as much as I dislike the latter) we left, and soon the world was almost only white. Generally, you could see a few back dots, which would be rock sticking out through the snow. That was all we had to navigate on. The navigators would decide on a direction to take, and point out a little dot to steer to. Upon reaching the dot, the compasses came out again, and the routine was repeated. For a while, I walked at the front; that was really strange. As the snow is featureless, you can’t see it. You just put down your foot assuming it will hit something. But whether you’ll be heading up, down or straight ahead is a surprise at every step. Daft! 

Leaving in the morning. Not much to see!

Insects in the snow. I'm in this picture, actually! Pic by Jytte.

Except for ourselves, the world was gone. 

Somewhere during the morning, two of the men traded snow shoes. Marc had been chuffed to score the flashy pair, but in spite of their good looks, they were heavy and clumsy, and he was feeling it in his groin. Thomas heroically took over. And the trip instantaneously became much more fun for Marc. And Thomas coped well with them. To a certain extent: somewhere during the day we encountered a steep hill, and he tried to go straight up. The snowshoes didn’t provide enough grip, though, and he slipped. He bruised one hand and cut the other, so he left an impressive blood train when he gave in and took the long way up, but it didn’t stop him. 

By this time, some of us had become tired or miserable. Some of us bag-carriers began to walk behind the heavily laden sleds, pulling them on steep bits. It was quite a way up. And Thias was feeling bad. We took more and more of his luggage, until we had it all; that night we would sleep in a hut, and we hoped that would get him back to normal. But for now he had to plough on in order to get there. During lunch we noticed it was even thawing; this wasn’t our day! Thaw may sound good, but it isn’t; everything gets wet, and there is no way you can dry things other than on your skin when you’re winter camping. 

Struggling up a hill

After lunch we saw a hut. But it wasn’t ours! We ploughed on through the whiteness. Until we reached another hilltop, and saw another building below us: the hut, in which we would have our resting day! 

When I got there I noticed some skis standing outside. There were people in the hut! They turned out to be three friendly young Norwegian chaps on a ski break. The hut could cope with twice our numbers, so that wasn’t an issue at all. We brushed the snow off our packs, carried them in, colonised the attic (12 sleeping places! Excellent) and put Thias to bed. We made ourselves comfortable, and brought out the booze. Then I went for a proper shower: all the way! When we camp I at least keep my shoes on when I snow shower, and quite often I don’t bother with my legs, but this time I could run out on crocs and wash my entire body, without having to fear melting snow dripping into my clothes, getting long johns/socks/whatnot wet. Nice! Many of us would follow my example. I also had another look at my feet. Two big blisters greeted me! Oh dear. I decided to pierce and drain them. One even needed a little piece of thread in order to not keep filling up again.

Sled repair Thomas style
We had another lovely dinner, and a generally nice, relaxed time. Thomas did some tweaking of his sled, and I found a quiz book in Norwegian. Jitske turned out to know everything about art and literature, and Felix about practically everything. Wiki-man! 


The next day was our resting day. But rest is optional: Marijn decided to go and have a look at the variety of mountain passes we could choose from for the next leg of the journey. Jitske, Felix and me decided to join him. We woke up to a glorious morning. The temperature had dropped immensely! 

The world looked strange that morning.

 Getting ready for a "resting day"

We leisurely kitted up and left at ~11. We walked into a dreamy landscape where the sun, the morning fog, and some snow battled it out. It even lead to a snowbow! (No rain involved!)
We walked to appoint with a clear view on mountain passes 1 and 2. We decided that one of them was too steep: it was capped by overhanging snow. The other one looked possible. And we decided to climb the nearest peak to look at pass #3 as well. We weren’t sure if we would actually see anything: fog and sun were still actively competing for dominion. But we walked up in blazing sunshine, and were rewarded, at 1800m, by a glorious view. We could see Jotunheimen! And the pass. We went down it, saw we would have to traverse a steep slope, which can be interesting with sleds, but otherwise all was well. We walked down in a nice zig-zag pattern, so we could walk up that same track the next day. 

Marijn catching the "snowbow"

One of the passes we were checking out, in the distance

The wind had done pretty things to the snow

Climbing up Skardkollen. The mountain in the background is Snøhetta.

On the top!

Zig-zagging down, to make  a trail for the next day

We got back to the hut the moment the sun vanished behind the mountains. Immediately, it was much colder. We had a quick look at an igloo some of the men had started building, but soon we went in, back to the wood stoves. After dinner I went to bed as soon as I could; I suddenly felt that this had had reason to have been a day of rest. 

 Getting back to the hut- it would be in the shadow when we reached it


The next morning we filled up all our bottles: this was our chance to do that in comfort, and without using our own fuel. And then I got into the sled harness: it was my turn. Marc had brought one sled, and we had agreed on taking turns with it in our 4-person cooking group. I tried to escape the wind pit surrounding the hut; that was hard! It took all my strength, and as soon as I had scaled the big slope, the sled overturned on the smaller one after that. What a start. 


Goodbye, Reinheim

 Me with the sled; notice the tracks behind me
It would indeed be a difficult start: we would immediately climb to the pass, and I wasn’t quite used to the sled yet. But as soon as we were on the top all hardship was over. Marc also advised me to re-adjust the harness; that helped too. But by then I had established a reputation of a problematic sled-puller; if I did as much as turn my head to admire the view, people were jumping up and down, asking me if I was still managing. And several times people started to push the sled without asking me if I needed that. We were walking on a flat stretch! It was all very well-meant, but a bit too much. Luckily, I tend to lag behind more and more as I take many pictures, and after a while I was walking alone, and could just happily potter on without feeling besieged. 



That day we got a nice bonus: after turning a corner, we saw a big herd of reindeer in the distance. They saw us, too; they didn’t like that at all. They took off. A nice sight! And we walked on; the light became more yellow, and we turned a corner, into a gorge. Very beautiful! We decided to walk on to the shore of another frozen lake. And we pitched our tents in the sun. I put on my warm clothes after my shower: it was a clear day, it would soon be very cold! And so would we be: Marijn had decided he wanted to sleep outside, under a tarp. And I like silly ideas. I decided to sleep outside too, but without a tarp. Felix and Thomas had the same idea. Felix had even brought a bivvy-bag. Why this night? We were sure it wouldn’t snow, and it wasn’t windy, either. That it would be -20 was another matter. 

 Sunset over the frozen lake

We would sleep in the kitchen pit, to be sheltered even from light winds. So we had to wait until the last people cooking were done. I seized the opportunity to take some long exposure time pictures. For some I was lying on my belly in the snow. The good news was that I was warm. 

Our camp in moonlight
When it was bedtime, I didn’t take any clothes off; I just got into my sleeping bag the way I was. I even brought in two jumpers: one borrowed from Jitske, which I put between my shirt and trousers, as I felt I was losing heat there. The other one was for filling up space. Space fills up with cold air you need to warm with your body! I laid down next to Thomas; I didn’t want to sleep under Marijn’s tarp, and I wasn’t to keep on the crackling and rustling of Felix’ bivvy bag. Thomas just had a sleeping bag. A good one, so he needed fewer clothes. He was worried I would slide off my mattress. I wasn’t; I don’t move much at night. 
My bed for the night

A last snifter!
After a last sip of booze we lay down and tried to sleep. Not easy; you really want the hole in your sleeping bag to be really small and only leave your nose exposed (not really exposed; I had my buff pulled over it. Otherwise it would be too cold!), and if you move then, the breathing hole moves and ends up in the wrong place. And it just was cold. And Thomas turned out to have been right; I was sliding off my mattress. It happened several times that het got out (nature calling?) and then dragged me back onto it. In the end he got fed up and fixed me with a snow shovel. Very kind! I dozed a bit. And at around 5 I noticed my feet were getting cold. I decided to ignore that. And to my surprise, they warmed up again as well! But when it was 7 I didn’t mind getting up. 


We did another cold spree of snow-melting; unfortunately, that always takes longer when it’s colder. And then the feared moment came: I had to put on my shoes. When they are -20 it hurts really bad to do that. I spent quite some time running around and making silly sounds to warm them up. Or rather, the running was for warming them up, and the shouting and gesturing was more placebo-effect. And when we were almost ready I walked off alone, to take some pictures of the group from the other side of the lake. We were well off the lake by the time I could feel my feet again. And it started to snow mildly. 

Eleven dots in the snow below a sky painted on by early morning fighter jets

 Heading for the sun!

The landscape didn’t fade; it didn’t snow hard enough for it. We enjoyed the changing views, and had lunch in the sun, at some hut. And after a while, we came across open water. Our chance! If we have water we save time and fuel. We filled up entirely. And walked on. We did get a view on a bit of vegetation. It looked lush, to our starved brains! And we found an extremely scenic spot to camp. I was already looking forward to sleeping in a warm, comfortable tent! And it seemed so warm this evening in comparison to the day before that I wondered if it might be thawing. While I wondered that I picked up something metal, and immediately froze to it. How quickly perception changes. But first things first. Initially there wasn’t much to do. I just had some whisky in the kitchen pit with whoever else was there. And I enjoyed watching Marc trying to negotiating the pit too. He was too heavy; without his snowshoes he would sink in to way above the knee. Funny, but not very practical! After a while we cooked another nice dinner, and after that I didn’t know how fast I should retire. I slept like a log! Jitske seems to have gone out to answer nature's call several times, as she seems to do most nights; I didn't notice a thing.

Yet another lovely view

Open water! An opportunity to be seized.

Approaching the camping place: some vegetation is back!

Our happy cooking group

The next morning was another one of the nicer, clearer ones. The landscape was stunning. We traversed another lake. But at the end of the lake we had a break. And after that break the weather got whiter again. And my backpack felt uncomfortable. And my blisters hurt. And my ski goggles fogged up, in between the two layers of plastic. This wasn’t my best time. We stopped at another hut for lunch, hoping to be sheltered form the wind, but instead, the hut channelled the wind. I got quite cold during lunch. When people then started to hit the snow, so it would blow in my face and my backpack and everywhere else, and they weren’t willing to stop, I got properly grumpy. That was the worst it got. Luckily everybody understands such episodes, and all was well soon. As we would, from there, only go downhill, I gave some weight to Jitske, who was pulling the sled. And I changed to my glacier glasses. And all would improve. The world stayed white, but you could just make out the hills. And then a valley appeared. We steered into it. 

The view through my skiing goggles

After a windy lunch, Thias seeks shelter behind Lieven's broad torso

 180 degrees view of the white nothing we came from, and the dark valley we were heading for
It was nice to see vegetation again. There were cabins, too. And soon I saw everybody flatten snow for tents. Our place for the night! It turned out to be a camping that was closed for the winter. But there was a toilet (too much fuss, I didn’t use it) and fire wood. 
I had a thorough clean (including legs, thistime) and then, while Jistke was changing, hung around a bit. I sat down at the tent of Thomas, Felix and Remco with my little whiskey bottle. People would come to visit it without first putting their snowshoes on. Bad idea! The snow here was really deep and soft. And we were at the end of the trip: people were becoming a bit more boisterous and careless. And what’s sinking into the snow up to your hip if you get whiskey for it? When I had changed too we started cooking and lighting a campfire. A campfire! Very nice. After eating my noodles (I had been a bit nervous about whether that meal would be any good, but it was) we discussed the plan for the next day. Walk into the valley and hitchhike to the youth hostel? Walk the long way, and have another night in the snow? Walk the long way, but all in one go, and arrive after dark? Or split and do several of these things? Some wanted to close the circle and walk all the way back. Some thought that if we would be surrounded by houses and power lines and whatnot we may just as well embrace civilisation and go for a pint. In the end, the hitchhiking won. And after a long night at the campfire (it was past 9 when I went to bed! Maybe even 10! Most nights it had been something like 7.30) we retired. I took some more night pictures and then slept like a log again. 

Jytte trying to stay on top of the snow while drinking whiskey

Thias hitches a ride on Lieven's snowshoes

Thomas makes a fire

 Marc and Jacoba's tent in the moonlight


The next morning a change of plan occurred. Some would walk the long way, and some would hitchhike. I chose the latter; I indeed thought it was a bit silly to go camp in the outskirts of Dombås. I’d rather hang out my sleeping bag and have some time with my (new) friends! The relaxing in the warmth is always a nice part of a snow hike. So we walked up together, through the woods, until the junction where we had lunch, and we would then split. 

 We were back in civilisation!

While we were having lunch, this dog sled appeared. the dogs were supposed to run past, but hey, they smelled lunch! So that worked out differently. It took the sledger a while to get his dogs away from our cheese and sausage...

 At 3 we reached the road. We decided to try to hitchhike in pairs. If we wouldn’t be out of there after an hour, we would phone a cab. So we started. Funnily enough, soon a man emerged out of a house along the road, and brought his little van. He offered to take all our luggage and 1 person (it was a two-seater) to the youth hostel. Very sweet of him! And it made it easier for us to hitchhike: lots of luggage doesn’t help. But it also made us less flexible: with our luggage we had given away our warm clothes, so we couldn’t wait for more cars for too long. 

Looking out over the valley in which we would try to hitch a ride

 Next were Marc and Jacoba. They flagged down a car that had room for four. Now we’re talking! That left only Jitske and Onno. We had ourselves dropped off at the supermarket: we decided to eat our left-over food, with additions of lots of fruit and veg, and a few beers. Then we walked up. Stangely enough, Felix hadn’t showered yet when we reached the youth hostel! I thought everybody would be gagging for a shower. But no. So even though I was easily the cleanest of the lot already, I was the first in the shower. 
Beer! And a musk ox skull! 
We enjoyed a beer, left-over snacks, and our fruit, relaxing before dinner, when we received a text message. It was the other group-they were here too! That changed everything. We postponed food, and said goodbye to our second beer. And welcomed our friends. It did mean we ate late; I was very tired by the time we could retire. But we had a lazy day ahead!


I was awake early. A week of getting up at 7 starts a precedent. I decided to just read a bit of newspaper. Soon Remco and Thomas appeared too, and we had a cup of tea. Nice and relaxed! And that meant it soon was 8: the hour of breakfast. Felix was already looking forward to it days in advance. So we went there, and filled up our plates. Hikers can eat. And nobody eats like Felix. I think that hostel is now bankrupt. 

 He ate at least three of these plate-fulls

After breakfast we organised the luggage again: stuff went back to the owner, the rented stuff was checked for presence and damage, and we tried to pack everything as efficiently as we would for the transport back. And then we just had a cup of tea, a chat and a read. But we still had stuff to do: we had left-over fuel, and we couldn’t bring it back. And I wanted to reserve a table for dinner. So dsome of us went down to the village. At the gas station we gave all the petrol to the first grateful owner of a slurping, non-diesel SUV. And I reserved the pizzeria. And we had a look in the only shop that was open: a kiosk. Even though it was in Norwegian, a magazine of outdoor equipment found a new owner. Then we had a look at the church, and I went for coffee with Thomas.

Dombås church
When we were back I found Jistke reading a book to Jytte and Thias. I joined. She was reading “Mutiny on the Elsinore” by Jack London. And she reads well! I remember her once reading from “les liaisons dangereuses”; none of us understood the French, but it was a pleasure to listen to her reading voice. It was a lazy afternoon. 

A 5 we went to town again; time for a beer! And then pizza! And then another beer! Best not to think of what it costs. It was nice to socialise. Even though we would have hours more in the train the next day. 


The next day we once again raided breakfast, and then got ready for departure. It was almost over! At 10:15 a cab brought us back to the railway station. And in three hours, the train got to the airport. I spent that time listening to more tales of an early 20th century fictional ship, and its dubious crew. And then we did all the checking in, buying a last thank-you gift for Marijn, and getting to the gate. We exchanged some last words of how great it had been, and how great the next trip could be, and then the first batch vanished through the gate. And then, one by one, we all left. That was it! Snieuwhop 2013 in Dovrefjell! It had been great. It was sad to say goodbye. From a week surrounded by 11 friends to going home alone. But I would see them again. Hopefully I can attend the reunion! And I have plenty of good memories and pictures to have a posteriori hiking fun that will last for the rest of my life. And when is the next?
Goodbye Norway! Vi ses!


Jesper Hansen said...

Did you see Dovregubben?

Anonymous said...

Fun read Margot. I grew up in Dombås! Glad you liked the mountains. Anders

Margot said...

Maybe we did, Jesper! I'll get back to that!

Thomas van Nieuwenhoven said...

Ay thank you Margot for writing such a nice travel log! All I have to do is send my friends a link... all these memories had become blurry the very same week...
So I'm "kit oriented", huh? I admit I admire a beautiful stove almost as much as the Dovrefjell landscape but I wasn't lugging around a steel shovel and you're the one who insisted on bringing tent pegs... thanks for bringing all that experience, gear, and good vibes. Thomas

Margot said...

Thanks Thomas! And what can I say? Maybe I should have been more specific: you seem to be kit-optimisation-oriented. I just lug things around! Like my aluminium (:p) shovel, indeed. Which has been used well. Like the pegs! And it was a great hike! Next year again, on skis?

Marijn said...

"Dear! This is a rather particular group of people."

Sic. :]

Thx for your log...it's a place to come back to, and do revelry & debauchery.

As is Norway. Gods, what a country...

I can't wait for winter.

Margot, hope to see you next time, and yes, skis are still on my mind... Marijn