28 March 2010

Responsible weekends

It's one of these times! It's a matter of running or standing still. I'm away a lot lately, and after having been away I have a lot to blog about. But when I am in Plymouth all is much quieter. I have to get my job done too! So I tend to work hard, and then the weekends have to be used for resting, dealing with the last trip, preparing for the next trip, and simply managing my existence. So since the IoW fieldwork not much spectacular has happened. I've registered for the elections in June, I paid my bills, subscribed to a course, tidied the house, saw "a single man", had a few beers with colleagues, read some books, that sort of things.

And mounted my new mining lamp onto my helmet! Dave had some extra club lamps, and Mike, who by complete coincidence is a light technician, was willing to improve these. Doing it myself would have been an interesting challenge, but my life is busy enough as it is, so when Mike volunteered assembling the whole thing and Dave for delivering it to my door I would have been silly to refuse. So at least I have a pic to show here. And my future mining pics will be better. I also got me a waterproof bag for my slave flash, so I'm getting more and more professional. But for now all I have to offer is a picture of a girl in civilian clothes wearing a cool helmet. It will get better!

24 March 2010

More pics!

I included pictures taken by the others in my Jotunheimen blogpost! So now it's prettier than ever.

21 March 2010

Prosperity without growth

Fieldwork. Prawn, fish and rice cultivation. Or prosperity without growth. Choose! Even worse than choosing between a cave and a mine. For some reason interesting talks tend to all be on a Wednesday at one. And some weeks ago, with three at the same time, was especially bad. I decided to broaden my horizon and go for prosperity, even though that talk would be broadcasted on screen, while the other presentations were given by actually present people.

The speaker (Tim Jackson, Surrey University) was introduced by someone who thought he didn’t need introduction. And as soon as he started talking it became quite believable he was indeed a bigshot. If you are reduced to a sort of a lustreless disco ball due to pixilation, and you still keep complete lays fascinated for an hour, you get something right. So what did he talk about?

He started with the easily imagined concept that growth, which is what capitalist economy strives for, cannot go on forever in on a finite planet. But if we can’t have growth, then what can we have in its place?

Let’s start with geometry. We have a sort of spiral now. Production, consumption, investment. And out of the spiral rolls stuff. Ever more stuff. Stuff we don’t need, bought with money we don’t have, in order to make impressions that won’t last, on people we don’t care about, as the rather catchy quote was. And one part of the concept was to decouple the stuff from the spiral. Stuff weighs too heavy on the planet. And you can’t fully do without stuff, as someone in the audience justly remarked. People have to eat stuff, live in stuff, wear stuff. But by now we are way beyond that level. We can easily step quite far back before it starts to hurt.

But if the spiral does not produce stuff, what would it produce? There should be something produced, consumed, and invested in. One possibility is services. A massage has a fairly low carbon footprint, for example. The problem with that, though, is that if you want more and more of that (and as in a capitalist society, you need more and more, as efficiency grows, but you don’t want to end up with fewer jobs), you end up commercialising more and more services, some of which now belong in the realm of interhuman warmth.

You can, of course, try to keep the stuff in rotation. Produce it in a sustainable way, and try to recycle as much as you can. This was not explicitly mentioned in the talk, but I assume that was more or less what was meant with “green” production. And what was explicitly mentioned along that line: we could shift quite far on the line from possession towards renting, leasing, and borrowing.

There was another piece of geometry in the talk. Something like a figure of eight. The initial spiral of production, consumption, and investment, expanded with a second loop, with the environment in it. It is becoming a scarce product. If the one loop produces money, part of that can be invested in the environment. That may be profitable, but beside that it may yield commodities that have a different value. And the environment itself would then be consumed. And again invested in.

And in order to quantify things a bit (perhaps a gesture towards the nerdier scientists in the audience) we were given an idea of what the situation we are in now, and what needs to be done. As we speak, it seems, for example, that in the USA for every dollar of economic activity, 768g of CO2 is produced. If you want to do things sustainably, this needs to be brought back to something in between 6 and 36 g/$, depending on which scenario you think is most plausible. That shows the size of the change that is needed.

As individuals we will never make it. Too few people would make the effort, and they run the risk of placing themselves outside society. The speaker referred to a phrase of Adam Smith; people should have enough stuff to be able to live “a life without shame”. And what that is will have to change.

So now what? Are we going to do all this? Do the consumers make it happen? Does the electorate want it? Will there be legislation in that direction? Will it be in time? I must admit I’m a bit pessimistic. Sure, a shift has started. You can now worry about your carbon footprint without being regarded as an airhead tree-hugging hippie. And that matters! I member the complete mentality change in Amsterdam, from that you were a boring pant-shitting geek if you had light on your bike, to now being stupid and antisocial if you don’t. That makes people move. But it’s such a modest start! Here in the UK there is a government campaign promoting driving 5 miles per week less. Five miles! That’s the size of the political will now. Far away from the orders of magnitude needed to not let things get too far out of hand.

I think the political will to make really rigorous changes will only be born out of serious disruptions. Something orders of magnitudes more financially destabilising than the recent financial crisis. Or rich, white people are dying in large numbers. Or both, of course. And the question is whether that will still be in time to stop things spiralling out of control. Quite possibly not.

But who knows. And it’s good to know there are people who are thinking about how society can be changed in order to fit onto our limited planet. (In that context, by the way, read “heat” by George Monbiot!) Maybe they will be called upon sooner than I think. Maybe we’ll be telling the next generation of these strange times, in which people consumed like mad, but were happiest when managing to lose weight, and relieved after having dropped bags and bags of clothes off at a charity shop. Just to name something.

One way to find out, really. And while I wait to let time reveal how we’re going to fare I will read the book that the talk was based upon. When I’m done with that one (I just got through the forests of prologues) I might have material for another blogpost. Stay tuned, kijkbuiskinderen, and may you all prosper without growth!

PS It was Sunday when I wrote that about having just gotten through the forewords. And yesterday evening, which was Tuesday, I finished the book! I don't think I've ever been so absorbed into a book about economics. I can reommend it to anyone. And having read it there's some things I see I have underemphasised. One thing he mentiones, for instance, is the fact that those in power only measure in, and are judged by, purely financial terms such as GDP. They should stop that! From a per capita income of $15.000 happiness does not increase with increasing income; perhaps on the contrary. Trying to increase that will most likely harm the environment while it does not do any good. So the author thinks the environment should be measured, and taken into account, too, as well as some index of wellbeing. And then you can try to increase the whole lot of these things! And I think that's true. I hope politicians, which are strong players in this field, will realise it too. For now they utter a mangled message; they try to show a green face by initiating government projects on green energy and ecosystem protection, but at the same time they encourage anyone to spend and spend to keep the economy going - in the wrong direction. Jackson points out that the financial crisis already revealed some of the ways in which the direction it has taken are questionable.
Both here in the UK and back there in the Netherlands there's elections on the way. I hope wise choices are made, both by the electorate and those elected! Would Bos and Brown, to name some big ones, have read this book? Let's hope so...

19 March 2010

The end is nigh - again!

As I came home yesterday I saw something strange and unsettling. What was it? Let me first remind the reader of my place in society. I earn my daily bread pondering the indicative meaning of creatures residing at some hight or depth with respect to sea level. Imagine my surprise when I found an earthworm climbing the facade of my house! It had climbed well over a meter. If I find traces of a worm in my sediments I see that as an indication ground water level is not far off. (In Dutch they're called "rain worms" and that's for a reason.) So a climbing worm? Why can they do that? And why was it climbing up; did its instincts warn it against an imminent flood? Like restless cattle just before an earthquake... Pack your stuff, move to higher ground, there's a deluge on the way!

(That the end is again nigh by the way is, as far as I am concerned, not a contradiction. The whole idea is to cry "wolf" as often as you want! So first it was bolognese sauce. Now it's a worm. Stay tuned for more bellwethers of the apocalypse!)

Subaerial caving

Back in Plymouth, back underground! Punctually I showed up on the designated gathering spot Tuesday night. In my very own car; Silverbonnet is back! I retrieved her Monday evening, with her new steering wheel.

We had to wait for Dave, who grumpily showed up somewhat late in an unloved new car, and lead us the way to the very obscure little parking lot where we really would leave our bolides behind. Dave knew the way from there, but Finbar had been there more recently, so it was he who lead the way. Some way, at least. We had a nice walk in all kinds of directions. Finbar darted up this hill and that. I started to wonder if we would get underground at all. At least it was dark and wet, so most of the caving characteristics were provided, even in the open air.

At some point Dave stopped believing in Finbars sense of direction and went where he thought it should be. And it was. So 75 minutes after gathering on the parking lot we reached the entrance!

It was one of the most modern mines we had done so far. Nice change! There were some collapsed bits, and lots of remnants of functional thingamabobs sticking out of the wall you could lay your slave flash on. And that was needed, as Neil, the caving group’s favourite flash monkey, is out of caving business for a while. He’s missed!

A collapsed bit

A section they tried to pevent from collapsing- so far with success (pic by Dave)
After the mine, where we spent only an hour, we went to the pub, where Finbar conjured up some self-made pickled eggs. Not bad! Some plans were made for visiting an upcoming beer festival. Why would caving be all about being underground. Under the influence might do as well. More above ground activity was contemplated: there might be a lamp making workshop soon. For that purpose I had to bring some stuff to Dave. Soon. The very next day, actually.

In places the anti-collapse structures were less elegant than at other places (pic by Dave)

Only when viewing the pics afterwards did I notice I had set off Dave's flash as well

So on Wednesday I biked from work to Dave and then the scenic way home. A nice hour of fresh air, all in the name of caving! And on Thursday I got an email reminding me of a committee meeting that I had completely forgotten about. So again I pedalled through town for caving business. I was the first, so I settled in a comfy chair with a book; something I was quite eager to do in general. After a while two other committee members showed up. Dave would be a tad later. But after 45 minutes he phoned it would be a massive tad, so I decided to not wait for that, go home, and get an early night. The most relaxed meeting I had had in ages! Just some beer and small talk. Lots of caving activity this week, but only an hour underground! A week of caving for claustrophobes...

18 March 2010

Isle of Wight revisited

Could I show up at the Isle of Wight on Wednesday the 10th, with a fully loaded rental car of which I would be the sole driver? Such are the things your Durham colleagues sometimes want to know. Well, considering I would arrive back in Plymouth from Jotunheimen on Tuesday evening the 9th, that would prove a bit of a challenge. Luckily there were no available flights from near Durham to near the Isle of Wight that day. I would get one day respite…

I came home, threw my very smelly clothes in the washing machine, ate something improvised, and went to bed. The next day I had to be on top of the game again, and get ready for the fieldwork. And I, or I should say we, managed! With Roland not coming along (teaching obligations) we had contracted Marta, the Spanish PhD student. And with my arm not working we had asked Rob as well. By the time I left Norway I was already brushing my teeth with my right hand again, which was a promising start, but nothing near full force coring. And we needed coring power badly!

The Durham crew wanted to see us at 11AM. It’s a 5 hour drive. You need to add another half hour for ferry check-in. I wanted to have some extra time for coffee breaks and possible traffic jams, as we would negotiate the vicinity of Southampton during rush hour. Ergo, I got up at 3.50, got dressed, reloaded the car (we did not want to leave expensive surveying equipment in the car overnight), and left. In the dark, quiet town I picked up Marta and Rob, and off we went. Worryingly my satnav indicated we would only just make it, so we sped on.

After several hours Rob was the first to really wake up. The satnav was an hour off! We had plenty of time. Unfortunately there was no good breakfast place around, but we did find an open supermarket, willing to sell us sandwiches and bananas for both breakfast and lunch. Now only some coffee! Nothing is open at that hour, so we had to settle for abominable coffee at the ferry terminal.

We first drove to the cottage to drop off some gear. With all the gear there was no way we could transport all the people, so we dropped all off except for coring equipment. And went to Cowes, to pick up the Antony and Tasha. I headed for the wrong ferry terminal, so there was some confusion, but all turned out well, and we drove straight to our beloved field site, which looked much more pleasant than the previous time. And we went to work!

For some reason these were parked at the cottage

So what is it really we try to do? The idea is that we want to know what sea level did all around the north Atlantic in the last 500 years. And one of our circum-Atlantic sites is on the Isle of Wight. And from old maps we knew that that marsh had been there for at least 500 years. And in the sediments of the marsh there are our beloved microfossils, which are quite sensitive to how often they are subairially exposed, and what the freshwater/saltwater ratio is. And that of course relates to sea level. So we needed a core with 500 years worth of marsh sediments. Not less, evidently, but also not much more, as you want to keep the total amount of sediment limited so you don’t get a serious uncertainty due to sediment compaction. And you need stuff you can do carbon dating on. Dating is as vital for sea level research as it seems to be for modern society in general! So we needed to core all over the place in order to get our heads around the stratigraphy, in order to know where we would find the perfect sediments for our purposes. When you have them, you take them home, ogle all microfossils, date the shit out of it, and have some intelligent people figure everything out that is not “pure” sea level but things like vertical land movement, gravitational pull of ice masses, atmospheric pressure, and confusingly many other such issues. But we were not at that stage yet.

Describing a core

We started at our previous site of choice, which was easy to find back. Re-coring it made sure we all knew what we were dealing with, and what the standard was. But we would look for improvement from there! So we set off, coring in search of the perfect sedimentary sequence. We had manpower enough for two coring teams, and the marsh never had a chance keeping its secrets.

If we find a core we want to take home we use a larger barrel

It is also useful to record the vegetation

At some hour even Rob Scaife turned up. Our guardian angel! It was good to see him again. We would do it again that afternoon in the pub.

After a while we had logged so much stratigraphy it was time to process that in the cottage. Luckily, for even though it wasn’t late in the afternoon, it had already become a very long working day. Time for groceries, a beer in the pub with Rob and his family, and then hungrily home.

Where it all comes from

Rob (our specimen) had volunteered for cooking, and it would be folly to argue. On top of that, Antony had been mindlessly boasting about his ability to make meringues, not knowing we had gotten eggs with our cottage. Now he had to put his money where his mouth is! And we looked forward to putting his meringues there. While I went through the first test samples under the microscope (looking good!) the men worked miracles in the kitchen. And when they were done it had been worth the wait. What a fieldwork feast. Amazing pasta followed by meringues with apple compote, yoghurt, and raspberry jam. Wow! But after dinner I was exhausted. I collapsed in my bed and slept like a log.

Rob in a position we like to see

The next day we continued our search. In a way, the day was very similar, except for that we got up hours later. Thankfully! But after a nice breakfast Marta made us a tonne of sandwiches, and we sped off to our marsh. We now all spoke the language of core description, so nerdily uttering code we interrogated the stratigraphy. We measured the elevations of anything interesting the old fashioned way; with a theodolite. Normally we drag state of the art GPS stuff along, but the Durham crew does not like that. And I must say, I got convinced as well. Since our thoroughly GPS-ed benchmark was still there we could level from there with much lighter, easier equipment. Learned something!

Antony showing us how the theodolite works

The staff that belongs with the theodolite

I guess we all learned. Not just dry scientific stuff. Antony learned how few topics, and how few phrases, are off-limits among non-Brits. We noticed Marta’s obsession with racism, and she learned the words “banter” and “hovel”. Related? Maybe… Marta further got an iPhoned taste of Fawlty Towers, which was about time, as absolutely everybody will refer to Manuel when encountering a Spaniard. Unfortunately we learned that Manuel’s accent is more Italian… I learned that Brits can use the word “cunning” without immediately being accused of parroting Baldrick. The Plymouthers found out that calling Antony “boss” gets you fired. We geographers found out what sediments excite an archaeologist, and the archaeologist found out many geographers indeed eat all the sediments they core. Or at least eat of all the sediments we cored. We must have cored at least our body weight worth of sediments, even with the narrow gouges used for a reccie.

Modern fieldwork: everybody nerding away on iPhones and what have you during lunch

And then it started raining heavily, and it was time for having Rob the Omniscient shine his lights over our achievements from behind a pint of bitter. And then home, where Rob the field chef would be making cottage pie. Soon absolutely everybody will want to take the bloke on their fieldworks; word of his kitchen skills is already going around. And he’s a drilling monster as well. And a better driver than me. I should make haste with all my pending publications, otherwise I’m completely overshadowed by the guy. Luckily he’ll probably never beat my language skills! Smart thing of Roland to hire him; you get an excellent PhD student, and you keep all your postdocs on their toes. Silly he only got that job because the number one on the list turned it down…

The working ethos of the Durham crew! Constructing stratigraphic profiles in the back of the car…

Yet again I tumbled into my bed completely exhausted. I woke up before my alarm went off, and already got out of bed. In the living room I found out I had been confused; it was an hour earlier than I thought. I did not want to get back to bed as that may wake Tasha up, so what could I do? I turned to my microscope. I did realise that microscoping before 7AM is so nerdy it can hardly be described, but hey, the job had to be done.

Antony taking the relaxed approach to fieldwork

And Tasha getting illustrative

This day in the field, which would turn out a nicely sunny one, we would try to round up. Already weeks before the fieldwork Tasha had announced the Durham crew would demand to be out of the field by 5PM, as there would be a rugby game on TV: England-Scotland. The foreigners couldn’t care less, but we were willing to consider giving them a try to convince us that that’s worth watching. Anyway, it was a wrap in good time! Rob the omniscient and his son had joined us again in the field, and now they were also willing to join us for the obligatory band pics. Northerners are reluctant posers! Even if they’re import-Northerners.

Rob being his usual serious self

They don’t like posing but they’re good at it!

At home I insisted on finishing my sample before I would watch that game. Just in time! I tried to make some sense of these hordes of stocky men piling up and groping each other, but it seemed it was a crap game, and not the easiest to make sense of. Marta lost interest after about five minutes and read Agatha Christie instead. Our Brits, on the other hand, got more and more excited. Jumping up, screaming, cursing; it was more telling to look at them than at the screen. Stwange cweatuwes, these English! I presume watching a good game that England wins would really cheer them up; otherwise it would be difficult to grasp why they would want to destroy their good mood for days by watching fumbling Neanderthals hurting each other.

When I took the picture the TV immediately got upset, apparently to the great amusement of Marta. But notice the stern faces of the Brits!

After the game we would meet Rob the Omniscient yet again in the pub. As I cared not for rugby I was the designated driver. During the game the Brits had already imbibed considerably, and in the pub they made it much worse. Tasha seized the opportunity to ruin Rob’s son’s soul yet again (she is almost banned from the island as she did that the previous time as well); this time she used her phone, which had a racing game on it. Even Antony, Rob the O., and me were persuaded to play. Rob, a typical eccentric scientist, was even quite good at it, quite unlike me, who crashed that car so bad I would have killed myself at least 10 times if that had been real driving.

Rob doing the racing game under the frivolous supervision of other Rob

To my horror they kept bringing more and more beer to the table. I wanted to go home! Nothing as annoying as drunk people if you have to stay sober yourself. If we would just go home I could join the debauchery. But nobody as insensitive to the sober as drunk people. Finally I could chauffeur a mess of embarrassing, lumbering, giggling sods home, where they sobered up while I frustratedly turned to a bottle of whisky, resulting in us meeting somewhere in the middle over dinner. And then we called it a day.
We did not need the last day for fieldwork, and we had to leave the cottage at 10, so we just got up and packed. I would first drive Antony and Tasha to Cowes where they would meet yet another Rob, and then pick up the stuff and the Southwesterners. The plan was to have coffee at Rob’s place, and then take a look at “the Needles”; some chalk cliffs off the west coast, and then take an early ferry. And so we did. It’s always great to end up in Rob’s unusual lair. And it really was my lucky day; the previous time I had developed a serious crush on his old fat cat, and this time she seemed waiting for me behind the window… first thing Rob pushed her into my arms. Bliss!

The cat does not look half as happy with the situation as me. Story of my life!

Romance tends to not last, so we were off again. Or maybe because it was such a lovely sunny day. Rob must have been exhausted, hung over, or both, as he was uncharacteristically absolutely useless in navigating me to the aforementioned Needles, but in the end we made it, and had a nice walk in the fresh air. These needles are quite pretty. And then we drove to Plymouth, unloaded the car, and drove home. Time for bed! And for dreaming of a successful fieldwork. There’s a big load of excellent mud now lying in a Durham fridge! And soon we will be locked up in laboratories and offices for months and months in order to process it. But that’s the name of the game. Watch us; we’ll boldly push forward to borders of sea level science!

Needles and charming ladies

How we drove into the sunset, back to Plymouth…

16 March 2010


My bag was the first on the belt, so only minutes after landing I could jump into a train. Going to the frozen wasteland of inland Norway? No, to my mother. The calm before the storm!

She ushered me out of bed early in the morning. I still love that, my very own mum waking me up. Over breakfast the radio mentioned train delays around the airport, so I dropped my spoon and left. Only to arrive on Schiphol as the first of the group of nine! Two more would meet us at Oslo airport. It was great to see all these people again, or to make acquaintance, in the case of the two new ladies (at least, new for me). We managed to check the gargantuan heaps of luggage in, and took the first blow of the trip: one of us, Thias, who was already in Oslo, had such trouble with his hamstrings that he decided to step out. Sad! But better that than going on, and ending up suffering unbearable pain several day marches from civilization.

Maaike impressed everybody with her self-crocheted balaclava

After hours of travel more we ended up in a very comfortable hotel for a final night of beer and luxury. The next morning we started! On a road, unfortunately, which meant as far as I was concerned we started for real after lunch, when we left the road. We descended into a little valley, where we had to meander our way among boulders and snow bridges on the sometimes still open stream, and past beautiful icicle formations. Great! Not very practical, though; we had to negotiate several frozen waterfalls, which is not the easiest on snowshoes and with heavy backpacks. And heavy they were; I think mine was easily 25 kg and not anywhere near the heaviest. But we had all sorts of undeterred people that had no problems hauling these beasts of baggage up the icy walls, and push their owners up by the bum so hard it felt like we were simply thrown onto the next level.

The start!

Not always easy...

It got worse and worse, though, and the day would not last forever. At the end we returned to the road in order to cover some distance. We camped on the stream.

I found shelter with Henco and Maaike, and together we struggled to pitch these unfamiliar tents. Henco and I went for a snow shower, and then it was time for dinner. It is dinner time as early as possible if you camp. Pitch the tent, cook, eat, and get the hell into your tent and sleeping bag. But this time, for the first time in the 5 year tradition of Beunhaas winter trips, we knew it would not stay that way. Later we would sleep in huts! But for the time being the weather was beautiful; not too cold, and the full moon bathing our campsite. I did, however, underestimate how much clothing I still needed to wear in my sleeping bag. But it all worked out. Including Maaike showing off her gymnastic skills while trying to get in and out of the tent while we were all aligned parallel to the entrance, with her lying in the middle.

I got up early to boil water for the road and for breakfast. It took us an eternity to get all the water boiled. But we set off in the bright sunshine, along the stream, until we again decided to get to the road as we were not making any progress. And after a few kilometres on the road Marijn realised he had mis-estimated our position the day before. We had been about 5 km away from where we thought we were! And no way could we catch up this day. But we could catch up a bit. We hurried all the way to the end of the road, where Spiterstulen was located. It was not officially open, but we could go to the toilet there, and drink water. Real running water, that does not cost you hours of sitting still in the cold! Excellent. I was much more worn out than I had expected at that time (maybe it was the hiking on the road; that tends to get to me), so I was quite happy with this luxury.

After Spiterstulen we went on, and found a place for the night. By now we pitched the tents in a whiffy. And we got more moonshine. More excellent food! And, of course, to bed early, this time a bit more warmly dressed. In the morning we were much quicker, which was good, for we were eager to reduce the lag behind schedule we had built up on the first day. Alas, we would be doing that with only nine of us. Jolanda decided to quit! She had intestinal problems, and those who cannot properly digest food run a high risk of not having the energy to keep their bodies warm, which is unfortunate if you’re camping at -20 degrees. So in our deepest sympathy we loaded her up with empty fuel bottles, and traded our broken snow shoes in for her immaculate ones, and she set off, back to Spiterstulen. We hoped to see her again at the end of the trip.

Sometimes we build large kitchens
With the remaining nine we walked into a bright white arctic fairytale land. We could even have a break in the middle of nowhere, in the sun, without having to care too much about shelter against the wind. Excellent! In the course of the day we did see some less favourable weather approach, but that mainly served photographic purposes, and did not really affect us. But keeping it in mind we did look for a camping place not too late in the day, and found one on the edge of a frozen lake. I was quite tired and had sore feet, and the funny feeling in my microscope arm that I had had in the days before leaving, and that had turned into serious pain in the days before had by now turned really nasty, so I was not at my best, but there were still enough people in amazing shape to easily compensate for that. Among them Onno who broke the snowshoe sprint record fruitlessly chasing a blown away bin liner, and Jeroen and Nienke who made us an excellent cabbage meal. Good!

The next morning was yet again crisp and fine, and in high spirits we set off, only to be confronted with one of Saar’s snowshoes being damaged. And this time we were not talking fractures you can ignore, but real structural damage where it is at its most detrimental. Now what? We tried all sorts of smart things, but with a lack of tools we had to settle for fixing the shoe in flat position; no more hinging for that one. Not very comfortable, but workable. As we had found out in the middle of the lake with no shelter the rest had gone on, and the three repair people (det er bedre med tre reparatører, enn med ingen reparatører!) were closing the line. The good thing with snow hiking is that you always know where the others have gone. If it’s not too windy, that is, and it wasn’t. So we walked over the trodden track, lined with cute encouragements written in the snow. Marijn was ahead, and walked all the way to the other lake shore, and then up the hill, before he found a large rock that might give us shelter from the wind. Might. Did not.

Jytte does not stop smiling because of a mere frost blister

Snowshoe panic!

Encouraging words

After the break, which do to not having space to sit down in the shelter, and not independently being able to fidget around in my luggage, was not very relaxing, we went on. It’s a bit of an unpleasant combination of factors if you try to snow hike with a 65 litre backpack; in the cold you need much stuff, so you need to pack very tightly (and fix lots of things on the outside) if you want to transport all of that. And if you then can only use one arm, especially if it’s your left one while being right-handed, makes things awkward. But luckily in this group people are always willing to compensate for the others’ weaknesses. Henco by that time was used to fidgeting out my water bottles and helping tighten my hip belt.

Me trying to find a way down

The wind had gained lots of strength, and it was cold. Nienke also found out there was open water around and collected some in her sock. We wanted to get off the pass, as below the wind would be milder, but it was a very steep descent, and it took us a while. By that time I was feeling weak, and I was very glad when we made it. We had another not quite wind-sheltered break, and then it was time to walk out of the valley, to the hut. The valley, however, had very deep and soft snow, and we made slow progress, which was not helped by people sometimes being stuck behind tree roots. The pleasure of descending below the tree line again. At some point Jeroen even didn’t think we’d make it at all, but all of us were so desirous to sleep in a hut this time that his fear was overruled, and we pushed on.

Maaike digging herself out

After lots of lumbering through the trees with its treacherous, partly tree-supported snow, and zigzagging through the riverbed with its hidden channels, we found a ski track. These have more compacted snow, so by then we knew the worst was over. And lo and behold, not much later we found the hut! The stove was still a bit warm from the previous guests.

I thought I looked much crappier than this!

I sank down in a corner to stare catatonically into nothing specific. I had given my all. My intestines were upset and I had not been able to eat much. Henco had already had the same thing, and we probably were now all suffering from the same issue as had chased away Jolanda. But now we were there, and the next day would be a resting day! I managed to get myself washed, and retired to bed at the earliest occasion. I did not sleep well, as my guts were waging war, and I was thirsty; melted snow is bad for you, and it was all I had available. In the middle of the night I got out of bed, had to make my way to the toilet again, and drank some healthier beverages like tea and hot chocolate.

The next day I was already feeling somewhat better. I had breakfast at seven with co-wreck Henco (these intestinally challenged people tend to get up all the time to make the journey to the unpleasantly far away loos), and went straight to bed afterwards. Not much time to enjoy the company (there were 3 Germans, 4 Swedes, and 4 Norwegians there too, in the course of our stay) or the great views in the nice weather. I slept like a log until Maaike woke me up, speaking of pancakes. Pancakes! I was glad to notice that thought really excited me. I was getting better! They were great, and just doodling around in the hut was great, but I went back to bed.

While I was asleep the fitter folks achieved all sorts of great feats. Fetching water and firewood, repairing and testing snowshoes (which involved jumping into some holes in the lake ice, for some reason), and even sawing a possible replacement for an incidental wooden plank.

The hut was a revelation. There’s food in these southern huts! You need to bring less stash if you stay in these. So had nice breakfasts without having had to ship the ingredients in ourselves. Very convenient. And that we appreciate this means we’re getting old. In Iceland we dragged ALL the food and ALL the fuel along for the whole weak, and never saw a heated room all the way, and now we were enjoying resting days in living rooms with big cast iron stoves and absolutely loving it. The hut was good for attending to frost blisters as well, which came in handy. Another first timer! But maybe that was not a sign of aging, but just of the low inland temperatures here.

The Onno show

Anyway. We would leave our shelter! The departure, which was facilitated by much nicer water boiling circumstances than when camping, was belated a bit by even more people succumbing to the stomach bug, but fairly early we were off anyway. It was somewhat grey, but we could see the good weather catch up with us. And slowly but steadily we walked to the other side of the tree line again. In the great white nothing we ploughed on in the deep snow until there was excitement again. Another snowshoe broken! In the same disconcerting way as the previous one. But now we knew what to do. During a coffee break we fixated also this one, and then we moved on.

Beun himself

Later we had another lunch break behind a rock. These are never big enough, and Henco and I could again not eat anyway, and Nienke was getting cold so she already prepared a track for us, so it was a bit of a restless lunch break, and probably exactly the reason why most people don’t do these things, but one should not see these things too bleakly. If you are cold and you hurt you just start walking! The fresher, food-fuelled ones will come and overtake you soon enough. So Henco and I walked into the empty valley. Soon we all together walked through the blazing snow, which was very beautiful, sometimes making snow eddies or whiteouts, but never obscuring the beautiful surroundings for long. And with the snow being hard there was even time to catch up! Saar and I did some additional getting to know each other, to the amusement of Onno who thought that an arctic windswept wasteland was a bit of a strange background for such activities.


By the time the hut came into view I was very glad with that, as my intestines were again giving me a hard time. We had eaten all the Norit, and I was hesitant to also eat some medication that Thias initially had brought. But I decided it was not going to get much worse whatever drugs I would take, so I took that as well. And in the evening things got a bit better again. And in this hut the toilets were not very far away! They even had a washing room, happily ignored by most, but put to use by hygiene-obsessed Henco and I.

Hut in sight!

In this hut we were to be alone. We had nice dinner, and a generally nice cosy time. The hut book provided amusement. Evidently things could e much worse than broken gears and high-speed bowels. We slept again in beds that exceed my own at home in comfort, and woke up to crap weather. The discussion on whether we would risk going out anyway or not was lengthy, and basically only decided by the weather suddenly turning beautiful. I was almost sad! I had parked myself on the couch with Nabokov’s Lolita, and was greatly enjoying myself. But getting out was amazing too. Another really beautiful day! We were so lucky.

The morning water boiling exercise

The weather up to 10AM

The weather from 10AM on

By now I recognised the pattern of walking quite well in the morning, not being able to eat much lunch, and then after lunch getting more and more intestinal issues. This time was no exception. The only reason I could eat something was Jeroen’s cheese, which was so amazing it’s stronger than nausea and stomach ache. We did get a lunch bonus, though; a passing telemarker who stopped for a chat. How smooth and quick did he disappear over the lake after that! We went the other way, and were rewarded by a great view, all the way to the sea. Brilliant! And then we saw more and more skiers. We had reached civilisation again! Good news for those in love; they could phone the objects of their desire again. I instead texted Roland; slightly less romantic, but with my arm not working and a fieldwork coming up straight after the trip I thought he might need to know there was reason to consider taking more manpower for the coring. I decided to not yet say anything about my digestive tract. I had just reached the end of my probation period! And now two of my main bodily functions had already given up!

Generally, walking over a lake goes without problems! But not always...

Me looking happy but feeling not too well

Thalassa, thalassa!

The sad news we heard there, however, was that we would not meet Jolanda again later that trip. Apart form having frost bite on nine fingers she had gotten bad news form the Netherlands, and had flown back. Sad.

What it looked like

How we often saw it- through sunglasses

After the phone break we went on. And it got tough. My stomach hurt more and more and more. After a while I could make only a few steps before I had to stand still for a moment to let the pain subside. That did not go unnoticed, of course, and I ended up being ordered to leave my backpack behind, and go on unburdened. I did not think that would help, but I was wrong! I concluded the problem was probably that my body needed lots of energy, and wanted to get that from my guts, which from getting no input and not functioning properly could not deliver, and then just resorted to hurting. So the backpack being gone, and the road only going down from there, really helped. I was already feeling much better at arrival! We had showers and beers, and really good food, and all got back into acceptable shapes. I felt a little bit out of shape among the other guests, most of which evidently had not left civilisation at all; civilian clothes and fluffy towels seemed to be the norm. Not with us.

Down there at the lake the buildings that include the hut can be seen!

The next day would be scary; 24 km over the lake. I was worried I would hurt like mad at such a march. And there was general worry about the repaired snowshoes on such a long day. But there was word going around about someone going to the next hut the day after, and being able to take a passenger. So that was quickly fixed: I would take the broken snowshoes, and whatever else people would not need, and take that ride.

And indeed, the next day I threw my extended backpack in a sledge, and climbed onto the back of a snow scooter. Two years at the Norwegian Polar Institute, and I had still never ridden one! It was great. We went at high speed through the surreal landscape. I attracted some worried looks from the driver when I could not resist shouting “wheeee!” when he went airborne over a hump, but nothing that a “thumb up” couldn’t repair. Reaching the other shore of the lake the bloke dropped me off. It was 3 km further to the hut. I was glad I had packed all the stuff in a carriable way! And on a day like that an asphalt road is even a blessing. I would not have wanted to plough through the deep snow (it looked like there was no track yet) with these two demolished snow shoes, that gargantuan backpack, and my amazing health. And 3 km road is quite acceptable. Slowly but steadily I approached the village, which I could see all the way. To my pleasant surprise the hut was the first building…

Imagine this view from a snow scooter and through orange ski goggles…

On arrival I met the hut warden, Ola. It became apparent quite soon he was fond of chatting away, and he invited me to a coffee. This beverage is not your first choice in the given circumstances, but I thought it wouldn’t be so bad anymore, and I didn’t want to be rude, so I accepted. Bad idea. We happily chatted away until he had to work again. I chose to bring my bag to the adjacent building where we would sleep. And which did not have sanitary facilities yet. Oops. I had to stay close to these. The coffee got to me. But I survived, and could settle down with a book in the main building of the hut. Somewhat later I wisely had a tea with Ola, solving the few world problems we had not tackled over coffee, when the latter suddenly looked up. A shape in the whiteness outside! It turned out to be Jeroen, closely followed by the rest. It was only 14.30, and they had already covered these 24 km! Tough people. This race had taken its toll, though, and now it was Maaike looking catatonic, and not eating. But everybody could now be as listless as they wanted. We were there! This was the endpoint. The books came out.

Ola cooked us excellent reindeer and moose stew, but we were ungrateful invalids. We were more interested in his toilets. And it kept getting worse; around dinner Jytte had her share of discomfort, but in her case unrelated to the widespread stomach bug. That was no consolation, though; she was kept awake almost all night by her digestive system. We meekly asked Ola permission to sleep in the sanitary-containing building, and got it. We almost also asked for 18 buckets. Jokes dealing with waste products of the human body were by now difficult to avoid.

In the hut we also made a cartoon about the whole trip for Thias and Jolanda, so they would feel involved and connected anyway. A good way of reliving the whole adventure! And for the next day we decided on going skiing. There was a skiing centre 7 km away, and Ola was more than happy taking us there in his big 4WD.

After a night that proved somewhat challenging for many of us we got ready to ski. That is, six of us, as Maaike and Marijn don’t like skiing, Maaike was on top of that still not feeling too well, and Onno had an Onno moment, and wanted to be left alone. We managed to all six clamber into the old car. Ola was somewhat worried about our ability to look after ourselves, and delivered us right into the ski rental. He recommended carving telemark ski’s, and we went for it. Telemarking the easy way! We first went down the baby slope, just to test the water. This baby slope was a real baby slope! We decided to try a real slope soon.

Jytte thought halfway the lift it was time to get out. Maybe it was the tough night. Anyway, we had proper group spirit, and all got out, which left us somewhere at random. There was a green slope below, but there was a decidedly red bit leading to it. Panic! The other five got a good taste of Margot on skis. Arm-waving, screaming “I’m scared!”, falling on my face, the works. But I got there. And then we went down. I still snowplough down, which is the least energy efficient way to do it, but it gets you there. I also tried a bit of telemark technique, and to my enormous surprise I pulled it off! Thanks perhaps to the cooperative gear, but still. I was massively chuffed! And we went up the lift again, this time all the way. Once on top some Norwegian lady attracted Nienke’s attention, and advised her to swap her skis. These downhill people are not used to bindings that are specifically left and right. She was more comfortable afterwards with the right ski on the right foot...

I was quite impressed by the ski centre. Three lifts! 14 slopes! Quite something other than the slope in Tromsø, with its one lift, and when I was there only the baby slope open, as the real slopes are the last place in Tromsø with snow. And the baby slope goes straight down, without curves or anything. I could not help to notice, though, that with its steepness it would easily qualify as a red slope in this resort. The others were not at all impressed, as they are used to real Alpine ski centres, with millions of lifts of all sorts of kinds, and miles and miles and miles of slopes. Not to mention the ample après-ski facilities. They were evidently jaded!

I went quite well, but I wear myself out quite soon with my exhaustive techniques, and I did not want to ruin my knees (in addition to my arm and bowels) just before a fieldwork, so I stuck to the easy slopes. Except for once when I took a wrong turn and ended up on a red slope again, which I pulled off as if it was normal. But trying to telemark, or make moves Jeroen had shown me, kept me interested also on the green descents.

A great sumptuous lunch! Jytte’s face betrays that she’s not yet up for it though…

At some point we got hungry, and skied to a village. We enjoyed a great ski lunch! Getting back to the lift was a little bit of a challenge, but we managed. And boldly we skied on. Sometimes it got rather challenging as visibility was not great; at one point I missed the edge of the piste, and crashed into deep snow. Only to do that again shortly after. But no knees were hurt. At some point I did the wise thing and had a hot chocolate with Jytte, watching Saar and Jeroen race each other on the black slope. That’s a different league! Better to watch than to join. But happily and healthily we delivered our toys back at the rental place. What a great end to a great trip! With impeccable timing Ola picked us up again. He almost crashed the car from unstoppable laughter when he heard of Nienke’s wrong way around skis. Luckily he was still fit to cook us meatballs and ice cream, served with the hope we would manage to this time keep it inside for a while.

The last night on Norwegian soil! The next morning we packed, said our goodbyes to Ola, and caught a bus. I was a bit apprehensive about hours in public transport with my bowels still being way out of control, but I had found some more drugs circulating, and taken the maximum dose without thinking too much about it. And lo and behold, it would work! That day I would finally get back to intestinal normal. So the bus trip was as comfortable as bus trips go. In only hours we were at the airport, where we would say goodbye to Jeroen and Nienke who would stay a bit longer in Oslo, raid the book store, and reflect on the beautiful trip from behind a glass of lager. And soon afterwards we were back in Amsterdam! Roelof, Micha and Sofie (Marijns girlfriend) were waiting for us, slightly standing out in their non-goreTex. Or was it us standing out in the normal world? Not relevant. Soon I was chatting away with Roelof while my pictures we uploading onto the beunhaas ftp site. A great final end to an amazing trip!

The weather had again been amazing. Jotunheimen is stunningly beautiful! The group worked like a dream. We could cope with all material damage and all gagging gut flora without losing our good moods and group spirit. And I had been nervous; during the preparations I had gotten afraid Marijn was again in his Pyrenees mr. Hyde guise, but he wasn’t. On the contrary! Dr. Jekyll all the way. And I never got the chance to properly get to know Jolanda, but I got quite an idea of Saar, and that was a pleasure. And the others can be relied on to be pleasures.

Next year we will probably do it again. I might join again! We’ll see what ratio of tents and huts we will choose as housing next time. And maybe we may even go on skis!