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!

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