21 March 2016

Snow hike on skis: the first half

We got onto our skis, and off into the whiteness of the northwestern edge of the Hardangervidda we went. The start of the adventure proper! It was one of those days with heavy clouds and some snow; you couldn’t see the horizon, you could barely see where you put your skis as everything was featurelessly white. Not a good day to enjoy the landscape! But well, at least we were on our way, and the skiing went well. Today would be easy; the only way, pretty much, was up. No issues with pulks overtaking skiers and either cutting them off or bowling them off their feet. But pretty soon I noticed something that wasn’t there the day before; my skiing boots were pressing on the tendons on the outside of my ankles. I have a healthy respect for tendons; during an earlier episode of the winter hike I had developed tendonitis in my right arm and it had been painful as hell. I didn’t want to get something similar in my legs this time! That would be a show-stopper. I knew Thomas had brought a camping mattress specifically for repairs and such; I got some, and tried to stuff some in my sok for extra padding. That didn’t work. Then I tried to use it for raising my foot in the ski boot. Maybe that would lift the the painful bit above the boot. The idea was good, but the foam was too squishy.

 Me in the whiteness that only seems to contain sticks and a nice wooden structure

In the afternoon we reached a waffle hut. In there I discussed with Carl and Hannah; the latter had the brilliant idea to stuff empty boxes of Compeed in my show. These aren’t squishy! That made a big difference and though it didn’t entirely solve the problem, it became manageable. I left the hut happier than I had entered it; and not just due to the hot chocolate and waffle!

A while later the wind suddenly picked up. Interesting timing! Wind isn’t so bad, generally, while you’re moving, but doing faffy things that require gloveless hands, or sitting still, are not so nice in a stiff breeze. I also like washing at the end of a hiking day; in wind, though, that’s not so pleasant. This time I quickly washed only the upper half before we pitched the tents; that isn’t made any easier by wind  either. But we had two experts with us; both guides had gone to the South Pole more often than most of us go to the supermarket, so they knew exactly how to pitch a tent in high winds. Theirs stood in seconds. They had the same as I would sleep in, although we were with four, to Carl’s amusement.

 Pitching tents in the wind

We managed to pitch all tents; on Carl’s advice, in a line, perpendicular to the wind. Wind on snow with obstacles leads to snow scoured out one place and deposited elsewhere; your tents and pulks are such obstacles, and you most certainly don’t want them to be the place where the scoured away snow deposits again. The previous trip, the groups had pitched in the protection of a cliff; that was a mistake; the wind dropped all available snow on their tents and luggage, and one tent didn’t survive, and they needed an entire day to dig out the rest from the 2m thick snow pack. This time something like that wouldn’t happen to us.

 What tents and pulks looked like the next day

When they stood I took some pics; a camp in windy snow makes for good images! And there was a group cooking in our tent; we had chosen to not align the cooking groups with the sleeping groups, as that would mean hanging out with the same two or three people too much. We want to see everybody! This was a slightly weird mix of people I had known for over 20 years, people I had hiked with before and people I had met only once, but generally, this sort of hike attracts a rather specific type of people, and it tends to be extremely easy to get along swimmingly with everyone. It’s quite nice to be completely at ease with such a big group! But in the evenings it’s not so easy to socialise; we had decided it was generally best to cook inside a tent; temperatures in the evening would often hover near -20°C, which makes cooking very slow. Cooking inside a tent is quicker, and also more efficient. It doesn’t come very much view but one can’t have it all. Anyway; we had two groups cooking in the tipi and one in my tent; that sort of meant the tipi was full and my tent too. Where to go? Fortunately Hannah invited me to come pop by in her tent. Plenty of room there! And she and Carl had many tales to tell. 

After dinner I lingered outside a bit. It was windy but not very cold. There even was a bit of northern light to be seen! But then it was bedtime. It’s nice to make these long nights on a winter hike…
We woke up to lighter skies. The big escarpment behind us came into view. The wind was still strong but it was nice to see what landscape we were in. I also tried another method of dealing with my still tormented ankles; a band of foam around the ankles, with a slot for the tendon. The idea was good but this way I couldn’t close my boots. And with open boots you have little control over your skis. Oh well! Work in progress. 

We had breakfast, packed up, and got ready to leave. This always takes hours; we need to melt snow and boil the resulting water for breakfast (porridge, for us) and coffee, and also for lunch including hot drinks; everyone brings at least a litre of hot water with him or her. And even with powerful stoves as dragonflies and XGK’s that just takes a while. It’s worth it, though; I love the hot meals. In the evening we start again with water for dinner and drinks. It’s a lot of sitting still!

The escarpment appears from the clouds!

A slightly cold morning when we set off!

Skiers along the escarpment

Now we could see where we went things got better. And more exciting, too; today we would have some downhill fun. Not trivial on fjellski and a pulk, be it drawn with a rope or a frame. Luckily, you can apply a brake to a pulk if you want to, if you don’t want to be pushed along (frame) or overtaken by your pulk (rope). Just undo one of the straps, and strap it along the bottom of the pulk. Done! Easier if it’s on a rope, though; if you’re in a frame you can’t get to your pulk without getting out of the harness. 

The first slope that was serious by our standards was hilarious. It swiftly turned into a battlefield with bodies strewn across the landscape! But nobody was hurt; not even some hurt pride, as we are all too old to be embarrassed about not being good at something like this. It was fun! And something new. I was starting to catch on to this using a rope to pull a pulk. It quite works, although you have to be aware it can go its own way and you sometimes have to give people wide berths as your pulk might take a lower route than you do yourself. 

 The first proper slope down, causing many interventions of gravity

At the end of the day, Hannah and Carl would leave us. They would be heading for the hotel Carl lived in (his wife is the chef) and leave us to ourselves. We did some last groups pics and waved them goodbye. We then decided to pitch our tents not too far away. That meant pitching in the sun! I started digging kitchens with Thomas. They are in less use than before, given the efficiency of cooking in a tent, but it was such a nice evening it seemed a waste not to. After that I had a full shower in the calm conditions. Very relaxed!

 Group pic with guides (on the right)

As the night was so nice the cooking of our group happened in the pit after all; Jitske made red cabbage mash. With luxurious dessert! We were living the high life. After dinner and tea I sat in the pit a bit more, enjoying the quiet night and talking about life. But then it was bedtime after all!
The next morning it was my turn to get up early and start melting snow. I went back to the pit. It was a beautiful morning! We did the usual morning routine, which involved, again, me trying to improve the foam construction on my ankles. I cut out some excess foam but still couldn’t close my shoes. Oh well. For a while my biggest concern was the cold shoes anyway; putting on your shoes if they have been standing outside in -24°C really hurts!

 Me in cold weather gear in a lovely sunset 

We set off, through the nearby village, over the nearby lake, and then up the hill on the other side. It was such a nice day I soon put on my glacier glasses; they wouldn’t come off again until the sun set. And it was so sunny it got warm; I even considered walking in a shirt only. We also came to a hill that provided a challenge; up was very tiring, and down was so steep many of us took our skis off and walked down. All good fun!

Ready to go again!

 Walking the pulk dog; having to do a small stretch on the public road

View from the bridge over the lake

Later the fun turned. Suddenly the wind picked up. I immediately zipped up my jacket and put on hat and gloves. But that wasn’t enough; I was still cold. And I was doing the stupid thing of not wanting to stop and take off my jacket and put on some extra layers. I was hoping for a protected spot to appear to do that in, but it didn’t come. We were climbing up a beautiful little valley, but I wasn’t enjoying it. Then I saw the kites. There were kite skiers ahead! I hoped someone else would take pictures and battled on. When we had to cross a road I put on two jumpers. I was still cold. A bit further I found the others, sitting down for lunch; I put on my down jacket, was still cold, and was a bit miserable. We didn’t linger there. But when we went on again we got out of that valley, and pretty much immediately the wind died down. That made things much better! I was tired and my feet were feeling the strain, but I was warm again, and enjoying the landscape. 

The only pic I took of the windy valley 

The kite boarders

We crossed a lake and some more flattish terrain. At about 4PM we stopped at some signs; what would we do? Jitske decided we were travelling too slowly to reach the originally intended unmanned hut; we would go to a manned specimen some 3.5 km ahead, and have our day of rest there. We tend to have one such day in the middle of such a hike, both to recover, to do repairs in the warmth, and to be able to dry stuff. With four people breathing in a tent, and people even cooking in it, you get water in your sleeping bag! It’s nice to get it out as well.

I was tired and ended up in the back of the group. At some point I saw a white thingy; I figured it was some steam. This wasn’t Iceland, so it had to be the chimney of the hut. There it was! It would take me a while to get there. The sun was already behind the horizon. I was tired. 

 The hut looming in the distance while the sun sets

 Me arriving zonked and white-haired (it was a cold day) at the hut

When I arrived I took off the pulk and went in. I was glad to sit down! I didn’t very long, as Thias asked me to help him get out of his boots. No small challenge! And soon Jitske’s negotiations with the hut warden were completed; we would stay in the dormitory, and we were welcome to cook our own food as long as we did that outside; he feared gas stoves in a wood building. The toilets were in a separate building (which made the standard hole-in-the-ground with a seat above it look slightly less unglamorous) and we could shower in our own building. Spiffing!  

The handsome hut dog

Our dorm

We lugged all our luggage inside, left the pulks and skis outside, and settled in. There was a big drying space which was quickly filled with dubiously smelling socks, shoes, sleeping bags and whatnot.  I was knackered! I was glad Jytte had energy left; she volunteered to cook. It was already -18°C when we arrived; it would get down to -28°C, but she seemed not to care. I struggled not to fall asleep. After dinner I had a shower and not much later I was in bed. Quite where I wanted to be!

The next morning I was feeling better; I volunteered for going outside and boiling water for breakfast. It was faster here, as we could use tap water to start with, instead of snow! We had breakfast outside, where it had gone overcast and was only -10°C. That was so warm we even had breakfast outside. After that I took the opportunity to write some notes on my phone. One forgets! But after that I was pretty much back to bed. Jitske read some stories to whoever wanted to listen; it was bliss to just lie in bed, eyes closed, and just listen to her voice. I really needed this break! 

Later that afternoon we retired to the lounge of the hut for a very expensive Norwegian beer. I also readjusted my foam ankles once again. There was still room for improvement! After that we went back to cook, and we stumbled upon three Frenchmen who had arrived too, and would join us in our dorm. We were spread out rather widely, so we condensed a bit; so far we had one side of the room for the snorers, and the other side for the snore-haters. We had to abandon that and give Snore Corner to the French. I moved bunk.

 My custom-made foam ankle; this should do the job of protecting my tendons from my skiing boots!

Jitske cooked one of her famous over-copious meals (we gave the leftovers to the French) and after that we had a meeting. We had to decide whether we would head north to complete our original route, or head south for a shorter version. So far we had been slower than expected, and if we headed north we would be committed. We decided to go for it! I was a bit apprehensive; I didn’t know if my ankle solution would now work as desired, and I also had massive blisters. I wasn’t looking forward to having to forcibly keep skiing to make it! But who knows, maybe all would go smoothly.

After the meeting it again was soon time for bed. Another serious day tomorrow! Then we would head off for the second part of the hike. How would it go?

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