Retreat to Oslo

August 15, 2014

Today we were heading to Oslo on the 9:40 am bus; however we had to stand in the rain for quite some time while the bus driver tried to explain to a Russian family that they couldn’t pay by credit card because his internet connection was broken. Or something like that—at any rate, the internet connection was definitely down. So our plan to book accommodation in Oslo was not doing too well.

The scenery was eerily beautiful along the bus route through Valdresflye, as we passed several lakes and pretty villages in a mixture of sun and rain showers. The largest of the lakes was Bygdin, where we had considered walking to from Gjendebu. The bus carried on to lower and lower elevations, into more traditional forested landscapes. When we reached Fagernes we changed buses, and luckily the wi-fi was working on the new bus.

Bygdin turisthytte

It soon became clear that going to Oslo on a Friday without reservations was a mistake. But finally Rosemary tracked down a place which appeared to have rooms, the Anker Hostel. Their booking site didn’t work, so she sent an e-mail to them and a reply came back saying they had two beds available. The wi-fi was a bit spotty but she managed to send an immediate response before it went down, and we hoped that the message had been received successfully.

As we approached Oslo the highway went along the fjord, and the scenery was very beautiful. The sun was also shining and we hoped that would continue. From the bus station we headed up Storgata to find the hostel. Storgata was part ethnic neighbourhood with Ethiopians and Somalis and part skid-row with down-and-outers, but the hostel was past that area. Upon arrival at the hostel there was a sign saying the hostel was full, but when we asked at the reception we were told yes, we were in and we sighed with relief. We had two beds in an 8-bed dorm, but nobody else was there yet so we chose two single beds which were in one corner.

We headed out to see the town, and at the end of Storgata we came across the DNT store. We went in and asked them for suggestions about where we could go for a few days. None of their suggestions worked out, for various reasons, but at least we had a better idea of the problems. After that we wandered the streets looking for a restaurant to eat at. It took us a while to decide, but finally we settled on a spaghetti place and shared a large pizza.

Back at the hostel we tried some more to figure out how to spend our extra days. It turned out that the YHA at Lillehammer had lots of availability, and not only that, the minipris discount was still available if we took the train there tomorrow. Besides which, their weather forecast wasn’t terrible for the next few days. So we booked the Lillehammer hostel and went down to the station to buy the train ticket. When we returned to our room we found we had company, which wasn’t unexpected. There were four young men from Sheffield who had just arrived. They were well-supplied with beer but it turned out they were there to cycle to Trondheim and around the western fjords for a few weeks, so we got along quite well with them.

About 11 pm they went out to visit the clubs, promising they would be quiet when they came back, and we went to bed.

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Gjendesheim

August 13, 2014

Today was moving-on day so before breakfast we packed up our bags. It was time to take a chance on better weather in Jotunheimen. Our bus left the parking lot at Spranget at 10:45 am and we had to walk about 6 km to get there, so shortly after 9 am we were on the road. Luckily it was not raining, but to hedge our bets we put on our rain gear anyway and off we went, under grey skies.

Sheep at Spranget

Maintaining our usual 5.2 km/h pace we arrived at the parking lot in the middle of the tundra at about 10:30 am. Upon reaching the parking lot it wasn’t clear where the bus would stop, but since there was a bus schedule posted here it seemed probable that this was the right place. The rain started to fall lightly just after we arrived, but the bus arrived soon. Although we would be changing to two other buses, we bought single tickets through to Gjendesheim, hoping we would make the connections. The price was 292 NOK for the two of us, which we thought seemed very cheap for a trip of that length.

Otta skysstasjon

The bus left Spranget exactly on time and travelled through very pretty rural areas until we reached Mysusæter, which is a small ski area. From there our road was a narrow and twisting one-and-a-half-lane road, which our full-sized highway bus had very little trouble getting down. Within an hour we arrived in Otta, the main town in the valley, and pulled into the skysstasjon. (This is a central station serving both trains and buses, which is a really good idea.) Here we met the two Norwegian women with their teenage boys who had hiked from Grimsdalshytta to Rondvassbu at the same time as us. They had left Rondvassbu earlier than us and had gone river rafting, and it was quite surprising to meet up with them again.

Bus 501 left Otta just after noon, a few minutes later, but the printed timetable appeared to say that the connecting bus to Gjendesheim would wait for bus 501 in Vågåmo. We hoped that this would really be the case. The countryside in the valley our bus went through was very pretty, but then we had to wait ten minutes for road construction so we started getting nervous. But when we arrived in Vågåmo bus 506 was waiting patiently for us. This was great news for us because if we had missed the connection we would have had to stay overnight in Vågåmo.

Bus 506 climbed up out of the valley back into the high country again. This bus had wi-fi, so we made good use of it by checking the bank accounts and e-mailing the kids about our itinerary changes. Just before we got to Gjendesheim we were startled to see a large herd of reindeer right beside the road. We later found out that they were not wild, but a herd owned by the commune of Vågå.

We arrived at Gjendesheim in mid-afternoon, and what a difference from Rondane! It was sunny and clear with only a few clouds, and the lake was stunningly beautiful, rivalling Lake Louise. We checked in for two nights and were assigned a two-bed room. However Rosemary decided to ask if there was another room available on the other side of the hall, because then we would have a view of the river. Sure enough there was one, and not only was it larger than our original room, it also had two single beds rather than the usual bunk beds.

View from our room

We unpacked a bit and then went down to the cafeteria and ordered a waffle and some tea for a snack. Norwegian waffles traditionally come with an indigenous variety of sour cream called romme, so we made sure to try that out.

We had given up on the idea of staying in Jotunheimen for a week because it involved way too much long walking, but that left the question of what we would do instead. We kicked around several options but the only certain thing was that tomorrow we would hike Besseggen, the must-do hike here. One possibility was to do some walks out of Gjendebu, the hut at the other end of the lake, but we have to make sense out of the boat schedule before planning that.

Gjendesheim

About 5:30 pm we decided to go out for a walk, so we put on our boots in case the ground was muddy. As the weather was good we decided to climb up the trail to the ridge which led to Besseggen and also to Glitterheim. By this time of day loads of people were straggling down from Besseggen and we were the only ones going up. The views down the lake were really terrific, always changing as the clouds produced varying patterns of light on the lake and its banks, and we were also lucky to see part of a rainbow in the opposite direction.

Jotunheimen rainbow

At the top of the ridge, where the trail to Glitterheim splits off, we realized that dinner time was approaching, so we descended quickly and changed into clean clothes before dinner. There were lots of people waiting for the 7 pm sitting, and here we were directed to sit in a particular place rather than choosing our own seats. This was a better system because it filled up the tables rather than leaving spaces. As usual we started with a cream soup, cream of asparagus, followed by enormous breaded pork cutlets with potatoes, peas, and beans. We had never seen such large cutlets. It was quite a good dinner although the meat was a bit on the fatty side. Dessert was a chocolate brownie with raspberry sauce and some very good vanilla ice cream.

Gjende in the evening

After dinner we had tea and then went outside to enjoy the view for a bit longer. On the other side of the river Sjoa, which flows out of Gjende, were some tacky-looking fishing cabins which, based on their location, must be quite exclusive, and there were several people standing in the river and fishing. Back in our room we caught up with our journal-writing; since our room was next to the WC we listened to doors being slammed for quite some time.

August 14, 2014

We woke up early and looked out to see blue sky, so we hoped that would bode well for the rest of the day. But by the time we got up the sky was overcast and the mountain tops were shrouded in clouds. However, today was “Besseggen or Bust” so we packed our small packs and had breakfast. Normally the boat goes at 9:30 am to Memurubu, but today there was an extra boat at 8:45 am so we thought we would try for that. We arrived at the dock at 8:30 am and found a long lineup there; we weren’t quite last to board but almost.

Gjende boat

We stood at the back of the boat for the 35-minute trip up the lake to Memurubu, and once there we packed away the warmer boat clothes and headed up the trail, along with most of the other 78 people who had come with us on the boat. The trail went up fairly steeply for the first hour, and the line-up of people climbing it was quite impressive. After a while one of the other hikers spotted a group of reindeer not too far away, and later Paul spotted a group of three which were quite close by. In this part of Norway the reindeer are mostly domesticated, so probably these animals were as well.

Hikers above Memurubu

Possibly wild reindeer

The farther we climbed, the better the views up the lake to Gjendebu were. The mountain tops were still in cloud, but at least we had no rain. At 11 am we stopped beside a small lake for tea and a snack, and then we carried on up and down until a bit after noon we arrived at the narrow strip of rock between Bessvatnet and the vertical cliff plunging down into Gjende. We enjoyed lunch at this small pass, admiring the deep blue waters of Bessvatnet versus the glacial green waters of Gjende. Fortunately by now the low clouds had lifted so we had great views up the lake and into the back country of Jotunheimen.

Høgdebrotet glacier

Bessvatnet and Gjende

Now we came to Besseggen, which was a knife-edge ridge climbing steeply up about 250 meters of elevation. It took us maybe an hour to scramble up it using hands and feet, although looking back on it, we could hardly call it a scramble. Parts of it were very nerve-wracking but we both made it safely. However there were really only one or two places where we really found it necessary to use a handhold.

Besseggen

Once we reached the more level section we had some more tea before continuing across the plateau. We followed a groomed trail to the high point, where Norway’s largest cairn stands. We guessed that it was larger than the cairn atop the Old Man of Coniston. From here it was downhill all the way to Gjendesheim, with a chain to help us down one steep section. Off to the north was a rain shower but it stayed away from us, and we arrived back at the hut just about 7 hours after setting out on the trail. It had been a really good day’s walk.

Gjende view

Norway’s largest cairn

We had alternated between craving hot chocolate and ice cream all day, and by the time we reached the hut the day was quite warm. So we both had ice cream sandwiches as our treat. For dinner we had pork again; this time it was pork steaks which looked suspiciously like last night’s pork, only not breaded. But it came with a very good spicy gravy, and the dessert of ice cream with forest berries was very tasty too. Our neighbours at the dinner table were a Norwegian/Swedish couple and a French/Polish couple.

Jotunheimen succulent

After dinner we chatted with the friendly man at the desk, and he gave us some ideas for tomorrow. We were thinking of staying one more night, but since tomorrow was Friday we would have to pack up our stuff and move to a dorm room. Another option was to take the boat to Gjendebu and walk south from there out to another hut on the road, but the boat schedules were awkward and the weather forecast was very dismal. So after some thought we decided to take the bus to Oslo tomorrow morning and then do some research before moving on to other parts.

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Rondane

August 10, 2014

Last night we could hear the wind blowing hard, occasionally hard enough to shake the little cabin we were staying in. After breakfast the wind was still blowing hard, but luckily there was no rain as we headed out on the almost level walk. The trail descended to the Døråe River, which we crossed using a bridge, and then ascended to an area full of rocky pits and lumps. Those were kettles formed by glacial action a few thousand years ago.

As we walked through this area, the trail went slightly uphill but the strong wind was in our faces for almost the whole day. Basically this meant that we looked down at the trail for the majority of the time and periodically looked up to make sure we were on the right track. The wind was also quite cold but luckily there was no rain and every so often the sun would shine on us. For the most part the trail was good–no boulder fields–and we had some nice views.

Trail towards Rondane

About noon we reached a trail junction where the main trail continued to the Bjornhollia hut, and we turned off towards Rondvassbu. We had the choice of climbing 500 meters up and over a rocky summit, or paying for a boat ride along the lake, Rondvatnet. Well, the choice was easy. The boat was scheduled to leave at 2:30 pm so we made sure we arrived with plenty of time to spare. We had a short stop for water and cookies and then carried on downhill to the boat dock.

Decision point

Upon arrival at the dock we found some other people already sitting in a somewhat sheltered area, where stone walls had been built to keep the wind out. They made room for us, so we sat in there and ate the rest of our lunch. The boat cost 120 NOK each but we thought that was a good deal. There must have been 20 passengers on the boat, and a lot of them had walked over the rocky ridge from Rondvassbu and were returning by boat.

Rondvatnet waiting room

We arrived at Rondvassbu at about 3 pm and went in to check in for our three-night stay. After putting our packs in our room we went to check out the facilities. Toilets and showers are in a separate building and the drying room was in two parts with the showers behind them. So essentially there were men’s and women’s drying rooms! Our room was fairly small but we still had room to spread out our stuff. The only light was an LED light by the door, but that didn’t work. When we inquired we were told that it was only meant to work in the winter! And it’s true that it’s still light here at 10 pm now, but not light enough to read or write.

Boat trip

We had come to the conclusion that it was time to revise the rest of our holiday. By now we were tired of walking over rocky terrain with heavy packs, so we decided to cut out some of the days in Jotunheimen. Rather than doing the long 26-kilometer walk from Gjendesheim to Glitterheim and then onwards with more long walks we decided to eliminate that portion of the trip and just stay at Gjendesheim. We would walk the Besseggen ridge and possibly take the boat down to Gjende and do some day walks from there. All of this was weather-dependent, but at least the DNT huts didn’t require reservations, so we hadn’t made any. However we did have confirmed reservations at Leirvassbu and Spiterstulen, so Rosemary went down to reception and borrowed their phone to do that. Now we had some empty days in our schedule to fill in, but we would have plenty of time to do that.

Dinner tonight was a meat soup followed by roast veal with potatoes and veggies. Caramel pudding was the dessert. Our neighbours at the dinner table were from Stavanger, so they urged us to spend our extra time there. But as they admitted, it takes a while to get to Stavanger. We might give it a try but we still don’t know.

August 11, 2014

We woke up to a very overcast day and the weather forecast didn’t look promising. By the time we had finished breakfast the drizzle had started, so we decided this would be a good time to do some laundry. Most of our clothing needed washing so today was the prime day to get it done.

The drying-room sinks we a bit small and they didn’t have plugs, but we always carry our own rubber sink plug so that wasn’t any problem. Once the first loads were washed we sat in the common area and read books. The morning dragged on, and when noon finally arrived we ate our packed lunches. There was still no improvement in the weather, in fact it actually looked worse than earlier. But we found that our laundry was just about dry already, so we decided to wash out more clothes.

Rondvassbu in bad weather

The day stretched out and by 4 pm the weather had improved, so we decided to go out for a short walk. We headed out along the road and across the bridge, but by the time we got there the rain started again. So we retreated to the hut and waited for dinner.

Tonight the dining room was especially noisy because there was a large school group which had arrived in the afternoon. The meal was very good as usual. After dinner we wrote our journals and read books some more. The rain was still coming down and the weather forecast for tomorrow didn’t look promising either.

August 12, 2014

Today was our third day at Rondvassbu. We considered the idea of leaving early to look for better weather elsewhere, but thought we probably wouldn’t find any. Besides, the weather looked okay here even though the forecast mentioned thunder showers around noon.

Since it wasn’t raining we got ready to go for a walk. The mountain tops were all in cloud and with the threat of lightning we decided to stay low. So we decided on a walk along the trail towards the Peer Gynt hut. The hut was four hours away, which would have amounted to a full-day walk if we went all the way there, so we decided to just head out for a short walk in that direction. It was still windy as we started out across the tundra, but a short climb to start with warmed us up a bit. The views were actually quite good as we followed the undulating path, and we kept an eye out for reindeer but unfortunately found none. However we had been told that they stay up in the high country until late August.

Cairn in the tundra

After about an hour we decided to turn around, mainly because it had started to rain. The rain continued for most of the way back to the hut, and by the time we got back it was lunch time, so we sat in the warmth and comfort of the hut to eat. For most of the afternoon the rain came down so we sat in the common area and read books some more.

Finally about 3 pm the rain stopped and so, surprisingly, did the wind. So we donned our wet-weather gear and headed out to walk along the trail towards Bjornhollia. Once again it would have taken four hours to walk all the way there, so we walked along the trail for an hour before turning around. It was nice to finally walk without being buffeted by the wind, but this part of the trail was rather boggy so it was rather hard going. However we persevered with the walk. Again we looked for reindeer and didn’t find any, but this time there were half a dozen sheep, wearing their bells, on the slope across the lake.

Rondvassbu in mediocre weather

On the way back we took the more direct route to the hut, which meant that we plunged down 60 meters of a very steep trail to reach the front door. It was still only 5 pm so we bought some hot chocolate (or “warm chocolate” as the Norwegians call it) to tide us over until 7 pm, when dinner would be served.

Direct route to the hut

Tonight dinner started with cream of cauliflower soup, although the pieces of cauliflower were so large that you might call it a stew. Then there was salmon with boiled potatoes and mushy peas. Dessert was a visual and tasty treat, consisting of a chocolate brownie with marinated small pieces of apricot along with crème fraîche. The garnish was a small mint leaf. After dinner we had tea and coffee in the lounge and then went outside. Since the wind had died down our view was of a beautiful sky reflected in the calm lake. Quite a change from the last couple of days.

Finally better weather

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Dovre

August 8, 2014

We didn’t want to miss the first shuttle bus down the hill to Hjerkinn, so we made sure to get up early to pack and have breakfast. We timed it perfectly and were outside waiting for the bus for only five minutes. Luckily the weather was sunny, and we hoped that it would stay that way the rest of the day. The bus left promptly at 9 am and as we started down the hill the driver pointed out a distant herd of musk oxen before we entered the military reservation.

Calm morning at Snøheim

When we had been here in 1990 we had almost driven our rental car into the area, not realizing that “skytefelt” was Norwegian for “firing range”. But now the military are phasing out their use of the area and cleaning it up, so the shuttle buses can pass through it. That also meant that the Snøheim hut could reopen after having been closed for 50 years.

The bus took about half an hour to reach Hjerkinn, and once there we donned our packs and set out along the Pilgrim’s Way towards Hageseter. Our final destination for today was Grimsdalshytta, which was a fair day’s walk away. The route was level for the most part and marshy in spots, but after an hour we arrived at Hageseter, where there was a large caravan park. We stopped here for some tea, and when we started up again we were rather disheartened by a sign saying “Grimsdalshytta 18 km”. We had thought the distance was only 16 kilometers, however we carried on.

View towards Hjerkinn

The Pilgrim’s Way continued down the valley but our trail headed up the hill, into the new Dovre National Park. The route was very easy to follow and was a gentle uphill grade, not very strenuous at all. Periodically we saw some sheep but otherwise nothing. When we finally reached a high point we could look back and see how far we had walked from Hjerkinn. Once we rounded the corner that view disappeared, so now all we saw was rounded hills and tundra.

Old hut

Just after lunch the clouds started to sprinkle on us so we dug out the rain capes. The shower didn’t last too long but we kept the rain capes on because the clouds still looked threatening. Before long the trail turned into a cart track which headed across the tundra like an arrow, so we were really doing a good pace. There was a clap of thunder and we were uncomfortably aware that we were the highest points in the landscape. Along we went, following red T after red T for quite some time.

According to our map we were supposed to come to a steep descent, but surprisingly we got our first view of the hut before that. There was a steep descent, which led down to a narrow wooden bridge across a stream, followed by a climb up the other side. The uphill section took less than 10 minutes and from there on it was just about level to the hut. The “18 km” sign was clearly wrong and maybe 16 kilometers was on the high side too.

Grimsdalshytta

When we checked in at Grimsdalshytta they didn’t have any two-bed rooms available, but there was space in a 14-bed dormitory, which was in a separate building with a sod roof. That was fine with us, and since we were the first ones in the room we both claimed bottom bunks. We laid out our sleeping bags and then hung up our wet rain capes. Pretty soon two other groups showed up and took the beds at the other end.

Grimsdalshytta sign

Dinner was at 7 pm, and the dining room was full with about 50 people. We started with fish soup, which was a cream soup with salmon and carrots. Rosemary wasn’t happy with cream soup for the third day in a row so she just took a little bit. Service was very slow but eventually the main course arrived: salmon with potatoes and vegetables, which was very good. Dessert was raspberries over a lemon yogurt.

August 9, 2014

Today dawned cloudy, but the weather forecast predicted sun in the afternoon. Nothing about rain, which was good! After breakfast we made our packed lunch as usual, but now that we knew that you pay per slice of bread, we took a fair quantity of flatbread (which we didn’t think counted as slices of bread, but that could be a translation issue). We were moving on southwards today, to the hut at Dørålseter.

Old sign tree

The first part of the hike went downhill from Grimsdalshytta to the highway, then over a footbridge across the river, and from here the climbing began. We had read that our path was “the old saeter road”, so it wasn’t very steep. But it did lead up and up through the forest of spindly birch trees until we came out into the open. From there it angled along the hillside, paralleling the main road down in the valley. All morning we could look back and see Grimsdalshytta getting farther and farther away, until finally we turned the corner. Soon we reached our high point at 1,300 meters and then headed down the hill to find a less windy spot for lunch.

Dandelions

The view from our lunch spot looked across a valley where a broad river flowed, and the sun came out so we had a nice rest. We still had half a tub of Nugatti left over from the earlier trip, and that went very well with the flatbread.

Lunchtime view

Donning the packs we continued our downward plunge to the river, and then walked downstream to the bridge. This bridge was built in 1953 and had a very unusual feature. It had steps made out of concrete, but instead being angled outward so you could walk up them, they were angled inward so you had to pull yourself up on the railings and just use the steps as footholds. From the other side we started on our second climb of the day. First there was a steep scramble up the sandy bank, followed by a long drag up the slope towards a narrow gully. The views were very nice but the climbing was very hard work.

Awkward bridge

We finally reached the gully which would take us through to the valley where Dørålseter was located. Refilling our water bottles from the stream we had a rest, and then carried on climbing. Our path wasn’t steep now, but instead it went through fields of large boulders like the ones we had struggled with on the way to Snøheim. This was very tiring, but luckily today was dry so the footing was good for the most part. The pass took quite a while to walk through and we were still gaining elevation, but the good thing was that the distance to Dørålseter was getting shorter and shorter.

Boulder field

Finally we reached the end of the pass and started to descend through the boulders, which slowly changed to smaller rocks, and from there it was only a few minutes before we saw buildings not far below us. The upper group of buildings was Øvre Dørålseter, and the lower group was Nedre Dørålseter, where we had a reservation.

Dørålseter

Last night we had shared our dormitory with a group of two women and two teenaged boys, and they were following the same route as us today. Surprisingly we had almost kept up to them on the uphill sections, but the boys were much faster on the descents so they were already here, on their way to the showers. Our room was half of a cabin and it was quite spacious, complete with its own toilet. We dumped our stuff there and finished off the rest of our lunch, and then Rosemary went for a shower. When she left the shower building the showers were all occupied, so Paul’s shower would have to wait.

The hut was beautifully decorated with painted hand-made furniture, and there were several small rooms where people could sit rather than one large lounge. Dinner was at 6 pm, which was good because we were very hungry. We had assigned seating, which surprised us, but like all the other huts we got a three-course meal. We started with tomato soup, followed by potatoes, rice, beef stew, and best of all a salad. Also on the main course buffet were two kinds of melon. At this hut we were served a second portion if we wanted one. Dessert was cloudberry sauce on something which wasn’t quite ice cream, but the rest of the people at the table couldn’t decide what its English name was.
After dinner we sat upstairs in the main lodge, writing journals and chatting with two Norwegian men who had been sitting at our table. Bed time was at about 10 pm.

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Snøheim Death March

August 6, 2014

When we got off the train at Kongsvoll the weather didn’t look all that inviting, but at least it wasn’t raining. The station was old and unstaffed, but there was a large waiting room which was unlocked. So we went in there to have a bit of breakfast and also to reorganize our packs. And we found out from a maintenance crew which happened to be working at the station that there was a secret toilet at the other end of the building, which was also very useful.

Kongsvoll station

When we had visited Kongsvoll 24 years ago, it had been raining heavily, and while we were getting ready to go it started raining heavily again. So it was after 11 am when we were ready to go, all rain gear in place. After reading the signs warning us about the dangers of musk oxen we started off. The first section was uphill through a birch forest. The trail was easy to follow but it was rocky and rooty, so we needed to watch where we were stepping. We finally reached the tree line after an hour and the trail levelled out for a while as well.

Route-finding on Dovrefjell

For some reason we had thought the distance to Snøheim hut was 16 kilometers, but we would soon find out we were wrong. Our path across the Dovrefjell was quite wide, in fact in some places it looked like a cart track. We followed that for quite a long time. After a couple of hours the rain let up partially, which made things easier. After another couple of hours we saw a small group of musk oxen. These were the guys we had come to see! They were far off on a hill, but they were big brown things which clearly weren’t rocks or reindeer. Seeing them made the rain and the distance worthwhile. Luckily for us we didn’t have to worry about being charged, because they weren’t near the trail.

Musk oxen

The trail went slowly upwards through heather and rocks for a long way. We saw a couple of lemmings which scurried under bushes, cute fat little rodents which were a bright creamy colour. And then after another hour or so we saw another small herd of musk oxen, near a couple of small lakes.

Reinheim hut

More musk oxen

About 5 pm we were greatly relieved to arrive at the Reinheim hut. It was a self-service hut so we probably could have stayed there, but a lady who was outside told us that Snøheim was only about two hours away over a good rocky trail. So after having a snack we decided to push on. The first part of the trail climbed up a stony slope with a bit of snow, which wasn’t too bad. There were musk oxen here, too. But then the trail levelled out and went through a boulder field, which unfortunately was made very slippery by the nasty rain squalls which were hitting us. Eventually we could see the hut in the distance with a “superhighway” trail leading to it, but even that contained a lot of boulders. That was definitely not what we had planned on, and our 16 kilometers had turned into more like 25! We finally arrived at Snøheim at 7:45 pm, just in time for last dinner at 8 pm.

Snøheim superhighway

Having arrived so late we didn’t expect to get the best room, and in fact we were put into a room with a Norwegian couple and their two dogs. The dogs were Norwegian Buhunds, which is a special and quite rare breed, and they were perfectly well-behaved. Dinner was asparagus soup, followed by potatoes, barley, carrots, and pork. Dessert was prune compote with cream. It was an extremely tasty meal, although we were too tired to really appreciate it.

(At the DNT huts they always announce the dinner menu before they start serving. Paul managed to pick “visky kompote” out of the stream of Norwegian words, but we didn’t get whisky compote. The actual word was “sviske” which means “prune”.)

August 7, 2014

Snøheim was the first DNT hut we had stayed in for 24 years, so we were still getting used to the procedure. The breakfast buffet was quite extensive, but we started out with porridge and boiled eggs and avoided the canned fish. We also made our lunch sandwiches from the buffet; to wrap the sandwiches they provided a roll of wax paper that had a map of Norway with all the DNT huts on it.

Snøheim sign tree

We had been told early in the morning that we could move to room 3 in the main building for tonight. We were perfectly happy with our room-mates and their dogs, but apparently the room was needed for a large group which was arriving today, so this was an offer we couldn’t refuse. Room 3 wouldn’t be ready until noon, so we packed up our bags and left them in the main hallway, except what we needed for a day walk.

Excellent trail

Most of the hikers were following the wide and well-trodden path which led to the top of Snøhetta. The DNT had done a lot of work on this path, including moving enormous boulders to form bridges across a couple of stream beds. But we had no particular destination in mind so we wandered over to a sign tree and arbitrarily chose a path to follow. This path seemed like a good choice because it was quite level and was more path than boulder field. But after an hour we looked at the map and realized it was leading us off to nowhere in particular. So we turned around, retraced our steps, and followed a different path which led to a lake below a glacier.

Istjørni

We sat down near the lake and had our lunch. The wind was cold but the sun was nice to have shining on our backs. Snøhetta was mostly cloud-covered but we did briefly see both of its peaks. We sat and enjoyed the scenery for a while before heading back to the hut.

Trail to nowhere in particular

Our new room was in the original 1952 building, which we hadn’t even been into yet. This part of the hut was beautifully painted in the old style and apparently it’s been designated as a heritage building. While reading the fire evacuation plan Paul noticed that there was a drying room—we should have realized that, because every DNT hut should have one, and this hut had two. With laundry tubs. So we headed down there to do a bit of laundry. Socks and underwear were high on the list, of course.

Snøheim lounge

We then went to sit in the lounge, which had been the dining room when the hut was first built. Most people were still out hiking, so we had the place to ourselves as we caught up with journal-writing, looking out the window at the stark and lovely view, and so on. We had signed up for early dinner, which was at 6:30 pm. Today’s dinner was cream of leek soup followed by lamb sausage and some kind of beef which was pickled or salted or something, resulting in a taste rather like corned beef, with apple cake for dessert. Once again, very tasty. Sitting next to us was an English couple from Oxford and their Norwegian friends.

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Bodø and the Night Train

August 5, 2014

Today we were flying out of Svolvær at 11:45 am, and we didn’t really know how long it would take to drive there from Å. So we got up at 6 am, repacked our untidy packs, and headed out around 7:30 am. However it was raining quite heavily, so our plans of stopping along the way to see the sights dissolved in the rain. During the drive we went through 9 tunnels and over 14 bridges, of which half were on the first island, Moskenesøya. And we travelled through five different islands. The scenery was still spectacular, especially at the beginning of the drive. As we got closer to Leknes more farming started to appear and as we neared Svolvær the islands levelled out even more.

E10 bridge

So we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. After a while we were allowed through security, which wasn’t a big deal and only took a couple of minutes. Then after us came an American couple and their daughter, and they were fuming and fussing about everything possible in a very loud and obnoxious way. We mentioned that we had been on the Hurtigruten and that there might still be increased security measures in place, and that just triggered another rant. It didn’t help that our flight was delayed by a severe electrical storm and they were worried about missing their connecting flight.

While we were waiting for our plane to arrive we watched three Coast Guard helicopters arrive. After turning off their engines the crew went off to meet some young ladies who then returned to stand by the helicopters for a photo-op. Neither of us was sure what was going on, but it made for interesting viewing. The American man, of course, was fuming about how that would never happen in the military back home.

Photo-op with helicopter pilot

Our flight was only 40 minutes late, and the flying time to Bodø was only 10 minutes so we were barely in the air before starting our descent. We waited at the baggage carousel for a couple of minutes and three bags came out, two of them ours. Apparently all of the others were going on the flight to Oslo, which had waited for our flight to arrive.

Bodø airport is right next to the town, so we walked the two kilometers to the train station and stored our large packs in the lockers there. By now it was past lunch time, so we decided to go to Peppe’s Pizza to have a largish meal and make that our main meal of the day. We shared a large ham and pepperoni pizza and each had a Fanta to drink. The cost for that was 316 NOK or nearly $50! However there was some pizza left so we saved that for dinner.

The day was quite blustery so after we did some food shopping we decided to go sit at the train station, even though our train wasn’t leaving until much later. The afternoon trudged on and by 6 pm the skies looked less threatening, so we headed out. This week there was a music festival in Bodø, and there was a free concert at the Domkirke, so we headed over there. It turned out that the concert was outside the church, so we sat at the one picnic table outside and had a nice chat with a Norwegian lady about hiking. At 6:45 pm the carillon player came out of the church and climbed up the bell tower, and the concert started. The concert was only half an hour and was very enjoyable. There must be a limited repertoire for the carillon, but the Bach Cello Suites worked out quite well on the Bodø instrument. It was interesting to hear the music that our kids played in Suzuki cello classes played on the carillon.

Carillon player

After the concert ended we headed back to the train station to eat our dinner, including the leftover pizza. While waiting for departure we watched them shuffling carriages around until they had a train ready to go to Trondheim. Then we got on and found our seats and suddenly, right on time at 9:10 pm, we noticed the train was moving. We had decided not to pay 850 NOK for a sleeper compartment, so we would be sitting up to sleep, like on airplane. Soon we were passing beautiful scenery and large farms. However it actually got quite dark outside, so we went to sleep quite soon after the train left Bodø.

Night train to Trondheim

August 6, 2014

After a reasonably comfortable night’s sleep we awoke, not far from Trondheim. The train arrived a few minutes early, and we had to stand around for quite a long time waiting for the Oslo train. So much for worrying about missing the connection! For some reason our seats had been double-booked by NSB, but as we were getting off soon the other victims let us stay in our assigned seats. After the train finally left (on time) it zoomed through the countryside until it got to Kongsvoll, where we got off to continue with the next part of our holiday.

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Lofoten

August 2, 2014

We had pre-ordered the airport shuttle bus to pick us up at 7:30 am, and it arrived exactly on time so we were relieved. The shuttle went on a tour of the downtown hotels to see if anybody wanted to go to the airport and, finding no takers, off we went. Check-in and security were very fast so soon we were sitting at the gate waiting for our flight to Bodø.

The flight left on time and the crew had just enough time to hand out tea and coffee before we landed. In Bodø we only had 40 minutes before our flight to Svolvær departed. We were somewhat concerned that our packs wouldn’t make the connection, but nobody else seemed concerned. So off we went in the little Dash 8-103, first to Leknes and then a 10-minute hop over to Svolvær. We waited in the baggage claim area, which consisted of the staff bringing in a cart from which everybody took their bags. Ours were on the cart as well.

Waiting at the terminal was the man from Hertz, so all went smoothly for the car pickup. This time we had a VW Golf. In Svolvær we went grocery shopping before heading on down the E10 to Å. Now the travel stuff was over and we were on holiday again. Here in the Lofotens it was sunny and warm, which meant 15° C. The road was rather winding but it passed through spectacular scenery with farms, fields, beaches, and bays all backed up by amazing mountains.

Golf by the fjord

And then there was a “ping” sound and a warning light came on in the car’s dashboard. We got the book out, and the Norwegian-English dictionary, and figured out that we had a tire pressure problem with the rear left tire. “Stupid modern cars” we thought, “bugging us about minor things like that”. But we didn’t like ignoring the warning, so we decided to do something about it. Rather than going back to Svolvær we decided to carry on to Leknes, where there was another Hertz agency. Conveniently the Hertz person was on site, so he added air to the tire. And then as a precaution, because we were going to be down in Å and not near a repair facility, he decided to get the mechanic to check the tire. Good thing he did, because there was a large nail in the tire! He removed the nail and patched the tire, and soon we were off. “Thank goodness for modern cars” we thought, “noticing little things which might become problems”.

By now it was 1:30 pm and both of us were hungry. We stopped at the first picnic area by the road we came to, and what a beautiful site it was! The picnic tables were covered by a roof and also somewhat protected from the wind. The view of the surrounding islands was fantastic, especially as in one direction we had a field of fireweed in the foreground. After lunch we carried on along the E10, passing through numerous tunnels and over numerous bridges. Many of the bridges were one lane only, with traffic lights at both ends which controlled the traffic. Near the village of Reine we were delayed by construction of what we would call avalanche sheds, but only for about 10 minutes.

Construction delay

After that it was clear sailing to Å, which is at the end of the E10. We found the youth hostel, which is upstairs from the Stockfish Museum, and got settled into our room. It was quite a large room with two single beds, a wardrobe, and a small dining table. Perfect for the three nights we would be there. It overlooked a small boat harbour, at the other side of which there was a rusting abandoned three-story building. A flock of kittiwakes had decided that it made a perfectly good cliff and had set up shop on the window ledges, and with our window open it was pretty noisy.

Å i Lofoten

After making some tea we went out for a walk around the small village. We found our way to the point and wandered around for a while, looking out onto the Atlantic Ocean. There was a family of eider ducks swimming there, the first ones we had seen on our trip. It had been clouding over and now it started to drizzle, so we headed back to the hostel to make dinner. On the way back we stopped off at the bakery, where they make fresh bread daily, and purchased their last loaf of fruit and nut bread to go with our dinner.

Fish cleaning

Before we went to bed a fishing boat came into the harbour, so we watched them under our window cleaning the fish they had caught. The weather forecast for the next few days is rather ambiguous, and it would be a pity if the rain started just when we have some hiking trails to do.

August 3, 2014

We had a good night’s sleep last night and woke up refreshed. Our plan was to drive to Sørvågen and then hike to Munkebu hut, which according to our information should take about five hours. Sørvågen was only a short drive away, so it only took a few minutes to get there. We weren’t exactly sure where to park but found a large parking lot beside the E10, so we parked there. The trail started not far from the lot so off we went. Shortly we found the actual trailhead, where numerous cars were parked, but we’d only added 10 minutes of hiking to the day.

As we started out it was cloudy and from time to time some rain was falling, but we resisted the temptation to put on rain gear. This turned out to be the right choice as the showers soon ceased. The trail headed uphill, climbing over bare rocks, through small thickets, and over mossy sections. There were several groups of people heading up the trail and also a few groups who had overnighted at the hut coming down. Climbing steadily, we soon came upon a chain which was there to help us climb. But it wasn’t there because of dangerous exposure, only because the rocks were steep and had no footholds. Altogether there were about eight sections of chain.

Climbing the chains

The trail itself was easy to follow, especially as we could see other groups ahead of us. After the climb the trail went along a level (not flat) section and then climbed a small height which looked down on Djupfjorden, a large bay north of Sørvågen. Here we saw a family of ptarmigan trotting about in the long grass. And from the top (510 metres above sea level) we could see down to Munkebu, not far away in a spectacular setting.

Approaching Munkebu

We sat outside the hut to eat our lunch. We didn’t have the key, so we had to content ourselves with looking through the windows. It looked very nice inside, bright and cozy with pine tables to eat on and good-sized kitchen with gas burners to cook on. The views from here were really good and by now the sun was trying to break through the thin clouds. There was no rush to leave so we sat for a while before finally heading back. The trip back wasn’t much easier because we had to watch our footing on the downhill sections. And going backwards down the chains was a bit strange, although not difficult at all. After we were down we decided to sit at one of the picnic tables beside Sørvågen’s lake and eat our apples before returning to the hostel.

Cotton grass

Today the bakery was sold out of everything by the time we got there, but we still had some of yesterday’s fruit and nut bread left over. Dinner tonight was much like last night’s so it didn’t take long to make. Later in the evening we walked over to the other side of the little harbour to explore that part of the town. From there we could walk out onto the breakwater to look back at the town; there were a couple of terns diving into the water and a man pointed out a school of mackerel jumping in the water offshore. Definitely an interesting sight to see.

August 4, 2014

Today it was very overcast, but we decided to gamble and go on the hike we had planned, a hike to a big sandy beach. To do this we had to catch the 10 am ferry from Reine, just up the road. So we had our breakfast, packed our lunches, and drove up the road to the ferry dock. We had two options; the shorter one was to go to Vindstad and walk across the isthmus to a sandy beach, which would take a couple of hours, and the longer one was to go to Kjerkfjorden and walk across another isthmus to another sandy beach on a longer trail.

Kjerkfjorden view

The ferry wasn’t very big (maximum 63 passengers) and so there weren’t many formalities. There was just one guy collecting the fare (unusually for Norway, cash only) and another guy driving the boat. We paid our 120 NOK each, along with a lot of other hikers, and off we went. Most of the passengers got off at Vindstad, which was the first stop, and only about 10 of us continued on to Kjerkfjorden. The village was very small, maybe twenty houses, but not totally abandoned as we saw a small child playing in one of the yards. We heard about one person who grew up there but now lives in Oslo and returns in the summer, but it wasn’t clear whether anybody lives there permanently any more.

Kjerkfjorden closeup

Our group headed out of the village following a marshy path up towards a small ridge, dividing up into smaller parties. The path was fairly easy to follow but was slippery in places when we crossed rock slabs. It took about half an hour to reach the top of the ridge. From here we could look down the other side across a grassy meadow to Horseid Beach, which filled the entire width of its bay. Going down the far side was tricky in places because there were more slippery parts and also large boulders to work around. But it wasn’t long before we reached the bottom of the rocky ridge.

Horseid Beach

Here we noticed a bird sitting on one of the rocks, and when we got the binoculars out it turned out to be a cuckoo chick. And it was being fed by a meadow pipit which was about a quarter its size! Everybody knows about cuckoos but it was the first time we’d ever seen that.

Cuckoo and Meadow Pipit

Crossing the grassy and boggy meadow followed by sand dunes didn’t take long, and it was lunch time when we got to the beach. We tested the water temperature—not especially cold—and then went back to sit on one of the driftwood logs to eat our lunch. We still had plenty of time, but nevertheless we didn’t want to chance missing the ferry at 3:15 pm so we headed back right after lunch. The skies were getting darker and as we started to climb the ridge we noticed a few raindrops starting to fall. We ignored those until a lot of raindrops started to fall, and then we put on our rain capes in a hurry. Luckily we did, as the clouds opened up and the rain came down in torrents.

By the time we got back to the dock we were very wet both from the rain and from sweat, but there was a small shed on the dock for us to shelter in. There were already some people there when we arrived, and soon the rest of our group arrived, along with another group who had walked from farther up the island. So the shed was very full. We had almost an hour to wait but it went by quickly as we all chatted away. When the ferry arrived we all went to sit inside, unlike this morning when we were all sitting out on the deck.

Waiting room

When we picked up the other passengers in Vindstad a Turkish guy we had talked to in the morning told us that Vindstad had a café selling cheap tea and coffee. We were envious because we wanted that in Kjerkfjorden too, instead of just a leaky shed. Back in Reine the rain had stopped, and we gave a ride to three of the women who had been on the walk with us. One was from Australia and the others from Korea and China. They were very grateful because the bus wasn’t scheduled to leave for another half an hour.

We arrived back in Å at 4:30 pm and as we had expected, the bakery was sold out again. At the hostel we hung up our wet clothes to dry and made our dinner, cooking up all of the food we had left because tonight was our last night here. After dinner the weather was much better, so we went for a walk along the road to Sørvågen and back again. It was a nice walk even though we were walking along the E10.

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