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Norway Part II

Hiking around the Jokulen Glacier

Written by . Published on September 16th 2011.


Norway Part II

HAVING never hiked anywhere before (unless you count Archway Road, which I am no longer inclined to do), I figured it would be a wise and excellent plan to begin, all alone, in the Norwegian outback. On learning that this behaviour is extremely unrecommended, even to experienced hikers, I might have been sensible to revise my plans. But I already had a train ticket. I figured I’d take a peak at the wilderness and decide then. Arriving in the three shop ‘town’ of Geilo, however, my decision was made for me. Even freshly-baked bread for breakfast and a waterfall out the window couldn’t keep me in a ghostly winter sports town for a week. So I tied up my rucksack with my makeshift belt, packed up some supplies (one jar of peanut butter, one packet of rye bread, one bar of chocolate) and stuck my thumb out for a lift into the wild.

The landscape was prehistoric. Nothing but rocks, scrappy bushes, puddles and the occasional sheep. I never knew it was possible to be so far away.

Dnt Hut KjeldebuDnt Hut Kjeldebu

Within ten minutes I was soaked and my sign was a pulp. Within another ten, however, I was riding in a Jaguar, being lectured on reindeer hunting by an oil-skin clad Norwegian. Trying to look as un-vegetarian as possible, I still managed to offend him by mispronouncing Kjeldebu (my day’s destination) and he refused to let me out of the car until I had learnt (“Say it! ‘Shel-dee-boo’! Say it!”). So caught up was I in correct pronunciations, that before I noticed, he was gone, and with him all human trace. Apart from that long, empty road and an arrow, labeled 'Kraekkja' pointing towards the mountains.

I followed that arrow into the lunar landscape (“You see any trees? No? That’s right – we’re above tree-level!” my chauffeur triumphantly declared) right into the belly of a drizzling cloud. Every ten meters or so, a pile of rocks or red ‘T’ – the Norwegian walking association (DNT)’s method of path-marking – appeared, making constant map reading thankfully unnecessary. Over the next five days those marks would become the object of my absolute love and devotion as I realised how helpless I was without them.

Bridge Over The Top Of A WaterfallBridge Over The Top Of A Waterfall

The landscape was prehistoric. Nothing but rocks, scrappy bushes, puddles and the occasional sheep. I never knew it was possible to be so far away. I saw Avatar, read Oryx and Crake, mourned the mechanical decay of planet Earth. I thought there was nowhere else to go. And now I was drenched in all this emptiness, an eternity away from that myopic, city-fueled dystopia.

At Kraekkja’s DNT hut I dried my shoes and flimsy cagoule and waited for the rain to stop. While I waited, I started talking to a German lady, also hiking alone, and we left for Kjeldebu together. The red ‘T’s led straight across a small river and I stopped, bewildered – there was no bridge! She laughed. “You have to trust in stepping stones,” she said. I looked at the river. There were a few slippery looking bumps sticking out, which she deftly skipped across. I held my breath and followed, my arms stuck out like a tight-rope walker, We’re Going On a Bear Hunt unhelpfully in my head. Later she taught me how to spot lemmings and wild blueberries, which would provide endless small and sweet distractions in the coming days.

Just before dark, we reached Kjeldebu soaked and exhausted. Inside, the hut was oven-warm from the wood-burning stove and six other walkers. This hut was unstaffed, meaning there is no electricity or hot water and guests do all the cleaning and wood-cutting. Payment is based on honour. None but the meanest could wake up to the shimmering, silvery mist on the lake and not pay up in gratitude.

I set off alone for Liseth, scrambling up a mini mountain as the sun rose and burnt off the fog. Mountain lakes reflected the blue and white dappled sky. Misreading the map, I hurried across this sparkling dinosaurland all too quickly and arrived in marshy Liseth by lunchtime. With nothing to do but stare at the catastrophic Voringsfoss waterfall and bat away mosquitoes, the relatively large village soon became the loneliest place on my route.

Mountain Waterfall Near LisethMountain Waterfall Near Liseth

Relieved to begin walking again in the morning, I bounced past two Germans, moving like snails beneath the weight of elephantine packs. I was practically skipping – I should have known better. Soon I was being chased across the mountain by a cloud so low and black I was sure there would be thunder. A devastating crack in the Earth appeared up ahead and I began praying the red ‘T’s would not lead me down there (having discovered earlier their tendency to lead across distances impassable at first glance). Just before the drop, the path veered off to the right, leading me scrambling down only a hundred meters or so. At the bottom, a single plank led over a waterfall that would take me all the way, if I slipped. Then the rain began. The wind started up. The trail led straight up the other side of the valley, so close to the edge that my legs refused to move unless I crawled. Right at the top, forcing my eyes towards the drop, I realised I was climbing across the gaping mouth of a fjord. The Earth really had cracked open. With mind-spinning vertigo I dragged myself onwards, trying to banish a funeral hymn that had appeared in my head. All thoughts evaporated as the beating wind turned my rain trousers to parachutes and I begged the rocks to stay solid and guide my legs home.

I will spare you the rest of my rock-face religious conversion – it is enough to say that when the old Norwegian couple found me (thankfully on the floor of the hut and not the lake) I was so grateful for human company (and fire-starting skills) that I even managed to laugh when they said they’d found the route “quite simple”. Later a lone German turned up, also looking unperturbed, and played cards with me by candle light until my heart rate was low enough to sleep.

Jokulen GlacierJokulen Glacier

The next day I was grateful to leave solitude behind and walk with the German for the day. The way to Finse led right along the foot of the Jokulen glacier. At this altitude, not even shrub plants grow – there is only crumbling shards of volcanic slate and rock that looks liquid, petrified in its oozing magma shape. Descending into the collection of houses surrounding the railway stop at Finse, we slid over sections of packed snow and across a river whose stepping stones really were invisible. The end was in sight for at least an hour before we got there. At Finse’s staffed DNT hut, we were given bowls of steaming soup and bread, chocolate cake and dormitory beds. My rations were long gone, my legs were shaking. Falling asleep was as ecstatic and all-consuming as falling in love.

In the morning I thought I’d never want to walk again, but after the king-of-all-breakfast-hot-buffets, my legs were itching like walking junkies. Climbing eight kilometres to Sankt Pal, the highest mountain in the area, was a casual morning’s stroll, especially without my rucksack. The sky was clearer than it had been since the walk from Kjeldebu and the view gaped on for miles. The glacier sat like a lazy, iced mammoth behind everything, dwarfing all the pointy mountains in between. A couple of walkers making their way up the path looked as helpless and scrawny as broken back fleas – so sweet and so careful. Heading back down to the hut, I wondered how long it would take to lose that perspective.

Twenty-four hours later, London looks like chaos. How do you know which way to go when there are so many roads but no one destination? I don’t want TV and running water! Give me lakes and lemmings and rainstorms any time.

DNT website: www.turistforeningen.no

Norwegian train-line: £45 return Oslo - Geilo www.nsb.no

Geilo hostel - £33 pppn (incl. breakfast) www.oenturist.no

Liseth hut - £26 pppn (with DNT membership)  www.liseth.no

DNT staffed huts - £15pppn (with DNT membership, half price for under-26s)

DNT unstaffed huts - £21pppn (with DNT membership, half price for under-26s)

Meals are not included and cost £10 (breakfast buffet), £1.30 (pack-lunch), £5 (soup/dessert), £18 (dinner).

DNT membership is £60 (£34 under-26)

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AnonymousOctober 4th 2011.

Great pictures Xanthi

AnonymousOctober 4th 2011.

Especially that one of the wild blueberries

Jan HeggholmenOctober 4th 2011.

Hello Xanthi!
Nice desciption of the "old Norvegian couple"
That's us ! :-)
Thank you for a nice evening at Rembesdalseter.
We rushed directly into the train at Finse, and back home, and didn't even have time to say Good bye...
Sorry for that!
Maybe we meet again in the beautiful Norvegian mountains - we will be there :-)
Regards Jan and Berit

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