It’s Friday, eleven o’clock in the evening. Our airplane lands in the snow on Olso airport. Ten centimetres of fresh snow has been falling the last hours. Next day we check in at Strand Fjellstue, a nice mountain lodge with Stefan and Surina as its enthusiastic owners. They serve the best Thai food that we’ve ever tasted. Strand Fjellstue is our starting- and endpoint of this tour. We’ll be sleeping in DNT self-service cabins, a more luxurious stay than the tarp we normally use.
It’s still snowing when we want to leave the next morning. The low hanging clouds make for poor visibility, which doesn’t make the navigation easier in this sloping landscape. Stefan tells us that the easiest route to Storkvelvbua goes around Ongsjøfjellet (fjellet = mountain). A long route but easier to find in this weather. We put our skis on, cross the frozen lake and start our ascent.
At the end of the ascent we can choose to climb further to mountain pass Leppskardet or we can choose the longer route that Stefan told us. We choose the last one. The visibility is still low and we trust our own navigation capabilities and the scarce signs we find (this day we find about three signs in total). Willow branches put up in the snow show the route. It is going to be a long day, half past five we arrive at the cabin which is packed in ice. “I think I see a light indoors”, Fred says, but immediately corrects himself. “No, it’s very dark indoors.” and the cabin seems to be vacant. Till we arrive at the door and find nine pairs of skis standing in the snow.
In the cabin we find nine Norwegians, the stove is burning, water has been made and they offer us some hot water for making tea. Instead of clearing two beds for us, they show the small room for us to use. We prepare our food and over dinner we talk about the routes and about Norway. They are doing a three day tour. The day before yesterday they arrived, today they made a day trip and tomorrow they’ll return to the valley. During the day trip they did not use the willow branches for navigation and needed to rely on their GPS. We already decided to use the marked trails in this bad weather and get that as an advice as well: “Stick to the sticks.”
Stick to the sticks.
After dinner everyone is doing his or her own thing. We take a look on the map, some people play cards and others read a book. We prepare a hot chocolate and they offer us a brownie. The home-made brownie melts on our tongues. Such a luxury, such a luxury.
“There are two ways to fall: the faceplant and the bumplant.” Fred has the chance to practice both.
Just before we want to leave in the morning one of the Norwegians hurries to the cabin. “There’s a herd of raindeer in the valley. More than one hunderd animals!” The same herd we saw yesterday just outside the cabin. This herd has returned from the north early this year. It’s time for us to submerge ourselves in the monochromous world of snow and willow branches.
We cannot judge depth because of the clouds. Drift of snow cannot be seen either. As Ernst Arbouw describes in his article (page 46) in the Dutch magazine Hoogtelijn: “There are two ways to fall: the faceplant and the bumplant.” Fred has the chance to practice both.
We’re brushing our teeth in Oskampen when Charissa says: “Grab the camera, I see a fox!” Special for us Dutch, but as we learn later, foxes can be seen regularly here. At Strand Fjellstue they know a fox that walks the same route near the mountain lodge each day.
The last night we spend in Nordbua. Not a DNT cabin, but a cabin from the local tourist association: Gausdal Fjellstyre. There are less facilities than in a DNT cabin, but mattresses and a stove are present. What else do you need? We’ll be enjoying the last freeze dried meal with candlelight for this week here.
We want to move on fast, but to where? We hang against the wind to keep standing and feel the gusts of wind pulling forcefully on our backpacks.
From the start of the last day the snow sticks to our skis. In the morning it is +2C already and wet snow falls from the sky. We decide to go for the short route, via mountain pass Leppskardet. In the meantime the wind is picking up fast. The higher we climb, the worse the weather gets. Just under the mountain pass we’re in a white-out again: We see white everywhere, the horizon cannot be found. Claustrophobia in the wide open plain. The wind is blowing at at least eight Beaufort. The willow branches are 25 meters apart, but sometimes Charissa needs to go ahead to find the next stick. Finally we are saved by the sign at the mountain pass, completely covered in ice.
We want to move on fast, but to where? We hang against the wind to keep standing and feel the gusts of wind pulling forcefully on our backpacks. No willow branches to be found anymore. We try to find them, but fail regardless of our attempts. The map told us that the next 60 meters will consist of a steep descent and the terrain will flatten out afterwards.
We need to yell to hear what we’re saying to each other. Eventually we decide to keep our bearing to north-north-east and carefully descent inside this white cloud. Step by step we descent, watching the compass. We see some grey spots, but cannot identify what it is we’re seeing. Trees, rocks? We make a few cautious steps when suddenly the cloud dissolves a bit. We see trees and we see where we need to go to. Quickly we descent to the trees. There we find the next willow branches. Finally time for a break, the first energy bar and cup of tea of this day.
It starts to rain when we continue to follow the willow branches. In the afternoon we arrive at Strand Fjellstue soaking wet. We can dry our gear in the drying room and are offered a delicious cup of Thai soup. Despite all Norwegians we speak say it’s “a horrible winter”, we have enjoyed the last week! We’ve seen a fox, raindeer and grouses, all days we’ve dined in candle light in comfortable warm wooden cabins. Holidays!
Strand Fjellstue (Espedalen)*
*: overnight stay
2492, Huldreheimen, Spȧtind