Abruzzo, terra dell’orso marsicano

Flying. It’s not the first time, but we’re still not getting used to it. “Ready for take-off”, the sound of the engines swell from a high pitched tone to a blasting avalanche of noises. When we’re pulled into our seats by the acceleration I look to my left. Next to the window sits an old Italian man. He hasn’t spoken a word since we got into the plane and he looked depressed since. Just before the wheels lift off he quickly says his prayers. We’re not the only ones disliking flying. One and a half hours later when we land in Italy he finally relaxes.

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Italy, the Apennines. We don’t have a day to day agenda but we’ve chosen two areas that we’ll be trying to connect over the mountain ridges. We don’t know exactly how the terrain looks like, whether or not there will be a trail and how fast we’ll go. We’ll monitor progress one day at a time and live in the moment.

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Majella

The first day in Majella we climb up from the valley over a trail that disappears again the next day while hiking the ridge. Sometimes we see a fainted red dot or red-white marks, but it’s clear that hardly anyone walks this trail. The weather is great, not too hot. Because of bushwacking, progress is not as fast as hoped. There are no water sources en route, but we hope to end the day near a shepherd’s hut with a source. When we get near to the hut, we find a small creek. Dry, not a good sign. Next to the shepherd’s hut we find a water source, but that one is dry as well. Water will be rationed now.
We’ve read a number of -rather old- trip reports, so we didn’t expect the water to be so scarce. How to continue? Will we go on over the ridge and hope to find water on the way, risking not to find it? Next morning we choose to descend. We use our GPS as a 21st century’s dowsing rod. A few kilometres from the hut there should be a water source: Fonte Orsana.

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The first kilometre is steep but on-trail. Rather soon it becomes steep and off-trail. Very steep and really off-trail. Straight through the forest we arrive at the water source. Dry. We find a lot of animal tracks and we see that water used to flow here, but not at this moment. The next source is located a few kilometres from here. Again we use the GPS to walk straight through the forest. Wrong choice, we waste a few hours and wander off more and more. We have only half a litre of water left and decide to save as much as possible.
When we spot a tree with a puddle of rainwater in it we cannot refrain from trying it. We drink it through our water filter. Not exactly Bear Grylls who would cut off a hollow branch from the tree and use that as a straw. Or he would filter the water through his old sock. We use our high-tech water filter and the water tastes good.

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Eventually we arrive near the other source. The sandy trail slowly becomes soggy. A bit further a foot-wide creek flows. Then the creek becomes wider and we find a concrete trough. Water! While filling our water bottles we’re interrupted twice by wild horses which apparently are thirsty as well.
That night wolves walk around our tent. No lack of animals here.

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A number of times we meet people in Majella that are picking hops. One morning we find people and two big white dogs. When we pass the dogs start to walk along with us. Nice. The longer the dogs run along with us, the less amusing it becomes. Why don’t the people call back their dogs? It starts to become more and more annoying until we’re half an hour away from the hops-picking people. The dogs are still not preparing to walk back.
We’re not really looking forward to walk back half an hour (and then again half an hour back to here!) to return someone else’s dogs. But we do, who knows how long they will be walking along with us?
Back to the hops pickers we need to explain the situation using two Italian words and a lot of sign language. Communication is arduous but finally we understand each other. They tell us that the dogs are stray dogs. They have been walking with them from the valley.

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Gran Sasso

The next few days the silhouette of Corno Grande will accompany us. It’s still too early in the season to climb to the top, you’ll need pickle and crampons. We’re going to walk around it, which is certainly not less beautiful.P6210527

Though the whole area is no more than one day walking from civilized world we hardly meet anyone. One morning before we leave we hear soft thudding in the valley. The thudding gets louder while we’re packing our tent. A car… No, it’s a farmer on his tractor with a cow in a trailer. As soon as he sees us, he opens the door of his tractor and shouts something in Italian. “Sono Hollandese, non parlo Italiano.” He stops his tractor, gets down and walks towards us. We understand that he’s looking for his herd of cows. Which we’ve seen yesterday evening through the valley towards a source. We point him where we’ve seen them, nod and say “Eight, otto, six, sei big ones and eh due eh” – “Si, due bambini!“, two small ones indeed. We want to ask if that’s a cow or a bull in his trailer and say that we saw his herd yesterday evening, not this morning. Our translation guide is short of words so after browsing through it and staring at each other he shakes our hands and leaves. In the right direction. The only person we would see that day.

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P6210550 We stay at Rifugio Duca degli Abruzzi twice, a big contrast to spending a night in our tent. While we don’t meet anyone while hiking, the hut is overrun with people. At night people that go to the summit the next day stay in the hut. We were lucky to meet some people from Rome who spokes English. It’s a nice way to get to know a bit more about your fellow travellers and about eating and drinking habits of Italians. It was very sociable. An old, small and cosy hut, with very kind wardens who like to explain about the area.
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Photographs

Click here to see all photographs.

Video

Bibliography

Carta Escursionistica, Edizioni il Lupo
Gran Sasso d’Italia
1 : 25 000

With additions from OpenStreetMap.

Practicalities

Water. It’s hardly possible to hike autonomously in these areas in summer. In the beginning of July a number of water sources were already depleted. Some villages near Gran Sasso have a water quota midsummer, water is that scarce here.
Ticks. Especially in Majella there was an abundance of ticks. Pack a tick remover and check yourself each evening!
Cabins. A great amount of cabins is located in both parks. In Gran Sasso almost all of them are locked. Don’t trust what’s indicated on the map. An extreme example is rifugio San Nicola that is indicated as guarded, but in reality it is a ruin.
Trails. Some trails are not signed, some are overgrown. Know how to use a map and compass. Off-trail your speed will be lower, take that into account while planning.
Dogs. There are a lot of stray dogs. Three times we’ve had dogs walk along with us for up to an hour.

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Eating like a caveman

The grass is wet with dew. We’re walking in the Flevopolder, where numerous snails cross our path. Slugs, snails, that’s a far as our knowledge of biology reaches. Later we find a snail on some kind of plant. A familiar plant, but we’re not able to name it.

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We’re going to meet Bill Jonker for a workshop edible, wild plants. We’re five students each with his own reasons to join. We’re welcomed with tea made from yarrow and a snack, a piece of young growth of a den. Locally sourced of course, at less then ten steps from the camp fire on which the tea is being brewed. The tea is surprisingly tasteful, as well as the snack.

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The fire pit is our class room. The theory consists of example plants and a card with explanation of those plants. How to recognise them, what to use them for, what to watch out for.
Soon we’re moving as it time for practice. Bill shows what edible plants can be found in the nearby area. And maybe even more important: we can taste the plants. The forest we’ve just entered  slowly morphs into a well stocked super market. Various flavours, shapes and textures are widely available.

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Time flies and before we know it it’s time to prepare lunch. Bill explains how to recognise burdock and what to pay attention to not to confuse it with the poisonous foxglove. Then we’re on our way to dig up a few as the roots will be our lunch. While we are busy digging, Bill finds a parsnip. It’s well rooted in the solid clay, but we’re not able to resist taking this tasteful root with us.

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Lunch consists of a stew of burdock, parsnip, cep, nettles and lichen. It tastes very well and the small meal fills our stomachs surprisingly well.

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As extra we practice twining rope made of nettles and we build a seat made of reed. Slowly the thunderclouds roll in. When the first drops of rain fall, we say our goodbyes. In retrospect we’ve learnt a lot today. It is a pity that it took only about a century for this kind of knowledge to disappear.

We walk back the same way we came here this morning. This time we recognise a lot of trees and bushes and we can tell their names. If only our biology lessons in high school had been like today …

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Photographs

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Alaska rocks

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Two Cheechakos* travelling to the last Frontier

Most of our travelling we’ve done in Europe. This time we’re leaving for the other side of the world, to the last Frontier, the last wilderness: Alaska.

A frontier is never a place; it is a time and a way of life. Frontiers pass but they endure in their people.
– Hal Borland

We came here to experience this wilderness, the vastness that we don’t know in the small and crowded Europe. No map does justice to this vastness. We’re used to bring maps with a scale of 1:25 000, now we used maps with a scale of 1:225 000, the scale of a road map. We start to grasp the feeling of this scale when we leave Anchorage. At the end of the Knik Arm the landscape suddenly opens up: we enter a plain and see the mountains in the north. It takes over an hour by car before arriving at the foot of the mountain range. In the same amount of time we’ll pass through half of the Netherlands back home.

Later we walk the Kesugi Ridge east of the highest mountain of North America, Denali. A huge forest and the wide Chulitna river is located between the ridge and the Denali massif. Denali has its own micro climate like so many high mountains and wraps itself in fog and rain clouds for two-thirds of the time. We have been walking here for two days and could have had some beautiful views on the mountain, if only the mountain feels like taking off its thick grey coat. We only saw the foothills and some big glaciers. When Mount Hunter pierces through the fog, our jaws drop: We had no idea that such a mighty mountain was hidden in the clouds!
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The next morning we walk back up to the ridge. We talk about last night: the loud wind made the tent fabric flap all night. That same wind luckily also brought us clear skies, the sun shines. Upon arrival at the ridge we receive the view we’ve hoped for the last days: Denali, almost one-and-a-half times higher than yesterday’s impressive Mount Hunter. We’re flabbergasted, how could this unbelievably high mountain have been hiding behind a few lousy clouds the previous days?

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This exceeds our feeling of scale. We spontaneous decide to stay one day longer at Byers Lake, such an impression the landscape makes. When we’re in Talkeetna, 60 miles from here, Denali still towers above the landscape. Impressive.

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It’s not only nature that impresses us at this side of the world. We’ve been touched most by the people here, but more on that later.

The Alaskan people are a population generally set apart by their unrestrained spirit and ability to make life happen in a most delightful manner under the some of the most un-delightful circumstances.
– Bob Huck

*) Cheechako, greenhorn, newcomer to the North (term developed during the Klondike years).

Bears

In Europa, we humans are always at the top of the food chain: all animals are afraid of us. The few bears that are left there are so shy that they are scared of their own shadows. Things are different in Alaska, that’s why we’ve been preparing well for bear country. Preparing is one thing, being there, experiencing and feeling it is something else.

We drive to our starting point near Kings River by shuttle bus. Don is our driver, baseball cap, big beard, checkered shirt and a little belly. He likes to talk a lot and tells a lot of jokes. “Hey guys, you know the difference between scat from a black bear and that of a grizzly? No? Black bear’s scat is filled with seeds, berries, etc. Grizzly’s is filled with bear bells, bear spray, hiking boots, …” He’s the one who laughs the loudest.

It’s still morning when we start walking to the woods. A thick forest. The wind blows and the leaves rustle. I can smell the pines. Though everything looks normal, our brains work overtime. Where are the binoculars? Is that a tree trunk over there or is it an animal? Do we have to use the bear bell here? In our heads the forest turns into an alley with big hairy monsters behind every bush, ready to scare the wits out of us. We see footprints and scat. Then we arrive at the fording place of the Kings River.

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The idea is walk higher than the tree line the first day. That we won’t reach today. Charissa hasn’t had a relaxed moment the last hours. Let alone she’s able to enjoy this rough scenery. We take the tough decision to abandon the tour we’ve prepared so well and return to the tarmac.

While returning I immediately see a change in Charissa. She’s already more relaxed now, almost relieved, while we walk the same trail as just before. The feeling of this impenetrable forest is hard to image and impossible to approach rationally. Tom Waes once said: “Bear country, land of light sleep.”

We return and are being helped with making new plans. We’ll be walking more open terrain and we will meet some more people there. “More” in a relative sense. We’ll meet four people per day at most.

We walk the Resurrection Trail and are out of water. Fresh water is never far away, the trail runs along the Resurrection Creek. Charissa goes to get some water. “I see a bear, a black one!” The bear didn’t see us yet, we’re downwind so he didn’t smell us. He’s only about fifty yards away on the other side of the creek, he’s also thirsty. We shout but he still doesn’t notice us. He did hear something, but doesn’t know what, because he stands up tall to get a better view. The moment he sees us, he rushes off. We see the bushes shake a dozen yards from the riverbank when he runs through them. We’ve seen a bear, and he reacts exactly according to the book.

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Bear country, land of light sleep.
– Tom Waes

I’ve had two moments of being ready to use my bear spray: the first time when I was getting some things from the tent and I was being sneaked upon by a dog. He suddenly emerged from the bushes with a lot of noise. Before I realized I was outside of the tent, bear spray ready in my hand. Later his owner said: “Maybe we should give him a bear bell, he has the tendency to sneak upon people.” Maybe a good idea indeed, for his own sake.

The second time I was squatting behind a bush to provide it with the necessary manure, when I heard a drumming noise. It sounded just like some heavy animal running towards me at full speed. I look up the mountain (pants still to my ankles) and I have the bear spray ready in my hand again. Nothing. When I look the other way I see Charissa cleaning her packraft from sand and small stones before packing. To remove the stones she drums on the bottom of the packraft with her hands…

At the beginning of the Resurrection Trail we meet an old Alaskan guy on a bicycle. “You guys have some bear protection with you? Just saw some blackies down the road, big ones.” He must have scared them away, because we didn’t see them. Or it was some fine Alaskan humour.

Sourdoughs*

Before visiting Alaska we only knew the country from the Discovery Channel: prospectors, tuna fishermen, loggers, rough people in a rough country. How wrong could we be.

[…] it is the people of the place and the joy filled insanity that gave me years of adventure and laughter and who are the source of the memories that truly make my heart of hearts smile with abundance and an awesome gratitude.
– Bob Huck

There is no public transport by bus and only one rail road. When we wanted to go back to Anchorage from our first tour there was no other possibility than to hitch-hike. When making plans for later tours we get the advice: “You should hitch-hike your way across Alaska. It is easy, a lot of fun and you’ll meet a bunch of interesting people.” It couldn’t be more true.

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The first day of our first trail was long, hard and filled with bear stress. We hitch-hiked our way to Palmer, one city before arriving in Anchorage. In theory we could have been in Anchorage within one hour. In practise we’ve tried to get a ride for over an hour without luck. We were exhausted and ready to look for a place to pitch our tent and try our luck tomorrow. Exactly at that moment a car pulls over and we met a guy who drives 90 miles to Anchorage and back, while living only fifteen minutes down the road. We were unbelievably grateful meeting him.

In total we’ve hitch-hiked nine times, almost 250 miles. All rides were with locals, the tourists in RVs all passed. We notice that the locals genuinely like giving you a ride and are interested to hear what you have been doing, where you’re from and how life is there. They, in turn, tell about their country, what they do and are proud of that. Maybe it’s the large distances between the villages, the ever changing weather, the strong hand of nature in this country that makes that people are more dependent upon each other and more willing to help each other (and two backpackers). For us this was a great experience and wonderful to meet so many people that are so open and proud of their country.

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*) Sourdough, an old-timer in Alaska, a name that came from the fermented dough used by prospectors who didn’t have yeast.

A Word of Thanks

Alastair Humphreys once wrote: “Most of my memories of people are from the briefest of connections.” This journey our path has crossed the paths of numerous other people we would like to thank and although they were the briefest of connections these encounters will always be engraved in our memories.

Casey, thank you very much for the incredible ride at a moment that we were so exhausted.
Base Camp Anchorage: Eric, Nate, Ole, thanks for the great care, ideas for new trails and lending some walking poles when ours were gone.
Patrick & Harlow, thank you for the lighter when the one we brought broke, for the good ideas and the hospitable invite.
Terri, thanks for pulling over in the pouring rain to give two paddlers, wet to the skin, a ride.
Joel, thank you for the numerous inspiring talks over coffee.

Photographs

Click here to see all photographs.

Video

(English subtitles available via the CC button.)

Bibliography

Several maps of the surroundings of the Talkeetna Mountains
1 : 63000
Available from http://store.usgs.gov/

Maps of Alaska
DeLorme Alaska Atlas & Gazetteer
1 : 300000 tot 1 : 1200000
ISBN 0-89933-289-7

222: Denali National Park
National Geographic Trails Illustrated
1 : 225000

Backcountry Bear Basics, second editions
The mountaineers books
Dave Smith
ISBN 978-1-59485-028-8

Trails we walked

Trail along King River
Coastal Trail (by bicycle) in Anchorage
Around Spencer Lake, then packrafting Placer River
Resurrection Trail from Hope to Cooper Landing
Mount Marathon
Lost Lake Trail and Primrose Trail from Seward to Primrose
Kesugi Ridge Trail

La dernière légende

The GR571, a story in three parts. Part one led us through the valley of the Amblève. The second part took us through the valley of the Salm. Now, it’s time to visit the valley of the Lienne.

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The subtitle of the GR, the Valleys of the Legends, refers to the many legends written about this area. In the first part we’ve met the devil of Fonds de Quarreux. This section is home to a fairy called Lienne and a golden goat.

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Unfortunately we didn’t meet any of the two. Actually, we didn’t meet anyone while hiking these nice trails. The owner of the campsite in Targnon is surprised to see us when we arrive. In the last 28 years she has seen the number of people walking GRs diminish. What a shame, it is a beautiful trail, so close to home.

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Passing by Fonds de Quarreux, the legend of the first section, we arrive back at Remouchamps.

Merci pour l’Ardenne Mystérieuse!

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Photos

Click here to see all photographs.

Bibliography

GR571, Vallées des Légendes Amblève, Salm, Lienne
Topo-Guide du Sentier de Grande Randonnée
ISBN 2-9600450-6-8

Bleau without bouldering

New year’s day 2015. The snow has just melted when we’re driving to Fontainebleau. The rain joins us however.
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We’ve took our crash pad with us, but it stays in the car. We’re happy to make a nice stroll through Trois-Pignons: circuit des Belvévères. The next day it’s still raining and we go bouldering in the local boulder gym. The rain leaves and fog appears. The sandstone in this area becomes soft when damp. After the rain en fog of the last few days the rock is nowhere near dry. We can’t boulder, so we put up our slackline near l’Éléphant and run the T.G.L.

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10 Slacklining

19 Parcours Larchant T.G.L.

Click here to see all photographs.

Film

Bibliography

IGN Carte de Randonnée, 1 : 25000, 2417OT: Forêts de Fontainebleau et des Trois Pignons

Chez Bertrand, la deuxième fois cette année

When the last rainshowers leave the area, we start driving to our neighbours in the south. Last spring we started the GR571, Vallée des Légendes. Coloring leaves on the trees and a good weather forecast for the next days is a nice excuse to continue this route.

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We leave the car in Trois-Ponts and walk along the Salm. A sneak preview for what we will encounter when we want to packraft this creek later this week.

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The first night we do a painful discovery: our stove breaks down. We eat lukewarm macaroni and have no option to cook hot tea the next day.

We continue to Gouvy the next morning and return to the car. For the second time this year we eat at Bertrands, the well-known, local frieterie (sort of mobile snackbar) in Trois-Ponts. Like aways, it’s very busy.

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The next day we arrive at the railway station at ten. Twenty past ten the train to Vielsalm will leave. Nineteen past ten an announcement is made. “Le train à Luxembourg […] de dix heures vingt […] Excusez-moi” We don’t understand everything that has been said. Something is said about the train we would like to catch, but what exactly, we missed. We wait for another five minutes and then walk back into the railway station. Previously three other people were waiting there, but now the railway station is empty. We find someone from the railway who tells us the train will not come.

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Maybe a bus will leave in twenty minutes. According to the timetable route 142 will leave, but the sign near the busstop only indicates route 42a. We’re lucky, the bus arrives and this one will head for Vielsalm.

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According to Ardennes’ terms the Salm is quite small and fast flowing. Contrary to most other rivers no canoes can be rented here. Fallen trees are therefore not cleared. For a few hours we enjoy the packrafting. We find seven floating soccer balls and have to step out of the packraft for six times to walk past fallen trees. One time the cows like us that much that they start running with us for two hunderd meters.

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Water flow at the Salm: 3.2 m3/s. Barely enough for packrafting. We didn’t get stuck, but scratched the river floor quite some times.

Click here to see all photographs.

Bibliography
GR571, Vallées des Légendes Amblève, Salm, Lienne
Topo-Guide du Sentier de Grande Randonnée
ISBN 2-9600450-6-8

IGN Carte Topographique, 1:50 000, No 55: Durbuy
IGN Carte Topographique, 1:50 000, No 56-56A: Sankt Vith

Skiftende bris*

*) Changing wind

 

Hiking without plan is different from roaming around without goal. Without plan we leave for Norway, a journey in two chapters as we go to Børgefjell NP and Lomsdal-Visten NP. This time no ease of footpaths, coloured dots of paint or luxurious cabins of DNT. Swedish Sarek is also called the last European wilderness, but these two Norwegian national parks are almost as wild as Sarek.

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Børgefjell

When the train pulls over, we immediately search for the train guard. “Two tickets for Majavatn please.” The timetable says about Majavatn: Stopper ved behov, only stop when asked for. Half an hour later we disembark, indeed, we’re the only ones.

We head for Jengelvatnet, fishing paradise in Norway. Enroute we meet the biggest group of people we will encounter for the next three weeks: five fishermen just return from the lake. During the remaining of our tour we sporadically meet some people. Most of them two persons, Norwegians and staying in the park to fish. We try to catch some fish as well, but reserve too little time for it. In between pitching our tarp and having a soup we fish for half an hour. The rumbling in our stomachs remind us of the freezedried meals we haul each day in our backpacks.

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Not only the fish play hide and seek. We see raindeer dung all over the national park, but no raindeer to be seen. We find the first herds when we head for the Bȧtskardet col. We sleep on the col, while being visited a few time by the herd. They’re startled by our tarp, bark to tell this threat to the others. Then they run away.

We leave Børgefjell via the Simskardet valley. A dirtroad links the parkinglots to the main road. We walk over the dirtroad when we notice a drowsy fox. A fox! We didn’t expect to see this shy and sly animal here. Seems like he prefers walking the dirtroad over bushwhacking just as we do!

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Changing national parks coincides with the change in weather.

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Lomsdal-Visten

Changing national parks coincides with the change in weather. We crossed Børgefjell in beautiful weather. Lots of sun, sometimes a bit of rain. We’re welcomed in Lomsdal-Visten with four consecutive days of rain. Sometimes we find a cabin we can use, sometimes we’re stuck in bad weather. Our first idea is to cross the park until we reach the sea. We spent a long walking day reaching Litlskardvatnet lake. After all the rain the karst land with only a few centimeters of soil is so saturated the border between swamp and creeks fades. No-where we can pitch our tarp. As soon as you lie down, you’ll push down the earth so far you’ll create your own pool. Searching a long time for a place or discussing it is also no option. The wind blows ferociously, freezing us in our wet clothes. There’s no other option then return on our own steps. One and a half hour it took us to climb, we’re back down in an hour. We cook in our tarp and immediately fall asleep.

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The next day we try again. One and a half hour of climbing, the river still high and fast flowing. The clouds lower over the lake. We doubt but know too little of the remainder of the route and the weather to continu. We decide to return and try via another valley.

In Lomsdal the raindeer gather at specific places as well. We meet a merry herd of around seventy animals between Grønfjellet and Storklumpen. Only the last day we see a moose, again in a downpoor. The camera stuck deep in our backpacks in defence of the water, we’re just in time unpacking the camera to get one picture of the large animal with its wide antlers.

A few minutes later we find ourselves before an abyss. Fifty meters of sheer drop. Looks like we’re stuck on a large rock band. We go to the place where we last spotted the moose and find his tracks. Tracks that guide us down over a steep path. It reminds us that this is his place and we’re only visiting.

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They burst out laughing: “Ah, that’s why you’ve returned today, you don’t trust the craftmanship of the Norwegian hunters!”

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At the end of our adventure we arrive at the super market in Trofors where we’re addressed in Norwegian by two persons, an old, grey guy and his friend with only one arm. Jeg snakker ikke Norsk, I don’t speak Norwegian. Instantly they change to English and ask us if we have been in Lomsdal. Yes, we’ve been hiking in Børgefjell and Lomsdal for three weeks. “Three weeks? Only hiking?” Indeed. The old man looks at our backpacks. “Light weight?” Yes. Very not-Norwegian: small backpack, light, no resting day to hunt or fish. He says he’s going to Lomsdal as well the next week. We remember that it’s the tenth of September today, the opening of the hunting season. They burst out laughing: “Ah, that’s why you’ve returned today, you don’t trust the craftmanship of the Norwegian hunters!” After discussing the beautiful wildlife here for some more moments we say our goodbyes. Goodbye to this spontaneous talk and goodbye to the precious and wild nature here. It feels like the journey returning home has already started.

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Click here to see all photographs.

Film

Route

Part 1: Majavatn – Breidskardfjellet – Søre Bisseggvatnet – Nordre Bisseggvatnet – Simskardet – Bȧtskardet – Breidskardelva – Strendene

Part 2: Strendene – Stavassgȧrden – Litls Kardvatnet – Stavassætra – Oorlogsmonument – Storklumpen – Feitskardet – Stavvatnet – Tinden – Øvergȧrdsvatnet – Trofors

Climbed mountains: Col of Kvigtinden, Litl Kjukkelen, Breidskardfjellet, Storklumpen, Tinden

Bibliography
DNT, Uglant IT
Børgefjell Nord
Turkart 1 : 50 000

DNT, Uglant IT
Børgefjell Sør
Turkart 1 : 50 000

Nordeca
10114 Vistfjellan
1 : 50 000
ISBN 978-82-8278-114-5

GR571, Vallées des Légendes

Whit Sunday. The weather is forecasted to be 29C and sunny with a chance of showers. This time we don’t take a tent with us, but a tarp. That should suffice for these temperatures and some rain.

We ascent to Les Tartines and look at the confluence of the Ourthe and the Amblève. At a junction a farmer is taking a nap in the grass. We say hello and ask for confirmation of the way to Oneux in our best French. He points in the direction we were heading and says: “Un bon kilomètre, … et demi peut-être”. We thank him, he sits in the grass again and continues to doze.

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A view at Comblain-au-Pont (Rivage).

The GR remains at altitude today with beautiful views over the Ourthe and Amblève valleys. The weather is muggy and we’re sweating when we arrive at Martinrive around three o’clock. Too early to call it a day. “Fortunately” the camp site has been closed six years ago and the grass is leg high. We continue to walk to Aywaille, where we enter in the mids of a bicycle festival. The camp site is fully occupied but there’s always a spot to put a small tent.

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Camp site Domaine Château de Dieupart.

The next day starts with some showers. We just packed our bags and wait. The rain makes the temperature drop and refreshed we start to ascent again. Slowly the day turns muggy again, just like yesterday.
In the forest a trailrun is taking place. The trailrunners started at the same time we started our ascent. Thirty-three kilometers of running. We’ll see them again a few times this day.
As a bonus we make a small detour through the Ninglinspo valley. We follow a forest to the start of the valley. A forrest full of horseflies and other not-so-nice insects. From the beginning of the small valley the route descends again: 350 meters in three kilometers, just next to the creek or sometimes through the creek. The closer to the village we come, the busier it gets. The peak of tourists is of-course at the end of the valley in the village of Nonceveux.

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There is a camp site in Nonceveux, but it’s the second time we think it is too early to stop. Along the Amblève we continue our trail to Fonds de Quarreux. There’s a small and quiet camp site named au Moulin du Diable. The name refers to a local legend: The Fonds de Quarreux are the large boulders located in the Amblève here. The miller, Hubert Chefneux, was promised to own a beautiful mill if he would give his soul to the devil. The wife of the miller worried about her husband’s soul and hid herself in the mill with Notre-Dame de Dieupart’s medal in her hands. That made the mill blades halt. The devil went outrageous and casted down the mill: The large boulders fell down to the Amblève one by one.

We think the devil is still present around there: at three o’clock in the night he awakes us with thunderstorms and hail the size of large marbles. Our tarp passes this twenty-minute test without problems. In the morning we see the devil in the forest on the other side of the camp site. He looks at us with a bit of a grimace:

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Diable du forêt.

The GR571 leaves the Amblève now and ascends next to the Chefna creek. We like this little valley just a bit more than the Ninglinspo. Less tourists, the trails are just a bit smaller and windier and we’re there at the right moment: in the morning after some nightly rain. The sun is still low on the horizon and the forest steams mysterically. It’s a beautiful morning.

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Valley of the Chefna.

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Valley of the Chefna.

We walk to Coo. Though both guidebooks don’t mention a camp site in Coo, there is one present. We pitch our tarp and start to cook when suddenly the sky turns black. We grab our saucepan from the fire and sit under the tarp. For twenty minutes the wind tries to grab our tarp on all sides possible. The thunders roar and lightning crashes above us. We hear trees squeak in the wind. When it is over, the camp site has no electricity anymore. A tree fell into the electricity cables, which broke. The Amblève has risen ten centimeters in these twenty minutes and is brown-coloured now. After our meal we help the camp site guard drinking Bellevaux Blanche. It would be a pity if the beer would warm because the fridge is out of electricity.

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Cascade de Coo.

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Panorama of Coo and the resevoirs.

This is the first part of three of the GR571. The last day we walk at altitude from Coo to Trois-Ponts with nice views on the route we’ve walked. In the forest we see what the storm has done: innumerable amount of blown away branches and more fallen trees than we’d expected.

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Point de vue de Ster.

In Trois-Ponts we take the train back to the starting point. We’re hungry for more GR571. Nice, quiet, beautiful sceneries and close to home!

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The train of Trois-Ponts.

Click here to see all photographs.

Bibliography
Op pad met rugzak en tent
Sjef van de Poel
Uitgeverij Elmar
ISBN 90-389-1339-7

GR571, Vallées des Légendes Amblève, Salm, Lienne
Topo-Guide du Sentier de Grande Randonnée
ISBN 2-9600450-6-8

Bogs, moorland and a dinghy on the Dee

“We had an early departure and are being helped by a nice tailwind. Our navigation computer indicates that we will arrive at Aberdeen about fifteen minutes before schedule”, says our KLM captain. In reality we arrive five hours later on Aberdeen airport: the Scottish weather covered the airport in a thick blanket of fog, divirting our flight to Glasgow. From there it takes another three hours to get to Aberdeen by bus.

The weather is actually quiet nice here. Aberdeen is covered in fog, but the rest of Scotland is sunny. A day later than planned we get off the train in Aviemore. It’s starting to get sunny while we walk to the start of the Lairig Ghru.

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Lairig Ghru.

The Lairig Ghru is one of the paths crossing the Cairngorms from north to south. The next few days we will be walking through the Cairngorms to the source of the river Dee. Then we will inflate our packrafts and paddle back to sea, about one hunderd kilometers.

“You are going to do what? Walk from here to the Dee and then paddle back to sea? Haha, I feel better already!”

We end our day just after the Pools of Dee in a drizzle. When dusk arrives around nine o’clock, we see two women and a dog approach. They left Aviemore this morning to walk to Devil’s End and back. Perhaps a bit too far for one day, they tell us with a smile. “No, we’re not going to camp, tomorrow we’ll have to be at work.” They have enough energy bars and a good torch with them. As long as they will have left the Pools of Dee behind them before the dark. From the Pools is a good path back to Aviemore. The only thing lacking are dog cookies. Dog Skye hasn’t been eating all day. They ask for our plans and burst out laughing: “You are going to do what? Walk from here to the Dee and then paddle back to sea? Haha, I feel better already!” When we get into our sleeping bags, they’re walking back to Aviemore.

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Scottish grouse.

The famous day two, when the muscles speak up, is being accompanied by the famous grouse. We see the Scottish grouse everywhere, but in real life they’re a bit less elegant than shown in the whisky commercial from 2008. Today there’s not a cloud in the sky and this night we look a bit more red than usual. No, we didn’t take suncream with us.

A number of times we meet people of the National Trust for Scotland. When, after leaving the Cairngorms, we arrive at Mar Lodge we meet someone from the National Trust who is doing the maintenance of the estate. He takes the time to have a chat with us. He asks for our plans and tells about last winter. The enthusiastic way of talking displays a pride for Scotland and a pride of his work here. He wishes us good luck and success and goes his way on his quad.

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Mar Lodge.

At Victoria Bridge we inflate our packrafts. For one second we were doubting our schedule. We lost half a day by the divirsion of our airliner, but the beautiful weather guided us through the Cairngorms faster than expected. It should still be possible to reach the sea. The Dee at this point is wider than we expected, the water level is high enough and even where the river is wide there is a nice current. When paddling you don’t notice the current that much, but it is secretly helping a lot. In no-time we’ve passed Braemar, where we have to land. Just after Braemar a wild fence has been put over the Dee. In our guidebook it was written that a kayak-sized hole would be present in the fence. It has been repaired, no hole anymore. We land our packraft, lift our gear over the fence and drop in the Dee again.

Unexpectedly fast we arrive at Invercauld Bridge, class 3 according to our guidebook. As we’ve been taught, we get out of the river to scout the rapid. We discuss which line to sail and try to imprint the marks in our heads: “Just right of the big rock in the beginning, that’s the gate. Then follow the large V of black water and stay right of the white water.” Later this week we can do some more rapids. We enjoy each of them, they’re not too difficult.

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Packrafting river Dee.

“Hi there, how are you? Was it you, camping on the riverbank a few hunderd meters back? Beautiful spot, good choice!”

At the start of the Dee, the river is tranquil and wide. After Ballater the river becomes narrower and more rapids emerge. That’s where the fishermen are, in almost every bend there are one or two fishing. The banks of the Dee is decorated with a lot of small fishing cabins. Some shiny new, others almost taken back by nature and all have a woodstove. Because of the large amount of fishermen, we find it difficult to find a spot for our tent. When we finally pitch our tent after a cold, rainy day, we’re really glad to sit in a dry environment and have dinner. It’s the disadvantage of bad weather, we take almost no break and don’t eat many energy bars. Having the shelter of a tent and dinner simmering on our stove is real happiness then. Though the wind is blowing hard and we’re sleeping on bumpy patch of ground, we both sleep like a log.

We thought we wouldn’t be noticed in a green tent, pitched behind some bushes. The next morning we start to paddle and within a few minutes we meet the first fisherman of the day. “Hi there, how are you? Was it you, camping on the riverbank a few hunderd meters back? Beautiful spot, good choice!” The next fisherman tells us exactly the same a few minutes later!

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From Peterculter the Dee becomes wider again and more tranquil. Just before arriving in Aberdeen we see two otters playing in the water. It was a week filled with beautiful, rough landscapes, we’ve seen deer, many swallows and oyster catchers and lots of small birds. Although there are small villages next to Dee, civilization can’t be seen easily until you’re almost in Aberdeen.

Click here to see all photographs.

Film

Route
Aviemore
Old logging road
Lairig Ghru
Mar Lodge
River Dee tot Aberdeen

Water level Dee: 0.7 m – 0.8 m

Bibliography
36, Grantown & Aviemore
Landranger Map
1:50 000

37, Strathdon & Alford
Landranger Map
1:50 000

38, Aberdeen
Landranger Map
1:50 000

UK Rivers Guidebook
River Dee – Above Braemar to Potarch

UK Rivers Guidebook
River Dee – Potarch to Banchory

UK Rivers Guidebook
River Dee – Banchory to Aberdeen

Harz

The last tour of this year. We’ll be doing some cross country skiing through the Harz for a few days. A small problem: the closer we get to the departure date, the less chance there is for a snow covered Harz. Is this the area well known for the large amount of rain and low temperatures? At Christmas the last specks of snow disappear, so we leave for Germany without skis.

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The Harz is a highland in Northern Germany with its highest point the Brocken. It is well known: Each year 1.3 million people visit the Brocken. The Harz is a large forest that mainly consists of pine trees and a few birches. There are a few small swamps and the “summits” of the hills have some large boulders on them. A few years ago a lynx has been released here, which is also the symbol for the area.

The Harz has been used for intensive mining since the Middle Ages. The last mine has been closed recently: in 2007. Mining left some traces as there are still large amounts of heavy metals in the ground. During the Cold War the border between East- and West-Germany was right through the Harz. Between 1945 and 1990 this was a forbidden, military area. After the Wende everything that reminded of the split between the countries has been erased. The only memory you’ll encounter a few times in the area are the Kolonnen Wegen, long blocks of concrete used by the soldiers for transport.

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The first night we crawl into our tarp after which it immediately starts to drizzle. During the night the ticking of the raindrops changes to a soft patting: snow. The next morning we wake up in a white world, the ground is covered by a few centimeters of snow.

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Though the wind is getting stronger, it takes a day or two for the thick fog hanging in the forest to disappear. These days there is no view: We walk through a thick forest and at the summits (Klippe) nothing can be seen because of the fog. When the fog finally is away, there are still thick, grey clouds hiding the Brocken. According to the statistics the Brocken is covered by fog for 300 days a year. We believe it’s true.

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Achtermannshöhe

As most people have holidays now and the Harz is a beloved area for tourists, there are lots of people on the footpaths to the Brocken. If you leave these paths, you won’t meet a soul anymore!

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This area is well fitted for cross country skiing. It is sloping and the forest paths are good. For hiking we like the meandering mountain paths more, which are not so easy to find here.

Click here to see all photographs.

Bibliography

450, Karte 1, Harz
Wandern, Rad, Kompass
1:50 000