Saturday, May 10, 2008

crossing the Hardangervidda på langs

Just enough time between getting off the flight and the departure of our train to Finse leaving from Bergen train station for an outside harbour side beer – sitting there in our sunnies and T-shirts we lapped up the warmth and rays down at sea level – next stop the winter play ground that is the Hardangervidda about 1000m up. It was the first weekend in May, our favorite nearby ski resort had closed the weekend before and we were off for the final challenge of the season, crossing the 120km from Finse to Haukelisetter on skis over the ‘Vidda, we had four days before we were due back in work…hhhmmmm, would we make it, would we get lost, would there still be enough snow, would the lakes still be frozen, what we would do in the case of bad weather, would we be fit enough, did we have enough whisky and what type of wax should we use? Well perhaps we should better have one for the road!

A rather sleepy 4hour journey through Voss and then up through the tunnels past Myrdal saw us arriving at Finse, still broad daylight at 8pm and just in time for dinner, only after our first, albeit short, ski from the station to the cabin, the first test down a rather alarmingly steep slope on our narrow “fjellski”. Seriously tucking into large helpings of salmon and trimmings we chatted with the locals about our plans, only to be alarmed to hear that our next objective cabin wise was closed already, we would have to revise our whole crossing strategy going for a relatively short day on day 1 and then 2 long days back to back, before getting a “short” day to finish. Oh well, we’d better quality control the Glenlivet and play a few rounds of cards to brace ourselves for a mear 20km on day 1, all in the name of fact finding, we were going to have plenty of light, that was sure, and was certainly on our side weather wise.

We woke the following morning to perfect, wall to wall blue sky and a breath taking view out west over the Hardangerjøkulen, awesome and totally inspiring, there was nothing for it but to saddle up and get waxing – serious discussions on wax colour and the number of layers and we were slipping and gliding our way towards Kjekkja. We were off, totally nice feeling to be away, and it wasn’t long before we were in shorts and wide brim hats poling along the tracks and nice spring snow. More wax on, wax off, we settled into a rather civilized routine of cruising along for a couple of hours before a nap in the sun accompanied by a few sandwiches and a flask, as well as few running repairs on feet and kit before heading out on the next leg, repeated 3-4 times during the day.

Although a fairly short first day, we were pretty glad to see the Kjekkja cabin loom up in the distance with the promise of another slap up dinner provided, all you could eat and a bit of chocolate cake for desert. We were even blessed with a free glide downhill all the way to the front door, sweet! But still about 100km to ski before reaching Haukelisetter and this rest of the time we would have to be cooking, fingers crossed the weather would hold and the self serviced cabins hadn’t been locked for the season. Just checking the Glenlivet hadn’t deteriorated with all the activity we crashed fairly early in readiness for a bit more of an epic distance on day 2.

The scenery was really something special. Although the snow was melting rapidly before our eyes, and we estimated this might be the last weekend we could have made the crossing without some serious lake detours, the plateau landscape was vast and immensely expansive, with whiteness stretching endlessly in all directions around us. We could see way back towards the Hallingskavet as well as the jøkulen behind us whilst ahead uphills seemed to run on forever at an albeit gentle but relenting gradient, a bit more red special perhaps to see up the top of this one, looking forward to along relaxing glide down the other side! We’d loaded up big time at breakfast from the smorgasbord of salmons and cold cuts and home made jams compiling a serious collection of Norwegian style open sandwiches to keep us fueled up til, well, perhaps first lunch at least. We definitely felt in the rhythm now, even managing to put in some skating along with the more traditional classic poling action; that was until we came across a couple of locals who were doing, an albeit shortened, crossing in 2 days, some 50km each day. We paused for a friendly pair of ptarmigan before reapplying yet more suncream and debated whether it was warm enough for klister. Sense got the better of us and we settled for some dried apricots and a few grabs of go nuts.

Our target for the day was the little, winter, self service cabin at Sandhaug. Certainly in the wilds here, we fetched our water from the now melting lake, dragging the barrel back to the cabin over ths snow cursing the need to ski another inch after what felt like a epic distance already, not realizing until after the event that we had most likely been standing on very thin ice to do so. What followed was perhaps more of a science experiment than a dinner. Totally misunderstanding the label and trusting our Norwegian skills a lot more than we should have done, Swedish meatballs were added to tomato soup and some kind of pasta affair – all suitably washed down with Glenlivet and followed by a few rather incomprehensible rounds of cards, we realized we were now seriously in danger of prematurely running out of crucial whisky supplies, obviously time for bed!

Day 3, distance wise almost half way there; we’d decided to go via the Litlos cabin, although it was closed, partially in an effort to avoid getting lost or straying into dodgy terrain. But quickly realizing progress was decidedly slower as a result of complete lack of ability to control the weather and resultant clothing combination we quickly realized a change of course was required; a cunning short cut was order of the day. Feeling confident in our skills built over the last few days we headed directly south hopefully cutting out two sides of the triangle, not withstanding the incurrence of a rather large looking ascent near the end of the day…oh well, what the hell, maybe we’d see some wild reindeer apparently calving somewhere in the area.