When we stopped at the top of the gravel trail that zig-zagged its way down to Rekvik, my eyes widened when Jan Hugo pointed out Skamtinden – the mountain he thought we could climb that evening. Seriously? That one? At 884m it wasn't particularly high; it just looked quite steep, and the cliff edges appeared to be startlingly abrupt.
I was beginning to have second thoughts about this whole mountain business.
When I arrived, I contacted Jan Hugo Salamonsen after reading his hiking website, ryggsekk.net. We met for a beer to look over some maps as I wanted to get some tips for places to visit, and maybe arrange a climb together. It was a very enjoyable evening as we chatted about walking and mountains, and he showed me his guide book to some mountain hike, kayak tours, and family-friendly locations (you can buy it in local bookshops – it's very good).
Looking up at it, I really wasn't so sure about Skamtinden. I was pretty tired, but Jan Hugo said we could decide when we got to the trail head, and we could always turn back. Standing by the car in the parking area I was still uncertain, but I persuaded myself that the foreshortening effect of staring a mountain in the face might mean that the climb wasn't as bad as it seemed.
Photographs, of course, do an injustice to the drama, and reduce the impact of scale to the laughably miniature. In the photo above, the green band on the bottom right is comprised of trees, which gives some idea of size, but the trail leading up the ridge looks far less of an incline that in did in person, believe me.
Well, the decision was made. It was 17:00, and time to start climbing.
The initial section rose through 140 steep meters of dwarf birch forest. Verdant young fern covered the hillside, lending a quite magical feeling to the trail.
After we rose above tree-line, we reached a short, flat area that led up the the start of the ridge trail, with Skamtindalen dropping away to the east, and the sea to the west. The trail was clear and easy to follow, and I saw that my initial assessment was accurate: it was less frightening up close and personal. Steep, certainly, but not life threatening by any means.
It was, however, quite relentless. Unlike Tromsdalstinden, there were very few gentler areas. It was more a case of keeping your head down, putting one foot in front of the other, and keep on keeping on.
At least the trail was surprisingly soft. Perhaps its location right next to the sea and the gulf stream creates a more welcoming climate for vegetation. That location – directly by the sea – also afforded some pretty nice views.
I was glad I'd come well prepared with plenty of water (there are no streams on this trail) and snacks, but Jan Hugo had gone one better and brought a flask of coffee, which I was very happy he offered to share.
We sat and enjoyed the coffee on a vertiginous slope, looking down at the sea, and across at the group of four hills, Brosmetind, Sørtinden, Mellomtinden & Tromtinden.
Although they are much higher, their sheer, sculpted edges reminded me somewhat of Dover, and Shakespeare's Cliff. It brought on an odd nostalgia for a place I really don't have much love for.
We were about half of the way up, and things were about to get much rockier.
The vegetated trail slowly gave way to moss, then moss to lichen, and lichen to bare rock in a familiar mountain-top boulder field. We searched for the trail cairns loading us among huge rocks that oddly toppled underfoot, and along patches of gravel and scree.
The final section lurched suddenly upwards towards the summit, requiring some minor scrambling.
Many of the peaks in this area are oddly scalloped; thin, broken teeth pointing vertically at the sky. As I climbed the final stretch I emerged into a crack plunging down the mountainside to Ersfjorden below – a line of turquoise water joining the two walls of granite.
After hauling ourselves up a couple more meters we were at the top, where a surprisingly spacious platform awaited us. It would make a good spot for a tent (although perhaps a little uncomfortable).
Jan Hugo had scored himself a Terra Nova Laser Competition, but chose not to carry it up so couldn't try pitching it there. I wouldn't pitch a DuoMid there, but an Unna might just about squeeze in, although you'd need to employ the mountain to resist the force of the strong – and very cold – wind that battered us about on top.
I wondered about the possibility of using climbing nuts as a pitching/staking tools in such situations, but soon forgot about all that nonsense when I looked across at the views. It was camera time!
A series of peaks led in a Lord of the Rings panorama from the sea over towards Hollendaren, beyond which an glacier lurked icily.
Apparently, some crazy people follow the insanely sharp ridges between mountains. This is something I will not be trying.
While we ate Jan Hugo pointed at various locations at the bottom of the fjord and regaled me with cairn-side stories of those who had died from avalanches and climbing accidents. Death in the mountains seems to be a refrain I keep hearing in Norway, but I was reassured when he told me couldn't remember hearing about many people who had died on Skamtinden.
It was hard to sit for long without the urge to photograph the spectacular landscape surrounding us. Unlike Tromsdalstinden, which sits alone and fairly detached from the rest of the area's mountains, Skamtinden is within a stone's throw of numerous peaks that form the immediately recognisable U-shaped valley of a fjord.
The photo below is taken from Ersfjordbotn at the bottom (botn – see: Norwegian is easy!) of the fjord. Skamtinden is the last mountain you can see on the right side.
The following view looks back from the summit of Skamtinden towards Ersfjordbotn (the above photo was taken on the strip of land between the fjord and the small lake you can see).
On the other side of the fjord, more glacially-sculpted landscapes stretch as far as the eye can see.
Behind is, to the west, lay the island of Sessøya and the open sea.
The wind was blowing hard and cold, so started packing up as another couple arrived.
I carefully lowered myself down to begin the descent, while Jan Hugo took one last look along the valley.
I was quite surprised as how easy the climb seemed. Although I was, as usual, a little concerned about the forthcoming descent, having re-familiarised myself with the mountains a bit more I felt a lot less bothered by it than I expected. And in fact it was quite easy. Even the steep parts seemed entirely manageable, which made me very happy. My previous nervousness had completely vanished, and it appeared I had my mountain legs back (as I write this, I can tell you they are not completely back, but definitely on their way).
We passed another group people climbing up, two of whom were bikini-clad (okay, "sports bra") young women, which gave me a case of déja vu. I hope they had a wind jacket for the top. In total I think I counted about 12 other people off for their evening stroll up a mountain.
Shortly after we decided to give out knees a break, and stare out over the sea.
The weather for this summer solstice was decidedly un-summery and not particularly solsticey either. Grey clouds shrouded the midnight sun, occasionally spitting rain down on us. Although I'd been taking photos, I wasn't very hopeful about getting many great shots as the light was somewhat flat and uninspiring. Still, one mustn't complain. The remarkable landscape provided some excellent views, and the serendipitous coincidence of landscape, light, and reflection gave me my favourite shot.
It seemed the clouds were thinning a little as we reached the tree-line again. In the far distance, over the sea, we watched odd beams of sunlight creating pools of light on the water.
It was a strange, almost sci-fi effect (think Start Trek teleport beams) and impossible to accurately photograph, so here's an overly-dramatic, completely inaccurate Photoshopped "version" of events (discount available to religious calendars/publications in return for special consideration in event of there actually being an afterlife).
After a long day, I was afraid I'd be too tired for the drive home. I needn't have worried – I was wide awake on a wave of mountain euphoria. It was a great climb, and I very much enjoyed meeting and walking with Jan Hugo. It's so nice to meet like-minded people in real life (as opposed to being diluted through 160 characters or less on twitter et al) and share an adventure together; it's something we should all try to do more, and something I hope to do again very soon.