Within a couple of days of arriving I'd already decided my first mountain in Tromsø would be Tromsdalstinden. Within walking distance of Tromsø, it's broad form rises 1238m – significantly higher than anything in its immediate surroundings. While walking around the city I caught glimpses of the top and could see that the route up the north ridge was pretty-much snow-free, making it an obvious choice. On Thursday morning, with clear skies and pleasant temperatures, I decided it would be a good day to go for a stroll, and with my smug self-confidence still imbuing everything with a golden hue after the previous day's trip up Sørtinden, I was ready for anything.
By lunchtime, my plans had grown and blossomed into an overnighter. I had a new shelter to try out, and as the midnight sun opens up hiking hours considerably (there are no limitations on when to start or finish hiking) I planned to set off after an early dinner, be on top by around 9pm, and find somewhere to camp around 11pm.
I loaded my huckePACK and drove over the bridge to the trail head a little way up Tromsdalen, the valley leading up to the mountain. A couple of days ago I'd scouted out the trail head and there was only one car. Tonight there were loads of cars and people heading back down the trail, and setting off at the same time as me. It seemed my idea of an evening climb wasn't particularly unique. Half of Tromsø had apparently decided to join me.
A little way down the trail, however, I found a small parking space crammed with cars and heard gunshots ricocheting around the foothills. There must have been some kind of shooting range or competition going on. Most of the people were heading down to the range, and after another hundred meters or so it was just me and a group of about 5 guys, 1 girl, a springer spaniel (not, sadly, Rufus) and a man carrying a snowboard with a small terrier. I overtook them jauntily, quite chuffed with myself, and sped off up the trail.
The route veered off to the left to cross a river at the foot of the valley, before rising steeply through a stand of birch which slowly thinned as I reached tree-line. My pace slowed, my heartbeat raced, and the group I had so jauntily passed by earlier now overtook me without a bead of perspiration between them. I hadn't bothered to weigh my pack, but it was probably about 8 kg – enough for me to blame the extra weight I was carrying for my lack of speed, and conveniently ignore my pounding heartbeat and laboured breaths. Me? Unfit? Never!
I took a short break to recover near a stream and another gentleman of slightly more advanced age. It was a very nice spot near a couloir with a lovely view down the valley. I made a not of this as the return route down the south flank would bring me back this way, and with the river and soft ground it would make a perfect campsite.
I was a little uncertain about that return route as there still seemed to be a lot of snow on that side. When the other man left to continue, I took the chance to ask him if he knew the route down was accessible, and he seemed confident it was. We didn't chat for long and he was soon off, bounding up the hill as only a healthy, fit Norwegian can. Damn you all!
As I rested, another guy puffed his way past, making me feel at least a little better. I didn't know it at this point but his name was Thom (at least that was what he told me later, so we'll stick with that; also I'm spelling it with an "h" as it seems more Norwegian - Thor, Thorstein, etc - but I have no idea, so let's just roll with it).
So, are you keeping count? About 9 other people so far. On a 5-6 hour evening hike. Up a reasonably large mountain. In Finland, I rarely meet anyone on my local walks up a 250m hill. Anyway... to continue...
Climbing ever upwards I passed Thom taking a break. He looked a little worse for wear – red in the face, a kind of "deer in the headlights" look – but he said it was just because it was so hot. It was. It was around 22ºC, which for here, in early June, in the evening, is pretty warm. He seemed fine, so I carried on, happy there was at least one person I was a bit faster than. I really should do something about that odd competitive streak.
I glanced up the mountain. I was approaching a few snow fields, all of which had clear trails across them and looked to be no problem. The top of the mountain was clear, and I got my first look at the steepest part of the trail beyond the next ridge – a section I was not particularly looking forward to.
I found the first of many small alpine flowers by a stream, and took this opportunity to refill my bottles. It looked pretty dry up on top, and I had a feeling I'd be needing some serious re-hydration once I got up that steep bit.
Another snow field, and another few hundred meters closer to that climb.
It really doesn't look much in photographs, especially with a 21mm lens, so you'll have to believe me that it's steeper than it looks.
I could just about make out the group of 7 snaking their way slowly upwards, and the older gentleman, who had already overtaken those youngsters, up towards the top.
I stopped again for a breather. I could see Thom quite a way below, taking a break also.
Best of all, the view was spectacular. The sun was low over the hills, casting a golden light over everything. I could see all the way down Tromsdalen, over Tromsø, and across to the jagged mountains of North Kvaløya (where Store Blåmannen waits for me another day).
I soaked in the view and the sun, sipping fresh mountain water. It was a delicious moment.
But all good things must come to an end.
Up we go.
I took it easy, but with dogged determination. Head down. One foot after another. Up. Up. Up.
I looked up, and of course it seemed I'd only climbed about three meters. It appeared to go on forever.
Looking down I saw I'd made progress, but this was accompanied with a subtle vertigo, such that I leaned into the mountain and on my trusty LT4s. Woah. Thank goodness I wouldn't have to come down this way, because that really wouldn't be much fun.
I just wanted to get up the steep bit and be on my way. The last thing I really wanted to do was take pretty pictures of flowers.
I saw a couple of teenage girls coming down the incline as if they were just popping out to get a sherbet dip from the sweet shop (or whatever it is the young folk get up to these days). I clung haplessly to the mountainside as they scampered past in their bikinis (or was I hallucinating?; anyway it was something almost as exposed as I felt).
Shortly afterwards they were followed by two teenage guys who skipped past with the gay abandon of the young and those who have not known true fear or faced death on multiple occasions, daily.
(So, keep count: that's four more.)
Faced with this display of youth, I resolved to man up and get to the top if this bit and get it done and over with. I huffed and I puffed and I lunged over the top. I turned, faced the sun, and saw the light.
I was now at about 900m. Only another 300 or so to go.
The rest of the route looked rocky and not unlike the summit of Ben Nevis, I thought (it's been a while, though – there's probably a Mr. Whippy up there these days).
It followed a sharp ridge with some excellent views – a taste of what was to come at the summit.
It was now around 20:45, and there were several people on their way down: a group of four, including one English guy, another group of three Norwegians. Around this point the older gentleman who practically ran up the mountain passed me on the way down, much to my consternation.
He had told me earlier that he thought the circular route with the return down the south ridge, which was much gentler (albeit longer), would be okay, but here he was coming back down the way he'd climbed up.
He told me he'd decided to come down this way as he needed to get home a bit quicker for reasons utterly unimportant. Apparently several people had told him that the south route was not safe, but he still thought it would be okay, and if I wanted to try it I'd "probably" be fine. Probably. Great.
The words of another elderly Norwegian gentleman I'd men several years ago in Lyngen rang in my ears: "Some of my friends died up here... some of my friends died up here... some of my friends died up here..." (It's a mountain echo you can hear there.)
I decided to make my decision up at the top.
Meanwhile, I stumbled across a near vertical drop of about 500m, which I was too terrified to approach any nearer to take a proper photograph, so you'll have to use your imagination ("Some of my friends died up here...")
The gang of six and the Springer passed on their way down (the snowboarder had managed to find enough last snow to slide down – with his terrier in his backpack!), and shortly afterwards I was overtaken by a mother and daughter team. I had a chat with Mother about the south route, and she seemed quite vehement that I should under no circumstances go that way unless I wanted to fall into deep snow and into a swollen under-the-snow river in which I would repeatedly DIE over-and-over again.
My heart sank. I really didn't want to repeatedly die over-and-over again, but the thought of heading back down that steep bit had me equally worried, especially as I was already tired. I did think several times about bailing at that so-close-to-the-top-it-hurts moment, as it seemed suddenly all so pointless to struggle the last hundred meters upwards if I'd just be tireder on the way down. Also, I'm not a big fan of in-and-out routes, much preferring loops for their alternative views.
I realised that it would be pointless to turn back now when I could almost grasp the summit. So, with a little trepidation about the return, I pushed on, and caught up with mother and daughter at the summit of Tromsdalstinden – the first proper mountain I've had the chance to climb in several years.
On with the wind shirt, down with the triple-layered marzipan-jam-chocolate truffle treat (a current Norwegian favourite), and out with the camera.
The views were, of course, fantastic. I could see the ocean, and mountains, mountains, mountains all around.
Deep, glacier-carved valleys, distant fjords, snow-capped peaks. Cornices and rockfalls, all bathed in the light of the midnight sun.
I'd estimated getting up there at 9pm. It was 9:10pm. Pretty satisfactory, by all accounts.
Looking across towards Hamperokken and Stortinden, and Lyngen far beyond, mountains rose up like peaks on whipped cream, only much more vicious.
Most of these were mountains I will never in my life climb, and yet I couldn't help looking to see which ones might be possible, which ones might have a route up, and which ones would offer the best views of the others, all so closely packed in.
The mother and daughter team headed back down, leaving me alone and in silence. The breeze was cool, and I contemplated a night up high, but thought against it – I don't know the area well, but I do know the weather here can turn on a sixpence, and besides, those rocks don't look like a good place to put an air mattress.
Thom arrived, and I greeted him with a "Yay!"-full of mountain euphoria. We took photos and chatted. Everyone, it seemed was heading down the way they came up, so we decided to walk down together for safety's sake. I was quite relieved as my legs were already tired, and I know enough about rugged descents to anticipate that the constant pounding on my leg muscles was going to really take it out of me.
I decided it was time to put the trekking poles on the huckePACK. Not a single one of the umpteen-billion other people on the mountain was using poles, incidentally. While I find them useful for climbing anything up to moderately difficult terrain, they're more of a nuisance on steep parts and a liability on tricky descents when you want to grab something attached to the mountain every now and then.
The initial section was full of boulder hopping, but Thom seemed to be in his element going down. We passed a young couple – the girl packless, the guy carrying a big pack for the both of them. I was glad I wasn't the only one dumb enough to carry a full pack up the mountain, but I didn't envy him the extra weight. I suspect they planned to spend a romantic night on top under the midnight sun.
While skipping (well, hobbling) down over the rock garden-covered top I had one of those moments when I might just have preferred a sturdier sole than that provided by my inov8 295s. It's pretty hard on the feet, and I started to lag behind from tiredness, although we both wanted a break before the steep section began.
I really wasn't happy about having to go down it again, but I also know that it probably wasn't going to be as bad as I expected. And sure enough, taking it one step at a time, it passed fairly easily. There were a few sketchy moments, but on the whole it was fairly easy going.
As we descended, a scattered group of about 8 teenage girls were on their way up, around 22:00.
At the bottom I breathed a sigh of relief and stopped to let my legs stop shaking like a couple of jellied eels before we headed off down the much, much gentler lower slopes. Crossing the snow fields was pure joy; softer than before, we slipped and shoe-skied down. Who needs a snowboard! It was fantastically refreshing for my feet.
The sun slipped a little lower towards the land, but the two would not meet tonight, or for many months to come. Instead, it spread a rippled, golden glow over the mountainside flora, revealing flame-ridged tussocks flowing down over the hill.
I'd decided to camp in the area I'd passed on the way up, just above tree-line. The views would be great from the shelter – a Eureka WickiUp SUL3, which is at least dimensionally exactly the same as a GoLite SL3 (but more easily and reliably available in Europe – review forthcoming)
The spot was perfect: soft, dry, and only a few mosquitoes that didn't seem to be particularly bothered in eating. I got my bed for the night ready, and made one of the most disgusting dehydrated meals I have ever eaten. It claimed to be "Pasta with a chicken curry sauce" which should have had my alarm bells ringing. It tasted very much like bile.
Never mind. Some GORP got rid of the flavour, and around 00.10 I was tucked under my quilt. I had very little trouble getting to sleep, even with the midnight sun and the sound of giggling teenage girls frolicking down the mountainside at god knows what hour. I can't say it was an unbroken night of sleep, but good enough to get me through to 6 am and a crisp, morning view from the balcony.
After some porridge and instant coffee, the condensation-free shelter meant a quick clean-up, and a few moments contemplation of the scenery before packing up and heading off on the last few kilometres back to the car.
Unlike the previous day's bazillions of people (you've been counting – it was at least a bazillion, right?), that morning I met only one solitary dog walker.
I crossed the river, and passed through a glade of newly-grown fern, lit by a dappled light.
I looked back up at the mountain; austere, but peaceful.
It may not be the biggest, hardest mountain in the area, and I may not have the legs and stamina of a bikini-clad teenage girl, but this was a good start, and an enjoyable return to somewhat more elevated terrain than I've been used to recently.