After spending a couple of days familiarising myself with Tromsø, buying maps and researching the hills and mountains on various websites, books and maps, I was eager to stretch my legs and climb up something Norwegian. I was looking for a fairly sedate climb to introduce Enni to the joys of mountains, and reintroduce my leg muscles to the effects of climbing them – something which I knew would come as a bit of a shock after Finland's "less vertiginous" landscape – so I averted my eyes from the temptation of 1000m plus peaks for the gentler terrain of the foothills.
I found a smallish, reasonably-easy-to-climb fjell called Sørtinden which, while a modest 450m, looked like it would afford some nice views from the top over towards the sea and nearby islands. After Enni awoke from her afternoon nap, we packed a backpack, jumped in the car and set off for a family hike.
There are still patches rapidly melting snow above treeline on most of the hills, and the first stretch of trail was quite wet. We slopped through snow, mud, and then through a stream that handily washed off the muck. The trail we took was an easier approach that I found on Jan Hugo Salomonsen's site
– it swings around and up the south-east flank rather than taking the direct, steep route up the west.
As I was carrying Enni in the Little Life carrier this gentler approach was far more appealing. Nevertheless, the trail led up a fairly steep section – it was fine for the way up, but fortunately I spotted an alternative route for return trip that bypassed the steep section.
The higher we climbed, the fresher the air became, and the happier we all felt at being somewhere new.
The weather was unbelievably warm. In the previous week in Lapland it had reached a rare 30ºC, and temperatures in Tromsø – even at heights – were still surprisingly warm. That initial climb had brought out a sweat, and crossing the small snow fields was deliciously cooling and refreshing.
We weren't alone on the hill – another family was climbing just ahead of us, the father carrying a baby in a front pack. It's nice to see people actively enjoying the spectacular surroundings, and in general this is one of the striking things about Norway: you see many more people engage in outdoor activities, and are rarely alone on a trail (although, in all fairness, the proximity of the trails to the relatively highly-populated Tromsø (70,000 people, 7th largest city in Norway) means a much higher density of outdoorsy people than sparsely populated Finnish Lapland).
About three-quarters of the way up the fell as Enni wanted to get out and start exploring. While she likes the backpack, she's at that age when she has to do everything herself (even if it's beyond her abilities). So we stopped for a snack and some jumping.
I'd forgotten how luxuriously soft and comfortable the flora on mountains can be. The area we stopped would have made a perfect campsite, the bouncy surface forming an almost perfect natural sleeping pad. I could have easily dosed off.
Looking back down the hill, we had a clear view towards Tromsø, and Tromsdale – the glacial valley near the city.
I looked across at Tromsdalstinden, the large (1208m) mountain at the head of the valley (in the image above). It's the nearest mountain to Tomsø, and it was in my sights as a potential climb in the next couple of days. But first things first. Now we had to get to the top of Sørtinden.
The hills in this area are ripe for backpacking – rolling, open and with plenty of excellent spots for camping. At the moment, pretty much wherever we go I'm making notes for future trips. There are so many beautiful places both high and low here that choosing one over another is almost impossible. I'd love to explore them all.
We climb over a crest of a false summit and the ocean spills into view. Seeing mountains vaulting out the sea never fails to bring an awe-struck smile to my face. Slartibartfast really deserved that award for Norway.
I spent the last few meters of the climb trying to distract Enni – it's always difficult putting her back in the pack after we let her out – by pointing out the magnificent views and plying her with apple juice and raisins. By the time we reached the top she'd quietened down and seemed to enjoy contemplating the views.
I looked across at the "proper" mountains to the east; saw-toothed and snow-capped, I knew some were well beyond my abilities, but there were also others with dramatic names – Store Blåmanen, Hollendaren, Stormheimfjellet – that I hoped to climb. I figure that with my other committments, if I can do one a week it's an achievement. And frankly, being in the mountains is often as satisfying for me as being on them - at least from a photographic perspective.
One of the other noticeable things about living in a mountainous region, especially one bathed in light 24 hours a day, is that people tend to primarily enjoy the climbs in bite-sized portions; a day-hike up and down, and home in time for tea (or breakfast if you hike at "night"). Staying overnight is less popular (or so it seems thus far), but I plan to combine the two during my stay.
Now, with Enni getting hungry, it was time to descend. For some reason she constantly wanted to direct me over the edge of the cliff and got terribly upset when I stupidly stuck to the boring old path. There's a lesson there; you don't always get to go your own way.
On the way back down I marvelled at how carrying her up the hill (15kg with the pack) didn't seem to difficult. My legs in particular felt quite fine. I let myself enjoy a sense of smug self-satisfaction at my remarkable fitness and the ease with which I'd climbed the hill.
However, this elation at my rugged athleticism would soon be proven premature...