A backpacking, bikepacking, fatbikeing, packrafting overnight adventure in Rovaniemi with Toni Lund, and a couple of nice microbrewery beers.
Jaakko Heikka joins Backpacking North on an overnighter into stormy Lapland. Sausages are consumed, and a new tent is given a test.
After four or five days of low cloud and rain that put a damper on most activities, I was happy that the weather forecast was accurate in predicting sun for Wednesday night – mainly because, banking on this prediction, I'd made an arrangement with Geir Jenssen to climb another mountain.
We'd discussed a few possibilities, and finally settled onTverrbotnfjellet, an "easy" 1299m peak to the south of Tromsø. At 16:00, Geir picked me up, and we set off for another upwardly mobile adventure.
I first met Geir a few years ago when I asked him to perform at an electronic music festival I was organising. I'm still quite pleased with myself for getting Biosphere (website/wikipedia) to play his first ever (and, I think, still only) gig in Finland, and have it be in Rovaniemi (much to the chagrin of ambient music lovers in Helsinki!). What I didn't know at the time, and what I only found out while living in Minnesota, was the Geir is also seriously into climbing mountains.
He started climbing when he was 14, and has even climbed some first ascents of mountains in the Tromsø area. He records his routes and climbs at his website, The Northern Playground, which I encourage you to check out as it is full of mountains and excellent photography He is, by all accounts, a very experienced climber and mountaineer, so I was really happy he was in Tromsø – his home town – while I was visiting.
Geir likes to climb mountains he hasn't summited before as much as possible (I would too if I lived where he does: there are so many to choose from). I initially suggested Store Blåmann as one I'd like to climb: its probably the second most popular peak after Tromsdalstinden. Although he hadn't climbed it since 1993, he told me his friend was planning to climbTverrbotnfjellet, so I could chose which I wanted to do.
Geir's friend – Kent Hugo Nordheim – is attempting to climb all of the mountains over 1000m in Tromsø county. That's 666 mountains. He's already done over 400 and only been at it for about four years. Needless to say, I was a little worried I wouldn't be able to keep up with the Norwegian supermen, but I decided to join them anyway. I probably wouldn't have gone to
alone, so I was glad to seize the opportunity.
We got a message from Kent-Hugo that he'd be a little late as he was picking someone else up, so we decided to set of without them – I reckoned they'd catch us up with me slowing Geir down!
The trail head is at a farm in Andersdalen. After negotiating the terrors of a few cows and an electric fence, we hunted out a sheep trail leading up through a very pleasant stand of birch, before skirting around a hillside towards
's southern flank.
This was very easy walking; almost flat, with only a few trees to clamber over or around. As we neared the turn into the main valley, the river below us roared, it's sound amplified by the steep valley walls.
We descended down to the valley bottom, and followed a blueberry-covered glacial esker that snaked along.
I've always liked eskers. They're great to walk along, and give you just enough height over the landscape for scenic views along the valley.
Tromsø had a lot of snow this winter, and as a result the spring melt has lasted quite a time. We had to cross the river coursing down the valley, but I didn't see any convenient or safe places. While I distracted myself form the problem by photographing sheep, Geir had jumped across the raging torrent and was eagerly trying to get me to do the same.
I jumped onto a rock in the middle of the stream at the top of some short falls, but the rock I needed to jump to was wet and moss covered, and I lost my confidence and chickened out.
I've become more cautious as I've got older, which is one excuse. Another is I didn't want to prematurely end this trip with a cold soaking in meltwater. So I headed back and up stream to find a place where I cold wade across.
It was quite a rapid river, and it took me a while to find a place I was comfortable with, but the
got me across in no time, safe and sound, and ready for the next couple of tiny, easily crossed streams.
As we approached the foot of the mountain proper, I knew this easy terrain was about to end. A good, old, 60 degree section of moss-covered uphill reared up in front of us. A few weeks ago this would have given me the willies, but now it just seemed
Geir sped off ahead of me as I laboured up the west ridge. I'd been trying out a
for carrying my camera gear and knickknacks while climbing, and I was glad of the
I'd chucked in the pocket. I sucked down water, wondering how Geir could go so fast carrying none at all.
i eventually caught up with him, and sat down for a short breather.
The landscape was getting more rugged, and spectacular.
The view down the valley was beautiful, the sun sending shafts of light down to glisten off the river.
But enough of this sitting around. We had more mountain to climb. I put my legs to work as I watched Geir disappear again over a crest.
The steep moss gave way to scree and boulders, and became somewhat easier to traverse, if harder on the knees. We crossed a few tiny snow fields to cut a few corners, but in general it was a case of easy climbing with some minor scrambling as we hauled upwards.
Clouds drifted around the mountaintops, hiding them momentarily before dispersing. I was glad: I'd wanted to get above cloud line at some point, but I'd take being in the clouds as a good second.
The top of
is fairly rounded and gentle, so the climb became easier the higher we got. We hadn't seen or heard Kent-Hugo or his friend, so we assumed they had gone somewhere else. But suddenly, just as we were reaching the top of the mountain, two heads popped out from behind a rock. They'd climbed straight up the side of the mountain a little further west, and would descend the way we came. We didn't chat for long, but it was funny to meet people on the summit on an otherwise solitary (and bikini-free) climb.
Kent-Hugo and Geir thought that it would be possible to descend via the large snow-fields lining the couloir that formed the side of the mountain. It was around this point that I started to get a little uncertain at the prospect of getting back down again. I'd never tried a
before, and the potentially deep snow (and clear avalanche trails) made me nervous. But I tried to keep my worries in check: I knew I was in good hands.
Anyway, first of all we had to get to the top!
A quick traverse of a snow field and we were there.
is comprised of two summits, the 50m or so lower
I'd wanted to do four mountains while in Tromsø, but the weather made that difficult. I wasn't kidding myself that the two peaks here counted as two mountains, but I was happy with 3.5 (
– I don't count the lower hills like
as "proper" mountains, based on a completely arbitrary and personal classification system of suffering involved while climbing them).
The "true" summit of
lay 500m or so to the west.
I snapped a few photos while Geir zipped off to
The view from this slightly lower peak was quite special though. Sometimes size really isn't everything.
Looking back towards the summit proper, we saw the last remaining cornices, ready to drop hundreds of meters should anyone be stupid enough to stand on them (and people do, I'm told, surprisingly often).
Clouds drifted over and around us as we walked along the gently sloping mountain top.
I followed Kent-Hugo's footprints across a modest snow field
to the top. (Mine are the flat-footed footprints!)
Once again, I saw a minuscule Geir, set against giant rock.
And then the summit, crowned by one of the area's typical circular über-cairns.
It was around 21:00. We sat out of the cold wind as I snacked on Troika bars (
, you lucky people!), liver pate, and lefse (separately, I might add, although...). A massive cornice, belying the edge of the mountain, began right at the foot of the summit cairn (you can see it above), and somewhat limited the vast, sweeping views down the valley, so you'll have to make do with one from a little further away.
Replenished, it was time to get back down again. It was time to leave the summit, and my comfort zone.
The ridge up had been okay, but Geir said the snow would be the quickest and easiest way down. Now, I don't have a lot of mountain experience, and I tend to play it safe. I'd have been quite happy going down the ridge, stone-by-stone, but as I said before, Geir knows his stuff, and I trusted him. Plus I figured Kent-Hugo's track would also be visible, so we'd easily see if they mysteriously disappeared next to a big hole.
On the way up I'd eyed the couloir and thought it didn't look too bad. But when you get up close to these things, "not very steep" can seem "extremely very steep indeed".
Nevertheless, I felt okay about it.
Geir knows what he's doing
, was my mantra.
I asked if we should
down (i.e., slide on our asses) but he wasn't so keen, worrying about crushing the gentiles against rocks. He favoured a kind of running down the snow field, and who am I to argue?
I was a little worried that stomping down great walls of snow would trigger an avalanche, but I was assured this was not an issue as the snow was quite well. I asked for other tips, and he told me to be careful at the start, as the snow can be soft and deep, and avoid rocks for the same reasons. The start bit I'd already figured out, but the rock tip was good.
Okay then. Off we go.
Geir ran ahead, and then his run turned into some strange kind of magical foot skiing as the slope and gravity took hold.
I plodded after, cautiously at first, but with more confidence as my steps didn't result in any immediate plunges to my untimely death. I picked up the pace a little and found myself foot-skiing. Sadly my foot-skiing skills are about as developed as my ski skiing skills, and I soon found myself in an involuntary glissade down an increasingly steep slope.
After stopping that (I would use the term "arresting" but it was more luck than enforcement), I got to my feet again, and took it slowly, step-by-step, and you know what? It was kind of fun. Nerve-wracking, wide-eyed, lump-in-the-throat fun, but fun nonetheless.
I don't have many pictures as I was busy trying to stay upright and, you know, alive, but
I only had a 21mm lens with me, so you can't really see Geir in this photo, taken as I'm crossing the tell-tale brown-stained avalanche snow.
I don't know how much time we saved, but I'd estimate about 45 minutes. It was clear from the tracks that Kent-Hugo had slid down, but I was happy with my slow-paced stumbling.
At the bottom of the mountain, I experienced a catastrophic gear breakdown of my beloved
. It was entirely my fault. I'd had them lengthened for the descent, unfortunately a bit too much. I felt them bend a couple of times and should have shortened them, but no. When I took a stumble near the bottom, my "ample" weight snapped the carbon clean in half on one pole. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
We still had that river to cross again. Geir found some more snow across the river, but again, I took the wet path. My shoes were already damp from the snow, and frankly I was looking forward to the cooling waters on my feet, so with just one pole I wobbled across.
Down, down into the valley. The sun wasn't going to set, of course, but it's angle was lower and the light was turning golden.
Geir told me this was his 200th mountain. That's 200th unique mountain – he's climbed some of them several times. Pretty good going.' I'd managed 3.5 in 3.5 weeks, and I though that was pretty good going too.
At the farm, we scared the cows again, sending them running away from their cozy sleeping place in the forest.
As we neared the car, we looked back up at
, and watched as the sun transformed a muddy field into a golden carpet of sprouting grass, each individual blade picked out in the light of the midnight sun.
I can't help but think how luck Geir, Jan Hugo, Kent-Hugo and all the other inhabitants of Tromsø are. To have this combination of sea, mountains, the arctic, the light... I think if I lived here I'd become addicted to the outdoors, and weighing it up against all the other addictions in the world, I really don't think that would be bad at all.
At the car we shake hands after a good climb. I can't think of a better way to spend an evening.
In the car on the way back to the city,
appears, looking steeper than ever, and bookending my time in Tromsø. When I climbed it a few weeks ago, my legs turned to jellied eels, and a few days after I could hardly walk. Now, aside from a couple of achy knees, I felt fine. Better than ever.
Mountain euphoria, I'm going to miss you.
If you're interested in some of Geir's music (as Biosphere), you can find lots on
, or even better,
. My favourites are Cirque, Substrata, Dropsonde, and N-Plants. Most of his stuff is released on the excellent
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
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 –
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.
We found a small area of smooth rock surrounded by precipitous drops for sandwiches, more coffee, and my favourite Norwegian mountain treat:
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
which sits alone and fairly detached from the rest of the area's mountains,
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
at the bottom (
see: Norwegian is easy!) of the fjord.
is the last mountain you can see on the right side.
The following view looks back from the summit of
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
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
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
) and share an adventure together; it's something we should all try to do more, and something I hope to do again very soon.
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
s. 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.
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
– 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
be possible, which ones
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
. 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
s. 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.
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.
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...