We went in search of Trolls, the Great White Silence and Norwegian Stoves

Where better to prepare for a week’s Norwegian Ski Touring than icy Scotland? The Cairngorms in March was where we spent a weekend unraveling the mysteries of 3pin, Riva Cable Bindings and Fish scales. Lee at Braemar Sports told us if we could manage Scottish conditions Norway would be easier. The Jury is still out on this point!

Fast forward to Oslo in April and the station platform where JA, NH and SM sat munching lunch in the sunshine. The bullet train to Oslo city whizzed South but we took the train northwards , across sweeping Scandinavian bridges, past beautiful scenic lakes and snowy topped hills to reach Hjerkinn three and half  hours later.  JA assured us we would step off the train and ski off. In reality, no snow meant we carried our skis for half an hour to arrive at Hjerkinn Fjellstue, a centre for horse riding in the summer. We were the only guests that evening and the broken under floor heating was producing sauna like temperatures. No cold night for us!

The next morning we walked off again, skis on shoulders. Was this a walking tour? The last time JA had been here he had skied off down the track, today it was a metaled road. Eventually a narrow strip of snow enabled us to don skis and slide tentatively off. NH and SM tried to remember techniques from a month ago in Braemar. The day was warm and sunny with no wind, the conditions were very pleasant just the lack of the white stuff! At Hageseter a tiny cluster of cottages, out came our skins and we headed up the slope. A mixture of heather, rocks and patches of snow along with the red ‘T’ sign on rocks kept us on the summer walking track.  Gradually the Km’s passed and towards the top of the hill, bamboo poles in the snow appeared …hurrah!    As we followed these reassuring markers, we were getting more confident and quickly descended to the valley & stream which led to our first DNT hut at Grimsdalshytta. However, the lack of snow resulted in more ski carrying, down a very Scottish type descent. No path, trees to negotiate and occasional deep snow pocket. Finally the Norwegian flag was seen fluttering in the bright blue sky and a huge DNT hut came into view. The last time JA had been here with Peter Roberts it was a tiny self-service hut but 13 years later full facilities had arrived. Hot showers, a plush candlelit dining room and Reindeer Stew awaited us! The big surprise of the evening was that only 625m of ascent and 510 m descent had been skied in 8 hours and 50 minutes …. Things could only get better!

Day 2 of Back Country Ski-ing

After a lightweight (!)  breakfast of porridge, fruit, eggs, cheese, ham, many different types of bread, gherkins and beetroot we set off again into a blue-sky morning carrying our skis. JA set off without his skis; obviously the lack of snow had made him think we were on a walking holiday! After crossing a small troll bridge, the bamboo poles appeared, skis on and we were gliding along a clear path through the wizened birch trees.  Up the snow covered slope towards Gravhøe we swished in clear crisp air. Again there was no wind and the km’s seemed easier today. After lunch, with a 360° panoramic view of Norwegian hills stretching into the distance, there was a tricky descent with patchy snow and icy slopes. For SM a lot of falling over was the activity of the afternoon, as the heavy rucksack kept winning, Rucksack 4 – Susan 0.   NH was reclining against his rucksack on a small stony island as JA and SM arrived …. No snow here again.  It was 15.15 and time for a Mars bar before the ascent of the steep valley to the Troll Gate Col. This was because the normal traverse route was not possible due to no snow! So skins on and a steady plod of 430m, to the wild and rugged Doralsglupen. The altimeter said 1300m but this place had a feeling of a 2800m Alpine high col, not a place to linger as huge cornices loomed over us. Maybe even a band of troublesome trolls were looking down as the misty clouds started to roll in.  We descended down to the Doralseter hut another 8 hour 41 minute day but 925 m of ascent today…. getting better!

Day 3 Onwards & Upwards to Ronvassbu

A first this morning as we set off on our skis. We knew that the snow was better further South and snowy hills on the horizon called us onwards. Soon we were sliding and gliding along in the two narrow ski tracks. Maybe this back country XC Ski-ing was coming together. A huge plateau gently rose ahead of us and we were making very good progress today. During a sunshine luncheon JA made the comment that there was a lot of lying around going on!  After lunch NH was feeling confident and out came the kite (we wondered what else was in his rucksack). For a short while he was flying along under Le President Kite Power, before the crosswind won Kite 1 – Neil 0. We then headed towards Rondvassdalen to the 4km Rondvatnet frozen lake. We felt to be in a sunny snowy ‘desert’ the sun beating down and an arrow straight 4 km line of bamboo poles led us to Rondvassbu hut. More hot showers and Ox mule stew, the DNT standards have gone up in the last 13 years according to JA.

Day 4 Stove Stoking, Snoozing and Reading

The next day brought heavy snow and our day to light the stove and give our feet and legs a rest.  Reading was the other activity. Pride & Prejudice, Bringing up the Bodies & The War that ended Peace formed our library. I will let you work out, who was reading which book. Outside the wind howled and we watched the snowflakes gather on the windowpanes while a group of Norwegian school children built snow holes.

Day 5 Ronvassbu to Bjørnhollia … A blue wax day!

The storm passed overnight and about 4 inches of fresh snow was our morning greeting. We left Ronvassbu in heavy misty cloud no sunshine for us today. The way was very well marked, the bamboo canes every 15m as uphill we trekked. Later we were overtaken by a skidoo re marking the way even better! These Norwegians certainly know how to keep a route open.  The Trolls were obviously not paid at the col as snow started to ball up on JA and SM skis … NH had obviously had crossed the Trolls’ palms with Krone as he glided off smoothly.  The others slowly plodded down the hill to Bjornhollia, which appeared eventually after birch tree negotiations. At the huge wooden front door there was a weighing hook. We compared rucksacks, SM 9kg, JA 10.5 kg and NH 12Kg. That kite and book were the culprits!  We were the only ones booked in that night so more staff than guests and we sampled another excellent three course candlelit dinner with another stove to stoke. SM has a photo exhibition of Norwegian Stoves; the one at Bjornhollia was a huge three level, ornate cast iron number with flying cherubs and naked ladies from the Rococo Period. Ideas for the Ribblehead Hut Warden as the stove is being replaced … hopefully Norwegian Style!

Day 6 Horizontal Snow Flying past the Window

We were the only guests but the breakfast table was laid out for a feast. The guardian said the weather was terrible, a stiff southerly wind, 3 tails on the forecast coming from Eldabu which was our final destination. So we changed plans.  No Eldabu Reindeer valley but instead back to Ronvassbu from where we came. It took us exactly the same time to return and we met a large DNT group and the classic heavy rucksack brigade. Our hut was obviously going to be empty tonight. The snow was falling heavily now and our ski tracks were covered almost immediately. However, the canes kept us en route and we understood why they are so close together. The vista around us was pure white, sky and snow all merged into one but these poles stand out in this white wilderness. The interest to our day in the Illmanndalen valley was a large covey of glistening white ptarmigan scooting across the snow! 5 hours and 13 minutes later Ronvassbu appeared around the corner.  Back to showers, stoves and reindeer Sausages.

Day 7 The Great White Silence

We decided to leave our rucksacks at the hut and set off up the mountain with a spring in our skis. It was a blue-sky day, no wind and just perfect conditions. We practiced our turns and then came back to the hut for coffee. JA had kindle duties and SM had more lying around to catch up on. ‘Le President’ set off to the top of Fremre Illmannhøe 1602m,  one hour up , 20 minutes down , skis flapping allegedly!

Then we set off for a two-hour yomp to a booked taxi to take us to Otta and the train back to Oslo.

We left the Great White Silence, our skis behaving so much better after a week of touring. Maybe the trolls had no tricks up their sleeves that afternoon!

Day 8 Tourists in Oslo

No skis or rucksacks but ships for us today. The famous Fram followed by Viking Long Boats, Kontiki and finally Ra. By lunchtime we were quite ‘boated out’ so we headed for a coffee and cake.  Then and onto The Scream, Castles and JA found new ski pole leather baskets for 2015!  Watch this Space…

Three Tired Trolls now headed to the airport, back to Manchester and more lying around the following week to recover!

Susan Melia

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