This trip was a pretty good example of how good luck trumps bad planning. That's something I've pretty much grown to rely on in my life, because the only thing more astounding to me than my own lack of foresight is my good luck. This time I had even deluded myself into thinking I'd planned this trip pretty well. I'd borrowed a map of Hardangervidda from Michi and spent a lot of time being tough with my gear and trying to lighten it up. This had mixed results.
I swapped out my normal trangia kit and army surplus mess tin for a spork and an aluminium bowl. I swapped my 2 Kg Haglöfs sleeping bag for an 800 gramme Warbonnet black mamba quilt. I left my massive military compass home and used instead a tiny Silva button compass. Out went a Sigg aluminium bottle, in came a platypus plastic bladder (made in Ireland! Hurray!). All my food was dehydrated except for a few bags of home-made trail mix to eat on the road. So far so good.
However that was all way too smart for Tomás, so just as he's leaving the car he panics and throws in a few last minute things including a KILO of CHEESE. A KILO of CHEESE. I don't even like cheese that much (this is a lie I love cheese). And for some reason I find it incredibly hard to throw food away, so even though I knew it was mental, I carried that cheese up and down the mountain and it's currently sitting in my fridge, wondering what's going to happen next (it's going on an omelette). I also threw in two books, a handful of spare batteries, and a massive salami. It was stupid, but thanks to my earlier cuts my weight was still just under 15 KG, which for me is not too bad. A lot of that is my SLR and a tripod, which I would have cut in favour of a point and shoot camera except the reason for this whole trip was photography.
The drive from Stockholm to Trolltunga took a long time and I arrived around 02:00. I probably wasn't thinking straight, rather than stretch out on the backseat and sleep until morning, all I could think about was finding a nice place to sleep away from the parking lot. So I picked up my pack and wandered aimlessly up the nearest steep forested slope for an hour or two, before finding a hollow under a tree and falling asleep in it. After a few hours kip I went on up into the first valley, which has a scattering of huts along its floor. These were all deserted, although I saw one guy on skis pass by that evening.
From here I tried to head on up the trail to Trolltunga, but the snow was hip deep, soft and wet. It really was a nightmare, every few metres took an age. After a few hundred metres I decided to sleep on it, even though it was just around noon I was still pretty beat from the car journey. I stuck my tent up on a patch of clean snow and slept the whole day.
The next morning I'd resigned myself to not being able to complete the trip to Trolltunga. I couldn't find the trail and the snow was too deep to make any progress in. I spent an enjoyable few hours reading the Butcher Boy (brilliant) and trying to make a time-lapse series of some mountain tops. The Nikon D80 has no built in intervalometer though, so I tried to time the shots by taking one picture every half page of the book. Sadly the Butcher Boy is absolutely fantastic so I would forget to take pictures everytime I got stuck in the book. Next time I'll bring something shit to read instead.
At around noon I met a German and Belgian pair who were also attempting to get there, and teamed up with them. They said they'd been warned conditions were bad, and that two Polish hikers had aborted the walk just the day before, but they were determined to press on ("This guy who gave me the key to the hut said we would turn back too! I will show him we Germans don't give up so easy!). As we left the valley it became clear that the conditions improved a little the higher up we went, the deepest wettest snow was at the beginning of the trail.
We followed the winter trail (marked with long branches poked into the snow) until it broke away from the Trolltunga path (marked with red 'T's painted on rocks (often totally covered in snow). The snow occasionally hid a little stream, which were hard to avoid, or a bigger one in which case you could hear the rushing water and steer clear. Still there were a few wet feet at the end of the day.
Trying to stay on the Trolltunga path was tough, by the half-way point we realised we were far too much out on the edge of the cliffs, and either had to retrace our steps for an hour or try and scramble up the ridge to where the path crossed over Storenuten. The sun was already heading down, so we tightened our rucksacks up and slowly edged our way up.
Then we came to a small dry river valley headed by small dam, it had very steep edges and my map seemed to point to a route much further North. Again though, we were short on time so carefully edged our way down and up the slope to save time.
The final part of the path lead around the deep river valley Tyssebotn, here we went much too far North up the slope of Loftsnuten. It was dark at this point and the wind was picking up. We couldn't find any trace of the path here, and I was starting to think how we could fit three people in my tiny tent. But then we realised our mistake when saw on Michi's more detailed map that the path should have crossed some powerlines which lay a long way to to our South. One more exhausting forced march later and we came to the Eastern edge of the valley where we finally saw Trolltunga looming out of the dark. Five minutes North was the hut Reinaskorsbu. Then that moment of tension when we try the key in the padlock and wonder if the old man in the valley had given the right key.
The Swedish huts are great, very clean, well maintained, lots of room and usually a great stove. The Norwegian huts put them to shame though. There were 6 beds with duvets and sheets supplied, a great iron stove in the corner, a propane cabin heater, oil lamps, a huge wooden table with a view out over the cliffs, and absolutely tons of food. On the wall was a menu and the corresponding price-list, along with forms and a dropbox for payment. We just had enough energy to get a fire roaring and melt a bucket of snow for tea. The snow which had been slushy soft all day now had to be hacked into the bucket with a knife.
After a few cups of soup I had to go back and take a picture of Trolltunga, I wasn't going to be able to sleep without having that done. It took 90 seconds to get a decent exposure, so I had to stand still in the dark on Trolltunga for what seemed like an age to get the photo, but it was worth it.
After I got a few photos taken I hit the sack and slept like a log until morning. The black mamba down quilt I got off Warbonnet is just heaven to slide under when you're tired and cold.
Bastard stars couldn't keep still! This was a six minute exposure and this was where I felt a bit better about hefting that heavy tripod all over the place. At least it was going to do a bit of work for me, unlike that bloody cheese.
In the morning we had a nice breakfast, it was a quick tidy of the cabin, and then a fun half hour of photography on Trolltunga. It was after all the whole goal we'd struggled for all day yesterday, and after a few minutes cautiously edging out onto the tongue, we all felt secure enough to have a little sit on the edge. Very invigorating to sit there on the edge, feet dangling over the sheer drop, morning sun shining down. I would love to come back some day with some ropes and a harness and take some photos from lower down on the cliff, but next time would definitely be in late late Summer.
I was pretty eager to head back early, I remembered how hard yesterday had been and didn't want to get spend the whole day slogging through the slush. At least in the morning the snow still had some strength to it, but that didn't last long. It was tough, wet, exhausting work.
Thankfully there were waterfalls or streams every few hundred metres, which in the heat were very eagerly suckled. My compadres of the day preferred to drink bottled water they'd carried with them, a couple of big 2 litre bottles of water each! It made me feel better about the ridiculous weight of my cheese.
In the summery weather the wild-life was out in force, I saw this butterfly just floating by, as well as these two ptarmigans, one of them just starting to change into Summer dress.
Although no matter how wild the surroundings were, civilisation was never out of sight. Here was a jet flying into Bergen, and some electricity poles heading out over the mountain, must be a hell of a job looking after those in Winter.
After a few quick breaks, and a lot of wading through the snow, we finally made it back to the valley we had met in. At this point I was so sunburnt my ears were starting to curl up like two bits of bacon in a frying pan. When I'd come up to the valley I'd walked up through the forest, but on the way down I took the easy way out and walked down the cable car tracks. It was actually a little terrifying, the tracks are built around 2 or 3 metres off the ground and are rickety as hell. (I was too nervous to try and get my camera out of my pack, but you can see what the view was like from this photo). Still, it was a lot quicker than going through the forest.
After that was a long, fun drive to Stockholm, and when I got home I taped a huge bag of ice to my head. My ears had been curled up and stuck out enough to give my fiancé the giggles everytime she looked at me, but after an hour of ice they returned to normal. Next time I bring some SPF50 and a sombrero instead of all that cheese. At least it taught me that all those "Top ten most important things bring hiking" aren't full of shit when they mention sun-screen. I have to remember I'm not in Ireland anymore and sustained periods of sunshine may occur! The big scabby lumps of skin peeling off my arms and ears right now stand testament to how badly Irish skin reacts when exposed to sunlight.
I was also dead lucky to have met my travelling buddies, otherwise I would have never made it to Trolltunga at all.
Overall this was a grade A trip, with just enough challenge and hardship to make it exciting, and loads of opportunities to take lovely pictures. I just wish the weather had been better. When Michi had been in Hardangervidda last year for a solo hike he got lots of gentle drizzle for a week without a break, which is exactly what I'd planned for. I got non-stop baking sunshine, which was what he likes (the freak!). Next trip I'll hope for a little rain. It's also funny to see how much effort it can take to do an easy 10 hour hike when the conditions are tough. In late Summer this is surely just a good relaxing day-long walk, but early May turned it into a real humdinger.
This has to have been the last Wintery/snowy trip this year though. So time to pack away the Meindls and woollen underwear and break out the speedos. Hurray!