I’m up bright and early, and excited to get going. Outside, it’s early but not so bright, as the cabin is surrounded by dense fog. I quietly make my breakfast, using the last of the instant porridge and stingily squeezing a third cup out of the teabag I got from the pantry. As I’m reassembling my pack, a head appears through the door to the second bedroom and tells me they’ll handle the cleaning and washing up – people are great! I thank them, pop one final log on the stove, and step out into the cool embrace of the clouds.
The route to Finse backtracks for a few hundred metres before forking off to the right, and squeezing between a lake and the two-hundred-metre cliffs behind it. As I proceed around the lake, the slope to my right gets a little less steep, until eventually, Cairn Guy found a place they deemed feasible to climb. Unsurprisingly, this is a pretty steep ascent, with multiple switchbacks across the same stream. Eventually, about 100 metres above the lake, it turns into a real path, and begins curving away to the north. Looking back, I can no longer see the cabin through the fog, and the lake is quite washed out.
After a while on the path, I reach the base of a smooth slope of bare rock, with intermittent patches of snow. Looking up, I can see a few cairns ahead – looks like the route is straight up. With four points of contact, progress is reasonable, though as I continue to climb, I start to encounter a new problem: the snow that is now beginning to fall sticks to the cairns, making them difficult to spot against the background, and the rock shows no trace of a path (the fog is not particularly helpful, either). I go wrong a couple of times, but it’s simple to go back to the previous cairn and try a different path, and the route is usually fairly sensible anyway.
Eventually, the slope levels off and, surprisingly, the fog begins to lift. The terrain I find myself in is almost completely barren, with only hints of green coming from mosses and lichens clinging to the rock. There is still light snow falling; enough to be picturesque, but not enough to be inconvenient – I don’t even have my hood up. With nothing but a dusting of snow to cover it, the ruggedness of the landscape is thrown into (literal) relief. On the far side of a lake, there’s an interesting formation where a huge spherical boulder has been cleaved into four or five pieces, opening like a flower to leave a cuboidal monolith standing in the centre.
Though thin, the layer of snow damps the sound so that all I can hear is my own footsteps and breathing, it’s quite eerie, and feels particularly remote. The rest of the day’s route is essentially a straight line east, skirting the northern edge of Hardangerjøkulen. The glacier sits inside a ring of peaks like a crown, with tongues of ice spilling out between them. Inevitably, where a tongue ends, a lake begins, and where a lake ends, a torrent of meltwater inconveniently slices across the trail.
The DNT is pretty good about installing bridges to cross these torrents, although sometimes ‘a bridge’ is actually ‘a snow-covered plank’ (granted, there’s not much they can do about the snow).
Swallowing my pride, I opt to sit-and-shuffle my way across the plank, though while making sure my pole’s straps are properly around my wrists, I manage to drop one, and have no choice but to watch it get swept away downstream. Goodbye, pole – climbing that slope right in front of me is going to be a real pain now.
Or is it? Further along, the pole gets caught in an eddy (just visible in the upper-left of the photo). Before it can escape, I hurry around the eyot, only slipping once and dunking an ankle in the water. Reaching out is a bit precarious, but as the pole spins, I’m able to grab the strap – reunited! Armed with both poles, I tackle the second bridge with less drama. Slightly discouragingly, the ground downstream of these bridges is littered with the wooden pallets that were previously the bridge’s deck. I guess that in spring, most of their structure is washed away with the melt, until someone brings up fresh pallets to replace them.
As I continue round to the north-facing slopes, the snow is thicker, forming occasional drifts, and I’m able to cross most of the streams on snow bridges. The cloud is breaking up a bit, revealing occasional spectacular views south across sparkling lakes and up the the glacier.
As I’m coming up to a pass that will be the highest point of the trip, I pass a couple of people the other way. We don’t stop to talk, but the snow means that I’m able to stop looking for cairns and follow footsteps instead (it turns out that the one wearing triangular-treaded boots is much better at finding routes up and down steep banks). Near the top of the pass, I come across the first wildlife I’ve seen all day, a raven perched on a rock – I’m unable to tell whether it is Huginn or Muninn. Coming over the top of the pass, I can see down to a lake a few kilometres distant, and unmistakably on it’s far side, a gravel road. This is the rallarvegen (navvy road), built in the early 1900s to provide construction access for the Oslo-Bergen railway. That must mean that the lake farther east is Finsevatnet, and sure enough, I can make out some cabins and the old railway on its northern shore.
Beginning the descent down towards Finse, I encounter a few tricky sections, but nothing worse than I’ve already seen. The mountains and glacier continue to provide spectacular scenery to my left, transitioning from solid/greyscale to liquid/green as I lose altitude. The walking route joins up with a ski route, so I now have orange plastic poles as well as cairns to follow, although neither is particularly helpful when, during a few-hundred-metre gap, I find myself halfway up a cliff above an unpleasant-looking rockfall.
Eventually, I reach the level of the lake, and after crossing two more seasonal bridges, I’m on the rallarvegen itself, with only a few kilometres of flat gravel between myself and Finse. Steadily, the density of cabins increases, until I find myself in what constitutes the centre of Finse, by the familiar sign I’d seen once before through a train window.