Day 7: Rembesdalseter to Finse

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.

Yes, that is a train carriage being used as a bridge

Day 5: Garen to Rembesdalseter

Today was interesting.

You know how when someone’s had a bad day, and will reply to “How was your day?” with “Well, it was a day” (no? Just me?). Well, today was a bad day, and it was only partly my fault.

It starts off well enough: I leave the campsite, full of porridge from the kitchen and heat from the lounge, and fully cocooned in waterproof layers. I know I won’t want to stop for long today, so my accessible pockets are loaded with enough snacks to constitute a lunch. I feel impervious to the rain as I take a shortcut across to the cabins at Liseth, where it seems that people aren’t even up yet. The signs of civilization peter out as I return to the Hardangervidde, and are replaced by the wind and rain. Fortunately, the wind is at my back and I am fairly well shielded as I continue the climb from this valley over toward the Easternmost spur of Eid Fjord. I actually start to overheat, so stop and peel off layers so I can remove my fleece, leaving me with just a T-shirt and raincoat on my top half.

Incidentally, the rain is the reason why I have so few photos from today. Each one required finding something dry to clean my phone’s screen before I could use it. The extra time and effort made me much more reluctant to take photos.

After about two hours, I have passed through wood- and moorland to reach a region of almost-bare rock, home to a series of small lakes. Ahead, a few kilometres distant, a near-vertical wall is facing me, which I know to be the far side of the valley. As I continue towards it, I keep expecting the bottom to come into view, but as I reach the top of my side, I see that the view is obstructed by a kind of shelf below me.

To the right of the wall, through the cloud I can make out a dam holding a lake, and possibly, on its far side, a cabin. That would be Rembesdalseter, my home for the next two nights. Annoyingly, the route from here to there looks like an ‘S’, when viewed from above, and ‘~~’ when viewed from the side. Still, it’s always nice to see your destination, even though I am starting to get cold.

The climb down to the shelf is about 200 vertical metres over about 500 horizontal. The hillside seems to consist of smooth rock, covered in a layer of moss, mud and grass which varies in thickness between tens of centimetres and zero. The rock and the thick patches are usually decent for traction, but the thin sections will just give way and slide down, carrying with it the foot of the person who put their faith in dirt.

While I’m climbing/slipping/falling down the slope, I’m startled to almost step on something small, fuzzy, and moving. My initial thought is that it’s somehow a duckling, but a second look reveals it to be a lemming. I’ve never seen one before, so I’m not sure I’ve correctly identified it, but it confirms my guess by conforming to urban legend and running off in the direction of the nearest cliff.

Reaching the level of the shelf, I’m rewarded with about a kilometre of normal, good quality trail before I cross a bridge and begin a steep climb up an exposed ridgeline. Somewhere to my left, there’s a path that leads down to the bottom of the valley, almost a kilometre below; my map claims it takes five hours to climb up here. That makes my current climb feel easier, but I can’t help thinking how well protected you’d be from the wind down there.

Reaching the top, I find that the ridge was not actually that exposed – by comparison to where I am now. From my right, the wind can race up a broad valley until it hits the first exposed object, occasionally strong enough to almost knock me off balance. Winding around the head of the valley, I soon find myself looking down on the lake, dam, and (still distant) cabin.

At the top of a hill, I meet someone traveling from Rembesdalseter, trying to shelter behind a rock as his poncho snaps and billows in the wind. I gauchely comment something to the effect of “the end is in sight!”, which of course to him means “you haven’t got very far, have you?” I try to find something encouraging to say about the trail ahead of him, and settle for pointing to the distant ridge and saying “it’s not so bad after there.”

I make a start on the descent towards the dam before I can share any more discouragement, only to find a repeat of my previous descent – this time with the added excitement of a rockfall to navigate over/around. I try to be conscious of trail erosion, but I can find no way of getting down this hill without taking a significant proportion of it with me. At least now, I’m in the lee of the hill and out of the worst of the weather. I’m still cold, though.

As I cross the dam, the clouds start to move in and the visibility drops. I lose sight of the cabin to my right just before I turn left and start walking in exactly the wrong direction, thanks to the inconveniently routed path. I realise I haven’t eaten anything yet today, so convince myself to eat a couple of bars from my pocket. I’ve got sufficiently close to the cabin now that I don’t want to stop for anything, including putting my fleece or warm coat on. This is stupid, since the temperature is a few degrees C, and I’m shivering in a wet T-shirt. Nonetheless, I keep going the wrong (but technically right) way.

Eventually, the trail makes a long, drawn-out U-turn, and I find myself gently descending into the valley of Rembesdal. When I’m about 30 minutes away from the cabin, I catch a whiff of woodsmoke – this can only mean that there are people already there, and they’ve lit the stove. The thought of that warm, dry room gives me the motivation to hurry through the final couple of kilometres, and before I know it, I’m fumbling to unlace my boots on the deck outside Rembesdalseter. Eventually, the trail makes a long, drawn-out U-turn, and I find myself gently descending into the valley of Rembesdal. When I’m about 30 minutes away from the cabin, I catch a whiff of woodsmoke – this can only mean that there are people already there, and they’ve lit the stove. The thought of that warm, dry room gives me the motivation to hurry through the final couple of kilometres, and before I know it, I’m fumbling to unlace my boots on the deck outside Rembesdalseter.

Unlike Hadlaskard, the inside of the cabin is a single large room with doors leading through to two six-person bedrooms. There are five people in the cabin, and it’s impossible to get within a metre of the stove without stepping on the fan of damp shoes, packs, tents and sleeping bags. I find a spot to sit as close to the stove as possible and just bathe in the heat.

After I come back to life, I fix myself a dinner of instant noodles and introduce myself to the other occupants. We all seem to have a surplus of food, so we have a nice impromptu buffet of fruit, nuts and cheese. They’re all heading South tomorrow, so we swap advice and reports on the trail conditions (again, I have to try not to be too pessimistic). As the sun sets, the valley fills with fog; it seems like clouds get swept up the fjord, over the dam and get stuck on the lake.

I’ll be in no rush to get up tomorrow morning, but I don’t want to stop the others from getting to sleep or disturb them later, so I claim a bunk and read by headtorchlight for a but before calling it a night.

Day 6: Rembesdalseter to Rembesdalseter

I wake to the sounds of the other hikers getting up, and go back to sleep. I wake to the sound of the other hikers making breakfast, and go back to sleep. I wake to the sound of the other hikers getting their gear together, and manage to stay awake long enough to see them out with a “god tur!” I surprise myself by having the patience to brew a cup of tea instead of going back to bed. This has already been an excellent morning.

I sit by the window and sip my tea; contrary to the forecast, the weather is pleasant, and would be sunny if it weren’t for the mountain and glacier looming over the cabin to the East. The others lit the stove when they got up, so while it’s not exactly warm in the cabin, it’s comfortable with a fleece on. Checking through my food bag, I find four sachets of porridge, so today I can enjoy a double serving of hot, sweet goop. Through the mist above the lake, I spot figures crossing the dam on their way South, but lose them when they start the climb up the disintegrating hillside. Three days ago, at Litlos, the Norwegian couple told me they’d be reaching Finse tomorrow, so I’m expecting them to arrive at some point today; as long as the weather stays decent, I should be able to see them coming.

Breakfast done, I start on housekeeping duty: this mostly involves cleaning the floors and going to get fresh water from the stream. We’re also a bit low on firewood, so I fetch some more from the storeroom. I’m amazed by the quantity of supplies here – it’s totally inaccessible by road, so my best guess is that the cabins are resupplied by snowmobile and sled over winter (either that or a helicopter, like I saw at Litlos).

I take my time bumbling in and around the cabin, so by the time everything is done, I’m hungry again and it is therefore time for lunch. Lunch is the supreme delicacy known as tortilla au beurre de cacahuètes, prepared on the still-glowing wood stove. I have enough food left that I can go back for seconds. And thirds.

Hunger sated (for now), I settle on the long sofa/bench and finish my book (Cryptonomicon) before starting another (Because Internet). The book is about how language is evolving in the context of the world wide web – it feels like a slightly strange thing to be reading here, where there is no detectable wireless signal of any kind (even the FM radio in the corner receives nothing [though it might just be broken]).

The afternoon passes as a blur of tea and biscuits, reading, and intermittent rain showers. I keep an eye out for people coming up from the South, as I’ll see them crossing the dam about an hour before they get here. Eventually, it begins to get dark, so I light some candles and prepare the last of my instant noodles. It’s only about 8 o’ clock, but my lazy day has put me in the mood for an early night. I’m just doing the washing up, when I hear voices outside, and footsteps on the deck, then in come a trio of Swedes. There are a funny few moments when I try to greet them in Norwegian, and tell them I don’t speak it well. This is pretty self-evident as they don’t understand me, and we switch to English, which of course, just about everyone is fluent in.

They’ve clearly had a pretty wet and exhausting day – they came from Hallingskeid, about 20 kilometres to the North, but got held up for an hour or two, thanks to navigation issues. They’re obviously grateful that someone was already here to light the stove, so it’s nice that I’ve been able to pay that forward, having been in the same situation yesterday. From somewhere in the pile of dripping gear, they extract a huge pack of sausages, and within a few minutes, the cabin is filled with the sound of sizzling oil and the smell of meat.

While they eat, we trade info about our routes – while they’re not the same, they’re close enough that we can provide decent instructions. Apparently, tomorrow’s journey is pretty smooth going, after an initial climb, which sounds good to me – my two-days-out-of-date weather forecast says the conditions should be generally pleasant, too. I warn them about the climb up the disintegrating hillside, but their route heads off East after that point, so there’s not much more I can say. I am genuinely getting tired at this point, so excuse myself and head to bed. Tomorrow’s my last day of walking, and I’m looking forward to setting out in the morning.

Day 4: Hadlaskard to Garen

When I wake, the room is cool, and darker than I would like; the sun has already risen, so the darkness is a sign of thick cloud. The steady rain is also pretty indicative of cloud. I get up and make myself a breakfast of tea and instant porridge with dried apricots. Yesterday’s forecast suggested that the rain should only last until about 8 o’ clock, so I decide to wait it out.

As I do, the other guests get up and start making their breakfasts, too. We discuss our routes for the day: they’re heading home today, walking up to Viveli (where their car is), stopping for lunch at Hedlo cabin. My route passes Hedlo, before turning Northwest toward the string of settlements along Riksvei 7, the only major road crossing Hardangervidda.

Eventually, the rain peters out, and I get ready to leave. The other guests comment on how small my bag looks, and since there’s an old brass scale hanging on the wall, we decide to have a weigh-in. My bag, with full water bottles and too much food comes in at 12 kg, while the others’ are 18 and 21. I had deliberately packed light, but I don’t think I’d realised how light until now. Given that I was starting a fourth consecutive day of walking with no aches or blisters, I suppose it really was paying off.

The first part of the day’s route continues down the river valley, crossing over great slabs of bare rock with rounded edges that can be surprisingly hard to get down. Eventually, the path turns uphill past some old stone shepherd’s huts, and onto the shoulder of the valley. Here the slabs are tilted, and in the drizzle, it is quite difficult to maintain traction. I’m again grateful for my poles, but even with them, I slip and fall a couple of times (luckily bruising nothing but my ego).

After slightly too long, the trail descends back towards the relatively flat ground near the river. At one point, I realise that my map (which is usually tucked behind my pack’s hip belt) is missing. Luckily, these trails are pretty easy to navigate, so I could probably get by without it. On the other hand, this means that it’s been a while since I last checked the map, so I could have dropped it more than half an hour ago. I decide to spend no more than 30 minutes backtracking for it, and after noting the time, turn around and head back, scanning the downwind bushes as I go.

Either I check the map more often than I thought, or I get lucky, because I find it after less than ten minutes. I tuck it back in place, and tighten the belt straps a little to hold it more securely. I’m almost back down to the river level now, and can see the yellow cabin of Hedlo in the distance.

As I pass Hedlo, the terrain changes again – the path is now winding through birch woods, and covered by several centimetres of water. Large rocks are scattered all over the place, sparse enough that I can’t just step from rock to rock, but frequent enough that I can’t avoid going over them. The consequence is a particularly annoying form of walking, going up or down almost every step, and soaking my feet from all the splashing. This only lasts for a kilometre or so, before I leave the river for the final time, and begin climbing the hills to its East.

The trail passes over a broad summit, and to my left I catch glimpses of the vast canyon that has swallowed the river to become Eid Fjord. The Northern horizon is rimmed by cloud, but through the gaps, I can discern patches of brighter white – the ice of Hardangerjøkulen, on whose far side lies my final destination, Finse.

As I begin the final uphill section of the day, I meet someone coming the other way, who does their best to dampen my spirits with a single word: mud. The warning probably wasn’t really necessary, given the coating of the stuff up to the man’s knees, and the fact that the road was supposed to be two hours away, but it was now mid-afternoon. I thank him for the warning, and get going.

It probably goes without saying that the mud was pretty bad. Often, the path is confined by thick bushes – here, I traverse the particularly muddy sections by standing on the sides and hanging onto sturdy-looking branches, leaning backwards over the mud. The branches get caught on straps and pockets, but I’m expecting one to break and send me backwards into the dirt. Astonishingly, this never happens. At other times, the trail crosses more open moorland. Here, you can see when a section ahead is muddy because the path will fork and broaden until it’s several metres wide. This usually means I can find a route between grass clumps that keeps me adequately dry and clean.

After what feels like hours, but can’t have been that long, the ground becomes solid again and I can spare a look forwards. I can now see the road, and houses, and a likely-looking green field that could be the campsite at Garen.

The trail down towards the road feels like a combination of the day’s earlier rockier segments, with alternating patches of relatively steep smooth rock slabs and jumbles of debris that you have to pick your way across. The sound of a waterfall grows as I continue to descend, until I find myself on a bridge over some impressive rapids. The white noise of the falls has disguised the sound of the road, which is just on the other side.

20 minutes later, I’m at the campsite, paying for £20 worth of grass to sleep on. I get my tent set up before making good use of the kitchen and the lovely warm lounge. Over my dinner of instant couscous, I check the forecast for the next two days. They both look a bit dire, with near-constant rain and wind. I have three days in which to fit two days of walking, so I can choose to spend a day hanging around here tomorrow, or stay at Rembesdalseter aftermorrow (or the insane option of walking both rainy days and spending two nights in Finse).

This place is nice, but the idea of spending a day relaxing in a cabin by a secluded mountain lake is too good to pass up. Tomorrow’s rain is due to start at about 8 o’ clock, so I’d like to cover some distance before then. That means getting an earlyish night tonight, so I head back to my tent just as the sun is setting.

Tomorrow should be interesting.

Day 3: Litlos to Hadlaskard

When I wake, the sun is just peeking over the hills, and through the window into my room. I have a little time before breakfast, so go to the drying room to repack my tent and gather my things. Breakfast is cereal, toast with cheese, eggs and cold meats, with fruit, juice and coffee. We also have the chance to prepare a matpakke – a packed lunch of open sandwiches wrapped with paper. I’d been looking forward to trying brunost (literally, “brown cheese”), so I seize this opportunity and load up my matpakke.pantryWhen I wake, the sun is just peeking over the hills, and through the window into my room. I have a little time before breakfast, so go to the drying room to repack my tent and gather my things. Breakfast is cereal, toast with cheese, eggs and cold meats, with fruit, juice and coffee. We also have the chance to prepare a matpakke – a packed lunch of open sandwiches wrapped with paper. I’d been looking forward to trying brunost (literally, “brown cheese”), so I seize this opportunity and load up my matpakke.

The route to Hadlaskard isn’t too far and doesn’t look particularly strenuous, so I take my time in leaving. The cabin’s hot water is now on, so I have a quick shower and read in the lounge a little longer. There’s no phone signal at the cabin, but the staff have some kind of (satellite?) connection; they print of the next few days’ weather forecasts so we can know what to expect. Today looks good, and tomorrow looks OK, but then the next two days are constant rain and wind.

By the time I leave, it is around 10:00 and the temperature outside is no longer maybe-freezing. The path takes me up the hillside behind the cabin, before looping around the side of one of Hardangervidda’s many dome-shaped peaks (I’m not sure these count as nunataks, but it’s easy to imagine glaciers flowing around and over them). To my left, the horizon is punctuated by Hårteigen – a particularly tall and particularly square-profiled mountain at the focus of the arc which is today’s route.

The paths I’m using are marked with frequent cairns spray-painted with a red ‘T’. There are plenty of places where the path seemingly vanishes, and you’re left to make your own way to the next cairn, a couple of hundred metres away. It’s in one of these gaps that I’m crossing a patch of level, apparently solid ground, when my entire right lower leg vanishes into a pool of mud and moss. I imagine Cairn Guy having laughing at my expense, which makes me feel a bit better. I’ve also now learned two things that will be useful for the next two days: trekking poles are good for sounding the terrain, and flat ‘ground’ is flat for a reason.

Now I’m up on the plateau of Hardangervidda, the evidence of the place’s glacial history is everywhere: every horizon is punctuated by glacier-dropped boulders, and the the ground is occasionally replaced with a smooth pavement of ice-scoured rock.

The weather in the morning is generally pretty pleasant, and the gaps in the clouds keep the temperature comfortable. I pause for a break near a small lake. Sheltered from the wind, this small valley is totally silent-
That is until a plane flies over, heading North. While I couldn’t have known this at the time, I realised that the people in that plane, 6 or 7 kilometres up, were probably the closest other people to me right now, which feels a bit weird. I’m glad to have the GPS tracker (even if the batteries are still playing up).

The plane is soon followed by a band of less-friendly-looking clouds, which begin catch up to me as I’m traversing the ravine at the highest point of today’s route. I put on my raincoat in preparation, but as I start to descend into the shallow river valley, I’m surprised to find myself in a light snow shower.

It’s too warm for the snow to settle, and the snow’s too light to pose any nuisance, so its only effect is to make the scene completely delightful to walk through. After only a few minutes, the sun breaks through from the South, producing a rainbow further down the valley and making the falling snow sparkle.

I kind of wish I’d taken a photo of this, but a) it wouldn’t look anywhere near as good on camera, b) my phone’s touchscreen really doesn’t like moisture, and c) I was happy just to watch and enjoy the view.

Eventually, the shower moves off to the North, and I am left to complete the route down the river valley towards Hadlaskard, which has now appeared in the distance. The walk down is uneventful, having learned my lesson about boggy patches earlier. Eventually, I reach the bridge over the river, which is interesting in itself, consisting of a ladder up, then a series of wooden pallets slung beneath cables/handrails, a ladder down, then a plank across to dry, even ground.

This puts me right next to the cabin, outside which I sit and eat my lunch in the sun; brunost turns out to be worth walking 20 kilometres for.

After finishing my lunch, I venture inside. Dropping off my bag, poles and coat in the porch, I enter the cabin proper, and find myself in a beautifully warm room, whose walls are lined with shelves of food. At this point, I accept that I’ve simply brought too much food with me – enough for 8-9 days, when you could comfortably get by with two. Ah well – the store does lack tortillas and peanut butter so I’m not sure it even counts as a pantry.

In the main lounge room, I meet the cabin’s other guests – a Norwegian couple, who had stayed the night before and kept the wood stove running today. As it’s my first stay in an unstaffed cabin, it’s nice to have people around to show me how everything works, and it definitely helps that they (like everyone else I’ve met on this trip) are friendly and – of course – speak perfect English.

The first order of business is making myself a cup of tea, then laying out my damp gear on the rack above the stove. I spend the next hour or so looking at the maps and attempting to read the books in the lounge. Before long, it’s time for a dinner of instant noodles – prepared in the cabin’s surprisingly well-appointed kitchen, with views out to the river and Hårteigen in the distance.

As the sun sets, we light the candles, and I enjoy the irony of reading an ebook by candlelight for a while before heading to bed. Tomorrow I’ll have to decide how I’m going to split up my remaining three days of walking among the next four days to best avoid the forecast rain. That’s probably a decision best left until the evening, when I’ll return to the land of phone signal and WiFi.

Day 2: Middalsbu to Litlos

My first real night in this tent is… eventful. The breeze that appeared while I was pitching the tent continued to strengthen and eventually brought along some rain. At some point in the night I’m woken by what I can only assume is the sound of a distant rockfall. Poking my head outside the tent, I’m surprised that I can see anything, and can make out the shapes of clouds ominously swirling above the mountains (where the light is coming from, I have no idea). The sight is a bit unsettling, but luckily doesn’t prevent me getting back to sleep.

When the morning comes, it is bright – the night’s dark masses replaced by white puffy cumulus. I have a quick breakfast of instant porridge, and get going. Today’s destination is Litlos – a staffed cabin, where I’ll get a bed and a hot meal. Even after only one night of camping, I’m looking forward to spending a night in a room that doesn’t move in the wind. As I pass the cabin at Middalsbu, I see lights stirring behind the windows; evidently sleeping in a tent is good for motivating early starts.

My route initially takes my round a shoulder of the mountain at the head of Valldalsvatnet. I glimpse the radio tower back at Risldal, and send a quick message home. My GPS tracker claims its batteries last over a week, but is already complaining that it’s low on charge. I hope it’s just cold, but turn it off, just in case.

As I ascend, I enter some light cloud, which doesn’t do much more than obscure the view. I also start to encounter Hardangervidda’s locals, who are very polite about sharing the path (and you can always tell when they’re nearby from the bells around their necks).

The path takes me up a shallow U-shaped valley, at whose far end, I see someone coming down towards me, but well off the trail. After a few minutes, I notice their three colleagues spread across the width of the valley, along with their sheepdogs – this must explain why I’ve seen so many sheep this morning. I try to avoid countershepherding as I pass them to reach the top of the valley, which is marked by another impressive waterfall.

For the next couple of hours, the trail follows the Northern edge of a series of lakes. The terrain varies from flat gravel beds, to gently swelling meadows, to fairly steep lakeshore, and finally scrambling around 45-degree piles of rock and talus at the water’s edge. Luckily these sections are fairly short, and I’m back on (relatively) flat ground before long.

One thing that there are quite a lot of in Hardangervidda is streams – streams that you have to cross. Most could be jumped over, but there are usually helpful stepping stones if you want to take the boring route. The wider ones sometimes take a bit of thought, as they have multiple apparent routes networking between islands of shallow gravel beds. On one of these wider crossings, I misplace my trust in a rock that looks like it won’t roll over, and receive a pair of quite wet legs in return. A change of socks doesn’t really do much for soaked shoes, so my movement for the rest of the afternoon is a bit squelchier than the morning.

Luckily for some streams and rivers, somebody has done the hard work for you and installed a wobbly bridge. This keeps crossings interesting while substantially lowering the odds of getting wet (and increasing the penalty for doing so).

Coming down from the lakes, I catch my first glimpse of Litlos and, spurred on by the thought of drying out my shoes, make good time toward it. I’m still over half an hour away when I catch the scent of diesel – apparently the air is so clean up here that the exhaust from the generator there can be smelled over a kilometre away.

Before long, I’m standing in a lovely warm reception, being told where my room is and when dinner will be served. It’s only about 16:00, so in the few hours before dinner, I read in the lounge, gaze out the windows, and make an amazing discovery: the tørkerom (drying room).

By the time dinner comes around, there are five guests at the cabin: a Norwegian couple who had come up from Hellevassbu, and a Norwegian couple who followed me from Middalsbu. The Norwegians tell us that they are hiking the length of the country in sections, and that the section they’re on now is over 40 miles long. This prompts a brief puzzled look between the Germans and myself; 40 miles is a decent distance, but won’t get you anywhere from here. The Norwegians then elaborate that in Norway (and Sweden, I think), a mil means ten kilometres; I find this a bit strange, but also kind of unsurprising.

Dinner is mushroom soup, followed by roast pork with potatoes and vegetables, with a strawberry mousse and coffee to finish – all in generous portions. Warm and well-fed, I head to my only-slightly-too-short bed.

Day 1: Røldal to (near) Middalsbu

Jondal, en route to Røldal

The bus from Bergen is busy – I’m lucky to have turned up early, as there are a few people who don’t get seats. One of the things I find amazing about Bergen is the way that the road will vanish into a tunnel, and reappear seemingly outside the city entirely. As the bus crosses from fjord to fjord, we pass some spectacular waterfalls; the driver announces that they are at a particularly high flow rate, and I wonder whether the rivers farther East will be the same. Eventually, we arrive in Odda, and the coach gets a lot less busy as about half the passengers alight outside the Trolltunga Hotel (presumably planning to hike up to the famous outcrop in the morning).

After decapitating another mountain pass via a tunnel, we arrive in Røldal, a community of a hundred or so houses, at the head of a lake. On the three other sides, the town is hemmed in by the mountains, with the steep Southern edge of Hardangervidda rearing up just beyond the road.

Fortunately, a river (presumably with the help of a lot of ice) has cut a valley into the escarpment which offers an easier way up. Eventually, the sound of the road fades, and the soundtrack for the rest of the week begins: the white noise of wind and waterfalls. This initial section is reasonably steep, so I take multiple opportunities to stop and look back down the valley.

Looking back down to Røldalsvatnet

As I climb, the forest of stunted birch trees thins, to be succeeded by the grassy moorland of the plateau. It’s around this time that I realise that the squares on my map are 2km to a side instead of 1km. Luckily the route lengths are marked in hours, so this really means that the walking speed was faster than I’d expected from trying to (incorrectly) measure the distances myself.

After about two hours, the land levels off, and I get my first view into Hardangervidda proper. Having tried not to look at photos in advance, I’m surprised at how uneven it is. ‘Vidde’ means plateau, so I was imagining something substantially flatter. Even so, it looks far from unmanageable, so after a quick lunch of leftover takeaway pizza, I continue onward.

Apparently, there’s not always enough room for the path

A gentle descent brings me down to the level of Valldalsvatnet, along whose shore I’ll continue for the next couple of hours. The path has been replaced by a gravel road, which makes for faster, if less interesting walking. At its head, the lake is few by an impressive waterfall, where I run into the first people I’ve seen since shortly after Røldal. There are a few cabins, and a small farm at which sheep are being herded onto a livestock lorry.

Eventually, the trail peels away from the edge of the lake, and begins to climb again. The sun is well behind the mountains now, and I’m beginning to look for a place to camp. Given the slope, I don’t find anywhere suitably flat until just short of the cabin at Middalsbu. The ground seems to consist of a thick bed of moss, in which my footprints become short-lived puddles before rebounding, but it holds my tent’s stakes well and is very comfortable to lie on.

Despite the now rising wind (and it being my first pitch of this tent outside by garden), the tent goes up quickly and easily. After a quick dinner consisting of the last of the pizza, and a little cheese, chocolate and dried apricots, I call it a night at about 21:00.