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.