Sunday, November 21, 2010

Onwards, on snow

Glenn and me are still on our way to Rondane, but the going is getting tougher. A month ago we were camping in typical late fall conditions with temperatures around 5 degrees celsius and rain. This time we were trodding along in 10-15 cm of fresh, wet snow. Physically demanding hiking, but also exhilirating to be on the move in such a beautiful, serene landscape, muffled by the soft snow.

This time we didn't leave early to take advantage of the light - we just accepted the fact that it would be dark most of the time anyway (the sun sets at 3:45 pm here now), so we didn't rush it and left at 5 pm, taking the train to Eidsvoll where we left the trail last time.

It was quite chilly when we got there, with a stiff breeze from the north making us quickly put on beanies and hoods to stay warm. First order of business was to get some bone dry firewood to reduce the effort of making a fire. We hoped the local gas station would have some, but they didn't. They told us to try the local Europris shop, not far away. A bag of 25 litres of birch wood was quickly secured and we were on our way to find a suitable place to camp. To get to where the trail started we had to walk several kilometres along roads that criss-crossed the landscape of fields and farms. It was dark and we made sure to have our headlamps on so we would be visible to traffic. The red blinking light on the battery pack of my Gamma headlamp worked great to make us visible also from behind (thanks for that feature Alpkit!). At some point we realized that we wouldn't reach the trail head before it got too late, so we got off the road and climbed to the top of a hill to find a suitable spot there. It was hard going to get up, especially with the added firewood, but we found a nice spot, put up the Nallo and got a fire going.

After the now obligatory-on-all-our-trips chips+beer combination, and Real Turmat, we retired to our sleeping bags, Glenn opting to sleep outside with a bivy. I slept very well that night (yay!), only waking up a few times to change my position, but then dosing off quickly. My WM Ultralite bag and Exped Downmat 7 kept me very warm and snug, even though I wasn't feeling toasty when it was about time to get up, probably because I was getting hungry.

We'd agreed to get going earlier than last time to take advantage of the daylight, so at 8:30am I got up and tried to wake Glenn.

He was deep asleep inside his warm cocoon of summer bag, winter bag and bivy, so it took some shouting and shaking to get him to react :).

A thin layer of snow had fallen during the night, covering the gear we had left outside. Glenn was happy that he had made a little tarp for his multifuel stove before retiring the previous night.

Breakfast was porridge in a bag for me, and porridge in a pot for Glenn. I wanted to try one of the homemade prepackaged meals I had left from this summer's trip with my brother. It's basically just microwave porridge mix with cinnamon, nuts, home-dehydrated apple pieces and nuts. Great stuff and so nice to just eat from the bag and not having to do any dishwashing afterwards.

After breakfast we proceeded down the trail at a good pace, happy to be on the move again. The snow slowed us down, but we were all smiles nonetheless. The first part was still close to civilization as we passed farms and houses, but soon the trail moved into the forest. Being the first people on the trail that morning, we could see the footprints of several animals on the fresh layer of snow from the previous night. We could even spot the miniscule tracks of forest mice. Amazingly we also saw insects buzzing about close to the snow, but of course at a more sedate winter pace. Still, I didn't know that any insects were active this time of year.

After hiking something like four hours, we found the hut we were planning to stay the night in, the "Lysjøhimet", a hut that is available for people hiking on the "Pilgrimsleden", the Pilgrim way to Nidaros in Trondheim. Much of the early part of Rondanestien is basically Pilgrimsleden, they share the same path

The hut is not fancy by any standards, being open to anyone all year round, and probably not having people look after it on a regular basis. It consists of a bedroom, kitchen and a living room with a fireplace and a cast iron oven. The kitchen has some plates, mugs and cutlery, but that's basically it. This used to be the main building of a farm (husmansplass) that was operated until the 1940s. The old cast iron, wood fired, stove is still there, but we didn't use it. Interesting to take a closer look at something like that though. I guess the people using it on a daily basis got their technique down, being able to regulate the heat by feeding wood to the different fuel chambers.

The house was freezing cold, so we soon started to look for some firewood. The shed outside had a nice supply (we left money for what we used) and both the oven and the fireplace were soon in afterburner mode, heating the place up so that we were able to warm up and dry our gear. It was so nice to just sit in front of the fireplace and talk and relax - not a single work related thought entered my mind. It's been pretty busy lately.

The next day we cleaned the place and brought firewood from the shed to the next visitors. We also wrote an entry in the visitor's log book. Most people seem to visit the hut in the summer months, and many of them are from other european countries, like France and Germany. One of the entries was in german - maybe Hendrik can translate it if he reads this blog entry. I think they thought the place needed to be renovated, but then they found the fireplace and that made all the difference.

Like the previous day the going was quite tough, with an extra layer of snow that had fallen during the night. Once more we were able to study tracks made by animals running around in the early morning hours. Maybe you can identify these tracks? Glenn thinks it's from a fox:

We had lunch close to a lake where people use to go swimming during the summer. I had gotten a bit sweaty during the last hour and paid the price by getting a bit chilled. It's so important not too overheat when hiking in winter conditions. The key is to continually put on and off layers and not being afraid to wear very little at times, maybe just a baselayer and a windshirt, and then putting on the puffy layers when stopping to eat or take a break.

Rested and fueled up we continued northwards, just enjoying the views.

After maybe an hour hike we reached an intersection where the Rondanestien and Pilgrimsleden parted ways, our starting point next time. The hut Lysjøhimet was 100 kilometres from Oslo, with 320 to go. I reckon we're something like 310 km from Rondance now. We both feel that this is a project that we will be able to complete, probably next year. This being such a good experience to me personally, makes me want to do more winter camping. It's a great feeling to be able to have a good time under such challenging conditions, well compared to the hiking I do the rest of the year anyway.

So what did I learn from this trip?

Temperatures around 0 degrees celsius makes for challenging conditons. Everything gets wet eventually and it will be hard to dry your stuff if you don't have a fire going for a long time, or if you don't heat your tent with the stove (be careful!). I've found that a thick transparent plastic bag used as a pack liner works best to keep things dry. Silnylon bags etc. just get wet. I've ordered some cuben drybags from MLD to try too.

Next time I will wear even less than I did this time when moving to avoid getting a sweaty back - it wasn't a big problem, but getting chilled at the lunch stop wasn't necessary.

Don't make a fire under trees laden with snow like we did. The hot air that rose made the snow melt and drip on us :)

Some gear reflections:

Woolpower long bottoms - great! very warm and surprisingly light. I think I will get hooked on their selection of warm clothing.

Glenn's samekniv, a HUGE knife traditionally used by the sami people of northern Norway. It's heavy for sure, but very versatile. It's for instance great for chopping branches and small trees. I've considered getting one myself, but have ordered a Bacho Laplander Saw instead, as well as a Mora 840MB Clipper knife. That should cover most scenarios.

GG Mariposa Plus. Like it a lot, it's the pack I use the most. Got pretty wet this time though because of the conditions we faced, but can't really fault it for that. I have a couple of other packs on the way now that I think will replace it, the Laufbursche Huckepack and the BPL Absaroka. Have to reduce my "collection" since it is getting a bit out of hand, so will be posting on gear swap forums soon :).

Dryer lint. Not really gear of course, but thought I should mention that it is very effective as tinder!

Hope you enjoyed this post, let me know if they get to long winded, or if you have other comments. Take care and have a great week!.


  1. Really excellent post! Beautiful pictures also. You made me wish the snow would get here sooner. I'm now looking forward to doing some hiking and camping in the snow.

  2. I so enjoyed reading this! Beautiful photos, illustrating quite a different environment to here in the UK. It's a lovely read too, I just wanted to be there!

  3. Don't think they're long-winded at all - very good read in fact. The snow pictures are brilliant. I am intrigued by the Ultralite/Downmat combination as I am going a bit lighter with a Summerlite and Big Agnes IAC both of which should not, on paper, handle the cold as well as your combination, but I think with a PHD Yukon, I'll be warm. Was the hut a Norwegian Trekking Association Hut or did you find it some other way...?

  4. Heber: thanks :), I hope you get some nice snow camping experiences too this winter

    Helen: thanks :), you should come to Norway some time to hike!

    Maz: thanks for the kind words. The Ultralite/Exped combo worked fine, but I think I'll bring my summer bag too next time if temps are approaching the lower limit of the bag, just in case. I think it's best to err on the side of caution when dealing with winter conditions. No, it's not a hut that is run by the Norwegian Trekking Association - we found while checking out the pilgrim way pages (

  5. I wanted to hike the Pilgrim trail since I moved here but on closer inspection there seems to be an awful lot of tarmac miles!

    Fantastic pictures again Thomas. Makes me wish for more snow over here on the wet coast, er, I mean west coast ;-)

    I love the way the insulated Exped mats allow you to push lighter sleeping bags into colder conditions. So comfortable too. I've never been cold on my Synmat but I will switch to a thick foam pad for any long backcountry forays. No chance of a puncture or valve failure when you're days away from civilisation.

    So are you guys able to ski the rest of the Rondanestien through the winter or will you wait now to hike the rest in late Spring?

  6. Joe: not, really that much tarmac, we don't expect much of from now on :). Looking forward to getting to higher elevation.

    Thanks for complimenting my pictures - love yours, so that means a lot.

    No, I don't think we'll ski it. Maybe a trip snowshoeing and then early sprint for the next leg on foot.

  7. Great pictures. Your blog made a cold trip look like a warm experience. Can't wait to get out in the snows of the sierra's this winter.

  8. The German comments didn't make much sense, nothing special, really.

    Tracks are from a fox, yeps =)

    Nice photos & story. Winter is here!

  9. Snow covered forest trails are superb to walk. Your photos captured the conditions and the gear reflections add to the learning and reflection for the next time. Summing up a great post.

  10. Ryan, Hendrik and Martin: thanks for the comments - they motivate me to keep writing.

  11. Hi-
    Really curious about the new BPL Absaroka pack... considering it myself but wonder about fit: I am 6'3" and a lot of that in the torso.
    Anyway, look forward to hearing your impressions of the pack.



  12. Hi Thomas
    very nice reading - it set me back to when I was twelve years old reading Jack London, his stories from the goldrush in Alaska! Snow, wild animal footprints in the snow, carrying all your gear on your back - I enjoyed this :-) And also, say hello to Glenn from me, tell him that he looks almost, but not entirely like, in fact very little resemblance to Jack London :-D (Jack London was a small man) Keep up the writing! cheers, Gunnar

  13. Nice story. Was reminded of Jack London as well. He wrote a short story about a man who frooze to death at -75 F (maybe...)if my memory serves me correctly. This guy also made the mistake of building a fire (with his last match I think) under a snowladen tree...
    I am happy that you are still with us ;-)

  14. Petersson: I received it yesterday - will be post a "first look" soon :). My first impression is that it is well made and doesn't by any means feel heavy even though the hipbelt, back padding and shoulder straps are a lot more substantial than I'm used too.

    Trailbiker: Hi Gunnar :). Thanks for the comment. I'll be sure to tell Glenn, hehe.

    Jörgen: I will need to read some more jack London I think :). I've only read "Call of the Wild.

  15. Jack London "To Build A Fire" is the story of the man who makes a poor decision to go out in -75 without another person.