Monday, July 25, 2011

Jotunheimstien - the first week

This is a LONG post so grab a cup of coffee and a yummy biscuit before starting to read this :). I could have made this a lot more concise, but I want to have all the details as a sort of diary for later.

As I'm writing this I have my TV on in the background, reporters are talking about the horrible terrorist attack we've experienced here in Norway. It's nice then to look back at one of the best outdoor experiences I've ever had, thru-hiking the Jotunheimstien, not just because of the trip itself, but also because I made a new good friend in the space of just a couple of weeks. I'm going to talk about the trip in general in this post, followed by future posts about gear and such.

The trip came about when I was tweeting with Joe about hiking adventures for the upcoming summer vacation. Joe asked about long trails in Norway and I told him about both Rondanestien and Jotunheimstien. As he was planning to hike in Rondane with a friend, he thought Rondanestien sounded ideal. I asked if he wanted to hike together, but not Rondanestien because that it something I'm already doing with my friend Glenn who's just become a dad, and therefore can't hike for a while. After sending Joe a link to Bjørn C. Tørrisen's report from his thru-hike in 2008, he was keen to go, and the planning started. E-mails went back and forth, discussing the route and the gear.

We came to the conclusion that I would take care of maps and route planning and I had a great time doing it. The entire trail is 320 km / 199 miles long and is estimated to take 17 days to complete if following the official route, split into sections, as described by the norwegian tourist association, DNT. Bjørn had done it in a record 11 days so we figured we'd get it done in at least 13-14 days, but that was never a goal in itself, completing the trail within a deadline I mean. As it would turn out, we spent 16 days on the trail including a full zero day after a week and a couple of easy/half days. We've had a lot of rain here in Norway this spring and summer so it was very time and energy consuming to move through the boggy areas, and wet trail along the route. It slowed us down quite a bit. After a while we started talking about being "assimilated by the Bo(r)g.".

Joe arrived by an overnight train from Bergen with a bus leg included because of the maintenance work underway at the central station, and hadn't slept much when we met up. It was great to finally meet him after we'd been in contact through the Nordic Lightpacking blog network and via email and twitter. I think we got along very well almost immediately, talking about the upcoming trip, gear and our other blogger friends. After grabbing coffee and somehting to eat we walked the short distance to where the river "Akerselva" starts and began the hike up along the river Akerselva towards Nordmarka.

Along Akerselva.

It was beautiful day with 20-25C temps and just a gentle, soothing breeze, a perfect start to the journey towards the giant mountain range some 300km away from the buzzing urban life in Oslo. From downtown we walked along tarmac roads, paths, forest roads until we reached Hammeren and the start of Nordmarka. Soon after we got our first bit of trail magic when we found wild strawberries that tasted fantastic, a bit more citrusy than their bigger cousins.

Wild strawberries, yum!

Our first lunch stop on the trip was Øyungen, a very popular area to camp. We had what was to be the longest lunch break of the trip, which included a nice little nap. Having started super early it was no problem lounging in the sun for a while.

Our trek continued along trail which was almost drowned by different flowers and
plants taking the space they saw fit.

It was really hot, and our packs weighed the most they would ever do on the trip, so we took short breaks frequently and made sure to stay hydrated. Since we didn't see any signs of livestock we drank from some streams and used aquamira on the water we got from lakes and such.

According to the route I had set up we should've camped close to the huts "Tømtehyttene", but we both felt great and it was still early in the day, so we carried on along the trail towards Hakadal, a trail I've walked several times before with other friends.

Close to the spot we'd chosen as a camp site we met a man walking along with his bike. This puzzled us a bit since the conditions weren't exactly suitable for mountain biking there, and that wasn't a mountain bike. Anyway we chatted a bit and during the conversation I asked him about water sources, if it was safe to drink from streams and lakes in Nordmarka without treating the water. According to him he had never had any issues with that, having been active up there a lot and drinking everywhere (but being cautious when seeing cattle and sheep). Still, we opted to treat whenever we were in doubt, and we never had any issues from the water during the entire trip.

Our first campsite, the highest point along the trail between Øyungen and Hakadal, proved to be less than ideal. It was open and airy with a nearby pond as a water supply, but with only moss covering the rock surfaces there, making it impossible to get the pegs in, we had to go into a neabry forest to find a suitable spot to pitch our shelters. As we went about doing that we got introduced to our new, most irritating friends, the mosquitoes and noseeums. I was glad to have brought my headnet because it came to good use. That combined with a windshirt and long pant helped keep them at bay. As we made dinner we felt rain was in the air, and true enough we got hit by some drops soon after. Dinner was a low tone affair as we were both tired and annoyed by the bugs, especially Joe I think :).

Joe having a great time getting to know his new buzzing trail companions.

The next day we moved on to Hakadal, a village down in a valley. When we arrived there I asked some people if there was a store there (hiker hunger already appearing), and sure enough there was supposed to be, plus a 7-eleven, one some kilometres from where our next leg started. Both of us immediately started vocalizing a desire for the national dish of Norway, hot dogs with all the condiments added, as well as some kind of sports drink. We never found the 7-eleven, but the store was nice with kind people who even said hello (never happens in Oslo) and let us refill our water bottles in the back room. This was when we started to discuss the possibility of hiking this trail and grocery shop along the way instead of carrying food for a week, like we both did at the time. Joe was of the impression that it could be doable, but that it probably wouldn't mean that we would save so much weight, more that we would be able to eat better food.

After backtracking to the trail we started one of the toughest climbs of the trip, for me anyway, carrying a full pack, 2 litres of water and some food from the store I hadn't be able to finish eating. The trail then flattened out and after a while we arrived at the lake Stor Øyungen where we had a nice lunch, cooling our feet in the water and watching a family some hundred metres away closing up the hut and going home, probably after having had a great weekend. Had a great conversation with Joe here, slowly starting to get used to having to speak english all the time (at the end of the trip I was actually thinking in english).

We headed northwards, through bog, on trail and on forest roads, very varied hiking which would become typical of the days ahead.

About to hit the bog.

Feeling good we decided to aim to stay the night at the hut "Råbjørnhytta" where I've stayed before with Glenn and other friends of mine. It's a great spot with a lake close by, a rowing boat available for guests and more. Hiking there was swift and enjoyable as we got into a mile crunching pace.

A woman and her two kids were there already and they were quite amazed to hear what we were up to, having themselves just returned (by car) from Jotunheimen were they had been on top of Fanaråken. First order of business was to get all our gear out and dry stuff etc., and then have some dinner.

I slept well that night except for my sleeping bag being super warm for the conditions at this point and for a single fly that was driving me crazy. As soon as I was about to fall asleep it would buzz close to my ear and bring me back to consciousness. After a while it flew up to Joe in the top bunk and I could hear him being annoyed, but still asleep.

Breakfast was real nice in the cozy kitchen there.

An hour hike from Råbjørnhytta we hit Snellingen where they were doing maintenance work on the hut and therefore making it inhabitable. We did however get some great, ice cold, water from the well and had a nice lunch on the hill, surrounded by sheep constantly signalling to each other about their whereabouts, and being curious about us human intruders. Some approached to get food, but we didn't give them any, wanting some peace and quiet while eating :).

We tried to write "wish it was beer" on this :):

Our next leg took us to the best camp of the trip, at Avalsjøen. A long the way we again experienced very varied trail conditions, from calf deep mud and sheep poo mix, to clear streams and smooth grass. We managed to put one of our infamous backtracks into the mix too after not trusting that not seeing blue markings is a bad omen (we would repeat this several times, trust me, before learning from our mistakes).

Smoooooth trail

It was amazing to arrive at the *small* peninsula at Avalsjøen in nice weather, with a breeze keeping the bugs away, and the possibility of taking a swim to rinse away the sweat and dirt from the hiking day that had been. I quickly took advantage of that and felt super refreshed. Our yellow shelters looked great, giving us a feeling of being the hobo circus just having arrived to town. After dinner and having everything hung up to dry, we retired to our yellow MLD homes and caught some much needed sleep.

Nice to relax in the nice weather having set camp and all chores done.

Joe's Duomid in the front, my Trailstar in the background.

I'm teaching Joe how to set up a super tight clothes line.

The next day was one of the toughest of the trip, trying to get to Lygna where we could rent a cabin for the night. Turned out to be 30 km hike on wet trail with sheep poo, bog, but also some real nice trails, especially along the lake Vassbråa.

Starting to look the part :)

Really nice hiking along the Vassbråa lake.

We stopped at the hut there to have a peak inside and it looked really cozy. The water from the well (with one of those old mechanical pumps) was some of the best I've ever drunk in Norway, almost articifal looking. Incredible.

Fantastic water!

After a lunch stop and rehydrated on the "super water" we did some serious mile crunching, powering up a long the road to the trail head in record time, and then climbing a hill in stride, both feeling very strong and energized. After crossing the hill however, and being hit by bog after bog, our spirits sunk quite a bit. That last section to Lygna seemed to last forever. I think Joe was having a tough time here and I went in front as I still had some strength left (this is something we did naturally during the trip, taking the lead when we felt the other person needed support).

This might be a good time to say something about the dynamics between me and Joe on the trail. What I really liked was that we helped and supported each other all the way. Like for instance the time when I lent my aquamira to Joe and he returned it also having treated my water, helping each other with washing hands before meals, or just small things like picking up each other's hiking poles. Small things like that means a lot. I also liked that we didn't have to talk all the time. We had our periods during the day where we would talk a lot about gear and life in general, but then we might be quiet for a while as we concentrated on getting some hiking done and getting to where we wanted to be. On the other hand I noticed being affected moodwise the few times Joe wasn't feeling well, which is to be suspected when being such a close-knit team, and being friends that care about how the other person is feeling. Of course it worked the other way too, Joe lifting my spirits several times. Just something to observe. It was quite a different experience hiking alone, which I'll tell more about later in my next post.

Anyway, we made it to Lygna, rented a cabin, bought hot dogs and cheese doodles and chilled out after the chores were done.

We got soft beds with smooth linen so I slept like a baby, looking forward to meeting my friend Leif the next day to hike with us in the area where he grew up.

After breakfast Leif arrived and we hit the trail again in nice weather, even though had forecasted overcast, go figure.

Our campsite for the night turned out to be a spot to the west of the pond "Hauktjernet". To get there we had to traverse a lot of high grass first, because I stupidly suggested we go that way, until Joe figured out that some kind of service road had to exist since we could see a hut close to where we wanted to camp. Soon after we arrived it started to drizzle, so I assisted Leif in setting up his enormous 4 by 3 meter Helsport tarp.

One of the highlights of the trip for me, seeing Leif enjoy himself.

That was a welcome place to hang around, chatting and eating dinner, even though the bugs were fierce!.

Leif had a superior bug net.

Slept ok that night, but woke up to a wet camp. All in all a miserable camping experience, even though we had some laughs and good conversations under that giant tarp :).

The next day we ate a healthy dose of GORP and climbed the hill "Kvitingen", followed by a ridge traverse in bog, bog and bog. This turned out to be one of the toughest days on the trip, espcially for Joe I think which I could sense was real fed up with bug traversing and generally tired. Leif wasn't feeling that well either.

After getting through all that bog we contacted Leif's father who came and picked him up, bringing him home to a cleansing shower and other good things in life. Joe and me looked for a suitable spot to set camp and found another miserable one with masses of noseeums. We had a quick dinner and retired to our shelters to catch some sleep.

At about 3 am i awoke to rain hitting my trailstar hard, and a puddle at the end of my inner. Turns out that one of the corners of the inner was slightly outside the tarp so rain had been able to get to it. The bottom of my (down) sleeping bag was wet, as well as my sleeping pad. I spent a couple of minutes thinking things through (wasn't exactly thinking clearly or quickly at 3 am), and then excited the inner, put on my wet clothes and proceeded to fix things. Got some sleep afterwards, but miserable camping experience noentheless :).

What a wonderful morning!. At least I was inside my belowed bug free inner.

The next morning we decided to leave camp as soon as possible and to have breakfast somewhere else with fewer bugs(!).

Oatmeal with dehydrated apple slices, almonds, linseeds, milk (powder)
and hazelnuts. This stuff supplied lots of energy for the morning to come!

Our next leg was to Vesterås where there was supposed to be a cafe of sorts and a parking lot. We reckoned we would find a nice, level spot to camp there. At this point we really felt we were moving onto higher ground, seeing mountains in the distance and some great views of the valleys.

This lean-to was supposed to be our shelter.

What was about to happen next was the biggest slice of trail magic I've ever experienced. When we arrived at Vesterås we found it deserted, reduced to a large field where horses were grazing. They were curious about us and approached cautiously, allowing us to pet them, but also eyeing and smelling the trail snacks in our pockets. We left them and walked down the road to find a suitable spot to pitch.

I asked Joe if it he thought it would be "awfully rude" to ask someone to pitch on their lawn. He didn't think so, so I proceeded to knock on the door of the nearest house (which turned out to be a hut actually). A smiling, old lady said hello and told us that we were welcome to pitch in the garden, "but isn't it wet there and don't you want to stay in the small hut in the garden instead?" (a hexagonal hut with a fireplace inside, complete with benches with furs on them). We were so happy to finally get to pitch our shelters on flat ground (super flat!), and modest, that we said pitching our shelters on grass was fine, but that we'd love to eat in there because of the bugs. After pitching our shelters so perfect and taught that they looked like something out of a catalog, we went inside the hut. The woman soon arrived again, carrying birchwood to make a fire. She asked if we wanted to make a fire to warm ourselves and too cook on, and if she should do it for us? We accepted and were soon blissfully watching hiker television #1, the best channel by far.

Hiker televison, channel 1

The next morning while packing down, the nice woman approached me and asked if we wanted to have breakfast with her. We accepted and were treated to a really nice breakfast with meatballs, cheese, juice, grapes, coffee and more, all the while having a nice conversation about her family and the hut. When we were about to leave she told us that she could drive us to the store the coming wednesday if we wanted too, an extremely kind gesture, but we politely declined as we had food enough and would soon be resupplied. Her kindness didn't end there; she also gave us a huge piece of chocolate with raisins and nuts to enjoy during the day. What a woman! I got her address so we'll send her something to express our thanks.

This was the day we were to arrive at the B&B, and it wasn't a long one either, so we were both in good spirits. It rained some, but the sun found its way through the cloud cover at times.

The last section was along a tarmac road and it didn't take us long to find the B&B. The woman who met us was very nice and showed us the room, kitchen and the other facilities available.

Half of the trail was now done and we looked forward to a full zero day the next day, but also to the next section which would take us higher up, closer and closer to the mighty mountains of Jotunheimen.

More about the last section in a week or so when I get back from a hike on Hardangervidda. I had planned to write it all in this post, but this is getting way out of hand lengthwise :).

Hope you liked it. Feel free to comment. I will as I mentioned earlier write some posts later about gear, lessons learned and one with useful information about the trail itself.

Take care, and be sure to tell your loved ones that you love them. The recent events here in Norway have reminded us that we can't express our love and affection to each other often enough.

Love you Leif, Joe, Hendrik, Helen and the rest of you awesome people in the UL community.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Preparing for Jotunheimstien

I'm already four days into my summer vacation, but haven't really felt like time off to be honest because I've been very busy preparing for my upcoming Jotunheimstien thru-hike with Joe :). We're leaving real soon for the 320 km trek that will take us from Oslo to the mighty mountains of Jotunheimen, which is probably the finest alpine area in Norway. We'll start off at sea level and then move through forests, marshlands, past lakes and ponds, up and down hills and finally move through some fine alpine scenery above tree level as we get close to our destination.

The path is well marked and documented by the norwegian tourist association and is estimated to take 17 days to complete. I'm guessing we'll do it in 12-14 days. We got inspired to thru-hike the trail after reading and watching pictures from a thru-hike done by Bjørn Chr. Tørrissen in 2008. He did it in 11 days which proves that it is doable in a lot less than 17 days, but 11 days is an average of 29.1 kilometres per day which is quite a bit. We're not out to set any records; it's our holiday after all :).

Some gear choices
Ultralight? Lightweight? Well, no I'm not even breaking the lightweight barrier (base weight of less than 15 lbs / 6.8 kg, that is everything carried except for consumables like food, water and fuel) on this trip. At the moment I'm at 7.3 kgs, but I feel it's a good setup for the conditions we might face. It's summer, but it's Norway after all, so it can still get challenging, especially in the mountains.

Shelter (1050 g)
I'm going with the MLD Trailstar, combined with a Pyranet 1 inner. I chose the Trailstar for the stability, huge protected space and the possibility of cooking under cover, and it's yellow. The combined package including stakes is about 1050 grams with stakes, so not the lightest, but I'm keen to try it. I've also considered my SpinnTwinn and Alpinlite Gear Bug Shelter 1.25 and the Tarptent Moment.

Backpack (1060 g)
My newly acquired ULA Circuit which I'm impressed with so far. I think this will be a good option for the PCT next year so want to give it a real test on this trip. The suspension and padding is great so it won't be uncomfortable to carry the upwards of 15 kgs we'll start off with. Would love to have used my huckePack, but I'm afraid it would be uncomfortable (I know Hendrik will disagree on this).

Sleeping (860+403)
WM Ultralite. A 20 degree bag, so may be overkill for this trip, but again this is a prime candidate for the PCT, so I want to give it a real test. I've been very happy with it so far. I could have chosen my Sierra Sniveller quilt, but I know how breezy the Trailstar and similar shelters can be, so I'm opting for the warm cocoon like goodness of a traditional bag. Pad will be the Neoair regular.

MSR Titan kettle with Ti-Tri Caldera Cone and the meths stove. I was thinking of bringing a wood burning stove, but opted for meths because it will allow me to cook under the tarp, the simplicity and because I won't get soot on my pot and everywhere else (not a big deal when on a short trip, but I think I'll get tired of it during a longer trip).

About food
This is the real crux of trip planning. How much food do you really need? It looks like I can't really ever bring enough if we'll be steadily cranking out the miles. The amount of calories needed is quite substantial. I'll just have to view this as a learning experience.

Dehydrating "Rice and lentils"
After a week we'll stay at a B&B and pick up supplies that we have mailed in advance. A frend of mine will probably meet us there too and can bring or take excess food off our hands :)

Here's an example of what I'll probably eat during a day:

Breakfast: oatmeal with nuts, dried fruit, milk powder. 1 dry portion is 120 grams / 4 oz.

Lunch: tortilla(s) with sausage (Mørpølse) and parmesan or babybel cheese.

Dinner: rice and lentils + tortilla(s). 1 dehydrated portion of rice and lentils is 130 grams / 4.5 oz.

Snacks during the day: 150-200g homemade gorp, snickers bar, sesame bar, homemade lara bar.

I'll just have to see how it works out. We have a few options to buy food on the way if need be.

I hope to have some energy left when we get there to explore some of the area, but I'm guessing I'll head home to Oslo to kick back and prepare for my next trip to Hardangervidda later in the month. I'll be going with my brother and hopefully a guest from England :).

1(!) large tortilla (nothing added) is about 200 calories.
Olive oil is almost 900 calories pr. 100 grams / 3.5 oz.
The world hot dog eating record is 68 in 10 minutes.