Sunday, August 7, 2011

Jotunheimstien - the second week part 2

Joe looking at the mighty mountain ranges in the distance.

The 14th of July, after a nice, comfortable stay in the DNT cabin "Skjelbreidhytta" we set off once again. 10 metres from the hut we entered a steep climb that took us above treeline. We both felt strong at this point and had no trouble doing the climb without stopping to catch our breath. I voiced this to Joe and he agreed completely, we we're both definitely more fit than we started the trail back in downtown Oslo.

The trail was very nice, at times almost qualifying as "super trail", but not quite getting that accolade because of stones at places that threatened to trip us over, and a pack of sheep that just didn't get that it would be sensible to go left or right instead of being pushed directly ahead by us for several kilometres. One of the lambs was apparently brighter than the mum and her sibling, and at times tried to venture out to the side, but the mum just didn't get it. After a while Joe got the bright idea to charge them which made them panic and finally run to the side so we could pass them. Note that it was a light charge :). We both love animals so we didn't want to scare them too much in the process.

While on this stretch of trail we passed a peak which was supposed to have nice views of some 60 peaks, and even a sighting board of sorts with the names of each. We both wanted to take a look at that, eager to see more of the mountain ranges ahead, so we hid our packs behind a tree, registered a GPS waypoint (very wise suggestion by Mr. Newton) and climbed upwards, aided by our trekking poles. We did indeed get some fine views, but no sighting board was to be found, so we were probably not where we were supposed to be after all. I was glad I'd included my binoculars in the resupply box. We swapped them between us frequently so we could both get glimpses of the peaks we were soon going to be seeing up close. The GPS waypoint "Sekkene" was real helpful on our way down since I could follow the arrow on my GPS compass all the way down to within 3 metres. Quite impressive. We would've found them without the GPS, but it was a lot quicker that way.

Maybe half way to Kittilbua, while we were taking a short break, Joe told me he was feeling a pain in his shin. He massaged and stretched it as best he could and walked around putting weight on it to try to diagnose the severity of the problem. I suggested that we should reduce the pace and take our time not to worsen it.

We continued on in sunshine and on nice trails, across fields and bog (the drier kind) and through clusters of trees close to the treeline. I had read that we would be able to buy waffles with brunost and rømmegrøt and all that good stuff at Kittilbua, and that motivated us in big way, especially Joe which loves that stuff more than any foreigner I've met. That last stretch seemed to take forever as our mouths watered.

Suddenly Joe stopped, apparently in great pain. "I think this is it for me", "Sorry?" I said. "Yes, this is probably the end of the trail for me". He took off his pack and sat down, rubbing his shin and looking worried. This didn't look good at all. We were both silent and feeling sad as I led us slowly along the last bit of trail before we reached Kittilbua.

To our surprise Kittilbua wasn't staffed and there were no waffles or stuff like that to be found. It was actually just a regular DNT hut that was closed, needing one of those DNT keys which we both carried (Helen: remember). A table with benches was close by and we sat down there to have lunch, discussing the situation. It looked grim indeed. I suggested we stay the night at the hut to see if it might improve, but at the same time I advised him not to continue if his shin wasn't a lot better the next day. I didn't think he should risk the rest of the hiking season or year for that matter just to complete this trail. He could always return to complete it. In a way we were lucky to have this happen close to a DNT hut and to a road, so that he could be picked up by friends and family instead of a search and rescue chopper. Joe called his friend to let her know about the situation and to be prepared to come pick him up the following day. While he was doing that I realized that the waffles etc. was available at the wilderness museum 500m away, so I went over there to shop and to ask where we were in relation to public transport etc.

The wilderness museum was as devoid of humans as the very thing it was constructed to present, so the woman and her companion looked startled to have somebody walk in the door. Pancakes, Solo (the best soda available in Norway) and some candy was quickly bought and I asked her about transportation for Joe. Apparently we were an hour or so from Vestre Gausdal and no buses or other means of transport were available. She did however offer Joe a ride in her old, colorful car down to Vestre Gausdal. I thanked her and said I would let him know.

When I returned Joe was massaging his shin, not feeling better. We moved our stuff into the cabin and I proceeded to collect water in the river and heat some water for washing and dinner.

Joe having his mac n' cheese, his favourite.
The hut was nice and we both enjoyed staying there, even more so when we were joined by a biker guy who'd just come in from Rondane, having hiked there for three days. He had some ointment for Joe to try, but that didn't help much. The beers he offered us helped more :). We spent the evening talking to him and listening to the crackle from the wood oven placed in the middle of the room.

The next morning Joe felt a bit better, but it didn't take long before he told me it was as bad as yesterday. I finished packing and got ready to move on. I considered quitting the trail too, but I felt a strong urge to complete it, having planned for it so long and done so much of the trail already. Since Joe was going to get picked up by his friends I didn't feel too bad about leaving him there. If I'd quit too I would had to return to Oslo alone and what was the point in that?. Before leaving we took some pictures, I said my goodbyes, gave Joe a hug and started my day on the trail.

Last photo before I left Joe to wait for his friends to pick him up. That checked Rohan shirt of his is way cool btw :).

First order of business was to get the morning backtrack out of the way. I followed a short piece of trail onto the main road and then went too far, not seeing the trail markings. This time I couldn't blame the gear talk :). Before moving any further I stopped to take a look at my map and GPS to make sure I was 100% sure of my position. This is something I've started to do after reading about Yogi and her tendency to do so. I think it is a wise habit. I soon figured out where I was and continued along on a forest road herding 20 cows in front of me, a nice change from sheep, and then followed the familiar red markings through forest and bog (the not too bad kind).

Not too bad this bog.

Having lunch with my bug friends who were joined by the red biting ants, my favourite.

From the map I saw that I was to climb a hill, but I didn't realize I was at the top before I reached a 5-6m sighting tower which I of course had to climb to get some views. The views were stunning.

My goal for the day was to get to the staffed hut, Liomseter, something that would turn out to be a long walk. If I were to do it again I wouldn't push for Liomseter, and instead camp a bit more than halfway. Having set a goal I was determind to reach it though and kept at it. My tweet from the next day sums it up :

"Long day yesterday, 32 km in various terrain, bog, hills, valleys, rivers, rivendell like forest, amazing views. Arrived late at the staffed hut Liomseter where i had dinner, beer, shower and a nice chat with some guys who were very curious about the trip and lightweight backpacking".

It was nice to be higher up with less bugs, a nice cooling breeze and some spectacular views. A rainstorm to the west was looking a bit threatening, but it didn't turn out to be a problem.

This well was right beside the trail and offered splendid water. I was careful not to contaminate it and used my pot to scoop with.

This was a beautiful place. The camera just isn't able to capture it.

I was getting pretty tired by the end of the day, especially after a long boggy section. Suddenly the trail markings disappeared and I couldn't see where I was supposed to cross the river to the left of me. I spread out my map on the ground and touched the screen of my GPS to wake it up, and then tried to figure things out before moving on. A couple of particularly eager swarms of mosquitoes and noseeums took an interest in me, almost making it impossible to study the map. I decided to go back and then when I was just about to move I saw red trail markings going upwards, in the opposite direction? This puzzled me. I decided to follow them to see if it could be some eccentric trail design. The trail went upwards a bit, and then turned to the right in the direction I had come. What is this?. I moved a bit in that direction and then suddenly it dawned on me that I was supposed to have followed this path from the get go. I had been lured by signs of people moving through the grass to the left of it and thought that to be just a poorly marked piece of the trail. I turned around, backtracked and found the trail again which led to the river crossing. Stupid in retrospect, but it's easy to get confused like this, especially when tired at the end of a long day hiking.

It was getting late now, and looking at the map I thought I would be lucky to get to the hut before they turned of the generator at 11 PM. I hiked over a hill and expected to be forced to hike over yet another one, when I realized that my two maps overlapped quite a bit, so I was actually only 4.5 km as the crow flies from my destination. Hoorah!. I powered on and was soon at Liomseter where there was a band of clarinet players giving a concert to the dinner guests. I talked to the nice hostess and she told me I could have dinner even though I was half an hour late. I was really happy with that, not having expected to get anything being that late. I just had to wait for the band to finish their perfomance. That gave me time to shower, wash clothes and sort everything out. What an excellent hut! Dinner was great and I had a nice conversation with a couple of guys who were very interested in hearing about our adventure and about lightweight gear.

I felt very refreshed the next day, and that morning's backtrack was only half a kilometre, not bad at all. Having located the begnning of the trail towards Storkvelvbu, I climbed higher, moving through the forest and breaking treeline to enter a nice trail which allowed for fast hiking. When I started out at the hut there was a light drizzle and a light breeze. That changed after a while though with the wind picking up, rain pounding my back and temperature dropping to a measly 7C. I was getting cold, so I stopped to don my woolpower long johns and my rain pants, as well as my MLD event rain mitts with gloves inside. That helped a lot and it didn't take too long before I arrived at Storkvelvbu, which I initially had planned to bypass, but since the weather was so poor I decided to stop and have lunch there. A group of youths were there already and was about to leave. I said hello and asked if they were from the DNT youth association or something, but no they were just a group of friends who had decided to go hiking. While they prepared to leave I put the kettle on and started to prepare lunch. The hut guard/host arrived after a while and we had a nice chat. He was a bit surprised to hear that I, and the youths that has just left, were continuing on to Storhøliseter. Must people tended to stay at Storkvelvbu he told me. After a while he left me to finish my lunch, and retreated to his own hut close to the main hut where he told me he had the wood oven going and his dog lounging beside it at the moment :).

It wasn't exactly pleasant to leave the hut to hike on in that weather, but I wanted to reach the goal I had set for the day. The visibility was very poor and it was now just a matter of getting to the next hut. I was quite chilled when I got there and very thankful not having to spend the night under my Trailstar!

Cold. Wet, windy, cold temps will do that too you.
Instead I got to spend the night in my own room, to eat dinner with the youths and to talk to a couple of german guys who had a lot to tell about their trip in Norway.

Only two days remained now before I could finish my thru-hike! Since the youths had done the dishes the previous evening, and apparently were stressed out about getting going, I offered to sweep the floor etc. after them, something I don't think they realized they had to do. I told them I would try to catch up, which I had tried to do the day before just to have a goal to work towards, but without success. Cleaning up after them was a bad deal and it took me 45 minutes of sweeping and packing before I could get on the trail myself. I knew it would be a long day with a 500m climb and descent at the end, but I felt great and hiked on at a mile crunching pace.

I must have gained a lot on the youths because when I passed the Oskampen hut, I saw their packs outside and them having lunch inside, but I decided to move on to have some privacy when having lunch. I pitched my Trailstar to get out of the wind and drizzle. The Trailstar is great for this purpose!. I then hiked on and reached the point where I was to start climbing the last mountain to get to Sikkildalsseter, the staffed hut which was my destination for the day.

Before the climb I decided to fill my water bottles, not expecting to find any water on the mountain. Suddenly a røyskatt popped his head up and looked curiously at me! :). What a beautiful animal. His companion also appeared and they moved swiftly among the rocks, disappearing and appearing again. My camera battery was of course flat, so I couldn't document this. I wanted to give them something, so I brought forth a babybel cheese and waited to see if they would approach to eat it. They tried their best to approach via the small passages between the rocks, but they were never sure enough of their safety to take a bite. I decided to move 5-10 metres away, and then one of them appeared in the spot I had been sitting, scouted around for me in all directions, and proceeded to eat that delicious piece of cheese :).

The climb up the mountain was quite tiring and I had to stop several times to catch my breath, but the views were spectacular at every rest stop!.

Suddenly, at 1350 metres, I saw a small group of reindeer ahead of me, maybe 75-100 metres away. The wind was blowing in the direction I was moving so they had no doubt smelled me. I stopped in my tracks and watched them a long time (I loved my binoculars at that point!), before they in their smooth, flowing way of moving moved on up to the right and disappeared over a ridge. I saw 3-4 more groups before suddenly seeing a large pack 50+ animals. Wonderful. I spent quite some time just watching them.

Three reindeer running to join the pack. Too bad I didn't get to photograph them on the ridge with that sky as the backdrop.

The big pack. Hard to see because their camouflage is so effective. Click to zoom.

I soon got to the top of the mountain and saw the sign telling me that I was now at 1525 metres, the highest point along the Jotunheimstien trail.

This looked 10 times better in real life, believe me.
I just had to descend 500 metres now to get to Sikkildalsseter. The views were once again beautiful and I cried "Woooohooo!" as hard as I could muster in pure excitement and joy of life.

The hut, or hotel is a better description, had only two other guests, so getting a single room was very possible indeed. I even got dinner and I enjoyed that immensely, only wishing my trail buddy Joe could have been there to enjoy it with me.

I awoke to the last day of the thru-hike, an easy 5 hour hike along a lake and through a mountain pass to arrive at my destination, the DNT hut Gjendesheim beside the lake Gjende. The youths I had hiked with earlier were staying in a hut outside the main building. This time they played a game to catch up to me. I was very much taking my time however, not taking any chances that would get me hurt and not being able to complete the trail. The weather wasn't that great with rain showers coming and going, but the trail was interesting with rock fields, several pieces of "super trail" and a close encounter with horses grazing at a large field.

Going through the pass I got particularly pounded by rain, and I could feel that my rain pants weren't waterproof anymore, but I was very close to my destination now. The last bit was trail that got nicer and nicer until it ended up in a parking lot with lots of caravans around. It was now just a matter of walking some kilomtres on the road until I reached Gjendesheim, grinning from ear to ear!.

320 km/199 miles was done, only a 12th of the PCT, but an accomplishment for me personally. I had made a good friend in Joe and gained very useful experience for my PCT thru-hike attempt in 2012. More about that in a later post.

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