Along with my friend Roy from INSTC we made our way to Bergen, Norway on 7th April via a direct flight from Aberdeen, Scotland. We stayed booked in at the Marken Hostel for our overnight stay and then went to purchase food for supper and purchase gas for the camping stove (not allowed on planes). Next morning we caught the Oslo train at 10:25 for the two hour ride to Hallingskeid Station. Our journey was interupted by a derailment of the snow clearing train at Finse and we had to return to Voss station and wait two hours for the line to be cleared. We eventually arrived at Hallingskeid where we met Peter who had travelled earlier that week to get some skiing practice.
The DNT Hut at Hallingskeid is a delightful comfortable self catering Norwegian Mountain Hut that has the luxury of electrical supply. We had a very enjoyable evening trying to drink the 3 litre wine container without complete success and left it their for our return in a weeks time!
File comment: Peter's dampers for lunch
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I had decided to take the Ice Box tool as our emergency shelter option despite the availability of excellent hut system. Some of the route was on unmarked terrain and weather conditions can turn very quickly this close to the sea with weather sweeping straight in from Hardanger Fjord. The Igloo is probably quicker to build than a snow hole but we had the option to build very quick wind breaks with snow shovels for immediate shelter. The plan was to make a short day by camping between huts on the route from Kraekkja to Finse.
The weather conditions for the first two days were extremely difficult due to very flat light hiding potentially leathal cornices and Pete skied off a 15ft drop luckily land flat on his back in soft snow. The wind had scooped hollows that were not visible until a few feet from them partly because we approached from the upwind direction so the edges were against the snow background. The photo shows one such hollow withn Roy acting as a scale.
File comment: Roy as scale
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The plan was to ski south 22km to Rembesdalseter hut and then circumnavigate the Hardanger Ice Cap via Kjeldebu and Finse Huts. We did compete the trip but due to strong winds from the west we extended the tour from Kjeldebu via Kraekkja Hut before skiing back to Finse. We built an 8ft Igloo at Kjeldebu in 2.5 hours for practice which was a great success. I spent a very comfortable night in the Igloo although I was a bit concerned due to the rain in the evening. I need not have worried because it got colder and turned to snow making the igloo firm and strong by the morning.
File comment: 8ft Igloo nearing completion
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File comment: Igloo next morning
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The 8ft Igloo had a deep trench entrance and I used Ed's custom door to keep out draughts and with the wind whistling outside it provided a secure and very comfortable shelter. There was enough room for two to sleep in comfort with the trench in place and I was pleased to note that three people could sleep in the Igloo without a trench entrance.
File comment: Trench Entrance
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File comment: Sleeping platform with ridge rest and thermarest providing excellent insulation. The spun polyester black weed control fabric provides a lightweight floor cover to avoid loss of belongings.
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I'm sure that the 8ft Igloo can be built a lot quicker than a 10ft Igloo so if we needed an emergency shelter the 8ft Igloo would be the best option and quicker than building a snow hole for three people. I've spoken to quite a few people now who say how unpleasant and time consumning a snow hole is and that is if you can find a suitable drift or snow bank. The big advantage of the Igloo is that it can be built with very little lying snow. The real big advantage we had on this trip was the nature of the snow. The weather had been quite mild so the snow had compacted and probably made building much faster than with light powder. I have built a 7ft Igloo fairly quickly with powder and not bothered to pack it particularly well. The Igloo was quite adequate for an emergency shelter and did survive over a week even with warm conditions and although it slumped to half its height in that time it was still strong enough to hold my weight (150lb)!
The journey to Kraekkja Hut was 15km and with the wind behind us we expected a quick journey. The fresh snow was a problem since we had used klister wax on the previous days. Careful application of hard wax over the klister helped and eventually we reached icier stretches of track where we needed the klister or skins! Peter decied right from the beginning that skins were the easiest option and in the classic hare and tortoise scenario he was able to keep a steady speed unlike our skis on skis off add wax efforts!
Our lunch stop involved building a quick snow wall wind break to get some comfort.
File comment: Lunch stop with shelter from wind
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With the sun shining it was quite comfortable out of the wind. However with our skis stuck upright in the snow revealed some alarming damage to Roy's skis. A severe crack in the side wall and bulge in the ski base just below the binding revealed that Roy's ski was in danger of breaking in half. It needed great care in decending the last two kilometers to avoid further damage and Roy managed to get safely down to the hut. This was the first fully managed hut with meals provided, hot showers and a most welcome if very expensive beer!
There was considerable curiosity in the Ice Box Tool and my photos of the Igloo trips in Scotland helped me to show how useful and fun the tool is. Ed may well get some enquiries from Norway!
Next day Roy made his way 9km to Haugastol railway station to travel to Geilo for new skis. The plan was to get new skis return by train to Finse and ski to met Peter and myself sking from Kraekja Hut. The day dawned fine and sunny and this was good news for our 20km route but much colder resulting in very icy and abrasive tracks.
File comment: Good tracks and sunshine on way to Finse
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File comment: Cornice collapse en route - a sign of the earlier north westerly wind.
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This was not an issue for Peter who continued using skins but I used a whole tube of klister during the day and that was along with using skins on the steeper hill sections!
We made very good progress and it was 11am before the three Norwegians with light packs and even lighter skis overtook us whil;e we had a short break for refreshment and snacks. Soon afterwards we heard the barking of dogs and two fast moving dogs sleds sped by, the dogs not even breaking stride despite us eating close to the track.
The track seemed to go on forever as we headed west on a series of frozen lakes with a gradual ascent. Just before the steepest section of the track at the junction the trcak split for Kjeldebu to the south we met two French skiers pulling enourmous pulks just like Ed uses in Yellowstone. They were using a tent and camping so I told them about the Igloo we built at Kjeldebu with the Ice Box and we heard they used the Igloo that night.
The Hardanger Glacier came in to view as we headed west and meant we were near the highest part of the route. We had another refreshment break here before the downhill run to Finse.
File comment: Last stop before descent to Finse
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It was on our run down that we met Roy on his new skis coming to meet us. The choice of skis was quite limited in Finse so he had been persuaded to buy the widest set of mountain telemark skis I'd ever seen! They were twice the width of Peters Asnes Sondre Telemark skis. They were so wide that Roy found they worked quite well in the tracks with skins on since the sides of the skis rested on the top of the track and the skins did not drag on the snow - he was able to get grip and glide with skins on. He was looking forward to trying them out the next day on the ascent of the Ice Cap to Jokulhytta.
Continued in second section