Disclaimer: This article is not a detailed guide and should not be used as such. The Rondanestien crossed remote alpine areas and I do not recommend attempting it solo, despite being dumb enough to do so myself. Please contact the fantastic people at the DNT if you’re thinking of bushwalking in Norway. They were very helpful when I was planning my trip and have a ton of info (and maps) available – http://english.turistforeningen.no/
Please find Part II of the trip here: Rondane Nasjonalpark.
**Photographic note – For this walk I was carrying a GH2, Lumix 7-14mm, CV Nokton 25mm and m.ZD 45mm, with a Gitzo CF tripod and Sirui ball-head. The photos in this article were mostly taken with the Nokton, and a couple with the 45mm.**
It was an adventure that was never really suppose to happen…
It was the start of a five month European backpacking trip and I had been in southern Finland for a while. As a pretty keen bushwalker with family connections in ‘Suomi’ my original plan had been to make my way north and explore Finnish Lapland. However, after nearly a month in the place the itch to explore somewhere new was setting in strongly, and a quick check of Norwegian Air flights had me sold – I was going to Norway!
The only issue now, a trivial thing really, was figuring out what to actually do in Norway. I was broke, and given that Norway is one of the most expensive countries on Earth that’s a significant issue. Basically, I could afford to land, walk, leave, but that was all. Eventually I stumbled across Den Norske Turistforening (Norwegian Trekking Association – DNT) – the organisation that does a remarkable job of looking after Norway’s massive network of trails and cabins. Trolling through their info I finally settled on the ‘Rondanestien’ – a route of 120km or so that travelled overland across a series of alpine moors from Lillehammer to Rondane Nasjonalpark, Norway’s oldest.
My first mistake was thinking (I’m still not sure why) that the Rondanestien was a popular route. It wasn’t. In the six days that it would take me to reach the national park boundary I met four people and one dog, only one of which spoke English and none of whom were actually walking the length of the trail. This isolation wouldn’t have been an issue, if it wasn’t for a couple of factors which I’ll get to soon…
I arrived in Lillehammer (the home of the 1994 Winter Olympics) after a bit of an epic; about an hour’s sleep in Söderkulla the night before followed by a Helsinki – Oslo flight, seven hours in the airport, a couple of hours on a train and finally a head-scratching wander around the town trying to find an overpriced campground. Luckily I was buggered enough for the 20hr daylight not to bother me in the tent.
Waking in the morning I had ‘interesting’ shopping trip, trying to figure out what the hell I was buying – who knew pictures of rolled oats could be so abstract? – and why metho was now pink, before finally setting off on track. I found the trail-head beside the hockey stadium easily enough, and then promptly lost it in the maze of hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and animal tracks that surround Lillehammer. 26km later my lasting impression of Day 1 was that winter routes were definitely for winter only, which I learnt the hard was after 5km of calf deep spagnum-bog. My first campsite by the shore of Nevelvatnet more than made up for the pain though and I retired pretty stoked with life.
On the second morning I woke sore and promptly realised that sitting around Helsinki for a month wasn’t the best training for carrying a 30kg pack up a bloody big hill – everything hurt. Oh well, first up was the beautiful Nevelfjellet (1089m), my first real peek at Norwegian sub-alpine landscape and the perfect cure for sore toes… On reaching the summit I got my first glimpse northwards towards my destination, the Rondane Massif, still an alarming distance away. Visible to the north-west there was also the hulking shadows of Jotunheimen Nasjonalpark and Galdhøpiggen (2469m) – the tallest peak in Norway, Scandinavia and Northern Europe.
The morning was spent traversing some lovely, open alpine moor – visually a cross between the Scottish Highlands and Tasmania’s Central Plateau, the regions’ shared glacial history immediately obvious – and passing through the largely abandoned skiing village of Pellestøva. After a stunning lunch next to the quiet ski-lifts of Nysaetra I lost some altitude and entered the bogs and beech forests of the Troll-løypa, a route I hoped would bring me to the Rondanestien trail-head at Brettdalen.
Unfortunately it was in the roughly 1km stretch of land missed between my two maps that I didn’t so much as lose the track, but couldn’t for the life of me find it… After half an hour of getting progressively more and more frustrated I eventually said a mental ‘bugger it’ and headed off down a convenient goat-track towards the flanks of Astdalsaeterhøgda (1030m). The faint pad quickly vanished and I spent an hour or so making my way through open heath in what felt remarkably similar to route-finding exercises in the Western Lakes back home. On reaching the ridge I spotted the Brettdalen homestead and soon found myself back on a pathway with those beautiful, red ‘T’ painted on the rocks.
The rest of the afternoon passed without incident and I met my first local – a chipper looking bloke walking with a horse-sized dog that conveniently had horse-sized saddlebags. No wonder the bloke looked so sprightly, these Norwegians have got ‘ultra-light’ sussed… The evening was spent beside another lovely lake about 0.5km from DNT Djupsolia.
Day three dawned with a quick climb up Astkyrkja (1061m) and it’s dubiously balanced cairn. It was then back down to the bogs and the beeches before climbing once again to the small plateau around Gopollfjellet. The 5-6km through this section was the first that began to feel seriously remote, and the lonely stone cottage balanced against the lake at Tautertjønnet is one of the saddest and most beautiful bits of architecture I think I’ve seen.
After passing Bjørgetjønn I descended once more to the now familiar bogs and made my to my Night 3 campsite beside DNT Vetåbua. The mossies were viscous and the tinned reindeer meatballs very, very average., but I met my one and only english-speaking Norwegian (who was actually a Danish expat) and had a nice coffee and chat before retiring to bed.
Day 4 began with a 4km road-bash before heading north into what (I hoped) would be the last significant stretch of beech forest for the trip and moving above the treeline for the rest of the day. There’s a quiet lonliness to the alpine moors here that I think many would find either overwhelming or simply bleak, but personally it’s one of the most moving bits of landscape that I’ve walked through – just open heath, quietly rolling hills and the odd stark red ‘T’ splashed on an upturned bit of rock.
Towards the end of the moors I ascended up to the summit of Øverlihøgda Fremre (1170m) and gained an amazing view south over the landscape I’d already covered and north towards the mountains I hoped to reach. After dropping back down into a valley I was delighted to find that the bridge that was suppose to be spanning Nørdre Klufta was actually sitting beside Nørdre Klufta. No matter, some wet and frozen feet later I continued up the Kluftaranden to DNT Jammerdalsbua, where I had planned to spend the night. Unfortunately, despite the hut’s stunning location on the slopes of Jammerdalshøgda (1236m) there wasn’t much in the way of camping, so I continued on for a few kilometres before I found a nice clear patch of heath. There’s something nice about being able to watch the sun set ever so slowly over the Rondane Massif from your tent as you cook dinner! The best campsite so far.
Day 5 ended up being fairly slow and uneventful as the combination of big days with a big pack and 20 hour sunlight with 24 hour daylight began to catch up with me. The problem with 24 hour daylight is that when you’re sleeping in a tent with a bright yellow inner, it tends to be brighter inside than outside, which is obviously an issue when it’s still light outside at 1am. Your body demands rest due to physical exertion, but your bodyclock only wants 5 hours sleep due to light. To make matters worse, the mossies meant that if I wasn’t walking I was stuck in the tent, and I’d thrown out my book at the start to reduce weight and needed my iPhone to last until the end of the walk so music and reading weren’t entertainment options – boredom was sending me crazy and journal entries make for pretty strange reading…
Long story short I was getting in the unpleasant habit of spending hours trying to force myself into sleep that my body neither wanter nor needed, and then waking up late in the morning feeling wrecked. The unheeded advice I’d been given to get an eye-mask and e-reader was coming back to bite…
Continuing across the moors, I ascended a gentle spur to Brennhøgda (1088m) before entering the peculiar amphitheatre of small peaks around Stulshøgdin. Shortly after a cold rain began and the jacket came out for the first time on the trip. The rain soon ceased but it would come and go for the rest of the day. A dodgy, bridgless crossing of the Døra was followed by the calf-deep spagnum of the Dørmyrin, putting me in a shitty enough mood to decide against the 3km sidetrip to the falls at Dørfallet.
Following the bog was a quick shuffle around Gråhøgdin (1220m) to DNT Gråhøgdbu. After a brief lunch and sit-down I continued on towards Muen (1424m), the first 1400m peak of the Rondanestien. The weather was closing in again so I decided against summiting and descended towards Muvatnet and it’s surrounding lakes. I soon found a nice spot beside Ramsjønnet and about 50m from the Rondane Nasjonalpark boundary. After setting up I sat down and enjoyed my first mossie-free evening (the wind scared them off), watching an amazing light show sweep over Muen and trying to photograph bewildered sheep.
Well that’s it for Part I. of the Norway adventure and the overland component of the trip! Part II can be found here and looks at the next seven days in and around the Rondane Nasjonalpark and Rondane Massif. I’ll also probably follow up with a post looking at gear, logistics and reflections on remote, self-contained hiking in Norway.