I woke for the first time at about 1am and realised I was very, very cold… I use a -2° sleeping bag (Sea to Summit Micro III for the gear nuts) and I sleep hot, so I don’t usually have this problem. And to be honest, it didn’t actually feel that cold – the ambient temp in my tent probably hovering slightly below zero. The problem was the hard gravel I’d been forced to camp on, which I suspect was still largely frozen from winter. It was basically acting as a huge heat-sink, and radiating cold straight through my 15 year old Thermarest and into me… I mentally stuck one of the fancy pants down-filled Expeds onto my xmas wishlist.
I stuck on every clothing layer I had and finally fell into a fitful sleep, waking a few hours later to a thankfully perfect sky. Several cups of hot chocolate later I began making up way over the old snow to the top of the Kaldbekkbotn. Foolishly I hadn’t bought alpine gaiters, so the semi-frozen snow was going straight into my boots to keep my already semi-frozen toes company. Fun times.
Other than my grumbling feet, the morning’s walk was absolutely stunning – honestly the most breathtaking stretch of landscape I’ve been privileged enough to walk through (I think I may have already said that?). The fact that my footprints were the only ones to break the untouched landscape just adding to the place’s overwhelming sense of isolation.
I aimed for the steep saddle between Storsmeden (2015m) and an unnamed 1996m peak to the west, and as I crested the gap I was greeted with an unninterupted view of Langholet, a fantastic glacial valley running away to the north. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one with such a pronounced ‘U’ shape or such a defined path, nestled as it is between the dramatic saw-toothed ridges of Trolltinden (2018m) and Søre Smedhamran (1922m).
From the saddle I seriously considered a summit attempt on Storsmeden (2015m), which would have been my first ever 2000m peak (we have little mountains in Tassie), but a combination of the steepness of the route and my lack of crampons convinced me otherwise. I was also fair to say I was feeling pretty spooked by the scale of the place…
After relaxing with the view for a moment I slowly began to make my way down to the valley floor. At first I tried to descend steadily down the steep, still frozen slope, but after a while I gave up and just slid to bottom – not necessarily the smartest way down, but definitely the most entertaining. Near the bottom I ran into a pair of Norwegians attempting the same route backwards. We had a brief, halting conversation in which they tried to understand why an Australian 20-something was solo-trekking the middle of Norwegian no-where instead of passing out in Amsterdam’s classier hostels, and then parted ways with a bemused handshake.
I continued down the valley, taking more photos in an hour than the rest of the trip combined, and generally trying (and failing) to think up big words to describe the downright epic-ness. About two thirds of the way down I sat and had a serious think about my itinerary for the rest of the trip. I could continue as I was, spending the night somewhere down around DNT Dørålseter and returning to DNT Rondvassbu the following day, thus leaving myself with a day free to either climb Rondslottet (2178m) or do nothing. Alternatively I could head seriously off-track and explore the Verkilsdalen and Verkilsdalsbotn, an even more isolated glacial/river valley to the west of Langholet.
To my lasting regret I chose the easy option, and continued down towards the Døråe and Dørålseter. In the end I was simply physically and emotionally exhausted. The loneliness was taking it’s toll and despite the sheer beauty of the landscape I really just wanted to be around people.
As I moved downwards past Vassberget (1855m) the broad Dørålen began to open up. I slowed my pace and tried to drink up the landscape, my mind drifting off into a semi-delusional dream world as eight days on-track solo combined with too many re-readings of Dune to make things go decidedly strange. Eventually I found a nice little glade by the Døråe and set up camp, spending the rest of the afternoon laying back on the grass and watching shadows play across Vassberget (1855m).
The following day isn’t one I care to remember much of… I woke to light rain on the tent, and sticking my head outside found a low ceiling of hard, black cloud. I packed up and got under way, with the weather containing itself until I reached the bizarre geological ‘table’ at the junction of the Dørålen and Bergedalen – an area of almost dead-flat scree about 1km square. As I began to head up Bergedalen the weather cracked, and I spent the day walking through a mixture of rain and sleet, with the occasional snow flurries.
After several kilometres I found myself back at Rondvantnet and began the steepest climb of the trip – ascending from about 1250m to 1650m over roughly 1.5km. As I climbed into the cloud the visibility dropped to almost nothing and navigation became very challenging as the rocky landscape left no visible tracks, leaving me entirely reliant on constructed cairns. I made my way very slowly into Rondhalsen, where I found the cloud layer to be almost the exact same shade of grey as the left over snow-drifts, making sky and land become indistinguishable. Frequent use had turned the snow to slush, which at least made the track visible but also left my feet completely numb after a few minutes.
Eventually I dropped back below the cloud and snow and made my way back to the southern end of Rondvatnet, where I had passed during the afternoon three days previously. Absolutely spent, I set up camp and passed out, despite the early hour.
Well, there’s very little to say about Day #11… The weather was better than the previous day, but still average and climbing Rondslottet (2178m) would have been stupid at best. In the end I basically just twiddled my thumbs for most of the day. Made a brief visit to DNT Rondvassbu but got bored after 10 minutes of an elderly tourist complaining about tea… Ended up writing quite a lot of dribble in my journal.
In other news, I had almost run out of food. It seems that while the serviced cabins are fully provisioned with camping food, the staffed cabins serve prepared meals and so they really only sell food for day trips. As it were, I had a few packets of chocolate-coated wheat biscuits (tasty but not really dinner), two bags of puffed rice, lots of English Breakfast and sugar, and a couple of salt and pepper sachets ‘acquired’ from the DNT. I was noticeably loosing weight and really needed to get out of the national park. I decided to bail a day early and start the walk to Otta the following day.
Day #12 dawned and the weather had once again improved, promising a nice walk out. I began heading down the 4×4 track beside Store Ula, turning every now and then for a fantastic perspective back on the mountains I’d been exploring. I detoured off the main path towards ‘Spranget’, a section of the river where people apparently attempted to jump across it’s breadth back in the day… Crazy Norwegians, but there’s a bridge now.
Continuing down the river I soon came to Storulfossen, a fantastic set of waterfalls at a sharp right-angle bend. I was starting to come across a few day-tripping city folk now and it was all feeling quite strange, I was already missing the loneliness of Langholet. As I neared Mysuseter, my first town in nearly two weeks, I decided on one last detour and turned north to check out Veslulfossen, an interesting looking feature on the map. Arriving at the end of a barely marked pad through the pines, I found myself at the top of a deep river valley, looking squarely at a narrow waterfall that dropped almost 200m over 5-6 steps. It’s one of the most incredible waterfalls I’ve seen and it looks like it’s hardly ever visited! Foolishly, I left my pack at the trail-head and couldn’t be bothered getting my camera out, so the memory will have to remain a memory, although perhaps it’s better like that sometimes…
Following Mysuseter I had one of the most unpleasant walks of my life. Unfortunately the section between Mysuseter and Otta, where I was to catch a train back to Oslo, was missing from between my two maps and ended up being considerably longer than expected. I think that by day’s end I’d walked about 33km, with a full pack, and about two-thirds on tarmac. Likewise, Otta was, to be honest, a horrible town in a lovely place, and the two days I spent in a dodgy caravan park nestled between industrial parks wasn’t really what I’d hoped for…
Nonetheless, as I boarded the train for Oslo the overriding feeling of the trip was one of being utterly overwhelmed. The landscape, the loneliness, the boredom and the beauty; none of the experience had been anything but emphatic. At the time it was hard not to feel grateful that I was off my feet and leaving the place, but at the same time the little voice couldn’t help but think it was probably the experience of a lifetime…