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Fannaraki from Turtagro

An easy 2000m peak in the Jotunheim

sunny

From Skjolden at the head of the Sognefjord, the narrow road enters a deep dark defile. The sheer walls of this valley are thousands of feet high and liberally hung with silvery waterfalls. If Tolkien's Stone Giants or the trolls of Norwegian legends did exist, it is here that they would be found.

On reaching the end of the valley the road, instead of stopping and going back to the sunny meadows of Fortun, finds a breach in this apparent dead end and climbs in an incessant ascent of over 2500 feet. The gradient is constant and the hairpin bends many during the vertical half mile up to the open high country of Turtagro. It is a good idea to ensure that the road is completely free of Dutch caravanners before tackling this section.

The hotel of Turtagro, once patronised by the English writer and mountaineer Slingsby, is in a fine spot, overlooked by 2 of Norway's greatest peaks. The country's third highest point, the difficult Store Skagastolstind and where I was headed the impressive but much easier Fannaraki which rises to 2068m or 6785ft.

I crossed the road which continues up over Sognefjell to Boverdal on the far side, and at the first hairpin bend above the hotel, joined a path off to the right. The Sun shone warmly from a cloudless summer sky as the track entered a broad valley. There was no difficulty route finding, the path being in places, wide enough to drive a car along.

The bulk of Fannaraki rose steeply on the left at the valley's end and became gradually nearer as I progressed. Passing a grazing herd of cows - who's prescence was later to become significant - the route began slowly to climb the right hand slope, gradually contouring around to the left to bring me to the opposite side where the valley began to climb more steeply. This was maybe an hour or 3 miles from Turtagro.

Just after here, the main path carried on up the valley, leading towards a lonely pass, whilst my route forked off to the left before crossing a bouldery river by a couple of stepping stones and climbing the slope above passing a small hut on the mountainside. By the map the distance was very little to the top from here but most of the ascent was yet to come. The peak is roughly 4000 feet or 1200m above Turtagro and over 3000 feet of that remained to be climbed.

There was no difficulty as the path remained clear but frequent rests were needed because of the steepness. I ascended firstly the southern slope facing the Skagastolstind's glaciers and then the stony zigzags up the westernfacing slopes. This section reminded me of the upper part of the tourist route on Ben Nevis though it was a little steeper than The Ben.

When you can see over Steindalsnosi to the west, you're nearly up and the gradient eased as the summit hut appeared just above on the stone littered crest of the ridge.

The days in the mountains when the mist stays down or the rainfalls or the blizzard rages are compensated for by days like this one. last year it had been snowing up here but today the Sun shone on the windless summit and the view was about as good as it gets. To the far side of the mountain, the Sognefjell road could just be made out, threading its way over the high wilderness. Galdhoppigen, the highest mountain in Norway, could be seen roughly north eastof here and a myriad of sharply defined peaks appeared between there and south east - the Jotunheim. The rocky spire of the Skagastolstind rose in the south while in the west I could see back down to the valley nearly 7000 feet below. Beyond lay the distant ice of Jostedalsbreen.

After taking a few photos, I made my way back over the boulders of the summit and began my descent. The route down was uneventful until I reached the valley at the bottom. Remember the herd of cows, peacefully grazing in the Sun? Well - they chose this moment to spring into action. Whether they thought I was the farmer and needed to be followed - I'd once descended Snowdon at sunset, preceeded by 50 or 60 sheep - I don't know - but follow me they did. It's quite impressive how fast cows can run when they put their minds to it and quite unnerving when they're running towards you.

I was relieved to see that they seemed intent, not on getting to me but in crossing the path just in front. That was until 2 of them stayed on the path blocking my way, their horns looking bigger and sharper the closer I approached them.

Clapping my hands above my head induced one of them to continue on its way but there was still the question of the last one. I'm sure that the animal was just being curious - they are known for it - but it is quite daunting to be faced with several hundred pounds of beef with the ability to run fast over this terrain and the additional advantage of horns! Luckily this particular beast decided at the last minute to rejointhe herd rather than to charge at this two legged creature on the path. They probably didn't see many people - I'd seen nobody all day.

Glancing back at my recent companion from the safety of 50 metres down the path, I happened to notice that unlike the others in the herd, HE had no udders!

Pete Buckley September 2002

Posted by PeteB 16:30 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

In the Home of the Giants

The ascent of Norway's highest peak

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This country is a pleasure to drive in - some of Europe's best roads and no cars on them! I'd crossed the Sognefjell road which rises to over 4000 feet, from the Sognefjord via Turtagro and was heading down through a valley reminiscent of the Llanberis Pass in North Wales, but on a much vaster scale. Looking at some of the rocks above the roadside, it was easy to see where the tales of giants and trolls came from. This was Jotunheim, the home of the giants and I was off to climb the biggest of them all. Galdhopiggen at 8101 ft or 2469m is the highest mountain in Norway and indeed, in Northern Europe.

"What a fantastic spot" I mused as I drove past a camp site at the end of a clear blue lake. Another car passed me going the other way - the first I'd seen in over 20 miles. The road did a sharp right some way after the lake and maintained its descent of the broad, forested Boverdal Valley. On the far side, huge mountains rose steeply into the clouds, snow clinging to their upper reaches.

Having descended into the pine and birch woods, the road wound back to the left and continued its gradual descent towards Boverdal, the river now on the left. Passing the hamlet of Elveseter, the valley levelled out and I presently reached the road signposted right to Juvasshytta. Stopping to open the gate, I continued up the single track lane which rose steeply up the tree covered hillsides, stopping again to pay a small toll to drive to Juvasshytta.

Once above the tree line, the road became a dirt track and began to climb in earnest, the views expanding down the Boverdal valley and across to the cloud topped mountains opposite. I drove carefully along a section with a steep 3000 foot drop to one side, which is always a good reason to pay extra attention to the road, before climbing the final curves to the flat stony expanse of plateau where Juvasshytta was to be seen just beneath the flat grey cloud base.

The word 'hytta' by the way, means hut or cabin and comes from the residences in days gone by, of the farmers who moved up the mountainsides to tend their animals during the summer grazing season. This hut or hostel however, is set in an arctic landscape about 6000 feet above sea level on a broad treeless plateau which didn't look like good grazing on account of the lack of grass. I was amazed to see a bus in the car park. That must have been fun, getting up here! Braving the cold wind, I went into the warmth of the hostel to meet the guide and fellow climbers. We turned out to be a group of 7 or 8 led by a local guide who was based up here.

Norway's highest mountain had remained stubbornly hidden in cloud up until now, but as we set off over the plateau Glittertind, the runner up by 11m, appeared through the clearing mists, followed by Galdhopiggen, much nearer on our side of the valley. The peak reminded me of Snowdon in shape and rose just over 2000 feet above the hostel. We headed more or less towards it, climbing gradually across acres of stones soon walking through snow which became deeper as we progressed. To everyone's joy the clouds rapidly dispersed, the June sun shining warmly as we reached the glacier known as Styggebreen. The name means dangerous or hazardous glacier - so called because it's one of the few Norwegian glaciers remaining snow covered and therefore with hidden crevasses, year round. Roped together, we set off over the glacier. The route was marked by poles and led in a straight line towards the right of the peak.

Having succeeded in crossing the Styggebreen glacier without any of us falling down a crevasse, we unroped for the final climb to the summit. The route led along below a ridge, past another, smaller glacier called Piggbreen on our left and up over easy rocks where the Sun had melted some of the snow. Thich had re frozen forming treacherous patshes of hard ice in the shaded cracks and hollows.

The final pyramid was snow and though not difficult, I did begin to feel the altitude having come up from sea level that morning. We were after all at 8000 feet and kicking steps up the slope was fairly hard work. I made good progress though, encouraged by 2 or 3 of my companions. I seemed to have become known simply as 'The Englishman' by my fellow hikers - they were all Norwegian and Swedish - apparently there's not many of us around in these parts!

Breathlessly, I made the top, stopping at the viewing indicator to take photos. The cloud had all but gone and we were treated to a view extending past Fannaraki and the jagged Skagastolstind to the South all the way up to distant Snohetta in the North, perhaps 100 miles away. East of us the countless peaks of the Jotunheim gathered in white topped rows like waves on the sea, while on the western horizon lay the flat white miles of the Jostedalsbreen ice field - the largest in Europe.

Closer at hand the summit fell away in a sheer drop to glaciers at our feet. We had clearly come up the easy way! There is another walkers route up here, from Spiterstulen accessed from further down the valley past Boverdal. You don't need a guide for that one - as long as you don't get lost, that is - there being no glacier crossing. The route however is much longer and involves more ascent than from Juvasshytta.

We signed the visitors' book in the small hut just under the summit and began our way back down. I followed a couple of the party who were ski ing down without skis. They were able to remain mostly upright while I descended part way on my backside much to all our amusement!

Back at Juvasshytta and I popped in for a coffee before heading back over Sognefjell. The place was full of very athletic looking characters in ski gear. They turned out to be some of the Norwegian National ski team. Apparently they practice at the summer ski centre here as the snow's usually good all summer. Back to the car for the trip down the mountain and I noticed that the bus had gone. I never did get to see it negotiate that road.

Pete Buckley June 2001

Posted by PeteB 03:25 Archived in Norway Tagged foot Comments (0)

The Week Before Christmas in Oslo

A winter weekend in the Norwegian capital

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It was the week before Christmas in Oslo, the Norwegian capital. Jacqui and myself had arrived here for a weekend break as neither of us had been to Oslo before and Norway seemed like a good place to be at Christmas - Oh and did I forget to mention that it was 2p return on Ryanair! Yes - that was 2p - plus tax of course.

I don't know how they can afford to fly people basically for nothing but we weren't complaining. The flight from Liverpool landed on a dark chilly evening at Sandefjord, still some 50 odd miles from Oslo but there is a regular bus service which runs to co-incide with flight times in both directions.

Our hotel was the Best Western Bondeheimen, centrally located on Rozencrantz Gate - many of Oslo's streets having the suffix 'gate,' and was reasonably priced by Oslo standards. The breakfast, which was as much as you could eat from a huge banquet laid out over several tables was included as well. This made up for the price of beer in the local bars. At over £5 a pint, Oslo will never be top of the 'places to go on your stag do' list but there's plenty to see here other than the inside of a pub, which you can see equally well without going anywhere and save yourself 2p for a flight into the bargain! Curiously, the hotel happily provided us with a corkscrew from reception with which to open a bottle of wine we'd brought with us. I wondered if all the guests brought a bottle! Among the highlights of our short trip were the walk up Karl Johan's Gate to the Royal Palace which was lit up of an evening, the Aker Brygge or harbour area and the Viking ship museum but the best of all was the trip out to Holmenkollen and the Olympic ski jump.

The following morning saw us walking up the hill through the snow from Holmenkollen railway station. We were a short ride out of town on the Oslo metro system which is known as the Tunnelbane though it leaves the tunnels to journey above ground once out of town. The skyline was dominated by the ski jump tower as we walked up to the complex where a few skiers could be seen practising cross country or langlauf on the open hillsides below.

We've both always been fans of the Winter Olympics and for me, the ski jump was always one of the highlights, but what you don't appreciate on the TV is the sheer scale of the whole thing. This tower was of almost mountainous proportions and below, where the jumpers hurtle off into space, the slope dropped steeply off to the landing area still far down the hill. It was hard to imagine surviving without a parachute - Eddie the Eagle is a braver man than he gets credit for!

We went into the complex which was very quiet, and bought our tickets to go up the tower and around the Skimuseet (ski museum). This tower, I read was the 14th such structure since ski jumping began here in the 1890's and each one has become progressively higher and scarier, the braver the jumpers became.

The lift took us swiftly up inside the concrete structure and arrived at an enclosed room from which a steep metal staircase led up the last part. The top of the stairway emerged in a much brighter room with windows all around giving fantastic views over the surrounding forests and down to Oslo and the dark waters of the Oslofjord. The low December Sun dazzled as it reflected off the snow covered countryside around and sparkled on particles of ice blown past the window by the wind which could now be heard outside. The place had more the feel of an Alpine summit than a high building. To the other end of this room was a locked door - the departure point for the jumpers - which gave a view straight down the run then down again to the bottom of the slope below. If you suffer from vertigo then, just maybe, this is not the best place to be!

A last look around at the awesome view - I fancied I could make out the cone of Gausta Peak in Telemark far to the west - and we headed back down in the lift to investigate the museum.

The Ski museum at Holmenkollen is fascinating. First opened in 1923 it includes a pretty much complete history of Norwegian ski-ing as well as exhibits from many of the Winter Olympic competitions. It is quite amazing - the technological advances made in the art of sliding down mountains! In addition to winter sports there are a number of exhibits of the equipment used by the polar explorers Nansen and Amundsen. Who says you need that goretex coat for £200!

Leaving Holmenkollen we decided to ride the train to its terminus a little further on into the hills. The Tunnelbane brought us, along a line with a noticeable lack of tunnels, to a station with the curious name of Frognerseteren and it became immediately obvious why there were so many young - and some not so young - people on the train in possession of sledges. After all you don't see many on the London Underground do you?

The sledger would get straight off the train and straight onto his or her sledge at the side of the platform before proceeding at great speed and seemingly with little control down a steep icy path at the end of the station. It was to be hoped that no-one attempted to walk up to the station this way.

We watched a few go careering wildly off in the direction of town before heading off in the other direction and following a trail which led gradually uphill between the pines. Once away from the excitement on the platform, the silence was complete, any sounds absorbed by the thick blanket of snow which covered everything.

Presently we arrived at a clearing by a frozen lake and opted to be brave and follow the footprints following a short cut across its snow covered surface. In view of the -20c temperatures experienced here over the last few days, the ice would probably hold the weight of a car, but it was still unnerving to look round at the shore receding further behind.

We crossed the lake OK and followed the trail up the hill on its far side to a television tower which could be seen rising high above the trees ahead. The tower is called Tryvannstarnet and has an obervation platform some 200 feet up algthough this was unfortunately closed so we enjoyed the view from the nearby hilltop instead. We were something like 1750 feet above sea level and there were extensive views to where lights were beginning to appear in the distant villages dotting the wooded valleys that lay to the north.

This was a typical Christmas scene but the weather had clouded over and a few flakes of snow had begun to drift down as we walked back towards the station. By the time we boarded the train back to Oslo, the snow was falling in thick silent curtains and only he die hard sledgers remained on the platform.

So - back into town for tea at an Italian restaurant and a single beer each in a bar before it was back to the hotel to borrow that corkscrew again for our other bottle of wine.

Pete Buckley December 2004

Posted by PeteB 06:53 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

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