Mountaineering :: Trekking :: Ski touring

 

I really like Norway as a winter sports destination. The mountain landscapes are spectacular and there is nowhere else in Europe with such a wilderness atmosphere. I led Nordic ski trips to the Jotunheimen and Skarvheimen regions as well as a ski crossing of the Jostdalsbreen ice cap more than 10 years ago. However I had not had the chance to lead an Alpine ski project until this year. I planned 2 'back to back' trips in northern Norway for March 2010. Firstly I organised a sail and ski trip for a group of 7 people based on the boat S/Y Goxhiem sailing from Tromso early in the month. After this I rented cabins on either side of the Lyngen peninsula for further week in the far north.

The county of Troms in northern Norway has hundreds fine mountains, many in coastal locations, scattered across the mainland and numerous islands. Located at approx 70° North this area is well within the Arctic Circle and is known for long, cold, snowy winters. It is a paradise for skiers and the cold conditions often lead to acres of powder snow that reach down the shores of the fjords.

Sail and Ski trips have become popular in north Norway in recent years. Sailing boats and yachts can accommodate groups in some comfort and offer a unique way to visit the mountains located on isolated fjords and islands. Warm and comfortable living quarters on board give a pleasant place to relax after a day of skiing. Food is also provided on board, and the boat offers an unusual means of transport from one ski area to the next.

Using pictures of skiers enjoying fine powder snow under blue skies I was able to find 7 enthusiastic people to join my first Sail and Ski trip.  Things did not start well as Norwegian Airlines lost 3 items of our baggage en route to Tromso. This took a lot of effort over two days to resolve. However our more serious problem was with the weather. We arrived in Tromso to find a forecast of strong winds and heavy snowfall for the week ahead. Unfortunately this was to be correct. For every day of our stay 20-30cm of new snow fell, mist and clouds covered the high peaks, and strong winds blew from the west. Charles Wara, skipper of the Goxheim, said that he had never seen such a sustained period of bad weather during the ski season. We were unable to climb or ski any of the mountains that we had planned to visit and instead had to satisfy ourselves with short tours in sheltered valleys. Given the terrible weather conditions we were fortunate to climb several 500m 'hills' often in pretty poor weather. When conditions allowed we managed a little skiing, but not nearly as much as we had hoped for.

The boat was extremely comfortable and the food on board excellent. It proved an ideal vehicle for exploring the islands and fjords of north of Tromso and we got a great feel for the unique atmosphere of this special place.

Sail & Ski on S/Y Goxheim (6 -13 March)    


Sat 6 March
The team assemble in Tromso having flown from the UK and Switzerland. The weather is fair and we look around town and visit the Polar Museum before joining the boat in the afternoon.

Sun 7 March
The weather forecast promises a week of strong winds and heavy snowfalls. The skipper recommends we spend an extra day in Tromso and we go for a walk on icy roads and paths covered in deep snow.

Mon 8 March
The weather is still too bad for the boat to leave Tromso so we choose to attempt a ski outing to the east of town.  We walked over the bridge from Tromso to the suburb of Tromsdalen and then ski up the valley of the same name. We climbed to over 600m on the side of a peak called Skarsfjellet in deteriorating weather and had poor visibility descent to the small ski area at Krokdalen as darkness fell.

Tues 9 March
We finally leave Tromso at 07.00 and sail northwards for two hours to an anchorage at Glimma. The inflatable boat lands everyone on the beach and we set off to climb Glimfjellet 658m, a subsidiary peak of Nordfjellet 1000m. The weather is far from perfect but we manage two ski runs from a high point around 500m between snow showers and high winds. Back at the boat in the afternoon we sail for a further two hours to the hamlet of Oldervik at the southern end of Ullsfjorden.

Wed 10 March
Heavy overnight snow has to be cleared from the deck before we can leave the boat. The morning weather is quite reasonable with a cloud base of around 500m. We aim to climb Stortuva 1109m but fail to get above 500m in the face of strong winds and driving snow. A steep gully gives good skiing in light snow down to the sea. Once back at the boat we sail north to Vannvag on the island of Vanna.

Thurs 11 March
Same weather: winds from West North West and intermittent snowfall. We plan to ski up Vankista 947m, but only manage as far as the summit of Susannabakk-kolen 423m in misty and windy conditions. After descending to the boat we sail south to Hansnes in the Landsunden Fjord (more deep snow on deck).

Fri 12 March
Overnight snow. Early departure and we move 7km down the Fjord to a landing place at Hessfjorden. We set out to climb Soltindaksla 798m, but settle for Littletinden 608m as the weather is too poor higher up. This gives a pleasant descent in good snow down to the sea, probably the best skiing of the week. In the afternoon we set sail for Tromso, and it snows heavily all the way.

Sat 13 March
A beautiful day in Tromso! Fresh snow covers everything and it all looks very pretty. For the first time we can see some of the summits that rise above the fjords, but there is no time to ski on them as everyone has to leave for home.


Lyngen Peninsula Ski (14-20 March)

After the Sail & Ski trip described above I remained in northern Norway for a further week to ski some of the Lyngen peaks. Three friends joined me for this project. We rented a cabin at Polleidet on the eastern side of the peninsula for 4 nights and another at Lakselvbukt on the western side for 3 nights. The weather could not have been more different than the previous week. Clear blue skies and cold conditions enabled us to enjoy some of the great skiing that Arctic Norway is famous for.

Sun 14 March
We left our Lyngspollen base at 08.00 and started to ski from Furuflaten at 09.10. We followed the Lyngsdalen valley as far as Varas (240m) before turning southwards towards Daltinden 1533m, one of the best ski peaks in the area. We ascended the north facing slope that was in the shade for most of the day. Conditions were clear but very cold, with temperatures of -15°C near the top. We reached the summit at 13.30 and enjoyed lunch in the sun before skiing down the cold north face on great powder snow. To end a perfect day there is a great show of Northern Lights before bedtime.

Mon 15 March
Another fine day. We start climbing at 08.15 from Kvalvik, just 2km north of our base. The route starts on a track through forest before leading onto more open terrain overlooking the fjord. We had great views all the way up to the summit of Rundfjellet 1413m with much of the route in the sun. The ascent was mostly straightforward although the final 100m was quite steep. We were on the top by 14.00 and back at the car by 16.00. Once again the snow on the descent was superb, particularly on the steeper upper section of the mountain.

Tues 16 March
The weather forecast suggests more cloudy conditions and this turns out to be true. We drive north to the small village of Koppengen with the aim of following the glacier route to the summit of Tafeltinden 1395m. The weather is changeable throughout the day and we suffer spells of windy and snowy weather. However we push on up the gently angled Koppangsbreen glacier in varying degrees of visibility. By 15.00 we reach a col at 1125m and decide to turn back, reaching the village an hour later. The snow is generally heavier than the previous days, but it has been another satisfying day.

Wed 17 March
We leave the slightly surreal surroundings of MIT Fablab at Polleidet and ski to the summit of Kavringtinden 1289m before driving to our new base on the western side of the Lyngen peninsula. The weather is perfect in the morning with blue skies and no wind. We start skiing from Lyngseidet at 09.30 and skin up through the woods in bright sunshine towards the summit of Kavringtinden. The route up follows open ground with great views down to Lyngseidet and the fjord below. As we ascend we are able to watch the Olderdalen ferry travel back and forth across the water. The route is mostly straightforward but the top few hundred metres are quite steep. This only takes us to the foresummit 50m lower than the true summit and separated by a 400m corniced ridge. We leave the skis at the first summit at 12.30 and traverse the ridge to the higher top before returning for the skis. By 13.15 we start to ski down the steep east face of the mountain towards the sea. The snow is good and we carve a series of  nice turns down the 500m face that starts at 40° and eases to 30°. The ground then becomes easier and we follow a forest track back to the village below. The weather deteriorates in the afternoon during the two hour drive to Lakselvbukt.

Thursday 18 March
The best day so far: perfect weather, deep snow, great views and fantastic skiing! We started to climb Holmbuktind 1666m above Sorfjorden and close to our base at Lakselvbukt at 07.45. We considered climbing Jiehkevarri 1834m, the highest peak in the Lyngen area. The route continues from the summit of Holmbuktind, but requires an extra 3-4 hours. Despite the stable weather we decided that the soft snow conditions made the longer trip inadvisable given the amount of daylight available. We reached the summit of Holmbuktind at 14.00 and were back at sea level by 15.30. It was hard work breaking trail through deep snow for over six hours but the mountain scenery and the views northwards out to the ocean were fantastic. Much of the climb was in the shade and the air temperature never rose above -10° C. By the time we made our descent the route was in the sun and we had the twin pleasures of light powder snow and warm sunshine. We sailed though the untracked powder slope carving neat turns for the whole 1666m descent., stopping only to take photographs and rest our tiring legs. These are the conditions that make Arctic Norway such a unique ski destination.

Friday 19 March
Another cold and clear day. The temperature in the valley is -12°C when we start to climb Lakselvtindane. The lower half of the route follows an open, but  steepening, hillside on soft deep snow. The upper part of the route is a steep north facing gully about 50m wide and steepening to almost 40° at the top. The snow is deep and soft making trail breaking hard work. We reach the top f the gully (about 1400m) around 13.30 to find a snowy plateau surrounded by half a dozen steep and mostly rocky summits. We choose to climb the one with the most snow and reach the 1517m summit 45 minutes later after breaking trail through very deep snow. There are great views all around and we can see clouds starting to build on the peaks to the south. The ski descent is the steepest of the week and the deep snow in the steep gully presents quite a challenge. An hour after leaving the summit we are standing by the car in the valley more than 1500m below.

Saturday 20 March
Drive to Tromso. Return hire car. Fly to Oslo.

The week in figures: 6 days, 8543m ascent/descent, average 1424m per day.

 

Kite Skiing at Finse (21-23 March)

Patrick Bird travelled from the UK to join me at Oslo Airport on Sat 20 March and we travelled together by train to Finse. This is the highest point on the Oslo to Bergen railway line and a popular centre for the relatively new sport of kite skiing. Here we met my friend Ronny Finsas who was going to spend 3 days teaching us how to travel on skis using kites and sails. Ronny is an expert in this type of travel. He has extensive experience on his home patch in the mountains of Norway and has also instructed, trained and guided several groups on major crossings of Greenland and Antarctica.

 

During our visit we tried both types of equipment that can be used for wind assisted travel in snow-covered landscapes. Sails (also known as parawings) are often large and are used with short (< 10m) lines. These are quite ‘stable’, fairly easy to learn, and ideally suited to stronger wind conditions. Kites are usually smaller in size and fitted with much longer lines (30-50m). These offer a more ‘dynamic’ experience and are more difficult to learn. In the hands of an experienced user they offer more possibilities for exploiting a wide variety of wind speeds, and can be used in lower wind speeds.

 

On our first day we learnt the basics on the frozen lake at Finse. This was a Sunday and there were several other people using sails and kites at this popular spot. However the winds were very light and it was not possible to do as much as we would have liked. There was hardly enough wind to get the equipment flying at all and certainly not enough to pull the weight of a person.

 

The next day was also forecast to be a low wind day in the valley, but Ronny suggested that we hike up onto the glacier where we could hope to find better winds. The weather was clear and sunny and the trip to the glacier gave us great views of the Norwegian mountains. We could see the Jotunheimen Range in the distance to the North. Although there had been no wind when we left Finse, by the time we reached the glacier 500m higher there was 10-15 knot breeze from the west. We used this to gain our first experience of using the sails, before the winds dropped and turned to using the kites, which proved much harder to master. After a full day in the mountains we returned to Finse in time for dinner at the historic 1222m Finse Hotel.

 

Ronny suggest a long trip in the mountains for our last day and said that the weather forecast looked suitable. When we awakened in the morning there was poor visibility, moderate snowfall and no wind. By 10.30 little has changed except for a cold westerly wind blowing the loose snow around and reducing the visibility even further. With more than a little scepticism we gave our luggage to the stationmaster for delivery to Geilo station on the last train of the day to Oslo and started out on a 50km journey over the mountains. Leaving Finse at 11.00 we had to arrive at Geilo before 19.00 or risk of not seeing our baggage again and missing our homeward flight early the next morning.

 

The journey did not start well. We were blown over several times as we failed to control the sails in the strong gusts. Disorientated by the spindrift and struggling to master the sails we made slow progress on the first hill out of Finse. The proximity of large rocks, a ski lift and the pylons of a large overhead power line magnified our concerns. Ronny’s style of instruction was fairly direct. If you fell over he yelled at you to sort yourself out and get up again. Fortunately the snow was soft and deep and so our frequent falls were not too painful. Gradually we began to get a feel for what was required to fly and steer the sails. The wind was 10-20 knots and the 8 square metre sails propelled us along at a fair pace. The sails pulled us up gentle inclines and across frozen lakes. It was harder to cope with the downhill sections where there was a danger of accelerating ahead of the flying sail. On the steeper descents we resorted to rolling the sail up and simply skiing down. This was not easy with a large flapping ‘bag of laundry’ clutched in both arms.

 

Two hours into the journey the weather improved and the sun appeared. Unfortunately the wind also died, leaving us stranded in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. After a suitable lunch beak the winds reappeared and we were able to continue our journey this time with the added benefit of fine views. Just under an hour later the winds began to increase dramatically. This forced us to pack away the 8 m² sails and replace them with smaller 5 m² ones that were better able to cope with the 30 knot plus winds. It was a frightening experience careering over the uneven snow surface at high speed, barely in control of the wildly flapping sail above. We covered a lot of ground quickly without any serious mishaps and soon arrived at the top of the ski slopes at Geilo. The time was 16.00 and the 50km trip had only taken five hours. In the right sort of terrain the combination of skis and sails/kites offers an unbeatable way to cover ground quickly.

 

The train dully arrived with our luggage and we changed into clean clothes in the guard’s van. We dozed on the way to Oslo airport and our thoughts turned to the possibilities of using kites and skis for longer journeys in the future.

 

 

 

 

David Hamilton
High Adventure
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