Thursday, 22 July 2010

I'm going out. I may be some time...

Written 20th July

Ok, alright, we're not polar explorers but after that expedition, I think we at least deserve our Arctic explorers badge.

Yep, we made it, all the way to 71°11'6.5''N, the northernmost-point-of-europe-which-is-accessible-without-going-on-a-boat-or-a-plane! Yes, I do have to be that specific.  As we all now know, the french geographical institute have decreed Spitsbergen to be the northernmost point of Europe but that is an island way up on the 78th parallel.  But, Mageroya, where Nordkapp is, is also an island so, technically, Cape Kinnarodden, round the corner, although less north, is actually the northernmost point of mainland europe.  As was pointed out to me by a very keen (and considerably fitter) Lithuanian I met at Rainbow.   Nordkapp is only tourist north, real hardcore cardinal pointers think that is cheating.  He was just on his way back from there and showed me his pictures, including the 2-day, 20km hike each way over rocky terrain from the nearest road...  Yeah, I'm not sure we're kitted out for that - otherwise obviously we would... No really...  

So 'tourist north' it is.  But even so, we're not going to make it that easy for ourselves as you will see...

Pretty much as soon as we left our midnight sun layby, the cloud came down and it started to rain.

And it stayed raining.  All the way up the fjord,

through the Nordkapp toll tunnel - a shocking €18 for Will and Jules and a further €6 for me!! if i'd have known i'd have hidden in the back! -

and into Honningsvag, the island's main town and a pretty grim and desolate place it is on a wet sunday afternoon where everything is shut except a burger bar proudly advertising its great prices - only Nkr 79 (TEN EUROS!!!) for a cheeseburger! Bargain or what... No. we didn't.

But we saw more reindeer, or is this an elk?  Don't actually know the difference...

It looked a bit miserable for a trip to the north and we had decided to leave it a day and head to the fishing village of Gjesvaet on the west of the island which John and Sandy said was quite pretty and nice, when we stopped for a wet looking hitchhiker - now that we know some actual hitchhikers, Magda & Michael, Stu & Emma, we are trying to stop whenever we see someone in a good-karma-building way - who was trying to go to Nordkapp.  So we changed our minds and headed that way with him on board.

But not all the way.  Oh no.  The sheer cliffs of Nordkapp are the famous place, but at 71°10'21''N they are not the northernmost point.  And it costs about Nkr200 (€25!!) each to get in.  Well we're not paying €50 to go to not-the-northernmost-point-of-europe-which-is-accessible-without-going-on-a-boat-or-a-plane!  No the actual northernmost point is Cape Knivskjelodden which is reached by leaving your car in a free carpark 7km short of Nordkapp and walking 9km over the plateau.  That's more like it.

But honestly, you do have to really want to go (or have foolishly spent six months telling the whole internet that you're going to go) as it is properly hard going.  As Will says, it's grim up north, and as we are as north as north can be, it is about as grim as it gets...

It was cloudy and still raining when we got to the carpark so we settled in for a cuppa and a couple of games of tantrix whilst watching some very wet hikers appear over the near horizon and hoping for some hitchhiker karma to kick in for midnight sun at the northernmost point - afterall, last time we picked up hitchhikers we didn't end up where we planned to be, but we did end up in the right place at the right time, so maybe this would be the same... - and sure enough, by about 7pm, the rain had stopped, the sky had cleared and it was looking hopeful.  So we cooked up some pasta to take with us, donned our arctic exploring gear (from top to bottom.  Me: woolly hat, scarf, 1st fleece, 2nd fleece, zip up top, t-shirt, gloves, jeans, tracksuit bottoms, thin socks, thick socks, trainers.  Will: waterproof cap with fluffy ear flaps, scarf, overcoat, fleece, garage boilersuit, long sleeve top, gloves, trousers, thick socks, boots.  Looking good!), packed up the rations (water, box of pasta, one orange and half a bar of french chocolate found at the back of the cupboard from our hot-chocolate making days, some 9 months and 20 countries ago) and by 8pm we were finally ready to set off.

It wasn't too bad on the way out, fairly boggy but flat enough, the way easily marked by an abundance of cairns and even a bit hot in all my explorer gear. So far so good then.

Feeling a bit sorry for all those bedraggled people we had seen on the return earlier - they should have waited!

 and a view of Nordkapp too

The cloud was settling in behind us as we descended to the beach,

with the cliffs of Nordkapp resplendent across the waters and topped by cloud... What price easy tourist north now!  It even looked light in the sky as if the sun might make an appearance...

The last couple of kilometres were a bit tougher, 30% slope consisting of patchy bog and slippery rock but we made it,

right to the marker and the book (apparently, if we were to take this reference number to the tourist office, we would have the privilege of buying a certificate to prove we got here! Again, no, we didn't)

and then on a bit and scramble down the rocks to as North as North can be 71°11'6.5''N

(ok it says 8'' on the sign but that would having involved getting my feet wet and I'm not that desperate to prove something!)  it is very bleak at the end of the world.

Did it!  Quite exciting really, despite the bleakness.  Our quest for the cardinal points of europe is complete! And by this point, expensive Nordkapp was completely invisible in the cloud... Not that I am in any way smug about this...

Being 11ish by now, we were just looking for somewhere sheltered to eat our pasta when we unexpectedly came across a lone Romanian hiker who had hitched all the way up from college in Lillehammer and pitched up here with his tent to spend the night - just to say he had.  We had a nice chat - even he said that the people in Romania are horrible and untrustworthy and we were lucky to get through the country without having all our stuff stolen.  Well with ambassadors like that, its no wonder everyone has such a bad opinion of the place! -

and then left him to go back to his tent whilst we happily tucked into the northernmost-pasta-in-europe-which-is-accessible-without-going-on-a-boat-or-plane (ok, you get the idea by now)

and watched a cruiseliner drift out of the fog like some kind of ghost ship before heading off north in search, no doubt, of some midnight sun so as to keep the paying punters happy.

By 11:40pm, it was pretty clear that the sun was not going to put even his fluffy scarf on, let alone his hat, so we set off southwards once more.

Which is when it got really terrible.

Firstly the wind picked up, straight into our faces, to the point where it was hard to stay upright, let alone walk, and with every step back across the slopey, slippery rock you risked being blown off balance and ending up with one foot ankle deep in a bog or skidding out from under you and down the rocks.

It wasn't so bad at the beach, but the climb back up to the top was pretty horrendous - again straight into the wind - and at the top the cloud settled down like a freezing blanket for the entire rest of the way back.  At one point, I was 'resting' by turning round and leaning back into the wind as it was nearly strong enough to take my weight...  Nearly blind from the iced up glasses and streaming eyes, we could barely put one foot in front of the other, let alone see that far and what had been an obvious path between plentiful cairns with clear opportunities to avoid the really boggy bits became a seemingly endless, bent-double trudge through the mud, the squelchy footprints in the bog and the vague ghostly shadows of the cairns being all their was to keep us on track (and no, the GPS just tells you where you are, not where you've been and only gives a direction when you're actually moving so we couldn't even follow that back or even really use it as a compass - even assuming that we knew where we had started from....).

But hey, at least we didn't have to worry about it getting dark...

There were a few moments when we thought we must be nearly there by now, only to have our hopes dashed by passing a forgotten landmark we then recalled as having seen a fair way into the outward journey, and several more moments of near panic when we couldn't see the path or the next cairn and were scared of heading out in completely the wrong direction,

when suddenly, like the white cliffs of Dover looming out of the fog in front of a weary rowboat crossing the channel, a phalanx of white motorhomes appeared like a ghostly mirage in front of us, with Jules nestled amongst them.  Thank god for that. And we didn't have to eat each other to survive.

Pretty bloody miserable in all honesty but then as I always say, if this were easy, everyone would do it, and then there would be tat shops, and carpark charges and impecunious van dwellers would not be there...

Even with the comparative shelter of cliff-like neighbours, poor Jules was pitching and tossing in the wind like a boat on the high seas but not enough to compete with the physical and mental exhaustion of the hike and we slept for 12 hours straight, awakening at 3pm the following afternoon to find ourselves alone in the fog bound carpark - I guess none of our overnight company decided to brave the trip.  

Although the weather lifted by the time we left, we didn't get very far yesterday, just as far as Gjesvaet, which was pretty but nothing special, although with significantly better weather - in fact it looked quite clear all round, to the point where I suggested we might go again for another try at midnight sun at the northernmost point but for some reason, Will wasn't having any of it... -  and we stopped high on the hill above the village, hoping for some midnight sun pictures.

Which looked promising at 10pm,  and for a while after

but by 11 all hopes were well and truly dashed.  Oh well, bed time.

Back on the road today, back through expensive toll tunnel - oh yes, they charge you to leave too - and our first Norwegian supermarket experience  - a mind boggling, wallet emptying €10 for 1l milk, 500ml yoghurt, a loaf of bread and four oranges and an utterly depressing €85 for a tank of petrol! - how on earth do people afford to live here!  It is bitterly cold - I know, I know, what else did I expect, it is the arctic circle after all and it's not Burgos!, but seriously, we haven't been this cold since Florence! - but I have my spanish fluffy boots on so at least my feet are snuggly warm!  Definitely time to be heading south.

Fjords here we come!

EDIT:  here is some interesting info about Nordkapp courtesy of Will's friend Ben!

Done my homework - so you are at the most Northern point of Europe originally known as Kjelvik, however the Germans destroyed the village in
1944 and it took up its new name of Nordkapp (North Cape) in 1950. The coats of arms was officially approved in 1973 which is symbolic of the sea, cliff
& golden sky. I feel educated, but in an interesting way!
(c) Ben Northing


  1. Great narrative! Glad you got back safe!
    I discovered your site by reading Tara & Tyler's "Going Slowly" journal.


  2. Congratulations - great pictures.

  3. Saw your wan at the Knivskjelloddens parking. Hung out for a couple of hours but the weather only got worse so we left.

    Hope ur having a good trip! :)