Friday, 30 July 2010

Mountain adventures

Written 29th July

With blue skies, bright sunshine and, most importantly, a couple of cups of tea inside you, Norway is stunning.  It's like taking a deep breath and feeling your lungs fill, your chest expand and your ribcage open.  The daylight, landscape and possibilities are endless.  Simply exhilarating.

And we have had the best 24 hours.

First stop, the Saltsraumen, the world's largest maelstrom.  A 3km long, 150m wide sliver of a strait , through which 400 million cubic metres of water are forced four times a day at speeds of up to 20 knots.  Apparently, with an incoming tide at the correct equinox, season and relative position of the sun and the moon it is colossal.  But even with an outgoing tide on a random wednesday evening in July, it is pretty spectacular.

The water rushes under the dead centre of the bridge, as fast as a mill race but flatter than a mill pond - this would be the olympic sprint version of pooh sticks, but it would have to be a photo finish by the time you caught up, several kilometres downstream!

- whilst at the edges the sea is churning and rolling with spontaneous foaming eddies

and momentary whirlpools appearing and disappearing

like the whole sea is being boiled in a giant saucepan. 

And then the jet boat came out to play and show off..

It's awesome.  In a way which is  completely not captured in a photo of course :)

As lots of people seemed to be fishing, Will even took his newly mended rod down to the edge, but with the weights gone - substituted with bike spoke caps - the float broken - substituted for a bit of cork - and the reel not very firmly glued back on the rod, it was doomed for disaster.  When, after a few goes, the cork floated off merrily into the maelstrom and the weed caught the hook and caused the reel to snap off again, it was clearly time to admit defeat.  Ironically, the float, the lack of which has put a final end to all attempts, was originally the easiest bit to replace.  But a while ago, and believing we had an inexhaustible supply, we stopped saving corks as we figured there was no need - well, we had a float but nowhere to fish, every possible engine airleak which could be plugged with a cork seemd to be holding firm and where in the world would we ever stop drinking wine?? - bother.

We hunted round the van in vain for things that might float but the only alternative floating things we could think of were witches and, inexplicably, we're carrying even fewer of them than corks.  They would probably be a bit tricky to cast anyway.... 

Ho hum.  Back on the road.  And wow, what a road.

Setting off late in the evening as we were, we weren't expecting much from this bit of the RV17, one of Norway's most famous coastal highways and apparently 'the World's most beautiful journey' (according to the tourist brochure, but they may be a teensy bit biased...)

but, it started well with mountains wreathed in wispy clouds

and, on popping out of the umpteenth tunnel, we found ourselves down on the coast

and bathed light of the setting sun, peeping out between the horizon and the low lying clouds, 

casting its pink hued rays across the cliffs.


Our destination was a glacier, recommended to us by the aperitif-sharing french van dwellers we had met on our first night in Norway, although as it had taken him three goes to find the right wiggle on the map and the instructions were a bit vague - 'the little road on the right after the first tunnel but before the second' on a road full of tunnels - we weren't holding out much hope...

But we found a road, between two tunnels and set off, gamely ignoring the signs which said 'Warning.  Construction Road.  May be liable to closure at anytime without prior notification' (in english, my norweigan isn't that good!).  I mean, what could possibly go wrong??

Had I been giving those same instructions, I would not have stopped at the 'little road between two tunnels' part.  I would have gone on the include the 3km of steeply uphill, twisting, unlit, pitchblack, semi-abandoned tunnel - honestly, the road was disintegrating on one side, no lights at all, I really expected we would just find a dead end, blank wall at the end where they'd got bored of digging and be faced with the prospect of reversing all the way back down.  So much so that when we did see the light at the far end, it gave me such a shock I thought it was the proverbial train steaming towards us at full tilt...  And then, further uphill, there was the unexpected fork in the road with a 50:50 chance of getting it wrong...  I don't know, maybe we were on a different road entirely... but we did find a glacier.  Where the road came to an abrupt stop in a cliff of boulders that formed a dam, a scramble to the top of which resulted, finally, in the desired glacier view, blue ice glinting and pink topped in the last dying rays of the sun.  Hurrah! 

And so today, bright and early in the afternoon,  we left Jules basking in the sun and went off in search of it. 

Scrambling over the strange and stripey rocks, scored and scarred by the inexorable relentless march of the glacier, untold millenia ago. 

We headed out round the lake,

right on the edge of the milky turquoise depths. 

Scrambling over the shattered splinters of rock, hopping from boulder to boulder over meltwater streams - although the term 'hopping' implies a merry jaunt, bouncing from rock to rock with gay abandon.  Well it was for Will, for me it was a bit more nerve racking than that at times to be honest.  More a confidence-boosting-pep-talk-turning-to-impatience from 'mountain goat Will' followed by a petrifying, eyes closed, blind leap of faith from one wet, slippery rock to another, with all the elegance and grace of a baby elephant.  But I only got one foot wet and banged my leg once so not so bad really...

- skirting the bottom of waterfalls, down and up the 6ft sheer vertical walls of a snow filled crevasse (across the rocky bit at the bottom, we do know enough not to go walking just on snow over unknown depths) and up and over the scrubby headland. 

Where, after a couple of hours, we found ourselves still only about half way to the headland corner which we thought would afford us the best view,

and absolutely no hope of getting to the actual blue face of the glacier. 

So we decided to head back.  But not to make it too easy for ourselves, we thought we'd try up and over for the return.

It didn't look to far away but it was one of those frustrating climbs where the top beckons, tantalisingly close with the promise of spectactular views if you just make it that little bit further up, only to dash your enthusiasm at every ridge with just a little bit more of the same ahead.

But we made it up to the snowline and were rewarded with fabulous views of the lake and over the hills and far away. 

On top of the world!

So far so good, heading on then.    Skirting the snow line, we crossed the barren moonscape,

scrambling over the loose boulders, round the lakes

and over the streams

and freeclimbing up bits of sheer rock wall with barely enough places to wedge your fingers and toes.  Exciting stuff.

It all looked doomed to failure about halfway back when we found ourselves faced with a shallowish,  plateau swept by sheets of icy water,

fed by a wall of snow at one end

and culminating in increasingly narrow, rushing torrents sweeping over the sheer drop of the edge of the world at the other.  Hmmm not good.

But after several scouting trips up and down the side of the river we found a shallowish slope, far enough away from the edge to be safe and which, although water covered, was not too deep or slippery to paddle across so we could at least get to the middle.  Excellent.   Now what though... 


But fortunately some further searching found a narrowing of the torrent such that we could cross the remaining deep rivulet by dint of chucking rocks into it until there were enough stepping stones to leap between.  Woohoo

A couple more meltwater rivers crossed in the same way by tactical rearrangement of available rocks, a scramble up and down some more rocky ridges, and a cliffside descent, clinging by fingertips to the side, following the strata in the rocks led back down to the shore. Where it was a simple up and down the dam and back to our patiently waiting little van.  

Wicked.  What fun!

Time for a spot of dinner then once more back on the road in the pink light of the late evening,

accompanied by the setting sun

heading ferry-wards.

What a perfect day.  This is definitely more like it!

1 comment:

  1. Bestest pics yet. If it was 20 years ago I'd be firing up the Transit to follow your Northern adventure - as it is I'll just sit on the beach and let you young things do the leg work.