Norway Part 3: Fjords and waterfalls washed down with cheese

(Continues from part 2 of this series on Norway.)

Bergen is the most popular place in Norway and tourism related services are around from the moment you exit the airport. A constant bus service takes you to downtown and is so busy that you often have to wait a few buses. We got dropped of near Festplassen and walked to Citybox Bergen, where we’d stay for the next 2 days. This is another one of those self-serve hostels that seem to be popular in Scandinavia. The hotel was OK, but I would not recommend it if you intend to do most of your cooking. There was no kitchen, just a microwave and a fridge and plastic utensils.

Since it was only early afternoon, we started the slow re-integration into society by visiting the one square kilometer where all of Bergen’s tourist activity seems to be; the area around Festplassen and Bryggen.

Random sculpture and gazebo in Bergen
Random sculpture and gazebo in Bergen
Byrggen
Byrggen

Neither Bryggen, nor the fish market are as good as the hype. We were “done” with Bergen pretty quickly. We went to the tourist information center at the south end of the fish market for information about hikes we could do and to get tickets for the journey back to Oslo. A quick walk around Bergenhus was enough sight-seeing for me for the day. I was ready to take a brief diversion into food. First, a stop at the famous Trekroneren for a hotdog.

Hotdog at Trekroneren.
Hotdog at Trekroneren.: Reindeer sausage with lingonberry jam, curry sauce and grilled onion bits!

I have a soft spot for lingonberry jam, and will always eat it when available. The sausage was nothing special, my other experiences with reindeer have been much better. We ambled down the thoroughfare of Christiesgate towards the shopping district on Nygårdsgaten to get a better feel for the city, then ducked into a KIWI to get the next several days of food. KIWI cashiers actually have a neon green uniform, which is hilarious.

My “things that make Norway amazing” list goes like this:

  1. Amazing juxtaposition of water and mountains.
  2. Pristine nature preserved alongside a very 21st century civilization.
  3. Brunost.
The best norwegian food?
The best norwegian food?: Brunost sold me onto Norway. Room temperature kulfi.

This unassuming “cheese” is apparently a norwegian speciality, is hard to find anywhere else, and seems to be an acquired taste. Through translated to brown cheese, it is actually caramelized whey, and is available as slices or blocks. I should’ve bought a block. A Norwegian even came up with a cheese slicer so they could enjoy this food forever. The best way to describe it is a really creamy, room temperature version of malai kulfi. It tastes great! I ate it as is, put it on bread and jam, ate it as a snack, ate it as part of a meal, and brought several boxes home to spread the discovery to family and friends. Really, this thing was responsible for 25% of my general happiness in Norway. Fortunately, I may get my hands on some more soon from a friend of a friend.

Other great grocery store food includes garlic mayo, Eldorado pesto and a kind of bean salad.

Eldorado really knows their prepared food
Eldorado really knows their prepared food: The pesto and the soup were excellent!
More great grocery food.
More great grocery food.

On the last day, in Oslo, I also had lunch at Restaurant Schrøder. It was very “Scandinavia trying to survive the winter”, that is, it was great.

Reindeer meatballs
Reindeer meatballs: With potatoes, cabbage, peas and lingonberry jam at Restaurant Schrøder.

Ah… back to Bergen. It was some NOK60 to get us a one-way bus ride to Ulriken. The cable car takes you on a scenic ride to the top of Ulriken, one of seven mountains surrounding Bergen. Several trails start from here and wander all over the general Bergen area.

Bergen pano from Ulriken
Bergen pano from Ulriken

This was very similar to the Marin Headlands in San Francisco, but I was envious of the accessibility.

Looking back at the base station from Ulriken's summit
Looking back at the base station from Ulriken's summit

We first walked up Ulriken’s summit, then started on the Vidden trail. It is supposed to be 13km, but it seemed to take much longer. The trail is fairly flat and very well marked. There are plenty of huts along the way, and wild camping is permitted too. In my opinion most of the trail isn’t very special, it is only the sections near the lakes that really bring out the “this is Norway” aspects of it.

Emergency cache on the Vidden trail.
Emergency cache on the Vidden trail.

You eventually reach Fløyen, a smaller hill that is closer to town, and consequently has a lot more tourists.

Nearing Fløyen on the Vidden trail.
Nearing Fløyen on the Vidden trail.: This could easily be in a brochure for Bergen.

Bergen from Fløyen
Bergen from Fløyen

The Floibanen down to town is a fun ride on a funicular.

In Norway, Donald Trump memes make good advertisements.

Burn
Burn

With the trip coming to a close, it was time to become a normal tourist, no more hiking unreasonable distances! On the third day in Bergen we took the Norway in a Nutshell (the Sognefjord variation) package to get us to Oslo. First up, a boat ride from Bergen down the Sognefjord to the town of Flåm.

Tiny settlements sailing out of Bergen
Tiny settlements sailing out of Bergen: Thousands of these tiny houses dot the fjords and inlets around Bergen.
A massive old sail boat.
A massive old sail boat.
Departing Bergen on the M/S Vingtor
Departing Bergen on the M/S Vingtor
The last bit of sun for the day
The last bit of sun for the day: A little sunshine greets us as we enter the Sojnefjord.

The weather quickly proceeded to become dreary, but the fjord was still delightful. At Vik, we departed, then had to go back because one kid forgot to disembark.

The town of Vik.
The town of Vik.
Colourful houses.
Colourful houses.

The waterfalls are everywhere along the fjords, but the one near the mouth of Naerøyfjord is particular magnificent and the boat takes you very close to it.

Waterfall at the entrance to Nærøyfjord
Waterfall at the entrance to Nærøyfjord

In another 20 minutes you are dropped off at Flåm, a town that has some tacky souvenir shops, restaurants, lodging and the terminus of the famous Flåm railway. They have Wi-Fi here too! We spent 2 hours waiting for our train.

Flåm
Flåm

It was drizzling and some folks had to do the best they could to stay dry.

Psychological rain protection!
Psychological rain protection!

The ride down the Flåm valley is spectacular. Since the train is moving, the pictures don’t do it justice, it is significantly prettier than it seems. I would love to do a bikepacking trip here.

Windy roads to nowhere.
Windy roads to nowhere.

The train does stop at Kjosfossen, and they have a cheesy “show” where a lady dances in a red dress next to the waterfall. That was a bummer, as the waterfall is a spectacle in itself.

Kjosfossen
Kjosfossen: The biggest waterfall on the Flåm-Myrdal line.

The ride is only an hour, but I wish they would slow it down to enjoy the sights more. We were dropped off at Myrdal and the end of the scenic aspects of the ride. From here we were on the main Bergen-Oslo train tracks. The train is really nice, brand new interiors and comfortable seats. For the first few hours it continues to wind its way through the mountains. This is definitely on my list of places to come back to, because you can get off at a couple of different stations to make your way to the Hardangervidda National Park.

By this point I had had sightseeing fatigue and was glued to my phone instead. We were eventually dropped of at Oslo Central at 10:30pm on a Saturday.

Shreya left on Sunday morning and I walked around Oslo for a while. The botanical gardens were really nice.

The rock garden at the Botanical Gardens in Oslo
The rock garden at the Botanical Gardens in Oslo
Taking advantage of spring.
Taking advantage of spring.
Not to be left out.
Not to be left out.
Everything is blooming!
Everything is blooming!
Still doing their thing.
Still doing their thing.

Tulips were in full bloom in other parts of the city too.

Even more tulips.
Even more tulips.

Netflix Norway has The Dark Knight and The Avengers available for streaming, so I spent the afternoon watching all the action scenes, with brunost for company. It was nice to have a day of relaxing before heading back home. Constantly moving from one place to another is draining. On Monday morning I flew back to San Francisco, and the dependable sunshine of Northern California.

This trip was a great introduction to Norway. I will be back. In particular, I want to spend more time in the Lofoten, go skiing in the Lygnen Alps, visit the Hardangervidda, and spend more time in the western parts of Norway visiting more fjords. It is definitely a country that needs time, partly because half of the days the weather won’t co-operate. But when the sun shines, it really does shine on some of the best places on the planet.

Norway Part 2: Awe inspiring

(Continues from part 1 of this series on Norway.)

I slept pretty fitfully that night, and not for very long. The sun had just from one corner of the sky to the other and my brain was confused.

After an uninspiring breakfast (don’t worry, it gets better from here), we packed up and began the hike out.

Munkebu hut has an incredible setting.
Munkebu hut has an incredible setting.
Random waterfall on the hike out.
Random waterfall on the hike out.
Another shot of Støvla.
Another shot of Støvla.

The morning sun lent some spirit to the backdrop, but by the time we reached sea level, doom-and-gloom was back.

Looking towards Tind.
Looking towards Tind.

About 1pm we dragged ourselves the 2km down E-10 through Tind, to the end of the road – the town of Å (pronounced “O”). I don’t know why the tourist websites make such a big deal out of it. It was just a tiny town with hardly any people. Perhaps it was just my state of mind, but between a very painful Achilles tendon, the dismal weather, and having finished my last fig bar, it was Å letdown.

The little town of Å
The little town of Å: Å i Lofoten - the full name - means "To the Lofoten".

Fortunately, things were about to get better. In fact, I was about to have the most scenic few hours of my life. We spent an hour waiting at the bus stop at Å. There had been a landslide, leading to delays. The bus service that runs the length of the E-10 is also a school bus service and we took a short detour to the school.

As we headed East, the clouds relinquished their grip and the Sun burst forth into the crisp Arctic air. We disembarked at was is surely the gas station with the best view in the world.

Olstinden over Reine.
Olstinden over Reine.: Gas station with the best views?

Everything about the place was so inviting and comforting. Reinebringen and Olstinden towering over the sea, the tiny red houses under a warm sun, the burger and chips I ate at the gas station. My mood was on cloud 9.

My favourite picture from the Lofoten.
My favourite picture from the Lofoten.

Shreya’s was more on cloud 8 since she couldn’t find anything she wanted to eat.

The towns of Reine and Hamnøy are very idyllic.

Reinefjord from the bridge.
Reinefjord from the bridge.
Reine
Reine
Reine sentrum.
Reine sentrum.: About as downtown as you can get on Moskenesøya.

We had to make our way to the village of Hamnøy, about 4km away. Although exhausted, we also didn’t want to wait another hour for the bus, plus it was a gorgeous afternoon (have I made it clear yet?). I was hobbling the whole time, but wasn’t complaining too much because the views kept me distracted. All of this in just 2km of walking!

Grass roofs anyone?
Grass roofs anyone?: A perfect specimen of the ubiquitous grass roofed houses.
Stockfish at Reine
Stockfish at Reine

Reine sentrum is on a little outcrop that is connected to the main island only on the west. As we wanted to go east, we spent nearly an hour walking roundabout to get to the Coop market. Here we stocked up on more pasta, some fruits, eggs, and chocolate. I also bought a snack size pack of the famous stockfish.

More stockfish.
More stockfish.

By the time we got to Eliassen Rorbuer in Hamnøy, we were saturated on deep blues. The rorbu are exceedingly cozy. There is a kitchen and dining space as you enter, a living room through a door, and a staircase which leads to the attic bedroom. Everything inside is very Scandinavian – clean lines and sharp finishes. The windows are tiny to keep the light out. The kitchen was well stocked with cooking essentials, including uncooked pasta. We ended up with too much pasta and tomato soup for dinner. Fortunately, they’d kept dark chocolate squares to wash things down.

I must say, stockfish “jerky” is not to my taste.

Not so appetizing after all.
Not so appetizing after all.

That afternoon walk and the stay in the rorbu easily makes the list of top moments in my life. Everywhere you looked was a world-class view. Eating dinner while Olstinden towered above was out of this world.

Eventually the sleep deprivation of the last 2 days hit like a train-wreck and I slept for 10 hours. With the deficit paid off, we were ready for adventure again. You’ve to pay to play, and that means cleaning the rorbu! The clouds were back and it was drizzling by the time we checked out. We spent some time in the waiting area, where a Polish guy joined us. He had spent his whole time in the Lofoten lugging around a suitcase with a quadcopter in it!

Quick note: While there is a westbound bus stop right outside Eliassen Rorbuer, the eastbound stop is a kilometer east.

It is an hour’s ride to the town of Leknes. I didn’t pay much attention to the subdued scenery as we crossed over to the island of Vestvågøya. Leknes is the second biggest town in the Lofoten, and has stores and offices and traffic lights and things.

We’d decided to use the next 24 hours to explore the parts of Lofoten the buses don’t go to. Since wild camping is allowed anywhere reasonable in Norway, we figured we’d rent a car and make plans as we went. After all, there was no threat of darkness looming over us.

We picked up an Opel Corsa from Hertz (~$55). First order of the afternoon was Uttakleiv Beach, north of Leknes. Driving on Lofoten is nothing like California, the roads are narrow, you have to pull out to the side several times to let buses go by, and the tunnels are massive. Stick shifts are the default, so make sure you can drive one!

Uttakleiv beach
Uttakleiv beach

We made it to Uttakleiv by way of Haukland and both were windy and foreboding. Leave it to a Norwegian lady to go jogging on the beach at such a time. I’d rather be eaten by a troll.

A troll's meal. Uttakleiv beach.
A troll's meal. Uttakleiv beach.

But seriously, the beach was beautiful. Just knowing that beyond this was nothing but the Arctic ice, added a visceral quality to the landscape.

We drove to Ballstad, which I wouldn’t repeat in the future because there isn’t much there. All the small towns in the Lofoten look the same, so you are better of going to the beaches and mountains. I did buy a bottle of mineral water from the store here. Bad idea!

It was about 5:45 when we looped back to Moskensøya and made our way to Fredvang. Fredvang is a small town north of the E-10 that connects to it via two Hobbit bridges. We dropped off some French hitchhikers, then proceeded west.

The twin bridges to Fredvang.
The twin bridges to Fredvang.

We were here in search of Kvalvika Beach, which Cody Duncan highly recommends. A small patch of pristine white sand, surrounded by 2000ft cliffs, Kvalvika is a delight in sunny weather, and mystical in the rain. The approach is muddy, but well worth it. The pictures don’t do it justice.

Kvalvika beach
Kvalvika beach: Kvalvika beach is an absolute delight, even in rainy weather. The approach, the setting, the water, everything adds to its mystique.

Remember that water I bought? Turns out it was sparkling :/

By the time we got back to the car, it must’ve been 9pm. It was time to find a campsite. While there were a few paid campgrounds on the E10, none of them looked very inviting. Instead we drove towards Nusfjord and found a pull out close to Storvatnet.

Car camping with a view
Car camping with a view: Hard to believe it is 11pm!

The next day the weather remained dismal, so it was a “get through it” day. We went to the Lofotr Viking Museum, which had some cool artifacts. It also had the cheesiest documentary I’ve seen. From there it was back to Leknes to return the car. We grabbed a sandwich from a bakery, then took the bus to Svolvær. This is the biggest town in the Lofoten (Population: 4,487), but there isn’t anything to do really. We took a short bus ride to Henningsvær. It has some quirky art but otherwise it is a sleepy town. It seems Henningsvær is the center for climbing in the Lofoten, so I may come back later.

Introspective art at Henningsvær
Introspective art at Henningsvær
More art at Henningsvær
More art at Henningsvær

We had dinner at Viva Italia in Svolvær; completely average. We still hadn’t figured out accomodation for the night. Turns out that Svolvær doesn’t really have any campgrounds within city limits and all the hostels were booked. We had to catch a 6:30am ferry the next day, so taking the bus to somewhere farther away was not an option. Fortunately we got a last minute room at the Fast Hotel Lofoten for <USD100.

Svolvær might be the most happening place in Lofoten
Svolvær might be the most happening place in Lofoten: Still boring.
Svolvær
Svolvær: House imprint.

That concluded our Arctic experience. Lofoten was spectacular and I would love to go back. Do plan on going there with plenty more time. I would say, plan for rain at least half the time. Which means instead of rushing through, expect to stay 10-15 days. This gives you 5-7 days to enjoy the outdoors (hiking, backpacking, kayaking, climbing) and the rest of the days you can curl up to read in rorbu, RV or tent. That is what I intend to do. Getting there is slow and complicated, so you may as well make the most of it. Plus, they have great Internet access, so if you can work remotely, things will work out great.

Steigtind at Svolvær
Steigtind at Svolvær: The express boat back to Bodø.

We took the M/S Steigtind, an express boat that makes several stops on the way back to Bodø. Again, Wi-Fi on the boat! How do these Scandinavians do it? Approaching Bodø, we were greeted by a set of F-16s on a training run.

Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s
Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s: Flybys near Bodø
Back to Bodø
Back to Bodø

From Bodø, we flew Widerøe to Bergen. They have discounted youth tickets, which let me fly in USD106!

My second ever propeller plane ride. So excited!

Flying out of Bodø was just as beautiful as before. It doesn’t seem like a bad place to live at all.

More lakes and mountains
More lakes and mountains

Bergen's golden gate bridge?
Bergen's golden gate bridge?

Approaching Bergen we re-entered the bustle of the modern world. The freeways were busy, hundreds of boats moved in the fjords and large settlements were carved out between the sea and the mountains. Tourists were everywhere. It was time to see the better known parts of Norway.

Norway Part 1: Josh Hartnetts beyond the Arctic Circle.

(Photos are from my iPhone and Shreya’s Sony A-6000.)

I went to Norway for 9 days the week before Memorial Day weekend. As is the norm, I was blown away by the pristine beauty of the country, and will certainly go back. There is some great climbing and skiing to be done in Norway in the future.

The highlights for this trip were 3.5 days spent in the Lofoten islands and the Sognefjord + Flåm tour.

I flew SFO-AMS-OSL with KLM and landed in Oslo on the afternoon of May 21, 2016. The TSA was having a holiday and not making anyone take off their shoes or take out their laptops! There were a few moments at Schiphol when I thought I was going to lose my luggage, again! I could see my bag in the vehicle from the terminal, and the guy didn’t unload it at the plane the first time around. Fortunately he came back to deliver that one piece and keep my trip going smoothly.

Landing at Oslo-Gardermoen
Landing at Oslo-Gardermoen

The Flytoget airport train to downtown is fast and frequent, and you can even pay by credit card directly at the turnstiles. I met Shreya at the station and we went to the Anker Hostel where we had a room. After a nap, it was time to do the most important thing when arriving in a Scandinavian country: buy groceries so you don’t get gouged by expensive restaurants! Pasta, green pesto, bread, cheese, garlic sauce (garlic mayo), baked beans and apples was the first run. Don’t forget the obligatory cookies.

The food taken care of, we proceeded to walk around the center. Oslo is not very interesting architecturally or socially. The colors are drab, and at least on that cloudy day, hardly anyone was in the streets. The opera house is impressive, but very out of place. The sinking ship/glacier is a nice touch though.

Oslo national theatre
Oslo national theatre: Oslo national theatre
Oslo harbour
Oslo harbour: Another dull day in Oslo.
Opera house wall
Opera house wall

The Norwegians have a different idea of meatballs.

I must try these meatballs!
I must try these meatballs!

One thing Oslo was not lacking in spring was flowers. They were everywhere, and they were delightful. More of these will show up later.

Tulip season
Tulip season: May is tulip time!
Tulips 2
Tulips 2: More tulips in Oslo

The Anker Hostel had an in-room range for a pasta dinner. After that we tried to sleep in the weird half-evening light that hangs around this time of the year.

The next morning it was back to the airport to catch an early flight to Bodø. The self-serve bag check was fascinating. I was looking forward to Bodø after this very interesting story about an SR-71 Blackbird landing during the Cold War. Although the story has nothing in particular about Bodø, exotic sounding places in far-off locations have that effect on me. It did not disappoint. About 2/3rds of the way into the flight the weather cleared, and the Real Norway opened up. Blue seas, green islands, and jagged, snow covered mountains. Fish farms, tiny roads that led to single houses in the middle of nowhere (private islands?) and occasional small towns. Even the small towns often had an airfield, a necessity in this fragmented landscape.

Flying to Bodø
Flying to Bodø: Views from the left on the flight to Bodø.
Islands and fjords while en route to Bodø.
Views from the right on the plane from Oslo-Bodø. Already getting infected with Norway fever.
More views from OSL-BOO
More views from OSL-BOO

Arctic circle crossed!

The town of Bodø
The town of Bodø: So picteresque I could spend a few days there. This place, with 50,000 people, has taller buildings than most places in the Bay Area.

Bodø airport is small and just a 20min walk to downtown. We had about 3 hours for the ferry to Moskenes in the Lofoten. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday. This meant the most happening place in Bodø was the 7-Eleven store.

The 7-Elevens in Norway are nothing like the dingy, gas station places I see in California. This one had a complete frozen yogurt bar, plenty of baked goods and other snacks. It had bright outdoor seating, and had more people (~10) than I could see in the rest of the street. I lost a few more kronor on a warm slice of pizza.

Troll anyone?
Troll anyone?: Probably keeps the kids out of the alley.

We continued walking down the coastline to the ferry terminal. The air is spectacularly clear so far North. We could see the Lofoten wall across the horizon from a 100 kilometres away.

The Lofoten Wall
The Lofoten Wall: On a clear day, the Lofoten Wall is visible from a 100km across the Norwegian Sea.
Seaside at Bodø
Seaside at Bodø: The M/S Værøy, our ride to Moskenes harbor, in the background.

On the way out to the Lofoten we took the Bodø-Moskenes ferry which departs at 1pm. This is a car ferry. I wolfed through more garlic sauce and bread waiting for the boat. There were a few early risers here with us, and a couple of other backpackers we had seen on the plane.

Waiting for the boat
Waiting for the boat: The MS Væroy in port.

Tickets are about NOK196 and there are 2 decks. We grabbed the upper deck that had the larger chairs around round tables. The boat filled up quickly. There were a lot of kids so far north, boisterous kids no less. While I appreciate the Norwegians letting their kids run around freely, even on a boat, the incessant chatter got old by the time we reached Moskenes.

The boat ride was scenic, windy and listless, in that order. Every few minutes we would head out to get over the lethargy, take a few pictures, then be forced back in by the wind.

Leaving Bodø
Leaving Bodø

Bodø marina
Bodø marina: Snow-clad peaks on a lovely spring day at the Bodø marina.

The ferry navigates around the twin islands of Little and Big Hjartøya and spills out onto the Norwegian Sea.

The island of Landegode with Lofoten in the background.
The island of Landegode with Lofoten in the background.

The other Bodø-Moskenes ferry
The other Bodø-Moskenes ferry: The "M/S Landegode" making the return journey.

Mosken
Mosken: The tiny island of Mosken between Værøya and Moskenesøya.

The Lofoten Wall stays constant, and the small islands of Røst, Værøy and Mosken dot port side.

The island of Moskenesøya
The island of Moskenesøya: Hermannsdalstinden, in the center, is the highest peak on Moskenesøya.

As Moskenesøya became more clearly defined, we tried to figure out where our hike would take us. That’s right! Within 24 hours of having flown across the atlantic, crossing Norway and taking a boat out to a place most people haven’t heard of, we were going to backpack 5 kilometres into the wilderness and leave our hopes to the snow gods. They were not ready yet, as all the higher summits still had plenty of snow. The original plan had been to summit Hermannsdalstinden, but we weren’t foolhardy enough to try a 40 degree slope in tennis shoes and no other gear. We would have to be content with hiking in to the Munkebu hut and spending the night there.

Sørvågen and Moskenes harbour just starting to come into view.

The town of Sørvågen
The town of Sørvågen

Moskenes harbour.

The ferry touched down at Moskenes at 4:30pm and we started walking west. It is 2km of walking along the E10 to the town of Sørvågen. The road is narrow and the shoulder fits only one person, but everyone drives slowly and walking along the road is acceptable and expected. The seaside is spectacular, and the mainland was still visible. The weather was reasonable, temperatures must have been in the 5-10C range, with only a slight breeze.

Nesting seagulls
Nesting seagulls

The hike to Munkebu hut begins from the lake called Sørvågvatnet in the town centre. A trail goes around the lake, and the eastern entrance is from the lane to the post office. Turn right here and the proceed down the street to reach the beginning of the trail. We made a couple of wrong choices and had to cross a few people’s backyards to get back on track, but generally head towards the lake and you can’t miss it.

Before we start hiking, one thing has to be made clear so Norwegian words don’t keep tripping you up.

Moskenesøya loves Josh Hartnett
Moskenesøya loves Josh Hartnett

More seriously, vatnet is lake, and tind is pinnacle, but in Norwegian, pinnacle is used the way we use peak.

Beginning the hike to Munkebu.
Beginning the hike to Munkebu.: Stuvdalsvatnet with Støvla in the background. This is about a kilometre in to the hike to Munkebu Hut.

We encountered several people near the lake, including two cute, tiny girls and their dog, who told us which way to go when the trail got boggy. At least in the Lofoten, the water from all freshwater sources is safe to drink and I filled up along the trail. The residents of Sørvågen actually use the water from the lakes we would be hiking along and there are signs forbidding swimming in these lakes.

The hike skirts several lakes, gaining most of the elevation at the beginning and the end. It is 5km and about 600m (~2000ft) uphill. The lakes and mountains are breath-taking, from oblong Tindalsvatnet to glittering Fjerddalsvatnet.

Tindalsvatnet.
Tindalsvatnet.
Fjerddalsvatnet from the southern tip
Fjerddalsvatnet from the southern tip: Fjerddalsvatnet with Moldtinden dumping water into it. Taken before the never-ending hike up Djupfjordheia.

The trail tends to stick close to some lake, then suddenly go uphill, leaving you hundreds of feet above another lake. Several sections of trail were boggy, and no attempt had been made to engineer a nicer trail, leading to lot’s of footpaths. I guess they don’t have enough traffic yet to worry about erosion. We ran into a small group at Fjerddalsvatnet, and a solo hiker halfway up Djupfjordheia. He had tried to ascend Munken, but given up due to sketchy snow almost at the top.

The section along Lake Tindal and Fjerddal is incredibly scenic and also flat. The final obstacle is cresting the hill called Djupfjordheia. Several factors made this painful. One; jet lag and travel fatigue was starting to catch up, two; we were encountering patches of snow, leading to cold feet, three; the clouds had started moving in for a while, lessening the wow factor and finally, something I call the Metric Map Paradox.

In the USA, maps use miles and feet for distance and elevation. The sane world uses kilometres and metres. Unfortunately, a mile is greater than a kilometre, but a foot is less than a metre. This means that European maps are stretched horizontally, but compressed vertically. My lizard brain was interpreting this as making quick progress on the horizontal. On the other hand, Djupfjordheia, which looks so short on the map, presented three false summits and never ended by feet standards! We were relieved more than anything to be on top and able to see Munkebu hut. Our spirits did rise a little at the incredible views that opened up!

Merraflestinden and Djupfjorden with the E10 crossing
Merraflestinden and Djupfjorden with the E10 crossing: The mainland is just visible in the background as clouds move in.

Munken
Munken: The 3 peaks of Munken.

From here, it was another kilometre of slogging through snow to Munkebu hut.

Munkebu hut.
Munkebu hut.

Since the hut was closed and no one else was around, we pitched the tent right on the hut patio, to give us some insulation and convenient flatness. Water was available from tiny melted out sections of the lakes next to the hut. It was fun to just dip my bare hands in icy water to fill the bottle and transfer it to the MSR Dromedary. Most of the time, having a high metabolism is a blessing.

Dinner was garbanzo beans, bread, and… garlic sauce!

Our tent at the Munkebu Hut platform. We had the place to ourselves.

We reached the hut around 8pm. Between reading 1632, eating cookies, dealing with a noisy tent, and incessant light, sleep did not come around till midnight. The sleep deprived arctic adventure was off to a great start!

Mountain views
Mountain views: Hermannsdalstinden and Brynliskartinden with Tennesvatnet in the foreground. Taken from Munkebu hut.

Weekend adventures: Tamarack Peak ski and Eagle Lake Buttress traverse (attempt)

Another saturday, another early morning drive to Tahoe. This time it was an even longer drive to Nevada, to get some beginner backcountry skiing experience on Tamarack Peak.

Thanks to Marusa for guiding us on this half-day tour, it was a lot of fun! Snow conditions were good and the way up was well tracked. I managed to fall a couple of times on the icy parts of the skin-track, until I learned to trust my heels and keep looking up. This was also a great trip to nail the kick-turns and switching my risers with the poles.

Mt. Rose Ski Area from Tamarack Peak
Mt. Rose Ski Area from Tamarack Peak: Mt. Rose Ski Area from Tamarack Peak

We went up the ridge to the summit for incredible views! I haven’t seen much of Tahoe from the North Shore. If anything, this view is even more spectacular because the tallest and most snow-covered mountains are now framing the lake.

There was plenty of company on Tamarack that day, the five in our group, and at least 7 other skiers while we were up there.

From here we skied down the Hourglass Bowl. I have not yet figured out how to do the slight hopping required to ski in powder.

Skiing down Tamarack
Skiing down Tamarack: Author skiing down the hourglass.

Then we went up another ridge to take the shortest way to the car. This was a steeper ski down and I took a few tumbles. The bottom half was great though!

The short run on the way to the car.
The short run on the way to the car.: The short run to get to the car after skiing the Hourglass Bowl.

From here I headed to Mellow Mountain Hostel. Nevada has finally cleared the pullouts on their side of the lake, so that you can walk down to the various coves along the North Shore. Another skiing friend showed up in the evening after having done a stupendous 52000ft at Heavenly! We hogged our way through Baja Fresh and their mango salsa.

Lake Tahoe from the NE shore
Lake Tahoe from the NE shore: The lake was beautiful on Saturday.

On Sunday I kept my head down and worked a lot so I could have more fun on Monday. Blue Dog Pizza has great food, especially when they make a mistake on your order and give you a larger pizza. Score! I hogged some of that down, had more of it for dinner, a couple more slices for lunch the next day and finally threw the remaining away because I couldn’t take it any more.

I spent some time at the lake that evening after all the weekend tourists had left, observing the Cross Couloir on Tallac, before being chased off by some ladybug-like insects (shudder).

Monday morning I caught up with the rest of the Sierra Mountaineering Club group to try an Eagle Lake Buttress traverse. The only internet trip report I’ve found on this is very recent, so I was hoping to have similar conditions.

Eagle Lake Buttress
Eagle Lake Buttress: ELB seen from Eagle Lakes Trailhead.

Unfortunately the snow was much warmer so that getting up the gullies was a reasonable amount of postholing. Still, I was glad we did not carry snowshoes. The route is mostly class 4-5 rock and not having those ungainly things is a blessing when you are struggling with mountaineering boots. In hindsight, I also wish I had left the crampons behind. The approach is on the two snow-covered ramps on the left, and we took the steeper one. From there it is some short talus hopping to the base of the buttress.

Approach gullies from Eagle Lake
Approach gullies from Eagle Lake: Gullies to gain the ridge from Eagle Lake.

The way up to the base of the buttress is straight-forward, and a snowy white Desolation Wilderness envelopes you the whole time. I had my scariest moment of the day on the approach, when my foot collapsed through some snow over talus and I fell forward onto another sharp boulder. Fortunately it avoided my teeth by a few inches, and I only had to cope with a bruised but unbroken rib.

Looking into Desolation Wilderness
Looking into Desolation Wilderness: Looking deeper into Desolation Wilderness. Jacks, Dicks and the minor peaks of the Crystal Range.

The base of the buttress
The base of the buttress: Base of Eagle Lake Buttress. Several class 4 or easy 5th options exist on the left side to get to the notch.

We gained the notch around noon. There we set up a short fixed line to navigate a large mantle with a snowy base. By the time this was done it was pretty clear that we were not going to make it across the entire ridge. 9 people add up when you start using gear. Don’t let that dissuade you though, the entire traverse is quality rock and even a short section is better than no climbing ;)

After that part we stayed on the ridge the whole time, and made it approximately half way to Phipps Pass.

Looking south on the ridge
Looking south on the ridge: Looking South towards Mt. Tallac.

Lake Tahoe and Maggies Peak
Lake Tahoe and Maggies Peak: Lake Tahoe and Maggies Peak.

We set up another line a bit before the sharp headwall that blocks the way. This was needed because the snow was starting to melt while we were climbing. Plus there aren’t the greatest holds for the feet in mountaineering boots.

The team on the ridge
The team on the ridge: The team on the ridge with Phipps Peak in the background. Desolation Wilderness, California.

The headwall is some spicy climbing without a rope, requiring ascending a series of granite blocks to an airy perch. We had lunch here, then tracked the ridge for a little while longer, until we stopped at another notch around 2:45pm to descend to the western bowl. Here some of us downclimbed a class 4 section, while others rappelled. Then it was easy terrain with occasional painful postholing. We stuck to climber’s left and maintained elevation to gain the ridge again near the base of the buttress. From here it was reversing the route to Eagle Lake. Easier said than done. Several people sunk to their chest on the ramps. Waide even had to do a sort of crevasse extraction to get out, requiring a harness and an ice-axe belay assist.

Back to the car, Forni Road In-n-Out burger, Sacramento, Bay Bridge, Home to start the week on a Tuesday!

Overall, Eagle Lake Buttress is a great ridge traverse, and also excellent practice for harder and longer traverses like Matthes Crest or the North Ridge of Conness.

We had a 30m ~8mil rope, and a few cams for the entire group. I would love to repeat this later in the year with approach shoes, a similar rack and a smaller group to finish the entire traverse in a day.

Mt. Tallac: Cross Couloir

In the never ending attention grab for weekdays, sometimes adventure wins. This time the adventure was the Cross Couloir on Mt. Tallac. So it was that I woke up at 2:30am on Wednesday, instead of a leisurely 6:30 and drove to Folsom to meet the rest of the team.

Mt. Tallac is an imposing mountain in the Desolation Wilderness, west of Lake Tahoe. A local favourite for skiing and climbing, it is one of the harder ones with about 3400ft of altitude gain. The Cross Couloir splits the east face and is a moderate snow climb with up to 55 degree snow.

I had climbed Tallac last year via the NE ridge and the low snow led to a horrible bushwhack. Things were much better this year as we hit the approach at 7:30am. The winter start is from the Spring Creek Trailhead and involves a mile of walking on the road.

Early morning snow conditions were beautiful! Consolidated, but not icy and no postholing. Once you leave the houses, follow the looker’s left branch of the creek into the central gully. The Cross Couloir is at the top of this.

Imposing Mt. Tallac
Imposing Mt. Tallac: With the fog and snow, Tallac looks menacing. The Cross couloir is distinct at center-left, the widest part between the first and second major buttresses.

We put on our crampons at about 7000ft to ascend the steep slopes towards the couloir. The higher I climbed, the more I regretted not having skis.

Powder on Tallac's flanks
Powder on Tallac's flanks: Tallac continues to hold excellent powder.

The climbing was fairly relaxed, with plenty of breaks since we were in no hurry. We reached the base of the couloir at 11:30 and put on harnesses in case the couloir would need protecting. Just then two skiers popped out and had clearly enjoyed themselves.

We proceeded unroped and were near the top by 12:45. The standard exit is to the left. A cornice covers the rest of the exit and is fairly big, and definitely dangerous. You’ll want to minimize time directly under it. Some of us wanted to see if things could be made interesting. Peeking behind the rock on the left seemed fun. It was mixed climbing with just a thin sheet of powder on rock.

Top of the Cross Couloir
Top of the Cross Couloir: Standard exit on left. We fudged around behind the rock at center left. Cornice at right.

Dominic tried to pave a path but things quickly got sketchy. His exact words were “Does somebody with bigger balls than me want to try this?” I can’t verify the literal question, but I did scooch up and try to make the moves. After about 2 steps on rock I couldn’t figure out the next thing I was willing to do unroped. After a tense 10 minutes we decided to just take the standard exit with our tails between our legs. This diversion cost time so that we topped out at 1:30pm.

Popping out of the couloir, I was glad we didn’t push our luck, because if we had stuck to the alternate route, we would have ended up on 20ft of unprotectable, unconsolidated snow.

The views from Tallac are spectacular, and although the clouds obscured much of them, Gilmore Lake was a star!

Gilmore Lake
Gilmore Lake: Gilmore Lake below fog covered Crystal Range.

I have left out photos of Lake Tahoe because it was a cold grey blue that was not at all appealing.

The descent down the NE bowl was uneventful. Plenty of glissading opportunities and hours of post-holing later (with one badly torqued right knee), we were back at the car at 4:30pm.

Hat tip to Rick and Waide who showed us how to climb in style in their 6th decade of life. I hope to have the same energy and passion.

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