Skiing across Hardangervidda

Easter is the time of year when all Norwegians crowd to the mountains to enjoy sun, snow, good skiing conditions, Kvikk lunsj, oranges and Easter eggs. Combine this with skiing across Hardangervidda and you’ll have our idea of a perfect Easter. Normally you can check a couple of these off your list, but never all of them. The forecast for the Easter of 2018 looked amazing and with plenty of snow in the mountains, Margrethe and I couldn’t wait to strap on our skis. In Norway, the Hiking Association (DNT) have a bunch of manned and unmanned cabins that you can use if you’re a member. We were both members and planned to make a nice route between a few cabins, giving us time to ski properly, while being able to relax in a cozy cabin at night.

We were originally planning to head into Sirdalen, the mountains closest to home, but strong winds put an end to those plans. Instead we hopped in the car and drove for 7 hours to Møsvatn, where my brother was spending Easter with his family. We spent a relaxing afternoon with them, being judges in a ski-off between Martin and his wife Emma, before we had an excellent dinner with them, her mom and partner as well as her sister’s family. It was very pleasant.

The weather was simply gorgeous and that’s why it came as no surprise, that there was trouble on the horizon. The Norovirus, also known as the winter vomiting bug, was “on tour” in the DNT cabins on Hardangervidda. We didn’t let that dampen our mood and set off as planned from Rjukan. Rjukan was made famous under WW2, because they produced heavy water that the Nazis wanted to use in producing a nuke. That didn’t go according to plan for the Nazis, because Norwegian and British special forces destroyed the factory and the heavy water on its way to Germany, stopping them from acquiring a nuke and possibly winning the war. We were faced with a battle of our own: We could either start at the bottom of the valley and go up a (hellishly) steep hill with our heavy packs, or we could take a gondola, that would give us a scenic ride to the top. Being proper Norwegians, we decided to walk to the top, but unfortunately we realized we didn’t have enough time to both walk up the steep as hell hill AND get in to the cabin before it got dark, so with heavy hearts, we boarded the gondola.

The ride up gave us beautiful views of the Rjukan valley and of Gaustadtoppen on the other side of the valley. At the top, we put on our skis and started the uphill slog. Every Norwegian knows that whenever you go skiing, no matter which way you go, it’s always uphill. Especially when you have a heavy pack on your back. It was 13 km from where the gondola dropped us off to Helberghytta. We got to Helberghytta about an hour before it got dark. This gave us time to go to the well to get water for dinner and hot drinks, because a classic rookie mistake is to forget the water and then when you need it, you have to search around in the pitch black freezing Norwegian winter for the camouflaged well. As is normally the case, you abandon the well search shortly before frostbite sets in, deciding instead to thaw some snow. This takes 10 times longer than expected, so by the time it’s nearing melted, you’re so hungry that you settle for lukewarm soup and a cold hotdrink. At least that’s what I’ve been told. Because we were there before it got dark, this was not a problem and we enjoyed both a hot dinner and steaming hotdrinks. Helberghytta was named after one of the saboteurs that had helped blow up the heavy water that the Nazis had such sinister plans for. It was a nice cabin, with beds for 16 people, though when we were there, only 8-10 of the beds were used.

Due to the Norovirus we had to take certain precautions. Since we weren’t the only ones staying at the cabin, so there was always danger of infection. With no running water and very basic facilities you have to be careful. We did our best. We had brought our own food, we boiled any water we used and made sure that we washed our hands often and properly. There was still a certain degree of excitement when we left the next morning, wondering if we’d gotten infected and if so, if we’d get to the next cabin before the vomiting and diarrhea set in.

The weather was phenomenal. We enjoyed superb conditions, though it was a bit cold in the morning, nearing -20 when we set off, but gradually getting warmer in the course of the day. When we got to Kalhovd turisthytte, we were able to enjoy cold beers in the sun. It was sensational. Though my backpack was heavy, I had made sure to bring a hipflask filled to the rim with Lagavulin. It was pure heaven. Kalhovd had 75 beds and was manned, so we were able to have a really nice dinner in the dining hall in the evening.

The next morning, we set off early, because we had 23 km to go to Stordalsbu, our next cabin of choice. It was cold as hell, but by keeping a decent pace, we were warm before we were out of sight of Kalhovd. It was surreal, because there was no wind, so it almost felt like we were walking inside. We had lovely conditions and the trip was very enjoyable. We got to Stordalsbu in the afternoon, just in time to boil up water for a nice warm dinner.

We woke up to a freezing cold morning of below -20 degrees. After a nice oatmeal breakfast, we prepped the skis and set off towards Mogen. According to the map the trip was 16 km long. Another glorious day followed, with an exciting (and quite difficult) last hour as we descended down from the mountain on ice and hard-packed snow. That in itself would have been OK, but the ski track zig-zagged through a forest, making it somewhat more challenging.

When we got to Mogen, we had arranged pick-up with a snowmobile that drove us across Møsvatn and back to where my brother was staying. We had planned to spend the night there, but because Margrethe wasn’t feeling 100% we didn’t want to infect anyone else with what we thought might be the Norovirus, so instead we hopped in the car and drove back home. It had been a superb trip and we couldn’t believe how lucky we’d been with the trip.