The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Completion of the Danish 'Marilyns'

Denmark is a very flat country. It does, however, have a Lake District, which, although low lying and gently undulating, is as hilly as the country gets. It is also home to a few lakes.

We woke up in the Lake District today (a good thing, as that's where we went to sleep), conveniently positioned with immediate access to a number of walking routes. I picked a selection to take us on a circuit including the top of Himmelbjerget which was, until the mid 1800s, believed to be the highest point in Denmark. It stands a dizzying 147m above sea level.

Starting off along the shore of Julsø...

...the path was well marked. From there it became ridiculously so, even though it was an unmissable motorway of a path:

In case the 'turn right' marker (1) combined with the sign showing the name of the hill with a distance (3), and the 'you are in the right track' dot of a waymarker (4) weren't enough, the tour boat company caters for people who can't piece together these clues and has thus places an A frame at each junction too (2).

The Stoodley Pike of Denmark?

We didn't go up the tower as we arrived too early (and we had no cash on us for the entry fee even if we had waited). Instead we just spent a few minutes looking at the views before heading down to the main car park, just a couple of hundred of metres or so away.

The good waymarking continued for at least three quarters of our outing, which aside from the summit interlude, was through pleasant mixed woodland. Then we must have missed a marker, and took to the dirt roads instead, thinking we would pick the path up again further along. So we did, but much further along than expected and after a bit of thrashing around trying to work out where we were. The fact that Denmark makes large scale walking maps so easily available (with dispensers in car parks) was a blessing, and was put to good use in combination with a compass.

The route we walked came in at exactly 5 miles. I've drawn around the edge of it on the photo below of the map we were using. It was around Knøsgården, on the left side of the photo that we found ourselves in a maze of minor paths and mountain bike tracks with a dearth of waymarkers.

We might have been happy with visiting the once-believed-to-be-the-high-point, but it was only 19km out of our way to visit the spot that subsequently took the crown (Ejer Bavnehøj) and, 200m away from that, the spot that now holds that accolade (Møllehøj), at just shy of 171m above sea level.

I failed to take a snap of the tower atop Ejer Bavnehøj. This photo is per Wikipedia. We did go up this one.

The sun was shining and the day becoming really quite warm by the time we ambled the thirty metres from the car park to the tower, then on the extra couple of hundred metres, onto the adjacent farm*. At the highest point in Denmark (Møllehøj) there used to stand a windmill, but when it burnt down early in the 20th century, it wasn't rebuilt. Today a millstone marks the spot:

On the basis that it seems unlikely to me that the high point in the area we were in this morning (157m - a spot to the SW of Himmelbjerget) has 150m of prominence, I think I may have a valid claim that in visiting Møllehøj I have completed all of Denmark's hills that would qualify as Marilyns.

I'll finish with a couple of bonus snaps about mountaineering in Denmark:

(*apparently when told that his farm contained the highest point in the whole of Denmark, the farmer was entirely unsurprised. Being an amenable chap, and knowing that people would want to visit it, he was happy for access to be given and for paths and information signs to be installed.)

More Walks We Didn't Do In Norway

There must be thousands of walks we didn't do whilst we were in Norway, but of those there were a handful we would have liked to have done, if the weather had just been a bit more amenable. The most notable of those we bypassed last week was Preikestolen (Pulpits Rock), to the NE of Stavanger.

This is a bit of what the tourist brochure says about it:

Preikestolen, on the Lysefjord ... is one of Norway's biggest tourist attractions. More than 270,000 people hike up to the breathtaking mountain plateau every year.

This is the plateau in question, made striking by the fact that it is block of rock with its sides falling almost vertically for 600m into the fjord below:

The minor deterrent to us doing this 'must do' summit was the thought of the crowds (bear in mind that those 270k people are not spread evenly through the year and we were there in mid season), although we could largely have avoided that issue by setting out at first light.

The major deterrent related to the car park (room for over 500 cars, plus tour buses, so I read), which charges 200NOK (just shy of £20) to park for the day (overnight parking is prohibited). It wasn't the charge, per se, that put us off, as we would have paid it if we had been in the area in good weather. However, as the forecast showed rain every day until the end of time (or at least as far out as the long range forecast goes), we weren't going to fork out £20 to walk for hours in the rain with a high probability of having no views from the top.

Preikestolen wasn't quite the straw that broke the camel's back, but we are no longer in Norway. Having driven past lots of places we would have explored at greater length, had it been a bit less wet, we left the country a week earlier than expected, catching a ferry from Kristiansand back to Denmark on Monday morning. We left Kristiansand without a cloud in the sky and arrived to a wet day in Denmark - harrumph!, I said.

Happily, the weather has perked up. So much so that we went 'mountaineering' today. More of that in my next post.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Hjelmen in Hjelmeland

Against a weather forecast of sunny intervals and rainfall of 0mm, we sat in a car park in Hjelmeland this morning, looking at the small hill (Hjelmen) up which we were supposed to be walking, whilst rain bounced off the tarmac all around us. Again.

Thunder had been added into the mix by the time we finished elevenses and a decision was made: all plans were to be abandoned; we were going to head down to Kristiansand and get out of Norway. Of daily bouncing rain, we have had enough.

Our initial progress down the road was only about a kilometre, before we stopped to take a snap of Mick on a chair:

Little Mick/Big Chair is a theme I have going on Facebook. This is number 5. It's amazing how many oversized chairs there are in the world.

There I wavered on the plan. I *really* wanted to nip up the hill that had been on the agenda (a 207m standalone pimple), so leaving Mick sensibly in the dry, off I went.

Thwarted at the first attempt (Norway has very liberal access rights, but I draw the line at walking down someone's block-paved drive, which is what my map was telling me I needed to do), I ended up walking back to the car park we had left a short while before. The heavens opened on me again in the process.

The walk itself was quite pleasant, up through woodland on a decent path and with grippy rock. The summit was a huge disappointment, being almost completely surrounded by trees, robbing me of views. This is the only snippet I could see:

Having seen a signpost for a sculpture on my way up, I followed a path in that general direction to get down and it proved to be a good move - if you ignore the incident where I was looking at the ground as I carefully stepped through some roots and walked slap into a low branch. At the sculpture was the view that had been missing from the summit:

This was also the site of a picnic area and the Norwegians do excel in proving such facilities. Here there was the option of covered or uncovered dining, depending on the weather, but both options boasted the same views:

Is it cynical of me to think that if this was in a similarly accessible location in the UK it would be trashed and/or full of litter?

By the time I got back down, Mick (kind chap that he is) had relocated back to the original car park, saving me a trudge back through the village in the rain that had just started afresh.

I didn't take my Garmin Gadget on this one and don't even know how long I was out, so I've no stats beyond knowing the outing must have involved 206m of ascent.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Walks We Didn't Do, And The One We Wish We Hadn't

The morning after the waterfall walk described in my last post, an early start was had. We knew our planned walk would be busy (although it wasn't until later in the day that we came to realise that it is the second most publicised walk in the region, with massive amounts of advertising in the nearby town), so an earlier-than-average start seemed the best plan.

This was where we were headed:

Photo taken from tourist brochure

We didn't get to find out if the walk was worth all the fuss (and the 100NOK parking fee) as 6km before the car park we found a prohibition on motorhomes. Parking 6km away and catching a bus was an option, but not one that appealed (loss of flexibility of start and end times and a guarantee that you'll be setting out with a whole glut of people). We abandoned the route and spent the day elsewhere, taking small solace later when, after a fine start, rain came in that would have made the return leg of the 20km walk rather miserable.

The following day I had another walk planned and was confident that this wasn't a touristy one. Alas, we didn't reach the start point of that one either. No ban on motorhomes this time, but a 2m width restriction. Colin would have been fine, but Bertie is 2.12m. Time for another plan.

The following day I chose a route close to where we were parked (rather than choosing the route then trying to park nearby) and early in the afternoon I set out, telling Mick at what time to expect me back.

Much to Mick's surprise, I returned within half an hour and at a sprint. Having walked across the village to find the start of the trail, I only made it five minutes further before giving up on it for being too overgrown. Probably a good thing I didn't push on in the hope of it improving, as heavy rain hit when I was about 100m away from Bertie (hence the sprint finish).

The only photo I took on this outing showed the power station gubbins in the foreground. Lovely scenery beyond that, though.

Yesterday we did no more than potter, and even then we got drenched. The west coast of Norway is having a wet summer.

Today promised us patches of blue sky, with only a small chance of showers. Accordingly, of the options presented by the 'recommended hikes' leaflet from the tourist office, we chose the one that went highest, promising a good summit with excellent views.

The arrow points at our objective.

The 2km along residential streets to get to the start point turned out to be the best thing about this truly awful outing.

This snap is a good representation of what it was like:

What you can't see in the snap is that the rocks along the route had all of the grippiness of a greased pole. In between the rocks was water, either standing or running, often in huge and unavoidable wallows. It has rained a lot, and heavily, lately, so maybe it's not always so bad.

Being in woodland this was the only view we had on our upward journey, and even that required a small detour from the path

Optimistically, we pushed on, painfully slowly, hoping for an improvement around every corner. Eventually patience ran thin and the trail was given ten more minutes to improve; if it was still awful we would turn around. By ten minutes later the thought of retracing our steps was worse than the thought of pressing on to a junction where the map said we could pick up a track. It gave a very indirect escape route, but looked the preferable option.

Maps can be deceptive. This was the state of the track:

Overgrown and sodden. On the plus side, the rocks like greased poles were now absent. On the negative side, they had been replaced by actual greased poles in the form of banks of tree trunks long ago laid across the track for form a solid walking surface, but now covered in slime.

Then there were the stream crossings:

We finally got back to Bertie having covered around 10.5km (our intended circuit, including the summit, would have been 12km) with around 500m ascent, and with the only good point about the outing being this art work seen on the side wall of a school that we passed in getting to and from the start of the trail:

The second snap is for scale

Thankfully the shower, visible on the left of this photo, skirted us. That would have been the icing on the cake.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Waterfalls in Hardangervidda Nasjonalpark

As we drove 2.3km up a minor road to a car park this morning, I thought I was taking us to some more walks that are off the tourist trail. Indeed, I didn't even know what the options were from this car park, with the shortest route on the App being more than 80km.

We arrived to find a car park full of foreign vehicles. So much for off-the-tourist-trail! Rather, it seemed that we were the only tourists without knowledge of what lay up here.

A look at the map displayed in the car park suggested to me the best option was a route that visited three waterfalls (because we haven't seen enough waterfalls lately*...). A quick reckoning with the displayed scale was that the entire route would be about 4km, but having learnt my lesson about how slow going the terrain can be, I did pack some lunch, even though it was only 10.30.

Fall No. 1

There didn't seem to be that much movement in the car park before we set out, yet only a couple of minutes up the road we found ourselves passing oodles of people. I expect that some of them went no further than the first fall.

A track had taken us up to the first fall, but from there we were onto paths that were predominantly rocky, but often muddy and rooty.

Heading up the pipeline of a hydro works

From the top of the hydro line, looking at some of the huge rock faces that line the west side of the valley

Fall No. 2

Fall No. 3

Lunch was had in a very attractive spot, on a big lump of rock alongside the river, with a clear view of Fall No 3. Lunch, incidentally, was what we refer to as 'tinned child':

Look how evenly I managed to cut that bread! A rarity.

Looking at the map on my phone as we ate, I thought there was one more fall we could visit, so instead of turning back after eating, on we went. Just as I was beginning to think that I'd dragged Mick further up hill under false pretences, out we popped into this landscape:

A way had to be picked across rock, and through the boggy wallows that sat between them, before we came out at this fine view of Fall No 4:

With the cloud having lifted considerably since we set out, we could see all the way back down to the fjord too:

A different route was taken most of the way back to Fall No 3, sticking to the side of the river until we were standing at the top of the fall, looking down on where we had lunched. Back towards our outward route we then went and, after a bit of a scramble, we found ourselves on a much better, rocky, route than the muddy line we had followed earlier.

Our expectation had then been a retracing of steps, but on reaching a fork in the path where a tree trunk (over which we had stepped on our outward leg) lay across one of the paths, we took it as an indication that we should take the other. Fifty metres later we came out onto a dirt road...

...and found that we were perfectly happy to stride down the easy road, rather than pick our way down the rocks and roots of our upwards path.

The final stats for our little 4km bimble were 12.5km walked with around 650m ascent.

(*For anyone who has not read my other blog at that comment was typed with my tongue firmly in my cheek. Norway does a wide and varied line in waterfalls.)

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Birksdalsbreen - So Good We Did It Twice.

Setting out this morning, we were fully prepared for a red ('difficult') walk up to a nearby peak that was going to take around 5 hours. The first part of the route follows the tourist track leading to the foot of the Birksdalsbreen arm of the Jostendalsbreen glacier (the largest glacier in Europe), thus along a wide track we went along with the contents of a number of tour buses - at least those who hadn't opted for the 220NOK (about £22) ride in a 'Troll Car' 8-person golf-cart-esque buggy for the first 2.5km.

We got to the junction where we were to turn and reviewed the map there. Suddenly our 'difficult' route (per the info in the car park and on the App I'm using) was stated to be an 'expert' one. That, in combination with a more detailed map, suggested more effort than we were willing to expend and more exposure than I would be happy to accept. Plan B: we would continue up the tourist path.

That we did, and we had a jolly good time. However, the glacier was in the shade and I fancied seeing it in sunlight. We did the obvious thing: nipped back down to Bertie for a few hours and nipped back up again this afternoon (3km each way each time, with 200m ascent, but on such easy tread that it didn't feel that far).

as it looked in the shade this morning

as it looked in the sun this afternoon

as it looked in 2006, per one of the information boards. The glacier grew through the 1980s and peaked in the mid nineties before receding again


Everyone else was selfie-ing, and if you can't beat 'em...

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Saturday 22 July - Breidablikk, Stryn and Oldendale

Where's Bertie? He's in a picnic area in Oldendale overlooking a turquoise lake and a couple of arms of the Jostedalsbreen glacier (exact location: 61.75501, 6.80088)

Our original plan for two short walks from the same car park up above Geiranger were scuppered this morning when we couldn't access the car park. Legally we were within the width restriction, but it was a narrow road so we abided by the informal (laminated A4 printed sheet) prohibition on motorhomes.

Breakfasting instead at the first car park we came to, a new plan was hatched and as soon as cereal and tea had been despatched (and I'd had a stroll down to the nearby viewpoint) we were off again.

Another road that looked like a random doodle on the SatNav screen took us up to a pass and we were again in an incredible landscape. It kept me, as passenger, wide eyed all the way to our next stopping point.

View from the picnic area where we parked for our walk.

Parking in a huge picnic area on the main road, rather than venturing down a dirt road, added a couple of kilometres to our walk, bringing it to 8.5km, but with a modest 120m or so of ascent.

View from where we abandoned Bertie for a few hours

Whilst not spectacular in the same way as our walks of the last three days, it was still a fine outing. Being off most tourists' radars (not featured in any brochure this one), it was also very quiet. So much so that at one of the many lakes scattered across the high valley, I couldn't resist a quick swim .... even though I hadn't got my costume or a towel with me.

First ever skinny dip. First time in a mountain lake. It was at 930m and was fed by snow melt. Bracing!

Put a water feature like that next to a road and it'll be rammed with tour buses. Put it a half hour walk from a road and you get it to yourself

Having been back at Bertie for a while, it was feeling like time to move on. Stuff was stowed and I was just sitting on the toilet before the off when it felt just like Mick had tried to start the engine with it in gear. He hadn't. He thought I'd fallen off the toilet (although even if I'd shot off it like a rocket, I couldn't have made Bertie jump backwards that much).

"Has someone hit us?" I asked, the answer to which was "Yes".

The owner of the car, picnicking nearby (who had failed to engage her handbrake or put the car in gear), got all indignant when she noticed our bumpers touching, until Mick pointed out that it wasn't our vehicle that had moved. Fortunately there wasn't much of a slope, so although it felt like a big jolt on impact it must have happened at slow speed and no damage was done. And do you know, she didn't even apologise.

Onwards! Three long tunnels as we went under some hills led us to more stunning scenery, some of which I've failed to capture effectively here:

Taken during a pause at the National Park Centre but they didn't have any useful information leaflets

The town of Stryn provided us with a service point and a whole choice of supermarkets (we probably wouldn't have come so far today if our need for certain groceries hadn't been so desperate. We've been out of bread for days and today we finished the standby oatcakes too). The town also provided us with a shady spot in a large empty car park to sit and contemplate the best time to arrive in Oldendale so as miss the daytime visitors yet be early enough to secure a place to kip. We timed it just fine and arrived to find the picnic area empty save for a German Hymer (c.1980-1985) who had also just arrived. We've since been joined by another van three vans.

As outlined at the top, our view here is superb. The lake is a startling shade of green and two separate arms of the Jostedalsbreen Glacier can be seen, one out of the windscreen, the other out of the door.

View from the door, which fails to capture the colour of the water and allows the glacier to blend into the sky.

Around Trollstigen

After Wesnesday's exertions on the Romsdalseggen ridge, we found on Thursday, after we had relocated ourselves up to the Tollstigen Pass, that our weary legs weren't feeling like the length of walk I'd originally intended. Instead we opted for just a short circuit up to a nearby lake. The outward leg was just 1km but the 300m of ascent included in that distance took it out of the 'just a stroll in the park' category.

What a surprise we got when the lake came into sight - it was largely still frozen over:

What a shame I hadn't packed a picnic!

The rest of the circuit gave us a gentler descent route and we returned to Bertie happy that our laziness had netted us the experience of such a spectacular location.

Back at Bertie we checked the weather forecast and, seeing that it was staying fine for Friday, we opted to stay put on the pass overnight so as to do Thursday's originally intended walk a day late.

Setting off before most tourists were up and about yesterday, the first part of the walk was gently up a broad u-shaped valley. Whilst in a lovely area, we must be getting picky as we both found the route itself relatively uninteresting. Knowing that the only option for our destination was an out-and-back, it started to feel like we had been sold a dud.

Believe it or not, a relatively uninteresting walk at this point

Then we got up to the highest lake on the route and everything changed.

Elevenses at the lake. The arrow points to the distinctive rock on the ridge 'Mannen' that was our objective.

Snow patches and boulder fields had already been crossed to get to the lake, but beyond there they formed the entirety of the ascent up to the ridge. The snow was a good texture (although getting a bit soft at the end of the return leg) and I do like a good boulder field, even if they do demand undivided attention (I got distracted on one on the way down, losing first my rhythm then my nerve; they're a lot less fun when you're not able to stride across them).

Boulder fields...

...and lots of snow...

...and views down to more lakes...

There are two things of note on top of this ridge, one is 'The Man':

The other is a monitoring station, comprising a couple of buildings, helipad (under snow at the moment), a big water tank (we had followed the hose up from the lake below) and lots of CCTV cameras. As a result of the monitoring, it had been predicted that a huge chunk of this hill was going to fracture and fall at some point in 2014. It didn't happen and the hill has now stabilised. It was still a bit nerve wracking to be there amongst the monitoring equipment, and even more nerve wracking to stand on the edge and look down the almost sheer drop to the valley below:

We didn't start meeting people coming the other way until we were back past the highest lake, and we were a good way back before we paused for lunch. With this being a 14.6km outing with 600m ascent, I had expected to be back by lunchtime. However, I had also believed that this was a 'blue' (medium) grade of walk. It turned out when I looked again later that the blue walk stopped lower down the valley and the final section was of red (difficult) grade. What I expected to take 3.5 to 4 hours thus actually took 5 (although I suppose that did include elevenses and lunch breaks), but I have no complaints - contrary to first impressions during the first half an hour, it was a thoroughly enjoyable outing.