Hardangervidda 2007

Norway's largest national park.

Hardangervidda is the largest mountain plateau in Europe (actually it is the largest peneplain, but who really cares about the distinction?), and forms an extensive range of glacially sculpted mountains and lakes stretching for about 100 kilometres along the southern half of Norway. Its average height is about 1100 metres. It is largely drained by huge fjords to the North and West, and its southern end is beside Rjukan, which you may have read about in my Heroes of Telemark gallery.

At the northern end of the plateau is its highest point at 1863 metres, situated in Norway's 6th largest mainland glacier; Hardangerjøkulen, which is a roughly circular plateau glacier, about 10 kilometres in diameter. The plan for this trip was to spend 3 days walking around the glacier, possibly standing on its edge at one point in the trip if possible. The route has two cabins (hytter) conveniently spaced for one day's walk between them, and one day each from Finse, the nearest proper village.

The cabins are open until the 15th of October, and our trip was at the end of September, so they would still be open, but we were planning to use a tent anyway, to cut out some of the distance, and to get closer to real hiking instead of the luxury that Norwegians prefer. The cabins would still be there if we needed them. The trails between the cabins and villages also have summer bridges on them; bridges that are only there during the months while the cabins are open. In winter, the lakes freeze, and cross-country skiers can cross them instead.

And as is customary, I have to mention that this area was used in the Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back, as the filming location for Planet Hoth. Perhaps that is important to you.

For the previous couple of weeks, the weather at Finse had gone from snow, to rain, to sunshine. The temperature was low, but the most recent snows had been melted by the rain.

We arrived at around 04:00, and the moonlight was so bright that we could easily walk without torches, but map reading was a little difficult.

A little further along, we came to the first river crossing, marked as being a normal path on the map. Some large pieces of metal were stuck on the ground on either side, and there were two sets of stepping stones that were both underwater. Given the amount of water, there really should have been a bridge. I tried checking the first set of stepping stones to see if I could cross them. Careful to make sure I would not slip on the rocks, I forgot that the steep bank could be slippery too, and yes, I fell in. Not too badly, only below my knees and elbows, before I managed to quickly get myself onto the rocks instead, but it was enough.

The water was meltwater, only just above 0°C. It had poured into the tops of my boots, and the tops of my gloves. The air temperature was at most -5°C, and within 10 minutes, my gloves and walking boots had frozen solid. What a stupid, idiotic mistake to make, especially so early in the trip. There was no way I could continue wearing those essential pieces of clothing. I had brought my street shoes which had pathetic grip, and only had socks to use in place of gloves, but I had no choice, it was either that or lose the blood supply to my hands and feet. I put on every piece of warm clothing I had to bring my temperature back up, and we quickly continued. Idiot. Idiot.