Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Red skies over the Blue mountain: 24 hour photo essay

The week didn't get off to the best of starts when I discovered that the miniscule packing size of my small NeoAir leant itself perfectly to getting left behind in a mountain hut. In sympathy the weather stayed dry, sunny and cold for a whole week and I decided to head for the hills near Dale again.

30 minutes on the local train deposited me in the small town of Dale, home of Dale of Norway merino. After stopping to duct tape my new insoles to the insides of my shoes I took the bridge across the river and straight up the steep side of the valley. 600m in the first hour and a half. The sun shone enticingly over the cliffs above but in the shadows it was freezing, despite the effort. The trail goes under and and over some industrial sized water pipes and a scary looking rail track.

The stepped flanks of Blåfjellet kept promising views of the summit but each ridge just revealed another step to climb. I satiated my thirst for summits by looking north towards Stanghelle and Hestafjellet on the shores of Veafjorden.

Sunshine! Ahhh, it warms you to your very bones. The aptly name Blåfjellet (Blue Mountain)stretched up and away from me.

Blåfjellet's many ponds and lakes were decorated with swirled icing.

Higher up the trail started following a natural weakness in the geology. I stopped at a breezier spot for a rarity for me, a warm lunch cooked up on my stove, washed down with my favourite winter beverage, solbærtoddy, which is basically warm Ribena.

The trail rose and fell along the weakness, following stream and river beds that in the spring and summer would probably be raging torrents. At the tail end of autumn they are reduced to quiet, easily navigable pebbled paths interspersed with frozen puddles. In places the streams are still flowing, bubbling away under their carapace of crazy-paving ice.

The trail begins to fall into Tverrdalen, a wide valley carpeted in wavy blond grass that steadily narrows into a dark, steep, rocky chasm. The trail turns from a curvy path to a game of stepping stones. I want to go back in the spring, when the trail would be a pretty hair-raising scramble along the edges of a tumbling river. In fact the conditions underfoot on this trip couldn't have been better. A dry week and sub-zero temperatures meant even muddy patches were firm underfoot.

Somewhere above Flatavatnet (720m) I found a few square metres of dirt amongst the granite and pitched my DuoMid. Steaming stew for dinner and numerous hot chocolate drinks while I ran around taking photos and built myself a small fire to while away the minutes between the fiery red crescendo to the day and the studded brilliance of the night sky.

I watched, jaw agape, at heavenly and not-so-heavenly bodies playing in the inky blackness. Planets, stars, galaxies, airplanes and satellites all fought for my attention until my eyes and heart were captured by the best meteor I had ever seen blazing across the sky as I posed for yet another 30 second exposure.

I slept warm and long, swaddled in down and Primaloft and floating on a bed of air and insulation. I awoke right on cue to watch the sun appear again, in another fiery salute that belied the freezing cold. Coffee never tasted so good, enhanced by pure water, silence and solitude. Porridge flavoured with joy, brown sugar and cinnamon.

The almost total lack of wind made the cold easy to bear. The world was almost completely silent, save the odd call of a crow somewhere on the cliffs behind me.

Jack Frost had paid a visit during the night, coating everything with his calling card. As the sky turned from black to pink to blue it was time to pack up and head down.

The colour starts to bleed back into the hills as you lose altitude and the sun arcs across the sky. Blue rock gives way to golden grasses and brown heather.

Elevenses at the caves above Budalen. Sheltering hungry backpackers, a colony of rodents and cows in the summer the caves are currently home to two pairs of skis, abandoned on some failed adventure either into of off the mountains in the past year. On this day it was just me and a bag of cashews and raisins. Soon I was walking below the falls on the Lonane river and out to the trailhead. Then the long slow trudge down the valley to Vaksdal. The coldest part of the weekend? Standing on the platform for three hours, waiting for the train to Bergen.

28 comments:

samh said...

Great photos as always, Joe. The frost on your shelter revitalizes my love of the changing of the seasons.

Titanium said...

These photos are so amazing... the absolutely took my breath away. I wish I had something profound to add, but all I've got is a long, drawn out, 'wowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!'

Jake Willits said...

Fantastic pics! If you don't mind me asking, what camera did you take them with?

Dave Hanlon said...

I can smell winter in those photos :-)

Joe Newton said...

Sam - thanks. Yep, Autumn was wonderful but I'm looking forward to winter now.

Titanium - thank you so much, I'm glad you enjoyed them.

Jake - thanks. I am currently using a lil' ol' Panasonic TZ4.

Dave - Aye, it's coming!

jumbly said...

Simply stunning.

Ben said...

wow amazing pictures :) looks like a nice trip

rioleichtsinn said...

Very great photos. I really like your blog and look forward to the next reports.

Fraser said...

Great trip and photos Joe, keep them coming. I 'm after some inspiration to get out myself...

ROBERT said...

Excellent photography Joe.

I concur 100% on the hot - essentially Ribena drink - and it is always good from a kuska.

And my porridge too is always laced with cinnamon!

Back to the photography - it is the beauty that you find in the little things as well as the landscapes that always give pleasure.

Cheers,

Rob fae Craigellachie

Basti said...

Brilliant pictures! Got to go to Skandinavia again!

Martin Rye said...

Top photos and I think winter will come quick there. Cold star clad night sky is truly the best wild camping evening entertainment.

-maria- said...

Beautiful pictures! The winter is approaching; I'm waiting for the first frosty morning.

Gustav Boström said...

Really nice photoessay. You really capture how much delight you can get from just a short trip. I hear you forgot your NeoAir again. Maybe you should get a TorsoLight and always have it in the back of the GG Gorilla pack, so you at least have a backup.

John Davis said...

Loved this write up. Beautiful photographs.

Chris (i-cjw.com) said...

Fantastic, utterly entrancing. I could feel myself there. Very taken with those close-up shots, too, most effective at capturing the season.

Nielsen Brown said...

Wonderful photos, beautiful scenery at its best in the clear cool/cold evenings and mornings. Also good to see the Duomid out again. Thanks

Joe Newton said...

Jumbly, Ben, Rio, Fraser, Basti, Maria and John - Thank you for your kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed the photos and hope they inspire you to get out there on an adventure of your own.

Rob - I agree. The lanscapes are amazing here but it's incredible what wonder you can find in the smallest detail in nature.


Martin - it did! Four days after this trip Old Man Winter showed up and dumped a few inches of fresh snow on Bergen. Up in the mountains I'm guessing there is even more! Starry night beats wide-screen TV everytime.

Gustav - have a Torsolight as the back pad on my Gorilla is a great idea but in winter I use bigger packs, like my GoLite Pinnacle. I think I'll be giving the new RidgeRest Solar a try this winter. I will be hard pressed to 'forget' a big bundle like that!

Chris - thank you. Your photography inspires me on a daily basis to try and be more creative.

Roger - it was great to have the DuoMid out again. I know I keep saying it but it's such a 'happy' shelter. I would love a cuben SoloMid in that colour too.

Thomas W. Gauperaa said...

Excellent post! makes me want to get out there

Jörgen Johansson said...

A very nice combination of photos, text and overall length that shows how much outdoor feeling you can convey with seemingly small means. Impressed and longing for that cup of coffee way up high myself...

Mark Roberts said...

Wonderful write-up and photos, Joe. I'd been saving this post to read later and it was well worth it. I love the Duomid at night photo, and the detail shots.

You always get me looking towards my gear cupboard, feet itching for a walk.

Mark Roberts said...

What did you use in place of the NeoAir?

Joe Newton said...

Thomas - DO IT!

Jorgen - thank you. A cup of coffee in that setting is the best tasting cup of coffee in the world.

Mark - thanks! I went from the sublime to the ridiculous with the sleep mat on this trip. With the NeoAir lost I decided to go for comfort above all else and luxuriated on my Exped Synmat.

Nielsen Brown said...

I have been hovering over a Solomid for a while now and yes cuben is on my mind. Yellow is a great colour and I enjoyed a return to the Trailstar last weekend.

Paul said...

Wonderful photos, and inspiring words. Must get back to Norway -- managed just 2 weeks one summer, over 10 years ago -- happy memories.

Jörgen Johansson said...

Not only the photos, but the text is great. Very much is conveyed with small means. I wish for that cup of morning coffee up high..

Dave Sailer said...

Bare rock and ice, two of my favorites. Tough hammocking though. Very tough.
Reminds me of the work of Andy Goldsworthy. Familiar? (http://bit.ly/5Qblyu)

Joe Newton said...

Roger - I think a SoloMid, along with my DuoMid and the Solo and Duo innernets gives a very adaptable shelter system.

Paul - Norway misses you, come back soon!

Dave - yeah, those tree don't want to stay in granite no matter how hard I hammer them with a rock. Thanks for the Goldsworthy tip. Inspiring stuff.