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.