This trip was born out of a combination of factors. Foremost was the need to get out of the bustling city after the write-off that was January and find myself some peace and quiet. Then there was the need to spend some quality skiing time and the desire to try some kit and techniques before I head north in March. I chose Mjølfjell, two hours by train from Bergen, to stretch my legs for two reasons. A cold but stable weather forecast and I knew the area well, working there as a ski guide last winter.
I might know the area well but what I didn't expect was the amount of snow that greeted me when I alighted at the station on Saturday morning. The drifts on the side of the road as I walked from the station were above head height! Stepping onto the trail and into my bindings I pulled a deep breath and drank in the atmosphere. Deathly silence. Cold, clean, sun-infused air filled my lungs, cleared my head and instantly froze my nose hairs.
First order. Lash myself to my incarnation of Jörgen's Incredible Rulk concept. My experience with pulks is narrowed to just a couple of days last Spring with a traditional fibreglass one combined with a solid trace and full body harness. The Incredible Rulk is plastic, has a paracord trace and simple hip-belt. It's waffer light in comparison but still feels weird compared to wearing my usual rucksack. I felt like a Husky dog, pulling at the leash, eager to get going. It didn't take long to get into my stride and after bombing the first descent, and not being wiped out from behind by the runaway Rulk, my confidence soared.
So I spent a sublime afternoon exploring the Mjølfjell valley, keeping away from the prepared trail in an effort to familiarise myself with the Rulk's behaviour over a myriad of terrain. Off-camber descents and ascents, herring boning, deep powder, wind crust and through tight trees. Along the river bank and in the shadow of Mjølfjell itself the temperature dropped significantly and I stopped to melt snow to refill my water bottle and eat some lunch. After butter-laden lefse and blueberry toddy I set off again, heading south through the flatter, sparse birch and pine forest. I continued to tinker with my Rulk's cordage and started to think about dinner. Skiing does that to me. No sooner is one meal or snack consumed than I start thinking about the next.
Picking a spot to set up camp was easy. Endless kilometres of almost perfectly flat snow. Work hardening a platform for the FirstLight didn't take long either, once I found an area of wind crust amongst the pockets of powder. With the shelter up I set about melting more snow, enjoying one of Real Turmat's Wolfish Casseroles and sitting back to watch the sun slip over the ridges. In place of the light an insidious cold crept up out of the snow. Donning all my layers I went for a ski around my chosen neighbourhood, taking photographs and following rabbit tracks.
After some jumping jacks to get the blood really pumping it was time to turn in. One of the downsides to winter camping are the long nights. One of the joys of winter camping is the almost guiltless consumption of calories. Babybel cheese and chocolate for supper. Burrowing into my sleeping bag and over-quilt I prayed for a long deep sleep.
Yeah, that was never going to happen. I slept fitfully. Sometimes I was warm, sometimes I felt cold. My dependable, rugged 14mm foamy, along for testing, wasn't as comfortable as my usual 7cm insulated air mattress. A need to urinate in the middle of the night didn't help. Awake I decided to find out the temperature. I slipped my Suunto watch off my wrist and set it beside my head, watching the numbers on the thermometer slowly drop. The last digits I saw were -25C before the whole unit blinked once and give up the ghost.
I slept best in the early hours, after a thorough session of isometric exercises warmed me up again. Weird dreams and the buzzing of my phone, buried deep below layers of down and synthetic insulation, made for a bizarre rousing. The text message was from a friend. Inspired by my digital musings of blue skies, sunshine and deep snow the previous day she had decided she wanted a piece of the action and was on a train bound for my locale. With a deadline to meet her at the station in a couple of hours I packed up camp quickly in the bone chilling greyness and headed down the valley. The early sunshine that slowly filled the valley was heatless but full of promise. All was suddenly right with the world again.
I made the decision at the station to leave my camping gear there. Despite the renovated station buildings there were no lockers at such a small rural outpost. So I buried my sleeping gear and tent in an anonymous snowdrift, trusting that the hoards of inquisitive school children that pass through this station on a daily basis from the near-by hostels would be too keen to sit in the warm waiting room rather than play in the snow and uncover my treasure.
I took my big fat sleeping mat and stove along for the ride as we climbed back up the valley. We stuck more to the trails today, easier on my companion and faster, allowing us to cover more ground. I was grateful for the lunch stop, in the direct path of some of the sun's finest winter glory. I was actually warm again. We shared hot chocolate, coffee and musli bread smothered in blue cheese. Skiing past the hostel below Ornaberget we climbed the Rallarvegen, unrecognisable from last year thanks to five feet of snow that obliterated the track, blending our trail into the 45 degree traverse of the hillside. We rested once more in Uppsetdalen, revelling in the views of the rugged, avalanche scarred mountains contrasting with the perfectly flat frozen lake surface. It was here that we really felt the silence. It's not often in our modern world that you get to feel silence like that. Mesmerising and total. We zoned out, somehow de-tuned to the world but completely at one with it's rhythms. A thundering goods train rattled past us, tooting it's horn as it passed each tunnel along the side of the valley, bringing us back sharply into focus.
Our train was due in a few hours and we still had lots of good skiing ahead of us, starting with that fun descent back to the valley floor. No silence here. Excited whooping, a sudden 'Oh shit!', wind rushing past my tingling skin, fishscales and nerves buzzing on patches of ice.
Go and find your own silence. Appreciate the moment. Then break it with your favourite soundtrack.