Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Dead Reckoning

I haven't felt 'the fear' for a while and it's arrival, here in these benign, warm woods, less than an hour's drive from Bergen was surprising. We had camped the previous night aside a tranquil lake, been walking beautiful mountain trails all day and now, after a seemingly minor mistake, had just spent two hours trying to find a faint trail that would finally connect to the path of our inward journey yesterday. It's a trail I have failed to find twice before, both times going in the opposite direction, up. This time we had walked off the nose of the ridge, following a clear and definite trail. The mistake I had made was not unfolding the map properly and missing the fact that there was a second trail, right in the crease of the well folded paper. For a second I assumed I knew exactly where we were going. My friend then made the mistake of keeping quiet and not questioning my judgement when she got an inkling that this descent off the ridge wasn't as straight forward as I was making it. Minor errors that when combined lead to a descent on the wrong side of the ridge and wasted time and energy trying to rectify the situation. We didn't fancy climbing back above the tree-line to where we had missed the other trail. At least three hours. It was late and we were running out of food. We'll head due west, across a couple of kilometres of heavily wooded hillsides until we find the trail...

So deep in the woods, concerns of forcing my friend to endure an enforced camp with no food and the bewildering and claustrophobic trees surrounding us, 'the fear' rose in my chest, just for a moment. I decided to head back to the last known trail, head for the nearest road, hope for a phone signal, swallow some pride and humble pie and call for back-up.

The trip had started so light heartedly. A somewhat spontaneous overnighter after a day of gentle canoeing and with thoughts of summer plans of much bigger mountains. We took the bus out of the city and alighted next to a football pitch where keen amateurs were shouting  and hustling. The cafe was open so we took on a last minute waffle with jam and coffee. Walking down the sun baked road we stripped off layers in the heat and marvelled at sun-bathing snakes and slightly over-dressed Highland cattle cooling their hooves in road-side streams.

The tarmac morphed into gravel and that in turn gave way to game trails that wound into the bogs between the chain of lakes. Navigation here was easier, stay between the valley walls. The conditions underfoot were very wet, a sign of the week of heavy rain that had preceded this weekend's short, sharp heat wave. M was trying out her Tech Amphibians as hiking shoes. She wasn't too keen on the water rushing in but loved the water rushing back out again. Another convert I believe. After making camp on the shores of Wolf Lake we spent a few hours in the warm rays of the fading sun, playing cards and eating couscous before retiring to the 'mid to lie wide awake, unable to sleep in the land of the midnight sun.

The sleep that eventually came ended with a damp, chilled morning. Someone protested that they weren't getting out of bed until they had a cup of tea in their hands. Even when they did get a freshly brewed cuppa they didn't exit the sleeping with any expedience.

The morning sun burnt off the mist and highlighted the bejewelled spider webs. We packed up and headed into the forests that smother the lower ramparts of Svenningen. This time we would climb the side ridge that juts out of Svenningen's midriff. 

The forest may have been silent and muggy but at least it offered shade. The steep rocky climb continued under the full gaze of the late morning sun. We broke the climb into a few sections and enjoyed breaks at vantage points, sucking in air as well as crackers, nuts and melting chocolate. By the time we reached the top it was lunchtime and we sliced up pitta bread that was disappointingly passed it's best and we tried to cheer it up with Babybel cheese. As is the case with every visit to these hills we were serenaded by the creaking carbon of the gliders dancing above and below our perch.

We spent the afternoon gliding south west, along the ridge. Stinginess with the sun screen in the morning would later haunt me in the post-hike shower with a burning reminder. Man, I've got some stoopid tan lines right now. The mid-afternoon slump was alleviated with a refreshing mountain frappuccino. Half a bottle of snow melt water, half a sachet of dark chocolate drink powder, half a sachet of instant coffee. Add three good spoonfuls of snow. Close lid. Shake. Dreamy.

We almost made it. We were heading towards end of the ridge. Hunger and commitments willed us on towards the descent, the forest, the road out and, hopefully not long after, a bus ride back to the city. Little mistakes. Bigger consequences. Anyway, we got home eventually. Maybe not as conquering heroes but humbled, more aware, better educated.

"Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes" - Gandhi

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