Friday, December 20, 2013

Mørkholla season premiere

Lots of moody, changeable weather over the past week has seen some rapid changes to the snowpack around Narvik. From skiing pow one day, followed the next day by sastrugi and then a day of isothermic spring style glop before a fresh storm gives us more powder.

Yesterday gave a nice window in the weather and I squeezed in some fun skiing at higher elevations around work. First up was a lap in Mørkholla with Trond. The entrance is quite a friendly affair at present, just a steepish (45°) roll over followed by some wind buffed pow lower in the bowl interspersed with a few patches of crust in exposed areas. The lower elevations are far less wind affected and offered the best turns of the day.

Lotsa sastrugi above treeline on S and W aspects

Trond and his panoramic ghost near 2de Toppen

Mountains, fjords and some pretty colours in the sky

First lap for the season in the local favourite Mørkholla ("Dark Hole", so named because it doesn't get any direct sunlight 'til early spring)

This little chutelette on the backside of 2de toppen is getting ripe.
This was followed by another solo, headlamp-illuminated lap on the backside of Linken in the early twilight of a mid-afternoon polar dusk. Then work. Then back out again in the evening for a bout of technical, interval skinning with a few of the local fellas.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An all-time start to the season

I arrived back in Norway three weeks ago to the best early season conditions I've ever encountered. My first ski of the northern season on November 21st (after arriving back in Narvik at midnight the night before) was a lap from Linken which usually isn't filled in until mid January. There were 1000+ metre ski descents to be had without only a few easily avoidable rocky patches. I was stunned.

quite a bit of snow so far in northern Norway- this is from a cat cutting at the local ski resort
And then it started snowing again! For two weeks straight regular snowfall topped things up and made for some terrific skiing. Daily laps in untouched snow so early in the season are not to be taken for granted.

A few rain events created some short term instabilities, but were essentially key for locking the snowpack down and ensuring that it wasn't blown willy-nilly in subsequent storms. Currently the conditions above treeline are seriously wind affected, with stiff wind slabs and sastrugi being predominant. With a bit of searching though, there is plenty of fun skiing to be had at higher altitudes, the best snow however is around the treeline in more sheltered areas.

views over town
more views over town

I've been getting an average of ca. 6000 metres of skiing per week since arriving back, much of it on tours I usually wouldn't contemplate until much later in the season. The light is kinda tricky at this time of year, with darkness descending at 2pm it is vital to have a fully charged headlamp if you are heading out after work. Unless you're lucky and have clear skies, which means you get to skin up under the Aurora Borealis. The faint light also makes photography problematic, especially for someone like me who is typically just using my phone camera. On the occasions when I make it out during daylight hours, the soft arctic glow of the sky at this time of the year makes for a pretty stunning atmosphere.

Yesterday I got in a great outing: I met a herd of reindeer at 1250 metres, skied one of my favourite lines down to Forsnesvatnet and got in some practice at replacing the cord on my Aliens without gloves in -15c temps.

local reindeer and a glowing sky

the backside of 3de toppen

plenty of wind affected snow up high

my line for the day: the diagonal ramp in the centre of the image

Beisfjordtøtta massif

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Kepler trail run

I ran the Kepler track today: 60kms and 1850 metres of + elevation worth of stunning mountain trail. It was fantastic.

The Kepler is one of NZ’z 8 famous “Great Walks” which feature well maintained tracks and huts at regular intervals, they see many thousands of trampers/ hikers each year. From what I’ve gathered over the past few months they also make for great trail runs. In fact the Kepler plays host to New Zealands most famous and prestigious “mountain running race”, the Kepler Challenge held each year at the start of December.
I started out at 8am in the traditional anti-clockwise direction which meant that I would be done with the major climb after only 17km. The skies were overcast, a welcome relief after the past few days of high temps. However my legs were still feeling a little tight this morning after having run 37km (with 1350 metres of +) up Mt. Luxmore two days ago, so I was careful to stick to a modest pace and walk any of the steep sections of ascents. The track started with 6km of flat running through a beautiful forest beside lake Te Anau before climbing steadily for 1000 metres up to the alpine.

 After around and hour and a half I broke through the cloud cover and had some brilliant views over a sea of clouds with a few peaks poking through on the horizon. The section of the run between Luxmore Hut and Iris Burn hut was easily the highlight of the day. The trail is very runnable, broad singletrack with only moderate inclines and expansive views. It follows ridgelines for quite a few kilometres which made for a very dramatic atmosphere, especially with the sea of clouds in the valleys below.

 I made a brief stop at each of the huts to refill water bottles and met a few dozen folks (mostly Germans it seemed) who were hiking the trail in the usual 3-4 days. Everyone was stoked on the awesome views and super encouraging to me, which was nice and much appreciated.

As was pre-arranged, I met my brother Thor on the trail about 10km from the end and we ran the last bit together. By this stage I was starting to flag a bit so it was good to have someone there to hold a steady pace for me to follow even if he did confuse me by giving random estimations of how long we had left (“only 3k left” when we were within 1km of the finish).

The run went really well, my pace was steady, the views were immense and I only fell over once so I’m calling it a win.

Time-    6:53
Menu- 9x Clif Shots gels
           4 litres of some generic electrolyte drink powder I get from supermarkets here in NZ

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mt Cook Region Reconnaissance

A tight schedule meant that we only spent one and a half days in the Mt. Cook region. While this was way too short to get on any real missions in the area it was plenty enough time for me to be sufficiently blown away by the alpine grandeur and formulate some more concrete plans for a return next year.

With my brother I took two fantastic trail runs, first up the Hooker Valley to the small glacier lake below Mt. Cook's Caroline Face and then up the Tasman valley along the lateral moraine to the Ball Shelter, together about 30- 35 km.

Hooker lake filled with small ice floes

The lateral moraine of the Tasman on the way to Ball shelter
The Malte Brun group from across the lower Tasman

 I also got up early on our last day to ski from the summit of Mt. Ollivier, down a wide couloir on it's east face. This quick outing gave some incredible views over Sefton and up the Mueller Glacier towards Seally, as well as 700metres of nice spring corn. So much in this area to come back for...

Mueller Glacier

Mt. Sefton

View to the NE from Mt. Olivier

Runnels in the snow on the descent from Ollivier 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Skiing Tapuae-o-Uenuku

Tapuae-O-Uenuku (or Tappy) in the Kaikoura Range of the northern part of the South Island is the highest mountain in New Zealand outside of the Mt Cook region. It's where Ed Hillary cut his teeth on climbing and carrying heavy packs whilst walking in rivers and through thick vegetation. Steeped in history and with a location which means it breaks up the drive when headed south to other mountains, Tappy is actually a very worthy destination mountain in itself, with a memorable approach, cool terrain and a very isolated atmosphere when on the upper parts of the mountain.

Skiing Tappy is all about the approach, the ski to hike ratio is so lob-sided that only the ignorant or foolish would even contemplate it. After a 50km drive up the Awatere Valley I parked on the side of the road and given the late hour, bivvied by the car ‘til first light. The route up to the mountain follows the Hodder River for 22kms and 1000 vertical metres of hiking along the river bank on polished river stones and repeatedly wading through the fast flowing river which ranged in depth from knee to crotch. I soon lost count of the number of times that I crossed the river, but going off other trip reports I’ve read, 80 crossings each way sounds like the average. To make things more interesting a few landslides in the past few weeks had created small dams in the river which were extra deep.

The Hodder River- one river crossing down, 79 to go!

After about 40 crossings the doubt was starting to creep in... 
 The river itself alternated between broad, braided sections and steep gorges which required walking directly up the river itself. Travel was slow and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t beginning to doubt whether all the effort would be worth it.  So after 6 hours of walking in wet shoes it was a relief to reach the Hodder Huts at 1500 metres. I spent the rest of the day uneventfully reading and listening to music.

Finally at the comfortable huts, my home for the night
Beautiful sea of clouds at 7am looking down the upper Hodder drainage
At 6.30 the next morning I was back in my still wet running shoes and moving again. After one final river crossing the uphill in loose scree began in earnest. By 7.30 I’d reached the snowline just below 2000 metres and quickly changed to ski boots and crampons. From here it was all smooth sailing. A good re-freeze overnight made for a fast and easy ascent up the final 900 metres.

Mt. Alarm and Mitre Peak- great ski terrain if you can be bothered to carry your gear in.

view from the summit
Another view from the summit. That's the South Pacific lurking below the clouds

The snow was firm, but edge-able.

Selfie at the start of the out hike
 I was a little too early to get the snow in its perfect corn state, and impatient to wait around for it to soften up. So I skied the firm slopes back down the way I’d come, and changed back in to running shoes for the long walk back to the car. There is loads of potential for steep skiing in this area. If I was to come back, it with be with more food so that you could be based at the huts for a few days and explore all of the opportunities on offer.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Welcome to Gnarvik

With the ski season winding up here in New Zealand and reports of snowfall on the peaks in northern Scandinavia, my stoke for getting back to Narvik for the winter was already sky high. Add to this Norrøna's short film released today to promote their new line of baggy jackets for ski fashionistas and I'm left champing at the bit.

It was filmed over a few days last April in the area immediately surrounding Narvik, and showcases the many reasons I choose to live in Northern Norway. Enjoy it.

Welcome to narvik from Norrona on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Ruapehu Grand Slam

After a week of good melt-freezes the corn skiing season is in its prime here on Mt. Ruapehu. A lap on the Mangatoetoenui Glacier yesterday afternoon convinced me that now was the time to link together all six glaciers on the mountain into one fantastic, circular traverse.

We started the day with a chairlift ride over the barren lower slopes, and then a shot of espresso and a slathering of sunscreen at the ski patrol HQ. At 9 we started skinning on firm snow up the slopes to the saddle between Tukino Peak and Glacier Knob. A quick skate across the summit plateau brought us to the top of the Mangatoetoenui Gl. and its easterly aspect was already slightly softened by the morning sun and offered up some brilliant first turns for the day.

Mike hiking the last section to the saddle.

turns down the upper Mangatoetoenui

From here a short skin back up to Cathedral Rock was followed by descent of the Whangaehu Gl. on firm snow before wrapping around a ridge into the Crater Lake drainage. As we skinned up the drainage a barrage of rocks from the rapidly warming northern slopes of Mitre Peak reminded us that spring was well and truly upon us. Our route up the large basin was well protected though and had a perfect firm surface for crampons.

Mike skiing below Cathedral Rocks
Skinning up the Crater Lk. drainage
And booting up towards Mitre Peak.
A short walk up the ridgeline towards Tahurangi and we were ready for skiing the stunning Wahianoa Gl. which combined ripe corn with expansive views over Girdlestone and the remote SE corner of the mountain.

Mike starting down the Wahianoa Glacier with Girdlestone in the centre of the picture
After a bite to eat we booted up to the broad col which separates Girdlestone from Tahurangi and stood above the Mangaehuehu glacier, our fourth for the day. Firm rime on this shadier aspect made for the worst skiing on the traverse, so rather than descend down the fall line we opted to traverse above the Turoa ski resort towards the Mangaturuturu glacier. The skiing here was more sun softened corn and we enjoyed a great line down to the lower cliff bands before our final skin back up to the Pare Col.

Mike above the Mangaehuehu glacier with Girdlestone peak in the background

Skiing the Mangaturuturu glacier
Skirting around the Crater Lake we looked over at the points we had passed a few hours earlier, amazed with ourselves for not having completed this terrific ski tour earlier in the winter. The last run down the Whakapapa glacier and back to the ski area was also on fantastic snow. Our total trip time 4:32, left me thinking that we ought to have milked a few more turns on the Wahianoa and made the day a longer one.

Another view of Crater Lake

Mike on the last descent of the day back down to Whakapapa.

This traverse confirmed my long held suspicions that ski touring on Ruapehu is all about the spring corn: just when the crowds are thinning out, the skiing is at its absolute best. Looking forward to the final few weeks on the mountain and some more great spring skiing!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Skiing Taranaki

Wednesday had a good weather forecast and with a whole day off from work I decided to check out Taranaki, one of NZ's most famous volcanoes.

To get there I had to drive through the Shire (locally known as the Forgotten World Highway) with its ridiculously picturesque hills and meadows so green that I suspect someone might have actually painted the grass. At one stage I even had to stop the car to let a duck lead its family of waddling ducklings across the road. It was all so bucolic and quaint that I started feeling queasy (although that might have been the combination of grapefruit juice, peppermint slice and snus with which I stuffed myself whilst driving).

After 4 hours of driving from National Park I parked the car at the North Egmont visitor center and started up the well maintained service track at the crack of 11 o'clock. The track climbs steadily through native bush and scrub for about 600 vertical metres to the Tahurangi hut.

After a lazy transition from running shoes into ski boots and crampons I started marching up the lower gullies, soft snow on sunny aspects gave an early indication that the skiing was in. I passed a few other folks on the way up, some on foot and a couple skinning. Going off beta that skins usually weren't very useful owing to the steep incline and typically rimed slopes, I'd left my skins in the car, but they definitely would have made for a faster ascent in the soft conditions that I encountered.

Not really knowing much about the standard route on the mountain, I chose a more direct line up one of the major ramps on the east face (I learned later that this is know as the Surrey Rd route), this proved to be straight forward, mostly about 35° with a few bulges in the range of 45°. I reached the summit about 2:45 after setting out from the car and spent close to half an hour on the summit enjoying the views over the Tasman Sea to the west and inland to Mt. Ruapehu to the east, chatted with an Austrian snowboarder who lives in the area and packed my lip full of Kronan.

The summit itself on the western edge of the crater rim.

Looking east from the summit, with Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe on the horizon.

It was so warm that I didn't even bother with a jacket or gloves until reaching the summit. And the snow for the descent was ripe corn, from what I hear its a rare occurrence to have such ideal conditions, and some locals I chatted to confirmed that this day offered some of the best ski conditions they've seen on the peak.

An Austrian fellow snowboarding from the summit with the Tasman Sea below.
If you look very carefully you can't quite make out the coast of Australia on the horizon.

The dotted line shows my ski line from the summit, about 1000 metres.

My car to car time was about 4:20, for about 1650 metres. I was thinking on the descent that a concerted effort in good conditions could easily come in at under 3 hours, and that someone truly fast might even get close to 2 hours. But I was astounded to read that a Greg Barbour completed the same route (in summer conditions) in a blisteringly fast time of 1:36:27 !

See you next time 'Naki