Friday, May 6, 2016

Lyngen på langs- nearly...

Due to a poor weather forecast and a decidedly unstable snowpack in Jotunheimen, the plans which Bjarte and I had of heading down there for a ski traverse were foiled. Late last week we made a quick decision to change our focus to some other majestic mountains just a short drive to the north; the Lyngen Alps.

We had a week off work and after briefly discussing options for simply camping out doing multiple day trips, the idea of attempting a traverse of the entire peninsula came up. Its been done several times before in a variety of different ways and following a number of different routes. The possibilities really are endless; you could spend several weeks travelling along the peninsula skiing loads of peaks along the way, or you could stick to the valleys and coastline if you wanted. One thing worth noting about Lyngen however, is how complex much of the alpine terrain is; traversing ridges and peaks in this area often requires a lot of challenging and technical alpine climbing, which means carrying the rope and all protection that is required. Being averse to carrying monster packs and loads of luxurious but extraneous equipment, and not really knowing that much about the Lyngen Alps, we opted to ski a route which is pretty standard, with some good skiing, but nothing technically demanding and to do it in a reasonably efficient manner. There was never any goal of setting a fast time or anything like that, we were mainly excited to explore some new mountains and familiarise ourself with the place.

I asked around and got some great route beta from people who were more familiar with Lyngen (a big thanks to everyone who shared tips- you know who you are!) and we ended up planning on following the same route as Espen Nordahl (the fellow behind this great book) had skied two weeks prior. In reality we ended up making a few changes due to lack of snow in certains areas, and a desire to checkout some other lines. The route we actually skied looked like this:

To see the route in detail click here
 Note that we didn't actually finish our tour at the northen tip of the peninsula, we decided to stop 11 km short, due to a lack of snow and the fact that we were pretty sick of walking in soggy ski boots by that point. But I'm getting ahead of myself....

The week prior to our traverse had been defined by the arrival of warm spring temperatures, which led to a significant avalanche cycle and a lot of snow melting in a very short space of time. With warm day time temps forecasted, we knew that early starts were going to be vital to move efficiently whilst the snow was firm and also to avoid the avalanche hazard which was greatest in the heat of the afternoon. So we started out at 2am from Nordkjosbotn after a few hours of sleep by the car.

Conditions were pretty good owing to a decent re-freeze overnight and we had a pleasant tour over to Langdalen.

Bjarte in Lysvassdalen early on day 1.

Bjarte on the first proper descent towards Kjeldalen, early on day 1.
 It was about 6am when we reached Langdalen and it felt like time for a cup of coffee so we had a quick break and I gave my ski boots a good wash when I broke through some rotten snow whilst filling water bottles in a small stream.

We continued up towards Guhkegaisa (Langdalstindene on the map) and the gentle glaciers to the east which we skinned up to reach the pass to the next drainage. On the way we got a decent overview of all the avalanches which had released a few days prior.

Bjarte with point 1404 looming in the background and a bunch of debris from recent avalanches.

Bjarte making his way across some debris below point 1214.

Looking south from near point 1214. Photo by Bjarte
We reached the small notch which gave us an entry point onto the glacier which leads down towards Ellendalen, the short north facing couloir was very icy and studded with a few rocks but looks like it would ski brilliantly in different snow conditions.

Skiing into the short couloir from the notch due east of Guhkegaisa. Photo by Bjarte.
We reached Ellendalen around 10 o'clock in the morning. It was tempting to continue skiing, we were feeling good and it was still early in the day. But with rapidly increasing temps, knowing that the next suitable campsite was over 15km away and that the snow would soon be an isothermic slurry we decided to stick with our plan of camping here, and enjoyed a lazy day/afternoon of reading and drinking soup before going to bed around 8 o'clock.

Campsite in Ellendalen for the first night.
 We woke at 2:15 the next morning and after a quick coffee and breaking camp were skinning by 2:40. The route went up the valley to Steindalsbreen, in the early morning light the mountains were looking pretty damn beautiful.

Looking back down Ellendalen early on day 2. Photo by Bjarte

Stunning early morning light at the edge of Steindalsbreeen.

The glacial plateau of Steindalsbreen.
A short ski and a gentle skin brought us to the pass just east of Nallangaisi, from which we enjoyed a fast ski down Veidalen, with a good  a crust meaning we could skate and double pole the flat sections.

Bjarte in the upper section of Veidalen.
We reached Lyngsdalen around 5:30 and decided to stop for breakfast and coffee in the sun. Then a short bootpack up to Bredalen and a gentle ski down to Kvalvikdalen. It was only a little after 8am, but the snow was already getting alarmingly warm so we opted to hike up a shoulder of scree to reach Goalsevarri.

Bjarte with Kvalvikdalstinden in the background.

I think Bjarte took this photo when we were headed up Goalsevarri, but I could be wrong...

A bit of scree hiking up to Goalsevarri made for a nice change to skinning. Photo by Bjarte
From the pass near point 1094 we skied down to Gjerdedalen and on to Lyngseidet, passing a few people setting out on ski tours on the final part of the descent it felt strange again to be finished for the day when other people were just starting out. We reached Lyngseidet around 11am and bought a pile of food from the supermarket which we enjoyed as a picnic on the balcony at the Magic Mountain Lodge.

Even though we'd only had two nights out (including the short bivvy by the car before we started), it was really nice to have a shower and enjoy the luxuries of an afternoon in civilization. As usual the hospitality and welcome provided by Patrik and Henrika was wonderful and much appreciated. We set the alarms for 2am again and settled in to some comfortable beds for the night.

Getting moving the next morning was a mental struggle for me, the sleep deficit from three consecutive days of waking around 2am was starting to take a toll on me. On the hike through town and up to the snow line at 300masl I was feeling drowsy and grumpy, once we started skinning and encountered a long stretch of breakable crust my "grumpiness" morphed into rage for a short period as I skinned along and unpredictably punched through the melt freeze crust into isothermic slop up to my knees. I was pretty disheartened that conditions were already so trying at such an ealy hour of the day and knowing that conditions were only likely to deteriorate even further. But trying to catch up with Bjarte, who is a beast and totally zen about things like breakable crust helped keep my mind off things.
This is was shitty ski conditions look like. Early on day 3.
The descent from the pass south of Fastdalstind featured a lot more breakable crust, but strangely, once we reached Russedalen the conditions improved markedly and we were skinning in warm but predictable snow up towards Tafeltinden. We had decided the night before to change our route slightly, and head up the big glacier east of Tvillingstinden. The snow here was kind of rotten and we were both struggling with skins failing due to them being totally saturated from the warm, wet snow. It felt extremely foolhardy to be setting out on this heavily crevassed glacier with out ropes, but we decided to get a closer look before making up our minds.

Approaching the glacier. We ended up taking a route up the lookers right side (not pictured in its entirety). Photo by Bjarte
 In the end, after a lot of expletives I found an okay route weaving between the crevasses and we reached the upper section of the glacier which is flat and much safer. We ripped our soggy skins at the pass between Store Jægervasstinden and Tafeltinden and skied down Lenangsbreen. This was where we finally got what would generally be described as "quality skiing", with some fun corn beside the blue glacial ice.

Halfway down Lenangsbreen. Photo by Bjarte

Bjarte enjoying some great skiing down Lenangsbreen.
Down at Blåvatnet we were faced with the decision of following the same route as Espen had, which would require a few kilometres of hiking now that the snow had melted out in the preceding week, or attempting a different route over a pass due SE of Veidalstindan. Given the warm temps and concerns of unstable snow we opted to stick with the safer albeit more arduous option of hiking...

Bjarte apparently unphased by several kilometres of rock hopping in ski boots.
 We hiked for about 2-3 hours, over rocks, through swamps, over small patches of rotten snow and through some birch forest, then traversed up to Botnfjellet where we were finally able to put our skis back on at 400masl. A short, traversing ski descent in some light rain brought us to Veidalen where we searched for a place to pitch the tent. Being tired we weren't particularly fussy and soon settled on a small, lumpy patch of heather to pitch the tent on. We'd been on the move for about 12 hours.

It should be noted here that I had chosen the tent for the trip based on a weather forecast which was calling for dry weather. The tent (BD's Firstlight) is nice and light, and offers ample protection from wind and snow but is certainly not waterproof. I knew this from earlier trips and as we cooked up some dinner and the rain battered down I knew we only had about 30 minutes before it would start seeping through. Bjarte, ever the optimist, cheerfully pointed out that atleast it was drier inside the tent than out. Thankfully it cleared about 2 hours later and a light wind even dried things out a little bit. With no room inside the tent for drying gear without it saturating our down bags though, we opted to leave our boot liners, clothes, skins etc. outside the tent and hope they dried a bit through the night.

View from the tent once the rain had passed. Photo by Bjarte
The next morning we had a sleep in til 4am and then put our still wet boots back on and started skinning up to the pass NE of Veidalsvatnet. It had been a warm night and the snow hadn't refrozen at all. We skied down to Reindalen in some slush at 5am and veered off our intended route again by skiing down valley a few kms to a gully below Stetinden which we skinned up in more slush to reach another pass into Raudtinddalen. The ski down the valley was slow going on account of the sloppy, rotten snow and once we reached Nordlenangsbotn the impact of the previous weeks warm weather on the snow cover became very clear. 

Coffee and breakfast at the snowline in Nordlenangsbotn with the final northern stretch of the peninsula in the background. Photo by Bjarte 
It appeared there wasn't much snow left on the final northern section of the peninsula, whilst the upper section of Store Galten looked to have a decent cover, the route north from there, which is mainly under 500masl promised to be a mix of rotten snow and hiking over scree and talus. Lacking any other shoes, and not particularly excited by the prospect of having to hike in wet ski boots we opted to hike along the fjord to Nord Lenangen, missing out on the final 10km and the right to say that we skiied "Lyngen på langs". In total we had travelled 115km and 8900 vertical metres. It felt kind of ridiculous to quit with only 15 km and 1800 metres of vert left, but both our feet felt like shit by this point from so many hours in saturated ski boots. And even now; a day later, sitting inside warm and dry I don't really regret the decision. It'll be nice to go back and re-do the entire traverse in the future when the snow cover is a little better and we can ski the entire thing.

Bjarte's feet: wet, swollen and blistered after 14 hours in soggy ski boots
We spent the next 8 hours hitch-hiking back to Nordkjosbotn and talking about how much we were looking forward to taking our ski boots off.

Bjarte and I played "balance the ski pole" to pass time whilst waiting for a lift.

I've already got a lot of ideas of things I want to do differently next time I do the traverse. A slightly different route, and a slightly different approach and gear choice. I think I'll go for this route:

To see the route in detail click here

It was a great trip. Lyngen truly is an AMAZING place, with a lifetimes worth of inspiring mountains. I'm already looking forward to my next trip there!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Lyngen for the weekend

Last weekend was Skittentind Rando; the last skimo race of the North Norwegian season. Whilst the race went kind of pear shaped for me (a crash on the first descent resulting in a broken pole handle) the weekend in Lyngen that followed was excellent.

Jenny and I drove over to Lakselvbukt on the SW side of the peninsula and camped for two nights and spent two great days exploring the dense mountains that this corner of Lyngen is famed for. On Sunday we took it pretty easy, an extended breakfast with kokekaffe was followed by an outing on Store Lakselvtind. Lyngen is a pretty popular destination for ski touring, and it was the weekend, but it was none the less it was pretty astounding to come across 15 other people in 3 groups on the skin up to Tomasrenna. Some of the folks had also been at Skittentind the day before and it was nice to chat briefly before we continued up to den Himmelske Freds Plass (the Square of Heavenly Peace), a small glacial plateau surround by steep granite peaks and pretty couloirs

Posing at the top of Tomasrenna. Photo by Jenny

 From here we could see our main objective for the day, the south facing couloir on Store Lakselvtind. From below it looked like the chockstone crux in the middle was pretty well filled in and we'd be able to skirt around it on skis. On the climb up however we discovered that the choke was actually pretty narrow (about 1 metre) and icy, so once we topped out, we opted to down climb the upper section of the couoir, to avoid having to transition from crampons to skis to crampons to skis all in the space of 100m, which we figured was only going to eat up a lot of time, and with the other parties no doubt waiting for us at the base of the coulouir it seemed more expedient.

Down climbing the upper section of the couloir on Store Lakselvtind. Photo by Jenny

What the couloir lacked in quality snow was more than compensated for by the stunning views. From the glacier we skied back down Tomasrenna, and before long were back in the campsite sipping Jaloviina (me) and working on the next days avalanche bulletin for Abisko on a mobile office (Jenny).

Jenny exiting Store Lakselvtind couoir

Efficiency- defrosting the gas canister and cooking dinner simultaneously.

On Monday morning we got up early to ski the famed Jiehkkevarri Traverse before driving home. This route which traverses over a few peaks including the highest in Troms covers 27km and 2600 metres of vert and is widely regarded as the greatest ski tour in all of Norway. Expectations were high.

The skin up to Holmbuktind was uneventful aside from the dramatic views once we crested the ridge. The terrain in this zone is so different from that typical of northern Norway, with hanging glaciers, seracs, monster cornices and so on lending it a wonderfully alpine feel. 

Skinning up to Holmbukttind

The final ridge up Holmbukttind has some nice views over the next section of the traverse.

We reached Holmbuktind after about 2:40, ripped our skins and tentatively skied down to the main glacier. On advice from a local buddy, we'd opted to do the route sans rope. Being up on the glacier without any of the mandatory gear felt kind of foolhardy at the time, as wind drifted snow was covering tracks for some sections of the route. We saw a few irregularities in the snow indicating crevasses which were both obvious and easily avoided. In hindsight it feels fine to have done the route without a rope, but later in the season (mid May onwards..?) I'd definitely bring one.

About to ski from Holmbukttind down to the glacier. Jiehkkevarri centre background.

It's hard to appreciate the size of the cornice on the right side of the picture, but it is massive, about 20 metres high. Photo by Jenny
It was blowing pretty hard up on the glacier and the wind chill meant we were soon wearing all our layers.

Skinning the final flat stretch to the summit. Photo by Jenny
From the summit of Jiehkkevarri we skied down to the saddle in the direction of Kveita, this descent is ridiculously foreshortened when viewed from above. If it weren't for knowing the route from the map we might've just kept our skins on for what looks like a relatively short and unimpressive ski run from above. It is actually much longer than it looks, and when viewed from the other side of the saddle, very picturesque, with a hanging glacier on one side and cliff bands on the other.

Jenny skiing from Jiehkkevarri towards Kveita.

Skiing from Jiehkkevarri towards Kveita. Photo by Jenny

Looking back towards Jiehkkevarri on the skin up to Kveita, our ski tracks visible in the background.
From Kveita a short ski descent, and then some more rolling terrain brought us to point 1666. We ripped our skins again and skied the northern gully down to Fugldalsbreen. Finally out of the wind and able to peal some layers off we enjoyed a quick lunch and then made out way over to the pass for the final ski down Fornesbreen.

Jenny skiing the upper section of the northern gully which leads down to the Fugldalsbreen. The upper section skied beautifully before giving way to dust on debris and old tracks in the steeper section.

The pass itself features an amazing wind lip, like a tsunami of snow rising up 20 metres in a giant arc. Skiing into it felt like being on some massive wave

The tsunami like wind lip near Fugldalsskaret.
The final stretch along the Fornesbreen was mostly flat and aside from a few steeper pitches which skied nicely. The snow conditions were thankfully pretty good and we were able to skate out on the flat sections and didn't have to take our skis off until we reached the quarry at 50 masl.

The only steepish pitch on the final descent, just after terminus of Fornesbreen. Photo by Jenny

Reaching the quarry at the end of the tour.

Jenny finishes up the day with a ski boot stroll along the edge of the fjord.

We hadn't bothered to plan our transport at the end of the tour very much (it's about 30km on the road back to where we'd parked the car), figuring we'd hitchhike or in the worst case ask some local if we could borrow a bicycle from them to get the car. As it turned out we got lucky, after only 3km of walking, a van came along and gave us a terrifying ride back to the car.

We spent 6:10 from road to road.

For anyone wanting more details of the travserse (or any other route in Troms for that matter), an excellent resource is here

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Dudalstind/ Nonstind and GNARbars

Had a quality outing yesterday in Gratangen with Bjarte, Einar and Jan Eirik. We linked up Dudalstind and Nonstind, found some quality snow as well as some ice and boiler plate, and ended up skiing a new line which I've been eyeing for years. Here's a few photos from the day and at the bottom of the post is a recipe for the energy bars which have been powering me on all my days this winter. 

Core members of the Narvik Toothpick Mafia topping out on Dudalstind

Bjarte skiing from the summit with Jan Eirik supervising.

Bjarte enjoying some cold snow on a warm day. Photo: Jan Eirik
Me on the first turn from the summit. Photo Jan Eirik

Photo: Jan Eirik

Gang ski

Skinning up from Botnsletta enroute to Nonstind, Dudalstind in the background.

The ridge on Nonstind is as scenic as it is simple.

Einar sprinted ahead so he could make a detour and sit on the false summit whilst he ate a sandwich.

A short bootpack up the summit pitch on Nonstind. Photo Jan Eirik

Bjarte about to top out.

Bjarte about to drop in. Photo Jan Eirik

Einar on his first turn from the summit of Nonstind.
We skied the SE face of Nonstind (the one which is clearly visible from the E6), it is super convex and you can't really see what you're skiing until you are in the crux of it. The key is to not ski too far left (it cliffs out), but if you stick to one of the central gully features it doesn't get any steeper than about 45 degrees (not measured).

I've been getting a lot of requests for the recipe recently and thought I might as well share it here.

Getting quality energy bars in Norway is difficult and really expensive. I've been working on a simple recipe for years, modifying the ingredients and tweaking the way I make it. For years I was doing bars which required baking, but these always fell apart and crumbled after a few hours in a backpack, or were difficult to eat on the go. Inspired by these and this type of thing I'm now settled on a basic recipe which is a) easy and quick to make; b) nutritious; c) long lasting and durable enough that it doesn't get smashed up after hours in a backpack; d) edible regardless of the temperature (even when semi-frozen on mid winter tours); e) tasty!

They are easily modified according to taste and preference. Obviously they contain quite a bit of sugar from the dates, but they're energy bars- that's the point! If you want some more complex carbs add more oats, if you want more proteins and fats for fuelling longer days add more nuts, my favourite combination is the one listed below. But another popular recipe is substituting the cocoa, chocolate and chilli for dried apple, raisins and cinnamon ("apple-pie") or dried banana. You can even add ground coffee for a caffeine kick (but be warned of the laxative effect of eating a bunch of ground coffee whilst moving around in the mountains). Ginger works really good in them too. And desiccated coconut is a nice addition also.

GNARbar ChChCh (ie. chocolate/chia/chilli)
300g pitted dates
80g almonds (or other nuts, but peanuts don't work so well in my opinion)
50g chia seeds
50g oats
5g sea salt
(additional extras):
30g cocoa
80g dark chocolate (crushed into small pieces)
5g chilli

  • Throw the nuts and oats in a food processor and blend until they're coarsely chopped. It's okay if the mix is slightly chunky- it makes for a bit more texture.
  • Add all the other ingredients to the food processor and mix for a minute or two until everything is mixed well and the dates are totally puréed.
  • Scoop everything into a freezer bag and use a rolling pin to press the mixture into a rectangle about 2cm thick and 20cmx20cm long. Put it in the freezer overnight to set.
  • The next day slice it into bar size pieces and wrap in cellophane.