When I retreated to my own bed for the final time on the evening of the 8th of October I had an odd feeling about it. I’ve always thought that the strangest moment of any expedition is the final night you sleep in your own bed, in the knowledge that when you put down your head it will be the last time in a long time you will wake up in a comfortable and familiar place. It’s an eerie idea. It took me longer to get up the following morning, too. I stretched and lay there for a while before I was satisfied and comfortable with the goodbye. Today I was flying to Oslo and tomorrow to Alta, from where a bus would bring me to Nordkapp to start walking south, down the entire length of Norway. I was very calm about it. My bag had been ready in Norway for over 10 days and the final things I needed to take from Belgium had been in my duffel for a week now. All my things for the airport were ready and waiting.
It all felt so smooth. Preparing had been smooth. It had been easy to find the information we needed and act according to it. So many issues we needed to deal with for Nepal were ruled out for this one: altitude, language, problems with finding food, batteries or fuel… The list goes on. I felt relaxed in that knowledge, even though we added Norwegian winter. But both PJ and have lived up north and we know this country. Hence I believed we would be OK. The universe was seemingly on our side this time.
That relaxation quickly evaporated when I nearly missed my flight due to delayed trains to Brussels Airport. I arrived at the gate exactly on the minute when boarding started (which was soon over, there were very few people on the flight) after an extended sprint through the terminal building. Another guy from the same train was in the same situation for his flight to Amsterdam and I was happy to be sprinting through the building in team. Once in Oslo PJ and I loaded the final things in boxes ready to be sent up when winter hits the trails and early the following morning we boarded a plane to Alta. Looking down out of the window at the amount of snow my self-confidence got another blow: there was so much of it. Autumn had gone and winter had come. I had been keeping an eye on the weather forecast and webcams on various places throughout northern Norway but I did not see this. How did I not see this?
PJ got nervous too. Maybe our plan wasn’t going to work at all? Should we have brought winter gear from the start? Our intention was to take a bus all the way up to Nordkapp the same day but we decided to stay in a hostel in Honningsvåg for that final night to really asses what we were going into. After putting our intentions on Instagram a few northbound hikers reached out. We managed to get a lot of valuable information from them on the conditions in the mountains, for which we will always be grateful. It wasn’t looking good, especially not in Troms fylke. PJ despaired, arguing it would never work. I insisted that we were here now and we should at least give it a try.
Considering how fast conditions were changing we decided to make one big push to Masi, nearly across the plateau of Finnmarksvidda, to make sure that we could still cross it on foot. This meant taking 13 days of food, counting a spare day, so our packs were really heavy at the start. Yet the detour into Olderfjord would most likely cost us another day and we judged that the sooner we got over, the better. We had snow shoes sent up to Kautokeino.
On the morning of departure, October 11, we met up with two of the northbound hikers who just finished: Simon and Anna. They seemed visibly relieved to be out of the mountains and were highly sceptical about our plan. Though many of the points they raised were solid I refused to believe that what we set out to do was impossible until I had given it a genuine try. And even if it is Norway that will beat us in the end, even if it does turn out we are in over our heads this time… as soon as the first step was made, there is no failure.
So we set off and headed for Nordkapp. Contrary to information we found online no more busses were running and we had to take a taxi to reach the plateau. While the driver told stories about the area and the era before the road I looked out at the barren landscape with its rugged cliffs jutting out from the sea. I was happy that I had saved my first visit here for exactly this moment, postponing it ever since I came up with this plan on an overcast morning on Te Araroa in New Zealand four years ago. Neither of us had ever been here. Nordkapp and Finnmark: they were both uncharted territory, making for an exciting start. The snow on the peaks in combination with the autumn light gave it all an extra dramatic touch. It was a beautiful day to start a new adventure.
Nordkapp itself, the plateau with the museum and the famous globe, is really nothing more than another good old Norwegian tourist trap. Shortly after we made our starting photo a few busloads of tourists traveling on Hurtigruten were dropped off and with that all the charm disappeared. We left soon after, to nearly 3000km southwards, with the sun in our faces.
The good weather lasted for the full two days we walked on Magerøya. Already on day two we stuck our feet in the snow. PJ worried about what lay ahead and though I’ll admit now that I did too I got into a stubborn state of mind, insisting that it had to be tried. Plus, I really enjoyed being out again, enjoyed the silence, the views, the light, the feeling of being alone in the mountains.
After two days we came to the end of the island and there was the one thing I wasn’t keen on: the tunnel. Between Magerøya and the mainland lies a 7km long tunnel, of about 1,5 hrs of walking. I thought about all the fun facts a friend from Flåm, Kristiyan, once told me about the air quality and pollution in Lærdalstunnelen (Europe’s longest car tunnel in western Norway) and I was hoping to spare my lungs of that. What are those 7km of walking a tunnel going to say about it all in the end? To me, it wasn’t worth it. We hitched from the car parking just before the tunnel to the one just after and there we made camp. The island was behind us now, the rest of Finnmark, the real challenge, lay ahead.