While setting up camp on the south side of Nordkapstunnelen we noticed that the weather forecast had changed. Initially we had a 10 day good weather window reported, but all of the sudden a storm was bound to blow in during the night. At around 2 A.M. the winds picked up. Our tent, pitched on loose and rocky soil, collapsed for the first time around 05.00, when a powerful gale ripped the pegs out of the ground. It happened again at 07.00, so we left breakfast for what it was, packed up and set course for an emergency shelter 25km away from us, hoping to reach it before the worst of the storm hit.
It seems to have become a tradition that on every long-distance hike we embark on a precarious situation must arise on day 3. In New Zealand, the weather turned on the 90 Mile Beach and I was forced off track due to an injury in my Achilles’ tendon after 70km of walking on sand. In Nepal we entered the mayham of the Milky Danda where within 24 hours we got lost, sick, suffered from altitude, fell without water and nearly got thundered off the mountain. On day 3 in Norway the storm winds picked up so violently that we never reached the shelter and had to hide ourselves and all we have from them.
PJ was visibly miserable all day. I tried to keep going, eagerly walking on to reach the shelter. I could not convince myself 100% that our tent would outlive the storm. To me, the shelter was the only option. After three hours of banging the elements we took a short break behind a ledge where PJ proposed to hunker down for the day. I wasn’t in favour because of my fears. But in the short time we sat behind that ledge the wind had picked up even more. After I got up and got going I was soon nearly blown over and it was my turn to be miserable.
Making our way down the mountain we came upon a desolate fjord where autumn’s vivid reds dominated the slopes. It was a Norway like I had never seen one before with a beauty even more rugged than usual. Yet as I struggled to stay on my feet I found myself missing the sweet shelter of trees. There was no shelter anywhere, so I continued down the mountain towards the estuary where I hoped to cross a river to keep going towards the small cabin. The river was wild and the water swirled in the wind. I nearly fell off the rock I was standing on overlooking the flow to find a place to cross. It became really clear then that continuing would not only be futile but also dangerous.
PJ put his foot down and insisted that we did not cross but instead checked out a small cabin to find a sheltered spot for the tent. Crossing the river safely was impossible. If one of us was to go down into the icy waters we would surely risk hypothermia. We found a sheltered corner behind the cabin to make camp away from the worst of the gales. The rest of the day we spent inside the tent, hunkered down from the storm. And like on every day 3, I cried.
Day 4 started with sunshine and relief. When we did cross the river that morning I became certain that it never would have worked in the storm. We continued along the lonely coastline, passing only a few closed down cabins that must belong to sea Sámi by the look of the tipis without skins standing beside them. The landscape was stunning.
The only sign of current human presence were the salmon farms out in the fjord. I found myself reacting to them: these farms do a lot of damage to wild salmon stocks and aquatic life in general. They generate massive amounts of wastewater that are left in the sea. Sometimes some of the farmed salmon escape and mate with their wild counterparts, weakening them. Plus, the many cramped fish in the nets carry diseases such as salmon lice (for which they are treated with antibiotics) that also infect the wild stocks. There’s a lot to be said about Norwegian salmon farming and unfortunately too little objective research done: last year an article was published highlighting how the industry is financing the research and silencing the critics. Anyhow, the next time you are in your local supermarket and you find Norwegian farmed fish marketed as sustainable… don’t just swallow that.
One more thing disturbed the seemingly pristine coastline: trash scattered around the beaches. Bottles, canisters, fishing ropes, boxes… a lot of things lay forlorn between the rocks, washed ashore from faraway places after people dumped them somewhere they weren’t supposed to be. I wished we could carry it all out of there but it was too much, too big, too heavy. So we walked past it, making sure we never left a piece of plastic behind.
Nice things were seen, too. A lot of mussels lay in the sand and the seagulls were having a feast on them. A sea eagle took off and swooped over an estuary. Reindeer roamed a hill far away. After we started climbing away from the sea the weather turned for the worse again. Shortly after we reached the shelter a new storm was unleashed and we called it a day. The wind battered the tiny 4 square meter cabin, but not a lot is needed to be happy in the mountains: a bunk, a candle and a roof will do. The storm wasn’t done with it yet the following morning. PJ did not want to go so we stayed.
In one way we were both frustrated with the slow progress. The idea was to get a flash start and get in as many kilometres as possible before the snow came. But the circumstances were not allowing for that and we were moving at a snail’s pace. In another way we had both been talking about wanting to enjoy this trip and not simply rush through. Neither of us are big pushers, and stressing about progress takes the soul out of it, at least for me. Being on a long hike is a chance to slow down, to put life in perspective, to have space to think. It’s not about harder, faster or stronger: it’s about enjoying a simple life in the mountains. Whether we get to Lindesnes in January, February or March… Who cares?
We stayed in the shelter for the day and heard the showers blow by. The knowledge that every start is hard helped to put some perspective to it. Like every day 5 PJ wanted to quit, but he didn’t, and the next day we found a higher gear on a quest to Stopojokha, a sámi cabin open to hikers. When the cabin came in sight the beautiful day turned dark again and after the last few km of wetlands we were very thankful for the shelter as the rain came pouring down. The little bit of firewood made the stove crackle and for a few hours we were chained in front of it, comfortable on a reindeer skin. Then and there we really both realised that we want to enjoy this, that time is no issue, and that we’ll get there when we do.
On that day, October 16, it had also been exactly one year since the concussion on Sherpani Col. We both thought back on that day, on what happened at the same time one year ago when I was hobbling into camp supported by Pemba at 5700m. That made me even happier having gotten the chance to sit on that reindeer skin then and there. Still I can feel insecure sometimes in the mountains, when some memory or forgotten fear grips me and takes its hold. And yet it is still the mountains that give me peace of mind and clarity of thought. Thinking back on the power of the Himalaya and on the severity of that situation everything now felt very much alright. The storms, the snow coming, the distance… they seemed only minor challenges in comparison to what has passed. I know we’ll be alright, that I will be alright, and that I will never stop going out there.
We had no choice after the storms but to go to Olderfjord after all for extra supplies. It’s remarkable how open people in Finnmark are while they live in empty, rough and faraway places. As sceptical as the Germans were all the more excited were the Norwegians we met there. “Oh, where are you going? To Lindesnes? Really? So nice! God tur!” In the local cafe many of them shared their thoughts and advices. After the rain and warmer weather of the past few days the snow on Finnmarksvidda was almost gone, all we had to do was get over there before it came back. In a last advice one man on rollerskis warned us about the wolves and the bears that had been showing themselves, though those would turn out to be the least of our concerns.