Norge på Langs, Norway, Trails

To the Arctic circle, but not beyond

There was no sound but the wind and nothing to see but blowing snow. Even going to the toilet became an assignment. Bull often decided he didn’t have to go after all and stood scratching at the door to go back inside. After a beautiful week through Padjelanta our luck was at an end. The storm provided a powerful illustration of what the Sulitjelma mountains can be like and it made me very grateful that we made it over before this low pressure system came raging in.

The weather calmed down on the afternoon of our first day at the Ny Sulitjelma cabin, but we felt too nackered to use the opportunity to go down to the village. The second day started unpromising and as we were packing up and getting ready to go I had a bad feeling about it. Visibility was really low. The first part of the descent remained very steep, and in the clouds and blowing snow it would be hard to pick a route between the cliffs and sastruga. We stayed that day too. It became really nasty outside soon after and I was happy that we made that choice.

PJ was not happy about it. It was too vivid a memory for him to be stuck in this place. Our food was running low, but there were some things lying at the cabin that could be improvised with. With oats, milk powder and a bit of flower we had pancakes. There was rice for lunch with some spicy oil. And not to forget we had electricity, running water and reception. Life could be worse. But the memory of the storm six years ago haunted him. He just wanted to get away from there.

The front would bring bad weather for five days. After 48 windy and snowy hours at Ny Sulitjelma a break in the weather was predicted. We rose early, got down in the 4 hours of sunshine in the early morning and were once again happy that we didn’t try and go through this in bad weather. We saw the trail continuing on our way down, rising again towards a beautiful plateau and into Junkerdalen national park. It was very tempting to continue that way under the blue skies, though the forecast dictated us a different path.

The valley we would follow through Junkerdalen, Skaitivagghe, is specifically listed as an avalanche-prone valley. With winds exceeding 100 km/h and lots of snowfall predicted it wasn’t the time to go there. The heavy snowfall would make the slopes unstable and the forecast for the entire Salten area was going up to a 4 again. Neither of us thought it was worth the risk. We had to detour around the valley, by bus to Fauske and then a train to Lønsdal. We’d have to avoid the rest of Saltfjellet, too, and just follow the E6 over the plateau.

For a long time I’ve been having a debate with myself on whether I want to do this or not. It’s been tough going since October, and though I never expected every day to be easy, I didn’t expect a second Nepal-like situation either. Yet during the nice days in Padjelanta I concluded that I did. I really wanted to make it to Børgefjell at least, maybe even Blåfjell, make it a good way through Norway before having to stop in the end of April. But then the storm came and the debate started again.

We sat out the worst of it in a hotel in Fauske over the weekend. A shower, a good bed and greasy food did us good. Outside was not a very tempting place to be. It rained a neverending downpour and the wind was strong, even in Fauske, which is low and somewhat sheltered deep in the fjord. I found it hard to leave the hotel behind. By Sunday morning it was snowing in the small city. It took ages covering the 600m to the railway station, we really haven’t figured the right setup out yet to put the wheels underneath the pulkas. The conductors were really helpful getting the sleds on the train and off again at Lønsdal. I started to feel too that the sleds were becoming a hassle.

We hopped into half a meter of fresh snow on the platform. I was thinking we could start walking along the E6 towards Bolna but PJ was not up for it. We covered a kilometre and stayed at Lønstua for the night. That afternoon I started to comprehend that my motivation was truly ending. The storm left an immense amount of powder in its wake and any progress would be hard-won. Just the 250m to the cabin from the road were hard and one of the sleds already tipped. Maybe it was time to give it up. Maybe we should just take the train south.

We had to skip Junkerdalen. It felt shitty to do that. We’d have to walk over Saltfjellet along the E6, not the most scenic way through one of Norway’s biggest national parks, but the only way we could make it over. And then what? What would happen once we got on the south side of that? We had a debate about quitting in the morning. I could have simply hopped on the train again but PJ really wanted to press on to Umbukta. And it would be nice to cross the Arctic circle, he convinced me, so we started plodding along the E6.

Midway through the day the visibility suddenly dropped and the wind picked up again. We got off the road, fearing that the cars and trucks wouldn’t be able to see us anymore. We stood behind an information sign on an uncleared parking for a while, debating what to do. We never came to any sort of conclusion. “But what do you want?” PJ asked. My answer came with overwhelming emotions. “I want to go home.“

The sky cleared and we couldn’t remain standing in the middle of nowhere anyway, so we continued southwards and up on the plateau. Just before the Arctic circle we passed a road sign stating Trondheim: 568km. Was that it, to Trondheim? If we really kept at it for another month we might just make it there. Momentarily I got my enthusiasm back. Maybe there was still hope. 4 days to Umbukta. 4 days to Stekvasselv, and then we’d be on our way towards Børgefjell. It couldn’t be that bad, could it?

Just before reaching the cabin at Bolna road works started, narrowing the road down considerably and locking us between walls of snow. I really didn’t feel safe anymore walking on it, especially with all the trucks passing. We debated again in the evening on what to do, ending in another impasse. PJ wanted to go on. I couldn’t find the motivation for it anymore. Neither wanted to force the other one into changing their mind.

No matter what, though, we had to make it to Krokstranda, to either follow a mountain road up and continue towards Umbukta or to find some transport to the nearest station. The day was beautiful. After 450m of making trails through the forest we arrived at a point from where we could not go on. Dragging ourselves and the sleds through the forest was not working. The river was not frozen. And the road was too dangerous.

Still in decisive impasse, we consulted with one of PJ’s aunts, Toril. She was out much in her time and knows the mountains and the weather well. We needed someone to guide us into some kind of decision, someone who understood what lay ahead of us. Toril was univocally negative towards it, both because of weather and snow conditions. She predicted that we wouldn’t meet anything good. The skiing conditions were difficult. The weather looked bad for a considerable time to come. Most notably, later that week another front was coming that could dump up to 60mm of rain, even high on the mountains. And after that days more of snow. We’d need a heck of a lot of motivation if we waned to work our way through it, motivation neither of us has.

There, by the side of the E6 we decided to throw in the towel and let it go. I couldn’t talk much on the phone, I just sat and cried. We waited for two months in Abisko for things to settle. But they haven’t. All that changed is that it’s brighter. It’s still a titan’s battle to get anywhere, with storm after storm sweeping over the mountains. The snow didn’t settle either. The powder didn’t harden and the avalanche danger didn’t stop. The ice is not safe everywhere. It seems that we can never just launch ourselves and get going with it, we can never assume that once we finished once stretch we can get through the next one too. Every time we think we got going something stops us. There is no prospect of progress. It doesn’t end.

So many years talking about it, waiting for it, looking forward to it. We picked the wrong winter and the wrong gear to go through that winter. Maybe we could have made it further and been faster without the sleds and should have used backpacks instead. But in another winter with different conditions the sleds would have been great. It’s all been matching wrong: the wrong conditions, the wrong choices, maybe the wrong expectations. I wish it wasn’t the way it is. But the fun has gone out of it, even if there are still many places to look forward to. And what’s the point in going to beautiful places if you won’t enjoy them?

Three big hikes I wanted to complete. New Zealand. Nepal. Norway. Out of those three I never would have guessed that Norway would be the one that didn’t work out, the one that offered so much resistance until we had to turn our heads home. Sometimes I wonder if we used up all our lucky mountain credit in Nepal. One hike with universally impossible amounts of luck. And the next one with exactly the opposite. Things balance each other out, I suppose.

It’s the first time for both of us that we have to give up. I don’t particularly like the idea of quitting yet I don’t see how we have any other choice. We fought long and hard and we made it much further than I thought we would. So in that way, it’s not a defeat. But it’s a disappointment. It’s sad when you have to give up on a dream.

Maybe we’ll finish it one day, continuing from here in sections until we finally reach Lindesnes. Maybe we’ll just pick out some really interesting parts and do those in the future. I don’t know. But the part we have done has been worth it, no matter how miserable it has been at times. I am grateful for the part of Norway I have gotten to see. And I am looking forward to the parts that I yet have to visit.

Distance covered: 1043 km

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8 thoughts on “To the Arctic circle, but not beyond”

  1. To know when to stop , instead of pressing on regardlessly , is the hallmark of true mountain loving people . And , knowing you two , i am sure you will someday continue , and do the full trek !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Daar Eef and PJ,

    Waw, said to read about giving up BUT congratulation for making the best of decissions….
    Pech pech , brute brute pech!!
    Jammer enerzijds, knap en meer dan knap anderzijds!!
    Fenomenaal wat jullie hebben doorstaan en ervaren, fenomenaal hoe jullie constant hebben gewikt en gewogen…..Fenomenaal de beslissingen die worden genomen…Wijs, super wijs!
    The limit, aards moeilijk te bepalen .
    Bepalen omstandigheden, bepaal je als individu, bepaal je als team…
    Jullie deden het allemaal…bedenken, proberen, evalueren, bijsturen, doorzetten, méér dan doorzetten zelfs, incasseren, twijfelen, herbeginnen altijd opnieuw, again en again .
    Uniek en bijzonder zijn jullie ! Beseffen jullie dat wel?!
    Ik druk het jullie op jullie hart, hier hoort absoluut geen gevoel van ‘falen’ , hier hoort een gevoel van ‘ grote wijsheid, grote dankbaarheid, grote fierheid’ !
    Een andere keer misschien… laat het bezinken en kijk terug naar een onvoorstelbare winter die jullie enerzijds ferm in de greep had maar die jullie anderzijds ook zoveel rijker maakte…
    Chapeau, chapeau en pluimen, dikke pluimen op die hoeden.
    Verzorg jullie nu, kom bij van deze winter die jullie dwong tot onwezenlijk denken , die jullie dwong in bijna onmenselijke fysieke inspanningen die jullie deed afzien ….Zet nu jullie volgende stappen in de lente, in een leven met nieuwe wendingen en nieuwe uitdagingen😉
    Dikke dikke knuffel aan jullie beiden
    Tot verder hores, tot,ziens!
    Liefs,
    Nicky

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  3. Well i am sorry to read that, but it is important to know when to stop.. I am sure you did the right thing.
    There is always next year, isn’t there? Just start again and hope for better conditions.. Everything is easier the second time. And, you have a lovely dog now!

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    1. There is always next year. Or the year after that :). I am sure that in time too, the disappointment will ebb away and a lot of good memories will come forward.
      Though I have to say… just for ending up with the dog, it was already worth it ;)! Thank you for following Jerry!

      Like

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