For weeks now I have been lying on the sofa daydreaming of trips to make and things to do. I did not have the energy to do much more than spend an hour outside with the dogs, let alone head out into the mountains. But the dreams became sharper and clearer as weeks passed. They made my mind come back to a somewhat functional state. Dreams became goals, goals became plans and plans always lead to exciting things up ahead.
Because I wasn’t able to spend so much time outside I decided to read books about people who do. Early on I started reading Lars Monsen’s (one of Norway’s favourite adventurers, for those who do not know him) biography. It was a birthday gift from Berit while we were on Hardangervidda. In it he talks about the time when he crossed Norway over the span of a year. It’s one of the few times I’ve read an account of someone who was out in the mountains of northern Norway at the same time PJ and I were: during the autumn and into the gathering darkness of early winter.
There is something oddly entertaining reading someone else’s account of your own experience. But one story in particular hit the right strings: Dividalen.
A part of me awoke from what felt like an a long and deep hibernation when I read about him and his companion getting stuck in fresh powder yet too little snow around the Finnish border and in Dividalen. Gosh, that place was stunning. Dividalen. Restlessness. Dreams. Goals. Plans.
I so fondly started missing expedition life at that point. All the sweat, the dirt, the hunger, the insecurities, the cursing it while loving it at the same time. All the times it feels like you just pulled an ace out of the deck of cards, an unexpected stroke of luck, that is over just as fast as it came. The standing in awe when the storm clears and the landscape reveals itself. Dividalen was all of that.
When PJ and I planned to cross Norway we wanted to start in the autumn and head over into winter. At some point we figured we’d change our hiking boots to skiing boots and our backpacks for pulkas. So we set off from Nordkapp in late September and soon understood that this was not going to be an easy task. The going got harder around the Finnish border. Some snow came, but not enough to strap on skis. Ice rains fell over the valleys, transforming every rock into a possible bone breaker. When we passed Halti (Finnland’s highest mountain) we decided not to go to the top because the weather was turning increasingly unpredictable.
I did not have much experience being out in the mountains in wintertime at that point. Sure, I’d been guiding in Lapland for a few years, but that was in the forests and the valleys across the Swedish border, a different story entirely. There is so little room for error at this time of year and errors come at a high price, I gathered that quickly. The whole thing made me feel so incredibly insecure and so incredibly hyped and strong at the same time.
Dividalen is one of those places where the mountains really battered us to the bone. Heck, the battering could match that of the Himalayas. There were so many storms. They swooped in, one after another, making even the walls of the cabins we sought shelter in tremble. When they finally subsided and we peered our noses out of our safe shelters we scurried over the mountains in record speed, hoping to make it to the next cabin before the weather window closed. There was ice everywhere, hidden and black on the rocks. The winds and the icy rain battered our faces, always head-on. It was the end of November and getting really dark.
On the good days we walked under a painting of twilight oranges, blues and pinks illuminating the horizon. The mountains glowed the red of coals in a fire while we crossed the shadow-filled valleys. Twice we stood on a pass at the exact time the sun illuminated it for a few minutes and we lost all words as we soaked in the rays of light. Then soon after it was gone again. We were forever in doubt if we should carry on or take one of the many possible exit points out of the mountains. But the twilight paintings and the glowing peaks kept drawing us further, announcing that the day was not over, that we still had time, and that we surely had to continue to see those peaks glow in the next valley, too.
I always kept a watchful eye on the sky, looking for signs of approaching weather or for signs that things were clearing up. Most of the time the sky was full of early warnings of high winds or precipitation approaching. One day I misjudged. Encouraged by good weather the day before we pressed from Dærtahytta to Dividalshytta, over a pass between Unna Jiertáš and Jiertáš. The way up was a disaster. In the funnel of a valley leading up to the pass the snow was piled high by the wind, but not packed. It was sticky, almost glue-like, and it stuck under our snowshoes in high piles, giving us the impression that we were walking around with bricks underneath our feet. PJ was done for after the steep climb up. We were aware that the wind was going to pick up and a lot of rain would fall throughout the night. I was worried that we would not make it across and spend the night up there in bad weather, so I started to force us through.
On the way up we suddenly found ourselves in a whiteout, the first real one I’d been in, with no notion of up or down. I fell a thousand times because I thought that I was going up while I was actually going down and opposite. The snow drummed, warning of avalanche danger, and I thought of the layer of rim below the snow. I’d been walking on it for weeks. If there was enough snow, if it was heavy enough, for sure it would slide. How long or big I did not know, as I had no notion of anything around us.
Our biggest mistake however lay not in the one misjudged day over that pass. For every day we put behind us we spent two being stuck in the weather. There was our biggest error. We did not pack enough extra supplies.
We got stuck at Dividalshytta for two days and started running out of food. At first we entertained ourselves by reading magazines, a book about two single mothers crossing Greenland and by playing cards. But the hours are long when stuck in a dark cabin with not enough to eat. I remember staring over at my pack, thinking of the food left in it, and the agony for not being able to touch it. We stopped talking. My mood was dark, darkened by the neverending black: the black daylight in the storms, the long black nights sitting by the candlelight. I wanted the sun, I missed the bright days of spring, the sound of birds, the smell of trees coming back to life. What a miserable thought. Spring was six months away and we had not even made it to the darkest time yet.
I am one who always tries to see the positive in things. Think positive and good things will happen! But by the time we arrived Gaskashytta just before the Swedish border hunger was gnawing at me. The road was so close there, like a red carpet leading into society, to as much food as you can eat. To hot showers and watching the storms from the safety of a window far from where they can hit you. But mostly, the food. I wanted food so badly. Fatty food, fast food, fries and sodas and bread and cheese. Oh, all that food we would find if we’d just take the easy way out and follow the road.
And then the magic happened. Once again it was going to storm and cold rain poured on us, so we retired early and took to a cabin. We scoured the place for leftovers from the summer season. Soon PJ found two packages, one with a waffle and one with a pancake dough mix. Pancakes! I was outside and he frantically started knocking on the windows, waving them around. I danced and danced and danced out of ecstatic joy. But the best was yet to come. BUTTER. Hidden in a storage room behind the kitchen. Nearly a kilo of it! Real butter!!
We made all the waffles and pancakes and drowned them in butter. I’ve never eaten so much butter in such a short time span. We made pasta for dinner, only with butter. There was euphoria in our minds. We revived, our bodies revived. Everything instantly became so much better. When stars shone in the sky the next morning we packed up, put our headtorches on, ignored the road and headed up into the mountains once more. That day looking at the winter sun setting over Lapporten was one of the most memorable days of my outdoor existence.
That feeling, right there. Being alive. Existing in the moment. I miss that feeling.
Norway is still an unfinished project. I’ve always been of the conviction that everything happens for a reason. Now the unfinished project stands like a beacon of light at the end of a long and dark tunnel. I must finish it. So I must get better. Get back on my feet.
I was really nervous before I posted crossroads a few weeks ago. It’s not easy to write open and blank about depression and burn-out, especially not when the depression concerns yourself. A great many people read that post. Quite some friends reached out after reading it, too, and for that I was very grateful. I don’t see my friends nearly as often as I wish but heck it is good to know that good people are out there when shit hits the fan.
I decided to publish it because these topics need to be brought out in the open. We still look with stigma at them, that those who struggle psychologically are weak and don’t manage in life. There are so many flaws to this way of thinking. It is not our problems or our darkest hours that define us as people. It’s how we choose to deal with them.