Finally some descending for It’s been a very long time for me since I went up a decent mountain, which always comes as a surprise to old pals in Scotland in the wake of my emigration to Norway. Spoilt for choice I would be! Well having kids and everywhere being a long drive put that in its’ place. In good ol’ Scotchlandshire we had of course a kind of descending order of mountains to get to the top of and see the view. First and foremost for me, it was the known ones in the west- Ben Lomond, The Cobbler, The Brack and the ones above Loch Goil which you could see looming over the skyline above the Gareloch, and often snow capped half the year it seemed to me as a kid. Our school boasted a mountaineering or rather hill walking club now that I remember, run by a certain Mr. Urqhuart who was still very spritely last time I saw him. That took us to various mountains like Ben Venue and so on, with a badge for those who completed a few walks and proved they could set a map to a compass. Next in order came the hills we set out to do as scouts. That included a crazy ascent of Ben Lawyers in a blizzard and about minus ten, with Peter ‘Pickle’ Nichol as our determined and fearless mountain leader. He had an aire of confidence about him with a compass in his hand, and got us on and off the summit (and I presume it was the summit) in about 10m visibility for the top 200m.
After this there came doing the big, impressive ones we saw from family tours in the Heelan’s and knew from general modern day folklore. Nevis, Cruachan. Lui. The big lumps beside the cobbler, Narnian and Ime. With a taste of this in your mouth, then it was Munro bagging ahead, with many a tough slog, and many a euphoric summitting very often with the sun already casting long shadows to the east. We werent too good at ‘Alpine Starts’ and to be frank, were rarely at the foot of a hill before 1 pm in summer.
It is really the tour of Ben Nevis with my mate Andy in 1990, post my final exams in that warm June time, which came to mind most on yesterdays tour to Trongedalsnuten. It ended up being a fantastic 10 hour or so trip with plenty of distractions on the way. After camping in the tiny mozzie tent inside the massive family tent he had aquired or borrowed, we awoke in Glen Etive under the old shepheard to then shoot round to the Glen south of Ben Nevis. The one with all the signs at the top saying it is a bad idea to ascend from there due to ice and flash floods. It is about 2000 ft in fact of friction scrambling with the odd waterfall area to clamber around. Near the top of that stretch of ice polished, mossy rock there is a pool at the foot of a small fall, which is deep enough to swim a stroke and a half in, and gives a horizon miniscus over to the mamores ridge, really quite a magic place. Especially when the day is 25’C ! We went further to find a welly and a potnoodle stuffed in rabbit hole near the first of the shoulder summits, pondering on what ‘big yellow’ taxi rescue may have ensued with a broken leg extracted from said unsuitable rubber footwear and in what weather. I think we eat that pot noodle later.
So yesterday was a very similar approach, up a twisting valley with ice scoured sides and the common or garden glacial river bed on the floor, and tracks of Red Dear and Elg to be seen. Gjovdal, one of three or four of the valleys which run westward from the main road from Southland to Telemark in Amli kommune. I had heard of some of the tours here before having slippy, polished rock and fixed ropes. We climbed eagerly and found the ropes were really of minor assistance, good for those of wobbly age, but they eliminated no real danger to life and only minor to limb. We soon had 700 m climb in about an hour and a half, meeting our first snow field before finding the sign post for the circular ring route to and from the summit. I was warned, The top was the other end of the ‘vidde’, a kind of high plateau with a collection of false tops, rifts, escarpments and lochans.We had both elected to go for terrain training shoes, which you will see a large majority of Norwegians using on any casual tour and some quite more demanding tours. It seems all that ankle protection stuff is out, and I proved to myself this is true where at least, there aren’t many stone boot traps. My italian cross breed trad’ brown boot, with goretex liner have lasted years now, being used mainly in snowy conditions, but they have endured in part due to a hard compound sole which is dodgey on wet rock. My winter season low leverl Reebok goretex trainers were sure as fire on the steep rock and over all the terrain. Only issue being those snow fields, which went from being flecks here and there to engulfing 90% of the bottom of gulleys and small glens over the ‘vidda’. We had only about 150 m total ascent left at the sign post, as the crow might like to fly its’ way from stump to trig point….that however was not to be with a couple of major downs and ups, and a long dog leg traverse on the easy side of the escarpment. We chose to go along the ridge line on the cliff tops and I could understand why they had taken leeway with the path. Oh, as you saw from the sign post Noggies are very keen on marking the paths with paint marks and the odd sign at junctions. THis makes some routes more easily accessible, and you here of relatively less mountain rescues of natives than you do of Scots. Winter is forboding, and the last people there who bothered to sign the book had been in March, just two of the, presumbaly on skis or with snow shoes. Those trainers became a bit of a torment! The painted path system has its challenges but also makes routes manageable and repairable which they do as voluntary or sometimes the coonty cooncil will take it on. This was a council initiative, the highest of the 20 peaks they have included in a pamplet you can stamp a la orienteering for a free t shirt and name in a book somewhere. However in such pathcy snow conditions they make it hard to follow a path, and in such already tough terrain, you can guess that the path markers had a good idea of where it should go, from detailed mapping and time to explore the place. So we half used our old instinct, following collecting features like that ridge, and hald followed the path, while also avoiding big snow patches. That became soon impossible and we had a long floor to cross with only one safe route between lochans which looked slushy and dodgey to try and walk over.
The last two undulations and crests were really bothersome. Had there been any more snow, even a foot, we would have probably had to either turn back or crawl to the top to avoid being stuck in boot traps. Also any loose snow on the descent from the escarpment or old ice would have meant another 1km detour. At best then we were making 1km an hour odd on that side of the ring route, although we were ferreting around like cocker spaniels in the heather , scrub and rocks. We probably covered 6km on what the map showed to be 4, and it took us three and a half hours odd.
Finally though, we came to the top of one more crest and the summit revealed itself just 50m ahead and not as I had dreaded, a few hundred meters of snow field in front of us again. Iain, who had done the trip twice before, had forgotten the detail and was equally glad to see the oddly urban looking metal pyramid trig point at the top, with the name and height in laser cut steel plates. Well I suppose it is the highest in the county, and at aboutu 12 ft high, makes it obvious from quite a distance that this is the real summit, and yes, it is as far over the vidda as you care to hope not.
Iain, man Friday for the day, produced an ‘energy drink’ which turned out to be a local brand of pils, and very nice and extra frothy it was too at 929m. I had been lead to believe it was a thousand meter hill, but in fact as you will see, it was quite impressive being the highest top for many miles and having a 360 panorama where you really could not see the impact of humans what so ever. Only the barren steep shores of a reservoir revealed that you were anywhere where people had ever existed.
It was kind of Alpine that vista as you can see from the shots above, with the mountains generally topping out around 1200 m in many directions formng a ring on the horizon to the west, north and east. I reckon you could see to the south of Norway’s highest peak in darkest telemark, Guastatoppen (which is a darn site easier to reach, with a 1000m high car park and even a former secret Nato furnicular railway tunnel now in use for tourists).( Update – according to google earth the line of sight just to the east of North has truly only one big lump which is beyond the Seljord valley area, and this is the biggest mountain in the SE of Norway, Gaustatoppen with its’ destinctive ridge being a little compressed from this view point. I would say that there was a bit of atmospheric lensing because it kind of stood out and you could see some features of shadow and snow on it. It stands to reason that if you can see a third of the south of Norway from its top, then you can see the summit itself from a third of the country here if you only get a high or clear enough vantage point)
The way off on the anti clockwise route we chose, was a lot easier for the first three K, The snow was shallow and often firm. Howevver as we neared the lake it became waste deep in places where it was soft enough to refuse to bear our weight. An hour slog ensued not then helped by a multiple crossing of a burn for some reason, I couldnt quite see why ehy had it like this.
I reckoned that the sting in the tail now would be the steep descent, but oh no, the hard part was a reascent before this over an peak at 872 m and back to the signpost. Hard biting scrub and random snow patches made this a real test of metal. It was 630 by the time we started this final little ascent, having left the summit around two hours before.
At the sign we needed a break and luckily Iain had a thermos of coffee, somethign I usually avoid on any tours now because it makes me thirsty and a bit grumpy after its lift has worn off. Once earlier in the day, near the highest point of the escarpment, I had felt weary and a little dizzy, I did not want to admit this to Iain, thinking I would rather drop dead here having chosen to persist and prevail towards the top, rather than dropping back. Both times the caffiene and choccie chaser lifted my spirits and concentration and the descent proved more troublesome for Iains five years junior knees and feet than mine, in fact I almost revelled in it. roping up a bit so to speak just for the hell of it and to make quicker progress. Beer sales were gpoing to be shut , as we got back to the car at 8.45, the tour being just over 10 hours long with not too many breaks really, just a lot of zig zagging for the best route and hauling legs out of snow to hinder a more usual 8 hour round trip for trained folk.
So Trongedalsnuten was conquered and I understand why there had only been two other names in the book so far this year, it is best perhaps with snow shoes in April or skis earlier in the year. I was glad for the many hours of yomping aroudn the woods and coastal paths I have put in this spring and look forward to my next Amli top 20 adventure, knowing the toughest of all is behind me now.