Category Archives: Kross-køntri

Taking Back the Mountains! 

     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.  ​

The View Roughly NW from Trongedalsnuten at 1630 odd.

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.​

Start Point/ OBS!! NB!! There is a concrete ford river crossing here, which in flash flood conditions you may not get back over having driven to the car park. The foot bridge is long since fallen to bits

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.​

sign marking the circular route to and from the summit

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’.​

looking towards the reservoir at Fyresdal, with the obvious beach line

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 highest point of the big escarpment which runs across the plateau or ‘vidda’

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. 

The fixed ropes today were just for fun, friction being good, but the lack of footholds on the polished rock could be a challenge in snow, or especially the typical thunder weather which develops up these valleys due to the sea breeze and humid air coming from the Skagerak

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Season Take Out , XC skiing 2015

Sitting here watching the 50k’ at the World’s, live from Falun. In a week there, they have had everything thrown at them in terms of weather and resulting snow conditions. A week of highs and lows for the favourites. For me my season amounted to about a week’s worth- 10 tours averaging an hour and a half effective each one.

Half of those tours were on skating skis. This was in outset just a bargain i couldnt miss, and since i have longish carbon poles and combi boots it was just a little temporary dint in my visa card. It could be interpeted as a distraction, trying to reinvent the wheel before perfecting the classic model, or even making it less oval and more rounded! But it has forced me to become more agile on skis, especially with ski -weight commitment, step turning and balance on one ski.

Classic tours have been by in large with excellent waxing and as mentioned grip-tape on friday being most satisfactory in the most difficult, hard, abrasive, variable conditions.

Northug wins on a fantastic sprint! Double pole deluxe. That is one thing which has improved for me this year, and shown me that my tour skis are not much cop. My skate skis are killer for double poling. So skinnier skis for classic too next year.

Gripping Stuff….Tape “wax”

Once again we get a season of really variable conditions, tending on the hard packed base of the groomed tracks. New snowfall onto older, iced tracks. Wet snowfall. Melting. Repisting thesher machines. This makes for frustration amongst sunday day trippers and proffessional xc teams alike, as we have just seen in world champjionships to Falun.

Two problems arise in such thaw-back, freeze, wet new snow conditions. Firstly you just choose the wrong type of kick and glide waxing, or conditions change. This is what happened to the norwegian ski team in Falun this week. It started snowing, onto a transformed, crystaline  base at quite mild air temps. The USA womens team could ski the race of their lives to get both silver and bronze! Secondly the issue is that the wax wears off too quickly.

For the rank amateur, tour skier glide wax is not so important, but plastering on the wrong kick wax for the day can make for either a frustrating, slippy kick or a clumping of snow and reduction of glide from the skis. Most often what I hear in the forrest carpark is the decision to use a “red” or easter wax in conditions which are clearly klister!  People want to survive on white waxes, because clister is messy and really needs to be placed on a ‘base binder’ or at least a nice, hard first coat of green wax. Klister will not sit well on purple  wax and is outright messy and mobile on top of red. But it can be laid onto a quickly scraped off, bare ski to get yourself a five mile tour in for the day.

What solution ?
With an early thaw from runs in the lower lying areas i decided against the expensive solution to waxing. The new, flush fitted integrated kick zone skins. Next year?

This year, the frugal option presented itself. I wandered into a Class Ohlsson store and saw they had, being scandinavia, a little wax and gear section. This just also happened to have a sale on, and i saw Start kick tape there. I had heard of it before, and other companies had tried tape products which are no longer on the market. Here it was though, the survivor. The scotch-tape style package, in fact the whole concept is very 3M baring it being a large enough market for them to bother with.

The start product is rolled on a bare ski, sandpapered and cleaned , and comes with a backing paper like double sided tape.  The backing paper makes the whole thing way less messy than klister or even red wax. You thumb the wax in hard in the middle and then on the edges, through the paper. You can even leave the paper on until you reach the trails, and put it back on for the tour home.

Consistency wise it feels a bit clister like, but with the tackyness and viscosity more like “red” wax. It should be applied to a shorter kickzone, and i recommend this also being short at the heel.  5cm shorter on a typical 60cm marked kick wax zone.

I arrived at Kleivvann to new, wet snow on a hard base, churned by the piste machine at least once. Aggressive crystals. I took the prudent move of letting my skis cool down on snow.

First little kicking hill and I flew up it with good grip, but without that new clister snagging feel. Glide was terrific in the tracks, but a little unpredictable on the mid skating lane.

It survived 10km on varied hard, crusty, soft slushy and outright ice. Infact it looked like it had just rubbed in a bit more. However it had gone a bit mobile behind the heel, so thus i recommend about 4cm short of the heel in abrasive condtions.

It felt just like gettijng a good lillac wax job for -1 or a floruo blue for colder conditions.

Verdict? 9 out of ten. Yes some kicks were slipping, and fthere was some crystal build up. But this was better than universal clister in both cases considering the conditions.

End of XC Ski Season…Early Bath….But Satisfied !!

This year the weather gods have conspired to give N.America a double dose of snow and ice, while southern Scandinavia has its season cut short on both ends at lower levels. We have been on the edge of mild, continental and Atlantic air for months, and although this then did result in snow, the mild air is now driving hurricane force storms way up to the arctic circle and Tromsø.

There is a good chance for easter-snow lying like a zombie on the middle high trails, like Kleivvann and Vegårshei, but there is just the same chance they become ice rinks as our local run has become at Bromsmyr.

Conditions last weekend had been very good considering the mild spell and the refreezing over night. It was especially favourable for skating over classic due to the difficulty in waxing and wax lasting. Double poling and use of tracks down hill were pretty much necessitated on harder areas or there where the mid lane had sprouted twigs and gravel had been churned up by the piste-machine.

“Staking”, “pigging”, “poling….some people hate it, others love it especially along Bromsmyrveien where there are several stretches which are probably ideal for double poling for at least classic. My last trip out was about half and half poling and skate technique. In fact I find the my new narrow, straight skating skis are much better for double poling in the tracks than my Fischer PowerWax tour-train skis. This is maybe the pre-tension spring in the arch, or maybe the tracking but most of all the narrow, fast profile.

I am no longer impressed with my classic skis. Very few skiers here use that type of ski, they either opt for steel edged all round “mountain” skis which are a little broader, or for narrower racing skis. Off piste the fischers are too narrow by in large to float over the snow in a reasonably shallow own-driven groove,  and lack a steel edge for harder conditions. In the tracks they seem slow as I said. They should have a higher spring that the skaters, and go fast in tracks while double poling, but are notably slower now I have a feeling in comparison.

Last night’s session and conditions despite being very hard and ice in places,  were still suitable for  practicing “padling” up hill, with me trying to focus on getting the left side to work so I dont end up a lop sided gorilla!

There was just enough grip on some uphills to get the ski’s edge cutting in, other places were more icy but rough enough for the edge to secure itself. In fact because it was so “fast” then I could really feel the benefit of weight transfer and leg extension in “padling” and use the poles in the pole plant to secure myself like ice axes on a climb! Each leg movement and hip swing gave a little more exaggerated travel for me than I had felt in the softer conditions.

That is one thing about skiing – skiing in one difficult condition informs your technique in others, while of course skiing in “silky snow tracks” is the best place to learn in the first place, not on the tracks near the coast here, which are exposed to thaw-re-icing and hundreds of users.

As a holiday learner or with the family, it is really best to learn up in the high mountain resorts and then it is Winter holidays and Easter which are the times when temperatures are a little kinder and snow depth is guaranteed. You are more or less guaranteed silky conditions in some high areas and “blue waxing”.

For my own learning curve I have an indelible grin from this short season. I have come a lot further with skate skis than I imagined I would have done, although it is still frustrating and I no doubt look a little ungainly. I feel pretty confident on my classic skis, with optimal waxing so far, and know that skate skiing is going to help fix my lack of finesse down hill and my need for bail outs and back end hand brake stops!

Also  I know a little more about my boundaries and when to exercise caution, reverting to snow plough or one foot out the track plough, or just letting the gas pedal off and taking it easy with rhythm, style and breathing taking my focus. Last night for the first time on skate skis, I did a whole route without falling over at all. I reached “jacobs cafe”, the turning point,  and decided to keep it that way. So on the return leg I used one foot, plough breaking with the other foot tracking in the outer tramline. And for the last couple of steep hills, which was hard with a fair bit of gravel, I took off and walked down, discretion being the better part of valour if this it was to be the last tour of the regular season.