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Trip Report

Nordic Ski Tour in Jotunheimen national park Norway

by David Walsh from Melbourne

SKIING BACKGROUND

NORWEGIAN DREAM

GOURMET TRAIL

TABLE SERVICE!

SCANDINAVIAN HIGH

CELEBRATE EASTER 

FINALE

EQUIPMENT

REVIEW

HIGH ADVENTURE

Jotunheimen photo gallery

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My Skiing Background

A downhill skier for over 20 years, my introduction to cross country skiing came when I went on a training camp at Howmanís Gap near Falls Creek to try it as an economical alternative for skiing with a young family. Cross country soon became my preferred type of skiing as I toured the Bogong High Plains, snow camped in the Alpine National Park and joined in citizen and interclub races with Birkereiner Nordic Ski Club in Mount Beauty.

Norwegian Dream

I read an article about multi day ski touring in Norway across the mountain plateau, in the spring staying in serviced huts. Just like this article you are reading now. The particular article related to Finmark the northern province of Norway above the Artic circle. Doing a tour in Norway like this became my dream. Imagine doing a multi day tour in reasonable spring weather with reliable snow, and no need to carry tent, food, stove, fuel, sleeping bag, or sleeping mat. Best of all no need to be cooped up in a snow tent, but to be able to ski from warm and comfortable hostel to hostel in a national park. This is something you cannot do in Australia and an experience I wanted to enjoy. As luck would have it I was planning a ski trip to Europe and I came across David Hamilton of High  Adventure who was running a Nordic tour in Jotunheimen national park in Norway. This was a lot further south in Norway than Finmark, in a very popular ski touring area, and an excellent opportunity for my first experience for ski touring in Norway.

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Location of Jotunheimen National Park

Access to Jotunheimen National Park

Gourmet trail begins

There were eleven members of the group who on the Saturday prior to Easter, caught the afternoon train from Oslo to Otta, and then a taxi bus to the DNT hut at Gjendesheim the starting point of the skiing part of the tour, arriving at dinner time. I was the only member not from the UK. We started the tour with the first of many excellent meals in Norway and following an after dinner planning session we all retired to the dormitory to prepare for the first days departure. The first day was a 18 km track in cloudy but pleasant weather along a frozen lake to Gjendebu, another excellent DNT hut. Twigs planted in the snow marked the track. These are placed a couple of weeks before Easter. Skiing along a frozen lake was certainly a unique experience for an Australian skier, however it became a bit monotonous by the end of the day. Unfortunately the long slog took its toll on one member of the party skiing in brand new boots. The member managed to get a lift out on over-snow transport. Calling these DNT facilities huts does not convey a true impression of their facilities. Sure they some times look like huts from the outside, but this belies the beautiful polished woodwork inside, the drying facilities, dinning facilities with huge meals, and often hot showers. Admittedly in a few cases the toilet facilities were somewhat basic. However this is to be expected in a National Park where installation of sewerage facilities is often difficult.

On the second day we covered a similar distance this time on more undulating terrain to Fondsbu. Two more members of the group had to quit after this second day, one also suffering from new boots and the other not having the desirable fitness level. These people managed to get transport out. This was another excellent hut however in this case the toilet block was open pit and separate from the accommodation block. This is was no real hardship compared to snow camping in Australia. 

What no table service

The third day saw us follow the trail to Olvasbu our only unserviced hut gaining 400 meters during the day. We were met there by Roar Svensbakken, a Norwegian friend of David Hamilton the leader. He was an excellent skier as well as the nicest partner of a major audit firm I have ever met. It was a real bonus to have him along for the next few days. He contributed skiing skills, local knowledge and generally pleasant company. The unserviced huts still have food, you simply have to cook it yourself. There is an honor system where you can pay by credit card. As it was the Easter holiday period even this hut had a volunteer warden for the public holiday period. Each day the terrain looked more and more familiar. By now I could have sworn that I was back skiing on the Bogong High Plains except for the fabulous  DNT huts and the trail marker twigs instead of snow poles.

Highest Scandinavian Glacier

The fourth day saw us follow the twigs again, this time over more interesting terrain to Spiterstulin a private hotel on the border of the National park adjacent to Galhopkigen the highest mountain in Scandinavia at 2469 meters. On the way to Spiterstulin the advance party attempted the ascent of Nautguards a small mountain, however we had to turn back three quarters of the way up due to avalanche risk. The next day one member of the party enjoyed the hospitality of the very pleasant hotel, while the rest of the party headed for the summit of Galhopigen in what turned out to be atrocious weather. The same day the guides from the resort had also planned a ski assent of Galhopigen, however the Norwegian  party chose to divert for a ski route around the mountain and to attempt the summit on a more pleasant day. For our party it was today or never so we continued on towards the summit. One of our party without a balaclava had to turn back suffering the early stages of frost bite on the nose. I also started to show early stages of frostbite. However putting on a balaclava and a pair of inner gloves fixed the problem. The last few hundred meters of assent was unskiable and required walking with our stocks for support. When we did successfully make it to the summit the weather remained like the rest of the day, a total whiteout, so we headed down almost immediately. The first part of the ski down was on beautiful untracked power. However this deteriorated into an almost unskiable thin crust further down. The quality of snow on the decent became a consistent problem whenever we ascended the peaks. We returned to Spiterstulin to welcome the return of a member of the group who had had to drop out after the second day, due to new boots.

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Easter Celebration

On good Friday the sixth day two members of the party accompanied by the Norwegian  followed the twig track to Glitterheim. The remainder of the party made a track over the summit of Glittertind at 2464 meters. As we reached the summit the cloud cleared for a perfect view from the top of the second highest mountain in Scandinavia which made up for the previous days whiteout. Again the views and terrain reminded me more of the Bogong High Plains and the Snowy mountains, in strong contrast to the skiing I had been doing earlier in central Europe where the mountains are much higher than in Australia. The snow on the descent was again extremely difficult and explains why the majority of the Norwegians stick to the twig trails, and only ascend the summits when both the snow and weather is favorable. However except for Roar, the Norwegian friend of the leader who joined us for a few days we were all foreigners and determined to attempt the summits if at all possible. In Norway the main Easter celebration is on Easter Saturday. We were fortunate to have a rest day at Glitterheim on the Saturday. In the afternoon there was a toboggan race on tyre tubes and a ski jumping competition. First prize went to a Norwegian skiing on downhill skis, I came in second using Nordic XCD skis, while another Australian not in our party came third. That night the hut staff put on a spectacular traditional Norwegian Easter dinner, all in an isolated hut in a national park. This alone was worth skiing days to get to. In fact the two Australians (one of Norwegian decent ) who were touring independently delayed there departure that day simply so they could stay for the dinner. They then skied off into the twilight towards Spiterstulin. Some what foolishly I thought to be following the twigs in the dark, but an indication of how keen they were to experience the traditional dinner.

On the eight and final day of skiing, we followed the twigs on a challenging 21km ski back to our starting point at Gjendesheim for a well earned end of tour celebration. The track via Russvashua involved ascending passes three times and then returning to lake level. However by now it was the ninth day of the tour and our eighth skiing day so we took it in our stride are arrived at Gjendesheim tied but very pleased with ourselves.

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Finale

The final day of the tour involved the one hour taxi bus return trip to Otta to catch our train for the four hour journey to Oslo, from where we all made our way home on various flights. For me it was back to Australia after five weeks of every type of skiing across five countries in Europe, for the other participants it was back to the UK, and for the leader David Hamilton it was the end of a series of European ski tours and preparation for the mountaineering expeditions.

Equipment

The equipment that I used on this trip was basically the same that I would use in Australia. I used my wax-less Karhu XCD skis, with three pin touring bindings and leather boots. These are the same boots that I wore traveling around Europe from resort area to resort area for five weeks to save on weight and space. My pack, a 45 lt Snowgum Condor was between the size I normally use for day touring and the larger pack I would use for a snow camping trip. The only addition to my equipment was a set of narrow skins for my XCD's. Most Norwegians tour on waxed skis, but carry a very narrow set of skins for steep climbs. There is a trend in Norway to switch to wax-less skis for the spring when snow conditions are similar to Australian conditions. Some Norwegians were touring on skating skis.

All of our party other than myself were British. I was the only one skiing on wax-less skis, the others were using either waxed Nordic skis or alpine touring skis. In both cases they were using skins for the climbs. Generally this provided me with an advantage as I did not have to stop and apply and remove skins. However on some of the steeper climbs I had to cut my own track as the track cut by skiers using skins can be too steep for patterned skis. On the two summit assents I needed to use the skins to maintain the trail which was steeper than you would normally experience in Australia.

I used the same clothing I use for cross country ski touring in Australia. Most of the time I was experiencing Australian like temperatures and conditions and a substantial percentage of the time I skied in my thermal lycra pants without over pants. The assent of Galhopigen due to the wind chill factor was the coldest I have experienced but my clothing was adequate.

Review

I was very pleased to have done this Nordic tour. It certainly has rounded out my ski touring experience. There are so many Norwegians, both men and women out there skiing in the Jotunheimen national park at Easter time, it is a great atmosphere for a keen cross country skier. It is a novelty and such a pleasant experience to ski from location to location with these beautiful DNT huts providing comfort and great evening social interaction. So different from the only choice of snow camping in Australia. If you are a keen cross country skier you must try the Norwegian experience at least once in your life time. To any wilderness purists out there who are taken back at the idea of all these serviced huts in the Norwegian national parks, let me say that the Norwegians are dedicated to a system that works well in an environmentally friendly way. They have achieved large numbers of their, young, old and families out there spread throughout their national parks traveling from hut to hut, enjoying the natural environment during the day and comfort and social interaction at night. Do not knock it until you have experienced it.

The weather for our ten day trip around Easter 2001, during the second week of April was overcast most of the time with some fog and low cloud. However it was not unpleasant except for the day we skied to the summit of Galdhopiggen where on the exposed areas of the assent it was very unpleasant. The marked stick trails, which take the easiest route from hut to hut would be easy skiing for any experienced Australian ski tourer, but unfortunately did not photograph well in the weather conditions so most of the photos in the gallery are of the mountain assents. Most of the Norwegian skiers stayed with the marked trails.

I am even more determined to go back to Norway to do my ski  tour in Finnmark. With the Norwegian touring season running from February to the end of May, it is possible to combine a couple of ski tours with general tourism. The staffed huts are only staffed from the Saturday before Palm Sunday to Easter Monday. I am also keen to get back to the DNT huts for some summer walking.

The total cost of the trip land content only, Oslo to Oslo was about A$1,500.00. This was the pre trip estimate by High Adventure.

High Adventure

I was pleased with my choice of tour operator in High Adventure. David Hamilton is the type of leader who decides where he would like to go and then sells the idea mainly to his previous satisfied customers with a few new ones thrown in. His tours are inevitably enthusiastic, exciting, challenging and somewhat unpredictable. His tours are a complete contrast to those operators who find a few successful tours and repeat the same ones at infinitum until the leaders become bored. Be warned while he does not abandon any stragglers his groups carry no passengers. His groups are often made up of primarily mountaineers. You should be prepared for the mentality of a group who see ascending to the summit and  down from the summit while it is still dark is a successful and enjoyable experience. Cross country skiers from a bush walking background who know that it is only worth the effort of skiing to the summit for the view and the great ski down may need to fight for some sanity and commonsense within his groups. David Hamiltonís  tours are economical and unpretentious, and his style would suite most Australianís better than many tours run by American or European based companies. I would certainly jump at the chance to join one of his tours in the future.

High Adventure Website 

Jotunheimen photo gallery

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Revised: April 01, 2006