Sunday, 11 May 2014

Foresting Fibulas Batman!

Sometimes even just a short trip outside takes me away from the hum drum of life, and last night found me and Thomas wandering into our local woods, the early evening sunshine bathing everything in a soft, warm, golden light. Thomas wanted to set up his new tarp from Warbonnet, and I was just happy to be outside. The tracks were dry, the pine needles soft underfoot. We (I) were singing and looking around, joyful. The softness was treacherous though, as suddenly I tripped against one of the many exposed roots and started to fly...

Perhaps it would be more accurately described as a triple jump.

I hopped, skipped and jumped as time slowed down and I started to realise I was falling.

I remember thinking to myself, "I'm falling, I'd better land so that I soften my fall as best I can." A wing suit at this time would have been extremely useful, but I recollect aiming to do some sort of martial arts roll, to deflect the blow. Unfortunately I am not ninja shaped, nor did the root ahead of me that I fell on receive that message. Forest walking isn't necessarily a walk in the park! Mountains and craggy tops have their place (and I've fallen down those too), but so do forest paths where roots of old, old trees rise and twist several inches above the ground. It was just bad luck, but laying there after landing, with an amount of writhing and groaning and wondering what the outcome was, made me wish I'd been more careful...

After a few minutes of pain I got to my feet – hurrah, nothing severely damaged! Walking with the aid of Thomas and a stick I got halfway home. That is, halfway along only 150-200 meters. I felt sick (I banged my head) and my leg felt strange, numb to the touch but occasional shooting pain under my knee. After a fair but of arguing Thomas went to get help and a neighbour came to support me on the other side with me hanging in the middle. I wasn't convinced it was broken, and neither was the really nice emergency doctor when we eventually got to see someone, but I managed to surprise him, and me, when the X-rays showed a fracture to the proximal fibula.

The upshot of it is that I have a damn sexy compression bandage on my leg from my toes to above my knee, I can't put weight on my leg for a few days, but hopefully I'll be up and walking around again properly in a few weeks. Back to the hospital for repeat examination in a couple of weeks to see that the bone's knitting. It could have been a lot worse!

So, in the meantime there is still an overnighter I still want to write up, and, although this has put my plans back a few weeks, I hope to do a longer walk in the near future, which has brought my attention to an aspect of history Norway that has but which England doesn't. I'm looking forward to researching that more, and sharing what I learn!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Chocolate boxes and keeping warm camping, with views

Sometimes walks don't turn out to be the chocolate box attractive trails you hope. This weekend didn't start too promisingly, a bus ride out to the northern suburbs of Oslo followed by a 4.5 km walk on tarmac (ok, this is not such a big deal, but I still hanker after having a car sometimes) before the 'proper' walk started.

Forest roads sweeping past a saw mill and a gushing stream beyond, led us to a war memorial and a spot from where people were taking canoes out onto the numerous connected lakes. The landscape reminded me a bit of the forestry commission in the UK where pines had been cut down and unwanted branches left at the side. Not auspicious! But the warmth of the spring day released the pine oil scent, reminiscent of warm days in Austria. A nursery of Christmas trees brought some relief, and us singing to each other to create a rhythm and pace to walking helped immensely!

Our initial goal was to reach the DNT hytte, Røyrivannskoia, on the edge of the southern nature reserve in Østmarka. A short turn off the forest track led down a path, obviously still managed forestry, but crossing the beck at the bottom the ground on the other side was clearly managed in an entirely different fashion: this is the Østmarka I love!

Immediately, mossy green troll heads appeared from rotten tree stumps. Lichen and moss covered limbs, stones, rocks, almost whole trees, told the story of old wood, gamle skog. The closest area I can think of in the UK that resembles the old nature is around Padley Gorge on the Longshaw NT park, when the stunted oaks bend misshapen forms around stones and wind. But this feels old, as if it carried memories.

Røyrivanns koia was occupied when we came across it. Neither of us felt inclined to intrude, so after a short look around we continued on the blue trail around the bottom of Røyrivann itself, enjoying some mirror reflections of the banks opposite, and away into the distance.

After climbing along the backside where we were the trail broadened out into something that looked like a Roman road ruin. The sound of powerful water drew us over to another troll and the rusty remains of wood chutes – used to float timber down from one body of water to another. In fact this chute transported wood down almost a 50 meter drop. I didn't mind seeing the remains of earlier industry, but wonder whether the proliferation of wind turbines will be seen in the same way in the future. What will happen when they reach the end of their lives?

We crossed the head of the stream, continuing on the blue trail, which writhed up and onwards through birch and pine forest, over roots and rocks, the ground pretty dry underfoot with moss looking spent of moisture already, and it's just the start of May! By now though our thoughts turned to sleep; where to camp? We knew from the map that there was a lot of mire around the lakes, but there were also spots, hopefully, unmarked by mire. A small peninsula into North Krokvann (no, sadly we don't have crocs in Norway) was recced by Thomas who was jubilant on his return to me, guarding his ULA pack (ok, I was shattered!). Rain threatened so I followed him to the chosen lair with haste!

It was a wonderful spot, and Forrest Gump's words resonated with me. The kilometres of forest track were definitely worth it for this gem! It was obvious people had been there before, but the ground wasn't trashed, there weren't the tell tale signs of amateur arbor craft: only the professionals had been at work and beaver felled trees fell away into the water on the East side of the peninsula.

It started to rain. Thomas started to put his tarp up to shelter us while it lasted. He was going to hammock rather than use a ground shelter (if you want to find out more about what he used you can ask him on Twitter (@Gauperaa) or badger him on his blog - it's about time he updated it!). I have inherited his old Akto, a rite of passage I missed. This is the second time I've used it and I have to say I really like it – it feels so in keeping with the surroundings here.

Anyway, the rain abated, we selected where we wanted to pitch and got on with it with only minor faffing. Dinner was to be an ultra lightweight affair of disposable barbecued sausages left over from the day before, with mashed potato. Yum! The disposable barbie wouldn't light so Thomas sprinkled it, Jamie Oliver style, with some crushed esbit. After determining the correct amount of crush necessary to light a barbecue we got the pølser on, I brewed some tea on my caldera cone and finally we got to eat.

Already in Norway (or at our latitude - just over 59 degrees north) the sun doesn't set until about 20 past 9, so we still had some time to enjoy the view of two men fishing in a canoe on the lake, before a stunning sunset. The sun's last glow hit the trees on the far side of the lake, burning them to their tips as the sun left for the day.

And then, my evening battle commenced.
For my battle this time I had:

  • 2 hot water bottles,
  • lovely Woolpower socks (400, cheaper in Norway than in the UK, faint!),
  • Smartwool base layers and a Choc Fish Merino T,
  • Smartwool liner gloves and wool Devold mittens,
  • Exped Down Mat 7 (heavy and bulky but I can feel the warmth),
  • Western Mountaineering Alpinlite,
  • an Aklima balaclava and a possum wool beanie
Oh, and a hand warmer Thomas found in the closet that had a best before date from 2 years + ago...

Initially it was all lovely, I was cosy and warm in the Akto, but around midnight I got too cold. Remembering Joe Newton's fab email to me from about 2 (or is it 3) years ago, I decided to go to the loo, make a Real Turmat (real camp food) dehydrated meal, have something hot to drink and try again. I also put my Rab Photon on which I'd had covering my legs. About 20 minutes after zipping the place back up and no longer seeing my own breath in the cold night air I was unconscious. Success! I slept until about half past 7 and then again until I got way too warm in the sun.
Lessons for next time: do the above but a lot earlier!

After an alpine start of almost 1 o'clock we hit the trail!

In such a small area we covered lots of different terrain. Bog, birch woodland, round boulders, sharp stones. Pine trees, mire, lakeland, moss. It takes me ages to walk anywhere because I'm always gawping at the next thing, looking, taking snap shots, imagining, discussing. One mans trail run is another mans adventure.

One of the reasons I like Østmarka is because of the variety, particularly in these more protected or out of the way areas. It feels like a living place but one of very slow pace and of great age – that we are all just passing through as it slowly morphs through seasons and years. I could quite happily spend days, or weeks at a time in Østmarka, and that's just on the marked trails – veer off the trail and you're up to your armpits in water or having to cross terrain or through woodland that hasn't had human contact for years. That's quite hard going!

All too soon for my liking we rejoined the forest track back towards the north. We made the best of it; it's useful for me to get some fitness or speed up, and there are still plenty of things to look at. A wren sang beautifully at the edge of the forest, a bird I rarely see now. Great Tits however are abundant, as are Pied Wagtails which swooped down to rough ground.

We paused for 5 minutes on the side of a large lake, just before a turn to Finnland. Fish were rising all around us and we even managed to spy the dark shape of a trout in the water. The rest of the walk was, frankly, unremarkable, save for passing derelict buildings or productive farms. In the distance we saw the church tower of Hammer Kirke – the style of churches in Norway still feels rather alien to me (though less so than the sand pits bunkers on golf courses). A green bus drove by about 500 meters in front of us. Half an hour wait until the next, but we got lucky with a different bus ten minutes later and made our way home via the city.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Sweating over Cuben on Labour Day

Labour Day, at least in Norway, so a day off to chill out, relax, go for a walk. Except that we didn't. A few days ago Thomas ordered 2 DIY kits from Yama Mountain Gear to make some cuben stuff sacks, one in white cuben and the other in sage.

They arrived yesterday – we couldn't resist having a go at making them!
The package contained cuben fiber, transfer tape, cuben tape, spectra cord and cord locks: enough to make 7 different stuff sacks.

Looking at the website page, a variety of different configurations were shown to enable you to make stuff sacks of varying sizes. I chose to start off with a large stuff sack as I reckoned it'd be less fiddly to make.

I'm not going to replace the excellent instructions that Yama Mountain Gear provides (there's a YouTube video too), but have a couple of snapshots of work in progress and what the final product looks like.

I also made a minor modification to create a rectangular, or square, bottom, by changing the position of the seam on the shorter side and creating a base. Results of that are shown, too.

I really recommend this kit if you want to make a few stuff sacks of your own. In fact, it's so easy to make them that I'd recommend trying this out rather than buying any of the commercially available ones, whether you're looking for silnylon or cuben.

Now I'm thinking about making more cuben goodies; possibly rain chaps, likely some replacement tent pole bags (I'm trying out Thomas's Akto) and certainly a replacement wallet for the excellent cuben wallet pouch I got from ZPacks last year. (Incidentally, Joe and Matt will be walking the TGO Challenge this year, starting next week!) There are a lot of possibilities and I found it so much easier to work with than the 7g Silnylon Slipperiness I made a few years ago!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Østmarka Overnighter

It's been a while since I've done an overnighter, and now with the mild spring producing plus temperatures overnight, and the Påskeferie (Easter holiday for non norsk speakers), it was a fine time to have a go.

Setting off from home it was nice to walk from the door, rather than taking any form of transport to get to our hike. Not quite on the Gail and Mick scale of walking from their home to Torridon for the start of their TGO Challenge, but hey, I'm effectively starting from scratch yet again! So, off towards the southern end of Østensjovannet and about 45 minutes from home we were at Skraperudtjern, admiring the beaver felled trees on the bank. No rest for the wicked, we carried steadily up the track before taking the forest track to the right at Hullet.

There was a lot of water coming down the bekk (yes, it's another Norwegian word), as we walked up the track, following two runners who were also finding the track a bit steep. We paused at Fjelstad which was shut after the winter ski season, and started as two mallards whooshed over us to land in the still pond in front of us. A wavy coated retriever bounded up eagerly, full of energy as its owner, less full of energy, stopped to take a seat at the picnic bench. We were off again, passing Fjelstadbakken and on, down towards Katismyr along the tracks still to Øgården, which must be one of the sweetest looking places to live! A woman was sat on a bench nearby, sunning herself in the warmth, before we started upwards to another lovely place I remembered I visited two, nearly three years ago, when I first visited Thomas. It was a large stand of birch trees, this time leafless but back then the leaves were green tinged with gold at the start of the autumn. It was very much in the mood of a Klimt painting, so I was happy to take a break for a coffee, ahead of the leaves, sure to visit this place again.

We're trying out the GSI filters to make coffee, spoiled by the great coffee we make at home, so used those to make a brew at the side of the birch stand, enjoying the peace and quiet before an incoming phone call. It felt quite incongruous, to be connected like that, although I had connected up to a Norges-serie map to track the route. Still, we continued after a while, back onto the track with hvisveis (white wood anemones) and becks bordering the track. 

Wanting to go somewhere neither of us had been before, we took the track up to Gullsmeden, which turned out to be an unexpectedly nice surprise!

I had thought the name would be something to do with Oslo having it's own mini gold rush, but no, it was the name of one of the earliest inhabitants, Samuel Gullsmed, according to the plaque erected on a tree for him.It was tempting to stay put, but, despite a lovely Peacock butterfly, we decided to head on to see where the track took us. Well, we knew from the map that it would be down towards the edge of Elvåga, and, because of the lake being one used for drinking water, our decision was confirmed by a sign precluding camping within 50m of the water.

Onwards onto the next part of the track, which the map handily showed to be another stretch of forest road. Foolhardily ignoring the red stripe next to it we set off into some gloriously seldom used forestry, old pines covered with lichen and shaggy fallen birch, masses of glowing moss, reaching like extra terrestrials into the sunlit beams, ready to teleport any unwitting animal. Well, it felt like that as we started to bog hop, get side tracked by the beauty of the place, only to realise another bit of squelchiness was upon us already. Ah, Norwegian wood. Or bog. There's masses of the stuff and it brought back memories of being sucked in almost to my hips. I don't advocate just loosely tying your shoelaces here - if you do that you risk losing a trail shoe. I saw the odd bike track and cursed the creator for making the track worse. At a glance it didn't even look so bad, but moss can be so deceptive, laying there, seductively plump, encouraging you to tread on it with no obvious indication that there is no bottom! No bottom! Trickster!

Actually, it wasn't that bad really, but my nightmares only made it so. We emerged onto a gravel forest road (hurray!) that lead down to Pettersbråten, a place I remembered liking a few years ago but haven't been through since, and headed up on a trail to Langvannet. Wrong trail, but the snapshot below was worth the detour.

Going back it was easy to see the right, blue marked trail, which took us on the other side of Sotåsen, which we aimed to go around to pick up a red marked trail (for the skiers) to take us to the lake.

It wasn't to be, but we did meet some super trail, soft pine needle duff with boulders and reindeer moss either side, the lowering sun shining on the pale jade. Wonderful!

More mire (myr) to come, though not too bad, especially when you just accept your feet are going to get wet, but no red mark! Huh? We double checked against the paper map and the Norges-serie on my phone which clearly marked both our position and the path, but find it we could not. We continued to head south on the blue trail, passing a couple in their twenties who looked like they were out for a stroll (hey guys, this is serious hiking going on here!) and emerged out onto one of the main tracks leading from Østmarkkapellet on the Flyktningruta (refugee trail from WWII).

Pausing to check our bearings, although there wasn't much doubt, we saw a middle aged couple with a dog, all looking a bit miserable, which we saw why when we saw a quagmire worthy of a hippo. A hippo on a trail bike. Nice. Negotiating planking, stones, mud and mud we 'made it' to our exit point - a red trail heading up to Langvannet! (Hurray!) Of course, red trail equals skiers equals snowmelt equals... more mire! Opportunity to wash mud from the quag off and have a lovely cooling foot wash in frigid water for 200m. Wonderful!
I hope you can detect the sarcasm in my voice...

Langvannet opened up to be somewhat foreshortened due to a peninsular (it looked like a nice place to camp), but we stayed at the south end, tired (me especially) and wanting to just chill out a bit, eat and go to bed.

Thomas pitched the Scarp 2 that we'd borrowed from Tor Magnus and then fired up my side winder for some chilli while I fired up a fire, or tried to – it was so wet the fire took hours to be at all sustainable. Enough dead heather gave intense blasts of heat but without a saw for dead wood (there's plenty) we didn't have enough larger chunks to just burn. Anyway, the Scarp 2 looked great, we had full tummies and more coffee and the masses of down we'd brought with us were fluffing up nicely.

We were joined by a pair of Mallard ducks. It took some debate to decide which of the two was the noisiest, but decided on the female as Thomas saw her take a beakful of water to gargle out a quack.  They were pretty friendly towards us, fighting for our attention with a Canada Goose, the friendliness regretted as they kept up an almost incessant quacking for a couple of hours. Clearly mating season with a bachelor Mallard being swam off by the male of the pair.It being April, as soon as the sun dipped below the trees it started to get cold, our thermometers confusingly reading 0C and 6C. We weren't sure which was right but it didn't feel like 6. I elected to head for bed so after a wash with warm water (such luxury when you're hiking) and feeling much better for it, I headed off to bed first. It was a struggle to negotiate the layers I had brought with me - my Western Mountaineering Alpinlite bag with an MLD 28F Spirit quilt on top, plus my Rab Neutrino plus, and a lovely hot water filled Nalgene bottle Thomas was lovely enough to make for me. For once in recent memory I was actually warm. Bliss!And then the warmth started to fade as the burning chill I got from my thighs and bum started to remove the feeling of warmth from those regions (my feet were still warm though – yay!), and I started to feel my torso get cold. I ran in my sleeping bag but to no avail, and, because the pitch was just so slightly slanted, Thomas's mat, bag and body were sliding into mine, pushing me against the very cold inner tent wall. Did you know inner tent walls were such great convectors of heat? I hadn't realised how efficient they were, especially when combined with a touch of condensation. I started dreaming about creating a pair of Primaloft pants with pockets to put strategically placed chemical hand warmer things in – butt checks and thighs. But my turning, bag running and rearranging kept disturbing Thomas, and he must have been almost delirious with tiredness because he suggested he went cowboy camping under the stars. I reluctantly agreed in the hope he would get some sleep rather than hypothermia under his JRP quilt, but as soon as he left the building and I moved away from the sides, I started to warm up and to fall asleep.A moose call woke both of us in the night (actually, it was me – I screamed/grunted myself awake from a bad dream), but I could hear animal noises so I fell back to sleep knowing that Thomas was alive.

Thomas was still alive the next morning and exclaimed how he couldn't wear his shoes - the thorough soaking yesterday in the last stretch to camp mean't that most marvellous of physical reactions of water expanding when forming ice had occurred. In his shoes, in his laces and in his socks. I got off lightly with just my socks and laces frozen into new species of animal shapes. Thomas reclaimed his Nalgene hot water bottle to warm his Terrocs while I procrastinated. The promise of coffee and things not really being so bad coaxed me out of my downy cocoon into the frozen wilderness where Thomas showed me the selection of frozen ice bottles, declaring that only his sleeping mat had been free from frost.

After breakfast we packed up as quickly as this blog post is long. Maybe about 4 hours. The birds were back, plus with a visitor in human form with green Norrøna pack, who made his way straight across the surrounding myr with confidently booted steps. He knew where he was going. A pale flash of flesh gave him away on the side of the back towards the peninsula.

After lots of coffee we were away!

I'd spotted a trail, not in the myr, leading up over the rocky outcrop to the south of us and edging the marsh. We took that route back to the mud trail, where the blue and red trails ran parallel, the blue trying to stay dry, the red not caring less. 

We came down this path, in earshot of shrieking kids, excited to be out, were heard ahead so we took the road less travelled through some wonderful pine woods, following a narrow, stony stream bed to another forest track.

I was particularly excited at this point to know we were near Trollvann, excited just because of the name. There are lots of places in Norway with the Troll prefix - here we have Trollåsen (Troll hill), Trollvann (Troll lake), Trolldalen (Troll dale) to name just three. Yesterday we'd been near Trolldalsåsen (Troll dale hill), just to mix it up a little. All within 2 or 3 km of each other.  I like the Norwegian preoccupation with trolls, and if you haven't seen it, check out Troll Hunter (film, English subtitles) for more cultural insight!

Lots of potential walk opportunities passed us by as, now tired from the night of little sleep and needing way more than 600ml of coffee to get me going, we stuck to the trail to head around the north of Trollvann and south of Østmakkapellet, passing masses of hvitveis, blåveis and hestehov (Colts foot).

This photo doesn't show any of those, just moss, but moss can be beautiful, right?

There were lots of planked paths, some reaching to terra firm, some sadly a little short. All was welcomed, much done by the DNT or Østmarkas Venner, of which Thomas is one!

Our brains had switched over into "Let's get home" mode, and my foot, two weeks on from a minor op on the underside, was still a bit tender, so we decided to stick to the forest road from Trollvann and to make our way towards Gronmo and from there to Mortensrud to catch a T (metro) or bus into Oslo for a Max burger.

Marked and unmarked paths ran off from the main track. So enticing. Maybe this is a potential next walk?

We had a quick pit stop at the golf range for some sausage and turmix (the Norwegian for trail mix) and spoke with a man who, it turned out, had roamed Østmarka all his grown life, who knew every millimetre of it. He had an orienteering map with him, showing so much more detail than the maps we had with us, or those easily purchased that we knew of. The mapping in Norway is something I am steadily becoming more familiar with but do get frustrated with because it isn't as simple as the UK Ordnance Survey system. Perhaps a subject for a different post.

Leaving the comfort of the stones outside the golf range, we proceeded along the hazard of the driving range, spotting while balls among the hvitveis and hoping we weren't a direct recipient. A guy on a fat bike, GoPro front mounted and looking serious(ly shattered) pushed past us. I wondered out loud if we'll be on a YouTube video in the near future.

We continued on into increasingly desolate countryside. More logging activity, more gravel, more lyslope lights, and turned off short of Skullerud to Mortensrud, passing a lovely ochre house along the way to the bus.