Having recently spent two days crossing another one of Norway’s spectacular mountain passes – this time running through and between two national parks (Dovrefjell–Sunndalsfjella National Park and Rondane National Park) – prepare for a blog post full of superlatives such as beautiful, stunning, oh and spectacular.
The truth is that all of Norway has been pretty damn impressive when it comes to scenery. Somehow everything here is on a huge scale, and with that comes a heightened sense of amazement, whether you are in the mountains, on the coast, or lost in the endless forests.
But the mountains get me in a way that none of those other places have. There is something about the scale of the hills, the loneliness and quiet, the visible gradient in ecosystems, the thrill of being up high, the crisp chill of the mountain air, the 360° sunrises and sunsets, and a whole heap of other things that really makes me feel at home.
Surprising really, given that I grew up in a village on the outskirts of the Cotswolds without a mountain in site.
Nevertheless, the mountains provide me with somewhere I can think more clearly, somewhere I can be quietly content, and most importantly given my reasons for being out here, somewhere where I feel impelled to run. Somewhere in fact, where I love to run.
The only trouble is that to get to these mountains usually involves quite a lot of tough work. Especially when you are moving on tired legs with a heavy pack on your back. So it was with a little apprehension that I stared up the valley into the snow speckled peaks whilst sipping a morning coffee this Friday.
Day 73 – Friday 14th October – Driva to Hjerkinn Fjellstue…
It was another cold morning, the thermometer reading -8°C as I packed up the rest of my things and lifted my pack onto my back. For the first time this year I heard the crunch of ice under my feet as I left the campsite, wearing all of my layers and with a buff pulled over most of my face.
Although I was a little nervous, I was confident I would make it to the top of the pass (41km away), telling myself the best strategy was a slow, steady and consistent plod to the top – I had already agreed that running wasn’t necessary today as the majority of the day would be spent climbing.
For the first 3km or so, this strategy went fairly well. The valley was already starting to narrow and steepen, and a brisk walk felt adequate. However as I started catching glimpses into what lay ahead, be it by rounding a corner or climbing a little higher, curiosity got the better of me and I found myself wanting to move faster.
After a little while of running on the flatter bits I decided I felt good and wanted to keep pushing, choosing to run one song and then walk the next, often forgetting which song I was on and running for a few at a time. It was strange that on an average day I would have struggled to do this, yet today – on one of the most physically demanding sections – it was actually enjoyable and felt almost natural.
My reasoning behind this is simply that being in the mountains is an awe inspiring experience. I found myself looking up and being amazed at how small I was. Slowly, aspects from my studies became crystal clear in front of my eyes.
I was pointing out the transition from the older glacial valleys to their younger, smaller counterparts, which have subsequently been deepened by rivers. I was yelling out terms which were just words in school, but were transformed into physical objects out here. Truncated spurs, confluence, lateral moraine, hanging valleys, corries, faults, bedding panes, uplift etc. Each time I recognised something else I would excitedly state the name out loud and grin to myself.
I love knowing that all these hugely beautiful natural landscapes were just that (mostly). Carved out of the earth by little more than ice, water and wind. It gives you a sense of the power of nature, teaching you to both respect and admire the elements. This, I thought to myself, is the reason why I studied Geography.
People often smirk at this – asking if I want to be a teacher. And the truth is actually that yes I would love to be a teacher. But that’s not why I studied geography, I studied geography because of its limitless potential, it’s name literally means the study of the earth, and what could be more valuable than a deeper understanding of the planet which we live on.
I apologise, I got a little lost there in my love of geography.
Back to Friday and there I was, still happily running up the mountain, stopping occasionally to take the odd photo. I made a brief stop around halfway – delighted to find an encouraging text from Siobhan on my phone which made my smile grow that little bit more – and using the opportunity to eat some of the only food I had left- a bowl of cereal (I was planning on having dinner and breakfast in the hotel so saved on weight by not buying more food).
And then it was back to the road, hiking up and up and enjoying the scenery, until eventually the ground started to level out, and I had arrived at a plateau. The peaks of the surrounding mountains were visible from up here and added to my sense of amazement. They were truly beautiful – peaks of all different shapes, some dappled with snow, others with patchy vegetation, and a few bare rock and scree. It was just the push I needed (coupled with a couple of small bags of haribo) to get me up the last 5km to the top of the pass – stopping briefly to take an obligatory ‘top of the pass’ shot.
It was around this time that the reality of what I had just done set in and I proudly set off at a run again, this time 1.5km down hill to a hotel, where I was expecting a huge hot meal and a warm bed.
It was also around this time that I noted how quiet it had become since leaving the main road, and suddenly I began to regret not checking if the hotel would be open before getting here. The closer I got to the hotel the more it became apparent that it was in fact closed – the gates were shut, the car park was empty and there were no lights on in the main building. There were however lights on the campsite toilet block – which suggested there was still hope – so I slowly made the painful ascent up the driveway to the doors of the hotel.
As is the usual drill now ‘the season is ended’, I found and dialled a phone number attached to the door of the hotel. The phone was answered by a lovely lady who listened carefully to who I was and what I was doing, despite being baffled by what it was I was telling her. I also explained that I had no food and asked if it would be possible to buy some. She laughed a little at this – saying that the nearest food shop was 30km away – but then told me to wait where I was whilst she came to meet me.
I sat and waited for a little while, taking time to appreciate my surroundings whilst my belly rumbled a little and I started to get cold. Lifting my head though it became clear just how beautiful a location this was. Peaks surrounded me and a frozen lake sat in the small valley ahead. There were Huskie puppies and a pony in the field below and the sun was setting, turning the sky slowly pink.
A few moments later the lady had arrived, and although her dog seemed to want to rip the limbs from my body, she was really kind and led me into the reception. She offered me a room in the pilgrims cottage – informing me she had switched the heater on – and then presented me with a box full of bread, eggs, cheese and meat, which she gave to me free of charge. I purchased a can of celebratory beer whilst I paid for the lodge and then went off to enjoy the rest of the sunset, along with the rise of the moon, from the relative warmth of the lodge.
Day 74 – Saturday 15th October – Hjerkinn to Dombås…
The following day I woke with difficulty – the warmth and comfort of a proper bed making it hard for me to wake up. Eventually I did so however, and noticing how hungry I was, immediately set about frying the remainder of the eggs and eating a decent breakfast. I then packed up my stuff and headed down to reception to give the key back. I was just sat outside reception, catching up on the Internet, when the daughter of the lady I had spoken to yesterday came out with a cup of coffee for me – an incredible gesture which I accepted enthusiastically. I returned the cup and the key about ten minutes later – thanking them both for their hospitality and complimenting the beauty of their hotel and campsite. And I genuinely meant it too. I could thoroughly recommend anyone to visit this place – they have so many activities on offer and the location is perfect. I promised to visit again during the season, and I fully intend to do that, I had really felt at home during my short and unexpected visit.
Soon though it was time to set off and I felt surprisingly good as I said my goodbyes. I visited the huskies and the pony on my way out, stopping to take some photos, then carried on on my way.
The remainder of this day involved running along a plateau for about 20km, before descending for around 15km in the afternoon. The scenery was still amazing and I listened to an album of classical theme tunes to films.
I say this with great sincerity – if you have never run through the mountains to the sounds of the Lord of the Rings theme tune, you have not experienced life. And not just that film either, the delights of star wars, Harry Potter and Gladiator all powered me down the other side of the pass, running the majority of the time and arriving in Dombås as early as 15.30 (despite a late start) as a result.
In Dombås I was sipping coffee as I was told that Banbury Canoe Club had raised an amazing amount to support my trip through a cake sale. As a result I thought I would get a night in a hotel rather than risk the -13° cold that was forecasted that evening. Feeling incredibly grateful to be part of such a great club as I made the decision.
I left the garage and took a quick look at the war memorial (to the first American soldier to lose his life in WW2 and to other Norwegian soldiers who had been killed as a result of the conflict), I sat on a fake musk ox, and then I thought I would try my luck at the Scandic Dombås Hotel.
As I approached the hotel, I thought that getting a night within my budget was unlikely, but practiced my usual ‘I’m hiking for charity…‘ speech in my head as I walked through the doors. Once inside, I became certain that I couldn’t afford to stay here. The decor was fresh clean and modern, the ceiling was three stories high and to my left a glass wall showed beautiful views over the frosty valley. It was stunning.
Having smiled at the man behind the desk it was too late to back out and I decided to give it a go. To my surprise he seemed really enthusiastic and interested in what I am doing, and over a quick chat which involved me denying all connections to Wayne Rooney and him being glad about this (he was a Liverpool fan) he said he was the owner and that he wanted to give me the room for free. I was amazed as he handed over the key and actually had to stop myself from crying.
I went to my room feeling so happy about the past two days. The scenery had been amazing, the people had been incredibly generous, and I was reminded about how much I love this country.
That night involved watching a Norwegian dance band and even throwing some moves myself, and unfortunately not much sleeping in this lovely room. But what an experience and what a night!
To both the hotel owners I met over that weekend I am incredibly grateful and I do hope to visit them both again in the future. I’ll pop the links at the bottom in case you’re curious.
So there we have it, my second Norwegian mountain pass and I loved it just as much as the first. I went into the mountains concerned about the distance still to go and feeling like I still had a lot to learn on this trip. I left the mountains with a renewed sense of optimism and a much deeper understanding of who I am and what I want from life. It sounds cliché and over the top but it’s true. And I have the beautiful Norwegian wilderness to thank for it.
If any of you ever get the chance to come out here, take it with both hands, you won’t regret it.