FREEDOM in a Pandemic

Another summit in Norway with Abelone.

In recent weeks, as restrictions on travel, social distancing and borders open, it has somehow felt that living in the times of a Pandemic is a little like toeing the line at Big’s Backyard Ultra. Instead of running loops around a yard, we wake up each morning for another loop of 24-hours not knowing where the finish line is and when it will come.

Covid-19 for us runners is a very unique ultramarathon.

In all honesty, I do believe that ultra-runners are somehow better adapted for the challenges that a Pandemic brings. Mental fortitude and resilience have come to the fore and when restrictions were really tough, runners rallied with running at home. Virtual suddenly became the next big thing. It filled a gap and brought people together from all over the world in a mutual coming together to enjoy a love of sport and community.

The impact on work has been huge for all and the consequences of this will continue on for months and years on personal levels and business. It’s a sad time.

But early on, I accepted that 2020 would be a wipe out. Being somewhat of an OCD character, this took a little time to adjust too. My year of work was planned out. The schedule was timetabled and suddenly, it was gone… What was full, soon became empty. I have felt my moods swing with positivity and at times I have wanted to put my head in my hands.

But quarantine and social distancing, in all honesty, was no big deal for me. I actually feel that I have social distanced most of my life and sport has only reaffirmed that.

Yes, I enjoy the company of friends. Yes, I enjoy a trail run with company. Yes, I enjoy a beer and a meal with others and yes, I have missed my family.

The summit os Slogen, Norway in July with Abelone.

But I am good alone, in isolation and finding my own footing. Time on the trail has always allowed me to switch off, think, contemplate, plan, work out problems, come up with solutions and form ideas.

When running with others, I am often asked, ‘Are you ok? You are quiet!’

‘I am perfect; I am just out of the office and soaking up the time,’ often my reply. 

In recent months, or should I say for the whole of 2020 so far, I have immersed myself in a new life in Norway with my girlfriend, Abelone.

Little did we both know in February after being at The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica that we would spend 24/7 for the coming months together. I laughed early on saying, ‘Well, this is one way to find out if this relationship will work!’

It has been the best thing to come from a Pandemic.

FREEDOM is something I always had being self-employed but the freedom to do ‘my’ adventures was dictated by travel and a hectic work schedule. Freedom often only really came in the middle of the year when I would block off some time in Summer and then December, which I would treat as sacred and my opportunity to explore and adventure.

2020 has seen my diary flipped with little or no work and constant adventure. 

Here is Scandinavia, we were very lucky with Covid (exception coming from Sweden who handled things differently,) particularly in Norway, cases were low, death rates were low and although social distancing was required, our freedom was not impacted. In all honesty, many locals confirmed that the trails in Norway had never had so many people on them in March, April and May. No doubt helped by some amazing weather. 

Scandinavians love the outdoor life and Covid only emphasized the need for space, outdoor adventure and exercise. A wonderful mental and physical prescription that all doctors should prescribe. 

I am used to travelling when I like, eating in restaurants, meeting friends when I want, and I am used to being surrounded by people at a race. Some would say I was free.

But was I?

August is here and I am now looking back at social interactions in 2020 since March and lockdown.

  • I have seen no family.
  • I have seen 4 friends in Norway.
  • I have run on the trails with Abelone and one other person who we had to social distance with.
  • I have interacted with 3 members of Abelone’s family.

And that is it…

So, my freedom was and is still certainly impacted upon and I relish the opportunity to hug a friend, travel back to the UK and see my Mum and my son and equally embrace them like never before.

But no work has allowed me a freedom of time, not financial, to do what I want.

Adventure is on the doorstep for us all.

Now, here in Norway we have a pretty big doorstep. At a third larger than the UK, getting around Norway can take a while but with just 5.5 million people in contrast to 66 million, finding space and social distancing is no problem. Hardanger, Stranda, Romsdal, and Jotunheimen have all been on our list and even 1,2 or 3-day adventures from home have become regular.

Just yesterday, we ran 15km from home, wild camped in an isolated location and then ran 15km home.

I have always been a lone wolf with adventure. At best, I have shared an experience with just one or two others. I like my pace, my schedule and my itinerary and am somewhat inflexible, yes stubborn with changes and I do like to plan. I can see Abelone roll her eyes now…!

Photo ©JanNyka

The escape of outdoor life has always provided me with an energy. I even got that with my work, often hiking out for hours on a trail to sit and wait, alone, for runners to come. 

So, what am I saying?

The Pandemic is rubbish, for sure. Is it going away? I hope so, as soon as possible, but as I said at the beginning, currently we are all running loops at Big’s Backyard Ultra and nobody knows how many loops are to go and when the finishing will come. 

One thing we do have, albeit at varying levels depending on where one lives in the world, is freedom to explore from home. So, embrace what you have and do not think or focus on what you do not have or what you cannot do.

It’s no surprise that FKT’s have never been more popular. 

Many have said, ‘I cannot wait for life to return to normal!’ I agree to a certain extent, normal would be good… But then again, was normal good?

Will life ever be ‘normal’ again, or, are we looking at a new normal?

I don’t have answers.

But I will keep running the loops and enjoy the newfound freedom I have for now.

*****

Have you found freedom in 2020? I would love to know.

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Exploring Norway – JOTUNHEIMEN

Norway has long been a desirable location for the mountain enthusiast. One only need to add the word ‘Norway’ to a Google search engine, and you will be rewarded with photos that make the jaw drop.

At roughly 33% bigger than the UK and 1/3rd the size of USA, one begins to understand the scale of this Scandinavian country and its 5.3 million inhabitants.

Just think about it, Norway is 33% bigger than the UK, but the UK has 66.6 million inhabitants…

Needless to say, outside of Oslo (681,000), Bergen (271,000) and other key locations such as Trondheim and Stavanger, open space and amazing landscape is available for all to explore.

In a series of articles and posts, we intend to introduce you to the magic of Norway.

Norway is the longest country in Europe and therefore, travelling anywhere is not a quick process. It has 60.000 miles of coastline, towering mountains and dramatic fjords. Remarkably it has 2-300 peaks over 2000m+, Galdhøpiggen the highest at 2469m closely followed by Glittertind at 2464m. There are over 1000 peaks over 1650m, so, if you love mountains, Norway should be at the top of the ‘to-do’ list!

We started our articles with HARDANGER which you can read HERE.

The list will grow as we progress through Norway, but expect posts on:

  • Stavanger
  • Senja
  • Tromso
  • Lofoten Islands
  • Romsdal
  • Lyngen
  • Svalbard
  • And more…

JOTUNHEIMEN

The ‘home of the giants’ contains the 29 highest mountains in Norway, and as such, it is a playground waiting to be explored. It has 250 peaks over 1900m! Established in 1980, Jotunheimen National Park covers more than 1,000 square kilometers of Sogn og Fjordane and Oppland counties. Reinder, elk, mink and wolverines live in the park and most certainly, in the more remote and quiet areas, it is possible to have a sighting.

In terms of distance and travel, the entry to the Jotunheimen region is roughly 4-hours of driving from Oslo or Bergen.

The area is vast with a multitude of possibilities and therefore, this article will be very much be a ‘part one’ to be followed up with additional posts as we explore more of the area.

It is a popular area and in the months of June, July, August and September, you can fully expect routes to be popular with hikers, climbers and tourists. July and August being the key months due to more stable weather. However, June is a wonderful month as snow can linger on many routes.

Any visitor to Jotunheimen, particularly on a first visit, will have the iconic Besseggen top of the list along with the highest peak in Norway, Galdhøpiggen at 2469m. We will include both of these here in this article and introduce you to other options: Knutshøe, Surtningssue and Besshø.

PRACTICALITIES

First and foremost, this is an introduction to Jotunheimen, and we hope that you will read this article, digest the information and then plan your own adventure.

Jotunheimen is expansive and in all honesty, best travelled on foot.

DNT – CABINS

Jotunheimen has a plethora of cabins (DNT) which link all the major trails and routes and certainly, the DNT option provides the easiest and most logical way to link routes for an amazing multi-day experience. There are 550 cabins in Norway looked after by The Norwegian Trekking Association. There are different cabins: staffed, self-service and no service.

  • Staffed – Staffed lodges serve breakfast and dinner. Many have showers and electricity, either from the power grid or from a local generator.
  • Self-Service – The self-service cabins are equipped with all that trekkers need for cooking and sleeping. Firewood, gas, kitchen utensils, table linen and bunks with blanks or duvets and pillows (hut sacks, also known as hut sleepers, are required!)
  • No service – No service cabins usually have the same equipment as self-service cabins, but they have no provisions. There also are a few simpler no-service cabins where you’ll need a sleeping bag and perhaps more equipment.

Use ut.no here for what is available, there is also a very good phone app.

If you plan to use DNT it makes sense to become a member as you will save money, join here.

In nearly all cases, particularly in high-season and for popular routes, booking ahead (here) is a good idea. But rest assured, DNT will never turn you away, ‘…but everyone who comes to a cabin will have a place to sleep, either in a bunk or on a mattress on the floor.’ A 2020 price list is available here. A full board option is a great idea as you get a bed, 3-course dinner (always excellent), breakfast and a packed lunch. So, if moving from DNT to DNT you can really travel fast and light and make the most of the days. NOTE: You do not need a sleeping bag, just a sleeping bag liner – great for weight saving!

WILD CAMP

Jotunheimen is a paradise for wild camping, so, if you are on a budget, looking for a raw experience or want to fastpack, this is the place for you. In most cases, you can camp close to or at a DNT cabin. So, it can be possible to save on lodging and still eat at a DNT. Especially useful if venturing out for multi-days, that way you can really save on food weight.

Screenshot of DNT meal prices:

HOTEL

Hotels are in abundance in Jotunheimen and they provide an option to be used as a base or as stops as one travels around. They are great as a start and end to a holiday in this area, but not the best option if you really want to explore.

OVERVIEW

Bygdin is perfect entranceway to Jotunheimen and you could start the journey with a little luxury at the Bygdin Fjellhotell. It is also possible to wild camp in this area, even close to the hotel. Located at the end of Bygdin lake, it’s a perfect start point.

This fjord has a ferry which you can use to access Torfinnsbu or Eidsbugarden – both of these provide great start points for a fastpacking journey.

Fastpacking Journey:

Although not discussed in-depth this article, you could leave your car at Bygdin, take the ferry to Torfinnsbu then take the trail to Gjendebu. From here you could then head north via Storådalen, Urdadalen and then to Spiterstulen which is the gateway to Galdhøpiggen. You could then climb Galdhøpiggen and return to Spiterstulen. From here, proceed to Glittertinden, on to Glitterheim and then follow the trail down to Gjendesheim via Tjørnholtjørna and Russa. From Gjendesheim take the trail via Vargebakken and Valdrersflya to arrive back at Bygdin Fjord. GPX here.

Fastpacking Hints ‘n’ Tips HERE

Route Extension:

From Gjendesheim you could take the ferry to Gjendebu (you were here on day 1 or 2 of the fastpack) and now follow the trail to Memurubu. At Memurubu you have several options? A great day out is to take the trail to Surtningssue summit heading out on the lower trail that passes Memurudalen. At the summit, return via the way you came and then the trail splits and you can return to Memurubu via different route (full details listed below). From Memurubu you can now take the Besseggen route (details below) to Gjendesheim.

Proposed Trip:

 

As mentioned, Jotunheimen has many options and while the above fastpacking route and option is probably the ‘ideal’ way to explore the area, we wanted to break options down into manageable junks.

Areas to explore:

  • Knutshøe
  • Galdhøpiggen
  • Surtningssue
  • Besseggen
  • Besshø

Schedule:

  • Day 1 – Travel and overnight at Bygdin area.
  • Day 2Knutshøe route and then drive to Spiterstulen (2 hours) to either wild camp or stay at the DNT hut.
  • Day 3 – Climb Galdhøpiggen and then drive to Gjendesheim to stay in the DNT or wild camp.
  • Day 4 – Take the first ferry from Gjendesheim to Memurubu. Pitch tent or check-in at DNT and then do the Surtningssue route. Overnight at Memurubu.
  • Day 5Besseggen ridge to Gjendesheim – You can send luggage/ tent on the ferry so that it will be at Gjendesheim when you arrive from the trek. Overnight in either DNT or wild camp.
  • Day 6 – You can either travel home OR add an extra day with the climb to Besshø and return to Gjendesheim for an additional overnight wild camp or DNT.
  • Day 7 – Travel

Please note:

Make sure you book the ferries in advance here. They get very busy, particularly the first one from Gjendesheim. If you have a car, you need to stay at the Reinsvangen ‘Long Stay’ car park (here,) make sure you pay for parking to cover the duration of your stay. A shuttle takes you to the ferry or you can walk, approximately 1.5 miles. When possible, book the DNT’s you require in advance.

THE ROUTES

Knutshøe

A short drive from Bygdin, Knutshøe is a great introduction to Jotunheimen. Many consider Knutshøe a more challenging route than Besseggen? However, it is very much considered the younger brother or sister.

The total route is approximately 12km taking an anti-clockwise loop. You reach a high point of 1517m and in total you will accumulate 700m +/- while covering the distance. It is rated as ‘difficult’ and without doubt, it does have some exposure. Depending on experience and speed, the route could take up to 6-hours. However, moving fast and light and combining running and hiking, it is easy to complete in well under 3-hours. All the difficulty is in the first half of the route when you climb up and then descend. Once down, you have a flat 6/7km valley to cross back to where you started. GPX here.

Access to the route is from the main road and there is a small parking area that can accommodate approximately 20 cars. It is possible to wild camp here too. Either way, arrive early and start the route as soon as possible.

Note! If raining, this is NOT a good route to take. There is a considerable amount of rock both up and down and it can become very slippery.

Leaving the car park, follow the trail and when at a fork, go right and head up the climb. The route requires scrambling, some climbing and at several points you will encounter steep drop-offs.

Depending on experience, you may find some areas of the route really rewarding or terrifying. It is not a very difficult route; however, it does demand respect and patience.

At all times, the views are spectacular and ahead of you, on the other side of the lake, you have Besseggen completely in view pulling you in.

At the summit, you have a wonderful 360 view and if timed correctly, you will be able to see the ferry boats going back and forth on the lake below.

The descent is rocky, challenging and requires patience. Make sure hand and foot holds are secure and take your time.

Rock eventually becomes trail and before you know it, you will be at the bottom and next to the Gjende river. It is now possible to get water if needed?

You now go left and follow the trail back. At times, it’s easy to lose the trail so be attentive, as a recommendation, stick with the tree line and not the river. Your feet will get wet, guaranteed!

Once back at the car, take time to rest, change clothes and then make the 2-hour journey to Spiterstulen. En-route, there are possibilities to stop and buy food/ supplies.

Galdhøpiggen

The drive to Spiterstulen brings you straight to the start point for Galdhøpiggen. Having the journey out of the way allows for good recovery in the evening and an early start the next day. As mentioned, you can stay at the DNT or wild camp in this area.

The highest peak in Norway (2469m) and Northern Europe is understandably a huge draw. For many, they take a guided trip leaving from Juvasshytta mountain lodge (1841m.) Guides take groups across the glacier. The glacier of course sounds appealing… However, it is an easy route with far too many people.

The route from Spiterstulen mountain lodge may not contain a glacier, but the 1400m vertical climb offers far more challenges. Especially if one travels in June as snow will still be present. The route is up and down is via a well-marked trail, GPX here.

Considered demanding, the route can take 8-hours plus, again, we completed the route in half the time.

During the adventure, you will scale two peaks, totaling over 2,000 meters in height, Svellnose 2272m and Keilhaustopp 2355m! The terrain is tough and requires concentration at all times. Made up of rocks and boulders, for much of the time you are constantly piecing together a jigsaw puzzle to find the best route through. In wet weather, the route is very dangerous. Remember to follow the red “T”s that indicate the trail.

At times, you will cross snowfields and of course, stick to well used routes. Take no risks on the snow!

Several points can take you very close to the edge of the ridge. At all times be attentive, not too much of a problem in good weather, but in poor visibility you need to make sure of the route.

As you go up you feel several times that the summit is ahead only to reach a peak and then see several more in the distance. The final push becomes obvious as a hut is at the final summit and you will probably see a stream of people coming in from the right who have crossed the glacier.

At the summit the views are magnificent and well worth all the effort. An early start may well guarantee you some quiet time and space.

You descend via the way you came and in all honesty; due to the amount of rocks, it may well be more difficult to go down? Certainly, if you have tired or sore knees, you will feel every meter of the 1400m.

The route out and back is approximately 14km.

If you had an early start, you will be back by midday/ early afternoon and then you can take the 2-hour drive to Gjendesheim.

At Gjendesheim you can stay at the DNT or wild camp. This allows you a good night so that you can get the first ferry the next day.

Surtningssue

Make sure you have a place booked on the first ferry from Gjendesheim to Memurubu. This is typically 0745 arriving at 0805.

On arrival at Memurubu you can pitch your tent (got to cabin and pay) or go to the cabin and check-in for your booking. Note, the cabin here is not a DNT and we recommend you book here.

Once ready, you can then start the Surtningssue route. This, in our opinion, is a hidden gem and is often neglected as Besseggen takes all the glory.

At 24km long, it’s a great day out that offers many challenges and importantly, you will see hardly any other people. On our trip, we saw nobody.

Leaving Memurubu the route is clearly marked. Make sure that you branch left when the opportunity arises. This will provide you with a clockwise route to the summit at 2368m and then back to Memurubu via a different route.

The first 8km’s are single-track trail that is very runnable. The views are stunning and only get better as you move up the trail. One advantage of experiencing the trail in June is lingering snow.

Once through the valley you start to head east. It is definitely worth having the GPX route (here) available either on a phone or watch so that you can stick with the route. Although marked, it has considerably less markings than other routes and often you are following stone cairns.

From 8/9km the route now winds up to the summit through rocks and boulders. Care is needed! At approximately 11km the trail will split with a very clear red sign showing a left and right option. This is where you go left to the summit. On your return, this is the place where you split and take the ‘other’ route back to Memurubu and therefore creating a loop.

The trail up is now steep with several false summits. You will finally see a stone hut that is open and available for shelter if required. The final push to the summit is approximately another 200m. For those in the know, they say the summit provides the greatest view and panorama of Jotunheimen.

It’s exposed at the top, airy, with plenty of potential hazards, so, take care.

The descent is via the same route until you reach the red marker. Now you veer left. Once again, the terrain is challenging as there are countless rocks and boulders.

For most of the way, the route is well marked until the final km’s. We lost the trail but could see Memurubu ahead and therefore self-navigated back to the cabin.

This route is a stunner. We felt alone and isolated. We saw nobody and encountered wild reindeer with their young.

Besseggen

Besseggen is a classic ridge that ‘must’ be done. Some Norwegian’s say that you cannot be Norwegian until you have done the route. It’s a point-to-point route, so, plan ahead and send any luggage/ tent with the ferry boat. They will have your luggage waiting for you after the trek at the ferry port in Gjendesheim.

At 14km long, with approximately 1100m of vertical gain it may not appear to be a too demanding route? However, many consider it is! Many take 8-hours to do the route and 10/12-hours is not unusual. GPX here.

For perspective, there is a mountain race that takes on the exact route and the course record is an unbelievable 1hr 15min 40sec by Thomas Bereket. Trust me, if you experience this 14km point-to-point, you will wonder (continuously) how is it possible to run this so quick? Kilian Jornet ran the race in 2016, along with Thorbjørn T. Ludvigsen, Kilian won in 1.17.54.

We completed the route in 3-hours 30-minutes and that was with many photo/ video stops.

The route is very, very popular and we therefore recommend you start early. One advantage of running and fast hiking is you soon catch anyone ahead and trust me, you want to be alone as much as possible to experience the trail and views.

All this who stay at the cabin or camp will start (usually) before 0800 and then the first boat arrives at 0805 releasing another wave of people.

Characterized by the colourful emerald Gjende and deep blue Bessvatnet lakes, Besseggen ridge splits the landscape. It’s dramatic and bold and in wet weather, treacherous, so be careful!

Leaving Memurubu the trail immediately rises up and twists, mixing rock and single-track. It’s a fun trail and the first plateau already provides great views. You will pass Bjønbøltjønne lake, a good opportunity to get water if needed? Continuing up, eventually another plateau arrives and now you have a stunning view of the Besseggen ridge. It’s quite intimidating. To the right the Gjende lake and you will clearly see Knutshøe which looks fantastic.

The trail now drops, it is steep in places. Bessvatnet lake (1374m) is to your left and you walk along its edges with Besseggen looking down on you.

Bandet ridge is a significant point with approximately halfway covered and Besseggen the next challenge.

Rising 300m, Besseggen (in my opinion) is less intimidating when climbing, however, there is plenty of opportunity for exposure. It’s relatively steep but there are plenty of foot and hand holds. It’s worth stopping many times for photos. The views are remarkable.

The steepest section comes towards the end but does not last long and then you are on a plateau that gently and continually rises to Veslfjellet (1743m) which is the highest point.

The trail is now very flat and after about 1 kilometer you reach a trail junction. Follow that trail to the right down towards Gjendesheim. The route now twists and bends. Follow the markers and in here the trail is steepest with many rocks. Take care, they can be slippery, even in dry weather.

Gjendesheim ferry finally comes to view and then the final 1 or 2km is easy to the finish.

If you sent luggage with the boat, it will be available under the wooden shelter at the port. A shuttle bust will take you to the car park for the journey home.

Or, you may wish to wild camp or sleep at the cabin and the following day tackle Besshø.

Besshø

At 2258m, Besshø is 500m higher than Besseggen and it is a trail that sees little foot fall. In many respects, it is like Surtningssue and as such, it has a huge attraction.

From Gjendesheim it is an out-and-back route of 22km with 1300m +/-. It’s a route that could take 12-hours but if moving fast and light, sub 6-hours is perfectly achievable.

The route starts with the end of the Besseggen route but instead of turning left for Besseggen, you veer right in the direction of Russa/ Glitterheim.

Bessvatnet lake will appear on the left and eventually you will cross a small bridge in the eastern corner. Cross the river you will see two small cabins on the left, now follow the trailer 2 to 3 miles north on flat/ boggy trail. Besseggen will be on your left and at the far end of the lake is Bandet which you crossed just before climbing Besseggen.

Look out for the right turn that leads to Besshø summit. The climb is at times demanding and marked with stone cairns which often disappear. It’s easy to lose the route so it’s advisable to have a GPX available (route here). Depending on the time of year, you may need to cross snow fields – care needed. The route is very rocky and strewn with boulders of different sizes. Many are loose, so, caution is required. It’s a challenging route but visually stunning.

The return route is via the way you came.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Never underestimate the mountains and the environment in which you are exploring. June in particular is the start of the hiking season and as such, snow can be a factor on all of the above routes. This adds an additional potential for injury and problems. Particularly as the snow is melting and this can create snow holes, snow bridges and crevices. Do not take any risks and follow established routes and existing footprints.

It is definitely worth carry Micro-Crampons as a safety measure, particularly in June and September. Also, trekking poles are a great addition but not essential.

Make sure you check in with DNT cabins for all the routes and check conditions to make sure that you have no surprises.

Weather is crucial and many of the above routes would become very dangerous in wet weather. Rocks and boulders in Jotunheimen are everywhere, when wet, they can be treacherous. Boots are always recommended for hikers but if moving fast and light, top quality mountain running shoes are perfectly acceptable on experienced feet. I cannot emphasize enough that grip is essential! You need an outsole that works on wet and dry rock. Running shoes are very personal but recommendations are VJ Sport MAXx and XTRM, Scott Supertrac RC2 and inov-8 Roclite.

It may be 30deg next to the fjord and glorious sunshine, but at the summit, it can be below zero, blowing a gale and torrential rain. You must take personal responsibility and be prepared for all conditions. At a minimum please take:

  • Suitable pack
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Warm insulated layer
  • Warm trousers
  • Waterproof jacket/ pants
  • Food for the duration of the hike and some contingency
  • 1,5 ltrs of water (which can be replenished on all the routes via streams/ waterfalls)
  • Take water purification tablets as a just in case and consider a water purifier such as MSR Trailshot (here)
  • Map/ Compass
  • Charged mobile phone with a suitable App such as ‘Footpath’ (here)
  • Cash/ Card
  • Garmin InReach or similar
  • Bivvy bag
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun cream

Plan your routes, be realistic on timings and always start early. One of the huge advantages of outdoor activity in Norway is daylight. In June, July, August it is light at 0300 and goes dark after 2200 hrs.

CONCLUSION

Jotunheimen is to mountain lovers, what Disney is to fair ride lovers.

It’s a playground of trails, routes, summits, views, experiences and wildlife all wonderfully interconnected with marked trails and DNT cabins.

This article is created as a gateway to the area knowing only too well that it will whet your appetite for other adventures.

As mentioned at the beginning, the best way to explore this area is by foot and we are sure that once you have followed our weeklong adventure above, you will already be planning to return and explore.

In comparison to our first Exploring Norway article on Hardanger, I would consider Jotunheimen a more challenging environment, so please consider experience and fitness when contemplating any of the above routes.

We cannot emphasize enough the role of weather and the impact it has on all of the above recommendations. The mountains will always be there, cancelling a planned route or turning back is acceptable and wise.

PERSONAL NOTE

Special thanks to Abelone Lyng who has extensive knowledge of Jotunheimen. Her experience was invaluable in planning routes and making a workable itinerary.

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Exploring Norway – HARDANGER

Norway has long been a desirable location for the mountain enthusiast. One only need to add the word ‘Norway’ to a Google search engine, and you will be rewarded with photos that make the jaw drop. 

At roughly 33% bigger than the UK and 1/3rd the size of USA, one begins to understand the scale of this Scandinavian country and its 5.3 million inhabitants.  

Just think about it, Norway is 33% bigger than the UK, but the UK has 66.6 million inhabitants…

Needless to say, outside of Oslo (681,000 pop), Bergen (271,000 pop) and other key locations such as Trondheim and Stavanger, open space and amazing landscape is available for all to explore.

In a series of articles and posts, we intend to introduce you to the magic of Norway. 

Norway is the longest country in Europe and therefore, travelling anywhere is not a quick process. It has 60.000 miles of coastline, towering mountains and dramatic fjords. Remarkably it has 2-300 peaks over 2000m+, Galdhøpiggen the highest at 2469m closely followed by Glittertind at 2464m. There are over 1000 peaks over 1650m, so, if you love mountains, Norway should be at the top of the ‘to-do’ list! 

We are starting our articles with HARDANGER which is easily accessible from Oslo or Bergen and although based in the south of Norway, it does not lack any of the drama or mind-blowing views that northern Norway offers in abundance. 

The list will grow as we progress through Norway, but expect posts on: 

  • Stavanger
  • Loen
  • Jotunheimen
  • Senja
  • Tromso
  • Lofoten Islands
  • Romsdal
  • Lyngen
  • Svalbard

And more…

HARDANGER

The fjord (Hardangerfjord) resort of Kinsarvik will be used as an initial start point for adventures in the Hardanger area, by car, it is 2hrs 30min from Bergen and 5hrs from Oslo.

Located in the west of Norway, Hardanger is a traditional district with a great deal to offer in both summer and winter. For the purposes of this initial introduction, we are looking at a 4-5-day trip in June.

June provides a wonderful opportunity as the area transitions from winter to summer, if lucky, much of winter can remain and therefore you can gain the best of both worlds. It’s worth pointing out now, that winter conditions in Norway are harsh and you need to be prepared both physically, mentally and have the correct equipment to explore safely in this area. If any of the above have a question mark, look to travel and explore in July/ August when snow conditions will have disappeared.

Areas to explore:

  • Dronningstien aka The Queens Trail
  • Trolltunga
  • Folgefonna Glacier via Buerbreen
  • The waterfall route via Husedalen Valley
  • Climb Oksen

Other opportunities:

  • Kayak in one of the longest fjords in the world.
  • Via ferrata to Trolltunga.
  • Ice climb on the Folgefonna Glacier.

PRACTICALITIES

Norway is not a cheap place and therefore one needs to look at budget when exploring any area of the country. Flights, depending on the time of year will vary in price and car hire can be expensive. However, in many scenarios, a hire car allows one freedom to explore. Train services and public transport is good. We recommend a car to explore Hardanger.

Camping is part of the outdoor life and there is nowhere better than Norway to sleep outside. Norway allows for wild camping, however, be careful, some areas, particularly Trolltunga have a camping exclusion zone. 

For the purposes of this mini trip, we used an official campsite and wild camped. Below I provide a map to show an overview of the routes and areas we explored.

Our itinerary was as follows:

  • Day 1 – Travel and overnight stop.
  • Day 2 – Dronningstien aka The Queen Trail
  • Day 3 – AM: Trolltunga – PM: Buerbreen Glacier
  • Day 4 – Waterfall route via Husedalen Valley
  • Day 5 – Oksen and travel home.

All of the above trails are not long and are all achievable in one day or less.  

  • The Queen Trail is a longer route (20km) with mixed terrain on a point-to-point route.
  • Trolltunga is exposed and with snow (time of year dependent) – a more extreme challenge, particularly if one has limited snow experience.
  • Buerbreen Glacier is a short route but has plenty of vertical and technical terrain, expect fixed ropes, some snow and water crossing.
  • Husedalen Valley, the waterfall route is a great out and back with stunning views and at times, some testing terrain. Your feet will get wet!
  • Oksen is a straight up climb (1000m+) with some exposure, challenging terrain and the potential for snow/ glacier travel depending on the time of the year. It’s an out and back route.

Day 1 base was Kinsarvik. There is an official campsite, Kinsarvik Camping AS (here) which has cabins, space for motorhomes and tents. You are recommended to book any camping, especially in high season. Alternatively, you could wild camp close to Kinsarvik.

There is a Spar supermarket opposite the fjord, and this sells everything, including camping supplies. So, this is a great opportunity to stock up on any anything that you may require.

Our day 2 and day 3 base was an official campsite in Odda, called Odda Camping (here). This area due to its proximity to Trolltunga has potentially less options for wild camping, however, some options exist in Buer close by. It was a perfect location with a fjord as a backdrop, showers (20 Nok charge) and toilet facilities. At 250 krona per night (£20) it was a great option. Odda has a developed town with plenty of facilities, so, should you need anything, it will be available in the town.

Day 4 we wild camped below Oksen. There is nothing close by, so, be prepared with food etc.

Day 5 we wild camped on the way back to Oslo.

THE ROUTES 

Dronningstien aka The Queens Trail

 The trail is a point-to-point route between Kinsarvik and Lofthus. We recommend parking opposite the ESSO Petrol Station next to the fjord, parking is free.

The actual trail starts at Røte which is 4km up a road from route 13, very close to the ESSO petrol station. However, we recommend doing this on foot. Location is shown on the map below.

For the first 4km you will have no marking and then at Røte you will see blue a ‘D’ or blue spots. This is the route to follow. 

The official route is 16km and is estimated to take 8-9 hours and is described as ‘long and demanding!’ For perspective, we did the route with an additional 4km, we had a great deal of snow and we constantly stopped for photos. Yes, we did run, and we completed in 4hrs 50min. We did not push the pace or go fast.

Recommendations are for July to September but in June you have the chance of snow, 2020 had a great deal of snow, far more than normal. For us, this was a real plus!

The early km’s are all climbing and uninspiring but there are some wonderful views. Once the ‘D’ starts, the route becomes trail and you continue to climb eventually breaking out of the tree line. The immediate views over Hardangerfjord are quite amazing and breath tanking. It did not take long to realise why this was a favourite route of HM Queen Sonja, hence, The Queen’s Trail name.

Once high, the terrain has some undulations, but it is mostly flat with all the climbing coming in the early km’s. You will see from the run route below that we had snow for all the high sections and some snow on the descent to Lofthus. We had amazing weather, blue skies and plenty of heat. You really need to be careful of snow bridges, snow holes and potential danger and hazards. Best practice is to follow existing footsteps and pay attention to markers. Some ‘D’ or blue markers will be missing because of the snow but navigation is not a problem.

At all points, the Hardangerfjord is to your right and the views are stunning. On occasion you are brought to the edge of the plateau. Take time to stop, look over and soak up how incredible the vistas are.

You will find breathtaking views of the Sørfjord, Odda, the Folgefonna Glacier, Hardanger Bridge and Eidfjord. You can also see all the way over to Kvanndal and Utne, and along the fjord to Kinsarvik. 

Water is available at several points via streams, waterfalls or melting snow. Take the opportunity to replenish bottles. 

Before the highpoint of the route, there is a little climbing with some fixed rope, it’s nothing too scary or dramatic. Just use caution.

The high point is a square pile of stones (cairn) at 1107m which has a box on so that you can sign the book inside to confirm you were there.

From here, it is mostly descending all the way back to Lofthus. You will eventually switch from blue ‘D’ or dots to red ‘T.’ The descent is steep, winding, may have snow and includes the ‘Monk Steps.’ Open expansive trail eventually becomes tree covered.

Keep descending down. You will pass through a car park for those who wish to climb up from Lofthus. Keep descending and you will pass the famous orchards of this area, you will finally join the main road next to the fjord. The route is done!

A public bus back to Kinsarvik leaves from opposite Hotel Ullensvang. Please check on timings, but our information was 1551, 1810 and 2100hrs. There is a cafe/ shop called Kompaen that serves food and drinks should you need to replenish after a hard day on the trails before heading back. Make sure you taste some local apple juice or cider.

At Kinsarvik, we had a picnic by the fjord and then headed to Odda and Odda Camping. This would allow us an early start the following day for Trolltunga.

Trolltunga

The Trolltunga (Trolls Tongue) is an iconic route in Norway. Formed about 10,000 years ago by glacier erosion it is considered one of the most spectacular cliffs in Norway. From the side, it quite literally looks like a tongue balancing 700m above the Ringedalsvatnet lake.

Considered as a ‘demanding’ route, the out-and-back can be estimated to take 8-12 hours and the typical season is June to September. Outside of this timing one must have a guide. This year, 2020, Norway has had a great deal of snow and unusually, this year’s route was pretty much 90% snow and we had strict instructions to adhere to the marked route.

Despite conditions, we found the route very runnable and the snow was perfect. We did the out-and-back in 4-hours, just under 5-hours with all the photo stops. And trust me, photo stops are compulsory!

For most, particularly with snow, this is a challenging route, mainly due to the 20km+ distance, elevation gain and at times, demanding terrain.

It is a very, very popular route and therefore is often extremely busy. However, Coronavirus greatly has impacted on tourists and visitors in 2020 and the normal busy trails were quiet.

There are three car parks with limited space, 30 cars at P3, 180 at P2 and 220 at P1, book in advance (here) and if possible stay at car park 3 (Mågelitopp.) This is closest to the trail head and costs 600 Nok (£50). Car park 2 is 500 Nok. Car parks open 0600 hrs. There are also shuttle buses from Odda/ Tyssedal to Skjeggedal and then Skjeggedal to Mågelitopp with a cost of appx 450 Nok. You may think these costs pricey, however, the money is used by the local community to cover the impact of tourism in the area.

Importantly, this is a high mountain route with highly changeable conditions. Go prepared with extra warm layers, gloves, hat, waterproofs, food and water. You can replenish water en-route from streams and waterfalls.

It is possible to start from Skjeggedal which adds 4.3km up and down to the route hiking (or you can get the shuttle) but we decided to miss this as we were adding the Glacier route to our afternoon.

Start early, if running, you have the potential to arrive at Trolltunga first and have great opportunities for photos. It has been known at busy periods to wait over an hour to get on the tongue for the ‘iconic’ photo. We actually started at 0800 and caught all the hikers ahead of us. We actually had at least 40-minutes at the tongue for photos and picnic before the next people arrived.

Skjeggedal to Mågelitopp is a steep tough climb and well-marked. From Mågelitopp, the start of the Trolltunga route is just below the car park, the route is clearly marked and relatively flat. It’s marshy to start with interspersed rocks. We had snow in these early sections, so, we were well aware that the whole route would be snow bound.

The first few km’s are arguably the toughest with 800m of vertical.

After the initial hard work, the trail rolls along, the snow conditions making our trip perfect. At all times, the views to your right are stunning with mountain vistas and the stunning Ringedalsvatnet lake.

For safety, there is a mountain outpost and two emergency huts/ shelters should you have a problem.

There is a twin waterfall, Tyssestrengene and Tyssehylen Lake to pass before arriving at Trolltunga.

The approach to Trolltunga is perfectly safe and not technical for an experienced outdoor person. However, if new to hiking and extreme environments, take a little time, move slowly and make sure of foot and hand holds. Hopefully, you may not have to wait for an opportunity to walk out on the tongue for your photo moment.

The return route is a reverse of the outward route.

Without snow, the route would be very different and in a personal opinion, less beautiful and dramatic. The snow added a real extra element to the journey, so, I would recommend attempting Trolltunga as early in June as possible.

Once back at the P3 car park we returned to our campsite for a relaxing lunch. 

Buerbreen Glacier

The reason we chose P3 for Trolltunga was to allow us to do the out-and-back route to the Buerbreen Glacier which is a short drive from Odda. 

The route is less than 6km and has appx 450m of vertical gain, but the route has a great mix of some technical terrain, fixed rope, water crossings and snow if you are lucky.

Leaving Odda, you head to Buer and continue up the road to eventually arrive at a car park. Cost is 150 Nok.

A gravel road starts the route from a farm. There is a plethora of animals around to entertain.

Entering the forest, the trail winds upwards continually with very little flat trail. Expect wet feet and the need to use ropes to ascend rock sections. If conditions are wet, take care.

Keep looking back as the views are wonderful, countered by the dominant glacier ahead. The route up does have some challenges with fixed ropes.

Eventually the trail stops with the glacier ahead. Do not be tempted to veer off the route and explore on the glacier. Needless to say, this requires a different skill level, specialist equipment and knowledge of the glacier and its conditions.

 The panorama and views at the glacier are magical.

You return via the way you came.

At under 6km, it’s a great addition to the more adventurous morning at Trolltunga. Don’t underestimate this little hike. It’s a wonderful trail and the views are magical. 

We returned to Odda Campsite for a relaxing evening.

Husedalen Valley

This route was not on our original plan; however, we were advised by locals that Husedalen Valley in June is incredible due to the melting snow and the succession of waterfalls.

Leaving Kinsarvik head up Husavegen Road and continue until you arrive at a parking area on the left. 

The route is 12km +/- out and back with 630m+. The initial km’s are gravel road, first waterfall is called Tveitafossen. 

The gravel road forks, take the right trail. You climb steeply next to a pipeline before entering forest trail.

The second waterfall is already visible, Nyastølfossen.

The views are incredible and the noise of the waterfall impressive. The trail rises steeply at times with some demanding trail. Nyastølfossen is hidden, peeping through the trees and then suddenly you get full views. Take time to stop, watch and take photos.

The third waterfall, Nykkjesøyfossen is located in a beautiful meadow. This is a popular wild camping spot with incredible views, so, keep this in mind. There is a small hut and also a public toilet here. The trail is easy to lose here but keep close to the water edge (on your right) and follow climbing and scrambling over the rocks. Eventually you will see the trail rise up.

The trail goes up again through trees and heads towards the 4th and final waterfall, Søtefossen. At times it’s easy to lose the route but in all honesty, you cannot get lost, just head for the waterfall. Eventually you can go no further as the 4th raging torrent forces you to sit down and watch its beauty.

You return via the same route.

 This route is often listed as demanding, as always, this depends on experience and fitness. Estimated to take 5-6 hours we did the route in 3h 25m with continuous photo stops.

On returning to the car, we returned to the fjord at Kinsarvik for a lunch break and then we travelled over to Oksen to wild camp.

Oksen

 The drive to Oksen takes you over the impressive Hardanger Bridge (toll payable 150 Nok) which is the longest suspension bridge in Norway at 1380m long.

Please note, once you have left Kinsarvik (or any other town for that matter) you will not pass any shops or supplies on the route to Oksen. It’s a narrow out-and-back road that passes close to the fjord and remote houses. Eventually you will drive up heading to ‘Tjoflot’ – continue along the winding road and eventually you will come to a dead end where parking is available. A fee is payable for parking.

Our suggestion is to arrive late afternoon or early evening and wild camp close to the car park or, start the climb of Oksen and after approximately 1-mile you will find a plateau with two huts, here is a good place to camp.

With either of the above options, you can start the climb of Oksen early the following morning ahead of other people arriving. We decided to camp near the car park as we wanted to do the whole climb in one go.

This route is very different to the previous day’s expeditions. It feels much more remote, exposed and has many similarities to a classic VK (vertical kilometer) route. You will climb just over 1000m+ in less than 5km to reach the summit.

 We had dry weather but cloud and strong winds. Like the rest of the Hardanger area, once above a certain height, we had snow all the way to the summit making the journey extra special.

The early climbing is through forest as the trail winds up. Once you reach the plateau where the two huts are, the trail is now open and wide. The route is well marked but be careful in snow sections, at times it’s better to deviate on to firm/ harder ground.

The whole route is steep and especially so between 400-600m+ and after 800M+ with the route flattening out towards the summit.

At all times the views are incredible and arguably the views of Hardangerfjord, Sørfjorden, Granvinsfjorden, Eidfjorden and Samlafjorden are the best in the region.

The summit is marked with a stone cairn signifying the altitude of 1241m.

Take time to explore the summit and look at the different views. There is a stunning vista of the suspension bridge too.

At the summit you have options to extend your route. This was our original plan; however, snow and weather conditions were very unpredictable, and we decided (correctly) not to take risks and continue.

Had we had crampons and ice axe; we most certainly would have continued to Ingebjørgfjellet (passing Oksatjorni) which is signposted from the summit (5.4km away). The route is not marked, so, you need map and compass or a GPS. I use the ‘Footpath’ app on my iPhone which works excellently. Maps.me and ViewRanger are others to consider.

The return to the car is via the way you came, unfortunately, due to road access and a lack of public transport there is no other option. As an alternative, it is possible to climb Oksen from Hamre, however, you need to use a different road to access this area. The route up goes via Seljesete and Seljenuten.

The route is considered demanding with a time allowance of 7-hours. As mentioned previously, with good fitness and mountain experience it is perfectly feasible to do the route in under 3-hours even with plenty of photos.

We concluded our trip with a detour travelling back to Oslo. The weather was perfect, and we were not eager to return home when another night camping was possible. We called at Vøringfossen (here) which is an impressive waterfall towering 182m high.

We then continued to Ringericke and climbed up the Mørkonga gully to then camp high next to a lake for a final night.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Never underestimate the mountains and the environment in which you are exploring. June in particular is the start of the hiking season and as such, snow can be a factor on all of the above routes. This adds an additional potential for injury and problems. Particularly as the snow is melting and this can create snow holes, snow bridges and crevices. Do not take any risks and follow established routes and existing footprints.

Make sure you call in the Tourist Office in Kinsarvik and discuss your route options and take advice on current conditions and dangers.

It may be 30deg next to the fjord and glorious sunshine, but at the summit, it can be below zero, blowing a gale and torrential rain. You must take personal responsibility and be prepared for all conditions. At a minimum please take:

  • Suitable pack
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Warm insulated layer
  • Warm trousers
  • Waterproof jacket/ pants
  • Food for the duration of the hike and some contingency
  • 1,5 ltrs of water (which can be replenished on all the routes via streams/ waterfalls)
  • Take water purification tablets as a just in case and consider a water purifier such as MSR TrailShot (here)
  • Map/ Compass
  • Charged mobile phone with a suitable App such as ‘Footpath’ (here)
  • Cash/ Card
  • Garmin InReach or similar

Plan your routes, be realistic on timings and always start early. One of the huge advantages of outdoor activity in Norway is daylight. In June, it is light at 0300 and goes dark after 2200 hrs.

CONCLUSION

Hardanger is a paradise.

Quite simply, if you do the route options above, not only will you see some of the most amazing views ever, you will be rewarded with wonderful challenging days that will provide you with a lifetime of memories.

Weather, as always, is key. We chose our weather window and traveled to the area knowing that we would be rewarded with great conditions.

Of course, if you are making a special trip to the area, you will need to take the weather you are given. Although it is great to have a plan, be prepared for that plan to change based on weather conditions and personal safety. We were desperate to travel to Ingebjørgfjellet after Oksen summit but made a sensible call and retreated.  

The mountains and trails are going nowhere, always remember this!

The routes provided are achievable for all with enough allocated time based on individual experience and fitness.

Due to Covid-19, we experienced considerably quieter trails. On many occasions we were completely alone. Having spoken with locals and others, this is not normal! So, be prepared for more people when you venture to this area, especially Trolltunga.

For us, camping enhances the experience and brings you closer to the nature and environment. However, this is campervan heaven, and should you need a hotel, many are available.

Needless to say, we have picked highlights of the area and there is more to explore, but that will be another article!

This area would be fantastic for a Fastpacking trip, read here about equipment.

Also, here is a guide for Fastpacking in Nepal.

PERSONAL NOTE

I am fortunate to have travelled the world, experienced mountains, summits and trails in iconic locations. Norway may not have any peaks/ summits that can compete with the Alps, Pyrenees or the Himalayas, but what it does have is the most incredible views.

I can honestly say, our mini trip to Hardanger is one of the most rewarding ever! 

Special thanks to Abelone Lyng who was my partner in crime. Abe is the ‘muse’ in all the photos, the girl with a big smile and yes, these trails would have been a little less magic without her to enjoy the journey. She was also the inspiration for the trip and it is thanks to her we visited these amazing places.

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Getting High In Norway – Borgersen and Lyng achieve Everest and Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Covid-19, lockdown, social distancing and so on has resulted in so many crazy and inventive ideas. Virtual running and racing have never been so popular as it has provided an opportunity to daily focus on a larger goal that one can undertake with others.

Race directors, runners, shops, stores, magazines and so on have created opportunities.

In Norway, Runners World NO have a series of events, ‘Trail Challenge,’ ‘100 Minutter,’ 5 Sommernattsløpet 5k,’ ‘Soomer Maraton,’ and ’Til Himmels Race.’ The latter translates, ‘To the Skies’ or ‘Sky is the Limit!’

Fueled by the challenge of gaining as much vertical meters as possible in one month, Elisabeth Borgersen and Abelone Lyng, both decided to set themselves a challenge within a challenge. How many meters could they gain in just one day! 

Initial plans were to use a ski slope and gain permission/ access to use the chairlift down, therefore concentrating on vertical meters without the impact of running down. However, due to Covid-19 this was not possible. 

“If we were going to do it, then we would have to run down too,” Lyng said in advance of the challenge. With a little research, they found a ski slope, pretty much void of snow, the ‘Wyllerløpa’ part of the ‘Wyller Express’ series of slopes. 

 

‘The Wyllerstua’ has a car park and we have immediate access to the slope,’ said Lyng. ‘We plan to set up our own aid station and then we can go up and down as many times as we wish.’

 

On the map below, Lyng and Borgersen would use the route marked 11. With 300m vertical gain for each ascent, the distance would be approximately 1.3km up and 1.3km down.

 May 21st had been set aside by Runners World as ‘the day’ to see who could gain the most vertical meters.

‘At 8848m, Everest is a logical and mind-blowing target to aim for, so, that is the dream goal. However, for me, I think Mont Blanc at 4810m or Mount Kilimanjaro at 5895m is more realistic,’ Lyng explained. ‘Elisabeth on the other hand has the potential to climb to the top of the world, albeit virtually!’

THE DAY

It was an early start to the day with the duo waking at 0300 and meeting at the Wyllerstua at 0400. Gladly, the day was already starting and the need for a head-torch was not required. One of the advantages of being in Norway.

At 0430 they were off, starting steady, the plan was to spend as much time together as possible, each pushing the other.

 Calculations allowed for 2000m every 4 hours and therefore, a projected Tim for 9000m+ could be estimated at 18-hours.

It’s easy to get pre-occupied by the vertical gain and the lofty, albeit virtual, summit of Everest at 8848m. But what goes up, must come down, and the impact and stress of descending a 300m slope would almost certainly have a far greater physical impact than the vertical meters.

 The early hours passed and soon they were taking the first of many breaks. Nothing too lengthy. Just an opportunity to consume calories, hydrate and then push on.

3300m+ was accumulated with relative ease in well under 8-hours and the challenge was starting to fall into place. Borgersen looked solid, powering up the climb but maybe more impressively, still running down the 300m/ 1.3km slope with what appeared to be relative ease.

Lyng was holding the pace but openly admitted, ‘Everything is fine, it just hurts everywhere in my body, but thats part of the game.’

 The height of Mont Blanc was achieved, and that milestone was rewarded with a smile. The duo continued to motivate each other, almost metronomic in the ascent but Borgersen always looking more at ease on the descent.

With 10-hours elapsed, Borgersen was resolute that today was the day to achieve Everest. She was hurting but it was easier to push on. The thought of coming back and trying again was too daunting. No stranger to long-distances and vertical gain, Borgersen has pedigree, she has completed TDS and the 90km Mont-Blanc placing 6thin both. She also placed 8th at MIUT.

For Lyng, she was in new territory, far exceeding any previous vertical gain for one day. A lover of the mountains, Lyng’s recent successes have come with multi-day racing, placing 4th at The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica and winning, The Ice Ultra.

‘I was getting very tired and I was well aware that the ability to continue on for many more hours would result in injury. I therefore set the target of Mount Kilimanjaro at 5895m. But I also had a desire for 6000m.’

Lyng achieved Mount Kilimanjaro in 12 hours and then the 6000m mark in 12-hours 37-minutes with a total distance of 54km. Her day was done.

Borgersen once again arrived at the car park. It was close to 6pm. But there was no hesitation, just a brief chat and then an about turn to once again head upwards.

‘I have some work left to do, but if all goes well, I think I can be finished before 10pm.’

The evening passed and gladly, Borgersen’s husband arrived with pizza offering a welcome break, refuel and then the final push. Darkness was slowly starting to arrive as the goal was achieved after 77km’s.

‘I love to challenge myself to see what I am actually capable of. Going up and down the same 300m slope close to 18-hours (17h 40m) was for sure a big challenge. But to finally reach Everest, 8880m to be exact, I am pretty darn proud of that!’

2020 will be remembered by us all as an Annus horribilis due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Amidst the gloom, the isolation, quarantine, the changes of routine, the loss of work, the disruption to life and the horrendous death toll, it is possible to still find reward and growth. It may come in the strangest of ways, one just needs to be creative.

 

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Episode 186 – Rickey Gates, Kevin Webber, Abelone Lyng and Stevie Kremer

Episode 186 of Talk Ultra is a packed show! We talk with Rickey Gates about his new book. Inspirational Keven Webber was diagnosed with terminal Prostrate Cancer and given 2-years to live, 6-years on he is inspiring many with his ultra and multi-day adventures. Abelone Lyng and Stevie Kremer talk about running and motherhood.
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Talk Ultra is now on Tunein – just another way to make the show available for those who prefer not to use iTunes – HERE  You can download the Tunein APP HERE
Talk Ultra needs your help! 
We have set up a Patreon page and we are offering some great benefits for Patrons… you can even join us on the show! This is the easiest way to support Talk Ultra and help us continue to create! 
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00:34:03 – RICKEY GATES book information HERE
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01:36:02 – KEVIN WEBBER donate HERE
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02:48:23 – ABELONE LYNG
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03:13:22 – STEVIE KREMER
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Please listen to the INTERVIEWS – please follow the show
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TALK ULTRA podcast will be released as normal providing you long shows as it has always done with ideally two shows per month. The back catalogue will be released randomly via the INTERVIEWS and not chronologically.
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The Coastal Challenge #TCC2020 – Stage 5 47km

The Coastal Challenge, Costa Rica’s number one multi-day race moved to stage 5 and the longest day of the race at 47km. The stage is notorious for the endless fire roads, steep technical climbs and descents, the famous boat crossing and the hot beaches that lead to the line.

Departing camp at 0430, the runners are transported to Sierpe and they then take a barge across the river allowing the runners to start at 0615 heading for the stunning Drake Bay.

The early km’s are all about running on fire roads that sap the mind and legs, race leader, Cody Lind to the race to the competition and forged ahead solo, his intentions were clear, he was going to make sure he won the race from the front!

At CP2 he had a 6-minute lead on Erick Agüero and that was extended to a greater margin after crossing the estuary by boat.

“I am hurting!” He exclaimed but he pushed on with 9km to go and a potential TCC 2020 victory secured.

Shortly after the aid station he was sick, but post race he confirmed, “It was perfect, it released the bad feelings and I could run the final km’s to the line trouble free.” Cody crossed the line in 4:35:37

Agüero was giving it his all, but obviously trying to make sure he did not blow up and lose is hard fought for 2nd place. After the boat crossing he pushed to the line finishing in 4:53:55 and in the process, barring a disaster, confirming that Lind will win the 2020 The Coastal Challenge who has a lead of 18-minute and 46-seconds.

Andy Symonds ran a solid day and finished 3rd on the stage in 5:04:21but he had a tough day with the heat… As did most runners!

Kaytlyn Gerbin controlled the race from the front pushing as hard as required to win the stage but not at a pace that would risk a blow up and potential disaster. She looked calm, relaxed and happy throughout, her 6:02:52 securing a huge margin over the competition with just one day to go!

Ashton Keck Keck who ran a solid day 1 proved to be the revelation of the day running the fire roads hard and finishing just under 12-minutes behind Gerbin. Lying in 4th place, over 1-hour behind Abelone Lyng, the question mark was; how much time could she take back?

Abelone Lyng arrived at the water crossing in 3rd place and all looked good. However, the reality was far different. Suffering from severe stomach pains, Lyng struggled through the aid station, gritted her teeth and pushed to the line. “It was just terrible, I had pain in my stomach, my legs and my back. The heat was fine but I was just shutting down.” Lyng eventually would finish the stage in 5th (7:12:54) after walking pretty much all the last 9km and in the process allowing Keck Keck to close the gap on her 3rd GC to less than 9-minutes.

“At this stage I can’t think of tomorrow. I need to hydrate and eat,” said Lyng. “Today has wiped me out, I will finish tomorrow, even if I need to crawl!”

Natalia Lòpez Arrieta finished 3rd on the stage in 6:46:44 confirming her 2nd place on GC and Viviana Piedra Solano finished 4th in 6:53:43.

Stage 6 tomorrow is the victory loop starting and concluding in Drakes Bay over 23km.

Ranking:

Men:

Cody Lind 4:35:37

Eick Agüero 4:53:55

Andy Symonds 5:04:21

Women:

Kaytlyn Gerbin 5:08:29

Natalia López Arrieta 5:33:59

Vivian Piedra Solano 6:08:23

Overall:

Men:

Cody Lind 20:31:08

Erick Agüero 20:49:55

Andy Symonds 21:04:25

Women:

Kaytlyn Gerbin 25:04:47

Natalia López Arrieta 26:59:37

Abelone Lyng 30:11:46

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The Coastal Challenge #TCC2020 – Stage 4 36.2km

The Coastal Challenge, Costa Rica’s number one multi-day race moved to stage 4 and the day started with some bad news, Mauricio Mendez who had been the stage winner on days 1 and 2 would not start day 4 due to a tendonitis injury sustained on day 3. Mendez had showed that he had the potential to win the race, so it was a devastating blow not only for him, but the race.

Also, as day 3 came to conclusion, news came in that Veronica Bravo and Scott Maguire had quit the race due to injury, Bravo sustaining a problem to her achilles and Maguire had a foot issue. It was sad news as both runners figured in the top-5.

It was another early start for the race as the runners had a short transfer for the stage start and the runners were set on their way at 0545.

Erick Agüero was well aware that with such a slender lead, he would need to race hard and smart to keep a hold of the race. He pushed from the off and on the steep rolling terrain to CP2, he lead Cody Lind and Andy Symonds by just seconds.

The race was on and as they traversed up and down the trails in this beautiful high plateau area, the three marked each other knowing that the race was held by a slender thread. The final descent that would drop to the final checkpoint provided an opportunity and finally Lind opened up a gap to take the stage victory with a time of 4:06:51. 

Agüero is showing true grit and fought hard for the second place ahead of Symonds, both crossing in 4:08:10 and 4:08:54.

Lind know leads the 2020 The Coastal Challenge by the slender margin of 29-seconds. Symonds is less than 3-minutes behind Agüero, this race will go down to the line!

“It was a tough day and I was feeling it towards the end of the last climb,” said Symonds. “I had dropped off Erick and Cody and then on the final descent, Cody let go, he descends really well and he opened up the gap, it is getting exciting!”

Kaytlyn Gerbin had control of the women’s race and despite her being close to Natalia López Arrieta at CP2, when she decided to put the foot down, she really opened up a gap. She crossed the line in 5:08:29, 25-minutes ahead of Arrieta.

“I loved today’s route, it was very different to the previous days with no beaches and sea and lots more trail and climbing, it was a good day!” – Kaytlyn Gerbin

Abelone Lyng recovered well from day 3 and losing time by going off course. With more trail and technical sections, it played into her skill set and she loved the day.

However, on the final descent, she moved slower than Viviana Piedra Solano who pulled back time. From the last CP it was a head-to-head race to the line. Lyng calculated the distance incorrectly thinking it was a 4km stretch to the line, when actually it was 2km. Due to the intense heat, she held back allowing Solano to cross the line in 6:08:23 and she followed in 6:10:30. Lyng’s 3rd place on the podium still very safe as she has over a 1-hour lead to 4th .

Stage 5 tomorrow is a tough day with the longest stage of the race. We can expect fireworks in the men’s race as the podium places are so close.

Ranking:

Men:

Cody Lind 4:06:51

Eick Agüero 4:08:10

Andy Symonds 4:08:54

Mauricio Mendez 5:42:36

Women:

Kaytlyn Gerbin 5:08:29

Natalia López Arrieta 5:33:59

Vivian Piedra Solano 6:08:23

Overall:

Men:

Cody Lind 15:55:31

Erick Agüero 15:56:00

Andy Symonds 16:00:03

Women:

Kaytlyn Gerbin 19:01:55

Natalia López Arrieta 20:12:52

Abelone Lyng 22:58:51

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The Coastal Challenge #TCC2020 – Stage 3 47.5km

The Coastal Challenge, Costa Rica’s number one multi-day race moved to stage 3 and it conformed that there are no guarantees when it comes to racing. It was a day of drama and problems as the ‘Expedition’ runners travelled 47.5km to Playa Ballena.

The iconic Nauyaca Waterfall welcomed the runners after 12km but first a technical run through a river bed was the first challenge. Local runner and past TCC participant, Erick Agüero used his local knowledge and experience to take a lead over the Scott Athletes, Cody Lind and Andy Symonds. Race leader, Mauricio Mendez followed closely behind. We were seeing the Costa Rican runner take the race on by the horns.

Equally, the women’s race had Natalia López Arrieta taking a lead over race leader, Kaytlyn Gerbin.

Behind, 3rd on GC, Abelone Lyng followed just behind Manu Vilaseca who seemed to be having a better day in adapting to the heat. Unfortunately, at the waterfall, disaster struck for Vilaseca with a broken lace system on her ‘BOA’ shoes. Luckily, one of the race team offered their own shoes as a replacement… Vilaseca could race on.

Agüero was running hard today and by checkpoint 2 he had a 6-minute lead over Lind, Symonds and Mendoza who were pursuing together. It soon became clear that Mendoza had issues by the expression on his face.

Lind and Symonds cooled over with a water pipe and left. Mendoza by contrast, sat on the ground, removed his shoes and grimaced with pain. It turned out after the race he had Tendonitis.

Arrieta and Gerbin charged ahead at the front of the women’s race but behind, course sabotage sent Vilaseca and Lyng off course for approximately 4km on very tough terrain. It was the kind of disaster that can lose a runner 45-minutes. Later, the impact was clear to see as Lyng, who would have finished 3rd woman on the stage, eventually finished a little farther back losing a chunk of unnecessary time and effort.

At Hermosa Beach and all the way to the finish line, Agüero hello off the Scott athlete charge and won the stage for a great Costa Rican victory, the result providing him the overall lead of TCC2020 by less than one minute, his overall time 11:47:50.

Lind and Symonds finished together and they now 2nd and 3rd on the overall GC with a time of 11:48:39 and 11:51:08 respectively. Unfortunately, Mendez lost a chunk of time and the overall race lead a currently a podium place. It was a disastrous day for the young Mexican runner.

“I had some discomfort in my feet from day 2 but I thought it was just tiredness, however, in the first 3-miles of stage 3 I knew my foot was not good,” Mendez said at the finish line. “I was chasing Erick with Andy and Cody but the pain was terrible. I took time out at CP2 to cool off my foot and massage it but the damage was done. Not finishing was not an option so I pushed on and finished the stage. I have spoken with the medics and I have tendonitis… So, I am unsure what stage 4 will bring?”

For the women, Gerbin caught Arrieta and applied the pressure, once again she pulled away for a third stage win in three days, she now has an overall time of 13:53:26.

Arrieta ran a strong race and finished the stage 3 with an accumulated time of 14:38:53.

Lyng, despite the run off-course still occupies the 3rd podium place with an accumulated time 16:48:21 but finished 4th on the stage (7:39:11) behind Viviana Piedra Solano.

Stage 4 tomorrow is a tough day as the runners start the day with a tough climb, they then stay high and finish the day with a descent to Palmar Sur, the distance 36.2km. The Adventure race will cover 16.5km.

Ranking:

Men:

Erick Agüero 4:59:39 – Leader on GC

Andy Symonds/ Cody Lind 5:03:14

Mauricio Mendez 5:42:36

Women:

Kaytlyn Gerbin 6:01:21 – Leader on GC

Natalia López Arrieta 6:22:18

Vivian Piedra Solano 7:17:03

 

The Coastal Challenge #TCC2020 – Stage 2 40.2km

The Coastal Challenge, Costa Rica’s number one multi-day race moved to stage 2 after the runners had a good nights sleep near the Savegre River in a purpose built campsite.

The heat of day 1 had taken its toll with runners retiring to sleep soon after dinner at 1900 hours. It was a hot night with little air and the 0330 wake up call came all too early for many. Breakfast at 0400 and then with the arrival of the sun, runners departed for 40.2km.

The early morning sun was magnificent and the Costa Rican landscape glowed as the rays illuminated the landscape.

The day started with almost a disaster with many of the top men, including all the top-4 contenders going off course with women leader, Kaytlyn Gerbin. They lost over 15-minutes and what followed was a hard chase into the long first climb of the day.

The men’s race came back together with race leader, Mauricio Mendez catching Erick Agüero who had initially gone wrong, realised his mistake early and turned back. Cody Lind and Andy Symonds chased with Scott Maguire running on his own further back.

For Kaytlyn, it was over 2-hours before she finally caught all the women, the 2nd placed woman on GC being Natalia López Arrieta.

With order resumed at the front, the race could continue as normal over a very tough course. Relentless fire road descents making the going hard both physically and mentally. Mendez finally made a move around CP3 and pulled away from Agüero while Lind and Symonds pursued together. They would stay this way all the way to the line. Maguire faded in the latter stages of the day as the heat and course took its toll, he finished 5th once again.

“I think I was a little too focussed and early on we went wrong… Crazy! We wasted at least 10-minutes. I was in a group and we all backtracked. It was 10km before I caught Erick with Scott. I was then running alone with Rick to CP3 and then I made a move. I was feeling good, my legs were tired and the heat did not seem as hot as day 1. I was really happy to get a 2nd stage victory, but I need to be smart for day 3, I know it will be tough, I have lots to learn!” – Mauricio Mendez

Once Gerbin had hold of the front of the race she extended the gap and her lead. She looked strong, focussed and relentless for the pursuit of the line and a stage 2 victory. Behind Arrieta once again ran strong for 2nd and Norway’s Abelone Lyng entered into a battle with TCC regular and past woman champion, Veronica Bravo. At the final two water crossings, Lyng lead Vero but the gap at best was only a minute. Lyng fought hard and finished 3rd ahead of Bravo’s 4th. Ashton Keck Keck who placed 3rd on tase 1 finished 6th in 5:32:21.

“Veronica caught me and she looked strong but on the final beach sections I pushed hard and caught her again,” said Lyng. “I wanted to be finished and Veronica was looking tired so I pushed hard. It was a tough race to finish a long day but I am happy with the result. I have been worried about the heat but my adaptation seems to have worked, it is very hot but I am feeling good, that makes me very happy.”

Ranking:

Men:

Mauricio Mendez 3:50:48 – Leader on GC

Erick Agüero 3:53:58

Andy Symonds/ Cody Lind 3:56:16

Women:

Kaytlyn Gerbin 4:33:17 – Leader on GC

Natalia López Arrieta 4:44:57

Abelone Lyng 5:12:20

Stage 3 of #TCC2020 will depart with sunrise once again, ahead 47.5km to Marino Ballena. The ‘Adventure’ category will run 12.7km starting from aid station 2.

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The Coastal Challenge 2020 #TCC2020

The 2020 ‘The Coastal Challenge’ is upon us! Six days, 230.5km of racing and 9543m of vertical gain, 9413m of vertical descent – TCC is more than a challenge!

Hugging the coastline of the tropical Pacific, TCC is the ultimate multi-day experience that weaves in and out of the Talamancas; a coastal mountain range in the Southwest corner of this Central American country.

The terrain is ever-changing from wide, dusty and runnable fire trails to dense and muddy mountain trails. Runners will cross rivers, boulders, swim through rivers, pass under waterfalls, survive long and relentless beaches and finally finish in the incredible Corcovado National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site with a stunning final loop around Drake Bay before departing for their journeys home via speedboat.

The Race:

Stage 1 34.6km 1018m of vert and 886m of descent

Stage 2 39.1km 1898m of vert and 1984m of descent

Stage 3 47.4km 1781m of vert and 1736m of descent

Stage 4 37.1km 2466m of vert and 2424m of descent

Stage 5 49.8km 1767m of vert and 1770m of descent

Stage 6 22.5km 613m of vert and 613m of descent

Total 230.5km – Vertical 9543m/ Descent 9413m

Stage 1

It’s a tough day! Runners depart San Jose early morning (around 0530) for a 3-hour drive to Playa Del Rey, Quepos. It’s the only day that the race starts late and ‘in the sun!’. It’s the toughest day of the race, not because the the terrain or distance, but because of the time of day! The runners are fresh and feel great. That is until about 10km and then they realise the heat and humidity is relentless. It’s a day for caution – mark my words! The 34.6km is very runnable with little vertical and technicality, it welcomes the runners to Costa Rica.

Stage 2 

From here on in, it is an early breakfast, around 0400, the race starts with the arrival of the sun! The only way is up from the start with a tough and challenging climb. It’s a tough day with an abundance of climbing and descending and a final tough flat stretch on the beach, just as the heat takes hold.

Stage 3

It is basically 25km of climbing topping out at 800m followed by a drop to sea and a final kick in the tail before the arrival at camp. For many, this is a key day and maybe one of the most spectacular.

Stage 4

It’s another tough start to the day with a relentless climb, but once at 900m the route is a roller coaster of relentless small climbs and descents, often littered with technical sections, rain forest, river crossings and boulders. At 30km, it’s a short drop to the line and the finish at 37.1km.

Stage 5

The long day but what a beauty! This route was tweaked a couple of years ago and now has become iconic with tough trails, plenty of climbing, sandy beaches and yes, even a boat trip. The finish at Drake Bay is iconic.

Stage 6

The victory lap! For many, this stage is the most beautiful and memorable. In just over 20km, the route manages to include a little of all that has gone before. It’s a stage of fun and challenges and one that concludes on the beach as a 2018 medal is placed over your head – job done!

THE 2020 ELITE LINE UP

Katlyn Gerbin

Kaytlyn joins the line-up of the 2020 TCC with an extremely solid and consistent resume, known in Canada and the USA for a string of top performances, it was a podium place (2nd) at Transgrancanaria that introduced her to worldwide attention. Winner of the Pine to Palm 100 in 2016, Kaytlyn has mixed races distances for the last 3-years, excelling at 50km and 100km with victories at Gorge Waterfalls and Sun Mountain amongst others. In 2017 she won Cascade Crest 100 but her calling cards are 4th place and 2nd place at the 2017 and 2018 Western States.

Manuela Vilaseca 

Is a last-minute entry to the race but that is no problem for the experienced ultra-trail and mountain runner. In November, she once again made the podium at the Everest Trail Race. She has two top-10 finishes at UTMB and a high-ranking in the UTWT. Born in Brazil, Manuela will embrace the Pura Vida approach of The Coastal Challenge.

Abelone Lyng

Hailing from Scandinavia, Abe has gained a reputation in just 4-years for tenacity in ultra-trail races. She recently won the 230km Ice Ultra in the Arctic wilderness and placed 4th overall. TCC no doubt will give this cold weather expert some new challenges but Abe embraces a challenge!

Rebecca Ferry

Becks, as she is known to her friends, has gained a reputation in recent years for achieving great results, be that Everest Trail Race or on the UK trails setting course records. She comes to the TCC with excellent experience of multi-day racing and is a prime contender for the podium.

Brittany Peterson and Kelly Wolfe were due to race and both have sustained injuries preventing participation in the 2020 race. Brittany however will still join us in Costa Rica.

MEN

Cody Lind

Cody has been racing for some years, but may well have only come on your radar after 2017 with a very committed foray in the Skyrunning circuit – He placed 8th at Tromso in 2017 and then followed the SWS circuit racing on iconic courses throughout the world. Recently he raced them Rut in the USA and came away with victory. Cody manages to mix speed and technical ability, it’s a perfect mix for the trails in Costa Rica.

Andy Symonds 

Andy is one of the UK’s greatest mountain runners. He has traditions in fell running and has mixed Skyrunning and ultra-running throughout a long and successful career. He recently placed 5th at UTMB after 3 attempts. He has raced Marathon des Sables and placed in the top-10 but Andy will always be considered a mountain specialist. He has won Lavaredo, placed 3rd at Marathon Mont Blanc, 5th at Transgrancanaria and has represented his country at many World Championships. The technical and demanding trails of Costa Rica with plenty of climbing and descending provide Andy a perfect playground.

Mauricio Mendez

Mauricio is a rising star from Mexico who is currently an Xterra World Champion. He joins TCC as somewhat as a dark horse but no doubt he will be the hope of the locals. He started running because of his Father and in his own words, is a dreamer!

Julien Chorier unfortunately, took a fall in training and sustained a fracture and therefore is unable top race in the 2020 edition of the race. We wish him a speedy recovery and hope he can join TCC2021. Jordi Gamito should have toed the line at the 2019 TCC but injury prevented his participation and once again, while training in Africa over Christmas, he has sustained a knee injury which unfortunately will keep him away from the race.

The 2020 TCC starts in February as runners from all over the world will assemble in San Jose before transferring to the coast for stage 1 of the race starting on Saturday 8th. Year-on-year, the TCC has grown to be one of ‘the’ most iconic multi-day races. 

#TCC2020
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