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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FASTPACKING – A Guide.

Runner’s and particularly ultra-runners have this wonderful ability to cover distance under their own power with very little needs or requirements. Some water, some food, a warm jacket and waterproofs and adventure awaits.

However, you can only go so far without the eventual need to return home.

Fastpacking manages to encompass the world of backpacking and running to create a different adventure, fast and light! Backpackers tend to carry a plethora of equipment and move at a slower pace, happy to adventure for days and weeks at a leisurely pace.

Fastpackers, arguably are runners or hikers looking for the need to travel for multiple day’s but still cover good distances and not be excessively slowed down by weight and excess equipment. The crux though is often the balance of weight and one’s ability to still run/ fast hike.

“Fastpacking isn’t for every outing though. Sometimes you want to take it easy, set up camp, and enjoy a particular area. That’s when backpacking shines. Sometimes you just want to crush through a workout. That’s when you want to go for a really fast run.” Says Simoni, adding that he opts for Fastpacking, “when I want to tag multiple mountain summits in an area at one time, without needing to take multiple trips. If you’re squeezed for time, Fastpacking can really help maximize an adventure. I find it very rewarding to cover so much distance with minimal gear.” – Justin Simioni via La Sportiva

One could arguably say that races like Marathon des Sables, which is 35-years old in 2020, have paved the way for Fastpacking bringing a ‘fast and light’ scenario to a race format allowing participants to cover 250km’s in a self-sufficient manner.

However, Fastpacking has been around for many, many years. Long before MDS, and long before the term Fastpacking. But in recent years, the sport has developed into something else, no doubt boosted by the growth and popularities of FKT’s and lighter, more functional equipment.

It’s important to clarify, that Fastpacking is what you make it. Personally, I enjoy a lighter pack, moving fast (but not running) and being self-sufficient. This allows me to carry a little more weight, travel for longer, enjoy the process and still cover over a marathon per day. You though may prefer to be more minimalist, look at micro/ mini adventures of 2-4 days and aim to run for much of the way. There are no rules to the speed or distance you go.

It’s also important to consider many other factors that come into place:

  • Location and environment – There is a big difference to Fastpacking in Nepal to say the Alps.
  • Time of year – Winter conditions require more equipment and more specific equipment.
  • Weather conditions – Check weather and be prepared.
  • Access to water – Streams, rivers and lakes
  • Access to external help – If you are going remote, be responsible and plan accordingly.

It’s easy to see from the above, there is no one definitive kit list, but there are crossovers that apply to both.

Route Plan

Plan the route in advance, understand the terrain and understand what possibilities exist to obtain water. Importantly, carry a system that will ensure that you can drink water that is available from any source.  Work out how long a planned route will take and then plan for contingency should something go wrong. Note that vertical ascent, descent and technical terrain will require moving slower. It’s not unusual to sometimes only cover 2km’s in 1-hour. Make sure you inform family or a friend of your planned trip, start day and end day. That way you have a backup and someone checking out for you. It may sound alarmist, but should something happen, you may well not be able to call for help. Contact and research with local authorities and ascertain current conditions on the trails and be aware of any restrictions.

The Pack

Typically, a Fastpacker will look for something between 20 and 40 liters. For summer and short adventures, it is possible to go lighter and smaller. In winter, one will need more equipment that is often heavier and bulkier. Quite simply, the heavier the pack, the harder it is to run. So, if the plan is to run as much as possible, you need to go as minimal as possible whilst keeping safe. Make sure when testing and trying a pack that you add weight and understand how it feels when moving. Many brands are now producing packs specifically for Fastpacking. Personally, I like my pack to have a waist belt as this helps distribute the load and make the pack more secure. I would say that a minimum pack weight will be 6.5kg (14.3lbs) with water. Where possible, you would not want a pack to exceed 10kg (22lbs).

Packs with considering:

  • Montane Trailblazer 30ltr HERE
  • Ultimate Direction Fastpack 25 HERE
  • OMM Phantom 25 HERE
  • Six Moon Designs Flight 30 HERE
  • UltrAspire Epic XT HERE (this is a smaller pack)

Tent / Tarp/ Hammock

On a personal level, I would always go with a tent as I personally feel that it will offer more flexibility, especially if one shops in a clever way. My go to tent is an MSR Hubba Hubba NX (1/ 2 and 3 person versions available).

Things to look for in a tent:

  • Weight
  • Flexibility
  • How many season use?
  • Space

For example, the above MSR is a free-standing tent, so, it can be pitched inner only. If you know you are Fastpacking in ‘guaranteed’ good warm weather, you could travel without the fly sheet and basically sleep in a lightweight and bug proof shelter. Equally, if you know that you are fast packing in a bug free (mosquito) environment, you could leave the inner at home and just travel with the flysheet. This then provides a secure waterproof shelter, and, in this scenario, it acts just like a tarp but with more protection.

Tents to consider (2 person):

  • Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 here
  • MSR Carbon Reflex 2 here
  • Nemo Hornet here
  • Nordisk Lofoten 2 ULW here
  • Terra Nova Solar Photon here
  • Marmot superalloy 2P here

Tarps offer a light solution that can be used with trekking poles and if one is going very minimal and fast, they provide a very simple answer for overnight protection. It all comes down to comfort and what one is prepared to accept as ‘comfort’ whilst Fastpacking. Big Agnes make the Onyx which comes in at under 200g. A Tarp is a compromise if you will have bugs such as mosquitos whilst on your adventure.

Hammocks are also an option providing one has trees to secure against. But if you add a bug net and tarp, in my opinion, a tent is a much better option. But a hammock can be a great addition to any Fastpacking kit, I use an Amazonas (here)

Sleeping Bag

A sleeping bag is essential for any adventure but firstly you need to ask some very specific questions before purchasing. I would say that ideally, one potentially could need several sleeping bags based on time of year and weather conditions. Remember, that any sleeping bag can be made warmer with layers. Add a hat, gloves and down jacket, suddenly the sleeping bag is considerably warmer.

Read an in-depth article HERE.

Down is by far the lightest and smallest packing size, however, down cannot get wet! So, if you think you will encounter damp and wet conditions, you should consider a bag with a synthetic filling. Weight and pack size are important and with sleeping bags, the more you pay, usually, the lighter and smaller it will be.

Be careful on the ‘comfort’ rating of the sleeping bag.

  • Upper limit – the highest temperature the average male can expect to have a comfortable night’s sleep at without too much sweating.
  • *Comfort – the temperature at which the average adult woman can expect to have a comfortable sleep. *This is the ideal for most people choosing
  • Lower limit – the temperature at which the average adult male can expect to have a good night’s sleep in a curled position.
  • Extreme – the lowest temperature at which the average adult woman can survive. This rating comes with caution and additional consideration should be given if you plan to sleep in temperatures this low.

Recommendations:

  • PHD – Make sleeping bags and jackets to order, I am a long time fan here
  • Yeti – Passion One and Passion Three are a good start point here
  • Rab – The new Mythic Ultra is a personal favourite, available in 180 and 360 here
  • OMM -The Mountain Raid 160 is a great bag if you need synthetic filling here
  • Sea to Summit – The ‘Spark’ range have been getting rave reviews here
  • Western Mountaineering – here

Sleeping Matt

The minimalist Fastpacker will go with no matt or a very simple and small pad that provides just enough coverage for one’s hip if sleeping on one’s side. Personally, a good night’s sleep is essential, and a good/ light matt is an essential element to a fast and light kit.

Also, one should consider that in winter/ snow conditions, a matt will be essential for insulation.

Another consideration is potential problems from a puncture. Many inflatable matts become super light by using extremely light material. Be careful when using and make sure any potential sharp objects are removed before sitting or sleeping!

Matts very considerably but a personal favourite is the Klymit V Ultralite slim which offers full length body comfort all for 316g. It also packs very small. There are lighter matts and I list them below:

  • Thermarest NeoAir Uberlite 158g
  • Klymit Inertia X 258g
  • Nemo Insulated Short 278g
  • Sea to Summit Ultralight 294g
  • Exped AirMat HL 304g

Ultimately, the matt you choose may come down to a tradeoff between price/ packing size and weight. Be careful, some matts can be noisy when you move. Ok of going solo but really irritating if you are in close proximity of someone else.

Cooking System

For me, the MSR PocketRocket Deluxe (here) or 2 (here) kit is perfect. It has all one needs in a very small pack size and weight. I use the PocketRocket 2 kit that allows me to place a gas canister inside the 278g kit + a 4oz canister.

Another consideration would be JETBOIL Micromo Cooking System (here) which is the lightest system they do and if you just need to boil water, this is perfect!

Food

Dehydrated food is probably the most obvious option here and there are many varieties on the market. They are a one-stop option that requires water to hydrate and if you wish to be extremely minimal, some options exist that do not require hot or boiling water. A personal favourite is Lyo (here) and Real Turmat (here) – It may sound crazy but they both make foods that I would consider eating when not fast packing. They also do Vegan and Vegetarian options.

Check out Chicken Tikka Masala, Nettle Curry, Penne alla Bolognese and if Vegan, Organic Chilli and Barley Risotto. Breakfasts such as Mexican Scrambled Eggs and Organic Millet Porridge.

For any adventure, I work on a breakfast and a dinner and then carry snacks for during the day, this can be energy bars or if on a long Fastpack, I will even consider carrying another main dehydrated meal. Typical weights are 132g with approx 600 cals.

Other options to look at for dehydrated food are:

Coffee

For me, Fastpacking is fun and adventure. I am not looking for FKT’s and therefore I do allow myself one or two luxuries. Coffee for me is an essential part of any trip and I mean good coffee. I could just take some coffee sachets and have a combined weight of grams.

No! For me, I take fresh ground coffee in a sealed tub and I use one of two coffee presses.

Aeropress here or Espro here

The Espro is my favourite as it acts as a flask/ drinking canister too. But it does come at a weight and size cost.

I fully appreciate that if going fast and light, the above is a complete no, no! But for me, that smell of fresh coffee each morning is worth it.

Water

You are going to be self-sufficient for multiple days, so, you need to find water and plan to obtain water from the route you will take. You can use purification tablets, I take the MSR TrailShot pocket sized filter (here) which meets U.S. EPA drinking water standards* and NSF protocol P231 for removal of bacteria (99.9999%), protozoa (99.9%), and particulates.

Clothing

Clothing requirements depend on the time of the year, the weather you will encounter and the duration of the Fastpack. Needless to say, one has to accept that changing clothes, taking a shower and feeling wonderfully fresh daily is not what Fastpacking is about. Layering clothing is essential to allow for fluctuations in temperature. Do your research, check weather forecasts and plan accordingly. The above photo is my equipment for a Fastpack in Nepal. Make sure you have a ‘Drybag’ to make sure all contents of the pack are protected from the weather, Sea to Summit (here) for example.

A good start point is as follows:

  • Short sleeve T
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Shorts
  • Underwear x2?
  • Socks x2?
  • Hat with peak
  • Warm hat
  • Gloves
  • Merino base layer, top and bottom – I use Icebreaker here
  • Lightweight waterproof jacket – I use RAB Charge here
  • Lightweight down/ Primaloft jacket – I use RAB Kaon here
  • Buff
  • Bivvy bag

The above, for most, would be a start point and based on where and when Fastpacking, you could maybe add or takeaway certain items.

If going to more extreme and cold environments, the demand on clothing and what one takes will increase. I wrote an article on Fastpacking in Nepal (here) and this is a worthwhile read. Please note in Nepal, one can use tea rooms, so, one saves on tent/ tarp weight immediately if required.

Tracker/ Beacon

I use a Garmin InReach Mini (here) and it is superb. Small, light, has SOS button and allows for 2-way messaging anywhere in the world. I do not go on any adventure without it now. In conjunction with a mobile phone and associated App, functions become easier to use. Subscription services can be changed monthly and therefore one can add or takeaway facilities as required.

Another option to consider is a SPOT device.

Essential Extras:

  • Water purification
  • Toilet paper/ wet wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • First-aid kit
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug repellent
  • Headlamp and batteries
  • Lighter/ matches
  • Whistle
  • Map
  • Compass
  • Earphones

Optional Extras:

Trekking poles – to be honest, for most of my Fastpacks, poles are an essential and especially if one is using a Tarp or similar.

Battery pack for recharging.

Conclusion

Fastpacking for me, is one of the most pleasurable ways to travel by foot. The ability to cover distance, usually in a point-to-point way under ones own power and being self-sufficient is extremely rewarding. You can move as fast or as slow as you like, take as long as you wish and fully immerse yourself in the surroundings and environment.

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Equipment for Fastpacking in Nepal – A Guide

Having just returned from Nepal, I have once again had many questions from runners, hikers and enthusiasts on the equipment I used during the Everest Trail Race.

I would normally say, read ‘this’ post and send a link. However, over 7-years of going to Nepal and the Himalayas, I have constantly tweaked and changed equipment. In 2018 I made some significant changes. So, I have something to write about.

The Everest Trail Race is a 6-day multi-day running race. Runners aim to cover 160km over 6-stages with extremely varied terrain, huge altitude gain and descent and of course, they have altitude to deal with. They must carry all they need for the race. However, a tent is provided which they share, food is provided, and water is rationed and provided at specific checkpoints. The race is the ultimate fast packing exercise as runners obviously try to be as light as possible without compromising warmth and comfort. The race takes place in November, the prime trekking season in Nepal – days are usually sunny and warm and the nights are cold. At certain places on the route, nights can be very cold.

My equipment requirements are not too dissimilar to that of the runners as I to need to move over the trail as fast and light as possible. However, I also need to carry camera equipment. This is significant and adds KG’s instantly.

I have also learnt over the years that I do not like being cold.

In my first Nepal experience I went light (too light) and I was cold. A little extra weight with warmth and comfort is worth it, for me! But here in, this is where the challenge comes and actually, this is part of the fun of fastpacking and in particular, fastpacking in Nepal when the variables can be so great.

This is even more poignant now as I am planning to return to Nepal in a few weeks on a much longer and harder trek than the ETR and when temperatures will be considerably colder, especially at night.

One thing is for sure. You go trekking in Nepal and you will rarely change clothes and a shower/ wash will be a rarity. Accept it! Everyone will be the same so embrace this as part of the challenge. There are ways of dealing with this and I like to think of my clothing as day and night. During the day, I am wearing run clothing, and, in the evening, I am wearing more mountain specific clothing.

I am not the fastest on the trails, but I move considerably faster than nearly all the trekkers. So, I look more like a runner when trekking than a trekker. For example, trekkers will wear boots, trousers, and a shirt. I use run shoes, run tights and a run top.

It is also important to consider individual needs and individual strengths when looking at equipment and weight. For example, a 5ft woman weighing 50kg is going to have a very different set of abilities to a 6ft 85kg man. Keep this in mind!

My equipment list below is specific to me and my needs, but it does provide an excellent start point.

Disclaimer: No equipment or apparel was supplied by RAB, Osprey or Montane. They were all purchased items. The apparel by inov-8 was supplied and the Trail Talon 290 shoes were purchased by myself.

Sherpas and Porters are able to carry huge loads and weight…

PACK

I have used many packs over the years. The runners tend to use the Ultimate Direction Fastpack which is generally a great option. Other variants come from Raidlight, Salomon and so on. Typically, a capacity of 20-30L would be required.

I need to use a larger pack as I carry more, especially with the cameras.

For 2018 I used the OSPREY EXOS 38 which really was excellent. It had great comfort, flexibility and many features that made it a pleasure to use.

My other favourite packs, and to be honest, when I return in December, I will either use the Montane Ultra Tour 40 or 55 depending on my equipment needs? Both these packs are minimalist, light and very comfortable.

WARMTH WHEN SLEEPING

I have already said I like to be warm and layering is absolutely key to regulating temperature. Especially at night.

I do not take the warmest and biggest sleeping bag. The reason being I like to have flexibility. Such I have an unusually mild night, I still want to use my sleeping bag and not be too warm. However, if it’s cold – really cold – how do I get warm? Well, I have three options:

  1. Sleeping bag on its own
  2. Merino base top and bottom and sleeping bag
  3. Merino base top and bottom, down pants, down jacket and sleeping bag

I also have down socks that I would wear over merino wool socks. So, as you can see, I regulate temperature in a very controlled way. In addition, the above I can also wear gloves, a hat and a neck roll. Just wearing a hat really helps retain heat.

Layering is key!

Sleeping bag is a RAB INFINITY 500

Merino top is a RAB 120 long sleeve

Merino Bottoms are a RAB 120 pant

PHD down socks

JACKETS

I take two down jackets. One thinner than the other, again offering flexibility. This year I upgraded to a warmer down jacket, the RAB NEUTRINO PROand it was such a great choice! It was so warm, comfy and with a two-way zip it allowed flexibility of movement. It also had a great hood and high collar.

The lighter jacket was a RAB MICROLIGHTwith no hood. This offers excellent warmth in the morning and evening when on the trails. It also is excellent in my sleeping bag on colder nights. It packs small and is lightweight.

RAB SUPERFLUX HOODY is a great mid-layer that works well in the dry or wet and is excellent when the warmth of down is not required.

PANTS

I have used down pants previously but this year I used the RAB PROTON PANTS which are not down filled, a little heavier but more flexible for other uses and they are Primaloft. So, they can get wet and keep warm. Down cannot get wet!

HAT, GLOVES and ACCESSORIES

Hands and feet are so difficult to keep warm and for me, they are the areas I most struggle with. So, I have options:

RAB Merino liner glove

RAB Xenon Mitt (warm and waterproof)

RAB Windblock convertible gloves which allow me to use my camera

RAB Shadow Beanie (for day use)

RAB Beanie (for night use)

RAB neck tubes (usually have 2 or 3)

RAB hut slippers allow me to remove my run shoes and are also much warmer. I go a size bigger than needed so I can wear my down socks in them too.

DAY CLOTHING

My day hike/ run clothing is pretty conventional, and I have long been a fan of inov-8.

It is possible to wear shorts as day temperatures are usually very good, however, I prefer the flexibility of 3/4 tights as they also keep my knees warm.

I use the AT/C Merino Top, and should temperatures get high, I just roll the sleeves up. One great addition is that the sleeves have thumb holes, so, they also provide a great alternative to using gloves.

The AT/C soft-shell Pro Top is brilliant early morning or late afternoon when the warmth of a down jacket is not required. This jacket has been tweaked over the years and has some great features – high collar, good hood, two pockets and thumb loops to help keep hands warm.

Extreme Thermo Skull Hat keeps my head warm and the Extreme Thermo Mitts are excellent – much better than gloves.

Shoes are always a debatable point and very personal. I prefer to use a shoe with cushioning, a wide but not too wide toe box, adequate all-round grip and 8mm drop – the Trail Talon 290 is perfect for me and on the recent ETR were perfect every day!

TIPS

My inov-8 run apparel is for the day. As soon as I finish the day’s run or trek. I immediately get changed into my RAB Merino base layers and put on my overprints, down jacket and put on a hat. This makes sure I don’t sit in damp clothing.

The priority is then to get the day’s clothing dry. A priority if you are not carrying an alternate set of clothing.

EXTRAS

Extras add weight, but I do consider certain items to be essential.

  • SPOT Tracker for me just makes sense and is a great security blanket.
  • Mobile phone – get a Ncell sim when you land in Kathmandu. You can get a 30-day sim with 16gb of data for not much more than £10. Coverage on the trails now is pretty good!
  • POLES – I use Black Diamond Z Poles, they are light, fold and are essential on the relentless climbs and descents.
  • EARPHONES – handy at night when relaxing.
  • EAR PLUGS
  • BLINDFOLD
  • HEAD TORCH and batteries
  • WET WIPES
  • MICRO FIBRE TOWEL
  • BASIC TOILETRIES
  • PEN
  • PASSPORT
  • WATERPROOF COMPRESSION BAG

OPTIONAL EXTRAS

Based on what type of trek you are doing, where you are going and when you are going, the requirements will vary here. For example, I am returning to Nepal in December and I will need light crampons and an ice axe.

The simple thing with any extra is that it adds weight. So, always ask the question, ‘Do you really need it?’

Read about the Everest Trail Race HERE

Read about the 2017 edition of the race HERE

And now, what is next for me….

Well, Nepal captures my imagination like no other place. Last year after the ETR I returned and did the whole race on foot in the same timescale as the race itself. It was a wonderful experience.

So, this December, the plan is to fly into Lukla and then do the high passes with some serious additions visiting Base Camps and peaks:

  • Gokyo RI
  • Everest Base Camp
  • Ama Dablam Base Camp
  • Tabuche Peak
  • Thamserku Base Camp

SCHEDULE DECEMBER:

18th – Depart for LUKLA go straight to Namche

19th – Namche – Tengboche – Namche (acclimatisation)

20th – Namche – Thame – Lumde

21st – Lumde – Renjo La – Gokyo – Gokyo RI – Gokyo

22nd – Gokyo – Dragnag – Cho La – Dzongla

23rd – Dzongla – Lobuche – Gorakshep

24th – Gorakshep – EBC – Gorakshep – Lobuche

25th – Lobuche – Dingboche – Somare

26th – Somare – Ama Dablam Base Camp – Pangboche

27th – Pangboche – Tabuche Peak – Pangboche

28th – Pangboche – Namche – Monjo

29th – Monjo – Thamserku Base Camp – Monjo

30th – Monjo – Lukla

31st – Lukla – KTM

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Episode 163 – Luke Sanchez, Petter Engdahl and Lily Dyu

Episode 163 of Talk Ultra brings you a chat with Luke Sanchez who just. finished Javelina Hundred 100 mile race – aged 15 years! We also speak with rising skyrunning star, Petter Engdahl.  Finally, we chat with Lily Dyu about her new book, all about fastpacking. Speedgoat Karl co-hosts.

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*****
NEWS
OTTER TRAIL RUN
Bartłomiej Przedwojewski was out front early and added to that throughout for a 3:40 finish. That was 10 minutes in front of everyone else and 14 minutes better than the former course best. Marc Lauenstein (Switzerland), former course-record holder, was second in 3:50, and Oriol Cardona (Spain) was third in 3:51.
Holly Page (U.K.) has had great success in Skyrunning in 2018, and, just like the men’s winner, beat the former course best, too, 4:37 was 12-minutes better than the previous record. Second-place Ruth Croft was less than a minute back in 4:38, and third-place Toni McCann finished in 4:41.
RAID DE LA REUNION
Benoît Girondel and François D’Haene found themselves together and the pair crossed together in 23:18. Maxime Cazajous was third in 24:40, and 2015 winner and 2017 runner-up Antoine Guillon was fourth in 25:07.
Jocelyne Pauly was first woman in 28:54, followed by Audrey Tanguy and Juliette Blanchet also tied in 29:23.
TEMPLIERS
Sébastien Spehler made it two in a row as men’s winner in 6:36 and Azara García (Spain) was completely unmatched running 7:38 and won by over 30 minutes in the women’s race.
JAVELINA JUNDRED
Patrick Reagan followed up winning last year with repeat victory  in 13:42. Second- and third-place Dave Stevens and Kenneth Hawkes followed in 15:39 and 16:22.
Ever-present Darcy Piceu’s won another 100 miler in 18:49, she has also won HURT 100 Mile, Ronda dels Cims 105 miler, and  Angeles Crest 100 Mile in 2018, impressive! Dana Anderson and Tonya Keyes were second and third in 19:31 and 19:50, respectively.
*****
Interview with LUKE SANCHEZ
*****
BIG’S BACKYARD ULTRA
After 68 hours, Johan Steene won after a huge 283 miles! Ouch. Courtney Dauwalter pushed him close and was second with 279 miles and 67 hours, and Gavin Woody was third with 270 miles over 65 hours. Just bonkers, no?
*****
Interview with Petter Engdahl
*****
Interview with LILY DYU
*****
CLOSE
02:30:00
****
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*****
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