Fastpacking and Camping in Winter

December in the Himalayas at Everest Trail Race

Embrace winter, mercury dropping in the thermometer is no excuse to put outdoor adventure on hold. On the contrary, the new season brings a whole new set of adventures that could not be entertained during the months of Spring and Summer – read an article HERE on ‘Embracing Winter for New Adventures.’

Fastpacking is often looked upon as a good weather activity and not something that can be entertained or planned for the winter months. I disagree! Winter brings multiple possibilities and although fast packing in spring/ summer has many carry overs to autumn/ winter, some distinct differences are notable and important. 

I have produced two articles on Fastpacking, one HERE and the other HERE looks at going lighter. Quite simply, fast packing is about finding the perfect and optimal balance between equipment and weight. To move fast, one’s pack needs to be as light as possible. In spring and summer, that job is easier as one requires less equipment. For example, sleeping bag will be lighter, tent will be lighter, clothing will be reduced and so on. Winter brings added challenges of balance and if you get it wrong, not only can it mean a miserable time, it can also be extremely dangerous.

WHAT TYPE OF TRIP?

I like to think of winter fast packing adventures primarily falling in two categories:

1. Self-sufficient with tent.

2. Self-sufficient and staying lodges, cabins, tea houses or even hotels.

To clarify, when I say ‘self-sufficient’ I mean carrying everything one needs for the adventure you are undertaking. If one is travelling with a tent, you will almost certainly be carrying all your food too. However, if staying in lodges, cabins, tea houses or hotels, then access to food will be possible and therefore the need to carry such items will be reduced.

For the purposes of this article, I am going to look at point 1 as this requires more planning, more equipment and a great deal more thought. For point 2, the equipment list would be as point 1 with the ability to remove items.

A fastpacking trip can be as simple as two days with one overnight stop or it can be a lengthy trip of multiple days or even weeks. As an example, in recent years I have taken myself to Nepal in December and fastpacked for ten days plus using tea houses for accommodation. Read an article on the ‘Three Passes Trek 2018: Ultimate Trek in the Everest Region’ HERE.

Any length of trip is valid and if new to winter adventures, it makes sense that maybe a first trip involves just one overnight so that you can fine tune what does and does not work for you.

EQUIPMENT

Weather in Autumn can still be warm but one needs to be prepared.

Fastpacking in winter is the same as summer, but the need for more substantial equipment increases. Key is multi-purpose so that as mentioned previously, balancing minimal weight with equipment is optimal.

Planning is also essential so that one understands what equipment is needed and required. It goes without saying that winter conditions can bring anything, so, being prepared is an absolute no1 priority. 

Ask questions:

Will I have rain?

Will I have snow?

Will I have ice?

Am I going to high altitude?

Is the terrain technical?

Will I be climbing?

Questions as above are a starting point when deciding what to take. A prime example being that an ice axe, crampons and maybe even a harness will be required on a fastpack trip – If you don’t have them, that could be a BIG problem!

Do the research, understand the trip, understand the distance you will be covering and understand the amount of days the journey will take.

Once you have answers to the above, you can plan the equipment.

Top Tip: While solo adventuring is exciting and exhilarating, winter adventures with another person make a trip safer and, in my opinion, more enjoyable. It also means you can share the additional tent weight and supplies weight.

TENT

©Hilleberg – Nallo 3 Tent

A winter tent will be heavier and more durable as the impact of the weather is greater and the need for protection is increased. The first question, is size? Many of us will not have the option or luxury to have several tent options that allow us to choose a solo, two or three-person tent. So, if purchasing for the first time, the best option would almost certainly go for a 2-person tent.

The tent needs to be 4-season unless you know in advance that your winter adventure will not have weather extremes. If the latter is the case, you may well get away with your 3-season tent.

Heavier fabrics, more substantial poles and less mesh make 4-season tent shopping a challenge. Budget is also a key consideration. A tunnel tent is optimal and if pitched correctly, it will withstand strong winds and harsh weather. Use a well-insulated, all-season tent designed to withstand strong winds and the weight of snow, as well as a full nylon inner to prevent as much heat loss as possible.

My favourite tent is the Hilleberg NALLO which comes in several sizes, 2,3 and 4 person and the ‘GT’ versions have greater storage which is not a consideration for me but could be a consideration if bike packing? The NALLO 3 is 2.6kg and one of the lightest all-season tents on the market.

A cold winter morning.

2.6kg may sound heavy, especially when fastpacking but if you divide that weight between 2 (1300g each) or 3 (866g) it compares with lightweight solo tents such as the NEMO Hornet which would not stand winter conditions.

Ultimately invest in a tent as it will serve you well and last a great deal of time. Cutting costs early on will only come back later and bite you later.

Using a Tarp or Bivvy bag is not a consideration for me in winter unless in an emergency.

PACK

A multi-day fast packing trip to the Atlas Mountains, Morocco.

Packs are very personal and the correct one for you comes down to too many variables. I have said previously that I feel the ideal fastpack size to be 20-25 ltr. However, in winter, I usually go to 30 ltr and in Nepal I have gone to 40 ltr.

Montane Trailblazer 30 is a personal favourite as it fits like clothing with a vest-like fit and it has a waist belt.

Think about simple and effective storage space, minimum fuss, good fit and comfort.

Options:

Ultimate Direction Fastpack

Six Moon Designs

Inov-8

OMM

Terra Nova

SLEEPING BAG

RAB Mythic Ultra 360

After the tent, the sleeping bag is going to be the next largest and heaviest item. However, think cleverly about sleeping bag and also consider the key phrase, multi-purpose.

Because you may experience -15 at night during a fastpack, this does not mean you require a -15 sleeping bag…. Personal favourite is the RAB Mythic Ultra 360.

Smart lightweight campers have been using their clothes to boost the warmth of their sleeping bags for years and climbers do it when they have to. Yet most of us are still carrying bags much bulkier and heavier than we need.” – Peter Hutchinson Designs

Layering in a sleeping bag (just like in clothing) is key to regulating temperature and a perfect way to carry a lighter sleeping bag without compromising on warmth and comfort. Read an in-depth article HERE on ‘Choosing a Sleeping Bag for an Adventure.’

Key points to consider:

  1. Am I using the sleeping bag in a dry or wet climate?
  2. Is the weight of the bag really important? Normally the answer here is, if you are carrying it, yes, the weight is important.
  3. Do I need the sleeping bag to pack as small as possible?
  4. Do I need the bag to work in one or more situations? Another way of looking at this is, do I need to compromise on points 1-3 to get value for money.

Ask some personal questions:

  1. Do I sleep warm?
  2. Do I like to be warm and if not warm, am I miserable?
  3. Am I prepared to be a little cold to be as light as possible?
  4. Do I need a full-length zip, half-zip or am I happy to have no zip?

Consider other factors:

  1. If you are tall, wide, have big shoulders etcetera, etcetera then some sleeping bags will just not work for you as they will be too small.
  2. If you are small/ petite an off-the-shelf sleeping bag actually could be too big for you, this is not a huge problem, but if you wanted the bag to be as small and light as possible, you could go custom made.

Top Tip: Down is the lightest and packs the smallest. However, down cannot get wet. If it does it loses warmth and effectiveness. Some brands now offer ‘treated’ down that can withstand weather variables, so, consider this. If you are going to be in a wet/ damp climate, a synthetic filling may well be the best choice. Do not put your head inside the sleeping bag – make sure you breath out and not inside the bag as the moisture is not good.

SLEEPING MAT

Typical fastpack kit set up.

If you are in a tent during the winter, you NEED insulation between you and the ground. Do not compromise here. No matt and you are guaranteed a cold, sleepless and restless night. There are many variables to look at and while weight is crucial, so is warmth. The weight of one’s body presses a sleeping bag flat when sleeping and therefore the warming properties are reduced. Cold comes up from the ground, which can be very dangerous.

It is possible to purchase insulated matts and they are obviously heavier. Ask questions about your personal needs and self-asses. Do you sleep warm? 

Look at the ‘R’ number of a sleeping mat. The higher the R number, the more insulation it gives.

If you are going to be pitching a tent on snow or ice, the R needs to be 3 at a minimum and ideally 4 or higher.

Sea to Summit produce an Ultralight mat with an R of 3.1 at 480g in regular length. By contrast, the Comfort Plus XT with an R of 4.7 is over 1000g

COOKING SYSTEM

While your spring/ summer gas canister system will work in winter, many choose to use a liquid fuel system as the pressure in the bottle can be maintained by pumping. MSR do a product called WhisperLite that can use gas or liquid fuel.

I personally use a Jetboil Flash or my MSR WindBurner which both boil water very quickly and work exceptionally well in windy weather.

I simply need to boil water and/ or melt snow.

FOOD

Firepoot food tastes great and is well balanced.

Food is a significant consideration for winter and personally the need for warm and nutritious food increases. Dehydrated food is a staple both for breakfast and dinner and while many brands are available, Firepot Food is my favourite. A *typical meal is around 125g in weight and offers upwards of 500 calories. Baked Apple Porridge is superb in the morning and Chili Con Carne has spice and great taste. Options are available for larger packs. Taking Chili Con Carne as an example: the 135g pack has 600 cals and they have a 200g pack with 890 cals.

I take coffee for the morning and sachets of hot chocolate for the evening.

CLOTHING

Hat and buff great for keeping the warmth in.

There is no one answer to clothing and many questions to ask. To start, I will assume for the purpose of this article that you are a runner who will be moving fast (er) than a hiker.

Key considerations re weather:

Will it be dry and cold? 

Will it be wet and cold? 

Will it be wet/ dry and cold?

Understanding the answer to the above helps clarify clothing choice. For example, Nepal in December will be cold and dry (usually) therefore the need for wet weather clothing can be reduced. It also means that down will be the main insulating layer. By contrast, if exploring the mountains of northern Norway, you will potentially experience all weather variables and therefore the need for synthetic insulating layers may be preferable to down and the requirement for waterproof jacket and trousers almost essential.

I see apparel in three scenarios:

What I wear in the day.

What I wear when I have finished for the day.

What I wear to sleep.

Remember the key word, multi-purpose.

Layering is essential to regulate temperature and at all costs, you need to reduce sweating, especially in subzero conditions as the sweat can freeze against the skin. Accept that you will need to move slower and that you will need to be diligent in stop/ starting to add and remove layers. It’s easy to feel too warm or a little cold and not stop because it impacts on your rhythm, this can be a really bad decision. Make sure you add/ remove as required.

DAY

Long sleeve Merino, run tights and gloves is a great starting point for warmth.

Head: Hat.

Eyes: Wear glasses, especially in snow.

Neck: Buff

Body: Long-sleeve merino base layer top.

Hands: Merino base layer gloves.

Legs: Winter run tights.

Feet: Merino socks.

Shoes – These will be specific to the task and weather conditions. Obviously, I will not be carrying options (unless climbing,) so, my shoe choice will be based on the most demanding conditions. As a starting point, my standard trail running shoes with aggressive outsole would be ideal for mud and soft snow. If I was going to encounter ice I would either take micro-crampons to use on my trail shoe or use a specific shoe such as the Arctic Talon by inov-8. Extreme cold, challenging conditions and many variables and I would use a boot but a lighter option that is designed with a runner in mind, Roclite (370 or 400) by inov-8 works exceptionally well.

inov-8 Roclite boots with crampons.

WARMTH and WATERPROOF

Add and remove layers based on the weather and conditions.

Using the above as a starting point, the need to add layers will depend on the conditions you are experiencing.

Head: You lose a great deal of heat through your head, so simply adding and removing a hat is a simple way to regulate temperature. There are many options here that typically fall in 3 categories:

Peaked hat

Beanie

Head band

I often like the head band option as it keeps my ears warm but still allows some heat to escape through the top of my head. If it is really cold, I will use a beanie.

Neck: In colder temperatures I like to have a Buff/ wrap around my neck. This is especially useful as the temperature drops as you can pull the item over your mouth and nose. They can also be used as a hat if required.

Hat, glasses, buff and layers provide great protection.

Body: A simple and extremely light windproof is great for adding and removing to regulate temperature. In colder conditions, the need to add insulation will be required and as mentioned, this can be down or synthetic. Ultimately, this layer, especially if still moving fast does not need to be too bulky or too warm. A Rab Kaon is a current favourite which has the best of both worlds by using treated down in a small and lightweight package. Rain, wet conditions and strong wind can make any trip miserable, so, a good and lightweight jacket with taped seams is essential. The Stormshell by inov-8 is perfect. Top Tip: Consider the size of the waterproof jacket, sometimes going one size bigger is better to allow for insulation underneath.

Hands: I struggle with my hands and particularly with my fingers, so, I do not compromise. I wear Merino wool base layers and then Mitts over the top by inov-8. If I need the use of my fingers, I will use a Gore-Tex glove by Rab. Importantly I carry a spare set of Merino base layer gloves and even a pair of more substantial mitts if conditions dictate. My hands are my weakness!

Legs: Winter run tights such as the inov-8 Winter Tight are ideal in all conditions and they are my ‘go-to’ for all runs. In rain I will use just the run tight. However, if the temperature drops to zero or below and the wind gets up, the need to add another layer becomes important and I use the Trailpant by inov-8 over the top.

Feet: Merino socks are essential as they work extremely well when wet. I often use an Injini 5-finger Merino as a base layer and then a Smartwool Merino sock over the top. On occasion I have used Neoprene socks as an extra warm layer.

Shoes: As discussed above but if going to extreme conditions and climbing I use La Sportiva boots, the G5 is perfect for snow conditions with crampons. Also consider that maybe you need snowshoes?

AT THE END OF THE DAY

The end of a long day at Tengboche, Nepal.

You have finished fast packing for the day, you are warm, and the priority is pitching the tent. Before you do that, make sure you:

Add an insulated layer.

Add a windproof.

Wear a hat.

Put on gloves.

Once you have done the above, pitch the tent and get inside.

Priority is to remove layer and importantly remove base layers if they are damp or wet. Putting on a dry base layer is essential to keep warm

Replace run tights with Merino base layer tights.

Remove socks and put on dry socks.

Now add the insulated layers such as jacket, hat and gloves. If extremely cold, get inside your sleeping bag and retain the heat you already have.

Depending on the conditions and the environment, you may very well have additional warm layers that were not mentioned above. Three essentials for me in extreme conditions are:

Warmer down jacket

Down trousers.

Down/ Primaloft socks.

The above 3 items can pack small and the warmth to weight ratio can make a huge difference. Trekking in Nepal or a similar place in winter and they are essential items.

Hut/tent slippers are a great addition for warm feet and allow you to get out of run shoes/ boots. They are light and can roll up. They fall in the luxury category but if you have space and don´t mind a little extra weight, they can be very worthwhile.

Be specific with the choice of insulated layer. There are many options available that balance weight/ warmth delicately.

SLEEPING

First and foremost, make sure you are warm when going to sleep. If not, you will waste energy trying to get warm. If conditions allow, don’t hesitate to do some press ups, jog on the spot, do star jumps and so on before getting in a sleeping bag.

As a start point, I will wear:

Beanie.

Buff.

Long sleeve Merino base layer top.

Long leg Merino tights.

Merino socks.

Merino liner gloves.

The above provides me with a starting point. Of course, if conditions allow, I can remove some of the items above to regulate temperature.

If it is cold, I will wear a down jacket.

Extremely cold and I will wear my down pants and socks.

It all goes back to layering, multi-purpose and why I initially said that a lighter and less warm sleeping bag can often work providing you have the options to add warmth.

A good night’s sleep is essential.

Top Tips: Put clothes inside the sleeping bag to stop them getting cold and damp. Put all batteries/ phone etc inside the sleeping bag, they will last longer. Need a heat boost? Boil some water, add it to a very secure water bottle and put inside sleeping bag – the ultimate hot-water bottle! Have a bottle for taking a pee in or a FUD if you are a woman. Getting out of a tent in the middle of the night in wind, rain and/ or snow is not a good idea.

TOP TIPS FOR THE WINTER

Climbing Slogen in Norway. We pitched our tent in the valley and travelled light to the summit.

Prepare and plan a trip meticulously understanding the weather conditions you will encounter.

Have the correct equipment for the trip.

Make sure you have a phone, the ability to charge and re-charge it and have a tracking device such as a Garmin InReach.

Tent must be durable and correct for the conditions.

A tent can be made warmer by reducing ambient space – use packs etc around you and don’t be afraid to ‘spoon’ a tent-mate.

Prepare ground for camping, particularly important in snow/ ice conditions. If possible, clear snow to reveal the ground underneath.

Use a mat as insulation between you and the ground.

Layer and regulate temperature.

Add hot water to a drink bottle for the perfect sleeping bag warmer.

Put clothes inside sleeping bag.

Have ear plugs and blindfold.

Eat and drink warm food and snacking in the middle of the night is a great idea.

Have a pee bottle or suitable device if a woman. Holding a pee in is not a good idea as this will waste energy and heat,

Insulated bottles are essential to stop water freezing. Turn bottle upside down.

Poles are great in the mountains.

Use poles when conditions dictate.

Use dry bags to keep all clothing dry.

Have plastic zip-lock bags for emergencies.

Make sure you have a first aid kit.

Zip ties, Gorilla tape and a small tube of super glue can go a long way for ‘on-the-go’ repairs.

Carry a multi-tool knife.

Use a long-handled spoon for dehydrated meals.

Remember it gets cold at night.

Eye protection is crucial.

Take a pillow.

Decide on the correct fuel for the stove. Subzero, go with liquid fuel.

Melt snow for water.

Carry a water filtration system.

Have a method for removing toilet paper and waste.

Have wet wipes or similar.

Sunscreen in snow is essential along with lip balm.

If possible and allowed, make a fire.

Camp fires are great as long as it is safe and friendly to the location/ environment.

If possible and allowed, make a fire.

Take insoles out of shoes and put inside sleeping (providing they are not wet)

A second stove option and backup may be worthwhile. If using gas canister, the MSR pocket rocket burner is super small and light.

Ventilate your tent.

Keep hydrated.

Protect extremities. Hands and feet. Consider hut/tent slippers.

Headtorch and spare batteries.

Headtorch is an essential item.

LUXURIES

Depending on the length of the trip, luxuries are best kept at a minimum. However, on a lengthy trip in Nepal I did take an iPad mini as it allowed me to write, provided the option for movies and music and I could re-charge in tea houses. If I was self-sufficient camping, I would leave this at home.

Take a phone. Maybe use an old-style phone and not the latest smartphone. The latter is power hungry.

iPods and fancy earphones are great, but you cannot beat a pair of simple wired earphones as they do not need re-charging.

Take a notebook and pen (if not taking an iPad mini).

A battery for re-charging.

Remember, you need to carry any luxury so be ruthless.

AVOID

Hypothermia 

Frostbite

Embrace winter and the challenges it brings.

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Embrace Winter for New Adventures

The passing of September and the arrival of October can signify dread and a sense of despair in many as daylight disappears and the weather changes. However, one of the secrets of ‘surviving’ this new season is to embrace it. Don’t look at the negatives, on the contrary, the perceived negatives are actually positives. Seasons exist for a reason.

Lethargy, low mood and the perceived feel to hibernate are all characteristics we feel during the winter months and first off, don’t fight it, accept that winter brings an opportunity to recharge, relax, read a book, catch up on some movies, light a fire, get a blanket and yes curl up on the sofa and relax. There is no harm or guilt in this.

SAD (Seasonal Effective Disorder) is something we all can feel and yes, some feel it considerably more than others, particularly if Serotonin is reduced and this is often treated with drugs. But light, or the lack of it, is a great contributor. Top tip – Look at changing the bulbs on your lights to ‘daylight’ balanced and when required, adjust brightness throughout the day to help simulate the natural passing of light. It’s a great and easy way to help simulate the variable light intensity changes in one normal day.

Mindset is a key factor to a successful winter and once you get the mind tuned, you will soon appreciate and embrace the possibilities that the winter season can bring, especially as a runner or someone who enjoys outdoor life and activity.

As in all things, we are individuals and as such, we all treat circumstances and changes in different ways. I personally see winter as an opportunity to do things I could not do in spring and summer. I see the challenges that winter will bring as a test, both physical and mental and I look upon it as an opportunity to learn and adjust. Resources and circumstances do go a long way in making my ability to adapt successful, so, to start off, look at these aspects and put yourself in a good place before the cold, wet and dark hits.

In a discussion with a friend over a glass of wine, I was surprised to hear our discussion begin to deteriorate…

“I just hate this time of year. The daylight is leaving us earlier and earlier each day, the light is already arriving so late in the morning and I can feel the damp starting to creep into my body. It will be only a matter of weeks before I am in perpetual cold and dark, I cannot wait for spring!”

It is easy to see from the above quote that before winter has begun, my friend is defeated. I smiled and laughed with him and turned the conversation around.

“Yes, the darkness is coming as is the cold, the wet, the snow and the ice,” I replied. “But what a remarkable opportunity this brings. Just think about it. Cozy nights at home with candles and a movie. Adventures in the snow. Running with a head torch. Learning a new skill. Reading and yes, I could go on and on. Winter for me is just a wonderful opportunity and I cannot wait for it to begin.”

I already felt like a winner as mentally I was prepared and excited for the opportunity, whereas my friend, was already starting the hibernation process.

EMBRACE THE WINTER

I strongly believe that embracing winter and making the most of the season starts with mindset. With a good mindset as outlined above, you will already be in a great place to start.

Marino Giacometti, founder of skyrunning also made the summit on race day – ‘for fun!’

As runner’s and outdoor enthusiasts, we are all at different abilities and yes, we all have different reasons why we do what we do. A great example being an elite runner may well look at winter as an opportunity to address weaknesses and maybe spend more time in a gym working on strength and core.

Monte Rosa Skymarathon

A running enthusiast may well just want to tick over, keep fit and maintain a healthy weight during winter months. And then there is the outdoor enthusiast who may well accept that running is something that will go on a back burner for the coming months and accept that walking, indoor cycling, skiing, gym work and so on is the way forward. Whatever group you fall in, take a couple of hours with a pen and paper and self asses how the last year has been and what you want to achieve the following year, this will help provide some specific goals over the winter to keep focused. This planning and assessment can be as simple as complicated as you wish.

As an example, mine is to embrace the season and the weather and to seize every opportunity. I will hone my head torch running. I will practice my ice and snow running. I will experience my first snow shoeing and I look forward to multi-day snow adventures that will carry me from one point to another in a self-sufficient way. But I also want to write more. I want to read a couple of books that I have never found the time for and I also want to embrace the downtime to rest and recover. My connection with nature and breaking from the digital world is integral to a healthy existence and that cannot stop just because the season has changed.

CLOTHING

We have all heard it before, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” It’s true I am afraid. Clothing is one of the key essentials that makes any winter adventure not only bearable and enjoyable. As outdoor people, we have never been as lucky. Technology in apparel has now progressed to a level that we can be warm and dry in super-light products. The downside of course is cost and yes, gearing up for winter can be expensive.

Layering is key with apparel, starting with warm layers against the skin, insulating layers on top and then waterproof and windproof layers as the final touch that will protect from the elements. Merino is great as a base layer and I have a long sleeve top and legs as a starting point. Now of course, I may or may not use them as this depends on the outdoor exercise I am doing. As an example, I would wear the top if running but not the legs. A mid-layer is more often than not either Primaloft, down or synthetic. Each has its place but if you could only choose one, Primaloft (or similar) would be the most versatile due to its ability to retain warmth when wet and still be lightweight. The outer layer should be waterproof and windproof with taped seams and again, it is essential to have jacket and trousers.

The above looks at the core, but if you are like me, the extremities are my most vulnerable in winter and after getting frost nip both in my toes and fingers on the summit of Monte Rosa several years ago, I know need to ensure that I have multiple options for keeping my feet and hands warm. I use Merino base layer socks and gloves which are very thin. For my feet, I then add thicker Merino socks over and inn certain scenarios I have even used Gore-Tex or Neoprene over socks. For my hands, mitts always provide the most warmth and I will use them as first choice. If I need finger dexterity, I often purchase gloves several sizes too big that will allow for multiple layers to retain warmth.

A hat, buff and glasses add the finishing touches. A good hat is one of the easiest ways to retain heat inside the body. A Buff is perfect for around the neck, pulled over one’s nose and mouth to keep out cold air or you can use as a hat. Glasses are an essential to keep out the elements from my eyes and particularly essential if doing any outdoor activity in snow.

Finally, footwear is an absolutely key element to make any outdoor activity successful. There is no one-stop solution here and as a runner, your everyday trail shoes may be ideal for a bulk of your runs, however, specific conditions require specific shoes.

 

Mud/ Wet – You need an aggressive outsole that will grip and gain traction not only of sloppy wet mud but also on tree routes, rocks, gravel and a multitude of other surfaces. Top recommendations are VJ Sport and inov-8 who have been producing shoes to handle the elements for years. Personal favorites are the XTRM (here) and X-Talon(here.)

Snow/ Ice – In soft snow, the shoes that you use for mud/wet will usually work fine providing adequate grip. However, ice brings new challenges and many runner’s avoid ice at all costs. However, products exist that allow for running in such conditions. Firstly, you can micro-crampons (Snowline or Nortec as examples) that simply adapt any running shoe for ice.

I personally prefer a specific shoe, such as the VJ Sport Xante (here) which as all the attributes of my favorite trail shoes and the added grip from 20 studs. Or the Arctic Talon (here) by inov-8.

Xante

Arctic Talon

As a final note on footwear, I use boots and more substantial crampons when venturing in to more alpine and challenging terrain. Read about a trip to the Atlas Mountains here. There is no one answer here but if moving fast and light, the new inov-8 Rocltite Pro G 400 (here) is a great cross over and then I use two specific mountain boots, La Sportiva G5 (here) or the Trango Extreme (here.)

There is no one solution here and having the options to adjust clothing based on weather conditions is key.

Top Tips:

  • Carry a pack that will allow you to carry options of clothing. For example, it may well be dry when you leave but rain could come at any time, make sure you have waterproof layers with you.
  • Take off and add clothing as you exercise. When it’s cold, we often start with many layers as the first 15 min can feel uncomfortable. However, our core soon warms up. Take the layers off early to avoid sweating. Sweating is not your friend in cold climates. Be prepared to add and take off as required. One of the many reasons many people do not, is because it can disrupt the flow of exercise, however, a little time stopping pays dividends in the long term.
  • Avoid getting base or mid layers wet.
  • Carry an extra base layer.
  • Protect extremities – hands, feet, nose, ears and lips.
  • Protect skin with sun block as and when required and post-exercise use a moisturizer – winter is hard on exposed skin.
  • Start easy and build into any outdoor activity allowing for a gradual warm up.
  • Have appropriate footwear.
  • Don’t forget to drink.
  • Take snacks/ food and even a flask or consider the option to obtain hot drinks.

SAFETY

Even at the most basic level, winter brings extra challenges and risk. A simple road run has increased danger due to increased challenges not only for you as a runner, but for those who are sharing the outdoors with you – drivers! Reduced visibility, challenging conditions under foot and on the road can make that simple road run feel like an assault course, so, accept that sometimes staying indoors and or going to the gym is a better option. But we don’t want to be forced to stay indoors and why should we? If you have the correct apparel and footwear, all is good, yes? Well, nearly… Running on the road and I would most definitely consider adding the following:

  • Wear bright clothes or wear a reflective vest such as the Ultra Performance (here) which is minimal and light.
  • Add a flashing light to your arm and ankle. Example here.
  • Use a head torch.
  • Take a phone.

Moving from road to trail and the risk from traffic is reduced greatly especially if one can start immediately on trail with no road running involved. Therefore, the need to wear reflective clothing can be reduced. But the risk of falling is greatly reduced and depending on where you are, that risk can be potentially life threatening. So, adjust safety measures based on:

  • When you are running.
  • Where you are running.
  • The duration of the run.
  • If running alone.

Running for 1-hour on a local trail is very different than a multi-hour adventure. I personally have a standard kit list and I take the basic on every run. It’s an overkill for the 1-hour runs and for the longer sessions, I add to it as required and dictated to by location and conditions.

  • Spare Merino base layer.
  • Spare gloves.
  • Lightweight waterproof jacket.
  • Lightweight waterproof pants.
  • Space blanket.
  • Head torch.
  • Mobile phone.
  • First aid.
  • 500ml water.
  • Snack

The above, is my absolute basic kit that will go in a lightweight pack.

I then add equipment based on:

  • What am I doing?
  • Where am I doing it?
  • When I am doing it?
  • What are the options exist to cut short my adventure?
  • How remote will I be?
  • What are the risks involved?
  • What weather can I expect?
  • What is the worst-case scenario?

The above is a great start point. Even a local run has great risk if one is alone. Imagine running in the forest with snow on the ground, the temperature is just below zero and you are at least 30-minutes from anyone else. If you hit the deck, sprain an ankle, break a bone or whatever, you are suddenly stationary in subzero temperature. This is high risk.

Adapting to the environment, conditions and challenges is not something to be feared. It is actually fun! I go back to the mindset approach at the beginning, I see this as an opportunity, an experience to learn and a great potential to be taken out of my comfort zone.

What equipment/ advice can make a run/ adventure safer and address the list of questions above?

  • If possible, share any trip with another person. It’s more social and you have a backup.
  • Check weather conditions.
  • Tell a friend/ family member where you are going and when you will be back.
  • Have a phone and if necessary, an additional charger. It’s worth considering purchasing a phone that is not a smartphone – battery life is usually amazing.
  • Carry a tracker such as Garmin InReach or Spot.
  • Think layers and have base layer, warm layers, waterproof layers, hat, gloves and buff. On a personal note, I take spare gloves, socks and a base layer should I get wet and need the comfort and warmth of dry layers.
  • Know where you are going and have a map and compass. A GPX file is also a great option for watch/ smartphone.

Specific equipment:

  • Carry micro-crampons if you think snow/ ice is high risk.
  • Carry a bivvy bag which can be a life saver if stuck in a remote location with an inability to move.
  • Goggles are better than glasses if you are in a blizzard or strong winds.
  • Carry an ice axe if venturing anywhere with winter conditions.
  • Hand spikes for ice (more details below).
  • Snowshoes (more details below).

In many scenarios, common sense comes in to play and quite simply, a little extra weight and safety is far better than the alternative. Accept in winter that you will move slower and in a different way.

WHAT OPTIONS EXIST IN WINTER

This question can be asked in two ways, firstly, one’s head can be lowered, shoulders dropped, hands below the waste, a look of desperation on the face and, “What options exist in winter…?” The person asking this question has already decided that the answer is none!

For me, the way to ask this question is standing upright, huge smile on my face and the question, “What options exist in winter?” Already has me ready and primed to list a plethora of activities to keep even the most hardened sport enthusiast occupied for quite some time.

  • Night running.
  • Snow running.
  • Ice running.
  • Road running.
  • Climbing
  • Ice climbing.
  • Hiking
  • Fastpacking
  • Snow shoeing.
  • Learn something new.
  • Spend time with family and friends.

And the list goes on! Location, finances and available time all have a bearing on what is and what is not possible. One thing is for sure, possibilities are endless.

Night Running.

Quite simply, you need your run apparel and appropriate equipment as listed above. Importantly you need a head torch. Not all head torches are the same and an investment in the right kit early on saves money later. If you are running in the city with a great deal of ambient light and just the odd foray on trail, you may well get away with a budget torch and something around 200 lumens would work. However, if you are heading into the pitch black, running in forest, venturing into the mountains and pushing the darkness envelope, you are going to need a specific tool for the job. As an example, Norwegian lighting company Moonlight (here) provide head torches from 700 to 7000 lumens. Be specific on your needs and requirements and importantly consider autonomy, beam direction and spread, options for spare batteries and the option to keep the battery in apparel while still using the head torch, especially important in very cold environment when warmth will make the battery last longer.

Snow Running.

Layer up so that you have the flexibility to reduce heat and get warm as required. In many scenarios, particularly soft snow, a good aggressive trail shoe will work. However, consider the risk of ice so carry micro spikes. If in the mountains, knowledge and experience of snow conditions would be advisable. Be prepared with additional equipment such as poles and ice axe. Needless to say, gloves are really important.

Ice Running.

Use micro spikes for specific shoes as mentioned previously to ensure that you have grip and traction. In some places, Norway and Canada a good example, summer lakes freeze over and they become an incredible playground. Caution, safety and experience is required and if you have never run this way before, take advice from those that have. Importantly run with hand spikes (pictured below) available at all times should a disaster happen – these help you get out of a situation.

  • Measure the ice.
  • What is a safe thickness? 4 inches or more is ideal.
  • Check the ice colour – clear blue or green is good.
  • Fresh ice is best.
  • Know rescue techniques.

Climbing.

Mountains in winter offer an incredible playground and if you are new or inexperienced, the first option would be to sign up for a weekend trip with experienced professionals. The equipment requirements, techniques and safety measures vary considerably.

Ice Climbing.

No need to venture outside. In 2019 as an example, I started on a series of indoor ice climbing lessons which has now set me up for experiencing ice climbing outdoors. There is obviously a need for specific equipment: helmet, glasses, harness, ice axes, boots and crampons. However, most places, indoor or outdoor, offer the option to hire equipment as part of the lessons.

Snow Shoeing.

Fimbulvetr Hikr-X

A great winter exercise that provides an alternative to skiing or snowboarding that is an extension of running. Snowshoes basically allow you to float and not sink in the snow. But there is a difference to snow hiking and snow running, both in the shoe used and the type of snow. Run snowshoes are smaller, allow for a more natural gait and require the snow to be har packed. Whereas in soft snow, you need a much larger snowshoe to stop you sinking in the ground. Either option provides a great challenge and workout. Of course, races exist that require snow running both with and without snowshoes, so, if you are signed up or plan to race like this in the future, seize the opportunity. Abelone Lyng (here), winner of the Ice Ultra does winter snow shoeing trips in Norway.

Fast Packing.

Peak Design Field Pouch attached to a Montane Pack when Fastpacking in Nepal.

Snow, ice and cold weather doesn’t mean that multi-day adventures need to stop, on the contrary. Find a route, plan accordingly, have the correct equipment and off you go. These adventures can involve winter camping (you need a 4-season tent, appropriate matt and sleeping bag) or you can run/ hike form hut-to-hut or hotel-to-hotel. You are only limited by your imagination. Accept that you will move slower. Nepal is a magical playground for winter adventures.

Hiking.

Wrap up and include the family. Sport and our pursuit of it can often be selfish, not purposely, but we can get engrossed in challenge and adventure and often exclude the ones we love. Share the journey.

Training Camp.

Consider a training camp, maybe this could be something in warm weather to break up the winter months. I have been organizing a warm weather camp every January in Lanzarote for over 10-years, info here.

Other options:

  • Sign up for a challenge.
  • Make it social.
  • Add variety.
  • Train in the home.
  • Rest.
  • Learn something new.
  • Enroll in a class.

CONCLUSION

Ultimately, don’t letter winter get you in a spiral of mood swings, depression and locked indoors. It’s all about the mind and understanding that the variety winter brings is actually far more exciting and challenging than good weather and dry predictable trails.

Seize the conditions. Plan accordingly. Have the correct equipment. Test yourself with something new and trust me, by the time Spring comes around you may well be a little disappointed.

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Episode 195 – John Kelly #thegrandround

Episode 195 – Is all about the epic Grand Round by John Kelly and the show is co-hosted by Damian Hall.
*****
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! 
Many thanks to our Patrons who have helped via PATREON
Donate HERE
*****
NEWS
FKT’s posted on last show:
  • * Franco Colle new FKT on Monte Rosa from Gressoney
  • * Nadir Maguet – Gran Paradiso FKT 2:02:32
  • * Erik Clavery GR10 9 days 9 hours and a few minutes
  • * Davide Magnini Ortles FKT 2:18:15
  • * Kim Collison 24h Lakes achieves 78 Peaks
  • * Sabrina Verjeee Wainwrights (wishes not to claim)
  • * Dylan Bowman Loowit Trail 5:11:49
  • * Josh Pulattie Oregon Coast Trail 12 days 10 hours 25 min
  • * Candice Burt Tahoe Rim Trail 2 days 12 hours 47 min
  • * John Kelly Pennine Way 2 days 16 hours 40 min
  • * Sarah Hansel (57:43) & Joey Campanelli (41:00) for Nolans 14
  • * Tom Hollins Dales Mountain 30 (130 miles, 30 summits) 41 hrs
  • Adam Kimble new FKT on Tahoe Rim Trail, USA
  • Damian Hall new FKT for the Pennine Way, UK
  • Adam Jacobs new FKT for Hertfordshire Way, UK
  • Carla Molinaro new FKT for the JOGLE, UK
  • Beth Pascall new FKT for the Bob Graham Round, UK and set 5th fastest time.
  • Rhys Jenkins sets new FKT on the Wales Coastal Path #fkt! 870 miles. Time TBC but 20 days 9hrs 35 mins – 2hr 20mins off the record.
  • Lindsey Ulrich new FKT Pacific Crest Trail
  • Marilyne Marchand-Gouin new FKT Clorado Trail
  • Mikaela Osler new FKT Colorado Trail
  • Wouter Berghuijs new FKT Via Alpina Switzerland
  • Christof Teuscher new FKT Eagles 33
NEW UPDATE:
Pau Capell runs UTMB in 21:17
Finlay Wild runs the Ramsey Round 14:42
Carol Morgan 24hr Lakeland record with 65 tops
Wonderland Trail in the USA, Kaytlyn Gerbin set a new female FKT. Dylan Bowman (16:58) set the FKT only to have it broken 1-week later by Tyler Green, now 16:40:55
Kirsty Hewitson Steve Parr Round 62 fells 117m
Diego Pasoz on the Via Alpina new FKT
Dan Lawson JOGLE 9d 21h 14m
Ryan Sandes 13 Peaks Challenge 13:41:10
Donnie Campbell continues his Munro challenge
Kilian does a VK in less than 30 min and then follows up with 10km on the road in sub 30 min
Check FKT website for latest updates https://fastestknowntime.com/
****
In other news…
Rondane 100 – Read the report here
*****
Articles:
RED-S here
Scott Kinabalu Ultra RC shoe here
*****
INTERVIEW : JOHN KELLY
*****
Share us on Facebook – Talk Ultra FB HERE
Tweet us on Twitter – Talk Ultra on Twitter HERE
Instagram – HERE
And use good old word mouth.
Importantly, go to iTunes and subscribe so that you automatically get our show when it’s released we are also available on Stitcher for iOS, Android and Web Player and now Tunein. We are also on Spotify too.
Our web page at www.iancorless.com has all our links and back catalogue.
Please support Talk Ultra by becoming a Patron at www.patreon.com/talkultra and THANKS to all our Patrons who support us. Rand Haley and Simon Darmody get a mention on the show here for ‘Becoming 100k Runners’ with a high-tier Patronage.
*****
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ITunes HERE
Stitcher You can listen on iOS HERE, Android HERE or via a web player HERE
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Episode 193 – Damian Hall Pennine Way FKT

Episode 193 – Has a great an interview with Damian Hall on his Pennine Way FKT.
*****
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!
Many thanks to our Patrons who have helped via PATREON
Donate HERE
*****
ARTICLES:
Read about Fastpacking HERE
A review of the NEMO Hornet 1P Tent HERE
FREEDOM in a Pandemic HERE
Shoe reviews of the VJ Sport IROCK 3 HERE and the inov-8 TERRAULTRA G270 HERE
*****
Tips for the TRAIL:

*****
NEWS:
FKT’s posted on last show:
* Franco Colle new FKT on Monte Rosa from Gressoney
* Nadir Maguet – Gran Paradiso FKT 2:02:32
* Erik Clavery GR10 9 days 9 hours and a few minutes
* Davide Magnini Ortles FKT 2:18:15
* Kim Collison 24h Lakes achieves 78 Peaks
* Sabrina Verjeee Wainwrights (wishes not to claim)
* Dylan Bowman Loowit Trail 5:11:49
* Josh Pulattie Oregon Coast Trail 12 days 10 hours 25 min
* Candice Burt Tahoe Rim Trail 2 days 12 hours 47 min
* John Kelly Pennine Way 2 days 16 hours 40 min
* Sarah Hansel (57:43) & Joey Campanelli (41:00) for Nolans 14
* Tom Hollins Dales Mountain 30 (130 miles, 30 summits) 41 hrs
UPDATE:
Adam Kimble new FKT on Tahoe Rim Trail, USA
Damian Hall new FKT for the Pennine Way, UK
Adam Jacobs new FKT for Hertfordshire Way, UK
Carla Molinaro new FKT for the JOGLE, UK
Beth Pascall new FKT for the Bob Graham Round, UK and set 5th fastest time.
Check FKT website for latest updates https://fastestknowntime.com/
In other news…
Asif Amirat in the UK is still creating a stir with his 100-marathons in 100-days. Many have been questioning his runs and becoming very vocal on social media. I have reached out to Asif for an interview. At first he was cooperative, however, after I asked several probing questions, he blocked me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
RACES:
Montreux Trail Running Festival – Switzerland COMPLETED
Full results are online here https://montreuxtrail.livetrail.net/ in the main event 112km Jean-Philippe Tschumi and Ragna Debats were crowned champions. Remy Bonnet and Maud Mathys won the 30km.
Speedgoat 50k – USA COMPLETED
Noah Brautigam pipped Hatden Hawks and Anthony Costales to the top slot with Michel Hummel placing 6th on GC and winning the women’s race. Kristina Trystad-Saari and Lelly Wolf were 2nd and 3rd.
Fjallmaraton – Sweden – COMPLETED
Simen Hjalmar Wästlund (Norway) took a surprise victory of UTMB Champion, Pau Capell. In 3rd, Johan Lantz. Times8:50:04, 0:04:49 and 9:35:38.
Azara Garcia took the top slot for the women and placed 9th overall in 10:37:52. Anna Carlsson and Lena Trillelv were 2nd and 3rd.
In the 43km, Tove Alexandersson and Olle Kalered took the top slots
Rondane 100 – Norway – August 15h
Pyrenees Stage Run – Spain (now postponed to 2021)
Marathon des Sables – Morocco (now postponed to 2021)

*****

Top ultramarathon runner Damian Hall has set a new record time for the 268-mile Pennine Way – while also cleaning the trail of litter at the same time.

The 44-year-old inov-8 ambassador completed the iconic route from Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders to Edale, Derbyshire, which includes a section along Hadrian’s Wall, in an incredible time of 61 hours 34 minutes, beating the previous record by more than three hours.

The Pennine Way is Great Britain’s oldest – and arguably toughest – National Trail. Much of it is over remote, boggy hills, with a total ascent that exceeds the height of Mount Everest.

Popular with hikers, who usually complete it in 16-19 days, Hall did it in just two-and-a-half, battling sleep exhaustion and all manner of tough weather conditions along the way.

Damian and his team of pacers also helped clean the famous trail of litter as they ran, stuffing it in their packs before handing it to support team members at road crossing meet-up points.

“I feel overwhelmed, really. I remember writing about Mike Hartley’s 1989 record in the Pennine Way guidebook before I got into running and thinking ‘That’s insane, I could never do that!’It was a huge team effort and I couldn’t have made it happen without the support of my road crew, pacers and the people we met along the way. I had the inevitable low spells, but the incredible team got me through them. I felt hugely motivated by three things and had FFF written on my arm in permanent marker as a reminder. They stood for Family, Friends, Future – the latter relating to our need to protect the planet. There wasn’t lots of litter on the trails, but we picked up anything we saw. The road support crew did likewise from the places they met me at along the way. Also, the whole attempt has been certified as ‘carbon negative’ by Our Carbon, as has all my running and my family’s lifestyle for 2020.”

The record Hall beat had previously been set just a week earlier by his friend John Kelly (64 hours 46 minutes); an American ultramarathon runner now based in England. Listen to John Kelly on EP182 HERE – Before that it had stood unbeaten for 31 years, belonging to legend of the long-distance running sport, Mike Hartley, who ran 65 hours 20 minutes in 1989. Kelly ran the route south to north, starting in Edale, while Hall followed in the footsteps of Hartley by doing it north to south. Either way, the route is regarded as one of the toughest in the UK.

Damian, has achieved a great deal in recent year’s and notably finished 5th at UTMB as well as setting other FKT’s. This FKT was fuelled without animal products or plastic waste, while raising more than £4,000 on a JustGiving page for Greenpeace UK.

*****
INTERVIEW : DAMIAN HALL
*****
Please listen to the INTERVIEWS – please follow the show
Hosted on ANCHOR (HERE) the INTERVIEWS will also be available to listen on many other players, including SPOTIFY (HERE).
ANCHOR app on Apple HERE and Google HERE
Download links will be added in due course.
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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.
*****
Share us on Facebook – Talk Ultra FB HERE
Tweet us on Twitter – Talk Ultra on Twitter HERE
Instagram – HERE
And use good old word mouth.
Importantly, go to iTunes and subscribe so that you automatically get our show when it’s released we are also available on Stitcher for iOS, Android and Web Player and now Tunein. We are also on Spotify too.
Our web page at www.iancorless.com has all our links and back catalogue.
Please support Talk Ultra by becoming a Patron at www.patreon.com/talkultra and THANKS to all our Patrons who support us. Rand Haley and Simon Darmody get a mention on the show here for ‘Becoming 100k Runners’ with a high-tier Patronage.
*****

Spotify HERE
ITunes HERE
Stitcher You can listen on iOS HERE, Android HERE or via a web player HERE
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Tunein – HERE
Website – talkultra.com

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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inov-8 TERRAULTRA G270 Review

I first got a hold of the original TERRAULTRA 2-years ago, the G260. It was a groundbreaking shoe for inov-8 not only introducing a zero-drop shoe to the brands line-up but also paving the way for Graphene technology.

A great deal has happened in the past 2-years with Graphene appearing in more and more inov-8 shoes but interestingly no other zero drop shoes have been added to the line-up.

The TERRAULTRA G260 was warmly welcomed, particularly by any trail runner using Altra who now had a zero-drop alternative now available with a brand who really know how to make off-road shoes from a long history in the fells of the UK.

Now, the G260 has been updated and we welcome the TERRAULTRA G270.

On first glance, it could look like the same shoe. That green colour is somewhat distinctive! However, one does not need to look longer to see some immediate significant changes.

The upper, the lacing, the outsole and the cushioning all sort of look the same but they are not.

In the words on inov-8:

  • Graphene outsole has 4mm deep cleats all now armed with dispersion channels and rubber dimples to give better grip on wet and dry trails. Cleats are repositioned in key areas and flex grooves fine-tuned for agile sticky traction that lasts longer.
  • Cushioning is a new POWERFLOW MAX that has been increased by 3mm for a plush ride, improved cushioning and double the durability. A BOOMERANG insole apparently will increase energy return by 20 and 40% respectively over the previous model.
  • The upper has ADAPTERFIT which adjusts to the foot and the use of stronger materials will add to durability and protection.

The Shoe

With a fit scale of 5, this is as wide as you can go in an inov-8 shoe, So, toe splay and room at the front end comes no better.

Cushioning is 12mm front and rear providing a zero drop. Using POWERFLOW MAX.

The footbed is 6mm and the lug depth of the outsole is 4mm made of Graphene grip.

It G270 has the necessary points to attach a trail gaiter.

At 270g (UK8) the new TERRAULTRA is 10g heavier than the previous version.

Sizing is true to size BUT take into consideration the wider toe box, maybe (?) a half-size smaller would be better. I always use EU44/ UK9.5 and these were ideal for me.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The G270 is light and it’s clear to see some of the immediate improvements over the previous version. The lacing is flatter, the tongue is different, the upper is different, the toe box protection is increased, and the shoes have the flagship Graphene outsole that looks very different.

Zero drop is NOT for everyone, so, what makes the G270 great for some also make the G270 potentially unusable for others. This is not a negative comment, it’s just a heads-up to say, that if you have not used zero drop before, don’t be tempted to get the G270 and start racking miles up… You will almost certainly get sore Achilles, calf and potentially get injured. Like barefoot running, zero drop running needs to be learnt and the body needs to adapt. Typically, 6-months would be a good transition period. However, some zero-drop running (initially short periods) is great for improving run form, so, the G270 could be a nice new weapon in your shoe line-up?

If zero drop is your thing, then you will already have a big smile on your face.

Following on from the G260, the G270 has a wide toe box that echoes what brands like Altra have been doing for years. Toe splay is king and the G270 has loads of room for that. I had issues with the G260 in that I always felt I had too much room, the room at the front was made worse by the upper and lacing system not holding my foot how I wanted to compensate for the additional width, space and foot movement.

Slipping the G270 on I was initially worried, the space in the toe box was as much if not a little more than the previous version. However, as soon as I adjusted and tightened the laces, I immediately noticed significant changes. The tongue was a much better fit. The lacing was great improved, and I could really adjust the tension from top to bottom. The ADAPTERFIT pulled in holding my foot. Walking around immediately felt 100% better than the G260. My foot was being held reassuringly.

The upper is far more breathable that the G260.

The cushioning and bounce were notable and the outsole at this stage left me with many questions.

IN USE

The G260 was a little lifeless and felt flat. The G270 immediately felt different with a couple of miles on the road before hitting the trails. So, this was already a great improvement.

With META-FLEX at the front, the propulsive phase felt really good no doubt added to with the insole that inov-8 say increases energy return by 40%. I definitely felt some bounce, but 40% more?

The cushioning was noticeable, particularly over the G260 as was the zero drop. I use zero drop shoes occasionally, but always prefer 4/5mm for faster and more technical running and if going long, 8mm works perfect for me. So, considering the G270 is designed for long-distance running, zero drop would be a challenge for me.

The wide toe box still feels mega wide (too wide for me) BUT the lacing and ADAPTERFIT allowed me to compensate for the room at the front by tightening appropriately. However, I did fine once or twice I over-tightened the laces only having to stop and loosen them a little.

The transition from road to gravel trail was seamless and comfortable. The TERRAULTRA is an out and out ultra-shoe designed for trails that are more groomed, say Western States in the USA or UTMB in Europe. So hard packed single-track felt really good in the G270, equally rocky and stoney ground felt good.

Running up hill surprised me. The META-FLEX allowed for great flexibility and propulsion, but it was the outsole that really gripped. A massive improvement over the G260.

I have to say, I have not always been a fan with the addition of Graphene. At times, I felt it compromised the sticky outsoles and made them less grippy, albeit providing longer life. But on many occasions, for me particularly, grip is king and if it is compromised, I am not happy.

Here, in the G270 there was noticeable difference, and this was coming from just 4mm lugs.

The test of course would really come when I threw in some mud and wet rock.

Gladly, mud (loads of it) rocks, tree routes, climbs, descents, wooden planks, forests and yes, a little fire trail all make up my daily and local runs. So, throwing the G270 in the thick of things was easy to do. And yes, I was being unfair as I actively searched out and aimed for steep rocks with water on them and I aimed for every puddle and sloppy mud I could.

I was impressed.

At times, I would think to myself, almost wanting the G270 outsole to fail;

‘This will get them… wait for the slip!’

But the slip never came, especially on dry and wet rock. On a 3-hour run, as the minutes clicked by, I started to relax more and more and eventually stopped worrying and asking;

‘Will the G270 grip here?’

They did, at all times provide me with the grip I required.

Surprisingly, in really sloppy mud, I did not slip or move as I had expected. Partially due to the fact that I did apply the brakes a little and respect the conditions.

Technical trail is where the G270 shows some flaws. The wider toe box lacks precision, allows one’s toes to move and therefore I felt that there was just ‘too much’ shoe to navigate between rocks, roots, stones and a plethora of other obstacles. But of course, I am being unfair! The G270 is designed for less technical trails, long hours and all-day comfort – that they do really well!

The shoes are responsive and do work well when running fast. However, the wide toe box, zero drop and cushioning do make them feel a little like a saloon car… Plenty of room, comfy seats, and can get the miles done. But I craved a more performance car at times with more precision, tighter handling and a little more fire and daring, especially when coming of road, fire trails or single-track.

The cushioning was plush and considering it is only 12mm, it felt like more. Especially noticeable extra comfort over the 9mm G260 which also was a little hard and lifeless. One thing to note, I found on tree routes and some stones, I could feel them in the bottom of my foot, so protection from obstacles is minimal. The toe box though has a good bumper and that worked really well.

The heel box was noticeably secure on the flat and going uphill, I had little to no slippage.

SUMMARY

Damian Hall just ran 260-miles on the Pennine Way in the G270 and set a new FKT, so, that gives some indication of the intended use of this shoe. Having said that, the Pennine Way is not all single-track and wonderful cruising trail, so, the shoe can handle the rough stuff too.

I was impressed by how versatile the 4mm Graphene outsole worked. There has been some significant improvement over the G260 and in the Graphene outsole in general.

The upper, lacing and tongue now really hold the foot and that for me is essential, especially with such a wide toe box. The toe box is one of the key selling points of this shoe. It allows toe splay, plenty of room and flexibility for a foot to swell wider with accumulated miles.

The cushioning increased from 9mm (G260) to 12mm for the G270 is noticeable. More importantly, the G270 now has life, the G260 felt a little dead.

CONCLUSION

The G270 is a marked improvement over the G260, so, if you liked the previous model you are going to love the latest incarnation.

Zero drop and a wide toe box will be exactly what some people are looking for and they will have a big smile on their face. For me, and this of course is very personal, I can’t run in zero for hours and hours and I feel that the toe box is a little roomier than it needs to be.

So, imagine a Trail Talon 290 made like a TERRAULTRA G270 – slightly narrower toe box (4 fit) 8mm drop; 11mm and 19mm cushioning and this Graphene outsole – that would be a winning shoe IMO. (inov-8 take note)

The G270 is a winning shoe and all packaged perfectly for ultra-distance runner who needs grip, cushioning and comfort for the long-haul out on the trails. It would even make a great road shoe if required.

For multi-day adventures, such as Marathon des Sables, just like the Trail Talon, the G270 would be really excellent.

Get the TERRAULTRA G270 at inov-8 HERE

If technical trail and mud is your thing, this is not the best shoe for that, however, it can handle it remarkably well, so, if you only wanted one trail shoe (with zero drop) to do all, the G270 would be ideal. By contrast, if you wanted a one-stop trail shoe with 8mm drop, I recommend the Trail Talon 290.

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Fastpacking LIGHT – A Guide

My recent article on Fastpacking (here) gained a great deal of attention. In many respects, I am not surprised, I think mini or extended semi or selfi-sufficient journeys are extremely popular and only on the increase.

The above post was in-depth and provided an overview of options that are available to make a fastpack trip effective. In some cases, coffee being a prime example, I did not go with the lightest possibilities available. The main reason for that? Comfort usually comes with a little more weight.

After a recent fastpack trip (just one-night wild camping,) I posted a photo of my pack contents and it created some interest as the weight was 5.4kg including pack, food, water, tent and all my essential items.

I received countless messages for more information, so, here goes. A detailed breakdown and description of the items and why I use them or more importantly, why I take them! Gladly, some of the items I do not need to use but need to have, just in case.

Below is a video, in-depth, where I discuss all the items listed below.

Tent:

©Earl Harper – MSR Hubba Hubba NX Tent

My go to tent is a MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent (here) which is 1600g which is 2-person tent. It has loads of space both in width and height, it has two access doors with room to store pack, shoes and an area to cook in if required. It is free-standing, can be pitched inner or outer only. Split between 2-people, it is 800g each.

Current favourite solo tent is the Nemo Hornet 1P (review HERE) which has loads of space and comfort and all coming in at 731g.

NEMO Hornet 1P

If I was solo fastpacking and wanted the lightest and smallest possible, I would change the tent to a Nordisk Lofoten 1 LW (here) which is arguably the lightest and smallest packing tent in the world (still with comfort and stability) weighing just 490g and is the size of a bottle of water, 11cm x 22cm. It’s a two-layer tent which still provides an area for gear storage, with a height of just 70cm, sitting space is compromised. However, if fast, light are priorities, this takes some beating. Also, you can use the 2-man inner inside the same fly-sheet, with obviously less storage option.

Wearing:

I don’t add the clothes I am wearing to my overall fastpack weight, but it is worth looking at options and variables. I was surprised when comparing run shorts how weights varied. For example, I had shorts with an inner (like cycling shorts,) they weighed 157g, considerably heavier than my RAB Skyline.

RAB Skyline shorts – 96g 

RAB Skyline Tee – 84g

Smartwool socks – 45g

Hat – 45g

Glasses – 30g 

Buff – 36g 

Scott Supertrac RC2 shoes – 290g

Pack:

inov-8 25ltr fastpack 619g – This is actually a prototype pack, specifically made for athletes on the inov-8 team. It’s a really great pack, one of the best I have used. It has a vest like fit, waist belt, comfortable strapping and loads of extra mesh pockets that make it a joy to use. I have recently encouraged inov-8 to bring this to production. 

Pack Contents:

Rab Phantom Pull-on 90g – One of the lightest and smallest waterproof shells I have used.

RAB Phantom

Patagonia Micro Puff Vest (synthetic with ripstop Pertex Quantum) 162g – Synthetic filling but weight and small packing just like down. The perfect compromise. This warms the body and core and saves weight over a jacket. Obviously, you need to asses conditions, a jacket may be better. If so, I use a RAB Kaon which weighs 260g.

Patagonia Micro Puff Vest

RAB Hat 34g 

RAB Gloves 60g

Icebreaker 175 leggings 140g – Merino providing warmth on the trail (if required) and warmth when stopping for the day and sleeping.

Icebreaker 175 top 150g

RAB Mythic Ultra 360 sleeping bag 606g – State of the art sleeping bag with groundbreaking technology. Two versions are available, and this is the warmer one. The Mythic Ultra 180 provides a saving of 200g (weight 400g) and is perfect for warmer weather fastpack and/ or warm sleepers.

RAB Mythic Ultra 360 sleeping bag

 MSR Pocket Rocket Stove Kit 280g – Small, compact, lightweight and the gas canister can be stored inside. Perfect minimalist solution.

MSR Pocket Rocket Stove Kit

 MSR Trailshot 140g – A small and lightweight water filter system that guarantees water that one can drink and cook with.

MSR Trailshot

Katadyn BeFree Water Filter bottle (0.6L) 59g – This is a 600ml soft-flask with water filter inside. It allows for minimal weight and the ability to get water anywhere on the trail and drink on the go.

Katadyn BeFree Water Filter bottle

MSR Mugmate Coffee/ Tea Filter 30g – An ingenious small coffee/ tea filter that provides a lightweight solution for the coffee addict. Just pop it into a cup!

MSR Mugmate

Gas canister 113g 

Bivvy bag 151g – Great back up for added warmth should something unplanned happen.

Bivvy bag

Headtorch 46g – The Petzl e+LITE is one of the smallest and lightest around. Perfect when camping to provide light for reading and cooking. However, if you need light to run/ walk this is not the best option.

Petzl e+LITE

Garmin InReach mini 114g – I take this on all adventures. Ideal back-up and safety with an emergency button.

Garmin InReach mini

Mattress 300g* – Klymit V Ultralite SL (here) is full length, small pack size and very comfortable. *Photo is not the Klymit.

 Pillow 50g – You can always use a dry bag with clothes inside as an alternative?

First Aid 101g – Simple system by Lifesystems in a waterproof bag.

Dry Bag 68g – I use a 30ltr and use it is a liner for the pack. I find it easier to push everything in one place.

Sea to Summit spoon 12g – Sea to Summit with a long handle designed so that you can eat out of dehydrated food packs.

GoalZero Flip10 charger 75g – Good enough for one, maybe two phone charges.

Food: 

Firepot dehydrated meal 158g (per meal) – Dehydrated medals are a go-to solution for a meal when on the trail. Firepot have good calories, great taste and a good selection available.

Coffee 130g – Essential.

Snacks 300g – Bars/ nuts/ wine gums etc and importantly, *Kvikk Lunsj.

Water 600g – This is the weight of water in the 600ml soft-flask.

Camera: (obviously optional)

Sony A9 with 35mm f2.8 pancake lens 800g – I am a photographer, so, this is my serious luxury item and it comes with a weight penalty.

GoPro Max 231g

SUMMARY

Travelling light is great fun. It allows you to move faster with less strain. However, it is essential you travel light for the conditions. Too light and you may well get in trouble. So be careful and attentive. Light does not mean you will be uncomfortable, but you must accept a compromise comes from being minimal.

DOWNLOAD KIT LIST HERE

 

Of interest:

In Scandinavia, Kvikk Lunsj is an ‘essential’ for the trail. The chocolate consists of four rectangular wafers covered in milk chocolate, with thinner layers of chocolate between the wafers in order to break the chocolate into pieces easier. The chocolate has been advertised as a “hiking chocolate”, and it is often associated with skiing trips in Norwegian culture. Freia began printing the well-known Fjellvettreglene (Norwegian: the mountain code) on the inside of the packaging.

 There is much relevance to the points below and a great reminder for all.

1. Plan your trip and inform others about the route you have selected. Plan your trip based on the groups abilities, and always include alternative options. Obtain current information about the area and the weather conditions. Listen to the advice of seasoned mountaineers where possible. Ensure you have sufficient knowledge and practical skills to complete this trip. Respect the natural environment. Plan ahead and do not leave any litter behind you. Arrange meeting points during the trip that dont require mobile coverage or accurate timing. Is your planning sufficient to guarantee an enjoyable trip no matter what?

2. Adapt the planned routes according to ability and conditions. Assess the conditions continuously and adjust your plans accordingly. Respect the weather! Travelling with others is safer and means you will have someone to share your experiences with. If youre travelling alone, exercise caution. Do not embark on a long trip without sufficient experience. You must be able to take care of yourself as well as the others in your group. Be considerate of other hikers. Make sure you have read The Right of Access and its requirements. Make sure your group maintains an open and direct line of communication at all times. Can you complete the trip under these conditions and with this group?

3. Pay attention to the weather and the avalanche warnings. Always check the weather forecast and avalanche warnings to see what impact they have on the area. Follow the advice and choose a gentler terrain when conditions are too demanding. Check the conditions on yr.no, storm.no and varsom.no. Monitor the development of the weather and avalanche conditions along the way. Bear in mind that plans may need to be adjusted.

4. Be prepared for bad weather and frost, even on short trips. Dress appropriately for the weather, and the terrain. Remember that the weather changes quickly in the mountains. Bring extra clothing, and the equipment your route and terrain requires. Extra food and drink can help save lives, if the trip takes longer than planned or you have to wait for help. Is your group equipped to deal with a sudden change in weather?

5. Bring the necessary equipment so you can help yourself and others. In the winter, you need a windsack/bivvy sack, sleeping pad, sleeping bag and a shovel so that you can spend the night outdoors if you have to. A windsack can save lives. Bring a high-visibility vest or a headlight, that will make it easier to find you if necessary. Bring a first aid kit so you can help yourself and others. Always use a transmitter/receiver and have an avalanche probe and a shovel if you are traveling in avalanche prone terrain. Pack smart! Packing lists for different tours can be found at ut.no. Mobile phones can be a useful tool but remember that they do not work in all situations and areas. If an accident occurs, alert the police at 112, go for help or try to notify someone with other means. Are you able to take care of yourself and help others?

6. Choose safe routes. Recognize avalanche terrain and unsafe ice. Take an active decision to avoid terrain that is prone to avalanches and plan your route well. Be aware that avalanches can start in drops higher than five meters and steeper than 30 degrees. Even if you walk in flat terrain, you can trigger an avalanche on the mountainside above you. An avalanche dropout zone can be three times the height of the drop. Avoid terrain traps, such as narrow gorges. Consider what will happen if there is an avalanche. Be aware that a cornice can break off when you walk on a mountain ridge. Be aware of ice conditions when you walk on regulated lakes and rivers. Can an avalanche happen where I plan to go? What will the consequence be?

7. Use a map and a compass. Always know where you are. A map and compass are an essential basic equipment that always work. Pay attention to the map even when hiking on a marked trail. Knowing where you are on the map, makes for a better hiking experience. GPS and other electronic aids are helpful, but make sure you have extra batteries. Do you know where you are?

8. Dont be ashamed to turn around. Evaluate your route continuously and if conditions are becoming difficult, choose your best alternative long before you or group members become exhausted. Have the circumstances changed? Should you turn around? Is anyone in your group have problems completing the route? Should the group turn around? Enjoy the hike for its own sake and remember that there will be other opportunities if it is too challenging today.

9. Conserve your energy and seek shelter if necessary. Adjust your hiking speed to the weakest member of the group, and make sure that everyone can keep up. Remember to eat and drink frequently. When you exert yourself, your body needs more fluids than you may feel you need. Dont wait until you are exhausted before you seek shelter. Strong winds will tire you out quickly. Use your windsack or dig a snow cave before its too late. Are you able to get back to your base? Do you know where the nearest shelter is?

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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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