Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Live from Lyngen: Days 1 and 2

When our plane landed on Saturday is was grey, snowing and the avalanche risk was high. Not exactly the perfect start to a 9 day vacation with ski mountaineering as the main goal. But we trusted in the weather forecast, which called for sunny skis the next day, and planned a trip up Daltinden, a classic peak on the southern half of the Lyngen peninsula.

The next day dawned sunny as promised, but the tunnel and stretch of the access road to the peak turned out to be closed, due to avalanche danger. So we turned around and drove off towards our second choice, Storgalten, on the southern tip of the peninsula.

Storgalten is peak I would usually consider fairly mellow. According to our guide book, a short part of the ascent occurred on a slope of around 30 degrees, while the rest was less steep. In avalanche terrain, 30 degrees is kind of the magic number. If the snow conditions are prone to avalanche, it usually takes a slope of 30 degrees or steeper to trigger a slide. So a simple way to avoid dangerous conditions is not to ski steeper than 30 degrees. On the other hand, anything a lot flatter than 30 degrees can be a little boring to us. The challenge was thus to pick a peak which steep enough to be fun skiing, but not steep enough to be truly dangerous.

The snow conditions on Storgalten were extremely variable. On the ascent we crossed everything from crusty, icy snow to wind pack to powder. That alone is unsettling, because it means you can't predict what type of snow you have in front of you. We carried our skis up a rocky ridge, before putting them on again when the rocks turned into powder.

The view was amazing - fjord, mountains and blue sky stretched out beneath us.

We were following a group of 7 foreigners (Swiss we think) with a guide. About 200 vertical meters from the top, they abruptly stopped, took there skins off, and turned. We continued to skin up to the point where they had turned, discussing what must have gone on.

"Maybe they thought the snow was unsafe?" I asked nervously.

"Maybe they were just tired," Audun countered. "We'll see when we get up there."

At the point were they turned, there was signs of digging a snow pit (to check for avalanche danger). We dug a couple of our own, one each. Deep in the snow, there was a thick, icy layer which clearly would be a problem if it slide, but seemed like it would be hard to trigger. The snow on top was mostly light and fluffy, but compacted in some areas in a way that could produce a slide.

In addition to the avalanche danger, we also debated where the Swiss had disappeared to. They had skied down the slope at a reasonable speed 15 minutes before, but were yet to appear in the valley bottom. Unsure of the snow conditions, and worried that something had befallen the other group, we made the decision to turn around and ski down.

The Swiss were fine, and the skiing down the upper part of the mountain was good fun.

On the drive back to the lodge, we saw a huge avalanche go off across the fjord in Brevikeidet. Almost simultaneously, a reporter on the radio announced the death of a snowmobile driver on a mountain in Lyngen earlier in that day. Those two signs alone made me glad I turned.

Lyngen by night, from Magic Mountain Lodge in Lyngseidet

The next day, we decided to try for Storvasstind, a long, flat ridge traverse capped off by a short, steep climb to the main top. Again, the weather was on our side, even if the snow conditions (i.e. avalanche danger) was not.

The flat looking thing on the right is the ridge of Storvasstind, the pointy-looking thing in the centre of the picture is Piggtind.
To get onto the mountain, we had to ski several flat kilometers of snow mobile trail through the forest. Not much fun on big skis with skins! We meet a friendly local with his dog, who zoomed by us on skinny backcountry skis.

The ridge was, as promised, long and flat and offered spectacular views of the neighbouring peaks.

Audun on wind-blown snow
Although the sun was warm, it was cold out. It had been -15 C at the car, and was probably never warm than -5 C all day.

Enjoying the day - looks warmer than it is.
Piggtind sticks out above the ridge

We finally reached the area where the ridge starts to get steeper and pointer around 2 pm. With sunset at 5.15 pm and complete darkness by 6.30, I wasn't interested in spending too much longer ascending. Still, the summit did look really cool.

First glimpse of the summit (right end of the ridge)
There were no tracks after the snow mobile trail at the beginning of the day. We were alone in the mountains. As the ridge steepened, we started assessing the snow again. We thought is seemed pretty safe, but as Audun so politely put it, "If this face slides, we are f***ed."

We spent a while try to decide where to take our skis of and put crampons on to climb around and up to the main top. It looked kind of scary, as the ridge between the first and main top was corniced and we have to side-step around on a steep slope. I was nervous, and when Audun said, "I'm starting to have a bad feeling about this," I had to agree. We didn't have time for mistakes, and we weren't confident enough to not make mistakes. So we turned, and enjoying cruising back down the long, long ridge.

Audun descending from our high point of the day, just below the first summit.
Me cruising in slightly wind-packed powder - no too shabby!

We had to pole out through the long snowmobile track in the forest, but were rewarded by spectacular light.

Late-in-the-day light in Lyngen

So two days, two peaks not conquered. Would we be have been fine if we pressed on to the tops? Probably. But you can make stupid decisions and get away with it. I'd rather air on the cautious side and turn too early then become another avalanche statistic.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

P.S. For those of you not intimately familiar with Norwegian geography, the Lyngen peninsula is here:

And the peaks I've talked about in this post are here:

Friday, March 14, 2014

Spring has sprung

The Great Grey Period of 2014 is finally over, and sunlight has returned to Oslo. With it, the snow is melting and spring is here.

Sunset in the forest last night

To quote Emily Dickinson:

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here

A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.

I've been enjoying the newfound sunlight in Oslo, from the bright, cheerful sun on my office window to blissful sunrises and sunsets. I'm running a lot now, and I have to grab for training time at the edges of the day. Every kilometer I run feels like another penny put into a savings bank - a small step towards a large goal.
The sun peaks through the trees on near Lofthus this morning

I've run 126 km so far in March. All at a slow, plodding pace, just the way I like it. I try to run my favorite trails. Some of them are still covered in ice and snow, and I have to walk. Still, somehow my pennies have added up, and I feel like a runner again. 

Flattering snowy trail selfy
But as I run dryer and dryer trails, the mountain biker in me asks to come out and play. Yesterday I got Casper (my mountain bike) out for the first time since Madeira, and had a nice ride exploring the mess of trails near Sognsvann with Audun.

Audun has been suffering from some knee trouble since last summer, which kept him from biking. Now, after physiotherapy and hours at the gym doing boring exercises to stabilize his knees, he can ride pain free. Letting him back out on to the trails is kind of like letting a hyperactive dog out after spending all day indoors. Every rock and root looks like a plaything to him. I wish I could ride like that - effortlessly and playfully.

Audun in action
Tomorrow we're leaving spring in Oslo to fly north to Tromsø. We'll be ski touring northern Norway for the next week. And since it's been snowing there, there could possibly be more pow in my future!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Friday, March 7, 2014

Go Ultra?

The winter in Norway this year has been very odd. There's be absolutely no snow in mid-Norway (the Trondheim region). Although we had a couple of good weeks down south in Oslo, about a month ago it started raining and didn't stop. And that's when everyone realised it had been grey/cloudy/raining/snowing forever. Seriously, the newspaper last week reported that there has been 17 hours of sun in Oslo in 2014.

In an act of desperation, I have resorted to running. And remember how much I love it. Even though most of my runs look like this:

This is a viewpoint where you should be able to see most of Oslo. Yup.
So now I need a race to train for. I would be running the Forest Marathon again, but I'm going to Switzerland that weekend to crew Swissman for my friend Vibeke. (That's going to be a whole other story, but it should be fun. Yes, I'm running the last 8 km to the finish with her to make sure she doesn't collapse and die and stuff.)

What to do? For a long time I've been talking about taking up ultras. From 2007 - 2011 I worked in the full-service mountain huts in Trollheimen. The main huts form a three-day hike called the 'Triangle', which is around 63 km with a little over 2000 meters of climbing. Not surprisingly, some of us hut bums made a sport of running the entire thing on our day off. I completed it in one day three separate times, finally shaving my time down to 9 hours 53 minutes (and beating my dear father by an hour, although he swears he'll have his revenge some day!)

Blåhøe wearing a hat of clouds on one of my first trips round the Triangle
All this to say, I have sort of run an ultra before. Just alone and unsupported and not timed and stuff. And basically, I thought it was a lot of fun. So I know, mentally, that I can run far. I also know that I was much fitter three years ago, because I had around 5 hours a day off to train in the mountains during the summer.

I've found a race; it's called the UltraBirken Mountain Run, 60-odd kilometers, and it's on June 14. This week, I tried to do 'high volume' running (at least for me). I've run 60 km this far in March, at slow (MAF) speeds, and to be honest, I feel great.

The only tiny, insignificant detail is that my master's thesis is due on June 9. So maybe I shouldn't be embarking on an epic running quest right now. On the other hand, I have to do something to stay sane, and maybe organised training for this event will help me get through my thesis.

So should I go Ultra?

- The Wild Bazilchuk