It was one of those mornings when you cannot wait to get outside. Cloudy, but with the sunbeams peeking their way through. I was up early. The sun had just reached our fjord, and while having a small sip on my coffee I admired once again the view out of my window.
Nevertheless, today I was not going to enjoy it for too long, as I was off to even better views – off to Raudmelen.
Raudmelen is a mountaintop in Balestrand, Norway 972m above sea level, which is, for a “non- Norwegian” like me, pretty much as high as I can (or should) walk up without expecting to be hospitalised after. And to top off this challenge, one does not just walk, but wears snowshoes, or “truge” as the Norwegians call them. This you only need to do in the winter, of course, but as it is February now, there is no other way. Sounds fun
at first, right? Well, more about that later.
Luckily I did not plan on taking this challenge alone. Franziska, who actually was the initiator of this idea and has done it before, guided the way. And after an energizing breakfast at her lovely place, we set off.
Our first stop, to enjoy some hot drinks and good old German Storck Riesen, was Orrabenken, circa 370m above sea level so roughly 1/3 of what was still infront of us. Here you can enjoy the spectacular views overlooking the Sognefjord on a cosy bench while still being sheltered by the trees around you.
Here we also met Trond. Trond is possibly one of the fittest men in the whole of Norway, considering that he is running (yes, RUNNING) up this mountain nearly every day. I was gasping for air while walking at a steady, slow pace up to Orrabenken already, while Trond, who is surely double my age, smiles and runs past you. One of those things, you have to get accustomed to when living in Norway, I suppose. Oh well.
The next part of the hike appeared to be a little more challenging. Icy paths made the odd step sometimes a little more than I had bargained for. But there are easy ways out as you can walk a little off – track. So we made slow, but steady progress.
And then we reached the place, where everything gets a little different. We put on our “truge”, the snow shoes. The tree line becomes smaller bushes, then slowly no more vegetation is around you and the snow takes over the landscape.
If you wonder where we got those snowshoes from, as we did not bring them ourselves. This is one of those Norwegian community ideas that I so cherish. The Balestrand Trugelag has kindly hung a few of those, with some sticks at “Klugshaug” a place half way up the mountain. So, if you actually manage to walk up there, just use them and hang them back after. A fantastic idea, I think, and a free ticket to an extraordinary experience, that was about to come.
But, before we go on and what should be made very clear. This is not something you should do if you already feel totally exhausted before you even put on those snow shoes as there is quite a walk coming up. So, always bring warm clothes, spare food and be attentive of what is going on around you. The weather can change at a speed of a hummingbirds wing and it is not the best place to sit 800m above sea level in a snow storm. So, above anything, be safe!
But back to us. We were enjoying the views in sunshine at first, but then we were suddenly surrounded by ghastly, heavy winds. And, unprofessional as I am, I had also forgotten to bring my gloves. NEVER EVER TRY THIS AT HOME, if you know what I mean. Additionally, with the snow covering the normal tracks, you no longer walk in serpentines but straight up the steep hills. Meaning, it can be pretty tough. Especially after a long Christmas break with hardly any training. With an ice layer on the top of the snow you have to be sure that every step is safe.
But, we were lucky, the wind flattened down slowly after we had reached ¾ of the walk. Not wanting to give up, with a runny nose, runny eyes, iceblock hands and a heart beating as if it wanted to burst out of my chest, we took one last break.
And, all this pain and effort of the last 1hr seemed to leave me once I looked around me. Words to express what you see are difficult to find, but I can assure you that you understand what drives people to climb mountains if you experience the freedom and breath-taking scenery on top of them.
Franziska, my guardian angel, with the stamina of two Olympic champions walked on, and I followed. Slowly, but surely, and then surrounded by the glistening sunshine, we made it to the top. What a view. What a place we live in. There is no other place you want to be than there. The view reached kilometres and kilometres out, 360 degrees of pure beauty around you.
Snow covered, glistening mountain tops, blue fjords with ferries and wind gusts leaving their traces on them, clouds in every shape creating a fairytale landscape. The tiny Dragsvik peninsular and Esefjorden to the left of us, with Tjuatoten and Keipen mountaining up behind it. Melsnipa in the far distance, Menes at its bottom and the majestic Fjærlandsfjord right infront of us. Hella and the road to Sogndal, Vangsnes with its fruit fields and the road to Vik with the Vikafjell behind it.
There is no wonder that this landscape inspired Disney to make a movie from it- Frozen! I wished I could stay there for a while to soak in every detail, but it was getting late and also the wind had caught up on us.
So, we made it down. Down is for me always the scarier part. Not only because my knee is not the newest and had the odd torn ligament, but more as especially on icy snow, it can easily be a bit out of your control of where you are going. With no gloves and a steep hill in front of me it happened, I slid. I literally fell on my bottom and slid down the hill. 1 metre became 5 and in between sliding I got a slight panic as there is not much I could do rather than controlling where I was going.
Also, I had my camera in my bag. Not, that I was able to take many pictures (did I mention that I had no gloves, so taking pictures was more or less impossible) but I had to keep my camera safe as well. So I just slid down and waited for a shallower bit.
A few skin tears and bruises on my buttocks later, I stood up and finally got a glimpse again of the place I just slid along, with Franziska in the distance. The feeling of pain and fright quickly vanished when I calmed down, inhaled and just enjoyed the view. There is no better place to spend your Sunday afternoons than on top of a mountain.
We made it down, left the “truge” and sticks again in Klukshaug and after 4 hrs had finally got some horizontal paths under our feet.
What a day it has been. Apart from that I felt every muscle in my body for the next three days, this was one of those experiences you have to do, at least once. For us, I am sure we two will soon do it again –off to Raudmelen for the Sunday. One of those mornings where you cannot wait to get out.
It was only a few minutes after I came home, I heard James scream: ORCAS! Katha, ORCAS.
And there they were, passing by again on their route from Vetlefjorden directly into our Sværefjord, just a few metres away from the shoreline. The excitement stopped me from being able to find the right buttons on my camera, getting frustrated and then just deciding to just enjoy it for a while. Listening to the exhaling and just waiting, being excited where the massive finns might pop up next time.
Knowing the paths they took last time in December I decided to quickly jump in the car with Teddy and Dan to see if we can follow them for a while.
How could I have expected what was about to happen.
We stopped on the other fjord side and there they were. About 2 metres away from land gracefully paving their way through the water.
The sheer speed of them in the water is quite extraordinary, as you have to run to keep up with them.
By then we had been running around Inge's pier in Farnes for a while and that of course was not unnoticed. Inge, Annie and Kamilla were luckily also at home, stood right behind us on the balcony and could watch the whales playing infront of their front door. We were all so excited with big smiles and huge eyes in all our faces. Kamilla was even able to make a little video of this moment, especially of that one when suddenly one of them peeked up at us, as if he wanted to check us out.
The sheer amazement can possible never be put into words. Writing this blog now, one day after, my hands are still shaking.
But that was not the end of it all.
We followed them along the cost then for quite a bit. Teddy trying to get lower down to come as close to them as physically possible. If you once seem to have lost track of them, you suddenly hear them again. A moment of real satisfaction.
If we could have just had a boat! That would have been the optimum. Seeing that it is February, our boat was however not in the water.
But then it happened. Inge, Annie and Kamilla stopped and said that Øyvind is about to come to Dragsvik with his boat and we could jump onto it. He would take us. That was our chance.
As I had decided in a rush to follow them, my attire was however, let's say inappropriate with my thin wool jacket. But, Inge came to my saving and within a flash I had a lovely down jacket warming me. So, off to Dragsvik.
Unfortunately we could not all join on the boat, but I took my camera and joined Øystein, Benedikte and Gita on the boat. Well and for the rest, well I let the video speak for itself. The only thing I need to add.
I am speechless and still carrying this huge smile.
PS: Thank you to Øyvind, Guna and Benedikte for taking me. And to Annie and Inge for organising it. I am truly grateful!!
Isn't it bloody cold there, and dark? How on earth did you decide on Norway? This is right next to errr Finland, I mean they have polar bears and all that. Oh, yeah and Northern Lights. Pretty women though, but Jesus Christ you pay a flipping fortune to buy a beer. I tell you, that is not for me. If I go somewhere it has to be hot and all that. But you know, I always wanted to visit Scandinavia.
Normally I show them this photo for starters and then then ask what these Engländer actually do, when they go on holiday. Still going to Spain, France and Italy? Well, I tell you what. Give Norway a go one time. Flights from Heathrow with BA or from Gatwick with Norwegian to Bergen are ridiculously cheap (if you wish to go from London). So, the way out there is easy peasy. Next, you might want to look for a rental car. Expect to pay a little more there ...
I mean, yes. About that beer... well, you are right. Bergen and going out is not cheap. But this (particularly if you come with your family) should maybe not be your entire holiday destination. How about waking up to a view like this?
If you come to Norway, you should try and find an idyllic "hytte" or family house. And you know what, your kids can just go off in the forest, play by the fjord, hike with you or learn how to fish. Boats normally come with every house and the Norwegian hiking system is ridiculously well established. They have an actual name for this "Friluftsliv" where they just hike off, be outside in any weather.
And to be frank, where else (apart from New Zealand maybe) you can do all this in one day in spring?
Or kayak a glacier lake, climb a glacier and swim in the fjord afterwards?
I guess you will not believe me that you actually get sunburnt here. You will also not like then that it actually does not get dark in the summer at all. I might add that it is WARM in Norway in the summer. Maybe not your 40 degrees, that you thoroughly enjoy on a crowded beach with 1000 others next to you...
Especially the fjord region is an absolute MUST see ( in case you don't want to come here to have a massive shopping spree, you're better off in southern France for that) This here is for the families and people that actually want to enjoy a little adventure, see some porpoises in the fjord, spend some time with their family DOING and EXPERIENCING things and maybe just enjoy something different. If that is you, give it a try. I mean, only if you can imagine enjoying doing something like this:
I know, you may think now, well this does not prove that it is not DARK and COLD in winter here. Well, actually in the winter (mainly up in the high north of Norway where it gets totally dark) it can be rather pleasant here.
Considering how much I have enjoyed several English "winters" and autumns where it literally is just rain accompanied by rain and dullness. Sometimes there is rain as well. But, hey.
We have it dark and cold here? Well, if that is the worst that can happen...you know what, I cannot wait for it to be dark and cold then.