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skiing across snow

Hut-hopping in Huldreheimen

Frank Husslage took his skis and went for a five-day winter trip in the Norwegian snow. Allergic to crowds of any kind, Frank found a region ideal for people with this specific affliction: Huldreheimen, a little unknown gem between the more popular areas of Jotunheimen and Rondane.

Wheeeeep, wheeeep, wheeeep… If there had been any reindeer in the vicinity, they all would have run away by now, tail between their legs. The sound ruined the up-until-then almost absolute silence on this snowy Norwegian fjell.

Our first stop on this five-day Huldreheimen ski trip is the small and cosy Storhøliseter cabin. On arrival you usually find these DNT cabins spotlessly clean; if you’re lucky there is already some nice dry firewood in the stove. Often, the only thing you need to start a fire is a match. This time we experience the exception: the stove was dirty and filled with ashes. Removing someone else’s rubbish produced enough dust to activate the fire-alarm. Wheeeeep, wheeeep, wheeeep…

Norway's hidden gem

The alarm deactivated, we appreciate the silence over the deserted plains even more than before. The only sound is a gently whispering breeze. The not-so-well-known fjells of Huldreheimen are a hidden gem, crammed somewhere between the more popular areas of Rondane and Jotunheimen. Here in Huldreheimen the mountains are not that high, the huts are not so famous, the tales are not so abundant and, as a result, it's rare to come across many other skiers.

Using the DNT cabins we can ski with small daypacks because the huts serve all our needs: food, beds with nice warm duvets and firewood. The only thing we carry are our clothes, a small stove, a thermos and emergency stuff. And a camera, of course, because these days are a dream for snow-loving photographers.

A day of delightful skiing

The next morning is cold. The thermometer says minus 12 and a strong wind causes some beautiful spindrift. We’re lucky we’ve got a tailwind today. As usual, I’m in doubt about the twigs marking the route. I dislike them because they spoil my pictures, which I like to look as desolate as possible. But I’ve experienced their utility a few times, when white-out conditions have made navigation very hard. Today I dislike them: the sky is clear and there are some tracks of skiers who were here before us. Navigation is easy and the twigs are no use.

On a junction the tracks disappear to the right, direction Oskampen, a cabin more to the north. We decide to continue south and keep on enjoying the tailwind. That’s the good thing about there being only the two of you, in a not so popular area with plenty of space in the huts: you can change your plans as often as you like.

We choose Skriurusten, a cabin another 12km from here. A small distance good for a lazy day. The sparse tracks left in this direction soon disappear because of the spindrift. The wind gets stronger and stronger, and we’re glad we changed our plan. Some huge boulders offer enough windshadow for a pause. It’s one of the great things in winter; a break in the sun, preparing your own hot chocolate from molten snow.

Home is where the DNT key is

Reaching the plateau and heading more westward, we experience the full force of the northern wind. It is strong and cold and reliable equipment starts to get more important now. Skriurusten is situated on the bank of a big lake between inevitable birches.

A reminder of the importance of reliable equipment on the Huldreheimen plateau
A reminder of the importance of reliable equipment on the Huldreheimen plateau

For me, entering these small DNT cabins often feels like coming home. Especially when the conditions outside are sub-optimal. Each hut is different, but the routine is the same: you light the stove and put a bucket of snow on it to melt, change clothes, claim a bed and then the rest of the day starts. Being the first one to arrive in a hut is even more special. It feels as if this hut is your own. Like now.

Sitting outside in a windless spot, dressed in a nice warm down jacket, plenty of sun on our faces, we feel like two lazy, purring cats. The tea is hot, the biscuits from the hut’s store are tasty and life is good.

Until two tiny spots appear in the distance. They grow bigger and bigger in our direction. It often feels uneasy, especially when you are in a small party, when new guests arrive. Who are these guys with whom you’re going to share your kitchen, dining table and sometimes even bedroom tonight?

Sharing an evening in the DNT hut

Almost always, things turn out better then feared. Almost always, you share the same mindset with other people on their way in this environment. And we’re lucky: this time it’s only two more guests and not an entire school-class, which we experienced recently. We share our evening with a Swiss farmer and his Danish wife. Back home the farmer produces cheese, and he is happy to share his pride with us. The complementary wine from the rucksack is a bottle of Chateau use your imagination.

With snowy mountains and open sky, Huldreheimen is perfect for seekers of solitude
With snowy mountains and open sky, Huldreheimen is perfect for seekers of solitude

Good company, the wind and snow howling around the hut, a blazing stove, candles on the table: in which Christmas commercial are we acting?

Roaming around Huldreheimen

When daylight comes, the wind still howls. Even down here, between the trees. The Swiss-Danish couple leave for Oskampen today. Brave guys, they will have to wrestle all day against this wind. But they have to; in three days their bus will leave from Gjendesheim, the famous and enormous DNT hut in Jotunheimen.

Again, we change our plans: our trip today will lead to Skriurusten, our actual cabin. We take our time getting up, having a good breakfast, some coffee and inventing a nice daytrip in the vicinity. Leaving the non-essential stuff in the hut, our backpacks get even lighter. Not heading for any special goal, we can just roam around in the snow. No disturbing twigs or tracks in my pictures today. Just emptiness, with snow, mountains and sky. And beautiful sastrugi: the soft parts of the snow are blown away and the harder patches with an often-icy surface are left. How beautiful can snow pictures be? And how bad can snow be to ski on?

On the plain just above the hut snow conditions are good and skiing is fun. With fat, grey clouds behind us and clear blue sky ahead, we know which direction to choose. A tailwind helps us get up the pass in front of us.

I keep on turning my head. The difference between the threatening clouds behind us and the clear blue sky ahead is amazing. We’re living another day in winter paradise. And it wouldn’t be a winter paradise without hot chocolate, so we’re glad to find a hunters’ hut just behind the col. Unfortunately, the lock doesn’t suit my DNT cabin key, but the small building provides us with enough wind-shadow to enjoy a good rest. And it’s our lucky day. Again. The clouds move and the famous mountains of Jotunheimen are on display in front of us.

A change in conditions

We should have known. Fast-changing skies mostly mean nothing good for the weather. When leaving the next morning for Storkvolvbua, there is a thin sheet of cloud and a halo around the sun. There is a lot of humidity in the sky. And a lot of warmth. The snow is almost melting and stitches under our skies. Progression is slow and hard. Compared with the winter paradise of yesterday, we couldn’t have expected such a beautiful day again. But this difference is very big. These are the moments you don’t talk about being fun, but they’re also a real part of being in the outdoors. It’s the difference that makes the good feeling so good. And, actually, this isn’t even that bad. I didn’t spend hundreds of euros on all this Gore Tex stuff just to carry it on my back. Being able to continue on your way in these conditions, without getting cold or wet, feels very good. In a way, it makes it fun as well.

Today is a ‘nice-there-are-twigs' day. The second half of the 8km between the two huts brings us between tens of small mountains. Our track has no real direction, it swings between these molehill-like hills and navigation in the fog with only map and compass would have been difficult. The last few 100 metres are easy: just right downhill and brake in time so not to crash into the building. With this kind of weather taking breaks is not appealing, sitting in wet snow with only fog around me is not fun. So, we walk without a break and now it’s only noon when we turn the key. We’re the first guests again.

The weather clears at last

Getting into the hut is quite special. The door is on the leeward side, and the spindrift has built a wall higher than the door. Luckily this hut is visited all through the year and we have to dig for only a few minutes. After the daily routine with stove, dry clothes and so on, we start what we expect will be a dull and grey afternoon. Preparing hot chocolate, baking pancakes, reading the fire instructions and the other things one does when boring oneself. But we’re lucky: with the returning wind, the sky breaks and the sun returns. It’s time for a photoshoot. Dressed in red down we walk here, sit there, one more picture from that side and on and on and on. Time flies when you’re having fun and before we know it the setting sun invites us for our next candlelit dinner.

The sky stays clear thanks to the wind, which is back in full force. A sanitary stop means you’ve to dress yourself as for a polar expedition, just to walk the 20 metres to the sanitary cabin. But this wind also means a clear sky, with a million stars gazing at this tiny spot in the snow. Unfortunately, the stars are disturbed by a more-than-bright moon. There are moments when I dislike bright moons and now is one of those moments. But when daylight comes, it’s easy to forgive. Thanks to this same moon, the splendid sunrise is of a seldom-seen beauty.

Revisiting old mistakes

After saying goodbye to our one-night Spanish friends, we head back to the valley, planning to come back as soon as possible. We have another 26km ahead before a cold beer and a hot shower will welcome us.

We walked this route two years ago in summer. It was no fun and we were glad of the endless Scandinavian summer days. Getting lost in a swamp, we walked for 42km and only got back to our tent at 10pm.

But we learned from that. We know where we went wrong and marked that spot on the map. And the swamp is frozen, so we can just easily walk over it and can’t get lost!

Do you know the difference between smart and not-so-smart people? Not-so-smart people always make the same mistakes. We are smart: we succeeded in inventing a new mistake. This time, it was only 36km before we could take off our skis and rest.

Battling against the weather and our own mistakes: looking forward to our nightly hot chocolate and fire!
Battling against the weather and our own mistakes: looking forward to our nightly hot chocolate and fire!