Tania Noakes, writer, adventurer and IFMGA Mountain guide, is about to set off on the journey of a lifetime - something she has dreamed of for years: to ski Norway from end to end. Here, she describes her preparations for the trip.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao Tzu
There is something incredibly satisfying about a long journey. Something life sustaining, rejuvenating even, that can be drawn from days linked one to another as you progress towards a distant goal. Some journeys are physical; a long dreamed of voyage or exploration, but the same satisfaction exists in the commitment and focus required to achieve any challenging dream or ambition in life.
For years now I have nurtured such a dream in my imagination. Yet somehow the steady tempo of future commitments kept me from engaging. Its soft siren song has slowly grown more insistent but one reason after another meant that it was never the right time. This year life threw my plans to the wind, and in the emptiness left behind I was awake to just how precious and short our time here is. My long delayed dream is Norge På Langs, and this winter I will set off on my skis to discover where it leads.
Skiing Norway End to End - it's a long country!
Norway is a very long country. From end to end its 1,752 kilometres extend across 13° of latitude and reach far into the Arctic Circle. It’s the same distance from the southern tip of Norway to the Mediterranean Sea. Linking one end of this country to the other on foot is a journey that Norwegians call “Norge På Langs”. Unique and inspiring, it is a challenge that has taken firm root in the Norwegian consciousness since it was first undertaken by Boy Scouts as a relay in the summer of 1951. It has steadily gained in popularity and become established as one of the world’s great challenges. There is no fixed route and only the two end points are defined; Lindesnes in the south and Nordkapp in the north. You decide the direction of travel, your route and the tempo of your journey, in negotiation with the weather, of course, and in winter the snow conditions.
There is a website that keeps a record of people who undertake Norge på Langs: http://norgepaalangs.info/. The fastest winter traverse currently stands at an impressive 55 days but it often takes more than 100 days to complete. When you stand at the start you can never be certain whether you will see the other end of this challenging country. There are many difficulties to overcome, not least the distance involved, but also the weather and conditions you will face, combined with the physical and mental effort required to sustain day after day of travelling through inhospitable terrain.
For Norway is a country built from mountains rising out of the sea. Quiet rolling, open plateaus; deep sided glens and jagged crests, vast forests and wild untracked spaces. Littered with lakes, streams and rivers that escape the heartland towards a complicated fractal coastline of islands, inlets and imposing fjords. Wild Norway is both fascinating and beautiful and reminiscent of a past more immediate and connected with the natural world. Most Norwegians live in the south of the country and there remains a tradition of summer cabins and outdoor living that has resisted erosion by modern life better than in other countries. Summer days are long; stretched longer still beyond the Polar circle, where the midnight sun shines on almost a third of the country. I aim to cross the Polar circle on the 8th March, day 54 of my winter traverse and setting me on schedule for finishing in 80 days.
Winter stakes a firm claim on this land, closing roads, freezing lakes and burying summer cabins to their roofs in snow. The sense of isolation and remoteness is deepened by the soft lights and shadows of short days and long cold nights. When I start from Lindesnes on the 14th January I will have about 7 hours of daylight; 80 days later at Nordkapp I will have 18 hours.
These autumn months spent preparing and planning have been a time of renewal and quiet excitement for me. I did my first ever ski-touring in Norway but have never ventured further north than Trondheim. The areas familiar to me, the Hardangervidda, the Skarheimen, Rondane and Jötenheim will soon be left behind and then every step I take will cover new ground. I am looking forward to the deeper understanding and appreciation of the land that this journey offers. In 2015 I spent the winter crossing the European Alps on skis and when I finished my knowledge of, and love for the Alps had been profoundly enriched.
I am planning to travel as light as possible, without taking a sled, so that I can ski fast when the conditions allow and to make the journey more enjoyable. I’m not taking camping equipment and plan to rely on the extensive mountain hut system. For deep within the Norwegian wilderness are thousands of mountain cabins, isolated and self-sufficient, some publicly owned and left open for use on forest service land, some run as private businesses, or holiday homes. Many are run by the Norwegian equivalent of the Alpine Club, the Norwegian Turistforening (Den Norsk Turistforening or DNT). Some DNT huts are open year-round; others open seasonally, offering facilities comparable to a good hotel. The remainder are self-service cabins, a quintessentially Norwegian idea where a comfortable hut complete with cooking and sleeping facilities is accessible with a DNT universal key. Some self-service huts, predominantly south of Trondheim have a larder stocked with canned and dried food which can be used and paid for by a credit card honesty system.
Trekking routes between the huts are well marked in summer by cairns painted with the distinctive red letter “T”. From around mid to late February recommended winter routes are marked with birch wands every 50m or so to aid navigation when the visibility is poor. In the south, DNT huts are a comfortable days’ travel apart. As you move north the distance between huts increases, and there are certain sections where I will need to travel up to 60km a day.
The DNT provides a wealth of information about potential trekking routes and offer group tours lead by local guides at a very reasonable cost. The organisation and its website practically form a one-stop shop for planning and preparing your Norwegian adventure. The possibilities opened up by this hut system for lightweight summer trekking in Norway are almost endless, certainly enough to fill a life-time of exploration. The facilities, hospitality and support from the manned huts are second to none, often putting Alpine huts to shame.
I am not focused on the destination, though I know that all journeys must conclude somewhere.
It is perhaps understandable that Norway, possessing such natural beauty and a soul on the edge of wilderness should germinate the idea of traveling on foot from one end of the country to the other. A journey completed under your own steam and at your own pace, and governed only by the rules which you set yourself.
When I look to this winter, and the challenge ahead, I feel energised by the potential of each day; the opportunity of the unknown, open to the insight and growth that difficulties always offer. My future feels alive again with a vibrancy that casts a light into the dark corners of loss.
I am not focused on the destination, though I know that all journeys must conclude somewhere. I suspect that I may well feel a little sad when I reach the shores of Nordkapp and take off my skis for the final time. Until then I’ll focus on each day as it arrives and try to give the best of myself. Whatever this winter brings and wherever Norge på Langs leads me I am looking forward to meeting the person who stands at the end of my journey.
Tania Noakes, November 2018
“The journey is the reward” Tao Expression
Help Tania raise money for the Ulysses Trust 25th Anniversary Appeal for Funds
Alongside her journey she is raising money for the “The Ulysses Trust”. This is a charity that provides a source of funding for young people in the UK Cadet Forces to enable them to undertake adventurous outdoor experiences and expeditions aimed at personal development. To help the engagement and development of young people in society, individually, and as effective contributors to their communities and as citizens. To help Tania with a donation : https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/tanianoakes1