We drove through the evening last night hammered by driving rain, went to bed with heavy rain, and woke again to the battering of rain on our roof. It didn’t make us so enthusiastic about hiking to try and see some elusive Musk Ox. But, we decided we were in the area, and unlikely to get many other chances to see some Musk Ox in the wild.
The drive was a little further than I’d anticipated. We had to continue for well over 30-minutes from Dombås to the small outpost at Konsvold Fjeldstue. We were up in highland plateau, and the make up of the area had completely changed. It felt like being in Wales, or in the Lake District, with beautiful lakes, and lumpy, somewhat rounded mountains.
We put on our wet weather gear, and followed the marked trail. I spoke with a few other hikers who had been here in the past, and had never seen any ox, which dampened spirits somewhat. But, maybe today would be different!
It wasn’t, we didn’t see any ox. We did see some horses (woo), and some beautiful views. We also got some exercise in some beautiful fresh air, and didn’t get rained on, so overall we were probably ahead. Just.
For those that are curious, this is what a Musk Ox looks like.
There was a brief period of sunshine when we returned to Kongsvold Fjelstue, making the beautiful grass rooved houses look even more beautiful. There is something so quaint about these small huts – though, I imagine without modern renovation inside, they’d be rather unpleasant in winter up here.
We were once again meeting up with our Norwegian friends, this time in the tiny village of Verma, where they have their family home. I visited way back in 2004 with another friend to come snowboarding. Unsurprisingly, little had changed in this village – other than the seasons.
We had a quick stop at Sletta Waterfall, which was raging below the small bridge, funnelled through a very tight canyon. The souvenir shop sold the most impossibly soft animal pelts, and I was genuinely surprised that Risa didn’t purchase one.
I was honestly a little surprised that we managed to see our friends twice during our travels – though, we did adjust our itinerary somewhat to make it align. We figured that we’d have more fun doing things with locals, plus it’s great to have some other company after being with each other 24/7 in an 8m2 motorhome.
Before dinner, we went for a quick walk across the motorway to have a look at one of Norway’s most beautiful bridges. Kylling Bridge lived up to that title, and was truly beautiful and dramatic. I forget all the stats now, but it was built back in the early 20th century, as a part of a rather ambitious rail project – it’s not so busy these days. We stood and watched the water rage below the bridge, sucking in the fresh air into our lungs. It wasn’t the usual monument or must see attraction, but I had that feeling of bliss to be travelling and free. Life is good.
Runar and I had talked about possible hiking options for the day, including the day trek over Romsdalegen. We’d leave early, and meet his wife and mine at a viewpoint on the other side of the mountain. I just need to mention that his wife was 37-weeks pregnant at this point, and that the view point was some 500m up a steep scramble of a trail – and she’d be bringing their two young children with her. Oh and Risa. She seemed completely unfazed by this, but I think in the end it was agreed that it was best if we all hike up the shorter hike together.
One of the few things that I remember clearly from my visit back in 2004 was the drive down to Åndalsnes, under the sheer cliff faces of the Troll Wall. I was very much looking forward to seeing it again – and it was just as tall and imposing as I’d remembered.
Today’s hike started on the edge of town, and went to a custom built view platform that protruded from the side of the mountain. It is one of the more popular hikes in the area, and parking was a little bit of a challenge – but not impossible. It was slow going to begin with, towing two children up a steep and rough trail. They seemed non-fussed about the exertion, and instead took to other pursuits, like collecting (and consuming) wild berries.
It wasn’t a long hike, but the trail rose straight up the side of the mountain, instead of looping back and forth along the contours. It was a mess of tangled roots and exposed rocks that had to be scrambled over, making use of chains at a few points along the way.
I eventually took off with a goal to get to the top of Nesaksla, which was a further tough 15-minutes beyond the view platform. It felt good to reach the top (of this little section), but the views weren’t much better than from the custom platform below. We could see out across the mirror-like Romsdal fjord towards the west. We could also see up the epic glacial valley towards Troll Wall and the Troll Ladder, which we are going to visit in a few days when we finally leave little Verma.
The group had reached the platform, so I raced back down, taking the stone steps two at a time. We stood in line for our chance to photograph on the platform, flew the drone and had quick bite to eat – and took a moment to dread the scramble back down, giving a quick thought to our poor knees.
It was neither a long, nor high hike, though the sheer and relentless climbing took a toll. Risa and I were surprisingly tired from the effort, and were both in amazement that Birgette was able to do this with us – as well as the two kids. Oh, and for the record, she gave birth to a healthy girl the next week. Tough Norwegian women!
It wasn’t a very pretty morning, and it turned into a not so pretty afternoon, interspersed with periods of sunshine. We were happy to go with the flow today, joining whatever our friends decided to do. We ended up going fishing in a lake up in the hills above Verma.
First we had to dig for worms, lifting grass around the house and in the park across the road. The kids were loving the hunt, quickly filling a jar with some small earth worms.
We were in a high alpine valley, surrounded by granite peaks, with snow capped mountains all around and mirror-like lakes between a sea of moss and lichen. I never expected to be driving along unsealed roads in Norway, but we had an interesting drive up some steep winding roads, fortunately having problems with traction in our rear-heavy front-wheel drive motorhome.
We got a little fishing in, drowned a few worms, and had a mini picnic. In retrospect, it seemed that the kids had more fun catching worms, then attempting to catch fish.
Runar apologised earlier in the day, before we left home, that it wouldn’t be a very scenic location, so we reset our expectations accordingly. We found it to be amazing – I guess the bar is set pretty high when you grow up in this part of the world.
We’d wanted to return the favour and cook dinner tonight, as we’ve been fed exceptionally well the past few days. Risa wanted a BBQ, and I also suggested that we introduce takoyaki (a Japanese savoury street food). It felt just like a spring BBQ in Japan, huddled around the fire, under blankets, and in down jackets, doing our best to convince ourselves that we’re having a great time, while shivering uncomfortably – that was a little exaggeration, it wasn’t actually that cold. Oh, and the takoyaki was well received.
It was time to continue with our travels. We’d had an awesome time with the Brøste family, but they had to return to Bergen, and we had to keep moving. The weather was actually really nice, and improving by the hour. By the time we finally left (which ended up being after noon), the skies were mostly clear, and we were bathed in glorious sunshine for the first time since arriving in Norway.
As mentioned earlier, our exit plans from Verma were across the Trolls Ladder, before heading south deep into the fjord country. Once again, we were mesmerised on the drive under the Trollveggen (Troll Wall), rising more than 1000m above the valley floor.
We had been equally mesmerised by the river, which expanded at places into a mirror-like lake (how many times have I already said mirror-like), and then squeezed again through narrow canyons. Closer to the mouth, it calmed down a little, with a beautiful looking beach. I had to keep reminding myself that I was still in Norway, because this scene felt nothing like the Norway we’d seen, nor expected to see.
Leaving the road to Åndalsnes, we started up the valley towards Trollstigen (Troll Ladder). It loomed imposing, a series of switchbacks that clung to the side of what looked like a vertical wall. I was nervous approaching, as I had a lady at Kongsvold Fjelstue warn me about the climb, and about some of the chaos that happens with motorhomes getting stuck on the tight and narrow road every year.
Just before we started the main ascent, we stopped to admire the waterfall that was thundering down from the top, and the small bridges that crossed along the way.
There was no further delaying, so we set off. It turned out to be completely fine, with moderate, though constant, gradients, and quite manageable corners – there were tour buses going up/down, so our 5m long van did it easy. It was narrow in places, but we never ran into any problems – thankfully not encountering another motorhome/bus/truck in any of the narrow sections. It was a thrilling drive, and the views along the way were extraordinary and not to be missed. I might think differently about driving back down if it was raining heavily though… it would certainly be a test for the nerves.
It was nearly 3PM by the time we parked at the visitor centre and got our hiking gear ready. We were both extremely impressed with the architecture of this visitor centre, and of Norwegian buildings in general. I absolutely love the clean lines, and the mixture of bare concrete, wood and glass. I wish that one day I can live somewhere as beautiful as this.
We made a quick detour to see the view platforms that protruded defiantly out and above the valley. The view was magnificent, and for a while we thought that there was no need to hike, as the views surely couldn’t surpass what we were looking at.
But, hike we did. We wouldn’t normally leave on a 5-6hr hike at 3PM. In fact, I was a tiny bit nervous about it. But, the weather looked solid for the rest of the day, and the sun wouldn’t be setting until nearly 10PM, which was more than enough time, even though we’d feel the shadow long before it set.
The hike started easy enough, then we came to a mess of large rubble. Progress was slow as we had to pick lines through these rocks, many of which were still loose and would wobble if you put weight on them the wrong way. There were all too brief breaks from this before a large ascent up these same rocks began.
It felt like we were never going to get to the top of this hill, but over time, there was more below us than above us, until we’d reached the summit. Or rather, the false summit. We now saw how much further the trail stretched ahead. And that trail was through the snow.
At first the snow was a fun novelty, breaking up the loose boulders. But, over time, the boulders became a welcome relief from the slippery and wet snow. It was slushy spring snow, sinking as deep as your ankles with every step. I was grateful that I bought a new pair of boots while in Val d’Isere, as I was able to walk through the snow without too much worry. Risa’s boots are getting pretty old now, and they started getting wetter and wetter, and by the end of the trek, they were soaked through.
There were beautiful little pools in the snow, filled with vivid blue water. All these views were unexpected bonuses, and took our minds off the hiking.
We finally made it to the edge of the Troll Wall, and I’ll never forget that sense of vertigo peering over the edge. It was loose rock, and then hundreds and hundreds of meters of sheer nothingness. We got down on our stomachs, and gingerly inched towards the edge. Once there, it was terrifying to look down, but at the same time, calmly mesmerising. I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous taking photos, with a nervous sweat breaking out as I held my camera over that abyss. Even typing these memories now, my fingers are starting to glisten with a fine layer of perspiration, and my stomach is lifting in its cavity.
Making things even more perilous was the chilling winds. I’d really wanted to fly our little drone out and over the edge, but I was nervous enough as it was flying over such a sheer drop, the winds made my mind up for me. It was disappointing, but I’m not going to risk $1000 worth of electronics for some (admittedly awesome) footage.
It was 6PM by the time we’d packed up our gear and started on the ascent. We were now loving the snow, allowing us to run down in giant strides in the soft slushy ice, wet feet be damned. But, we knew what we had ahead of us, and the descent down the boulders was no less fun than the ascent. Our knees were starting to ache from the stresses.
We’d been worried about some dark clouds building on the horizon, but they dissolved and didn’t come near us. The sun was setting, but with us being so far north, it set at such a slow angle. It still felt odd to be hiking so late in the evening, with the sun so long in the sky, but it did make for a beautiful change of scenery.
We made it back to the car just before 8PM, just as the shadow of the neighbouring ridge was starting to blanket this valley.
We joined the dozen-or-so other motorhomes in the visitor centre car park for the night, treated to our first Norwegian sunset. The skies glowed a feint salmon-pink in a show that lasted for what felt like an eternity. As the sun dropped, so too did the temperatures, and soon we were in tracksuits preparing for bed, content in a most excellent day.
I’d really wanted to photograph the Trollstiggen with the trails of cars making their way up/down, however, the sun didn’t set until 22:10, and last light was forecast for 23:50. I wasn’t going to be able to sit up until that late and hope for someone driving by that late in the evening!
Romsdal had delivered the goods. We felt like we’d already seen so much of Norway, and couldn’t believe that we still had so much in store over the next week!