The Tafjord Haute Route: exploration ski where eastern Norway meets the west.

After the longest and snowiest winter I could remember in addition to the great arctic ski trip,  I was almost excited for hanging my skis until next year and rack all my trad gear for heading to the Norwegian Fjords and it’s oceans of granite. I guess I hadn’t figured out that not even on my second day here, Jens-Petter was already proposing me a last great expedition for ending the season properly. Well, I’m a simple man, so actually it didn’t took long before I was in.

His idea was to head over the mountains of Tafjord. I knew it was one of those national parks with some of the highest peaks of Norway where the steep mountains from the fjords meets the mountain plateaus from the east, but actually I did not knew much more about the area, despite having worked three seasons as a fjord guide. Well, to be fair, it is not on the classic tourist circuits even though it has the highest mountains in Møre og Romsdal, one of the ski touring meca’s in Norway. Actually not many people venture in Tafjord on the planks.

The day that Jens-Petter introduced us the idea of the trip, we were in a trad climbing gathering. Tom Fredrik soon was in, even before having too many details. JP explained us that his uncle had a few cabins in the National Park, that combined with the cabins from the excursioning club of Norway (DNT), would allow great possibilities for a round trip around the highest peaks in Møre og Romsdal. Moreover, we would be most likely alone in those peaks this time of the year, and depending what route we would go for, we would have big chances of doing a first ski ever round trip. Fancy!

JP had already been commenting with his uncle, Jan Erik,  some beta, possible trips, variations on the routes….When Jan Erik realized this was actually happening, it did not took long before he was in. Now, the team is finally completed.

Norway is massive. The fjord area may not look too big on a map, Tafjord is on the north and Bergen on the middle of it, still  the journey took us eight hours driving and two ferries. Well, at least the road trip could not have been more gorgeous. By ten p.m. we made it to Tafjord, a small village embedded in a steep fjord branch hundred kilometers inland from Ålesund. You soon notice that it’s quite remote and not the típical turisty fjord village like Geiranger or Flåm. We took the road up the mountain towards the powerplant till Rødal, where we met Jan Erik. We all were excited to meet each other, have dinner and plan a bit the days ahead. Luckily the cabin was just some fifty meters away from the cars and it was looking damm cosy. The sunlight was starting to fade, however the temperature was still over twenty degrees. We were in shorts, we couldn’t see snow anywhere around, but we knew for sure we were going to have a great adventure.

Jan Erik took care of the dinner and brought pork chops on butter and mushroom sauce plus a great salad. Yeeees!

Before going to bed, we had still to figure out a few details of the route: we had fixed the overnighting spots and the main lines, but still we did not had detailed ascents and descents. On the map, it seemed we would have to go through complex terrain. We were concerned with a few glaciers and ridges as we could not know exactly how wide or how exposed they were, if they were crevasses or other risk intensive terrain. We decided to go all in with the gear: 60m rope, ice screws, crevasse rescue gear, crampons, ice axe, avalanche rescue gear and food for four days. Moreover considering that I was bringing the old freeride setup from Jens-Petter, my backpack was largely over twenty kilos the first day. Taking a look around it definitely seemed that we would have to bootpack at least the first mountain, Rødalsegga (1376), through extremely nasty and steep terrain of sharp bushes and loose rock before reaching any snow. Hopefully it would not be more than one hour and a half.

Well, that’s exactly how it went the following day, but it took way more energy and time than planned. I’m happy that we had again pork chops, bacon and eggs for breakfast and we had power to spend. The photos from this part of the trip are not your average ski touring photos, but I bet no one can really deny the adventure component of the trip.

At some point towards the first summit we could finally get our skis on and fix direction towards Sæterhornet (1536). Thanks god, because I was starting to turn into grumpy Carlos mode from all the cuts in my whole body from those nasty bushes while having to wrestle with all the trees to free my backpack and skis, and well, all of this while lowkey holding on the cliff without falling.

It definitely feels good to glide in our skis, and with this new motivation it did not take long before we made it to the summit. On the summit ridge, Jan Erik showed us a hunting shelter under a rock from the first hunters that followed big herds of herbivores through the glaciers to the pastures at the end of the ice age. Moreover on his cabin he showed us some arrowheads that he had found on the area. Fascinating story actually, those guys must have been some true Alphas back then.

I really liked Jan Erik. It’s awesome how he just jumped from his desk from one day to the other to join this trip. With over fifty years old, he was almost as fit as our three together. He brought to the trip 115 skis with Kingpins and the Maestrale RS boots and he was always fighting the pole position with Tom Fredrik. You have to consider that JP and Tom Fredrik were training for doing a half mountain marathon in a bit over two hours and well, regarding myself, I don’t tend to slack a lot in what refers to set the rhythm ski touring…

You could tell he was having this energy when in the outdoors and it was cool that he was strongly involved with the preservation of the national park and it’s history. Definitely a great team member!

By the time we reached the summit of Sæterhornet (1536) it already got kind of late. Winds were starting to pick up bringing some doubtious clouds over the horizon. At that point we had just in front of us the aesthetic mountain of Svartegga (1937), but we decided that it seemed too tricky, technical and exposed as to go with such heavy backpacks with a possible storm approaching. Moreover, we had heavy days ahead, so better not shoot all the bullets the first day. Definitely the smart option was to ski down to Reindalen (Reindeer valley), by the Zachariasvatnet (Zacharias lake) were our second cabin was.

There is a big cabin from the excursioning club of Norway (DNT), however we stayed at a cabin from Jan Eric. Again, pure coziness and I love the detail that he keeps good food, wine and beer on it. If you are considering visiting the National park, rather for skiing, hiking, fishing or just enjoying nature, you may consider contact him for renting the cabin, as he normally does it through airbnb.

This cabin was going to be sort of our base camp, as we will spend another night on it in two days. I’m glad that we did not enlarged the ski day; by the time we reached the cabin our bodies were wrecked. I really appreciated that time of just sitting out in the grass with a cold beer and snacks watching the lake, the mountains, those majestic golden pine trees, the rivers and looking at photos of the old cabin days.

Then I took some time for stretching by the fireplace,and finally we made dinner, drank wine, cognac and spend another cozy dinner talking about ski, life, everything and nothing in particular.

We woke up with an ambitious plan in mind: cross all the way to the eastern valley of the national park to the DNT cabin of Pyttbua, passing through the summits of Lågstolen(1420), Høgstolen(1953) and Karitind(1982), the second highest peak in Møre og Romsdal. This time we decided to go light. Well, as light as we could go: crampons out, Ice axe in, most ice gear out, rescue gear in, most food out, extra insulating clothes out, gore tex in and finally the 60m rope in. Yes we were having shivers just thinking of when it was going to be our turn to carry that heavy thing. Well and of course, the over eight kilogram ski setup tied to the backpack for the first hour of approach through the trails, rivers, swamps and forests. Damn if I was jealous of the super lightweight set up of Jens Petter and Tom Fredrik….

Another ski day starting with a full dive in sunscreen, shorts, approach shoes and bare chest. At least today half of the hike was though an extremely scenic path. No wonder why people come here for hiking in summer. Waterfalls were raging, rivers brought movement and the landscape has such a particular blend of touches of the east and at the same time of the west. You could tell it in the trees, the mountain shapes, the valleys…definitely something I hadn’t seen in Norway before. Today we played it quite smart and without too much drama we made it to the first snow patches. At some point Tom Fredrik panicked of a heat stroke and just got in underwear.

Ski trip in underwear? Must be a viking thing, I guess.

We negotiated fairly well the first snow patches, soon we gained in steepness and aimed for the Lågstolen. Jan Erik had to draw some steep kick turns in not precisely dreamed snow, but with some proper edge kicking we got to the big horizontal snow patch just below the summit that we saw from Sæterhornet the day before. The last hundred meters before the summit plateau were steep terrain of narrow gullies and rocky spurs. We decided to go all in. Probably the most direct way, but as well just for the fun of it and to make worth having carried all that alpine stuff up there.

Quite fun terrain and a bit of action!

From Lågstolen (1420) we continued through obvious terrain to the top of Høgstolen (1953). Finally we had the feeling of summiting a proper mountain and making some progress in all this adventure. We couldn’t take too long as we still had a big mountain ahead: Karitind (1982). From Høgstolen to Karitind and down of Karitind was the terrain that made us slightly uneasy on the map when planning the trip. We had to pass over two ridges bordered by six glacier stripes. We were not too sure about how wide, steep or exposed the ridges were going to be. We thought the glaciers were probably covered and smooth but with these temperatures perhaps crevasse fields were starting to show off. The first ski descend through the ridge to the bowl separating the two mountains was easy, enjoyable and unexposed. Enough room for turning properly and we didn’t even remove the skins for not losing time.

ONTHEBELAY  Restanca. A lot more than Montarto.

Once inside the bowl, Norgeskart showed that a big part of the bowl should be glaciated terrain. However it did not looked at all like glaciated terrain, but as a uniformed snowed mountain top with some rocks popping out over the ridges and areas exposed to the sun and wind.

At that time it felt like we could breathe and put a lower gear. Karitind was just in front of us through straight forward terrain, but still it was a big mountain and we would take time to get there. At that point I definitely needed a break. I felt low of sugars, fats and salts, but I guess after the fourth sandwitch, the chocolate bar and most of the nuts, that wasn’t really a problem anymore.

Surprisingly It did not took a lot of effort neither time to reach Karitind. On the summit the wind was hurling and it was proper cold even with all our clothes on. We had to come up with a descent strategy trying to stay away from complex terrain, especially because low clouds were bringing constant short white out windows every few minutes. We decided to go through the north east glacier.

 Jan Erik Lead the way. As soon as we crossed the ridge, we realised there was no glacier left. Just a uniform snow layer over a glacier bowl. We first crossed horizontally to take a proper look as it didn’t seem the terrain lines of the map were matching what we were seen in this low visibility frame. From the point of view we realised that as there was no glacier left, the terrain was way steeper over the morraine than what the map was pointing out. No way we could ski it, so we went around it. Then we just had to negotiate a quite strong glacier river over the frozen lake of Søre Botnvatnet and from there, take the last descent to the lake. Once we skied to the lake we felt pretty much safe and out of the mountains.

ONTHEBELAY  Two days exploring the Tena Valley.

The lake seemed a bit dodgy, the ice was starting to melt on the sides of it, however Jan Erik insisted that if the lake looks white it’s safe enough for crossing it and he went for it. I was too tired to bother bordering the lake, so I just went over it as well. It definitely felt dodgy.  There was some cracks and water filtrations on the top layer at some few points, but apparently it worked. Finally, after some other forty minutes traversing over flat and soft downhills linking snow patches, we made it all the way to Pittbua, the DNT Cabin for the night.

That was a proper twelve hour day. Definitely a heavy day confirmed by Jens-Petter smart watch, pointing out that we should eat 6000 calories. I love this kind of homework. Pasta with butter and spam, plus chocolate pudding with pineapple for dessert, definitely did the job.

That day even Tom Fredrik fall on a soft koma by the fireplace in between dinner and desert.  That made me realise I had to do an intense stretching session if I still wanted to hold to the idea of another big day of ski for the following day.

Rise and shine. This day we had to climb the highest mountain in Møre og Romsdal, Puttegga (1999m) and border both the Høgstolen (1953) and Lågstolen (1420) for finding again the access to the valley of Reindalen. At least this day seems way more straight forward. We were going to be able to get the skis on all the way from the cabin, what a luxury. We had an amazing view both of the valley opening to the flat prairies and soft valleys still partially covered in snow of the east and the pointy picks of Karitind and Puttegga on the west. From here It seemed that we were going to climb Puttegga without too much drama

Just when we were about to leave in the morning, we realised the binding from Jan Erik was knocked out. One of the front pins of the kingpin had popped out of the binding. This was a proper mess up, but before even considering the idea of walking all the way, we decided it was worth to try to fix it and see how far we could make it. We gathered from the basement some tape, nails, wires, farmers tools and somehow Jan Erik achieved to make the magic happen.

The system failed after the first hour and a half, but then a double wire backup achieve to do the job the whole way both for the uphill and the downhill. I think someone at marker should give him a call for engineering consulting…

One step at a time we made it to the top. Actually, the last slope felt slightly never ending, but soon we were doing our summit snacking. That day I learned that for hanging on the snow in shorts for the whole day I should probably have put sunscreen on the back of my knees. Learning through pain.

This descent was proper fun. Finally I saw the point of dragging over the mountains a free touring setup and the old maestrale boots. We soon had to work the constant traverse for bordering the Lågstolen and make it to the gorge that would take us to Reindalen.

It was actually quite an adventure to link the last snow patches by the steep river banks and swamps until we made it to the bridge.

Soon later we were in the cabin. Another day over twenty degrees, so it was time for a swim in the lake. Damn, that was proper cold. At least a few minutes later we were already running the barbeque with some beers, spanish cheese and fig cake. Another dream day with the best team.

The day after we just had to take another king breakfast, clean the cabin and hike back to the car following down the river.

For a sum up in those three days we did 64km and 4300 meters uphill. I’d say it qualifies as a legit Tafjord Haute Route proposal. 

Jan Erik, a big local in the park, was convinced that the activity had never been done in skis before and took time and care to make some maps and descriptions for inspiration for future adventurers. Tip: extremely useful the maps from the apps Norgeskart and RegObs; actually not only in Tafjord, but all over Norway.

ONTHEBELAY  About avalanches and Mountain safety. Practical cases through video and images on a big day of pow.

By noon we were back at the cars with a proper sense of achievement. We said goodbye to Jan Erik and thanked him again for everything. We then run for our next adventure. We would try to ski the glacier of Geiranger as the road had just opened a few days ago. Actually we made it. One last ski run for the season and a great road trip. We made it home over one in the morning and needless to say that I had a horrible day at work the day after.

Hurra for more cowboy ski trips!

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