Saturday, March 29, 2014

Haukelifjell Storm

4. - 7. March, 2014
Trolltjørn, Telemark/Hordaland, Norway


We arrived at Haukeliseter Lodge at around 2pm packed and ready for a few days of route finding, avalanche considerations, and most importantly skiing.  We sat inside and had a coffee by the fire while we waited for the others to arrive.  It isn´t very normal for us to start so late in the day, but a start time of 4pm was set so that we would be forced to find our way to camp in the dark.

The weather as we left the lodge weren´t optimal, with flat light making it difficult to see the contour of surrounding terrain.  Trudging on, the already grey sky slowly darkened, eventually leaving us in darkness.  Ironically our headlamps made it easier to see the surrounding formations.  Night had fallen long before we reached our camp and we were forced to set up our tents in the dark.  We made dinner and crept into our sleeping bags so that we would be ready for the next day.

As morning broke around us we crawled out of our tents to take a look at the surrounding mountains, in vain.  The low laying clouds made it nearly impossible to make out the surrounding peaks, but we packed our day packs and ventured out into the fog.  Getting oriented in the fog was difficult as we had to wind our way past craggy peaks following our compass heading the whole time.  Every once in a while the fog would lighten just enough to make out a ridge or cliff that didn´t seem to be where it should.  Progress was slow and the whole process was frustrating.

We arrived at our destination after a few hours and dug a snow pit to check the avalanche risk for our descent.  The pit doubled as shelter from the wind as we sat down and ate lunch.  As we sat there talking, the clouds lifted enough to show us the surrounding mountains.  The high mountains near Haukeli are incredible, if you are lucky enough to have a window with good weather.  Rays of sunlight shone through the clouds in the distance and the general mood of the group lightened considerably.  The good weather continued as we made our way back to camp, and we were finally able to actually see where we had set up our tents.  I had to chuckle to myself when I saw our camp, because we had chosen what must have been the windiest spot on the mountain to set up camp.  We spent the rest of the afternoon finding water and building a wall around camp in the hope that it would help protect us from the strong winds.

The weather the next day was less than optimal, but we headed out for the day nonetheless.  We had a nice solid pace the entire day, and visibility was just good enough to make out formations to navigate by.  At around 1 o´clock we were faced with a difficult decision.  We had made great time over the relatively tame terrain, but were now faced with a steep ascent into the clouds with a difficult descent.  There were mixed feelings about continuing, and we spent a chunk of time deciding what to do.  In the end we decided to head back to camp and dig in the snow.

The winds had picked up by the time we returned to camp and the weather gods didn´t seem to be pleased.  A quick check of the forecast showed a storm approaching.  We teamed up and built the biggest snow wall I have yet to experience, reaching upwards of 15´ in some spots.  After creating a labyrinth of snow walls to protect us from the oncoming storm, we decided to have a crack at building an igloo for our latrine.  The construction was quick, and before long we had a nice sheltered place to get out of the weather.

-     -     -

Haukeli lies on the border between eastern and western Norway, which means that it gets the cold weather from east along with the wet weather from the west.  The area is notorious for having truly miserable weather, and it has been used to prepare for numerous expeditions to the arctic and antarctic regions for over 100 years.  Bad weather is a relative term in the mountains, but when a full fledged storm is approaching there is really only one choice: get to a safer area.

We packed up camp the next morning and headed down the mountain.  The weather initially didn´t appear to be much worse than the previous days, but the weather worsened dramatically as we got closer to the lodge.  Sleet started coming down at a brutal angle when we were just a few kilometers from the lodge.  By the time we reached the protection of the lodge our clothing and equipment were completely drenched.  We sat inside and attempted to dry out before debriefing.  My jacket has been on its last leg for awhile now so it provided little protection from the elements.  I sat shivering, unable to regain my warmth.

Finally we piled into the car to head back to civilization.  There was only one problem.  The intensity of the storm had increased to the point that traffic was restricted to convoys lead by a snowplow.  We were forced to wait for nearly 45 minutes before it was our convoy arrived.  By this time the storm was so bad that visibility was limited to a few feet at best.  You could faintly make out the hazard lights of the car in front of us about half of the time.  The other half was driven blind.  Traffic updates let us know that our convoy was the last of the night.  The mountain was closed until the storm was done wreaking havoc.

Haukeliseter 

Waiting by the fire with a cup of coffee

Dinner time in the dark

Testing the snowpack

The fog lightens up a bit to reveal majestic mountains

Our camp is down there somewhere

Spotted this line, not gonna say where it is

Camp life

Back to basecamp early? Why not try building an igloo?

Preparing for the storm

Basecamp or winter fortress?

The Igdo (Igloo Latrine)

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