I had this stunning experience in mid-summer during a lone hike on the Gullfjellet (Golden Mountain) in Bergen, Norway. It was neither the highest mountain I climbed, nor the most difficult or dangerous hike I ever had, but I never felt an intimate and undisturbed connection with a mountain like I did there.
On the edge of the polar zone some knowledges brought from the temperate zone has to be reconsidered and it’s not just about the cold. While the ice age simply erased pretty much everything over 1000m (3300ft) with its magnificent planer it also left a number of huge crevices, some of which has been filled with seawater and we know them as fjords and some of which make this area a challenging hiking place. On the first day I already climbed up 600m (2000ft) to Floyen, then descended back to the sea level then up again to Livarden and as I saw the way ahead I knew I will have to do this a few more times, which adds up to over 4000m (13000ft) elevation in total for this trip. This combined with the fact that the snow line was at 600m in the middle of summer made this quite like an alpine tour or more, but with less funiculars, snow guns and tourists compared to the Alps. (To be noted: I love the Alps.) The weather was still clear, which beyond its endless blessings caused a bit of a trouble on the snow, since I didn’t really expect much sun in Bergen I left my sunglasses at home. So now I was walking on the frozen surface in the 15°C (59°F) and I had to put my palm under my nose to protect my eyes from the sun shining up from the snow. I guess I looked pretty funny, but it was still better than getting blind. Following the piles of stones I arrived to the feet of the Austefjellet. The ridge dotted with the piles of stones with equally large distances looked just as signaling bonfires like those that Gondor used to ask for the help of Rohan in the Lord of the Rings.
The way up to Austefjellet was the first really long section on this day, it took over 3.5 hours to get through by following the stone piles. There wasn’t really a peak, it was rather a long ridge, on which I walked up and down for a long time. I wanted to have a longer rest after this section, but when I arrived to the building with the red cross at the feet of the Gullfjellet I go so excited that I only spent a few minutes to eat some cereal bars and drink a tea. Moreover, there was a lot of lightly dressed people from 9 to 99 walking and running up and down on the mountain, making the whole thing look like a playground. It was a mountain running race with at least a hundred runners and I have to admit that after the long hours of lone walk I was quite glad to see some faces. The endless waving and hej-hej (greetings in Norwegian) made the hours of climbing fly away and the tape along the race track made it easy to find my way up. The race track ended about a hundred meter below the peak, so I was completely alone when I arrived. The top of the Gullfjellet, the Golden Mountain, the goal of my journey was under my feet. I was not like a dead lion under the hunter’s feet, rather a living one under a flea’s feet. Especially as I wouldn’t kill neither a lion nor a mountain. Anyway it was also the highest peak in the area, which made a perfect spot for making panorama pictures of this wonderful land.
Since it was only 6pm, but I already reached the campsite of the day, I decided to do a short trip towards the Trengereidhotten fjord. I pitched my tent and left the large bag there taking only a few things in a small drawstring backpack with me. It was a great relief to walk without the weight on my shoulders, so it took only a few minutes to bounce and slide off the snowy slope to the valley and start to climb up to the next hill. The ground was covered by rocks and grass again and it was very relaxing to walk under the evening sun with light steps. I was just about 2km (1.2mi) from the fjord when I realized that there is a huge, deep valley between us. I wasn’t thinking much as it was clear that the way through would be too long a tiring and I would get too far from my campsite without most of my equipment if I would visit the fjord, so I made some photos and headed back up to the Gullfjellet. I tried not to hurry resisting the urge I always feel when I’m going back on the same road I was coming. I progressed well jumping from rock to rock, stopping at some minor wonders by the road. One of those were shiny line of cristals sticking out from the granite. They were like the rock turned to gems as a memento of some old magic. I arrived to the same snow field I was sliding down an hour before. Looking on it from below was a very different aspect. Where the snow met the islands of rocks I could see that the few meters thick layer of ice is mostly melted below feeding fast running streams under my feet, so it was hard to tell its real thickness not mentioning its carrying capacity. Losing my trust in the ice such way was quite disappointing and it made me walk very cautiously with long detours to find the strongest ice between the islands of rocks avoiding any area having a little different shade that the others. I wasn’t really afraid of serious injury but rather of the hassle that getting out from a hole would have meant if the ice breaks under me, not mentioning the ice cold water I would have landed into. But it didn’t break and I arrived to the last steep snowy slope, where I could walk up following my own footprints finally being able to look around instead of looking down at my feet. It was a real gift as it was impossible to get enough of that view.
Arriving on the top again was a real homecoming. I tend to call home anything where I can spend a night, but a windy cliff rarely gets this calling even from me. But after that long day watching the tent in that spot protected from the wind by a small rock formation promising warm soup and a good night sleep I felt peace. It was 10pm when I finished my dinner, it was getting colder and I had to realize that there is nothing useful I can do till the sunset at midnight, which I really wanted to see. So I set my alarm and tried to sleep in spite of the day-light. I was watching the ceiling of the tent thinking about the day behind and the day ahead of me until finally I could close out the stimulus of the light and my biological clock could do its work. And it did it so well that I felt I could never get out of the sleeping bag when the alarm shouted on me to see that beautiful sunset in spite of the freezing cold in the middle of the night. It took me long till I took over the control over my body and opened a small hole on the tent and put my head out kneeling in the sleeping bag. It was worth it as I already told it before in the first part. So I filled my soul with the view and my camera with pictures and I rushed back to the tent and started to reheat the inside the of the sleeping bag.
It is hard to describe cold. You have to feel it. You cannot read it. Even I cannot really recall the feeling of that cold, but I remember it was really hard to move at all as I was lying in a way I could preserve some of my hardly earned body heat and every little move threatend with losing it again. So it took me a while to pack up and start walking, but at 8am I was surely on the track again. At least I thought it was a track. Because tracks are funny things. No, it is not the fault of tracks, it is our fantasy that is always fooling with us. On the map I saw a nice couloir between two secondary peaks of the Gullfjellet leading down to the road in the valley. It looked like a clear track down to the valley, just as the spots in the snow looked like a clear track to the couloir. But neither was a track, only in my head, and I had all the imagination to convince myself about that mixing the spots made by bouncing rocks with footsteps and the line of breaking ice with trails. So after I descended for about an hour to see the mouth of the couloir and realized my situation I faced a very interesting choice, which you might understand if you watch the picture below carefully paying attention to the half-frozen lake and river in the middle, the rockfall on the right and steep snow-covered slopes everywhere.
The way ahead was the shortest to the road and I already descended quite a length, so it would take about 2 hours at least to climb back to the top and start descending into another direction, but it was not the reason I rejected this option already before I started to really considered it. Nor my incautiousness, I was aware of the risks, their probability and their severity, and I did not intend to get lost or injured alone in an unfrequented couloir. No the reason was differen. I WAS LURED… by its wildness, its untouchedness, its uncontrollability. Seeing into this mouth of a dragon, feeling myself small as small I never felt, I was looking for a way through, calculating my chances and considering the worst case and finding it feasible. It was thrilling. The time has stopped, it had no importance any more. I was walking through the steep snow field with light steps then jumping on the next rock island over the crevice between them again and again chosing always the shortest way on the uncertain snow-covered ice. One time I slipped on the rock after the jump and hit myself hard as I fell with the heavy backpack. I cursed a bit and waited for the pain to go away then I counted my limbs and as I got the preferred number I continued my crossing with one more experience. At some steep sections the ice looked weak, so I took my backpack down to check its capacity with cautious light steps being ready to jump if it would collapse and trying not to look down to the bottom of the slope where a frozen lake was waiting for the incautious me. I was continuously balancing between not getting too close to the steep shore of the lake, nor the rock wall with the unstable rocks hanging over me, while I was listening to the rippling ice water under my feet. That was me and the mountain, totally alone. As I was focusing on its slightest vibration with all my nerves I felt it closer to me then ever before. I was between the giants of the Golden Moutain and I hoped with my heart beating fast that I won’t wake them up. Because there are few thing that spectacular when you are the witness of these giants moving, but its better to watch from a distance. I saw a fragment of it in form of a rockfall a few hundred meters ahead: the rocks – each twice my size – were bouncing down the snow field like pebbles and stopped before the bottom of the couloir marking the edge of the dangerous zone.
The second half of the couloir crossing was more about rock climbing. It wasn’t difficult in the rock climbing way, but with the backpack on the wet rocks it was challenging enough. Finding the safest route took me quite a time on each rocks with a lot of turnbacks and detours. One time the safest route was a vertical wall leading down to a snow field, but it was too difficult to climb down with the bag on my back, so I had to send it ahead to the 10 meter depth. I had no rope so I improvised something from what strings I had , but it was not strong enough and from half-way the backpack continued in free-fall and arrived a bit harder than I planned. I climbed after it and realized that fortunately the bag stopped at the feet of the wall, but my water bottles didn’t. They fell into two separate crevices, one of which had a gentle rock slope leading to its bottom but the other was inaccessible. I carefully walked down to the bottle and then I saw the cave under the ice. It was half man high and light as the sun shone through the melting ice ceiling, boundless streams rippled down to the lake on the floor made of pebbles, another world that was laying under my feet all the way to here. Maybe it was mined by ice-dwarfs living in this cristal cave and making fine jewels from ice for the people of the endless winter. A sparkling palace with a quite uncertain ceiling, I felt my guardian angel wringing her hands, so I left the place in haste. Richer with an unforgettable memory and poorer with a water bottle, I continued my way on a more gentle slope now on the bank of the river flowed under from the lake. Soon I arrived to the end of the couloir stepping from the grey-white world of rock and snow to the blue-green world of water and plants. The thrill and adrenaline gave its place to peace and endorphin. I made it and I was glad I tried it.
The rest of the day was less of adventure and more of walking. It was still 20km (12mi) back to Bergen, but mainly on gravel and tarmac. It gave me lot of time to think through my day and to learn how valuable is the clear high mountain stream water compared to the suspicious river water in the lower areas, which was more painful as I had to finish the tour with a single water bottle. In Bergen everything is about water. It can be falling from the sky, or running on the ground, it can form a solid ground under your feet and set loose rocks over your head. It can be a blessing and a course, it depends how you adapt to it, because water won’t adapt to you. Not in Bergen.
Take care and beware the giants.