The only other folks there were four skiers, and that should maybe have given us a clue as to what was to follow - Although we were well into Spring, Norway (like Scotland) had had a lot of late snow, and there was a very deep covering all around. We hoped the slightly lower temperatures over night would have frozen things up a little, especially as we had at the last minute decided against our snowshoes. Big mistake. Huge.
As we left even the car park, we were immediately in soft, wet snow over our knees, and soon to our waist. It was almost impossible to make progress, and I despairingly suggested we give up, and try to hire some snow shoes. The problem was the long road back to 'town', (nowhere is particularly heavily populated over there), even if we did find some, as well as poor weather coming in that evening. One of Paul's strengths is his eternal optimism, and he suggested if we persevered, gained height, the snow may consolidate. To cut a long story short, it did, very gradually, but only after much wading and floundering. Also, the weather closed in, giving whiteout conditions regularly. Luckily there were a good few cairns just when you needed them, and we slowly made our way to the ridge at around 2000m.
The problem was the time it had taken. Only just over 2k, 900m of ascent in 4.5hours, and we still had 500m to go and we were rapidly running out of steam! Add on the zero visibility and things weren't looking good.
It's odd in situations like this, as sometimes what appears to be bad luck or misfortune actually is really serendipity. Paul suffered a strain to the calf, probably caused by him compensating for an ankle sprained a month or so ago. Add this to the exceptional effort required to make any progress, and we knew the game was up. Typically, we still stopped to eat and take on fluid, but within a very short time, we knew the only sensible thing was to descend.
This time were assisted by gravity, and despite needing to be wary of plunging in deeply and twisting a knee, we make steady progress downwards. We knew there would be the opportunity for some good labour-saving bum sliding opportunities lower down, and as we came out of the cloud into sunshine once more, our disappointment at a retreat turned to enjoyment as we whooped and giggled down on our bottoms. We met two young lads, lightly equipped, who thanked us for our trail-breaking efforts. They were resting, and my gut feel was that even using our steps, their wet feet and trousers, coupled with the thick weather on high may have curtailed their efforts too, but we wished them well and continued downwards.
What had concerned us higher up was the effort we knew would be involved in descending too, and despite the welcome slides, we also had much floundering and wading. It was fun, but very tiring. We made it back to the car by 16:40, but having only done half a job, we knew we had made the right decision.
That evening we drove along deserted Norwegian roads to Andalsnes, entering the famous Romsdal and under the super-impressive Trollvegen, or Troll wall. Breathtaking. Immense, Awe-inspiring. How the early pioneers in the 60's thought that was a justifiable climb defies me. Hats off to them! We saw several avalanches and a huge rockfall in the short time we lingered underneath it's foreshortened immensity, enough to leave us cold.
Paul had to rest his leg the next day, so I chose an easy stroll up the Rampestrecken, an unlikely viewing platform at 530m above Andalsnes. Little did I know! In summer, I am sure it's a steep yet simple bimble, aided as it is by some spectacular path-work built by Sherpas in the Himalayan style. I had to make a choice at one point, a Summer route, or a Winter? I reasoned that the residual snow determined Winter, but soon found myself on very steep terrain indeed, with large step-up moves protected by weather-worn fixed lines. I was in the no-man's-land between the seasons, and it was good value for what is ostensibly a tourist route! After rather more toil than I expected, I realised I had gone too high, and was above the ramp, on a route that turns into a via ferrata with some very exposed ground.
I descended quickly, using arm wraps to support me over the mini-bergschrunds, and as a consequence ended up with some nice weals for my trouble. So much for a tourist route :) The ramp was spectacular, and I regretted being alone, as it was a splendid photo opportunity.
The descent was more excellent path building, and the vertical drops explained why it wouldn't be a good route in full winter. I was soon down and showered and regaling Paul with tales of my derring do!
The rest of the trip was a boring drive along the NW coast, around fjords and mountains, over water by ferries and finally to Trondheim, where we saw the excellent Waterboys at the local Blues festival ;)
OK, Norway is eye-wateringly expensive, and not everyone's cup of tea with its rustic charm and lack of night life, but if you add the breathtaking scenery and wilderness experience, I suspect we'll be back for more than just the elusive Galdhopiggen.