During the Norwegian winter, the Hardangervidda is one the most inhospitable regions. The photographer and adventurer Martin Hülle, however, has found a second, icy home there. The story of a willing addict…
It was January 2003 when I first embarked on a winter tour with ski and pulk sled across the Hardangervidda. At that point in time I was already thinking about crossing Greenland. For this, the area seemed an ideal preparation. I crossed the mountain plateau on my own at the worst time of the year, and of the 12 days that I was on the way, I spent five in my tent, enduring storms and whiteout. I met no other person, but it was definitely good training.
I am passionate about polar adventures, and the windy mountain plateau is a perfect area to prepare for expeditions, because the climactic conditions and topography make for comparable conditions to those found on extensive icecaps. Obviously, it is not pleasant to sit in a tent at minus 33 degree Celsius. The steam of the hot tea froze on the rim of the cup, and the question, whether the colorful idyll in the sky – those blue, read and purple evenings – was enough to make up for the inconveniences, was perfectly justified. However, as always, the beauty of nature let me forget all exertions.
A few years later, I traveled across the mountain plateau with Jerome Blösser; our aim was to train for an arctic adventure. Challenges, however, are sometimes closer than one thinks. Just a few hours after our departure from Haukeliseter, the weather deteriorated, any contours disappeared in thick cloud, melting with the snow into one cohesive mass. Whiteout! It was no longer possible to distinguish above from below. Out of nowhere, I thought I could see a cairn and headed towards this summer landmark, when, suddenly, my legs gave way beneath me and I plummeted down. There was absolutely no way that I would have been able to see the chasm. The fall into the bottom-less depths seemed to last an eternity, and flashing through my mind was the question what I would hit. A nightmare scenario of sharp stones. However, after only fractions of a second, a slope, deeply covered in snow, caught me much softer than I had feared. I sorted out my limbs, saw that nothing was broken – neither my person nor the skis – and looked up. Right at that moment, Jerome reached the edge of the chasm. He had been behind me, keeping his eyes fixed on the points of his skis due to the head wind, and had not realized that I had gone down so quickly. When he finally saw me below himself, it was too late for him as well. He could not prevent himself from falling and also plunged into the ditch several meters deep. Like a grenade, he hit next to me. Apart from a broken pole on the pulk, however, we got away with no more than a fright. Almost a miracle. After the shock left us and we realized how lucky we had been, we succumbed to hysterical laughter. From then on we were much more careful, feeling our way across the Hardangervidda. Visibility was mostly bad, the sun only came out occasionally to bath the scenery in pale light.
On your own on the trail, carrying the responsibility for everything. Solo tours across the Hardangervidda are an enticing challenge, especially in the early winter months. The chances of not meeting another soul are excellent. The prospect of this sort of loneliness thrills me even more – to trek through the mountains totally independently is a sublime feeling. However, it requires experience. It is safest, if one knows what to do and what not to do. And not only when things get hairy, but as a precaution. This kind of knowledge has to be gleaned over many tours, and it makes sense to start small, steadily increasing the difficulties of the ventures. Then, when you know what you are doing, it becomes special. The two extremes, which are in any case far apart from each other, of unbearable cold, the grueling exertion of pulling the sleigh, the “fight with the elements” on the one hand, and the joy over a warming ray of sun, a chocolate bar at the right time, or, at times, the security of a hut on the other hand, are more intensive, if experienced alone.
The north-south crossing of the mountain plateau from Finse to Haukeliseter – or the other way – is a classic. You should plan at least eight days for the tour, this takes into account the possibility that you might have to sit out a bad weather day. The area is truly a white desert. Especially in the flatter, eastern part, the loneliness seems to extend beyond the horizon. Without any markings whatsoever, it can be difficult to find one’s way in the vast landscape. Only from the beginning of March onwards are there branches on some of the routes, which can point the ski tourer in the right direction, even during a rotten whiteout. You should inform yourself about these “Kvisteruter”, the marked tracks, beforehand, and take changes due to the weather or snow conditions into account when planning a route.
One thing I told myself during the stormy tours again and again was: “It could get even worse!” Thus, I’ve always reached my destination happy and very proud to have come to terms with nature, which is harsh here. And full of joy to have been allowed to feel so intensively.
Guest blogger: Martin Hülle
About Martin Hülle: More than 10 years ago, Martin Hülle (*1973) experienced his first ski tour across the Hardangervidda. Since then, he has been back repeatedly to visit the largest mountain plateau in Northern Europe. When traveling, his camera and notebook are his constant companions in his search for exciting stories. Photography and writing are a way of life for him – an opportunity to capture feelings, express them and share them with others.