DofE 2019

Norway Gold, 1st Sept 2019

The group pressed their noses against the plate glass windows of the departure lounge at Stanstead airport and eyed the two prop Wideroe plane with a mixture of distrust and disbelief, was this really our plane ? had we even flown in one of these before ? how many people could it take.

Its a short comfortable and relatively cheap hop to Kristiansand from Stanstead, just over 90mins ground to ground, a flight up the east coast, a quick crossing of the north sea, et voila, Norway.  Neither shaken or stirred we spilled out into the overcast and somewhat damp fresh air of Scandanavia. Brian, our in-country agent was waiting for us in the airport, he magicked up a coach and we were on our way with usual Scandinavian efficiency to Evje, our base for the expedition.

As we drove north the sky cleared, blue appeared amongst the grey, the forests and lakes that lined the road sparkled with a million watery diamonds of reflected sunshine, With a pneumatic hiss we were deposited in our palatial campsite under a cerulean evening sky, tents were erected, gear stowed and participants scattered towards the town and the various eating establishments therein.

Ther campsite in Evje, complete with wet clothes

The campsite in Evje, next to the river.

We woke to the growling of the river as it tumbled over the weir next to the campsite, Jude and Kim were already up organising the boats for a morning of skills refreshing. Breakfasted and lifejacketed the groups were tumbled into the water, rafted together and made to go through all the likely emergency scenarios involved in our paddling phase of the expedition.

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Canoe safety training

An afternoon of briefings, kit checking, last minute kit  purchasing and burger eating followed, then, after another short sleep the coach once again arrived, on time and with another efficient pneumatic hiss we were on our way north with rucksacks trimmed and packed.

expedfition briefing

Expedition Briefings

Once again we trundled at a leisurely pace along the valley floor, through the unending forests that lined the steep mountainous sides of the fjord. Lovely little alpine type houses appeared now and again, freshly painted amongst beautifully manicured grass fields, everything looked clean, the houses, the roads, the trees even the sky, maybe its the lack of atmospheric pollution, whatever, Norway is just so fresh to the UK town and city accustomed eye.

The coach left the valley and quickly climbed up a narrow and twisting road, we left the trees behind and entered a barren land of stunted junipers and winter ice and snow scoured granite mushroom rocks. “This is it” the driver advised as we pulled into one of the passing places on the single track road, a brisk and fresh wind pushed us into activity as we stepped out of the air conditioned luxury we collected rucksacks and the teams lined up in the heather for a traditional team picture before we left them to it.

Ross and Andy

Ross and Andy checking maps in the Setesdal

I went on ahead of the groups who were split up by thirty or so mins, Jude and Kim swept up behind them, keeping a close eye on the proceedings through binoculars and line of sight remote supervision. thirty mins in and I was faced with the first river crossing, relatively benign but it forced a stop and either a paddle or a donning of gaiters, I opted for the gaiters and a quick paddle/wade across. The ground was by varying degrees boggy and soft or rocky and rough, the path ( generously named ) wound its way between bogs, heather and granite outcrops. The route we were following is a winter ski route between huts, the ground here is covered by snow for a good six months of the year, to mark the route stones are placed at irregular intervals marked with a red T. It is folly to try and follow the markers without reference to the map ( the only map available is a 1:50000 ) as losing sight of the markers and any semblance of the path without knowing where you are will place you in a fair degree of trouble. However we were here at the end of the season, the summer had been quite wet and a few people crossing the plateau before us had left the path reasonably visible in places.

After five hours I had had enough, constantly watching foot placements, constant focus on my navigation, looking for markers, constantly winding up and down through the rough ground had tired me out, I was glad to get to the pre arranged camping area, set up my tent for the night on the only softish and flatish bit of ground I could find and settle down and await the arrival of the groups who were not that far behind.

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Our first nights campsite

They arrived and were just a tad discombobulated by the lack of lush flat springy grass, improvise was the message and knowing they were roughly where they supposed to be we left them for the night out of sight but not that far away from where we were camped.

Next day dawned gradually, brightening to another blue wide open sky, we cooked breakfast, drank coffee and packed up, more of the previous days activities followed, navigating. focussing, gazing at wonder at the wide open spaces and skies, not another person was seen. I stopped to let one of the groups overtake me and let the second group catch up with me. I left them resting and wandered on after the first group, enjoying my solitude.

In the setesdal mnts

One of the teams under the massive sky of the Setesdal Mnts

The sound of rushing water crashed into the silence, I dropped down into a gully to find a bit of a torrent rushing between water worn boulders, I was grateful that Jude and the first group had stopped to help me cross. It wasn’t desperate but falling in on your own with no-one to assist could have been dangerous. A quick leap of faith with a helping hand on the other side saw me across safely. We waited for the second group to assist in their crossing and then wandered on.

Norway Inset

The river crossing

By the end of the day we had crossed the plateau and were back below the tree line, camp that night was where we could find space between the trees. I lay in my tent and enjoyed the utter silence of the forest that surrounded me, sleep came quickly and was profound, there is nothing like a bed of heather and the light of the stars to lull a tired and contented body and mind to sleep.

Next day took us down and out of the mountains to pick up the boats and start phase two of the trip, paddling the fjord. The boats were pre placed by Brian for our trip down the fjord, we repacked kit, swapped ruscksacks for PFD’s and dry sacks, boots for sandals, tired legs for fresh arms and we were off. By evening we were comfortably ensconced in a real campsite ( albeit it was closed ), it had flat ground, short grass, a toilet !! and a bit of a mosquito problem, but hey ho, civilisation !!

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Approaching our first nights camp on the fjord.

The next two days took us down the fjord in beautiful weather, the water was flat, the wind was low, the sun shone ( more of a problem than a comfort really ), the incredible scenery drifted by at a leisurely pace.

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Still water.

We stopped to visit the graves of WW2 pilots who crashed and were buried in the local cemetery

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and the Moose farm where Ross made special friends with one of the inhabitants.

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Man meets Moose

The campsites were idyllic, life was good indeed, all too soon we were back in Evje, back in civilisation listening to cars on the road, eating burgers and drinking Coke.

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A fine spot for dinner.

The organised and punctual pneumatic hiss of the morning coach, bang on time as always, awoke me to the fact that I was on my way home. It had been easy but such is the feeling when all the plans you have laid, all the prep that you and the team have done comes together and works seamlessly, it flows, it is easy.

Camping on the Beach

Camping on the beach, it just does not get any better than this.

This really had been an awesome trip, as we left the sky darkened and the rain started, I would like to claim I had organised that as well but that would be a stretch of the truth.