My Turn To Suffer

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Ben: One of my must-do's in Norway was to hike to a nice overlook over one of the fjords. Gudvangen has supposed easy to access to one such hike – Bakkanosi Peak. The hike was a little more than Bree was comfortable completing on her aching hip so she sent me to the peak solo, while she hung around town and went down to the path by the water.

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The first step of the hike though was to get to the trailhead. The town the hike departs from – Jordalen – was only 15 km from our campsite. The problem was that it was first back up the canyon we coasted down yesterday, and secondly up a steep, not-quite-paved road over 1,000 feet to the small collection of farms which make up the town.

With my bag packed with all of my cold weather gear, rain jackets, food, and camera I set off back up the canyon. With only 3 or 4 km to go, though, I had a problem. A huge hole in the side of the mountain swallowed the road – and I had no light. I attempted first to brave it, hoping that light could be seen after rounding the bend in the tunnel. No dice. Attempt 2 used the light on our GPS to light road. Not enough light to fill the huge expanse and light the road. Attempt number 3 was to hide my bike in the trees outside the tunnel entrance and attempt to pick my way around the rockslide on the outside of the tunnel – across the steep mountain and through the thick brush.

Attempt number three also failed, resulting in a bruised ankle and few cuts as a result of rocks shifting and branches whipping back as I attempted to swim through the mass of the trees. I was defeated – so back to camp I went.

Back at camp I explained the predicament to Bree. She encouraged me to try again (with a light), so we packed a head and taillight into my bag which was already exploding with cold weather gear and I set off again. This time, however, my legs groaned with fatigue in spite of the gentle grade of the canyon.

As I reached the tunnel, I switched on the headlight only to note that the batteries were almost dead. Not wanting to take any chances, the only option was to swap them with my tail-light batteries, as the tail-light needs far less power than our blinding headlights. It took a few tries to find a rock that wouldn't break, but eventually I found one that was both sharp enough and strong enough to pry the taillight open so I could swap the cells.

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I entered the abyss, my tiny light swallowed by the darkness – thankfully this time the hard packed pothole ridden road was illuminated at least enough that I could continue. This was one of the more nerve-wracking things I have ever done. The tunnel went on FOREVER (read: about 700 meters) – and it was just me and the darkness. I have never been so happy to see the light of day as I was after those excruciatingly long minutes.

What relief I felt at the exit of the tunnel was short lived, because immediately the road climbed steeply up the side of the cliff, with a sharp dropoff to my right revealing a tumbling river frantically racing to the bottom of the valley. My legs were shot by this point, and with every stroke my front wheel lifted just a little. I hate to admit that I stopped to rest twice.

At the end of the steep pitch was yet another tunnel. I repeated the whole slightly traumatizing experience again – except this time the tunnel was steep. I raced up the incline in an attempt to conserve battery as I was nervous about having enough power for the descent – but finally I made it out yet again – this time at the (relative) top of the climb. Success!

The road climbed gently now through the narrow valley filled with green pasture and only a handful of farmhouses. It didn't take long to find the road at which the hike began.

The first part of the hike followed a road with steep switchbacks cutting through a light wood exploding with short, green grass and ferns all fighting for space. The greenery was accentuated by small patches of yellow and purple wildflowers which lined the road. It was absolutely breathtaking.

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I made quick progress up the base of a wide, lonely valley filled with alpine tundra. A handful of building used for summer grazing stood alone in the wide expanse. After passing the buildings I was on my own. No trails, no people, no wildlife to be seen except for a single bird, and no sounds of traffic or anything else except for the trickle of the river and dull roar of the waterfalls highlighting the distant walls of the valley. I made quick progress through the short brush, quickly giving up on keeping my feet dry as I made my way through marshes concealed by red, yellow, orange, and green flora.

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As I made my way toward the far end of the valley it was clear that I would have to climb over a saddle alongside a pseudo-waterfall and up to the peak that was now quickly collecting heavy clouds. I was very well aware that the views would probably not be what I was hoping for, but I with only a few kilometers to go I decided to press forward so that I could at least say I finished my hike.

The easy going became rough as I climbed the steep slopes, the vegetation slowly giving way to moss which soon gave way to nothing more than piles of rocks. The clouds were becoming thick and visibility was low, but I kept pressing on. I passed a few glacial lakes fed by large, ominous drifts of snow, protected by the thick clouds from the low, cool but ever prevalent sun.

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After crossing a few such snow banks I crested the top. The magnificent views of the Naerofjord were nowhere to be found in the dark, soupy clouds. As I ate lunch I began to feel my core temperature dropping and the wind picking up to a howl. As the cold wind ripped across the peak I began to realize that this was probably not a safe place to be. With the cold setting in I began to feel at risk of hypothermia, so I cut my wait for the clouds to clear for a glimpse of the fjord thousands of feet below and made a straight line down the mountain.

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The visibility of no more than 50 feet, snowbanks cutting off any straight line I might have taken and lack of a trail made the top particularly disorienting. Thankfully I had the GPS, which allowed me to retrace my steps. A really cold rain had also picked up and everything was soaked. My hike back was fast and committed, in an attempt to keep my core temperature stable and escape the wind at the top.

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I made really good time back to the bike – completely soaked and frozen after which I made my way back down through the valley, then down the switchbacks to Jordalen, through the dark tunnels (still frightening), and finally down the cold, rainy highway back to camp.

Bree: Having watched the rain fall all afternoon, I was terribly worried about how Ben's hike might be going. We're desert dwellers and frankly, not real hikers and we don't have really excellent rain gear. When he finally arrived (nearly 90 minutes before I expected him-he's fast!) he was completely drenched and cold, but all smiles.

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6 Responses

  1. Kim says:

    The tunnels sound terrifying! Sounds like there was enough of a payoff, though. Did it qualify to be in the “fearing for my life” category?

  2. Leslie says:

    Ben, when you are freaked out I don’t know what condition I would be in. Good job persevering!

  3. Debbie says:

    What an adventure! So glad you made it back safely!

  4. Kirk says:

    That story is exactly why this bike touring business is for kids. Any old person (me) would have become lost, disoriented, and finally a Popsicle. My heirs would have been able to enjoy the view I captured on my camera. Amazing pics. Good job Sir Edmund Hillary!

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