Friday, June 26, 2015

Lyngen 2015: I'll ski that for sure!

After last year’s ski trip to northern Norway, I was left awed by the beauty of the area but unsatisfied. High avalanche danger stymied all possibility to ski anything close to 30 degrees. This year, we went to Lyngen in early May, and were treated to a week of some of the best ski mountaineering I’ve experienced. What follows is a summary of our trip.

Day 1: Fugldalsfjellet

Audun and I arrived in Tromsø to find our hosts, Yngve and Sanna, seven months expecting their first child. We were surprised that they hadn’t seen fit to tell us about it beforehand, but excited they still wanted to go skiing with us.

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I took this picture so Sanna can show her kid what a bada** mother she is!

It was a beautiful, sunny day, but windy on some aspects, so it took us a couple of tries (read: driving back and forth and gauging the wind in different valleys) before we finally settled on Fugldalsfjellet.

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The gang heads up the mountain.

Due to the advanced stage of pregnancy of our hostess, we only climbed the first 1200 vertical meters of the mountain, stopping at a shoulder 400 vertical below the summit for a long break.

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Sanna and Yngve relax in the sun at our highpoint on Fugldalsfjellet.

The steep flank we had skinned had melted slightly in the sun, making for good turns on the descent...

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Audun still hasn’t realized that skiing actually is supposed to happen on the snow.

…although it was a little rocky at the end.

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Less-than-optimal skiing conditions at the base of Fugldalsfjellet

Day 2: Blåtinden

The next day, we picked my sister Zoe, who goes to university in Tromsø, and headed for Blåtinden. 

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Zoe and Audun on the way up Blåtinden

We were hoping for similar conditions as the day before, and were elated to feel the sun warming the snow again, although there were some clouds across the fjord. A thousand vertical of fairly easy skiing brought us to a top with a magnificent view of Lyngen, and a really cool summit cairn.

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The summit cairn was hollow - you could sit inside it!

Unfortunately, it clouded over just as we got ready to descend. With the cold air temps, this was enough to freeze the partially melted snow, turning it into hard ice. Not the best descent of the trip, but still a nice ski.

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Audun above the fjord

Day 3: Tomastind

The next, it was just Audun and I. What with the low avalanche danger, we decided to try for a top in the Lakselv Massif. To access this massif, you have to climb up the imposing, massive Tomas Couloir. Every since I hear about this I’d wanted to do it, but I was just a little nervous. With the low avalanche danger and good weather, this was our chance.

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Let’s go up THERE!

We were able to skin up the first section of mountain before it got too steep and icy, and we put on our crampons for the first time during the trip.

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Audun below the Lakselv massif

What followed was a long, seemingly endless slog up the couloir. The snow was hard on the bottom but loose on top, and the steepness was such that skiing uphill without ski crampons was impossible. So we booted it, sinking 20 cm into the snow with each step. Audun broke trail, which may be the only reason I made it to the top - it was hard going!

According to our guide book, the couloir should have been no more than 35 degrees, but we measured it at 38-40 degrees on three separate occasions on our climb up. This is steep enough to make me slightly uncomfortable on the whole climb, and I was relieved to finally clamber over the lip onto the magical glacier in the center on the massif, aptly named the Heavenly Place of Peace.

The weather had started to turn, so we had a quick lunch before heading for the final 200 vertical to Tomastind. Store Lakselvstind, the largest peak in the massif, was a sheer wall behind us as we climbed upward.

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Audun, dwarfed by Store Lakselvstind. The Tomas couloir exits onto the lip in the left edge of the picture.

The clouds really came in as we booted the last section to the top of the mountain. Due to a tricky, exposed move, I turned a few meters below the summit while Audun went all the way to the top. Apparently I wasn’t missing out on much of a view.

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Audun in Tomas couloir

The ski down was a struggle; I was too tense to have fun the couloir. I didn’t want to slide or loose control, so I did extremely carefuly, slow turns, skittering on the hard layer below the soft surface snow and clenching my thigh muscles tight with each turn. I was obeying the primary rule of skiing: go with gravity! Audun seemed to be enjoying himself more, however.

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“Jump off that rock and I’ll take a picture!"

I was exhausted and elated at the end of the day. We had done it! We had conquered the Tomas couloir!

Day 4: Rest day 

We were pretty tired after the Tomas couloir, and had a halfhearted attempt on Lille Piggtind before deciding to take a rest day. 

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Our high point of the day, just enjoying the sun and the view

We lounged around our campsite, feeling slightly guilty that we were wasting such good weather but quietly knowing we would need this rest for what was coming.

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Audun at what might possibly be the world’s most beautiful campsite by the fjord.

Late that evening, our friends Vibeke and David arrived from Oslo. They were stoked and wanted to do a big day tomorrow if the weather allowed.

Day 5: Holmbuktind

We had our sights set on Jiekkevarri, the tallest mountain on the Lyngen penninsula. It’s light out all the time in northern Norway at this time of year, so we were lazy and got a late start by mountaineering standards. The lower part of the route weaved through a maze of partially exposed rocky forest; it wouldn’t be long until this section was no longer skiable.

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Audun, David and Vibeke at the base of the climb.

The weather had stayed just as beautiful as the day before, and I was happy I had rested and had legs to climb.

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David leads the group into the bowl below Holmbuktind. It was sweltering in this bowl, and all of us were down to the bare minimum of clothes.

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We had to strap our skis on our packs for the climb up from the bowl to the ridge that lead to the top of Holmbuktind.

It was a long way to the top of Holmbuktind, the neighboring peak that you essentially have to pass over on the main route to Jiekkevarri. The finally stretch to the top was on an exposed ridge with dropped to a valley far below on either side.

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Almost there! You just have to get across that steep, corniced piece of ridge!

On top of Holmbuktind, we looked over at Jiekkevarri and considered our options.

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Vibeke and David arriving at the top of Holmbuktind. Jiekkevarri is the dome in the far right of the picture; the dome in center is a peak called Kveita.

The climb to Jiekkevarri wasn’t very appealing; a short ski downhill, before a steep headwall and then a long slog on a flat glacier. In the end, we decided that 1600 vertical meters was actually enough for one day and enjoy the incredible view around us before heading down.

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Don’t fall!

I really enjoyed the ski down, cruising through turns instead of clenching the way I had in the day before.

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Vibeke and David descending from Holmbuktind

Shadows had started to set in on the slopes as we skied down and we were glad we had turned; if we had waited any longer, the snow might have hardened like on Blåtinden!

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Me in action

Day 6: Rasmustind

The next day, Dad flew in from Trondheim, and he and Zoe met Vibeke, David, Audun and I at the base of Rasmustind. Zoe and Dad had taken a wrong turn on the way, and we were a little grumpy by the time they arrived. The weather was still beautiful though, so everyone was back to enjoying life by the time we got our skins on and headed out.

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Zoe and Dad with the Lakselv massif in the background.

The clouds started to come in on some of the neighboring peaks, but mostly held off on Rasmustind.

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Clouds on Durmålstind but sun on David, Dad and Zoe!

The final 300 vertical meters to the summit were a steep flank of 30-35 degrees. The snow was a bit hard and I was happy there were some old tracks to give me purchase.

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David and Vibeke on the summit cairn of Rasmustind.

The ski down wasn’t half bad, although the conditions were variable and challenging.

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Looking back at our tracks from the top - sweet!

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Zoe on the descent

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Dad in the shadow of Rasmustind - our route went up the flank behind the ridge in the left of the picture.

Day 7: Store Hollendaren

For our final day, we decided to try for a classic on Kvaløya, one of the big islands that surrounds Tromsø. Some friends of Vibeke and David had skied it the day before and reported a steep, ice pitch at the beginning of the climb. Unfortunately, Audun, Zoe, Dad and I didn’t get this information until arriving at the base on the mountain… with no crampons.

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Icy ascent

There was just enough old bootmarks in the snow that we could get up this first steep pitch. I wished I had crampons though. Had there been any more truly icy patches we wouldn’t have made it up. Next time I’ll remember to through my crampons in the car, even if I don’t think I need them.

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More booting below majestic mountains.

The intermittent clouds turned into thick fog as we climbed onto the summit glacier.

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Dad and Zoe on the summit glacier

There were just enough gaps to allow us passage to the top, although I was glad there were at least 3 gps watches making tracks in our little group. The top of Store Hollendaren formed a weather divide, with fog on the glacier we had skinned up and sun on the steep cliff and fjord on the back side of the mountain.

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Audun, Vibeke and David with the fjord 1000 meters below in sun in the background.

The weather opened up slightly on the ski down, yielding some good cruising on the way down the glacier.

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Zoe on the way down Store Hollendaren

Upon chatting with some other skiers, we discovered there was an alternative to skiing the icy slope we had clambered up at the begining, in the form of a couloir shrouded by two rock walls. It was a little daunting, but we decided it would be better than the alternative and made our way down it one-by-one.

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David (foreground) and Dad (background) descend the final couloir on Store Hollendaren.

After over 8000 vertical meters in a week, my legs were happy to get on the plane home. My heart, however, is very much stuck in the beautiful mountains of Lyngen. I’ll be back!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Monday, June 22, 2015

Painful revenge: Nordmarka Skogsmaraton 2015

Last Saturday, I ran Nordmarka Skogsmaraton (“Nordmarka Forest Marathon”) for the second time. I have really mixed feelings about how it went. On one hand, I creamed my previous time. On the other hand, the race was far from effortless and closer to a struggle the whole way.

I started to taper two weeks ago. I dedicated around 18 weeks of training to this marathon, and the training went pretty well. I had a couple of setbacks when I got sick, felt an injury coming on, or had so much to do I didn’t have energy to complete of the workouts. Still, I felt like I had trained well. The paces I had trained at would indicate the ability to run a 3:40 marathon - if it was flat. Nordmarka Skogsmaraton is not flat. So I figured 3:50 could be realistic, and decided I would try to pace for that.

The last week before the race, I felt pretty lethargic. I wasn’t nervous, but I felt like I just wanted the race day to come and all the time in between was just waiting. By race morning my nerves came, and that felt good too - it’s nice to be excited before a race! The start wasn’t until 11 am, but Dad and I travelled to the arena early to pick our bibs. The start arena was in a slightly different place than last time, on an Astroturf soccer pitch. It was sunny and nice out, and racers lounged around on the soccer pitch, relaxing and waiting.

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Pre-race nap.

I had a short warm up jog, and fiddled around until it was time to line up for the started. I lined up near the back, not wanting to get caught up in a starting surge. This turned out not to be a problem; the number of runners combined with the limited width of the course kept me running slow for the first kilometer.

Dad start

After the first kilometer, the crowd started to disperse, and I started to watch my pace. I tried to run at my predetermined pace, but my heart rate jumped up - way too far up. I felt slightly confused and not a little deflated. With all of the training I’ve been doing, 5:30 /km pace (which I was trying to hit) should not be this hard! What was wrong? 

In hindsight, the first 15 km of the course are all gradually uphill, and I probably freaked out too much. My heart rate was probably jumpy due to race nerves, and I should have just ignored it and just focused on running. Looking at my heart rate being that high, I convinced myself there must be something horribly wrong. I must be having a bad day, I told myself, which of course is the exact opposite of what one should be telling one’s self.

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Although probably no more than 20 C, it felt really hot out. (Well, in my defense, it’s been 5 degrees and rainy all spring in Trondheim. I’m not used to the heat at all!) At the first aid station, I dumped a cup of water on my head and stomped on. I basically spent the first 15 km trying to convince myself not to quit. Don’t be a whiny baby, I thought, just because you aren’t hitting the exact pace you want doesn’t mean you can’t finish.

I kept waiting for the magical endurance flow to kick in - that feeling that you’ve found the perfect pace, that you could run like this forever, that you are just loving life. My contemplations in boredom were interrupted by a man, telling me I was running strong. “Thanks!” I answered, “I don’t really feel like it though.” He told me he was struggling with an Achilles injury that he hoped wouldn’t flare up. At least I’m not injured, I thought, Actually, I feel pretty fine. No good excuses to quit. I was not having fun.

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This is my ‘actually I kind of want to quit’ face.

After about 15 km, the course does an out-and-back. As I ran the first stretch of the out-and-back, I saw the race leaders running towards me. They were running hard, and it didn’t look like they were having fun either. It was somehow inspiring to see that it wasn’t easy for them either. I decided I would not quit; I would adjust my goal from 3:50 to breaking 4 hours. At the speed I was going, this was still realistic. I passed the half-marathon point in 1:58.

The three kilometers between the half-marathon point and the aid station Kikut were the high point of the race for me. This was the only time when I really found like I found my legs.

And then came the Hill of Death. Three kilometers of pure uphill, between kilometers 25 and 29. The grade was never steep; according to my GPS date we only gained 100 vertical meters in these three kilometers. The evilness in this hill is that it is so gentle it looks like you are running flat, but steep enough that you can’t run very fast. I got passed by several people, and was feeling super demotivated. Then a group of 5 people chugged by me, two girls and three boys. I decided I would not let these guys go. It was actually surprising how easy it was to keep the group’s faster pace once I got going. The group crested over the top and broke up on the downhill.

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Some people managed to muster more enthusiasm for the camera than I did!

Now my legs were starting to hurt. I forced down another gel, thinking about the strange magic that allows one to keep moving through pain. The next section of the race was technical trail; I struggled to keep up with the two women I had been following on the uphills, but I flew by them on the technical downhills. When the course transitioned back onto dirt roads, I tried to keep my pace up, hoping I could keep the gap I had put on the two women behind me. They caught up, but I didn’t let them out of my sight.

The course started to do big, painful rollers, and many people around me were walking the uphills. I thought about walking too, when all of a sudden I saw Dad. I was catching up! I immediately resolved not to walk the uphills. 

Catching dad

Luckily there was a photographer snapping pictures right before I passed Dad. There I am on the left, preparing to attack!

The course rolled through Ullevålseter at around 35 km, and I was slowly drawing closer to Dad. On a steep hill just past Ullevålseter, I saw my opportunity and jogged past him. “It all goes numb eventually!” I joked. He was moving slowly, and had definitely met the wall. I had made up a 5 minute deficit on him in the last 14 km, mostly due to him slowing down.

I chatted with another woman as I tried to keep my momentum going, and we jogged past a man with enormous hair, no shirt and long tights right behind a woman pushing a baby carriage. As we passed them I did a double take, realizing it was the explorers Aleksander Gamme and Cecilie Skog. I almost went all fan girl and asked for a picture again, but this was not the time for taking pictures. I had less than 5 km to go, and I needed to beat the 4 hour mark.

After a while I let the woman I was chatting with go and with two kilometers to the finish, another woman passed me. I was devoid of all competitive instinct, thinking that I could not possibly go harder. Letting these two women go pushed me out of the top twenty - maybe if I had known that I would have found the legs to give chase!

As I round the final stretch and saw the finish line a couple hundred meters away, I saw the clock tick to 3:59. I had less than a minute to cross the line, and I found I had a little speed left in my legs after all.

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Almost at the finish line!

The loudspeaker announced that I was the last person to cross the finish line in under 4 hours, coming in 22nd out of 105 women. It had been a hot day, and the winners’ time were several minutes slower than the year before. 

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Dad at the finish line. Team Strazilchek!

Dad finished 3 minutes behind me, and 5 minutes slower than his 2012 time. He was a little disappointed, but we both admitted that maybe our goals had been a little ambitious. Cecilie Skog and Aleksander Gamme, who had started two hours before the main race in the group for people planning to take more than 6 hours, finished in 6:10 minutes, winning the ‘pushing-a-baby-carriage’ class.

And now: recovery, and a trip to Scotland before I start training for UltraVasan 90 km in August!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Running and skiing and stuff

Due to a sudden case of PhD-exam-itis I have a backlog of photos and stories from skiing in Lyngen in early May that you can look forward reading in the next couple weeks. In the mean time, here’s a quick round-up of what I’ve been up to, despite having exams.

Marathon training is a fine balance of enjoyment and discipline. Since February, I’ve been training for Nordmarka Skogsmaraton, which will take place on June 20. I have been faithfully following a marathon training plan for the first time in my life, but a few weeks ago the stress of exams overwhelmed me and I was forced to relax. I came down with a bad cold, I had an icky twinge in my calf, and I decided settle back down into running just for fun.


A few weeks ago, while visiting my boyfriend’s family in beautiful Sunnmøre, I finally completed a running loop I’ve been mean to do for a long time. I climbed from the village of Norddal, up and over the mountains that rise steeply from the sea and over to the neighbouring village of Eidsdal. The loop was closed by running along the fjord back to Norddal (Strava track here).

Idyllic much?

For the first time in months, I forgot about hitting a certain pace or heart rate. I saw a side trail, and instead of mentally saving it for some other time, I powerhiked up the steep trail and enjoyed the view. Then I bombed down the switchbacks to Eidsdal like I had stolen something. Twenty kilometers later, I had finally remembered all the things I love about running.

On top of a mountain, with the valley floor far below. As it should be!

The next week, Dad and I put in a slow 30 km long run through the hills of Bymarka, running for nearly three and a half hours and climbing over 800 vertical meters (Strava track here). Reaching the 30 km barrier seemed important to me somehow, like if I ran 30 km then I would ready for the marathon. Now I feel like I’ve done the speed work, and the endurance work. The rest will be decided on the race day.
Dad surveys the dam at Skjelbreia on our long run.
Then just last week my friend Ivar challenged me to sign up for a trail race, Trondheimsløpet. The course was on my local trails, and the start a 5 minute walk from my house, so I said yes. How hard could 13 km be?
Excited at the beginning of the race. Dad is behind me in the baseball cap.
The race was excellent. I started in the back of the field, as has become my habit, and slowing picked off the people who started too hard. I duelled it out with another girl, whose long, blond braid I watched swing back and forth directly in front of me for most of the race. I would catch her in the technical and muddy sections, where I was at home, only to be caught on the flat sections with a speed I could not match. She beat me by 40 seconds in the end, and we came in 5th and 6th out of 21 women overall (Strava track here). I felt like I was able to put in a good, hard effort without overdoing it. My only regret was not taping my shoelaces into a bundle before the race; one of them came untied during the race and I lost precious seconds retying it.

Last Friday was Dad’s birthday, and we celebrated it by driving to Trollstigen, a road over a mountain pass that allows access to snow even this late in the season. My sister Zoe flew down from Tromsø to join us. The weather was not optimal, so we decided to ski the short but classic peak Alnestind. The snow was really wet and heavy, and a number of wet avalanches had gone in the area. It rained for a while on the way up, and it felt pretty dismal to be out skiing in the rain. 

Beautiful views of ‘the Bishop’ mountain on Trollstigen even in the gloomy, wet weather.
A large cornice lurked on a ridge above the uphill ski track. Blocks of snow falling from the cornice had already triggered at least one avalanche, whose path we could see. We hustled up, trying to get out of the danger zone as quickly as possibly. Then the sun came out, and then the beautiful view made up for the injustice of rain while skiing. 

Dad and Zoe on the steepest part of the ski up Alnestind. Note the avalanche paths in the background.
The snow was heavy and made for slow skiing on the way down. Just after I took the photo below, another huge block cleaved off the cornice.
Dad free his heel. I believe his mind has followed.
If I had had my wits about me, I would have taken more pictures of the avalanche. It was big enough to be pretty scary, and I was pretty dumbstruck. As it were, I only got this one:

That "HOLY S*** - we were right below there!” moment.
We were immensely happy we hadn’t been standing below the cornice it fell, as it swept right over our uphill tracks. Which begs the question, did we make the wrong decision in skiing under the cornice at all? I think so. We could just as well have been standing below it - you can’t predict when a cornice will collapse!

Zoe measuring the snow bank along the Trollstigen road, with ‘the King’ and ‘the Bishop’ mountains majestically in the background.
The sun was still out and the day not yet over, so Dad and I decided to run a trail called Kløvstien from the valley bottom to the top of Trollstigen pass. It ended up being mostly power hiking, as the trail was wet and rocky. I have driven the Trollstigen road many times, but never hiked up the path the winds near it. It was a completely different experience than driving and it definitely made me appreciate the work that went into building a road up that thing!

Are you ready to get WET? One of the rougher sections of Kløvstien.
The weather forecast was even worse for Sunday, so we planed a short hike before the long drive home. The well-worn trail up Nesaksla in Åndalsnes provides a spectacular view of the town below and the surrounding mountains. Since my last hike there three years ago, they’ve built stone steps into the steep mountainside and a breath-taking viewing platform.

Zoe on the stone staircase, with Åndalsnes spread out below.
Seven hundred vertical meters in 2.5 kilometers is no joke, even for my running legs. Once again, I was stunned by what Romsdalen offers in the way of mountains and views. In my opinion, the Romsdalen area is right up there with Lyngen for the most beautiful areas in Norway. We’ll see what you think once I’ve written my next post about spring skiing in Lyngen - stay tuned!

Dad on the viewing platform. The end is see-through and you look straight down on the treetops below - kind of disconcerting!

- The Wild Bazilchuk