Sunday, May 10, 2015

Race report: Holmenkollstafetten

Holmenkollstafetten (“the Holmenkoll Relay”) is the largest relay race in the world. It is a pure celebration of running, a day when everyone in Oslo seems to either be running a leg or two, or cheering on friends and family, or both. The relay has 15 legs, varying in length from 600 meters to almost 3 km. Holmenkollstafetten is truly special in the degree that it includes runners of all abilities. The best teams are elite runners. Many companies typically also race as a team, with notorious rivalries between the large consulting firms.

Last year, I raced two legs of Holmenkollstafetten on the team of the research institute where I was writing my master’s degree. Then someone told me that you could sign up for the whole relay alone, and it was settled. At 18.7 km total, the Holmenkollstafetten provided a great opportunity to check out my shape towards Nordmarka Skogsmaraton. Besides, when someone asks you what leg you ran, nothing beats saying, “All of them!"

I had a hard run on Wednesday, and given that the race was on Saturday, I wasn’t extremely well rested. There is also a big hill in Holmenkollstafetten (up to Holmenkollen!), and so I tried to set my expectations accordingly. I hoped to finish in around 1:45, and I made a pacing strategy for the different sections of the race: first flat, then hilly, then mostly downhill for the last half.

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The obligatory ‘what-I-wore’ photo. Trusty Mizuno Wave Rider 17’s, Garmin Forerunner 220, Helly Hansen long-sleeved shirt and old Lycra Nike shorts. The red bib means I’m running in the singles class.

Holmenkollstafetten starts at Bislett Stadium, the fabled host of thee 1952 Olympic Games, renovated in 2005 to meet modern standards. It is an enormous, formidable track. The race starts in many waves, as there are around 3000 teams racing. The ‘single’ class starts right after the elite women and just before the elite men. I spent 20 minutes warm-up on the indoor track before heading onto the field to watch the fast women start.

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This is what fast looks like!

Just 10 minutes later I was toeing the line that the elite women had just sped off from. Strange, I thought, how nervous I had been earlier in the day. I had paced around, checked the weather, obsessed about how much and what to eat, and here I was and all I could think was Let’s do this.

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Pre-race selfie. The important thing, as we all know, is to have fast-looking shades.

I started towards the back of the pack. I would rather start too slow and be able catch people at the end. The first kilometer or so was a blur of red track, three laps, passing a couple of people and finally locking in on a woman who was going just about the right speed. By the time we exited the stadium, the lead pack was out of sight.

Outside, the streets of Oslo were crawling with people. I settled into a comfortably hard pace, and started people watching. A few minutes later, I glanced at my watch and was startled at how high my heart rate was. This couldn’t possibly be sustainably for 18+ kilometers?! I thought about slowing down, but my legs were very happy at the pace they were going. Well, I thought, you will pay if you blow up in 5 k!

Just before the University, the most of the elite men blew by me. It was pretty awesome to watch. Lanky men, booking it as hard as the could, arms pumping, one hand clutching their relay baton.

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Smile for the camera. Photo by Synne

The course weaved back and forth, doing small rollers, until I barely knew where I was. (Not that I can claim to know Oslo particularly well, with the exception of the forest!) I was parched, and keep a sharp eye open for the aid station. A good thing too - it was hidden behind a mass of people waiting at an exchange! I thankfully grabbed a glass of water, although I found myself wishing that they offered something with a little sugar. Maybe I should have stuck a gel in my shorts?

I kept thinking that there would be big hills soon, and my pace would have to drop. The ‘big hills' never came, and all of a sudden I was at the base of Besserud. Besserud the leg of the relay notorious for being the most difficult, and is the place where most teams place their best runners. It is a big, relentless hill, but luckily that was one of the legs I ran last year, so I was familiar with this particular animal.

Just like bicycling, I thought, Just get into your low gear and pedal slowly up the hill. A little ways up the hill, I saw Audun warming up and waved. (He, of course, would be running Bessrud for his company). He jogged over and ran next to me for a few hundred meters, encouraging me: “You’ve got this! Good job!” After passing seeing so many people with their own cheerleading squads in the form of family or friends, I was glad to finally find mine.

 

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Up Besserud, bright red face to match my shirt.

There was a flat part, and then more hill, and then all of a sudden I was at the top, home free! It was all downhill from here. I was excited and hit the first stretch of steep downhill too fast, before I reigned it back. At the next relay exchange I saw my friend David, and I got another personal cheerleader.

The was a long, boring stretch with nearly no people, and then I started to look at my watch, realizing how fast I was really going. If I can just run the last 5 k in 25 minutes, I calculated, I can finish in 1:35 - a full 10 minutes faster than my goal! So with 5 kilometers left I started to monitor my pace more closely, and everything started to hurt. There was a moderate uphill, and my pace rose to above 5:10 /km - too slow! But I kept going strong, and reigned in the seconds. With 2 kilometers to go, I knocked it up one more gear, and started to pass a few people with the telltale red numbers (people running in my category!). My slower pace at the beginning of the race was finally paying off.

All of a sudden I rounded a corner and enter Bislett stadium again, ready for one final lap (as punishment? I found myself thinking). I had been going hard for a long time now, and I wanted to get this over with. I passed one more guy in the singles category before sprinting for the finish. 1:35:15. I felt so fast, like a superhero!

The prize for finishing all of the relay legs alone was this shiny plaque:

Shiny plaque

If that was a test of how my training is going, I would say I passed with flying colors. Nordmarka Skogsmarathon, here I come - only 5 weeks to go! 

Strava data here

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Monday, April 27, 2015

Race report: Fjellseterløpet

Last Wednesday evening, I ran Fjellseterløpet, a 8 km uphill race gaining 440 vertical meters here in Trondheim, Norway. I consider this race to be a very revealing test of what kind of shape I’m in. For this very reason, I was extremely nervous before the race. I have been training hard since February (more about that at the end of this post), and I thus expected to run much faster compared to the two previous times I’ve run this event (both before the inception of this blog).

Due to their interconnection, this post will be divided into two parts: the first about running the Fjellseterløpet, the second about what I’ve really been up to since February!

Fjellseterløppet: Pain in the rain

I got a text message from dad, whom I had convinced to sign up, the day before the race. “Have you looked at the weather forecast?” he asked. I had not, so I took the opportunity to do so. It was awful. This year’s Fjellseterløpet would be very cold, wet and windy indeed, not exactly the optimal conditions for setting PRs.

It was already drizzling and cold at the start area, but the bus carrying bags to the finish left early, so I had to ditch my rain jacket. Masses of people jogged around, trying to keep their muscles in some semblance of warmth. I saw many familiar faces: Sigmund, who would be duelling it out Audun like they did on the way up Togga, and Ivar, who would sprint up the hill miles ahead of me as usual.

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Dad just realized he has to take off his rain suit to run the race

The crowd started to assemble around the starting line, and I followed suit. I was somewhere in the middle, not sure if the group around me would be too fast or too slow. I saw another familiar face, Eirik, waved, and we started chatting.

“I was just back there, warming up with Petter Northug,” Eirik claimed casually.

“Wait, Petter Northug is racing?!"

“Yes."

Eirik is somewhat of a joker, so I thought he was joking “No, he’s not!” I exclaimed.

“Yes, he is!” 

We didn’t have time to argue about the fine details of the matter, because even though I didn’t hear the start gun go off, the mass of 600 people started moving, and I started my watch. We were off.

I quickly decided that the masses of people around me were moving too slowly. This was, after, the only flat kilometer on the course. I started weaving and dodging and moving forward until I felt like I was going fast enough, loosing dad in the process. Oh well, I thought, he’ll surely catch me on the hill. 

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The Fjellseterløpet course profile. Does this look like your kind of fun?

The start of the hill goes up Breidablikkveien, a steep road that I bike home from work nearly every day. I knew these first two kilometers of hill were the steepest part of the race, and I was determined not to blow up. My plan was simply to keep my heart rate at a steady value and not let myself get carried away by the race. Easier said than done. People will passing me left and right, included the aforementioned Eirik. I kept expecting dad to show up, and even glanced over my shoulder a couple of times. Stop it! I scolded myself, Just run your own race.

It rained steadily as I chugged up the hill, and the light headband I wore grew soggy and started to slide down. I crested up over Byåsen Butikksenter (a local shopping center), noting my time: 16 minutes. I was on time for breaking my PR, but the work wouldn’t stop here.

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Passing through Byåsen Butikksenter

The first part of the race is about finding a steady rhythm and not blowing up. The second part, the last 5 km past Byåsen Butikksenter, are about keeping your speed up. You grab hold of the monster that is an uphill race, and you hold on, riding the beast and not letting yourself fall off.

I felt like my legs really started responding after Byåsen Butikksenter, and I started passing people. I played a game: could I cruise past them, shoes thunking evenly, without raising my heart rate significantly? I was 5 heartbeats below my limit and determined to keep rolling. Soon I saw Eirik a few hundred meters ahead of me. Could I catch him?

The kilometers passed in a blur of wet asfalt and the sensation of being just below my threshold. It hurt, but it was bearable. Finally, I passed the 7 km sign - only 1 km to go! - and I felt myself growing sick of the whole experience. Only 5, maybe 6, more minutes, I tried to encourage myself, don’t let your pace drop now! I was gaining on Eirik.

Five hundred meters before the finish, I saw Petter Northug walking down the road towards me. It was a very strange feeling, working so hard that I felt dizzy and then being sort of star struck by a famous skier who I’ve only ever seen on TV. I felt I needed to catch Eirik and tell him.

I started sprinting, and bellowed: “Eirik! I saw Petter Northug!” Eirik looked startled, and he later told me he found it scary that I was able to yell at that point! My surge was quickly over though, and I didn’t quite catch him. I still managed to sprint for the last 100 meters, passing one more person. The finish line wasn’t clearly marked, and I looked around, confused as I crossed.

I finished in 44:15, a three-minute PR, with Eirik 13 seconds in front of me. Dad rolled in two minutes behind me. Audun and Sigmund duelled it out, Sigmund dusting Audun by 1 minute (finishing with the scorching times 38:24 and 37:20, respectively). Audun pushed so hard to make up the difference that he vomited on the finish line.

On training

As some of you may be aware, my A-races this year are Nordmarka Foreste Marathon (previous race report here) on June 22, and UltraVasan 90 km on August 22. Currently, I’ve been focusing on the marathon distance in my training, and I plan to follow up this solid cycle of training with some big back-to-back long runs in the July to prepare for UltraVasan. 

I sometimes feel like running is self-imposed OCD. Other times I think it’s freedom. Maybe it’s a quantum juxaposition of both? I voraciously tick of miles, obsessively counting, at the same time as I fly around the city, exploring places in Trondheim I wasn’t aware of even after 10 years of living here.

I’m following a training plan for the first time in my life. It’s Daniels 18-week Q2 marathon plan, which I like because it’s really open. Basically, there are two ‘quality’ or important workouts that I have to do each week, and the rest of my running is based on what I have time for. As someone who likes to ski tour a lot during the winter, it’s important to me not to have to hit a certain number of miles each weeks.  I think long ski tours build my body for racing marathons pretty well!

So how has it been going?

Training through the winter wasn’t easy. I had to get in a lot of runs in the dark and snow, but luckily I invested in Icebug Anima studded running shoes so I could basically go anywhere, and I have a Petzl Nao headlamp to keep me company in the dark.

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One cold morning….

And then the sun came back. I love running in the sunrise, and in March I got to do this surprisingly often (now the sun rises at like 4:30 am, so, um, not happening).

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Sunrise on Baklidammen

 

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Sunrise above the city

Since I have workouts with specific pace goals to hit, I’ve been running less in the forest lately. Also, the forest has become a horrid mixtures of ice, wet snow and mud as spring sets in. I dream about dry trails to run!

I never envisioned myself a road runner, but it is fun to feel fast, which one does when transitioning from running on snow to running on roads. 

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Road running by the coast at Byneset, one beautiful Saturday.

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The spring in Norway can be pretty heinous, here exemplified by wet snow on a long run.

Of course, there are some workouts, like this one, that leave me feeling like this:

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I’ll just be here, on the floor, until someone comes and scrapes me off.

I am constantly afraid of being injured, having read so many horror stories about runners put out of play for a year or more. So I jump at every niggle (and there have been a few, especially in the tendons around my calves and feet), and would rather take one rest day too many if that will allow my body to fly, far and free, across the forests of Norway and Sweden. 

With only 8 weeks to go to Nordmarka Forest Marathon, I feel ready to decimate my previous time. I’m just going to put in a couple more days of ski touring first!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Easter part 3: Do it again

This is the third and final post about my Easter trip this year. If you haven’t already, check out the first and second.

On Thursday, we drove from Sogndal to Sunnmøre, hoping we could get in a ski trip in the spiky Sunnmøre Alps. It snowed like crazy during the 3 hour drive to Standalshytta. Standalshytta, a bustling ski hut, was full to the brim of Norwegians, Austrians and French, and we were forced into the shabbier old hut. But with hot food and a sauna, we couldn’t complain and we sat scheming about the next day.

The mountains were only intermittently peaking out of the clouds the next morning, and with all the new snow we evaluated the avalanche risk as higher than we were comfortable with. So we decided to do a day at Strandafjellet Ski Resort. This resulted in another hour and half of driving, and we weren’t exactly the first people in the lift line. It seemed like most of the people in the region had decided that Strandafjellet was the place to be. It was decidedly crowded, and I was decidedly tired. It was one of those days were turning my skis felt more like work than fun.

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Side stepping up to the pow. Photo by Zoe

Being the powder hounds that we are, we were quickly searching outside the beaten sidecountry for fresh tracks. One such expedition lead us up a ridge at the far end of the resort. While everyone else sidestepped or booted up the hill, I quickly pulled out my climbing skins and charged passed them, wanting to prove that I could be first to the top. Because as I say, always bring skins!

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Audun, stoked after a sweet run. Photo by Zoe

Everyone was tired, and it ended up being a short day of skiing, especially as the mounds of new snow grew heavy and sticky in the sunlight. Then the gang split up; Sigmund, Andreas and Kenny headed to their respective families further north along the coast and we headed to Audun’s grandmothers house in Sunnmøre.

The next day, I whimped out and took a rest day. The story of skiing Tuva, therefore, will be told in the words of my sister, Zoe.

Easter Eve dawned sunny and beautiful. The giant blisters I’d accumulated throughout the course of the week were still there and still somewhat sore, but less so, and no longer feeling infected. It had been snowing the night before, and a good dusting of fluffy new snow was on the ground. Was I psyched to go skiing? Oh yes I was.


After a hearty breakfast, Molly, Audun, Odd Arild (Audun’s dad) and I geared up and headed for the car. As we started loading gear, Molly dropped her boots.


“My legs feel tired just from walking up the hill to the car,” she said, “I think I have to take a rest day today.”


I briefly considered sitting the day out as well. We had been skiing every day, for six days straight; my legs could probably use a rest. But I’d had a short day on Thursday, the sun was shining, and my feet were feeling as good as they had all week. Besides, the peak we had planned for the day, Tuva, didn’t sound particularly challenging, and I’m always the slowpoke going up anyway. Molly handed over her bottle of sunscreen and headed back to the house. We finished loading gear and drove up the road a ways, Audun and Odd Arild pointing out landmarks and telling stories on the way.


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Odd Arild and Zoe on the climb. Photo by Audun


Our uphill ski route took us down a hill and across a small field on a groomed ski trail before we started our climb onto the ridge, so we waited to put skins on until we were at the base of the climb. The sun was shining, but the air was cold, and the new snow was light, fluffy, and 20-30 cm deep. Audun broke trail up a wide clearcut area up the ridge. It gradually became steeper, and he stopped to check the angle of the slope, finding it to be around 33º.


“Do you wanna dig a snow profile?” he asked. Despite the new snow and exposed slope, the conditions seem fairly stable to me, but I’m always curious to see what the snow pack looks like, so we got out our shovels and start digging. Odd Arild looked on, and I explained what we’re doing and seeing as we feel for weak layers in the snow and do a CT-test. The conditions were more or less what I thought, with all of the fluffy new snow sloughing off before the weak layer breaks, and only when Audun hit the block with a significant amount of force (we had a CT-28, for you avalanche nerds). We continued on our merry way, heading into the trees as the slope becomes steeper. Audun stopped a few times to inspect some confusing bird tracks, and Odd Arild regaled me with stories of ski trips and shenanigans in the area. We had a brief standing lunch break towards the top of the ridge, and somebody pointed out the huge halo around the sun.


“I guess it’ll snow tonight!” (Spoiler alert: it did.)

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Halo around the sun. Photo by Zoe 

We continued moving upward. I was really starting to feel the the past week in my legs, and the boys dropped me as we follow the ridgeline towards the high point of the day (not technically the top of the mountain, as this required more scrambling than we were willing to do in ski boots).


There were a few other people on the way up, most of them appearing to have started at the seter a little ways down the road from where our car was parked. Odd Arild stopped at a cairn on the ridge just before it got significantly steeper for a coffee break.

  

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Odd Arild on top. Photo by Zoe


Audun took off his skis and booted his way to a higher point along the ridge, before the scrambling started in earnest. I stopped at the cairn with Odd Arild, ate some chocolate and started prepping to head down, chatting with two guys who’ve apparently driven ATVs at least part of the way up. The snow was light and fluffy as we set our first downhill turns, but the line we followed was pretty flat so we mostly just straight lined through the loose snow.


As Odd Arild continued to follow the main line of descent line into the trees, and Audun and I skied out to the side, to get a few turns in down a large open slope. Audun found a kicker get some air off of at the top, but I couldnt muster the same enthusiasm with the past week heavy in my legs. We skied through the trees to a little seter where a bunch of people were lounging outside, enjoying the sun. Unsurprisingly (this is a small village!), they knew Odd Arild and Audun, who stopped to chat. I stood in the background and look clueless, definitely not a local. Somebody had a small fire burning, and some kids had built a tiny ski jump. One of the kids asked us if we’re going to jump off of the ski jump, so we did, Audun just barely getting enough air to land a 360.


We continued our descent on groomed ski trails. Eventually, we headed into the trees to get back to Nystad (Auduns grandmothers farmhouse), and Audun found a steep-looking line of pillows through the trees heading down in the right direction. I considered following him, but given my tired legs, the fact that I can’t keep up with him anyway and that I have no idea where I am, I choose to follow Odd Arild across the marsh instead. We picked up ski tracks through the trees from the day before, arriving back at the house to find Molly smugly lounging in the sun. Wild Bazilchuk my foot!

 

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 After ski with a view at Nystad, Norddal. Photo by Audun


The next day was foggy and rainy, so we took another rest day, getting out for a quick jog in Tingvoll. The day after was the last day of Easter vacation (Monday), and I was chaffing at the bit to get in one final mountain before heading back to Trondheim. We settled on Ytre Sula, a peak that I’ve often gazed upon from while waiting for the ferry at Kvanne.

It was already many degree above freezing when we clicked into our skis, and the snow was slushy. The weather forecast had been ambiguous, but the sun was out and there were only a few clouds in sight.

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Zoe and our goal for the day, Ytre Sula
 
Following old tracks, we took a circuitous route around the mountain to take the gentlest slopes to the top. More clouds appeared, but stayed high in the sky, creating dramatic light over the surrounding peaks of Trollheimen.
 
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Audun and Zoe take in the mountains across Todalsfjorden.

Soon we were on the summit slope, taking in the stark contrast of snowy white mountains extending down to the deep dark fjord.

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I <3 skiing in Norway

The wind whistled around the summit cairn. Audun took a short walk out on the ridge towards Indre (Inner) Sula, and soon became a tiny orange speck in a big, black-and-white landscape.
 
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Audun on the ridge between Indre and Ytre Sula.

The snow on the way down was unfortunately a bit too slushy, unsurprisingly given the heat of the day. The slope down from Ytre Sula is grea for skiing, a big area to carve turns into with steeper pitches to keep it interesting. I would give a lot to be there on a powder day!
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Zoe frees her heel on the summit slope of Ytre Sula

I managed to create a small, slushy avalanche on the steepest pitch. It was maybe 10 meters wide and slide around 50 meters, so nothing serious. Luckily I had had the presence of mind to tell Audun to traverse out from under me before I skied that pitch. At the same time, it’s a reminder to take care - had the slope been a tad bit steeper, or continued as steeply for longer, the avalanche might have accelerated more.
 
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Me making one good turn, just before the snow started rolling. Photo by Zoe
 
It was an Easter of fair weather and good ski conditions. Let’s just hope we are just as lucky when we return to Tromsø (and Lyngen) next week!
 
- The Wild Bazilchuk

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Easter part 2: Aggressive alpine skiing

This is part two in my series about ski touring during Easter vacation. Read part 1 here.

Our friends Sigmund, Andreas and Ken Roger arrived Monday evening, stoked off a long day of touring 1800 vertical meters of Skålåtårnet. The snow, apparently, had been atrocious. Score for Sogndal! I thought. We were in the right place with the right conditions and the right weather - a combo that doesn’t often happen.

It took a long session of consulting maps and guidebooks to decide our goal for the next day. Not knowing the area very well, the shear number of possibilities was overwhelming. In the end, we settled one of the self-proclaimed classics, Frudalshesten. Due to the low avalanche danger and our suspicion that the snow would be better on the other side of the mountain, we decided to take a back route up the mountain.

 

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At the base of Frudalshesten. Photo by Zoe

There were a lot of cars at the parking lot, but luckily everyone headed for the main route up Frudalshesten. Our route (up Tverrelvdalen) had us first bushwacking through saplings, then traversing across a steep avalanche debris zone.

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Zoe and Kenny crossing the avalanche debris.

We spread out to cross the avalanche slope, although it was clear that the debris had fallen from above, and it was too early in day for more to come. Skinning alone made me feel apprehensive. I hate steep traverses. I tried to focus on the skin tracks in front of me, and not to look down to my side. Every time I did, I start to imagine sliding. Not good!

The top of this first steep pitch felt like the entrance to a hidden valley. We were alone in a untouched landscape of appealing snow.

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Sigmund, Andreas and Audun enjoy the view

As we continued upward, the hidden valley transformed into a baking oven. The snow reflected the bright spring sunlight off all of the steep faces and onto to us. It was HOT!

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Gotta love spring skiing!

The large face below Frudalshesten offered numerous possibilities for descent. We scanned possible routes on the way up, until Sigmund found the perfect line. When he pointed it out, I got shivers down my spine. It was just steep enough to make me nervous and excited at the same time. And the snow was perfect, 15 cm of loose powder on a stable layer below.

It started clouding over as we approached the summit, and to our dismay a group of skiiers appeared above us. They had taken the normal route up - would they steal our perfect line on the way down? They hadn’t had the time we had to inspect possible lines, so they just followed our skin track up the least steep part of the face. HA! The perfect line would be ours on the way down.

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Climbing in the other skier’s tracks. Photo by Zoe.

There was a stiff breeze on the summit, so we changed quickly and headed down. Unfortunately, the light was really flat at this point, but the snow was good enough to have us whooping down the first section, until we reached the top of the steep gully formation that was our Perfect Line.

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Summit photo!

Audun went first, and reported back on his walkie-talkie: “I couldn’t see anything… I think it was pretty steep a the end though!” The rest of the boys went, one by one, and finally it was my turn. If Audun said it was pretty steep, it must be really steep, I thought, my stomach clenching. Even if the visibility wasn’t, the conditions were all one could ask for. I charged down the slope, feeling fabulous and following the other’s tracks. I kept wondering if there would be a cliff, if it would become scary steep. But it never did, and so I flew down the slow, exhilarated. 

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Kenny charging into the gully

We got backed to the campsite relatively early, and had time to swim in the fjord (yes, we don’t care how cold it is!) before making a gigantic burger supper. It was during this evening that the song Aggressive alpine skiing was introduced, and promptly became the theme song for whole trip. I would definitely recommend listening to this song as you read the rest of the post.

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Andreas, Kenny and Sigmund post-swim. Picture from Sigmund’s camera. 

The next day, we decided to try one of the less famous peaks, Skjerdingane, in the same region as Frudalshesten. It was a grey day, but the weather forecast claimed that good weather was one the way. Ominously, we were the only car at the big parking lot, the same that had been full the day before. “Oh well,” we said to one another, “Guess nobody else read the weather forecast as carefully as we did."

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Skinning into Frudalen in so-so weather.

There was new snow on the ground and more in the air as we slogged up the gently valley. I caught glimpses of towering rock around us, but the tops of the peaks were shrouded in thick fog. It doesn’t look like this weather is going to pass, I thought, pulling on my hood and clinching it around my face. As we reached the first steep pitch up the mountain, I started to feel uncomfortable with the whole situation. After, we couldn’t see what was around us - what if the steep valley walls decided to avalanche?

The wind was blowing, slowly compacting the new snow into a loose, cohesive layer. This was a bad development in the avalanche danger situation. We stopped and I voiced my concerns. “Why don’t we go ski something in the trees, something where it doesn’t matter so much that there’s low visibility?"

Audun and Sigmund insisted that yr.no must be right, and that the weather would clear off any minute now. We waited, slurping hot drinks from our thermoses, and a gap in the clouds did form in the peaks above us, just giving a glimpse of the top of the mountain we aspired to climb. It was a beautiful, sharp peak, and seeing the top made me want to gain it.

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Sigmund and Audun below Skjerdingane

We continued climbing for a little ways, hoping it would clear off even more, but it never did. In the end, we decided the pitch to the summit ridge, which involved climbing at 40 degree couloir, looked too sketchy in the newly compacted snow conditions. We turned and got in a few good turns in all the new snow before a long session of double-poling to the car.

Undeterred (it was only 1pm!) we decided to ski up Togga again, and perhaps see if we could continue further along the summit ridge. 

When we set out from the car, I lead the way, and I decided to see how long I could stay in front for. Sigmund especially had been climbing very fast, often leaving me slogging at the back of the pack. I just wanted to be in front for a little while; I wanted to feel fast. Something about my pace must have triggered Sigmund, though, because after a few minutes he shot past me like a rocket. Audun, ever competitive, soon ran after him as well. Well, boys, I thought, Guess I’ll try and join you. And I accelerated as much as one can do with well over 5 kilos of ski equipment on one’s legs.

I could not keep their pace. I went at the limit of my speed, hoping that I could at least keep them in the sight, but they were sprinting up the hill. Finally, gasping for breath, I gave up and sat down, defeated. Kenny, Andreas and Zoe came along and picked up my shattered pieces. Then we headed up the hill together, to where Sigmund and Audun were waiting, far ahead.

Above treeline, the wind pick up, and it became clear that we were on a divide between two weather fronts. On one side was sun and blue sky; on the other was fog and wind. I shot a panorama, trying to capture it:

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Weather divide - so cool!

We reached the first top of Togga and decided to turn, think that enough was enough with wind and bad weather.

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Audun and I on top of Togga. 

The next day, the weather was much better, and we decided on Sogndalseggi, which gaves us the possibility to choose between 3 different tops. The ski started with a slog on cross-country trails into Anestølen. Shortly after, Zoe informed us that here blisters were too much and that she would go back to the car and relax. I kind of envied her; I was starting to get tired after 4 mountains in 4 days!

Although the sun was shining, there were intermittent clouds along the ridge of Sogndalseggi. As we later learned, the massif had formed another weather divide, with sun on the side we were climbing but bad weather on the other. We decided to shoot for the intermediate of the three possible tops, Sogndalseggi 1476 (referring to its height in meters of course). 

We met one other group, headed down as we headed up, and I marvelled at how few people we had seen the last few days. Sogndal is this mecca of ski touring, so I had kind of expected crowds during Easter, especially with the big boom in ski touring in Norway during the last couple years. Whatever, more powder for me!

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Kenny, Audun, Sigmund and Andreas on the climb. Our peak is behind the rocky outcropping to the left.

The climb to Sogndalseggi was long but uneventful, with exception of the final pitch to the top. The slope grew steep, and with all the new, heavy pow, we split up across the slope for safety.

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Audun and Sigmund, with the top just above them.

Sigmund was breaking tracks and he made it look hard, something he doesn’t usually do. There was a lot of new snow, and it was heavy! The slope was stable though, even if the trail breaking was hard. The wind was blowing hard enough to make conversation difficult on top, and we quickly peeled off our skins and put on our helmets. It was time for the main event.

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Sigmund and Audun on top. Not so much view.

The visibility on the ski down made it tricky, and unfortunately the snow, however plentiful, was not super forgiviing.. I got frustrated as I kept catching my back ski under the heavy snow and falling as though in slow motion. Others, however, had more fun:

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Sigmund in action

I’ll let Kenny’s video speak for the rest of this ski down. If you didn’t listen to Aggressive alpine skiing earlier, you can’t avoid it now!

With several amazing days in Sogndal, we headed north, towards Sunnmøre. But that’s story for another post!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

P.S. For anyone planning a trip/for you map geeks out there, here’s a map with all the tours mention in this post drawn in:

Sogndalsdalen

Key: Red: Frudalshesten, Blue: attempt on Skerdingane (up to the point we turned approximately), Yellow: Togga, Purple: Sogndalseggi 1476

Friday, April 10, 2015

Easter part 1: This is awesome

As Zoe, Audun and I sat cross-legged eating our breakfasts outside the tents, the stoke was low. We had spent eight hours driving the day before, headed for the promise land of backcountry skiing: Sogndal. And here we were, quietly crunching müsli in a dismal drizzle. All I wanted to do was crawl back into my tent and wait for sunshine and pow.

But it was the second day Easter vacation, and the first had been spent in the car - it was time to ski. So we packed up the car and drove up to the mountains. Magically, only a few hundred vertical meters above Sogndal, the rain turned into snow, steadily driving into high snowbanks along the side of the road. Then the snow stopped, and the sky cleared. It felt like a omen of good things to come: there would be pow and sunshine a plenty for those who went to the mountains.

It was warm out and we quickly overheated as we climbed up the forested slope of Togga, sweating in our heavy plastic ski boots.

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Zoe ascending Togga

Togga is a relatively modest mountain compared to the surrounding peaks. The top at 1205 meters is really just the start of a ridgeline that arcs several hundred meters higher. I had a hard week of marathon training still heavy in my legs, and so I was glad that the top came so quickly.

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Me, Audun and Zoe on Togga

The ski down was as steep as the climb up, and there was good fun to be had in the slush through the forest.

 Togga telemark

Photo by Zoe, awesome telemark style by me

The weather forecast for next day was better, and so we set our sights on a larger goal: Hest (which means Horse, although I didn’t see how the peak resemble a horse) in Jostedalen. We rendezvoused with another group of friends and set out into the bright, blue morning. 

Annotated hest

Zoe with the ridgeline of Hest in the background. I drew in the route we ended up taking. Green for climbing and red for descending.

Old ski tracks followed a summer road up to a large dam at the base of the mountain. The tracks were crusty and hardened from the night’s frost. I hoped that the sun would soften up the snow, or we were in for a rough ski down. 

As we skinned up to treeline, I heard Audun and Øyvind talking about skiing straight down the steep-looking ridgeline from the top. The route was described in our guidebook as wind crusted during the winter, but a nice descent in the spring. At the end of March in Norway, it’s hard to tell whether a spring or winter description would likely apply. I hoped it would be the former.

Several members of our group were cross-country skiiers, and they sprinted up the hill like they were racing the Birkebeiner. Soon we were spread out up the slope, climbing in the increasingly dry and light snow. It was… dare I say… powder and sunshine again!

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Climbing up to the saddle, the snow was already drier at treeline.

Just below the saddle leading to the main ridge up to Hest, we stopped to regroup. Zoe was lagging, and informed us that her ski boots, after several years of excellent service, had decided to give her blisters. Awesome! She and another guy, Kristoff, opted to head for the smaller top of Grøndalseggi, taking this incredible picture on the way:

Cornice grøndalseggi

Cornice on Grøndalseggi, photo by Zoe

The rest of us slogged along the undulating ridge towards Hest i swirling mists. I couldn’t help but wonder if we would be able to see the slope straight off the top that we had purposed to ski. And would the snow be the same powder we had skinned up in, or the icy windpack we occasionally hit along the ridge?

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Eirik comes out of the mist

The last pitch to the top was very steep and slanting off into nothingness in the valley below. We put our skis on our backs, even though we met two women on the way down who had said that the visibility was too low to ski straight off the top. They had turned around for the long slog along the ridge.

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Booting it to the top of Hest. Don’t fall!

The snow on the last section was icy and loose, and it would be harder to get down that section safely than it was to climb up. I nervously hoped that the clouds would lift. We kept seeing gaps of sunlight in the clouds - the mist wasn’t that heavy!

When we reached the top, the clouds lifted just enough to tantalize us with the line straight down from the top, but not enough to see all the way down to the valley. It was unanimously decided that we would ski straight down from the top. The first section was broad, and I could arc big turns. But the ridge grew smaller, perhaps only 10 meters wide at one point, with a larger cornice on the left, forcing me to straight line as much as possible. Luckily, this was just a short section and the ridge was covered in really good, loose snow. 

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Øyvind comes out of the clouds off the top.

The clouds opened up as we descended and we were rewarded with sunshine and powder again.

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The Audunbird flies again.

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Looking back at our tracks. Stoked!

After the initial descent, we climbed back up to our uphill tracks to get even more turns in on this beautiful day. Could it be topped? We would see when my friends Sigmund, Andreas and Ken Roger (of this blog post) arrived...

- The Wild Bazilchuk