Saturday, April 23, 2016

Perfect spring skiing weather

Spring is the best part of the ski season, and when the stars align to combine great weather and stable snow conditions, it’s go big or go home. Two weekends ago, the weather forecast icon was big suns and some fresh snow had even fallen the previous nights. Audun, Dad and I set our sights on Kongskrona, Norway’s only glaciated summit, which is at the mouth of Innerdalen.

We set up camp in the valley Friday night, and weren’t particularly surprised that several other groups had chosen to do the same. By 8 o’clock the next morning, dozens of other cars had shown up, and I could barely contain my surprise when a bus full of skiers appeared.  Six years ago, Dad and I skied Dronningkrona, the neighbouring peak to Kongskrona, where many of these people would be headed today, on a similarly beautiful day. We had camped out in the same area we were now. We had been alone at the campsite and alone as we set out up the mountain. It was only later in the day that we met a few other groups. Ski mountaineering is really blowing up in Norway, and I feel like a grouch when I admit I’m not sure I like it.

Despite the crowds, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and drove to the end of the road. Part of our group, Mom and Ben (an American post-doc visiting Norway from England) set up to tour towards Innerdalshytta, while Audun, Dad and I strapped our skis to our packs and began our tour crossing a yellowed field on foot.

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Audun going for a walk in the park, below Skarfjellet.

By the time we strapped on our skis and start skinning through the sparse snow coverage in the forest, we had a group of eight guys hot on our heels. They kept almost catching up with us, and this stressed me. I felt like we were being chased, and I wished they would either pass us or stop and leave us alone. In the end, I stopped to let them skin passed, so I could find my quiet solitude. One of the guys had a large, lumpy backpack. Later, when I saw a paraglider floating down from the mountain top, I realized that’s what must have been in the pack.

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Snøfjellet and a persistent tree, growing on a boulder

Although it was sunny, the air temperature was pretty cold, and I put on my big down jacket when we stopped for a lunch break just above tree line. After the break, we caught up to another big group of eleven who were moving slightly more slowly than us. As long as they were moving, it was hard to pass them, so we resigned ourselves to climbing at their pace for a while.  There were some clouds swirling around the summit, but I had confidence that the big sun on the weather forecast would pull through.

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The big group headed towards the glacier on Kongskrona.

We were drawing close to the glaciated part of the route, and I was curious to see that only one member of the group ahead of us was carrying an ice ax. Unfortunately, he had put the ice ax on upside down and the sharp part was pointing directly into his shoulder joint. When reading up on Kongskrona, I had been given to understand that equipment for glacier travel (ice ax, crampons, rope, harness) could be necessary, and so Audun, Dad and I all had packs loaded with gear. Apparently no one else had even considered the possibilities of needing this type of equipment, except the guy who was threatening to cut off his own arm with his ice ax.

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Dad on the climb.

There was a solid track up the glacier, but there were also visible crevasses in other areas. Better safe than sorry, we decided, and put on our harnesses. The final climb to the top was steep and wind-packed, and crampons would have been useful if it had been any icier.

From the top, we could see hoards of people on the neighbouring Dronningkrona. The weather still hadn’t cleared off completely, although the cloud cover was high and afforded good views.

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Me, Audun and Dad on top of Kongskrona, with Dronningkrona in the background. The weather wasn’t quite as sunny as forecasted, but it was still a beautiful day!

On the way up, we had identified an as-of-yet unskied couloir, and decided to go check it out. The couloir looked steeper from above than it had below, and we decided to dig an avalanche pit to make sure if the snow below us was stable. Although the snow didn’t collapse, we found a layer of hail that behaved like ball bearings, Audun announced he had a ‘bad feeling’ about this. And so, for the first time, we choose a different descent because we were uncertain about the avalanche danger. Discussing later, we agreed that probably it would have been fine. However, I think just because you don’t cause an avalanche doesn’t mean you made the right decision. Sometimes you are just plain lucky, and I would rather make good decisions than be lucky any day.

The ski down was excellent anyway!

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Audun in action, after skiing a narrow couloir that required one to drop off a rock ledge to enter. Dad and I found a more mellow route around.

Even though there was cold, fresh powder on top of Kongskrona, the snow was almost gone down low on the mountain, and we had take our skis off for a couple of stretches through the forest.

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Dad downclimbing through the muddy forest. 

 Eight hours after setting out, we arrived back at the car and the restfulness of a long day’s skiing settled in. We stayed another night at our campsite, with time to relax and swap stories with Mom and Ben from their day.

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Our little campsite in the sunset.

We had a campfire and toasted marshmallows, but headed to bed before it got truly dark. It had been a long day.

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Mom with a perfectly toasted marshmallow.

The next morning we packed up our camp and headed to Storlidalen to meet up with some friends: Sakari (Finnish), Sigurd and Silje (Norwegians). The weather was everything the forecast had promised; there was not a cloud in sight.

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Sakari at the base of Nonshøa.

We headed up Nonshøa, a relatively gentle peak with some steeper options on the way down. It’s not a super long ski, and we were happy to have time to stop for a leisurely lunch in the sun.

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Sigurd and Silje brought freshly baked brownies to share. I may invite them to go skiing with me again!

We were a group of eight, and different climbing speeds stretched us out like an accordion on the final stretch to the summit. It was pretty cold on top, and a little summit yoga kept me warm as the group gathered and prepared for the descent. 

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Summit yoga on top of Nonshøa, with Innerdalen in the background.

The first part of the descent was a steep, wind swept ridge that was roughly chopped by the tracks of other skiers. I felt confident as I stood on top though, and confidence is important in difficult conditions. You have to trust that you can see your turn through and stay strong in the turn position. I swooped down the mountain first, feeling in charge of my skis, in charge of the snow, utterly in control even in high speed. 

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Sakari whips up some powder on the descent from Nonshøa

We managed to find some unskied lines on the steeper aspect of the mountain, carving our skis through a 20 cm layer of soft powder.

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Me on the descent, with Neådalsnota in the background. Photo from Sakari

It was pure skiing joy, and I felt a pang of regret that we didn’t have time to do another lap. But Audun and I had a long drive back to Oslo to get on with, and weekends are finite, in time if not in possibilities.

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Making tracks on our own personal face of Nonshøa.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

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