Letter from Switzerland (and Norway)

Hardanger Hot-Dog (1994)

Stephen Senn

The lay of the lagaros loo loipe

Eleven little headlamps
Bobbing as they go
Eleven pairs of ski-boots
Shuffling through the snow
Eleven wise ski-tourers
What is it they know?

Eleven wise ski-tourers
This is what they ken
Foresight is advisable
Do it now not then
Better do it earlier
Than have to rise again.

Fire and Ice?

Surely not again. Here we are in the middle of the Hardanger-Vide, a day's hard and satisfying ski-touring behind us. We have had perfect conditions: clear sky, cold air, plenty of sunshine and snow and the wide-open spaces of Norway. We are nine fit Waymark customers (eight British and one Swiss), an Anglo-Norwegian guide and his Danish wife (Maiken). It is true that what awaits us is not that appetizing: tins of that strange Norwegian stew known as sodd. (It is Hobson's choice: all sodd or sod all.) But now would be the time for some delicious and delightful telemarking in the afternoon sunshine on the slope opposite Lagaros Hut. Instead the fire alarm is persistently ringing in my eardrum. Is the hut about to be burned to the ground? A bus last year and a hut this? Are we going to sleep in the loos? They are in another hut, a good hundred and fifty yards away. Why so far? There are various theories: some indelicate, but the likeliest candidate seems to be to make sure that they don't catch fire if the main hut does. False alarm. Someone has been stoking the stove too enthusiastically and the smoke detector has reacted. For the next quarter of an hour we rush around like lemmings trying to find the control panel

Before the start: looking to Gausta (I think)

Speaking of lemmings

Later, dipping in the sodd-pot, we think of alternative recipes.
Q. What do you get if you give Delia Smith a gross of Norwegian rodents and the whites of half a dozen eggs?
A Lemming meringue pie.

Speaking of lemmings again,

we saw one. But this was not at Lagaros but scurrying between the window at Heinseter and its shield of snow. We ourselves had been doing some scurrying to get to Heinseter, which we had reached from Rauhellern through a blizzards. As blizzards go it went but before it wnet it was mighty cold. At our first stop, fumbling with something or other (no, not that) Richard took off a mitten. The wind whipped it away uphill before you could say, 'force 7'. I lumbered off in cold pursuit but each time as I was just nearly, almost, not quite within reach of the damn thing, the wind whipped it on further. I ran out of breath before the storm did. I have no desire to play Tantalus to the wind and, after all, it was Richard's mitten.

Climbing Langsjonuten


But the day before

had been wonderful. We sped out of Lagaros, crossed the system of lakes to the north and threaded our way like a pendant in a décolleté between the shimmering, swelling, rounded whiteness of Vesle and Store Skrekken to descend the slopes to Langesjoen and Rauhelleren beyond. In the early afternoon Mike, Allan, Bridget and I climbed Langsjonuten (1412m) to get a real taste of mountain touring.

For example

The day after Heinseter we had a flat crossing of it to Kraekja so, of course, having arrived at the hut, we had to have a tour. We set off up the hill to the south. The others decided to cross the pass and visit the hut at Halna on the far side. I didn't fancy having to climb back over and carried on alone to the summit of Halnekollen (1358m). Gosh, I felt intrepid. All that snow, all that space and just little me. I rejoined our outward route before the others returned. I'll leave them a sign, I thought, a beautiful series of linked telemark curves to descend the slopes to their tracks.

When they got back to the hut I had to check, of course, that they had got my message. 'I left you some tracks to show you I was safe,' I said, 'did you see them?' 'No,' they replied.


But then the British are funny

and I don't mean haha, I mean peculiar. En route to Kraekja from Heinseter we had passed the hotel at Fagerheim, crossing the first road we had encountered for 80km. The Dutch couple, who had accompanied us from Rauhellern, and I were inside eating soup. The Brits were outside 200 yards away in the snow, resolutely eating their sandwiches, backs to the hotel, pretending that they were in the middle of the Greenland icecap. The Dutch couple and I discussed the phenomenon without really penetrating its essential Britannic mystery. We all agreed that this was only to be expected but the fact that it was predictable didn't mean that we understood it. After lunch, Richard took time off from being an intrepid explorer, told the others that he was going inside and would just be a little while, and came over to the hotel to see if they sold mittens.....They didn't.

But never mind Richard

because the weather continued to be glorious and the race was on to get to Finse. Our longest, most satisfying and glorious day lay ahead of us but the race was not with each other but with the French party who were coming from Finse to Kraekja. If the Rosbifs didn't meet the Froggies at least half-way along the route, they might as well throw themselves off the cliffs like lemmings.

Speaking of cliffs,

there was a lovely slope under the cliff at Finnsberget. I was whooping with delight in a most un-Swiss way. Anybody within earshot (about 10km) would have assumed that I was an American enjoying that 'back-country' feeling. The Brits looked disapproving but cheered up when we passed the French party halfway. (Well, Finse is higher than Kraekje, so the Rosbifs had the moral victory.)

Group approaching after Lagaros

Country jokull

And now we are passing the Hardanger Jokull. Him one big glacier. I Iooked longingly at the slopes as we passed by. I had discovered an ambition. But there was not time left to realise it. Finse. End-station, beers and showers and the following day the train to Oslo, the plane to Zurich and reflections on a magnificent tour.

Next year

Start at Finse?

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