Our Denali expedition is getting closer and closer, and three weeks ago, we packed all our stuff and headed to Hurrungane, the western part of Jotunheimen national park! The idea was to train, test gear and drill some of the routines for our upcoming expedition, and possibly climb some mountains in the process.
We set off from Oslo on Wednesday afternoon, and arrived at Turtagrø a bit after midnight. It is quite a long drive, and it felt great to pitch the tent and get some sleep before we set off. With Turtagrø as our starting point, we were planning to head up the valley towards the lake Skagastølsvatnet to establish our base camp there so we could be in position to attempt Store Skagastølstind (2405 m). Store Skagastølstind is Norway’s third highest mountain, and the highest one that demand technical climbing to reach the summit.
Although the weather forecast was not as good as we had hoped for, it was promising considering our intention to attempt Store Skagastølstind. Cloudy weather and moderate wind meant that there probably would be no postcard photos, but at least it would not ruin our chances for some great climbing and skiing.
We packed our gear and set off with almost the same setup that we will be using in Alaska for the first part of the climb. Pulks, backpacks and randonee skis with skins. It was a quite heavy load as we had packed almost all of our Denali gear. The route up to where we had planned to establish base camp turned out to have some really steep sections, which made for some real sled hauling! Some sections even were so steep that we had to take our skis off, and have one man push the pulk, while the other dragged.
Finally we made it to our camp spot, after having ascended 600m, to an altitude of about 1460m. We pitched the two tents, and built a snow wall covering the camp from the forecasted northern wind direction. Trusting the forecast and not bothering to shield the camp from all sides would later prove to be a mistake, but nonetheless a mistake that would give some valuable learning for the future… We turned in quite early, aiming at an alpine start for Store Skagastølstind the next morning at 06:00.
The alarm went off at 04:45. Brutally early, even after an early night. We took our time with the breakfast, packed lunch for a long day and melted snow for water and set off a bit after six. We skied the first part of the trip, and roped up to cross a glaciated section before we arrived at a hut called Skagastølsbu.
Here we left our skis, changed to our expedition boots and set off for the summit push. From Skagastølsbu there is still about 650 vertical meters of scrambling and climbing to get to the top. We got occasional glimpses of the spectacular summit on our way up, and the scrambling was fun.
We had a break at about 2100m just as the weather made a turn for the better. We were ahead of schedule, and at that point we all thought our chances for reaching the summit was as good as they could get. However, just as we set off again, Thor and all the other weather gods changed their mind and stepped up the game… The wind picked up, the temperature dropped and the visibility got a lot worse. By the time we reached the gully leading the last 100m to the summit, it was clear that this was not the right day after all, and we decided to turn back.
Having been out for eleven hours that day, we happily dozed in the tent when we got back. With midnight approaching, the wind died completely and the sky became cloudless and starlit. We had this spectacular view from our camp
Little did we know that only four hours later, the weather gods would find their long stick, and poke us yet again...
After we went to sleep, the wind picked up, but it wasn't until 04:00, when the tent wall was slapping us in the face, we really woke up. The wind was howling and the tent was quite seriously slanted, but otherwise it was holding up well. We thought nothing more of it and went back to sleep. At 06:00 we couldn't ignore the weather anymore as the volume of the tent felt like it was about 50% of what it had been when we went to sleep. We got dressed and went outside to find the tent partially buried under drifting snow.
As the weather forecast had obviously radically changes (from about 8-9m/s to about 25m/s and full storm), so had the wind direction… Our wind wall was now useless, and the only thing we could do was to start digging out the tent and redo the wall on the other side. We spent about three hours fortifying the tent and got a great result in the end. Some hours later however, we decided to head back down to Turtagrø, since the weather forecast we had obviously was outdated. We didn't know how bad it was going to get or how long it would last for. When we got back to Turtagrø, the weather forecast predicted winds of 32m/s (hurricane) for the area we left some hours earlier, so it turned out to be a wise decision! Even though the trip was cut short, and we didn’t reach summit, we managed to stay safe the whole time, we made good decisions and we learned a lot that will help us on Denali.