We spent our honeymoon hiking in the Arctic Circle of Norway.
We learned quickly that around here, we needed to follow the weather, not the time. That’s why we set out for our hike on day three at 6pm.
Rain had just lifted from the little peninsular city of Bodo. Our destination was the crown of mountains across the fjord, visible from the town, whose peaks were still covered with gauze.
The hike turned out to be a magnificent disaster.
When we arrived here in Bodo, I was surprised that it is so lush. Gardeners cultivate pendulous, fragrant garden roses, and oak and maple trees line the streets, while pine and fir covers the mountains surrounding. However, our drive south gave way to the gnarled birch woods and moss-covered hills I’d expected from the Arctic. We parked at the head of a long lake.
We were following a map from a Norwegian hiking guide that my uncle (actually, first cousin once-removed) had lent us. We understood nothing but the maps, and this one seemed straightforward enough – a dotted red line slashing straight through the topographical lines to a peak overlooking a fjord.
Later, we’d discover that the red dotted line in the book’s key translated from Norwegian to “no trail, idiot,” but we didn’t know that as we started our way up a wall of undulating rock, moss, heather, sedum, and scrub.
We strained our eyes through the fog for sight of any cairn and hoped that the Norwegian weather forecast would prove as accurate as it was the days before, when it called for clearing through the evening. The book said this hike was 12 km round trip.
When we broached the crest of the ascent, a lone bird sat silhouetted against the fog, cheeping a single, mournful note. We greeted the little guy, a businesslike version of a partridge with hurrying slender legs. We wondered if he was an auspicious or ominous omen.
We continued on, always looking for cairns. Eventually, more cairns appeared to the south as we headed eastward – we wondered if that was another trail from the lake.
The plateau gave way to an otherworldly valley puddled with lakes and fed by waterfalls created from patches of still-melting mountain snow. The fog started to break and reveal pieces of the ridge and peak. The sun started tilting toward the horizon, tinting the fog pink.
As we crossed the valley the cairns disappeared. Before us, what looked like an ancient lava flow offered a clear path up, so we took it. The fog intermittently broke up and we figured we were in good shape, until we got nearly to the top and the lava path led into precipitous moss cover and there was no trail in sight (because we still thought there must be a trail somewhere).
I’m a pretty conservative hiker. For me, there is nothing more dangerous that clamoring up a mountain with no trail as darkness threatens to descend. I wanted to find the (nonexistent) trail; rather than track straight up, we moved laterally, looking for passage to the ridge.
When I turned around, Valhalla spread before me. We were above cotton candy clouds suspended above a magical lavender landscape of mountains, valleys, lakes and fjords. It was breathtaking, and I’m sorry that I’m just not good enough of a photographer to have captured it.
Suddenly, just one or two hundred feet from the ridge, fog rolled in. We could see only three feet in either direction. We couldn’t tell now where the peak was, where the ridge was. We plopped down on a boulder and ate biscuits and wondered what to do. It was 9pm.
We had been hiking for nearly three hours and at least that much trail waited for us on the way down. Fear crept in with the fog – what if it got too dark to get back? We had plenty of food, there was water everywhere, we’d only have to wait a short while for sunrise – if the worst happened and we got stuck. So close to the top, we decided to head back, to avoid the dark.
Turns out, we had nothing to worry about. We never ran out of light, because it never got dark.
However, the lack of cairns on the way up turned out to be a disaster on the way down, with foot trails petering out to nothing and no discernible route back. We improvised, cutting this way and that to avoid precipitous drops. By the time we’d traversed the valley, gone over the plateau, and headed down the mountainside toward the lake and our car, the sun had long “set” but a crepuscular twilight remained, as if someone hit the pause button right after sunset.
We hit another snag – the sky had cleared so we could see far ahead of us, but we were were heading straight for the center of the lake, while our car was parked at its head to the north. We had to move laterally again. Progress was slow as we picked our way around bulges of scrub and rock, and backtracked and zigzagged, looking for the cairns we’d followed up.
We became aware of a plaintive “cheep.” It was behind me, then beside me, then in front of me. “Look,” said Aaron, pointing ahead, where that buttoned-down, businesslike Scandinavian partridge’s head just poked above the curve of a rock ridge. “Are you showing us the way, little buddy?” Aaron asked as we headed to the bird. Just as we got to the spot where he was, he lifted off and arced to the north, flying right over a cairn, showing us the way back.
We got to the car around 1am. Hiking seven hours with no break, and having plenty of light to see, we sat on the lake shore and had our little picnic. It was so weird.
On the way back home, we spotted four moose.
I’d see another moose and a baby moose in the course of our honeymoon adventure, and we also spotted two reindeer, a rabbit, tons of corvids, gulls, a frog, and a rabbit.
My uncle/cousin, a Polish oncologist working at the hospital in Bodo for the past ten years, had borrowed an apartment for us to stay in from a friend. (He also loaned us his car, since the hospital was a short walk from his flat.) We hung out with uncle/cousin Adam the next day, and then took another hike the following day, this time aware that we would have no trail.
That day proved much more successful and we set out earlier. We enjoyed the beautiful landscape with no major snafus.
What else can I tell you about, dear friends and family? I try to imagine what you may ask. The weather was lovely, with temperatures at sea level around 75 degrees and a little chillier on mountaintops. It seemed to rain every other day, so we planned our days for clear weather and rested during rains. We ate only simple food I prepared from the grocery store.
Due to the bizarre lack of darkness, we tended to sleep late and our hikes were often accompanied by endless sunsets.
Norwegians seemed quite private, and we did not make any friends here, unfortunately. Adam appeared to have the same problem but there seems to be a sizable Polish population.
Bodo was also surprisingly diverse – in the apartment building we stayed in, there were Somalians and people from the Middle East. I assume they may be refugees, but I don’t know.
The most striking aspect about Norway, besides jaw-dropping beauty, was the general prosperity spread across the population. It’s the only country I’ve been to (across six continents) that appears to have no poverty. Everything is very clean, tidy, organized, efficient.
In our shallow, one-week stay here, it appears that Norwegian society’s problems are well, well beneath the surface – it was hard to see them. It seems like Norway would be an absolutely amazing place to live, if you love hiking and the outdoors, and don’t mind cold winters.
And can afford it.
Besides privacy, it appears that Norwegians really value honesty, and that shows in how this socialist society manages its public finances – despite some waste (which is probably inevitable in any human system), money actually flows where it needs to go.
Aaron and I couldn’t think of any more questions we thought you may have about our adventure in Norway, so I’ll wrap it up now. I’m writing this blog post from a clean, efficient, and quiet train that ferries us from the Arctic Circle to Oslo, all the way in the south. The trip takes 17 hours and flows past gorgeous fjords and through stunning mountain landscapes. Unfortunately, the free wifi isn’t working at the moment though – not everything can be perfect, all the time!
If you’ve made it all the way down to the end of this blog post, please enter your email address to receive an email with our weekly (hopefully) updates – our next stop is Poland! You won’t want to miss long-lost family dynamics, the beautiful old city of Krakow, our trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and hiking in the Carpathian mountains. Thanks for stopping by!