Fresh Snow in a Fjord

When I arrived in Flåm, I wasn’t sure how to find my tour guide for the snowshoeing adventure. I got no information at booking, and the fellas on the boat had no idea. Fortunately! The visitor’s center had all the information I needed, including a GIANT map (of this very tiny town) so I could not only be a tourist but also look the part. So, per the lady who helped me,  I walked to the “white house” in the direction of the circled location on the map, but when I arrived, it didn’t look like the right place. And a sign on the door said, “closed for the season.”

I did what any lost tourist would do: I stood next to the road studying my giant map, looking lost and helpless. If you are on a journey and you are lost, just do this. Somebody will help you. A kind fellow in a van pulled over and explained that this is their business office and they aren’t open in the “off season” which February is. He pointed me to the white SHACK across the street and I meandered that way. I confirmed with the fella at the SHACK that our meeting time was in about 30 minutes. I already felt a bit chilled, so I asked if it would be much colder on the hike. He said, “oh yes, once we go up (points to top of mountain), it will be much colder.” ALRIGHTY. So I went back to the visitor’s center to add layers.

AGAIN, I’m glad I packed light because I didn’t have time to drop my things off at the apartment. I needed my bag anyway because I ended up changing into pretty much every article of clothing I brought: undershirt, long sweater shirt, sweater, two pair of leggings, two pair of high socks, coat, scarf, hat, mittens. This is what you call determination to be warm; it’s not just a state of being, it’s a life choice.

I headed back to see that the others had started to arrive as well. One of the guides (we had two) asked if I had two layers on my legs. I said, yes, but he paused for a few seconds then suggested I put on a pair of their (very flattering) sweat pants also. Who am I to say no to an extra layer? These sweat pants were a few sizes too large and the crotch hung about 6 inches too low. Very flattering.

In total, we were a group of 12, 6 of which were a whole family from the Netherlands, kids, parents, grand parents. Four more were Americans, including a mother son visiting Norway looking for a college for the son (I gave them my and ACN’s info–just in case), one German (?) gal, and me.

We piled into the van, and headed for the mountain. Our tour guide was chatty, knowledgable, and very funny. He’s originally from Stavanger, Norway but wanted more quiet and solitude. Stavanger (do yourselves a favor and do a Google image search–WOW) is the third largest city in Norway, and it’s the center of Norway’s oil business. Flåm, on the other hand, is a quiet fjord town of less than 400. However, at the height of tourist season, there can be as many as 15,000 tourists in Flåm at once. If you saw the size of this town, you’d be thinking the same thing I was: HOW HOW HOW? The answer is cruise ships. Our guide said that there will be 4 or 5 docked at a time. The trade-off is that the rest of the year, our guide and 300 some other folks live in a peaceful basin, surrounded by nature. Our guide told us that the day before, he saw a pod of killer whales in the fjord. He said they chase down smaller whales as prey and sometimes end up in the fjords. He also told us that there are many lakes up in the mountains; in the summer he hikes, camps, and fishes for brown trout. I asked him if he ever gets sick of all the beauty. He said no. I wouldn’t either.

On our way to the mountain, our guide drove us through the biggest town in the area, the town where he lives; population: about 500. There’s one pub and a cafe that’s kind of the town hangout. He pointed out his house as we drove by, but in his words, “in a town this small, we’ll drive by all the houses.”

Then switch backs and hairpin turns, corners with no guard rail, narrow one-car roads up up up the mountain. He assured us that it’s much worse during tourist season because this road is a major attraction and with lines of cars coming and going, it’s a real headache to navigate. But it’s a lot of fun when it’s icy. (Like it was while we were driving!) About 700 meters above sea level is where they stop clearing snow from the roads, and that’s where we parked and began our hike.

After I brief tutorial in how to strap on snowshoes, we laced up and headed out.

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I’m pretty sure this is my look.

You have to kind of waddle in snowshoes, so you don’t trip yourself. I was certain that I would eat it at some point, but if you can imagine, I was very graceful. Well…competent.

We took one more turn of the road, then headed up the mountain side. The first part was very steep, which I was pretty excited about. You know how I like walking up hills. At that angle, you have to stab the toe of your show in and hoist yourself up. Trying to walk flat means you’re going to ski back down the hill. As the guide said, “this is where I get the warmest.”

From the top of this section, the view was already starting to get awesome. But it only got awesome…er as we hiked on.

I felt a little concerned about the grandma and grandpa on the hike, but they were doing alright. Our guides stopped at a few scenic places for pictures and resting. I appreciated the family friendly vibe, but I could have spent all day jamming through those mountains. Still, when we got to these breath-taking views, I was glad we had plenty of time to stop and stare. At one point, the mom in the family group started to cry. She said that her close girlfriend was getting married and she was missing it. I told her that it’s okay to cry–I cry just from looking at cute animals on the internet. She laughed and dried her tears.

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Just like OH, HELLO FJORD. The guide told us that the highest point on this mountain (1400 meters) is called something that translates to “The Preacher” because this is where the head troll sat, hollering directions to the other trolls as they dug out the fjord. I believe it 100%. We all took a lot of pictures. And selfies. At one point, the guide was like, “you gotta remember to just enjoy it; the pictures won’t be the same.” And I was like GET YOU A TOURIST WHO CAN DO BOTH.

Then they brought out a snack. A SNACK. These guides really do know the way to a girl’s heart. Warm red currant juice (something they said Norwegians drink hot in the winter and cold in the summer), orange slices (memories of soccer practice flooding back), Kvikk Lunsj (Norwegian Kitkats but better), and cookies. The guides said that Kvikk Lunsj is better because it contains more chocolate. They also explained that the maker–Freia–is named after the Norse Goddess of Love and that’s the secret to their chocolate, love.

Look how excited this girl is about those orange slices. No joke, they were delicious. After the snack and some visiting, we trekked a bit more until the sun was just starting to go down. Unfortunately, we weren’t in the right spot for a good sunset picture, but the color was just lovely. The guide was right–I couldn’t capture it. But I did look for a long long time.

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Our guides brought these small sleds with them, and I hadn’t really noticed it until the end. They said, “once you get up here, no matter how old you are–you’re a kid. Who wants to go sledding?” ME ABSOLUTELY ME.

I could tell the guides really wanted us to have a good time, but they also really didn’t want us to hit a tree and die. They were so excited about sledding, but they were also fretting like worried parents. Just tip over if you go too fast. And don’t go too fast. But have fun. But watch out for trees. You’ll go really fast, so just be careful. Use your legs to steer. And slow you down. Have fun. Be careful. 

I was toward the end of the group, so all the folks ahead of me packed down the fresh snow, leaving a nice slick trail. LET ME JUST TELL YOU HOW FUN SLEDDING DOWN A FUCKING MOUNTAIN IS. Pretty much the most fun I’ll probably ever have in my life. I did indeed go very fast. And all the way down, we kept tipping over and hitting snow banks, crashing into each other and laughing hard from our bellies. The last little bit was a really steep hill, and I got completely white washed on the way down. I loved it.

Most of the group had made it to the bottom by the time I did, but both the grand parents from the family group were stilling winding their way down the hill. They came to the last run, and the kids started egging them on to slide the rest of the way down. Grandma couldn’t say no. We cheered as she came racing past us, a huge grin on her face. Then the kids started yelling to their grandfather, taunting him BECAUSE GRANDMA DID IT. So he came sliding down too, with not so much a grin but a look of joy and horror mixed. He was going very, very fast. We clapped and laughed and for a few minutes it felt like we were all old friends.

The drive back down the mountain was quite. The sun had mostly set and we were all more reflective than we’d been on the way up. Having brought most of the snow into the van with me, I was a little chilly too and looking forward to a hot shower. It was, all in all, a pretty much perfect day.

 

 

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