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The Hike to Kalvedalshytta: Part 2 (Conclusion)

11 June 2011

To read Part 1 of this story, click here.

 

Our plan was to leave the cabin by 9 a.m. It seemed ridiculously early, and it was, but we were desperately short of food, having eaten everything but three chocolate chip cookies on the hike in.

Me and C. standing in front of the cabin, ready to go! (The fogginess is caused by the moisture in my camera from the previous day's rainy hike.)

I awoke to radiant sunlight pouring through the window and looked out at our surroundings, completely hidden to us the night before. Despite the blue sky and the calm, quiet natural beauty that exists where humans don’t, it didn’t feel peaceful to me. I had no desire to see more rocks. I wanted to see people. Sidewalks. Buildings!

I looked at my watch – almost 9 o’clock already! I woke up my son and Aidan and went downstairs to see if the kitchen might be hiding any treasures we could plunder for breakfast and lunch. I found a half-full bag of oats – what luck! – and heated them with water.  Without milk or sugar the oatmeal was sure to be tasteless, but we would at least feel full.

We couldn’t have asked for a better day to hike: clear blue skies for as far as we could see. But despite the perfect weather, thirty minutes into the hike everything was going wrong.

Our son could not stop crying. “Hot chocolate,” he whimpered. “I want hot chocolate.” Yesterday’s courageous little trooper refused to take a single step today without hot chocolate. We decided to stop and let him eat the chocolate chip cookies in the hopes that it would pull him through the next few hours.

I tried to pull the plastic container out of my backpack but it got stuck. I pulled harder and watched in disbelief as the entire box flew out of my hands, bouncing down the side of the mountain.

Our son was now sobbing. With resignation, we turned back. We would rest at the cabin and try to make it out tomorrow.

View from the cabin.

Under any other circumstances spending a sunny day in a mountain cabin beside a lake with a small boat would be a delightful and rejuvenating experience, but I felt only stress and panic. Our son was not yet potty-trained and I had only one diaper left. We had no food. We would have to go and find water (the pail left by the previous hikers was nearly empty.)

Back at the cabin I took off our son’s diaper to save it for tomorrow’s hike, even thinking this might be a good time to potty train him! (Ha!) I investigated the rest of the cabin and found an emergency supplies cupboard. No diapers, but it did have crackers and packets of strawberry jam (never mind that they expired over two years ago) and a few other items in cans that I could use for dinner. I also came across a hand-drawn map to the nearest waterfall and two ten-gallon pails for carrying the water.

Our well-stocked kitchen

To my dismay, the water pails came back only half full. (I wrote that sentence as if the water pails were to blame, as if two naughty children had spilled most of the water while playing with it instead of carrying it.) The hike for water was at least ten minutes uphill on rocky terrain. What can I say? I would have had a hard time carrying twenty gallons of water on a sidewalk in Toronto without spilling it.

So I returned with less water than I had hoped, but was firm in my commitment to ration it. Which is why it would only make sense that a few hours later I saw our son swirling the toilet brush in one of our cherished pails of water. “I’m helping you clean, mommy!” he chirped, smiling proudly.

I screamed at him. And in retaliation he peed right there on the kitchen floor. I hadn’t meant to scream. I really had not. And I regretted it for hours as I hiked to get more water, as I washed the kitchen floors with it and then washed his clothes, and then as I hiked to get more water . . .

Wisely avoiding me for the afternoon, Aidan took our son out in the rowboat on the

Enjoying the rowboat trip with dad.

small lake. I got creative with the emergency supplies cabinet. Dinner would be canned corn sprinkled cheerfully over a bed of reconstituted potato flakes. Our choices for meat were less delightful: canned meatballs or “Joika” (canned reindeer.) The Joika was the less expired of the two, but I didn’t think I could stomach it.

Resting after crackers and jam.

As proof of how hungry we really were from an all day hike and a lunch of crackers and jam, we actually enjoyed our evening meal and I cooked up an extra package of mashed potatoes.

After dinner we packed our gear and went to bed early, hoping to be out of the cabin and on our way by 8 a.m. the next day. As the hours at our cabin came to a close I started to have faith that we could do this. We would make it home tomorrow.

But like everything else about this hike, nothing would be as I wanted it to be. Restless, I woke up at 5 a.m. I looked out the tiny loft window and my heart came to a dead stop. Snow. So much snow that I could not see anything through or beyond it. I could not see the lake. I saw no trees. The ground was buried.

My mind was racing: this can’t be happening. We HAVE to get out of here. Oh, God! We HAVE to get out of here!

I climbed down the loft ladder to the dark kitchen and started a fire in the stove. I needed coffee and warmth. I lit a candle and sat down at the wooden table and released a bundle of silent screams to God – who seemed the right person to blame for giving us a sunny day when we weren’t able to hike and a snow storm when we needed more than anything to hike. What is this? Some kind of joke? Seriously, God! We barely made it here and now we are going to be stuck here for days?

Tears rolled down my cheeks as I sat there alone in an anger too great for me to come to terms with.

When Aidan awoke we discussed our options. We had to at least try to make it back and decided that leaving all of our belongings behind would give us the best chance.

We piled our packs into a corner and left a note in the hopes that the DNT might be able to get them back to us someday, while fully aware that it didn’t matter if we lost our packs and clothes for good. We needed to get back.

We packed the remaining crackers and expired packets of strawberry jam and began our hike, singing to keep our spirits up.

Surprisingly, our day of rest had renewed our weary legs and we were able to make good time. Aidan could carry our son when he needed a rest and not having the extra weight of the packs helped us to make it through the snow more easily.

After three hours the snow had stopped falling and a crack of sunlight was making its way through the blanket of clouds. Things were beginning to look up, but we were still a long way from our car and our son was getting tired. Aidan convinced me that he was capable of going back alone for our packs and then meeting us at the end of the trail. Our son and I were going slow enough that he might even catch back up with us.

Now alone, my son and I crossed a wet, boggy field and begin an ascent through a dark green forest we had called the Troll Forest on our first time through it. Again we began a game of hunting for trolls, which also entailed lots of resting. As we sat in the dark woods looking at mossy boulders that had tumbled down centuries earlier our old friend, the Norwegian hiker who had rescued us two days earlier, appeared on the trail. For some reason I was not at all surprised.

His gentle face smiled as he passed us by, his feet barely touching the stones as he hopped up the path that felt so very steep to us. A mountain goat, I thought. He is a mountain goat!

The sight of him inspired us and we stood up and continued our journey. After another hour or so I saw the older man coming back towards us, this time without his backpack. He smiled and waved and asked if he could help us back.

Did I dare let him rescue us twice? Why should he do all of this extra work? I felt guilty. And I was pretty sure we had only two hours left.

“It’s okay,” I said. “Thank you, but I think we can manage.”

“But I must!” he said, not persuaded.

I asked if he might help Aidan instead, and go back to the cabin for our packs.

He happily agreed and then said four words that made him seem suspiciously supernatural: “I have a boat!”

“You have a boat?” I asked in amazement.

“When you get to the lake just stop and wait for me,” he said. Taking a boat across the lake would shave off the last hour of our hike!

“You have a boat?” I repeated. “How? Where?” But he was already skipping down the rocky path in search of Aidan.

“He has a boat!” I sang out to my son. I was ecstatic.

For the last hour of our hike we entertained ourselves by dreaming about the boat – what kind of boat was it? What color would it be?

“I think it’s red,” I said.

“Nope! It’s light blue, mommy,” my son said. “I know it. It’s light blue.”

When we reached the lake a light blue rowboat sat bouncing in the sunlight.

“How did you know that?” I asked our son. He just shrugged.

We waited another forty-five minutes under a tree for our mysterious helper and Aidan to return. Our friend was in the lead by several meters, carrying all of the packs by himself. Aidan told me later that even without any packs on his back he still had trouble keeping up with him.

The fact that this man had, in essence, just done the whole hike twice made us questions us human-ness. The fact that he had come upon us and offered his help at our points of greatest exhaustion was too much to be coincidental. And yet . . . and yet? And yet this whole idea of angels makes me uneasy.

I decided to get to the bottom of this, interrogation style. “Is this your boat?”

“No, this is not my boat.”

“Did you just find it?”

“No.”

“Who’s boat is it?”

At every question he smiled as though he were keeping a secret.

“I have a friend,” he finally said.

A friend? Out here? Where?!

My questions went unanswered.

By this time even rational Aidan had to agree that there was something not all together normal about this man and his magical appearances and even more magical boat.

When we arrived at the parking lot I asked our friend for his name. I felt we had to send him some sort of thanks. He had saved us twice.

The first two times I asked him he just shook his head and laughed.

“Please,” I begged him. And maybe part of me wanted a name as proof that he was in fact human.

“Ådne,” he answered.

I shook his hand and thanked him with all my heart.

I would later discover, as we retraced our journey on the map, that Ådne was the name of the mountain that stood in the direction of where he said he lived.

In recent years my husband and I have shared an interest in making the trip again and we just might next summer when our son is ten and our daughter is five. Since that first year in Norway we have successfully made it to the tops — and back! — of many mountains. This spring my son and I completed Bergen’s 4-Mountain Hike. It is not just that we have learned a lot about Norway since our hike to Kalvedalshytta, that we have become stronger and better at hiking. The hike to Kalvedalshytta was an introduction to Norway itself: its challenging terrain, its strong and self-sufficient people, and the duty those people feel for helping others. I cannot forget Ådne’s insistent: “But I must.”

We would like to see that hiking trail through new eyes — would it look as challenging? As endless? As frightening? Would we lose our way or find it easily, and laugh at how inexperienced we once were in the mountains?

I will not be at all surprised if we pass Ådne on the path, smiling as he hops effortlessly from rock to rock. I will ask him if he is really an angel, and he will smile and continue on his hike.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Aunt Judy permalink
    11 June 2011 23:53

    Jena, Your Mom had told me this story a few years ago. I was in awe when she told me, but reading it through your words makes it even more vivid, seem more unreal. I do know that God sends helpers when we need them the most. And you’re right. They’re called angels. Please keep writing. One day we will see your works on the best seller list. I just know it!!!!

  2. Bente permalink
    12 June 2011 11:33

    Wow, what a trip! Your language is so vivid and it really draws me deep in to the story. It’s really good, you should make a book out of all these little stories some day. As a norwegian I would love to read them in between bookcovers!

    I’m not a special religious person, but “Ådne” really was a saving angel, human or not. He sounds like a man who could be in the tv-series “der ingen skulle tru at nokon kunne bu”…

    I hope you’ll have a better experience if you and your family decide to take the trip again! Naturen er vill og vakker, men hun kan være farlig om en ikke passer seg:)

    • jenaconti permalink
      20 June 2011 08:32

      Hi Bente,
      Thanks for comment! I’m glad you enjoyed reading it, and I, too, hope we are more prepared for our next adventures! But I still think most Norwegians are more comfortable alone in the middle of nowhere than I am. Maybe because I grew up surrounded by man-made and carefully controlled natural settings! 🙂

  3. 13 June 2011 13:53

    What a delightful story! Ok it was Hell-ish, but I love that you have continued to hike, and after that miserable first experience, you want to do it all over again!

    There is something about Norway that smacks me around a bit and says, `Move your lazy ass up that hill!´
    I like the brutal push. Although, I have yet to meet a helpful local along the way. Glad to know it could happen!

    Kimberly

    • jenaconti permalink
      20 June 2011 08:34

      Thanks, Kimberly! Brutal push indeed! That is a great way to describe so many aspects of life in Norway! 🙂

  4. 27 June 2011 14:50

    epic story, and well told to boot. glad you all got through that rough spot. (:

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