An Introduction to Reinheimen
A recent addition to Norway’s national parks, Reinheimen offers some of the country’s most unique scenery. The area is best known for its diverse wildlife and is home to reindeer, wolves, golden eagles and as I was to also find out, wolverines.
I went into this trip hoping to test some of my backcountry wilderness skills, get away from busy city life and see some beautiful mountain vistas. It’s fair to say that Reinheimen delivered all of those things, completely surpassed my expectations and goes down as the most pristine landscape I have set foot upon.
Ulvåa to Litlelangdalen
This was the longest multi-day solo trip that I’d planned to do yet, so I was expecting it to be a significant step up from anything I had done before. There are no second opinions, no joint struggles, just gruelling days. My route started along the river Ulvåa, which snakes up into the mountains. The landscape’s scale was immediate. What looked like a hill on my terrain map was actually a 1600m mountain, far taller than anything in the UK.
My first morning in the Reinheimen wilderness took me through dense forest, soaked through from the previous week of snowfall. It didn’t take long before I was knee deep in snow. I soon found out that post holing sucks, especially on sketchy mountain passes. As the day went on the possibility of me being able to make it up to many of the peaks or ridges I had on my agenda began to slim.
At times I felt light headed, I guess due to the reflectivity of the snow. There was little escape from the intense sun that forced me to put more sun cream on than I did all summer. Not what I was expecting from Norway in September!
It became clear that I should have planned to stick to lower routes, in the forests and the valleys. But I wanted to keep going and stick to my route. Every mountain pass posed a new challenge that took me well out of my comfort zone.
The terrain was not what I had expected. The entire landscape was covered by huge boulders that made traversing at any sort of considerable pace practically impossible.
Litlelangdalen to Muldal
It was a beautiful morning. The light at dawn painted the snow-capped mountain tops in a pastel orange. The clear skies developed into another scorcher of a day, baking hot. I passed some quiet little tarns that reflected the landscape around them like a mirror.
After what was at this point a couple of days without seeing another person, I crossed a fellow hiker. He was off to photograph the reindeer, although a little disheartened I hadn’t seen them. He had tried for two days in a row and still not been able to get a photo. He asked whether I camped in the mountains, to which my reply left him a little stunned, “You must be brave, and very cold”. We parted ways and I dropped further into the valley.
As the forests opened up I caught tiny glimpses of my destination. The ascent looked tough, rugged and steep. I crossed one final river and made my way through a traditional Norwegian settlement. A woman was sat at the front of her house and and spotted me through her hanging laundry. She didn’t say anything but seemed startled by my appearance, so I headed on up the mountain.
I was aware that my next few hours in the mountains might be some of the hardest I would face the entire trip. Mostly off trail, with little information on the surrounding mountains. The first few kilometres were manageable, and I made it up through the forest to Heimste Berilldalsvatnet. A forested red and orange expanse spread for miles, all the way back to where I came from yesterday. The rocky scramble to Fremste Berilldalsvatnet (The upper of two adjacent lakes) was extremely challenging. I got my foot stuck a few times in between boulders and feared a broken leg every time. Luckily I was left with just a few cuts and bruises.
Over the past couple of days I’d seen some spectacular lakes, but nothing came close to this monster. Crashing waterfalls made their way down the steep cut sides and glaciers loomed from above. From what I could see, the Southern perimeter of the lake was impassable. There was however a passable scree slope on the North side, but little visibility of what was round the corner. My only chance was to tackle the rock scree that had fallen into the Northern side of the lake.
I spent over an hour commandeering myself across huge boulders and fragile scree. It was exhausting and ultimately pretty dangerous. When I made it round the corner I was greeted with an unfortunate sight. Even steeper rocks lined the rest of the lake. – A wall. There was no way around. I struggled my way up to a higher route but after some extremely close calls on slippery rocks and fragile handholds I turned around.
Fremste Berilldalsvatnet really hurt me mentally. This was the crux of the route and linked up two awesome mountain ranges. With no way around I was going to have to massively rethink my plans and plan an alternative route. I started to head back along the rocky shore, my legs falling between the sharp boulders too many times to count.
I started to piece together a route that would take me back where I came from for about 20km. I’d then have to try and catch a ride into Valdall from the nearest road. With not much food left, it was my only reasonable option.
I passed the ‘back to basics’ settlement once more but this time there was nobody to be seen. I continued onwards to the road, preparing myself for a long wait. After only 5 minutes of waiting on the freshly laid road (Annoyingly sticky for my trail shoes) a car passed me, going in the right direction. My hopes lifted massively. It wizzed past, spraying up some of the road surface.
After a few more minutes a car came from the settlement I had seen earlier. I hadn’t seen any cars parked there earlier, so I thought it a little strange. Either way I was waved down by the driver and asked something in Norwegian that I didn’t quite catch. It was the woman I had seen outside her house earlier! She was going to Valldal, so I accepted her offer and got in her old Audi.
“You have hiked from Bjorli, how many days?” “One and a half” I replied. It made me feel a lot better to hear someone so interested in my little adventure, and she insisted that I show her a map of my route. She didn’t think that walking to Bjorli was possible in a couple of days, but after showing her my map she was able to visualise the route. It was strange to be travelling at such a speed through the valley. What we covered in 25 minutes would’ve taken the best part of a day.
I grabbed a much needed resupply of food from the supermarket and caught another lift through a tunnel to a trailhead in Tafjord. The local who was kind enough to let a stinky hiker in his car, Steinar, wished me well in the mountains and I thanked him for the short journey. I proceeded to hike up the side of the fjord and find somewhere to set up camp.
Muldal to Ulvevatnet
I felt a little broken putting on my soaking wet socks once again as I trundled through the forest. I longed for the sunshine to strike the valley. The forests seemed never ending. Muddy paths meandered through overgrown and fallen trees. A stark difference to the last two days, but equally challenging. My feet couldn’t wait for the sun’s warmth to hit.
Just as I make it out of the mountain’s shadow the winds started to whip up across the lake, instantly making me wish I was back in the protected forest. The alpine lakes were rewarding, although I was struggling to see how the path I was on would navigate around the lake. If it wasn’t for some extremely nervy scrambling and wire drilled into the rock faces, I would’ve had to turn round. I had become quite exhausted, both physically and mentally. It was starting to stray from a fun mountain trip to an overwhelming experience.
Out of nowhere a furry animal with a black coat pranced down the mountain side. My knowledge of the local wildlife isn’t great, but that was every bit an intimidating mammal. Luckily I had my phone in my pocket and was able to catch it on video. A very rare sight that really caught me in my tracks.
Now that I’m home and have been able to put in a little research I’ve found that this was actually a wolverine. An exceptionally rare sight and I was lucky not to come face to face with such a ferocious animal.
I decided to regroup this afternoon. Since I was out of the shadow of the mountains, I could appreciate the warmth and dry out my gear. It wasn’t soaking, just muddy and damp from being in the forests.
There are more spiders here than I expected. They jump out from nowhere and suddenly they’ll be crawling up your leg. They’re all the same, kidney bean shaped bodies and long gangly legs.
I headed on further through the valley after a much needed rest and a skinny dip. I assessed taking another route across to Reindalsetter, but due to it crossing a glacier, I decided against it. It didn’t look too difficult from the valley, but the glacier crossing on my map demonstrated otherwise.
Instead, I scoured the landscape hoping for somewhere to camp. After finding a blue dot on my very zoomed out map I made out what looked to be a lake. There were some breaks in the vegetation that headed up towards the lake, which at first looked to be man made. After a closer inspection the mud had prints that were from both reindeer and wolves. A golden eagle swooped above, the first sighting of an eagle this trip. It was sensationally large, and luckily didn’t want anything to do with me.
I reached the lake, which was up a steep slope running parallel to its waterfall. The lake didn’t have a name on my map, so I’m calling it Ulvevatnet. It was magnificent.
Last thought before bed: The wolves will probably eat me alive.
Ulvevatnet to Nørdre Botnvatnet
This was either the least demanding day yet, or I was starting to get into the swing of things. I waited around for the fog to clear, hoping for that sought after temperature inversion. It was close to an inversion but I simply wasn’t at high enough of an elevation to see above the clouds. I could see in the distance that the clouds were beginning to sink down into the valley.
This part of Reinheimen’s terrain is more forgiving, making the walking far more relaxing. The forests are lush, with scattered pine trees and well marked trails. It was a great day, with no major mishaps. I wasn’t really ‘immersed’ in the mountains as much since I was making up distance in the valleys.
I managed to keep my feet dry for most of the day. Since I had covered ground so quickly I wasn’t entirely sure where I’d be heading to next. I had my heart set on Karitinden so I wanted to give that a shot. The idea was to get an early start the following morning and to get a quick ascent whilst the snow is firm. Even though it’s Wednesday it felt like I was having to make sacrifices to be sure I’d be back to the train on time. I wished to be in these mountains forever, discovering their hidden delights.
Nørdre Botnvatnet to Karihøa and Trollbua
It was a day of positive and spontaneous occurrences. I have longed to see an inversion in the mountains for years. I finally got the full show, with clouds that hovered and lingered all day. The forests were rich with life, their leaves glowing golden in the sunshine. Pyttbua offered an ideal quick rest station after a failed attempt to reach the summit of Karitind. Wind speeds were increasing, visibility decreasing. It was wise to turn around.
I saw a car today, approaching my evening hike. It was strange really, the first person I have seen in a while, yet I couldn’t even say hello to them since they were within the privacy of their vehicle.
The afternoon seemed to drag, many questions and thoughts were entering my vulnerable brain. Some useful thoughts, some definitely not! “Why don’t I just go to Åndalsnes and stay in a warm Airbnb. I could live like a king for a few days.”
I really needed to get somewhere with signal, I hadn’t contacted my family in 4 days. I imagined my mum at work with her phone on loud, checking every notification to see if I’m ok.
I reached the lake for sunset, at first it wasn’t anything super extraordinary. But then I see it, a tiny little wooden hut, nestled into the mountain. To my upmost surprise it was unlocked, and what great treasure I had found! The cabin is free to use and offers two beds, but mostly a place to escape from the elements. That’s where I’m writing this passage from now. The cabin’s single pane window is overlooking the sun setting on the other side of the lake, the clouds sinking into the valley once more.
Trollbua to Bjorli
Back to reality. I followed an ancient long-distance pilgrimage trail back to Bjorli, which wiggled its way through dense forest. An absolute pain to navigate, since the path was marked with red paint on the tree trunks, blending in perfectly with the autumnal leaves.
Finally I made it to Bjorli in the afternoon, which felt like an eternity later. It was overwhelming being back in a town, after only a week in the wilderness! Civilisation seemed to be so loud and excessive, the flashing lights on the front of the petrol station, and the honking of lorries on the main road.
The final shot on my roll of film had a light leak. I guess that marked the end of my adventure in the mountains.
Thanks for reading,