By David Love
Our ambassador, David Love, recently went to Norway with a small team to reach the two highest points in Norway, Glittertind and Galdhoppigen in the Jotunheimen National Park. The sub-zero temperatures put the AW19 kit to the ultimate test.
I’d never been to Norway before. So when the opportunity came up for an expedition to the mountainous region of Jotunheimen, to summit the country’s two highest peaks, it wasn’t something I was going to pass up. The only problem was winter had already set in, with forecast temperatures for the expedition window as low as minus 24 degrees Celsius with windchill!
With the recent snow and ice causing access issues for vehicles, it quickly became apparent that the only way to reach the mountains was by making a self-supported, multi-day expedition by foot. With such harsh conditions on the horizon, finding the right balance between packing enough kit and supplies to keep us alive while reducing pack weight as far as possible was going to be the difference between success or failure.
Landing in Norway’s capital, Oslo, the temperature was already below zero. Yet the Jotunheimen National Park was still some 300km further north, towards the arctic circle, and situated at a much higher altitude. With winter marking the end of the tourist season in Jotunheimen, many of the area’s hotels, restaurants and shops were going to be closed. So Oslo was our last opportunity to stock up on supplies – what we couldn’t carry on our backs to survive the next 7 days wasn’t coming with us!
Selecting The Right Kit
I’d already been testing the new Expolite Hooded Jacket for over a month in the UK and, while I had instantly fallen in love with it the second I put it on, I knew it wasn’t meant to be rated for temperatures as low as we were going to experience in Norway. However, for those that spend a lot of time in the outdoors will know, it’s not the size of the jacket, but what you do with it that counts!
As a team we chose to combine the excellent warmth and wicking properties of new Craghoppers’ Merino Wool Baselayers (half-zip Long sleeve top and tights) with the insulating properties of the ThermaPro-filled Expolite Hooded Jacket, completed with the more technically-focused Trelawney waterproof shell. We also packed the more heavy-weight First-Layer Base Half Zip Top as a reserve for the coldest day.
Arriving in the local town on Lom in north Jotunheimen, the ambient temperature was already minus 6 degrees. We had a further 2000m to climb and winds of 50-60km/h were forecast for the next 72 hours with temperatures expecting to plummet.
We began by hiking up the main valley that separates Norway’s two highest peaks – Glittertind (2464m) and Galdhoppigen (2469m). While only separated by 5m in height, they are situated some 18km apart and over 4000m of elevation gain to reach them both. Easier said than done in knee-high snow, near gale-force winds and with 25kg expedition packs on your back!
We were lucky enough to stumble across a disused barn for the first night. Although it did little to protect is from the sub-zero temperatures, as we rapidly got to grips with water bottles that would freeze in less than an hour and brittle bootlaces that felt like you could snap them like twigs. We also quickly discovered how essential our Merino Wool Base Layers were at keeping us toasty at night inside our sleeping bags.
The valley walls were steep which warmed us up quickly during the initial ascent. Even with ambient valley temperatures down to minus 8 degrees we found ourselves walking in just our Merino base layer tops, only needing our Expolite Jackets for occasional food and water breaks. As we neared our first mountain camp location, the gradient eased and throwing on the Trelawney Jacket did an excellent job of keeping out the developing winds and icy spindrift. The following day was going to be our first summit push for Glittertind, so an early dinner and bed was in order. Inside our tents, bivvy bags, and sleeping bag liners, our Merino Base Layers were just enough to keep us warm at 1800m as temperatures fell to minus 10 degrees. Although I did cosy up to my Expolite Jacket that night!
We woke to our tents being battered by 50-60km/h winds, taking windchill temperatures down to minus 20 degrees. After an initially steep section of technical mixed snow, rock and ice, we found ourselves on the forebodingly large summit slopes of Glittertind in a complete whiteout, with only 5m visibility and wading through fresh powder snow up to our knees. A summit morning that should have taken us 2.5 hours actually took 5! Our decision to combine the warmth of our base layers and Expolite Jackets with the protection of the Trelawney Jacket really paid dividends here, keeping us shielded from elements just long enough to reach the summit just after midday.
Summit celebrations were short lived and we descended quickly to escape the relentless battering from the wind. Even the hot water we started with at the beginning of the day was turning to ice inside our thermos flasks! A decision to make camp early in a relatively sheltered area of the mountain came as a much welcomed relief. We were exhausted and last-light was rapidly approaching. That night we definitely needed to wear our Expolite Jackets in bed. Thankfully the ThermaPro insulation had dried quickly and become toasty within an hour or so, a clear advantage over down filled jackets here!
Feeling battered and bruised we returned down the 1500m to the main valley separating Glittertind from Galdhoppigen where we were able to conduct some much needed admin and fill up our water bottles with fresh mountain stream water rather than melted snow.
Another steep 1000m ascent from the valley base to the Galdhoppigen plateau took us through a barren arctic, tundra-esk landscape. While temperatures were a little warmer at minus 9 degrees, a bitterly chilly wind meant we were extremely thankful to be wearing our Expolite jackets for the majority of the day.
After another chilly night we moved to the Galdhoppigen Glacier where we set up camp just below the summit pyramid. With any luck, we’d be on the summit in the early hours of the morning followed by a long walk off the range during the remainder of the day. That night, at 2200m, was the coldest of the expedition with ambient temperatures inside our tents of minus 14 degrees.
Day 7 – The Final Objective
We woke at 5am. It was extremely hard to get moving – prising myself from the relative warmth of my sleeping bag, which had taken me all night to warm up, following 10 hours of awful, lucid semi-sleep. I turned on my headtorch I was able to view the aftermath from a full-night’s frozen condensation and how the internal tent-blizzard had affected all my kit.
Taking off my toasty Merino tights to replace them with icy-cold mountaineering pants was a total body-shock I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Despite having them inside my bivvy bag with me all night they were completely frozen. Even, the water I boiled the night before and insulated overnight had frozen solid so melting snow again was the only option. I tried to do as much as I could from the warmth of my sleeping bag, but trying to thaw out boots that were like solid blocks of leathery ice was a pointless exercise
Hearing my team mates in their tent going through the same struggles gave me some solace that I was not alone in all this. But eventually I just had to take the plunge, stamp through the pain of getting my feet into my boots and stepped out onto the icy fresh morning snowpack. Within a matter of seconds my ears felt like I could snap them off!
We were able to summit within a couple of hours and spend the rest of the day descending the mountain back towards the local town. Sat back in Olso with warm mugs of hot chocolate, we reflect on all the ‘type 2 fun’ we’ve just had with huge smiles across our faces. However, I think I’ll book somewhere a little warmer for my next trip!