Ski Touring in the Lofotens – big trip out to the Trollfjorden!

Trollfjord
Trollfjord

So for the final day out – Seth had a really big, and special plan for us. There is a particular fjord in the islands called the Trollfjorden – I think if you google it – you may find some information about it from other sources, but it also appears to me that there may be more than one fjord that people like to call the “Troll fjord”….so keep an eye out for that….

In any case – this Trollfjorden, (we’ll assume it is THE Trollfjorden) is the largest fjord in the islands – being something over one kilometer in length, I believe, but in addition to its size, it has a couple of other neat features.

One – it is located far away from any roads in the islands, and is accessible only by boat from the sea. The area around it boasts some of the most alpine mountains the islands have to offer, and here you will find steep spires and chutes that you don’t see as much in other parts of the Lofotens. Because of the isolation, it doesn’t see nearly the amount of traffic as other spots.

Two – the entrance to the fjord is hidden behind a rock, and is, when you approach from the direction of Svolvaer – completely hidden. You will pass by it without seeing it, unless you know where to look, and, I suppose it goes without saying, the entrance is quite small – perhaps only 50 – 60 meters wide at the entrance.

Three – what an entrance! Passing through the mouth of the fjord – your already small boat feels still smaller indeed as you look at the sheer granite walls on either side of the entrance! Climbing them would take a lot of crack-work, and you’d need several pitches at least to get up. The shadows and the rock make the air going into that fjord get noticeably colder and it really does feel like you are entering a hidden fortress. When you think of the word “fjord” – this is what you probably think of.

Four – and this may be the best bit – as impressive and foreboding as that entrance is – after a couple hundred meters, the fjord widens a bit, and becomes decidedly more friendly. The back of the fjord is the widest bit, and there is a dock and a little house there waiting for you to tie up to as well!

power station and dock
power station and dock

No – unfortunately – its not a cafe or bed and breakfast with fairy-made muffins and coffee sweetened with distilled mushroom juice. Its a power station – a hydroelectric station – but a rather inconspicuous one. There is a reservoir higher up behind the station, and years ago the Norwegians built this little house with some turbines in it, and connected the reservoir the house with giant pipes running downhill. These have been well integrated into the landscape – so at very first glance you may not notice them.

making it look easy, as always
making it look easy, as always

The dock – used by maintenance crews, and everybody else – is VERY high, and since the tide can be significant here – you have to give some thought to just how and where to tie up. In addition – if you happen to come at low tide, you’ll have to climb up that dock to get off the boat, which is a breeze, but you’ll also need to get all your gear up there as well. This is not difficult – but you should take care, because anything dropped here is going right into the drink – and you won’t be getting it back.

Careful there
Careful there

So – after taking care of all that, we took off up the back of the fjord in the sparkling sunny morning – going around the house and up into the trees and brush behind it. We came quickly to a somewhat steeper grade, and bushwacked as bit going up, first with the large pipe of the power station on our left, and then, after crossing over it, on our right, and then again on our left. There is a small flatter area at the top of the grade, which is probably a small pond or lake from which the power station is fed, and after this, you continue up into a gully with steep walls on both sides.

going up
going up

The scenery is impressive, but even though it was only about 10 in the morning, we were already starting to get a little ancy about the snow. It was warm, and late in the season, even for the Lofotens. We had taken a bit too much time getting the boat out that morning and with a couple of splitboarders in the group, we weren’t winning any speed medals. We doubled up our efforts to get out of that gully before any small slide had the opportunity to bury us deep in the terrain trap.

Exiting the gully, you’ll hit a saddle, where down the other side the hill drops off down to another little lake. On other days, we might have taken the opportunity to rip the skins and get these turns down to that shore – but we decided to keep the skins on and curve around to the left, taking a more gradual route down with benches and some down-skinning to come out at the far end of that little lake, and underneath a ramp going up and to the left behind the ridge now situated to our left.

going the long way around
going the long way around

This turned out to be another mistake. Winding around was not so bad, but all the downskinning and even straight up skiing with skins on was a headache for all of us – and for some of the less expirienced members of the group on splitboards, it was downright hairy. We all made it just fine, but the percieved advantage of not having to rip the skins and then transition again at the bottom did not materialize. We were already kind of tired, and the skiing with loose heels and carpet hadn’t been any fun anyway.

I’m starting to think that one day, I’ll learn this lession. It seems to me that every time I decide not to transition, whether it be from climb to ski or the other way around, just because I think it will be a hassle and that I will be able to compensate using some other technique – I end up regretting that decision. I either end up just dead tired, or hurt, or both. If we had ripped the skins leisurely  at the top, we’d have had a couple of really nice turns down the side of that saddle, through really interesting contours. We would have taken less than half the time, even with the two transitions – and we would have been fit and rested. I wish I could say lesson learned – but not very long after this, I had a similar situation and I again decided on leaving my skins on. In that case, I tried to navigate an extremely steep slope and slipped. Having very little edge hold due to my telemark heels – I kept on sliding, until I hit rocks, which only had the effect of launching me into the air over a small cliff. I broke some ribs and some gear, but in the end I was very lucky. It could have been worse. I think the lesson is that despite all our belief that efficiency is something you learn, it is also very much a question of choosing your tools, and that no matter how fit, or good you are, choosing the wrong tool will doom you to be slow and awkward – and that there are no real shortcuts in backcountry travel.

getting up that ramp
getting up that ramp

We took a break at the lake, and had a bite. The ramp above us had not been skied all season, and was filled with dried out surface hoar that would be a dream to ski on. The bottom half, especially off to the left side (going up) was all in the shade, and despite the warm temps, in there it was cold!

We made time getting up that ramp. It has a nice angle, not too steep, and above all, very constant. We preserved the snow for our ride down and made sure our kick-turns left lots of fresh for everybody in the group.

Coming out of that ramp into the sunlight was magical – with a small cirque going almost all the way around and views of the ocean in the other. Prominently sitting in the middle of this relatively flat area is a large boulder – transported there by gravity or by some long-melted glacier. Its big enough that ten people could picnic on it, and around the back the snow had collected in such a way as to allow you to go up it without even taking off your skis. It sits naturally in your path, and you are drawn to it.

Once there – the splitboarders in our group had decided that this would be their high point for the day. While I have no problem riding with splitboarders, and don’t care for endless arguments pro or con, my expirience is that they have a lot more work to do than your average skier to get up the mountain. There are a couple of reasons for this, but I think the biggest is the lack of a walk function in their boots. They are a lot stiffer than most imagine, and they have a significant forward lean. When I watch my wife walk, I can see that her forward stride is limited because she can’t really bend her ankle backward like I do when I take a long stride forward. She ends up taking 2 or 3 steps for every one of mine. For this reason, we’re going to experiment next season with a hard-boot setup for her. A soft hardboot is not much stiffer (if at all) than a snowboard softboot – but it has the advantage of a walk function. I am pretty sure that a TLT6 or similar coupled with a dynafit binding or comparable system would be a much easier to use package. Stay tuned for our expiriences!

The skiers took off to gain the peak behind the boulder. It was up a steep incline, and in a couple of places, you really needed to know how to do those “backward kickturn” things. I’ve spent my share of time wallowing in the past – so I’ve got it down these days, but despite this, I really can’t help anyone else that much, except to be patient and encouraging. Sure – if you want, I’ll give you tips – but like so many things in skiing and life – you really have to figure it out on your own. There is no learning except self-learning.

I’m always fascinated by this. I’ve spent most of my free time and all of my daydream time skiing since I was a teenager – and yet – if you asked my how I ski – I’d be hard pressed to tell you. I could give you some crap about weighting and unweighting, pushing with your pinky-toe, plunging your knee into the tips of your skis….all that, but I don’t really believe that anyone hearing that could really ski better. Nor do I really believe that is what I am doing when I am skiing. Certainly it is clear that if I actually thought about all the stuff I do when I ski, I’d screw it up. Its far too complicated, and it happens too fast.

I’m a nominal Buddhist – and skiing is why. For anyone out there who is not a skier, you could easily write it off as flaky, but if you’ve spent even just a little time with Buddhist philosophy, it would be hard to ignore some of the parallels that I see and feel with those ideas and how my body and mind react when I am skiing.

working on my unattachment
working on my unattachment

A thinking skier is a poor skier. You can see this every day in adult beginner courses at every ski hill in the world. Adults have trained themselves to “learn” stuff, to “pay attention” and many believe skiing is a skill – perhaps similar to embroidery – that they can see, understand, and emulate. They stiffly stutter and control their way down the slopes, and you can see it from a mile away.

Compare this to children. They are not better learners than us – I don’t believe that. My kids still don’t know that when they eat a whole bag of gummi bears in three swallows they will get a stomach ache – but they ski, most of them, with a grace that comes from no teacher, and they “learn” not by “getting it right” but rather by letting go.

That’s not saying that kids are great skiers right from the bat, but I have seen that the less they are conditioned to “learn” skiing, the better they are, and the faster they improve.

I also find it wonderful that as your skiing gets better, you seem to concern yourself with it less and less. It doesn’t so much become second nature as much as it allows your true nature to just be. I know that when I am skiing – I am not just not thinking about work, or other stuff I don’t like – I am really and truly not thinking at all. Nothing. In most of Buddhism – this is the end goal of most forms of meditation. I can’t really get there sitting on a mat – but it seems to me that with the first rush of the snow under my bases – I am gone, long gone from the everyday world and that if there is a zen-like state – I find it when I ski.

All that just to say – keep un-learning those kickturns and soon, they’ll happen all by themselves!

The “top” was really a long, sloping extremely flat plateau, with great views of the mountains and sea all around. We slogged it up that plate and posed for glory shots in the 366 degree sunshine.

on top! Tyler - relaxed, as always
on top! Tyler – relaxed, as always

We didn’t hang out too long – our friends were back at the rock – and by now – their little spot in the sunshine had turned to a freezer in the shade. It was the middle to late afternoon now and we needed to make a move.

We took the long ride down and made some Euro-Wiggle down the slope we just slogged up. Nice. The pow was virgin and the stable weather along with the sheltered nature of the little couloir / ramp we went down had allowed the top layer to become a nice bed of hoar – which is a disaster if there is too much, or worse, it gets buried and becomes a bed of ball bearings for slabs on top of it – but in the right amounts is a dream to ski on and as long as its all on top, not really a problem avalanche-wise.

We met up with the crew. They were already transitioned and ready to go – but had gotten quite chilly sitting in the shade.

shady!
shady!

This is where the real skiing began, and also – the start of our great adventure!

More to come!

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