In the middle of September I boarded the plane to Oslo with my fingers crossed, 42 freeze dried meals, 4 kg of dried fruit and 28 Mars bars. Ahead of me I had two weeks completely self sufficient in the Norwegian wilderness, and hopefully some reindeer.
All my friends said I was an idiot; I hoped I wasn’t. I planned to walk a 190km round route through one of Norway’s most beautiful national parks, collecting data for my dissertation as I went. I hitchhiked to the town nearest the national park, falling a little bit in love with everyone who gave me a lift. I had literally everything I needed, and Frank Ocean’s new album to listen to. I felt pretty optimistic. I camped for two nights at a mountain hut called Spiterstulen, between the two highest mountains in Northern Europe, hiking during the day and researching in the evening, before heading into the wilderness proper. The weather was incredible for late September, revealing sublime autumnal mountains that no camera could do justice to. The next week was wonderful, with good weather, easy navigation and suitable ground each night for pitching my tent, which I would do at around six, then put the stove on and wolf down one of the freeze dried meals, listening to a podcast.
There’s a limit to the amount of hours you can listen to a podcast, though, and how many things you can think of to entertain yourself. One thing I did discover was that I can fit 123 raisins in my mouth. I sat in the porch of my tent and stared out at the fjords and mountain peaks, feeling blessed to be experiencing it all. It really was a wilderness. I hadn’t seen any people for days. I camped by a river one night, and in the morning unzipped my tent to see a herd of reindeer, that I watched graze as I ate my porridge. They were beautiful, and I wished I had more than my crappy iPhone to take photos. After that things went downhill. It rained continuously, and walking against the wind was exhausting. The gusts were so strong my tent poles buckled and I didn’t sleep much as I got up hourly to check the tent was securely pegged. I started to fall over a lot as the terrain was very rocky and slippery. Once I landed on my face, which gave me black eye and broke my glasses. I taped them together with medical tape and couldn’t help crying. As I went higher up the mountains, I became more apprehensive, but I was around halfway and didn’t really want to turn back. This was when I had my first accident. I needed to cross a river but its bridge was completely broken.
It flowed through quite a steep gorge so there wasn’t really anywhere easy to cross, but I decided to try, which looking back was a huge mistake. The river was much deeper and more powerful than I thought and the glacial water took my breath away. My rucksack weighed me down and I was battered against the sides of the gorge. I managed to unclip my rucksack and get to the surface, hooking my hand through my rucksack strap and panicking my way to the other side. I climbed the couple of metres up the side of the gorge and then went into shock, struggling to strip out of my soaking clothes and pitch my tent to assess the damage, which I did in my sleeping bag, cradling a hot chocolate. The finger I’d used to hook my rucksack out was blue and at a horrible angle, and the rest of my body felt badly bruised. I felt lucky to be alive. The next day the weather cleared. I ached all over and walking was tiring, but the sunset that night was the best I’ve ever seen. I camped high up and saw all the sun’s colours illuminated in the snow, and forgot the pain I was in for a while. Sadly it didn’t last; the following day, constant mist and fog made navigation impossible, and worsened into a snowstorm. I realised I was lost. In the morning the storm had stopped and I could work out where I was, but I was utterly demoralised. I hadn’t seen or spoken to anyone for over a week and all I wanted was for my Dad to come and take me home. Then I had my big accident.
I was climbing a difficult ridge when I lost my footing and fell two or three metres, landing badly on my left side, and I lost consciousness. When I came to, I tried to put on my backpack to continue walking, but passed out again. I’d landed on the same side where I’d broken my clavicle and some ribs previously and it felt like I’d done the same again. Where I’d fallen there wasn’t anywhere flat to put up the tent, so I dosed up with the last of my painkillers and climbed the same section again to find flatter ground. Doing anything was agony. I couldn’t wear my rucksack properly and even breathing was excruciating. I gave up my planned route and headed to the nearest mountain hut, only 30km away, but I was in so much pain that I had to stop every few metres, walking at less that 2kmph. The song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” came on, and I’ve never hated a song more in my life. Norway had plenty of mountains that were more than high enough. The four days it took me to to walk to the hut were some of the worst of my life. I broke down when I saw that there were people there. Two very nice but very racist Swedish men gave me a lift all the way to Oslo. We stopped in a McDonalds where I used the wifi to contact my family for the first time in two weeks. They called me an idiot; this time I completely agreed