I have been feeling like winter came and went without me. I was just standing on the platform, passively looking on as the season passed by.
From my all time low in January recovery has been so slow that it was almost unnoticeable. But it was there. It turns out I was not really stuck on the platform, I was ever so slowly moving in the right direction. At glacier pace, mind you.
In the last month things have started to come together a bit. Two weeks ago I left the mind dulling comfort of the city for the first time since Christmas. Andrea and Jen gently dragged me to the mountains of Borgafjäll and we did a couple of short tours. Weather and snow conditions were passable, my strength far from it. Walking uphill at snails pace was fine, but my riding was weak to say the least. Never before have I felt fatigue after riding a line on my board, but this time, oh yes. The board felt like hundreds of kilos, little ollies turned into massive efforts and there was no power on those edges whatsoever. Despite all this, the weekend was a great success, as it showed me that at least I could be outside and enjoy the mountains again.
Fast forward two weeks, a few very short bike rides and a rather uneventful weekend and me, Andrea and Jen are again on our way to the mountains. This time, Marsfjällen, a massif of summits characterised by long, mellow approaches and beutiful views, in one of the wildest parts of the Västerbotten mountains.
Accomodation is usually scarse around Easter, but we lucked out and one of Andreas friends put us in touch with a little cabin. Rudimentary electricity, no running water and so on, but good enough for us.
Jen immediately upon arrival celebrated by starting to clear of a seasons worth of snow that had accumulated on the roof.
Jen shoveling snow from the roof…
…and me shoveling the same snow from the entrance. Both photos by Andrea.
The entrance, after the great break out dig. Photo by Andrea
After a lot of digging, food and sleep we woke up to a sunny but windy day. As I hinted, the approaches are long around these parts.
No better way to start a day than sun, wind and a massive approach. Photo by Andrea
200m of elevation gain over several kilometers took us up into the alpine valley, from where the proper climbing starts. Incidentally, it is also where the riding ends and the slog back home starts, but now I am getting ahead of myself.
Once in the valley, we dug a pit to escape the wind, took a snack and discussed our options. There was a couple of potential objectives off of Gahkan, in the far end of the valley. One of those felt too steep and risky for a first day out, and the other included climbing over the mountain and riding down the other side, making it impossible to assess the line before committing to the climb. And there were some looming clouds, possibly making visibility up high an issue. With me also feeling a bit tired (as always nowadays) and Andrea still with very few days on snow after the avalanche last year, we opted for the easy and safe option, which would also minimise slogging on our way out of the valley.
Looking out towards the gully on Rovpen, which was to be our line for the day. Photo by Andrea
The climb was mellow enough, and the snow better than it looked from afar, especially considering how the wind did its best to wreck havoc everywhere.
Jen traversing with the valley and its snowmobile tracks far below.
The creek we skinned along ended in an alpine lake and the landscape opened up. The snow still looked good and we had a bit of shelter from the wind so we figured we might just keep going all the way to the summit.
Summit in sight! Photo by Andrea
Up there, it was of course windy and quite unpleasant, but the feeling of making it there more than weighed up for it. Doing a quick transition we started our way down. The first bit was over a blind roll-over, and since we skirted around it on the way up there were no tracks to follow either. On riders right there was a fairly big cornice that I was keen to avoid as well, so this was a good opportunity to practice a bit of navigation by feel. All went well and the snow was not too bad, settled pow with the odd hard patch thrown in to spice things up.
Surfs up! The snow varied from settled pow to sastrugi and concrete.
Further down by the creek there were some really nice turns to be had, mixed up by some more challenging turns as usual. Some high clouds came in for a bit and treated us to a fantastic light that I was not even close to capturing despite trying my best.
Andrea pushing through sastrugi, me messing up really cool light conditions. I seem to have problems with flare as well, annoying stuff. Could it be the uv-filter?
Jen also got an opportunity to be in a slightly less missed photo opportunity. At least there is less flare on this one.
Coming into this weekend I was a bit hesitant about my riding, since my experience in Borgafjäll was less than thrilling. Now, however, it was a different ball game. I was not merely a passenger on my admittedly quite stiff and heavy Odin, but could at least to some extent actually ride it. I felt at least ten times stronger, which was a really cool feeling, and I also was not exhausted at the end of the run. There is still a long way to the power I had in my riding last spring, but at least this really shows that I am getting there.
Happy that we made it to a summit and everything, we made our way back down to the cabin. This was actually not too arduous a task, since the creek feeds out practically where the valley transitions from being slightly uphill to going absolutely flat, so we made it to the bottom without even having to split our boards. Oh, the joy!
Then we got home and finished clearing the roof.
A lot of snow on that poor old roof. Photo by Jen
After dinner we fell asleep at 9pm, just as it should be in the mountains.
On the day of Easter the sun was still out but the wind had died down, and we were chuffed. Boosted by the success and stable snow of the day before, not to mention the promising weather outlook, we aimed higher. The plan was to climb Gahkan, which guards the far end of the valley, and poke around a little on the objectives we passed up on the day before.
The slog over the wetlands and up through the forest felt faster this time around. I don’t think we moved that much quicker, but familiarity and good weather are powerful drugs.
Another day, same long approach. Here we are already way up in the valley. Photo by Andrea
We also had word that Henrik and Cilla would be joining us, but since our 9pm bedtime gave us quite the head start we had plenty of time for long lunch breaks and chilling in the sun. Just as well, because I went through one of those crappy phases I seem to be plagued with, when it feels like I am more or less dying. Luckily, it passed after a while on the skin up to the summit of Gahkan. By the way, I can’t remember ever passing more false summits on such a short climb before. Gahkan is severly convex, something we would experience properly on the way down…
On the summit of Gahkan, dreaming of the summit of Marsfjället. Photo by Andrea
From the summit we had three options. Riding down the other side into the great vast nothing that lies on this side of the mountain, or ride down into the same valley we came from either the same exact way we skinned up or a steeper option taking us into the really far end of the valley.
After seeing the view of the severely wind scoured snow on the “other side”, our options narrowed down to going the same exact way we came, which was a very mellow slope covered in rime, sastrugi and the odd patch of settled pow, or going for the steep and exciting option.
The day before we had been eying this steep exciting option from the the summit of Rovpen, but the fact that Rovpen is several kilometers away and we had no binoculars limited what information could be gathered. And now when push came to shove our mental images of the line were as fragmentary and conflicting as one could expect.
After much debate, we decided to go exciting, but in a careful way. We would skirt around the steepest bit and try to get a good visual of our line from the side before traversing over and dropping in, thus also giving us the opportunity to pull the plug and climb back up safely if we didn’t like what we saw.
Jen and me trying to spot the way down. Photo by Andrea
After a lot of feeling around, traversing and conferring, we found something that looked rideable and safe enough. Most of the line was one big long roll over, thereby limiting vision to what felt like just a handful of meters ahead. And since there were rocks and cliffs sticking out here and there, I started down quite carefully and with big margins for error. After a couple of tentative turns showed that the snow was really nice, fast and bouncy, and I could open it up as much as visibility allowed. I was properly thrilled when I reached the bottom, and I think the girls were too when they came down. Finally, a proper line and not just mellow cruising. Not that I mind low angle cruising and playing around, but there is nothing a bit of steepness and a touch of gentle exposure to make me feel properly alive!
Last woman down safely…
…calls for celebration…
…and even more celebration! The first two pics courtesy of Andrea, the one above by Jen
From there, there was nothing more to do than to turn around and walk out the long, flat valley.
Getting close to the end of the long walk home, shot by Andrea
What about Henrik and Cilla, asked the observant reader. Well, we waited for them at the summit and met them just before riding down, but they had to go back the way they came due to time constraints, Easter celebrations and all that.
Too bad, but we made up for it the following day by going over to their neck of the woods in Grundfors. The weather was a bit more iffy, and given that our objective was the sparse birches of Gemon it suited us perfectly. Thanks to Lennart we got a tow across the lake with his old snowmobile, and saved ourselves a couple of kilometers of flat approach work.
Gemon is a low, long mountain, reaching just above treeline. Those woods hold plenty of nice, mellow riding with a few little natural features here and there to keep things interesting.
Andrea breaking trail through the sparse birches of Gemon.
The snow was really nice, despite low elevation. North faces is where it is at, that’s for sure. Everything below treeline even slightly south facing was crusty and horrible, but on Gemon we were treated to creamy, soft snow everywhere except where the wind had done its thing.
Half way up we dug a pit. Not because it was strictly needed, in the trees and on such a mellow slope I was not worried. But it is still fun and interesting to see what is going on in the snow, the little scientist in me just cannot resist.
Digging pits is always fun! Exciting to results on CT at 1,2m depth, culprits being facets on ice.What is also interesting is that we actually got a result on ECT, propagating on a weak layer maybe 60cm down, also facets on crust. Photo by Andrea
We found fairly solid 1f wind slabs resting of sandwiches of facets and ice from the various rainstroms we were “blessed” with earlier this year. It looks very similar to what we saw in Borgafjäll, and might turn out to be a problem when temperatures rise later in spring. Last year was plagued with similar ice layers and we saw big avalances in a lot of places.
Anyway, we kept going uphill and eventually reached treeline, where we called it quits due to increasingy wind affected snow turning into sastrugi and just general windyness.
Let’s pretend the false summit is an actual summit, shall we? Photo by Andrea
On the way down I caught an edge just at treeline, where the snow went from buttery to chalky to buttery and catchy again, all over just a few meters. First proper crash of the season, throwing me properly over the bars into full tomahawk and eventually planting me head down in the snow. Nothing torn, nothing broken but a sore neck for sure and a bit more cautious for the rest of that lap.
Of course I needed my revenge, and the laps are fairly short anyways, so we went up again.
Skinning in the lovely lovely sparse birches.
In the end, we did three laps and I rode if not at the level I am used to at least not embarrassingly bad. Finishing the day with sauna and dinner was just perfect, and then straight home to bed. It was 930pm after all, an almost ungodly hour for us in the sick and tired club.
Big thanks to Andrea and Jen for putting up with me even when I was tired and whining about everything, and of course thanks to Henrik, Cilla and Lennart for a great day and evening in Grundfors.
This Easter showed me that I really am moving in the right direction, and soon bigger things might be on the horizon!