Alone in the dark

Part I

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”

Jack Kerouac

BEEP BEEP, BEEP BEEP! My alarm clock tells me it’s 1 AM. My clothes are already laid out. A Merino wool undershirt and two warm layers, waterproof trousers and a waterproof jacket. Dress warmly, the advice had read, the weather can change quickly on the mountain. My phone tells me the outside temperature is currently 2 degrees. I wolf down a bowl of cereal with banana and raisins. I’ll need the energy. My bag is standing by the door, I packed it just a few hours ago. Be prepared, the advice had read. The Norwegians probably know better when it comes to staying alive in the wilderness; I should listen to them. The advice had included a list of items to bring to be adequately prepared. I had packed most of them. Hat, gloves, extra clothing, food and water, matches, basic first-aid kit, a knife, flashlight with spare batteries, a compass, a map. The map is on one side of a little fold-out brochure on Preikestolen I picked up at the campsite reception desk yesterday. I hadn’t realised I’d need one. It might work as kindling in an emergency. I had also packed a large DSLR camera, two lenses, a drone, spare batteries for everything, and a heavy-duty tripod. I can’t know for sure, but the bag feels close to 20 kg.

It’s 4.1 km with a 230 m climb from the campsite to the start of the hike. Google Maps says it’ll take around 30 minutes by bike. I say goodbye to Anne and the dogs. We decided yesterday after some research that this hike might be a bit too rough for the dogs to come with. Anne is staying back with them, so I’ve decided to get an early start for some pictures of an empty Pulpit Rock. My bike is ready outside. It’s almost 1.30 AM, and I need to be on the trail by 2 AM if I want to make it to the top before sunrise. The road is steeper than I had expected, but it’s only 4 km. I open my jacket to let the cool night air in. My bike is a pretty decent 27-speed mountain bike I bought for our trip. It’s in the lowest gear, and I’m already drenched in sweat. I haven’t done much cycling in the last two years, and the Netherlands doesn’t really have any mountains. I’ve also never cycled in wool underwear before. I open my warm top layer, a Fjällräven Greenland jacket made of 100% teddy-bear skin. I should have considered a cold start. I won’t stop to take anything off, as I’ll probably never get back up to speed. Speed is relative. This is only slightly faster than walking. A downhill section next, I can stop pedalling and rest a bit. Hard to tell in the dark, but it’s not downhill, just less uphill, and I’ve slowed to a crawl. A car approaches from behind. This road only leads to the parking lot at the start of the hike. It’s a tour operator van bringing hikers to the trail. I’m slightly annoyed, as I had hoped to be the first up the trail. I consider flagging it down and asking for a lift, but they probably don’t have room for my bike. Besides, I should be nearly there. Two kilometres to go, announces a sign around the next bend. Another van passes me. I’m standing in the pedals now, my backpack pulling me off balance with every push. I could turn around, wake up Anne and ask her to drop me off at the top, but the steep mountain roads make her uneasy, and she hasn’t had much experience driving the Tardis yet. I give up 100 metres from the top of the last hill. I’ll walk it. It’s downhill all the way to the parking lot from there.

The occupants of the first van are nearly halfway up the mountainside, their position given away by a cluster of swaying headlamps. The second group is assembled by the toilet building to fill up on water before they head off. I lock my bike to a tree next to them and set off towards the trail, chuckling to myself at the idea of needing a guide to take you up a well-marked trail. I don’t see any signs here, but I checked out the parking lot with Street View last night, and I think the beginning of the trail is up this way. The ride up has left me parched. I stop to get out the drinking tube for my hydration bladder. The second group is on the move. They seem to be headed in the opposite direction. They have a guide; he probably knows the way. I follow them. They stop at a large map on a signpost for a briefing which falls silent as I approach. I haven’t paid, I’m probably not allowed to hear. “Which way to the trail?” I ask sheepishly. The guide points me in the right direction, and I’m off. Through a short tunnel under the main road and then up. The website describes this as a moderately demanding hike, but I’ll bet they came by car. My legs are jelly as I push up the first set of rocky steps. It’s still dark, and I can’t see anything but the rocks right in front of me, illuminated by my headlamp. The white trail markers are clearly visible in the dark, a few steps ahead is all I need to see. I stop to remove two top layers; I’m overheating.

My legs seem to be settling into the walk now. It’s still tiring, but I no longer feel like I’m about to collapse, and I seem to be making good time. A cluster of headlamps greets me around the next corner. The first group is taking a break along the side of the trail. I push on, grateful not to be stuck behind them going up. The first section seems to have been the steepest. The sky has taken on a deep blue hue. I need to keep up the pace if I’m going to be on time. Water trickles through the mountain around me. It’s the only sound up here. Another steep flight of rocky steps; a steel chain cordoning off the drop on the right. This trail was rebuilt five years ago by Sherpas brought in from Nepal. It’s impressive work, 4 km of steep pathways paved with large rocks and split boulders, snaking up and around the mountain. The ground levels out here and my legs are telling me I should nearly be there. My legs can’t be trusted. A sign informs me I still have 1 km left to go.

Continued here…

BEEP BEEP, BEEP BEEP! My alarm clock tells me it’s 1 AM. My clothes are already laid out. A Merino wool undershirt and two warm layers, waterproof trousers and a waterproof jacket. Dress warmly, the advice had read, the weather can change quickly on the mountain. My phone tells me the outside temperature is currently 2 degrees. I wolf down a bowl of cereal with banana and raisins. I’ll need the energy. My bag is standing by the door, I packed it just a few hours ago. Be prepared, the advice had read. The Norwegians probably know better when it comes to staying alive in the wilderness; I should listen to them. The advice had included a list of items to bring to be adequately prepared. I had packed most of them. Hat, gloves, extra clothing, food and water, matches, basic first-aid kit, a knife, flashlight with spare batteries, a compass, a map. The map is on one side of a little fold-out brochure on Preikestolen I picked up at the campsite reception desk yesterday. I hadn’t realised I’d need one. It might work as kindling in an emergency. I had also packed a large DSLR camera, two lenses, a drone, spare batteries for everything, and a heavy-duty tripod. I can’t know for sure, but the bag feels close to 20 kg.

It’s 4.1 km with a 230 m climb from the campsite to the start of the hike. Google Maps says it’ll take around 30 minutes by bike. I say goodbye to Anne and the dogs. We decided yesterday after some research that this hike might be a bit too rough for the dogs to come with. Anne is staying back with them, so I’ve decided to get an early start for some pictures of an empty Pulpit Rock. My bike is ready outside. It’s almost 1.30 AM, and I need to be on the trail by 2 AM if I want to make it to the top before sunrise. The road is steeper than I had expected, but it’s only 4 km. I open my jacket to let the cool night air in. My bike is a pretty decent 27-speed mountain bike I bought for our trip. It’s in the lowest gear, and I’m already drenched in sweat. I haven’t done much cycling in the last two years, and the Netherlands doesn’t really have any mountains. I’ve also never cycled in wool underwear before. I open my warm top layer, a Fjällräven Greenland jacket made of 100% teddy-bear skin. I should have considered a cold start. I won’t stop to take anything off, as I’ll probably never get back up to speed. Speed is relative. This is only slightly faster than walking. A downhill section next, I can stop pedalling and rest a bit. Hard to tell in the dark, but it’s not downhill, just less uphill, and I’ve slowed to a crawl. A car approaches from behind. This road only leads to the parking lot at the start of the hike. It’s a tour operator van bringing hikers to the trail. I’m slightly annoyed, as I had hoped to be the first up the trail. I consider flagging it down and asking for a lift, but they probably don’t have room for my bike. Besides, I should be nearly there. Two kilometres to go, announces a sign around the next bend. Another van passes me. I’m standing in the pedals now, my backpack pulling me off balance with every push. I could turn around, wake up Anne and ask her to drop me off at the top, but the steep mountain roads make her uneasy, and she hasn’t had much experience driving the Tardis yet. I give up 100 metres from the top of the last hill. I’ll walk it. It’s downhill all the way to the parking lot from there.

The occupants of the first van are nearly halfway up the mountainside, their position given away by a cluster of swaying headlamps. The second group is assembled by the toilet building to fill up on water before they head off. I lock my bike to a tree next to them and set off towards the trail, chuckling to myself at the idea of needing a guide to take you up a well-marked trail. I don’t see any signs here, but I checked out the parking lot with Street View last night, and I think the beginning of the trail is up this way. The ride up has left me parched. I stop to get out the drinking tube for my hydration bladder. The second group is on the move. They seem to be headed in the opposite direction. They have a guide; he probably knows the way. I follow them. They stop at a large map on a signpost for a briefing which falls silent as I approach. I haven’t paid, I’m probably not allowed to hear. “Which way to the trail?” I ask sheepishly. The guide points me in the right direction, and I’m off. Through a short tunnel under the main road and then up. The website describes this as a moderately demanding hike, but I’ll bet they came by car. My legs are jelly as I push up the first set of rocky steps. It’s still dark, and I can’t see anything but the rocks right in front of me, illuminated by my headlamp. The white trail markers are clearly visible in the dark, a few steps ahead is all I need to see. I stop to remove two top layers; I’m overheating.

My legs seem to be settling into the walk now. It’s still tiring, but I no longer feel like I’m about to collapse, and I seem to be making good time. A cluster of headlamps greets me around the next corner. The first group is taking a break along the side of the trail. I push on, grateful not to be stuck behind them going up. The first section seems to have been the steepest. The sky has taken on a deep blue hue. I need to keep up the pace if I’m going to be on time. Water trickles through the mountain around me. It’s the only sound up here. Another steep flight of rocky steps; a steel chain cordoning off the drop on the right. This trail was rebuilt five years ago by Sherpas brought in from Nepal. It’s impressive work, 4 km of steep pathways paved with large rocks and split boulders, snaking up and around the mountain. The ground levels out here and my legs are telling me I should nearly be there. My legs can’t be trusted. A sign informs me I still have 1 km left to go.

Continued here

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