Latitude and Attitude


At a certain point, trees will not grow. It’s not that trees are lazy or have opinions, but they have limits. To the contrary, they are aggressive growers: think of any vacant lot. But that point where tress stop growing, the treeline, is a combination of latitude and altitude. A mountain at 2,000 meters in the Blue Ridge Mountains will be richly forested over the top. At the same latitude you need to travel to Arizona to be able to hike above a treeline. At Humphreyes Peak Arizona you would reach barren land at 3,500 meters on your way to its summit of 3,852 meters (that’s another 1,000 feet pilgrim). Norway adjusts those numbers by extremes. Last week I got a small taste of those latitude and altitude contrasts that make Norway such a geographically dynamic land

My new friend offered one of two “short hikes” to local vistas. I have massive wind turbines in Iowa, so I opted to go to the coast, the open sea. She was a local, and seasoned by years in the tourism promotion biz, I was in for a treat. Little did I know that the drive itself was part of the adventure.

After my presentations to trade-school tracked students at Ytre Namdal Vidergående in Rørvik (Norwegian for, “The Real Deal”) a couple of teachers guided through the lunch line. As we walked towards the teacher room to eat, one of them suggested that I eat in the cafeteria, to make myself available to students after class, like I promised. Yes, yes I did say that, so she and I sat.

A home in Oker, Rørvik

It was mostly us chatting, but eventually one precocious student from an earlier workshop joined us following some encouragement. He was interested in being a carpenter for old houses; he didn’t like new-builds or new designs. The teacher was suggesting, with kind emphasis, that he should consider university, he was that clever. She tried to sell him on the idea of combining his interest in old construction and design with engineering and architecture. I chimed in that it is nice to have options in life, a college degree helps.

There’s nothing wrong with having an ambition to be a carpenter, Jesus was a carpenter. But our societies’, Norway and America, biases for higher learning slants our view that ambition for the trades isn’t much ambition at all. That’s wrong and if I every pull that jaundiced statement on a student, then I hope I get called out. I bet the teacher in Nazareth felt like a real jerk eventually after he had chided Jesus for just wanting to be a carpenter. “Really, what could you possibly build?” But I digress.

She told me that I would get to see an eagle, they’re everywhere here and huge, “you can’t miss ’em.” I warned her that if I saw an eagle or a moose (Vikna is moose central), then expect a vocal expression that one might mistake for a scream – I just didn’t want to scare her. But she has young children, so nothing scares her.

Hayward, Wisconsin is in my heart even though I’ve never spent a night there. The pines, the logging history, the promise of good fishing, ski trails, and the escape of everything “back there” makes Hayward endearing. I met her twin in Norway, Trysil.

Wednesday morning I flew south from Rørvik to Trondheim and then to Oslo, so I could catch a bus back to the north and northeast. Yes, a long day but worth it, every new day in Norway is worth it. The coach had maybe six passengers. Even with the pick of seats I couldn’t seem to find one that didn’t batter my lumber with a metal crossmember. Maybe that’s the price of a bus that will take only six passengers?

We traveled north, along a large and long lake and through the ubiquitous tunnels until Elvrum. At Elvrum we pointed NE towards Sweden and added elevation as we plowed through the forests and wetlands on a two-lane road. The sad homes of unrealized dreams dotted the route, just like Highway 63 to Hayward.

Hwy 63 revisited

Hwy 63 revisited

There was a river, low, swift, and with boulders. It was the kind of river that begs for fly fishing. Was it the Nemakagon? No, I’m in Norway, remember? Off to the side of the road was an open expanse in the pine forest, a wet and grassy meadow. A perfect place for a moose. None were present, maybe they were just off in the wood line waiting for dark? Picking the week after moose season is the worst timing I could have but here I am.

Still following the river north and east, the quality of development improves and intensifies. There’s a plume of vapor, probably from a wood pulp factory, I should arrive in Hayward soon. Sorry, I mean Trysil. Travel this route and you’ll understand my confusion.

Farm, ViknaShe piloted her car past lakes and little farms so numerous I lost track. We crossed a special spit of land that was a natural divide on the island. No more than 10 meters across and one could portage from seawater west to seawater east. She told me the name, I don’t remember. An ancient obelisk, found from the Viking Age and reset to its vertical glory, glowed in the sun. If you didn’t know it was there you would miss it. And then a little knot of homes along the sea, her family’s ancestral home, they go back at least 450 years; we had arrived.

Beyond this stretch of Ytre Vikna Island (Outer Vikna Island) lies thousands of skerries and small islands and then the Norwegian Sea. The climb to the promontory overlooking the hamlet and ocean looked short and direct. By now I should know better. We did not, could not, scramble directly up to the peak. Instead we traversed and gained elevation along a path seemingly as old as the hill itself. The tundra was a sponge, it reminded me of the upper reaches of Ulriken in Bergen. But that mountain was 643 meters, this was a fraction.

Trysil VgSWhat to do in Trysil? There wasn’t open skiing yet, although the students carted bunkered snow from the mountain to the school to practice their “twin tip” stunts during free time (many of the students have dreams of winter athletic glory). Pocketbook pursuits were positively pointless. Run.

Trysil is dominated by two things. One is the legend of Trysil Knut. Two is Trysilfjell (fjell = mountain). I took on number two. A teacher at the school told me there is a summer footrace to the top and the winner summits in about 40 minutes, uff! From my homey digs at Trysil-Knut Hotel I ran under the highway and up the hill. Despite the freezing temps I wore shorts (I was later told that Trysil is full of crazy outdoor enthusiasts so I didn’t embarrass America, which is nice).

Trysilfjell and Trysil Knut

Trysilfjell and Trysil Knut

Up to the fancy, all to typical “village” at the base of the mountain, there I found a Radisson Blu and an architecturally disneyworld of bars and shops. Up to the slop and a trail, a narrow trail and into the shadows. Up. Forgive me for repeating myself but running uphill is always the easy part. Up I went.

Having a guide up to the overlook on Ytre Vikna was nice, so often I’m alone on these adventures. As much as I could be a pretty good hermit, I do like company. Around and up, and down and then back up and around some more. We encountered one woman coming down, otherwise the mountain, the sky, the wind, and the sea were ours alone. Utrolig!

hut on ValøyaWe climbed past the legendary hole into which the captain disappeared. A little shelter gave momentary relief for our feet and the opportunity to write our names in the log book for the climb on Valøy, one person had ascended before us.

Around and up and into the clear. No trees, just tundra, and evidence of hardscrabble Norwegians who had dug peat only to carry it down the mountain for heating – all the trees were gone in the old days. More climbing.

And then the sea. But first, the islets and rocks wrestled the waves for ownership of a spot on earth.  Beyond the surf was a great saline galaxy. And to see the dome of the heavens was a reminder of my home on the America prairie. Here, an ocean of salt water, there a sea of grasses and grain. The bald top supported views of distance islands of scientific importance.Vega? Ytre Vikna

At this latitude, almost the polar circle, trees don’t make it very high above sea leve. Less than halfway up the granite the trees yielded, about 60 meters over the sea. I didn’t feel bad for the trees, they had plenty of ground to colonize. But for a person to get the opportunity to have a long and penetrating gaze, it is convenient here to only take a little hike.

Straight up the big ski hill, run #10 I think. All alone, maybe that makes it a bad idea? Unlike my run up Ulriken, I was able to keep my feet pretty dry. Still going up, still trees: stillness. Rune from the hotel said to veer left towards the mid-mountain lifts and warming huts. Since I thought I had a path that was pretty direct I decided to stick with it.

Trysilfjell cairn and author's contribution

Trysilfjell cairn and author’s contribution

Higher and now close to the tree line, from here I know I can see Sweden. The going is more of a jumble of rocks than a path, and I’m above the trees. With added ambition guided by the blue paint marking the path I reach the top, the cairn onto which I make my deposit, as well as some other artifacts of humanity in a place where humanity has no place.

A home in oker, Rørvik

A home in oker, Rørvik

The highest point on earth is the promontory on which you are standing, everything else falls away. Alone, with another, or a group, highpoints in our lives require effort and often circuitous routes. But aren’t they worth it?

author on Valøya

author on Valøy

One response

  1. Awesome pictures! Enjoyed the article too.


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