Muir Dispatch #3
This article was written by Jacob Bretz, a philosophy major currently studying abroad in Norway.
I live at the edge of the world; my sphere is water and granite, salt and ice. The nights stretch unfathomably long. Apollo rarely peeks past frozen peaks and rivers of ice pour down gullies hundreds of feet high; giants roam the forest, leaving tracks the size of my head. Strange flora and fauna spill out of the ocean waters onto rock shores; roads end where I live.
On a clear day, from Kieservarden or Hunstadtoppen or another Nordic mountaintop, you can see sixty miles across open ocean to the famed island mountains of Lofoten. A twenty-minute walk out my back-door yields views that Ansel Adams would kill for. The world’s strongest maelstrom is just across the fjord. Yeah, that’s right, I live on a fjord. Some days I feel like there are too many options, too many projects, too many mountains. Some days, I get close to adventure-paralysis, but then I gå på tur instead.
Last weekend, rather than spending the small fortune necessary to approach drunkenness, a few friends and I met together to hatch a plan. Nine of us would cram into a rental van, drive a few dozen kilometers north, cross the fjord on the local ferry, and pitch a couple of tents in the shadows of giants. A simple plan, it seemed easy.
Sleeping outside above the arctic circle in January is no easy thing. We staked our tents into ice at the edge of a fjord just north of the village of Kjerringøy. The first night was long and bright. The moon illuminated the surrounding peaks casting shadows—massive swaths of black on gray snow. Our merry band huddled around our fire, constantly flexing toes and massaging each other’s frozen digits. A small hatchet and our pile of semi-frozen wood proved to be our dearest companions. To quote another naturalist and philosopher, “they warmed me twice, once while I was splitting them, and again when they were on the fire, so that no fuel could give more heat.”
Sleeping was a different beast. Luckily, I was sorted into the larger of the two tents, nestled between two toasty Germans. Not all slept as soundly. Canvas walls are cold and collect condensation well, not to mention two of our three tents were broken. By morning some of us shivered uncontrollably from cold and lack of sleep. That night served as a sobering reminder: even in our strange brand of luxury backpacking, mother nature rules. If the weather turned—a bad cold snap or sudden storm—our exposed campsite would offer little shelter, little safety.
During the day we drank instant coffee, hiked many miles, fished unfruitfully, and liberated a reindeer skull from its frozen grave. Boiling snow yields little water, so most of us slipped into mild dehydration. Annabelle’s feet froze so badly I massaged her toes to ward off frostbite. I burned through my mittens trying to dry them off by the fire. Nonetheless, it was a wildly beautiful day.
The next day we went for a long day hike on one of the nearby islands. Today, I went downhill skiing for the first time in my life. I’m bruised and bloody, but alive. Tomorrow I’ll climb and hike—Tuesday and Wednesday should be the same. Thursday is a fishing day. This next weekend a few of us plan to summit one of the thousand-meter peaks across the water. It may be a little snowy, but the avalanche danger seems low. Who knows for the rest of the week, the month, the semester?
Oh yeah, I have class every now and again too.