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A winter wonderland for people of all ages awaits at the foot of the Rondane massif, regardless of whether you stay in a full-board mountain lodge, in a small hut with a gas stove, or in a tent with a camping stove.
Text and photo: Mikkel Soya Bølstad
It all starts off well. The train journey from Oslo and up through Gudbrandsdalen goes quickly. At Otta, a minibus takes us up to Høvringen, where Roar from Smuksjøseter meets us with firm handshake and a warm smile. Behind him, the old Bombardier Snowcat stands waiting.
"Are we going in that?" say Sif and Siri, their eyes wide. And that's exactly what we're doing. We moved the heavy rucksacks containing a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats and food across to the luggage compartment of the Bombardier. Not long after, we head off into the high mountains – towards Rondane and six days in a winter wonderland. We're all grinning all over our faces in the cab of that rustic old truck.
A while later we see Smuksjøseter ahead of us, a dark patch in all that white. We turn in front of the buildings, on the boundary to the oldest national park in Norway. Although we've packed for camping, we have no plans to camp outside the cabin this afternoon. Instead, we've booked one of the new apartments and can charge our batteries for the next few days with a delicious buffet, an evening ski trip without carrying heavy rucksacks on our backs, and a bit of relaxation in the sitting room.
The next morning, we hear again Roar's contagious laughter all over the place. There's something special about people proudly living and breathing the place where they live. We won't be seeing any distance records today, but as one of the many Danes at the next table says over breakfast:
"Peer Gynt is off to a good start!"
We have to agree, they're quite right. While gales and snow and landslides and God knows what else are reported for the west of the country, we follow the gently sloping trail down through a protected valley towards the Peer Gynt cabin. We meet a lot of skiers on this little trip and stop to chat quite often. The Danes are very much in the majority here on the trail, and their faces light up when they see the girls hiking with their own rucksacks.
The trail heads further and further east, and ahead of us the mountains, the mighty "Smiubelgen" tallest of all. At the foot of the mountain, we spot a small building made of stone – the Peer Gynt cabin. Now we can tread the snow at, set up the tent, roll out our sleeping mats and sleeping bags and get cooking on our little stove. But we don't. Instead we put phase two of our plan into action and move into Kokhuset, a little cabin ten or twelve square metres in area.
Thee walls gradually start to warm up in the warmth from the litlle wood stove. Outside, Sif and Siri spend most of the afternoon sledging with the daughters of the hosts at the cabin.
10 peaks above 2000 metres
Rondslottet – 2 178 metres
Storronden – 2 142 metres
Høgronden – 2 115 metres
Midtronden Vest – 2 060 metres
Vinjeronden – 2 044 metres
Midtronden Øst – 2 024 metres
Trolltinden – 2 018 metres
Storsmeden – 2 016 metres
Digerronden – 2 016 metres
Veslesmeden – 2 015 metres
The kingdom of the wild reindeer
The national park is now one of Europe's last outposts of the original wild reindeer. Reindeer have lived here for thousands of years, and you can still see herds grazing on the barren, rocky terrain.
Reindeer have always been important to the local people, and you'll find traces of traps, settlements and other cultural heritage associated with hunting and trapping all over Rondane.
Find more inspiration: www.nasjonalparkriket.no
We're first out on the ski trail well into the afternoon the next day. We're slow to pack, more tempted to carry on drinking hot chocolate and eating waffles at the Peer Gynt cabin. Rondvassbu lies in wait to the north-east, deep in Rondane, surrounded by the mountains Storsmeden, Veslesmeden, Storronden and Rondslottet. But the weather forecast is warning of wind, and instead we initially head towards the birch belt and shelter north of Mysuseter. This is going to be an easy trek, with the wind at our backs and gently sloping downhill sections.
I could have told you we had a lovely time getting to our campsite for the night. But in reality, our hearts sank along with the terrain, as if the low pressure in the area suppressed our mood. And maybe it's just as well that we reach the bottom down here, on the edge of the birch belt, dusk rapidly approaching. It's about time we stopped and pitched camp. Our smiles start to come back as we settle down in the tent and the food is being prepared.
We're down in a depression again the next morning, but after some fun skiing down towards Mysusæter things are looking up when we take a break at Bergetjønne. The trails are quiet here, and we have them to ourselves. When we round the north side of Ranglarhøe, the entire panorama of Rondane is revealed over Flatfjellet. The blue hour blends into the mountain before we continue on towards the birch forest between Glitterdalen and Ranglarhøe. And while we pitch the tent, we've already come to a decision: we'll stay here tomorrow.
I could tell you now about our last morning, with pink light on the peaks of the grey-blue mountains at dawn, about how efficiently we packed up that morning, about how we ate porridge outside the tent as the day's first rays of the sun warmed our faces. About skiing on the hard snow down to Mysusæter, to the coach, Otta and the train home. But I'd prefer to keep you here on this day, the rarest of days, the layover day.
The day on which we wake up to a spring-like Rondane, to a Rondane which gives us a cloudless sky and shelter from the wind. A day on which laughter comes easily and we have the time to do everything we want to do. And by the evening, we've become part of Rondane, enjoyed the simple pleasure of having exactly what we need and growing into the landscape. The joy of being together, like a little family, in the heart of the mountains, in the heart of the landscape.
This isn't our first visit to Rondane, and it certainly won't be our last. We'll be back. It's a bit like visiting a much-loved family member or a faithful old friend.