/ Backpacking

Norwegian wilderness: thoughts of freedom and travel tips

Going backpacking for a few days into the woods makes me feeling great.

Every day I am bound to the same routine. Waking up in my cozy home, going to work, going shopping, being busy, moving at a fast pace. Even though I appreciate the convenience of the routine, I feel the urge to escape from this every day normality, to stay in contact with nature, take a break from devices, noise, overconsumption, comfort food and concrete walls.

After just a few days out I notice my health improves: my thinking, my strenght, my sight, and I even start to lose weight. I feel much more connected to reality while realizing how small everyday issues actually are. Most everyday problems are non-problems, and life should be much easier and not encumbered by things like career, money, success, productivity and competition.

In this article I would like to express my thoughts about travelling into the wilderness, give you some hints about the choice of a pristine area, introduce you Lomsdal-Visten national park, and show you our tested way of travel organization into the wild.

Seeking a place where to unplug, in Europe

Europe is a very densly populated area, and it can be challenging to find a wild place where to camp "legally" for some days in a row outside designated areas. Campsites are a necessity, given that many people are un-respectful towards nature (or scared of it), so fences and organized recreational parks have to be sadly made, to control their actions and to provide safety. To me, many campsites (especially the ones in busy areas, jam-packed with people) give a distorted view of nature, and sleep there is just like camping in a backyard, renting a small square of grass. I also found so sad to see cottages and restaurants on top of each beautiful mountain. Not to mention the all season-provided lift services. It looks like we are trying to transfer all commodities to each corner of the globe, especially in those areas where some sort of financial profit can be generated.
To get in touch with reality, and have some real sense of wild, freedom, and adventure, it is way better to look elsewhere, outside the most densely-populated or touristic regions.
Norway is still one of the emptiest countries in Europe: of course, the less people, the more freedom. Camping rules are not as strict as in other countries, and nature is left untouched in most areas. Norwegians have a very deep connection to and respect for their land, and it shows. For instance, they do not build infrastructures for turists that would otherwise modify the enviroment so deeply from its natural state.
Everyone can hike and camp almost everywhere, undisturbed, stopping for a few days in the same spot without being forced to leave. Norwegians can fish in beautiful lakes, eat berries and other wild edibles, and drink pure water from crystal white streams without purifying it. All this inspires me freedom and simplicity.

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Going to a wild, pristine area: I feel privileged to be there!

We wanted to explore an area characterized by varied terrain, plenty of water and trees, and located elsewhere to the main turistic attractions.
We wanted to walk, sleep outside under the elements, admiring how beautiful the plants, the rocks, and the sky are, and eat some trouts roasted over a fire. Slowing down from our fast-paced life, and enjoy the outside for a while, were the main goals of our holiday.

At home, we started on Google maps, searching for the wildest but still reachable area in a matter of a full day or two of travel. A tip for the search: wildest areas are not highlighted, and very few pictures can be found. After scrolling back and forth the maps, we found out a very interesting area, a not well known small national park called Lomsdal-Visten.

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The park was established very recently, and the terrain looks very varied, characterized by rocky mountaintops, large forests, and marshy areas. The presence of trees attracted us most. They give us a sense of safety, and provide the firewood required for cooking and for warmth.
In Lomsdal-Visten the terrain is challenging, and the weather can be unforgiving even in summer, with strong winds and heavy rains. Lomsdal-Visten is located in one of the rainiest areas of Norway, and perhaps this is the reason why not so many people go there. In the center of the park there are no hiking facilities: no trails, no cabins, no phone coverage, no places where to get man-made food. There are just a few unmarked trail traces, left by the Sami people or by the animals.
This is what we wanted, but some may find themselves uncomfortable in such environment. Such emptiness of human infrastructures can be freightening for many. If one would overcome this need then it could truly experience an astonishing variety of landscapes and natural beauty.

In Lomsdal-Visten there are birch trees and scot pines, which provide a very good and warm wood. We also enjoyed some cloudberries "desserts" and cought some trouts. We encountered groups of raindeers, including young cubs! A day, after I woke up, I noticed two elks just nearby a lake, where I was going to collect some water. The sense of gratitude and the emotion going through my blood was really unique. I felt really privileged to be there.

At the border of the park we found, unexpectedly, a few open huts, really beautiful and well-maintained by the locals (and the government agency Statskog, from which we also purchased online our fishing licences). In this area, these huts are even completely free to use (unlike the ones located in the touristic spots) and equipped with wood stove and basic tools. Forest huts are used a lot by norwegians, as a peaceful place to rest during holidays and weekends.

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Here in Lomsdal-Visten we experienced 14 days of real freedom:

Travel organization tips: keep it simple

Many like to carefully plan each and every day of an hike, and even define the exact camping spots, how long to walk every day, how long to stay, etc. We do not like this way of planning, that is mostly useful to those who have very limited time or plan for shorter hikes in a well-marked area.
Such non-flexible way of planning would end up setting us up an over-complicated schedule, and it would just generate stress or potential issues, which we wanted to avoid. A strict travel plan would leave very little space for improvisations, and it would hamper the necessary adaptability of the hike to the weather, the terrain, the unexpected, or simply the desire to stop in a beautiful location for a bit longer. An over-defined schedule, in extreme cases, can also lead hikers to danger. How many got in trouble with the weather, or went injured or exausted, because of the necessity to absolutely reach point B on time?

Our way to organize a 2-3 weeks travel into the wilderness involves few simple steps:

  1. Choose the area
  2. Plan out how to reach the location using public transport (including fly tickets hunting). Given the sad fact we do not have unlimited time for travelling, too many difficulties at this stage may lead us to re-think the location.
  3. Buy paper maps and focus on the presence of trails, altitude, fresh water sources and natural obstacles. Here we draw an approximate trail path, trying to estimate how long it would take to walk. Basically we mostly set the start and the end point, but we sometimes choose a couple of "plans B", exit strategies in case we run out of time.
  4. Check the typical climate for the period for which we would like to travel (average temperature, min and max temperature, frequency of natural risks such heavy snowfalls, flooding, storms).
  5. Get informed about particular risks associated with the area (polluted areas, geological phenomena such earthquakes, presence of dangerous animals)
  6. Choose which backpacking gear to take and what kind of food and how much.

We are using this way of travel organization over the last 5 years. We think this is perfectly suited for most adventures, probably aside extreme or high altitude expeditions! Maybe there is not a real step-by-step path planning, but it give us enough confidence to avoid major troubles.

How long does it take to plan a travel such this?
In total, we took just two weekends to organize our two weeks Lomsdal-Visten trip. We took longer to identify the area in Norway, though, and to decide which camping pot and stove to bring... We found rather easy to plan a norwegian trip since many areas are covered by public transport (train, boat or small planes). Norway is a very safe country and one has to be mostly prepared for water exposure, harsh wheater and potential hypothermia.

Required maps of the ares:
Most of Lomsdal-Visten is covered by this map (1:50,000):
Wandelkaart - Topografische kaart 10114 Norge Serien Vistfjellan -Nordeca(7071940101143). ISBN: 7071940101143.

We found it convenient to buy this map and to print a few extra maps of the surrounding area, not covered by the map above, using THIS LINK.

It is a very cool service where one can print the maps in PDF, using a desired scale. The pages are well organized and they can be easily stitched each other after printing.

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Selection of the "hiking path":
Our planning of the hiking path is pretty basic: we identify where to start and where to finish, leaving few extra options to be able shorten or extend our trip according to the weather (or if we feel like walking, resting or fishing some more). Afterwards, we mark down a few spots on the map that we think might be attractive, for fishing or with a potentially nice view, for example. This gives us a rough idea of what we could aim for.

We also check if there are any evident and difficult natural obstacles (e.g. large rivers to cross, steep cliffs) and we check if there are any alternative ways to avoid them. On the map we also note the presence or absence of "flat" spots, ideal for camping. In northern Norway there are large swamps, but in general it is very easy to find a beautiful camping spot almost everywhere. On the map we also look if there are enough reachable water sources. Finding good drinking water is not a problem in most part of Norway! To be safe we always carry a small water filter, even in Norway, in case we are not sure about the purity of water.

While travelling we enjoy the freedom to explore. Typically we decide day by day where our next checkpoint will likely be. We just make sure to be able to get back to society when we planned to.

Climate:
The next organizational step is checking the weather. We look up what is the typical seasonal weather locally (average precipitations, temperature, sunrise and sunset time) and check the presence of snow on the ground by looking at webcams of villages close to the area we want to visit. The weather affects what we bring, especially how thick the jacket should be and which type of sleeping bag we should use.

Fishing license:
We bought it HERE. This in the link covers most of the waters of the east part of Lomsdal-Visten.

More infos about fishing in Lomsdal-Visten and required permits HERE

In the Lomsdalen valley there are salmons, too, but a special (more costy) fishing permit can be required.

Organize the equipment:
While preparing the backpack or thinking about what to bring I anticipate the sense of adventure and happiness of the upcoming travel. For me this is one of the most entertaining organizational aspects, too: I like to optimize my setup to simplify our days, to bring less stuff, and to pack light.
It feels great to walk in a foreign country for a while, knowing that the few pieces of equipment we carry are enough to be confortable even in an harsh environment. This also gives me a deep sense of independence and freedom. It make me stronger, more aware of what the real necessities are, and thrilled: I fell less and less dependent on material things, and I found this is a really nice and librating feeling, that everybody should experience.

For our lomsdal-Visten trip we packed food for 14 days, including breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
I will not spend more words on the organization of the equipment right now, more posts on this topic will appear on this blog soon!

But, just for your curiosity, here is a picture of all the food that we carried along with us. We had about 5.7 kg worth of food each. We had some pre-packaged supermarket-grade meals (a few ramen packages, dehydrated mashed potatoes and soups), but we mostly cooked using basic ingredients like rice, pasta, olive oil, fresh garlic, onions, hard parmesan cheese, flour, and spices. With these few ingredients and a well-thought cookset one can make a delicious, filling and healthy dinner, without getting bored.
Given the abundance of water and the coldish climate, we also carried plenty of supplies to make hot drinks for our morning and evening routine (tea, dehydrated coffee). We also carried simple snacks such as dehydrated fruits, nuts, but also some beef jerky and salted snacks as a treat. For breakfast we mainly had chocolate, tortillas, peanut butter, some biscuits, but also some muesli and powdered milk. Of course, we carried spices to season fresh trouts roasted over the campfire.
Cooking in the wilderness and haing food for so many days might seem a challenge, but it can actually be very simple.

There is no real need to buy all that very costy and even disgusting food one can find in the specialized outdoor shops!

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In that area of Norway there is no real need to carry plenty of water, since it is possible to find it everywhere. We just carried about half a liter of water, on the mountaintops. Each pack, consumable included (14 days of food, water, fuel for alcohol stove) weighted about 17 kg. We carried with us some fishing equipment, a steel tea pot to hang over the fire, knives, saw, satellite messenger, and some well-tested and durable pieces of equipment.

Here some pictures about our fully-loaded 70 liters backpacks:

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Have nice trips!

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