Norge På Langs – Thru-hiking Norway
Hello Johannes. Who are you and how did the idea of the NPL came to your mind? Describe the NPL to those who do not know what it is.
Hello my name is Johannes, father of twin boys who just turned 18 the very day of my arrival at the south terminus of the NPL thru hike. They picked me up on that specific date so that we could celebrate together.
I am a geologist, working for a large engineering company in Switzerland as a project manager for an advanced underground construction project in Switzerland, with about 500km of tunneling.
I love endurance sports like biking, hiking, running, cross country skiing and similar. I benefit from this background even at my current 56 years of age.
I grew up in the eastern part of Switzerland, I spent almost all my leasure time in the outdoors throughout my life. We used to spent most family vacations in the summers in Scandinavia, mainly in campsites at first, later on canoeing while the kids were growing up. Then we started with multi-day hikes camping with tents.
It eventually grew within me the desire to make a longer hike myself. It all started when my wife gave me as gift a book of NPL from the German author Simon Michalowicz.
It took time before I could actually embark in this journey due to various delays as Covid and a broken shoulder. This summer of 2022 I finally had the time to take a leave from work and start the journey.
What is Norge På Langs?
Norge på langs is the thru-hike of Norway, the longest country in Europe, from north (Kinnarodden at N 71° 8′ E 27° 39′) to south (Nesvarden at N 57° 59′ E 7° 3′) or viceversa. Not to confuse with Norge på Tvers, which goes in the east-west axis.
It is a special concept that you really do not find anywhere else. It is not only a hike, but you could also do it entirely by skiing, running etc. It is roughly 2600-2800km (depending on the chosen route), but I hiked is a little over 3000km long as I decided to take the western route through Trollheimen and took some detours around Lysefjord in the South. It takes an average of 120 days, with some taking 150 days. I managed do complete the trek in under 100 days.
Based on the way you want to travel, the season and the route can be set. For hiking, the snow-free season goes between May and September, depending whether you go northbound or southbound. I went southbound and on the first week of June there were still 1-2 meters of snow.
The landscape in mainly mountainous, but it varies a lot. As mentioned I went southbound, but most people do it viceversa as you can start earlier in the South. In the North it is mainly flat tundra with rolling hills. Once you reach Narvik the mountains (fjell in Norwegian) start, until Trøndelag where forests and swamps prevail. In the south you have the biggest mountains of Norway.
The interesting thing about NPL is that there is no predefined route, you can create your own path connecting existing trails which are abundant everywhere in Norway. The variety of terrain keeps you interested and motivated the whole time, even though life on the trail is very easy. Put your shoes on in the morning, hike, eat and sleep!
Shoes I use a lightweight hiking shoe and an even lighter trail running shoe. The trail running shoe is my dry shoe. I use it strictly only around the tent or in the accommodation. At most it is used in dry conditions for longer distances along roads. The hiking boot protects the ankles, but is deliberately not waterproof. Quickly wet, but also quickly dry. With them I go through swamps and wade through streams. As quickly as the water comes in, it is out again. Shoes, socks and feet dry quite well while hiking. Usually, however, the next swamp comes earlier.
Planning and preparation for this journey is known for being long and hard. How did you plan the route, resupplies and logistics?
I have a website where I describe my route (see the route here), which can be useful for anyone planning the journey.
I firstly connected all the interest points from my bucket list and tried to create a route that took into account resupplies and connected existing paths that you can find on the many Norwegian websites like ut.no. Some areas are very hard to navigate, especially in Finnmark. It was a lot of snow at the departure date. Online maps were indicating up to 2 meters of snow, and it was the end of May! So I had to plan alternative routes from the starting point in Nordkinnhalføya.
Every time I was reaching a resupply point I would check the next resupply point and decide on the amount of food to carry with and make a detailed plan for the next stretch. So I only had a rough idea of the route when I started. This was also because weather and snow conditions play an important part in choosing a route. For example in Rago National Park in Norway there was too much snow so I had to take a deviation to Padjelanta in Sweden. Also along Svartisen glacier there was too much snow so I had to follow the Nordland route as most other hikers do as it is a more signed route.
Many areas are very remote and wild without trails at all. Depending on the level of adventure you seek, you can choose either more remote and wild routes without trails and people, or marked trails (even though in many parts of Norway, due to the sparse population, you will feel quite remote even on marked routes). On this trip I really wanted to experience wilderness, so I reflected this desire on my route choice. I have a background in orienteering when young and used to work a lot with maps, so I felt comfortable with that.
Did you have any dangerous experiences weather wise?
On the third day, with very strong winds of about 60km/h it was hard to walk straight up, and to make things worse it was close to 0 degrees with freezing rain. I had to keep my hands in the pockets, which would get full of water within 2-3 minutes of rain. Such situations can be dangerous, so I decided to deviate from my planned route and choose another route with fewer river crossings as the weather was so bad.
During the hike I met other hikers and I realized that many did not really know that you have to be able to cope with harsh weather conditions for prolonged time, many days, routinely getting up with soaked clothes and shoes.
Experience with gear choices play an important role in any thru hike. What did you have with you, and how did ultralight gear help?
With me I had a Bonfus Saccus 48L pack and a Bonfus Duos 2p tent which I had tested thoroughly before. I had a lot of rainy nights, but I knew I could trust the gear.
On the NPL it is a safe feeling to know that there is often a hut you can potentially reach if you can cover good distances of about 30km per day. This is one of the reasons I decided to go ultralight, to be able to cover longer distances. Ultralight gear was then a choice of safety, as it potentially facilitates getting out of dangerous situations that can mainly happen due to adverse weather.
I was planning to have up to 12 days max between resupplies, especially in the North. For this I had to cover 30km a day with a heavy pack with snowshoes. I had with me the frameless Saccus 48L with over 20kg the very first day. I could not close the roll top closure, so I had to keep the food bag on the outside. I always used frameless packs since my 20s, like Karrimor nylon frameless packs for running. I was packing the Saccus with all I needed on the outside, with all the food and clothes on the outside pockets, so I didn’t really need to open the pack during the days. During my two falls while river crossings, the content of the pack remained dry thanks to the taped DCF fabric and the DCF drybags I was using. It worked great in the wet environment.
I am really fascinated about the Dyneema fabric used in the Duos tent. Easy to pitch. I loved how I could regulate the ventilation by adjusting the hight of the trekking poles, so condensation was never an issue. When the tent was covered in ice and snow, it was much quicker to dry during lunch breaks, compared to nylon tents that soak water and take much longer to dry. I also loved the amount of space you get inside the tent, important especially when you are stuck in bad weather for prolonged time.
In general, I knew people who were very sceptical about my ultralight gear choices for such a risky trip weather wise. Now some of those people changed their mind and are planning to get one of your tents soon! This hike was also the perfect test to prove such cutting-edge gear.
Apart from cutting-edge ultralight gear, there is often a huge potential in shaving off a lot of weight by leaving unnecessary items at home. I made a risk assessment approach where I analysed and optimized the gear reaching a base weight of 7-8kg. Rain jacket is not something to cut weight on considering the weather one is likely to find. But in my experience even three layers waterproof jackets get soaked after 2-3 hours of constant rain.
I also used non waterproof shoes, so I often had wet feet especially. My reasoning is that in Norway you will get wet feet anyway. Either with rain or crossing rivers and marshes.
Some pieces of gear are still going strong, and I have them from the 90’s.
I always had a full set of clothes, unused, that I used for the town days.
A device I was very happy I carried with me was a watch with GPS. It served as a tool to check my position on offline maps and an important safety backup in case the smartphone would get damaged, considering that I was alone on the trail.
Facts - Northernmost mainland point: Kinnarodden N 71° 8' E 27° 39' - Southernmost mainland point: Nesvarden N 57° 59' E 7° 3' - Departure on 7 June 2022 at 19:15 from Mehamn - Arrival at Cape Lindesnes on 22 September at 13:50 - 107 days on the road, 14 of them rest days - On 93 hiking days I have covered a total of 3'006.76 km This corresponds to the distance from Zurich to the Azores, or to the Caspian Sea. I did not only walk from north to south, but also moved considerably from east to west. In relation to Zurich, I started at the mouth of the Danube into the Black Sea and still covered the distance between Zurich and Oslo on the north-south axis. It wasn't completely flat either. I was 9.5 times on the Mount Everest and also in each case again descended (83'769 m ascent and 83'322 m descent). I burned 258'526 kcal, which corresponds about 50 kg of chocolate. If you prefer to drink it, you are welcome to drink 616 liters of beer. Thereby I kept my weight. The longest daily stage was 48.7 km and the shortest was 7 km. The distribution of the daily distances is represented below.
Food on the trail To give you an impression of what I eat while hiking, here is my menu plan. Breakfast - 180 g oatmeal with ○ 2-3 tablespoons powdered milk ○ 2-3 tablespoons raw sugar ○ Fresh berries ○ Cinnamon - 5 dl Ovomaltine with 3 tablespoons milk powder (mit Ovi chasch’s nid besser, aber länger 😜) Lunch (on stages >30 km) - Trekking food from the bag: ○ In warm weather, usually a reindeer meat soup (yellow bag, approx. 250 kcal) + crispbread. ○ In cold weather or very long stages, a full meal (e.g., reindeer stew with potatoes and berries; orange pouch, approx. 500-600 kcal) ○ Plus water Dinner - Appetizer ○ 3 dl beef broth - Main course ○ 200 g couscous with § 1/2 cube beef broth § 6-8 dried apricots § Seasoned with curry and mixed herbs ○ or 1.5-2 bags of mashed potatoes, additionally seasoned with paprika and pepper Dessert - 1 pack of cookies - 2 Daim (caramel with chocolate coating) - Plus water and now and then a coffee with the dessert Snacks during the hourly breaks) As the mood takes you, either salty, sweet or both from the following selection: - Dried fruit (mango or apricots) - crisp bread - cashew nuts - Kvikklunsj (chocolate covered waffle comparable to Kägifret in Switzerland) - Cereal bar
Do you have any special story to share?
My second day on the trip I experienced so much for an average person to give up already!
With increasingly strong winds, I was passing through boulder fields that made it hard to pitch the tent, so I decided to continue past the boulder fields surrounding remote lakes while crossing dubious snow bridges. I had to keep going for 24 hours before finally reaching a road. At that point, I fell asleep while hiking! This is something I remember happening from the days of the army service in my youth. I found a container that I used as shelter and managed to sleep a couple of hours. Upon waking up I needed to continue until the closest village where I finally could find a spot to get indoors.
This is something one has to consider when doing NPL, the weather is the hardest aspect of the hike.
If you had one tip to give to anyone planning the NPL, what would it be?
Be honest to yourself about your targets. What do you really want to reach with the hike? A FKT? A good outdoor experience? Tell yourself what you want to get from the hike, what a good outdoor experience means for you. What is comfort? Having a heavy pack on your shoulders just to get a cosy pullover on when sitting in your tent with a cup of coffee? Or can you cope with something else?
On the other hand, just do it, that’s the most important part. If you have dreams, realize them. It’s not good to say “once i retire I can do that” or similar ways to postpone your dreams.
Follow your feelings but be conscious about what you have to be able to cope with. It is not an easy thing that anyone can just do even if it might look easy when reading a book or blogs or chatting with people. Make your own reflections and don’t rely on other’s assessments.
So you say, you have to be honest with yourself and know what you want to get from the experience. What was your definition of a good outdoor experience then?
My aim was to definitely stay within my mental and physical comfort zone while tackling a challenging journey. So I wanted to have a good positive experience without unnecessarily push myself out of what was comfortable for me. Enjoying the outdoors and Nature without too much stress. I was confident in my physical and navigational skills. I wanted to experience and learn river crossing as I didn’t have so much experience with that.
Closign question. Do you have any plans for the future?
At the moment not really! NPL is really a once in a lifetime adventure I did. It is not something you can do every year if you have a family. I look forward for other multi-day hikes in the Alps with my wife, and more adventures in Scandinavia backpacking with my tent. I hope to be able to keep on doing this for a long time, on foot, canoe, or bike.