I took the longer but more scenic route from Trondheim to Molde, which would take me over the mountains at Sunndalsøra located en route between the two cities. On the second day after leaving Trondheim I reached Rindal, a good birding spot for some local specials. However, the good weather up till then gave way to light but persistent rain. As the first drops fell, I found my first group of Long-tailed Tits. What delightful birds; their pure white heads give the impression of small snow balls. These birds are quite quick when on the move and it was not long before they were foraging in the trees further down the road. After continuing in the rain for a while, I decided to stop at a fuel station with a little shop to take some cover. A friendly chat with the shop keeper turned into a longer discussion about the weather forecast and the road that lay ahead. Before leaving I was generously donated a couple of large tins of food and cold drinks for the road.
|Near Rindal, with rain approaching.|
On approaching Sunndalsøra, I was having doubts about my plans to cross the mountain. The top quarter of the mountains were covered in thick fresh snow, while some of my gear including boots and gloves were still drenched from the day’s rain. Stubbornness got the better of me and after a couple of hours in town building courage, I was taking the winding road through the breath-taking Litldalen Valley towards the mountain. The autumn colours of the trees were stunning, with every possible shade of yellow, orange and brown on display. The road started a somewhat steeper ascend, which then turned into a long slog to get up the steepest climb I have attempted yet in Norway.
|Looking back onto the Litldalen Valley during a steep climb.|
Traffic was scarce, with the only vehicles on the road being rescue workers in search of a hiker who was caught unawares by the snow. He was lucky to be found, but it took a state-of-the-art rescue helicopter to get him off the mountain. One of the rescue workers told me that that was the first and probably last rescue operation for the year, and with that my concerns that I might have to get rescued too, were gone. Eager to make it to the top in good time, there was little opportunity for birding. Species seen while on the go included Siskin, Nuthatch, Willow and Marsh Tit, Redwing, Chiffchaff and Blackbird amongst others. Blackbirds were to become far more common after my first encounter with them in Litldalen.
Just before the top, a dense fog moved in, rekindling my thoughts of a second rescue mission on the same day. Fortunately the fog cleared after a while, making way for sleet. Great, things were really looking good now! Reaching the snow line, there was not much track to steer the bike on. Only one rescue vehicle had passed this way this far up, leaving a narrow track on the gravel road with two inches of snow either side. Fortunately the snow did ease up after a while, making cycling easier.
|Heading for Aursjøhytta on top of the mountain.|
I finally made it to a place called Aursjøhytta, about 20 km after climbing the steep ascent out of the Litldalen Valley. Aursjøhytta is more like a summer vacation spot; no one hangs out here when it snows. The well-spaced cottages were all deserted. With little choice but to get off the mountain before night fall, I continued along the track in the direction of Eikesdalen, at the foot of the mountain but on the other side. An approaching vehicle in the snow fall was a surprise, but I think they were more surprised to see me! What would a cyclist be doing in the snow at 900 m up the mountain? After getting more information about the road ahead, which they had just traveled, I decided to make a break for the mountain pass that would get me to Eikesdalen.
|Magnificent snow-covered landscape on the mountain, but little time to appreciate.|
It was a 10 km stretch, with lots of slippery ups and downs which meant I often had to get off the bike to push - wheel-spinning up icy inclines was not going to get me anywhere. Its like having teflon-coated wheels! I had a few sightings of Willow Grouse in the snow, but I was too rushed to really appreciate the views. I continued well after sunset, determined not to find out what it must be like to camp in the snow at such altitude. However, with the brakes clogging up with snow during the initial descend into the Eikesdalen Valley, I finally pitched my tent beside the road where the snow layer seemed less intimidating.
|Camping in the snow with the Eikesdalen Valley in the background.|
My cheap thermometer read -5 degrees Celsius the next morning, the coldest I had experienced yet. With the rising sun I discovered I had stopped just above the snow line during the night. I was glad the episode was over. Now I could focus on birds again, and not where my front wheel was going. Dropping the last few kilometers into the Eikesdalen valley chilled me to the bone; the sun was still too low on the horizon to warm the valley. Battling to hold the bike and the binoculars with cold hands, I eventually made a dash for the first spot of sun I could find on the road. I also took the opportunity to dry some gear that got wet from the ice. From here on things got better, so I was able to appreciate the views along the magnificent Eikesdalen valley. Nuthatches were common, as well as Long-tailed Tits, Wrens, Goldcrests and Siskins. Unfortunately I did not see or hear any woodpeckers, one of the main reasons for taking the route over the mountain and through the valley.
|Drying gear in the Eikesdalen Valley after a cold night in the snow.|
Some 30 km before Molde, Eirik, who had returned from his trip, caught up with me. Fortunately so, as I was heading on the road to Molde that passes through a sub-sea tunnel closed to cyclists. If Eirik had not intercepted me with impeccable timing, I would have had to have made a significant detour. With the bike loaded in the back of the car, we were off to Molde to prepare for some island birding the following day. I was lucky to have escaped the early winter chill this time round…