Finishing my last consultation on a Friday afternoon, I am picking up the ever patient Mia and we are leaving Tromsø Island , this rock in the Sea that resembles a Swiss Cheese with its confusing system of underground tunnels with round abouts and huge parking garages and we are heading first West and then North to Ringvassøy, one of the snow capped islands that is sheltering the city from the harsh North Atlantic climate.
Leaving the car behind after a 30 minute journey, I am surounded by a forest of small birch trees, by a green carpet of blue berries and the occasional cloud berry and a stream of clear water which is coming from small waterfalls on both sides of the valley.
My aim of this evening hike is Ringvassbu, a small cabin on a lake high up in the mountains. The hut is one of over 500 similar places, often in very remote locations, which belongs to “Det Norske Turistforening” – an institution I deeply admire.
The mission of this organisation which dates back to the 19th century, is to make the outdoors available to everyone, regardless how rich or poor they are. For a moderate annual membership fee you are issued with a key that will open the locks of beautiful cabins all over the country. Some of these are staffed, but the majority (like Ringvassbu) are unmanned. Quite a few of these – especially in the South of the country – contain also a well stocked store of non- perishable and frost resistant food which you are invited to use.
Following your stay you just fill in a form, detailing the nights you stayed and the food you took out of the store and you send your record together with your credit card details to the central or to the regional office. A system that is completely based on trust and honesty of their members that is working and that has stood the test of time.
Moreover, as a user you take pride in leaving the hut in a better condition than you found it in the first place ! Because of this all of the huts are in a clean and tidy condition with no unwashed kitchen utensils left behind, with fire wood ready to be used and with the floor not only sweeped but also washed before the last visitor is leaving a hut.
In addition to this there is an army of local volunteers that is looking after all these buildings – often in form of a week long maintenance holiday – to take care of larger repair and maintenance jobs.
Funds are not only generated through the membership fees, but also through the National Lottery and through generous donations of indivituals and businesses. A typical example is Olav Thon – one of Norways richest men – who owns not only half of Oslo, but also an international chain of hotels. Part of the profit of these is dedicated to the DNT hut system. As both a lifelong outdoor man and hiker himself as well as a hotel owner, Thon (now soon 100 years old…..) for many years took a keen interest himself in the design of the huts, which included that the bottom beds of some rooms were ideally 120 cm wide, so that they would also fit two people…..
Taking my time while ascending towards the hut, the night closed in on us
and as we had to scamble over more bolders than expected, I became concerned about Mia’s paws and decided to spend the first night in my small mountain tent at the shores of a mountain lake.
My canine companion not only agreed, but was even more delighted when I started to fry on my camping stove one of the steaks I had bought earlier that day (good food is important in the mountains !).
The next day we reached the hut after a short hike, just in time for breakfast with a couple of other hikers with another dog which unbeknown to me had already occupied the cabin, which proofed that my decision to spend the previous night in the tent was a good one.
As this party was leaving later that morning, we then had the hut for ourselves the rest of the weekend.
And what do you then do in a Norwegian mountain hut ?…..
It’s simple : have the perfect weekend to relax !
This is how that looks like :
Lay down and read (“Reina Roja” by Juan Gomez-Jurado (not for the faint hearted…..), then fall asleep……
then wake up, go hiking with a small pack, admire the landscape
watch some reindeer
then cook some food, read some more and sleep some more and worry about nothing but your immediate needs as you can’t change anything else at the moment anyway……
The next day – following a long stay in bed and obviously a decent cleaning job……- it was time to leave a short entry in the visitor book and then to lock up the hut again
before descending towards the Coast to face with recharged batteries another week at the clinic.